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NYC attractions: Empire State Building family guide

Rediscover an architectural gem with our Empire State Building family guide, which lets you in on why it's still one of the most iconic NYC attractions ever.

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Empire State Building for families

Photograph: Filip Wolak

Empire State Building for families


Sometimes, acknowledging the grandeur of the best NYC attractions just isn't enough, which is why we decided it was time to put together a family guide to the Empire State Building. The regal edifice became the tallest building in the world when it was completed in May 1931 and remained so for 40 years. However much we love Top of the Rock, we had to return to the Empire State Building to remind ourselves of the building's magnificence—and its magnificent views. Our guide to this most iconic of NYC attractions cuts to the chase with five reasons why we still love the Empire State Buiding—and why you should visit it again as a family.

RECOMMENDED: NYC's top 50 attractions for families

Marvel at the Art Deco lobby

In past trips to the ESB, you may not have remembered the lobby at all. Now that it's been completely restored to its original 1930s splendor—celestial Art Deco ceiling murals instead of a drap dropped ceiling; pristine marble walls—that's not likely to happen again. Among the elements renovated in the building's massive $550 million overhaul are craftsmanship plaques dedicated to a specific trade that was needed to erect the building, such as masonry. See how many the kids can find on their journey through the building, starting with several over the Fifth Avenue entrance doors.

Be inspired by the building's green makeover
Not only does the ESB look better than ever but its infrastructure has also undergone an impressive retrofit designed to reduce the building's carbon footprint and save the mega-building a whopping 38 percent of its energy expenditure—that's about $2.3 million a year. Families can learn all about the eco-friendly project in an interactive exhibition while standing on line in the new second-floor waiting area. The show demonstrates how small changes, such as adding gases and a mylar coating to each of the ESB's windows, and a lighting system that automatically turns off lights in areas not in use, can make a big difference: a lesson that visitors of all ages are encouraged to take home with them.

Get up to speed on ESB history
While on your way from one elevator to the next, spend some time checking out the "Dare to Dream" exhibit on the 80th floor, a fascinating look at the making of the Empire State Building. Blown-up architectural sketches, photographs by Lewis Hines and personal mementos of some of the 3,400 workers who constructed the building are among the myriad artifacts provided by the Skyscraper Museum, which worked with the ESB to produce this exhibit. Kids will be amazed to learn that the building went up in just 15 months—part of an intense competition with the Chrysler Building for the title of the world's tallest building—and will love seeing the mega-poster of King Kong, the iconic movie made just two years after the building was completed.

Soak in the astonishing views
The views from the 86th floor, open-air observatory and the enclosed rotunda on the 102nd floor are the real reasons you've come to the iconic building, so take your time enjoying them. (Night owl families, you're in luck: the building's open till 2am.) Due to the Earth's curvature, you'll feel taller than any other building on the isle of Manhattan, and kids may even be able to spot the building they live in—or at least a landmark that's close by. Venture to the 102nd floor, nearly a quarter mile from the city streets, and in addition to looking out the city's tallest (for now) observatory, you'll get to peek up some secret steps to the dirigible landing, built with the expectation that zephyr passengers could disembark at the top of the Empire State Building, luggage and all. Now that's what we call an impressive act of imagination.

Succomb to the gift shop
Normally we don't extol the virtues of commerce, but in this case we can't help it. The concept of kitschy memorabilia took off in the decade that spawned the Empire State Building, such that any reproduction of the building seems to trigger nostalgia for the simpler days of the 1930s. So go ahead and indulge the kids in an old-fashioned keepsake, be it a teddy bear, a colorful keychain or one of hundreds of mini ESBs. They'll no doubt remember their first visit here when the building turns 100 in 2031.

The Empire State Building is open daily from 8am to 2am.


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