What's New at the Empire State Building

Since its 1931 completion, New York’s Empire State Building has been the most famous skyscraper in the world. It remains a vital part of NYC and an inspiration to the millions of visitors who ascend to the ESB observation deck in every season. Despite the feel of another age conveyed by the building’s Art Deco style, the Empire State Building is very much a modern phenomenon. From its pioneering energy efficiency to its selfie-friendly panoramas, the structure stands firmly in the 21st century. There’s even something new: the Official Empire State Building Observatory Experience App, a just-released addition that’s fun, informative, and free.

empire state building by night

The app, available through Google Play for Android or iTunes for Apple products, comes with nine available languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Portuguese, Japanese, and Korean, reflecting the most popular tongues among Observatory visitors). As part of the Empire State Building’s contemporary approach, you’ll find the wifi is strong everywhere, and the app loads quickly. From there, you can enjoy a self-guided tour, as well as galleries of images, tower light show videos, and fun facts. Ever wonder what animals were used to voice King Kong’s famous roar? The ESB app will tell you.

As you make your way up through the building, let the app illuminate the displays in front of you (pro tip: bring your headset for a better audio experience). On the second floor, get insight into the Empire State Building’s sustainability. In addition to saving millions of dollars, these efforts over the next 15 years will be equal to taking 20,000 cars off the road. This green approach also provides inspiration for visitors, who have brought the ESB’s strategies to buildings around the world.

dare to dream empire state construction

You’ll be checking out the app again on the 80th floor, where the building’s “Dare to Dream” exhibit is installed. Focusing on Speed, Scale, and Steel, the exhibition, curated by Carol Willis of New York City’s Skyscraper Museum, is filled with vintage images of the building rising. Some of the amazing facts? Once the columns were set, it went up in less than a year. Construction was so quick that sometimes the steel beams arrived still hot from the forges in Pittsburgh. It was the tallest building in the world between 1931 and 1970. It reaches over a quarter of a mile into the New York sky.

Soon enough you’ll be on the 86th floor, home to the iconic Observation Deck, one of the most famous spots in all of New York City. When you step out onto the platform time slows down. It’s open to the elements, and you’ll feel the air, the breeze, with the city’s hum still audible, but quieted by the remove. The views are, of course, unparalleled. You can grasp the city’s scale in ways that’s impossible from the ground. Main thoroughfares are seen as the arteries that they are, pulsing with traffic. Soaring competitor buildings seem reduced to the size of a child’s block set. The views are 360° and if you look off into the distances you’ll even make out the curvature of the Earth. You can see five states from here.

The Official Empire State Building Observatory Experience app will come in handy now, with options for day and night, and short videos that illuminate the places you’re seeing (there’s gorgeous photography on the videos, which makes the app a popular keepsake even when you’ve gotten back home). All the key landmarks and neighborhoods are covered. While you've got your phone out, take a selfie or two. The free wifi will let you post on the spot.

It may seem like the view can’t get any better from here, but there is one extra stop available. If you opt for a 102nd floor ticket, you’ll make it to the Top Deck. A manually operated Otis elevator zips you up. The experience brings you closer to the architectural elements of the Empire State Building, including exposed beams, with “Carnegie” etched into the steel amid the original rivets.

king kong selfie t-shirt empire state

In addition to the app, another new element of the Empire State Building is a refurbished gift shop. This version is much larger, with attractive lighting that makes it easy to see what you’re shopping for. Like the rest of the building, there’s an elegance in the offerings here—for example, beautiful hand-painted stemware from Lolita. Much of the merchandise is exclusive to the building, like the Hello Kitty in an Empire State Building uniform, only available here. There’s wit, too, as in the t-shirts, or the 14-pound, solid-chocolate King Kong. Before you leave the floor, check out one more exclusive: a mesmerizing time-lapse video of the city, as seen from 16 GoPro cameras mounted to the top of the building.

Like any good New York institution, the Empire State Building keeps late hours. It’s open until 2am, and every bit as spectacular showing off the city lights as it is in the daytime. The best times for avoiding peak traffic is to get in before 10am, or after 11pm. If you’re looking for a post-Broadway experience, the ESB can’t be beat.

One of New York’s greatest appeals is its sense of place. The Empire State Building reflects NYC, with its attitude, its elegance, and the power of its accomplishments. From the Art Deco style of the soaring ceiling in the refurbished lobby, to the uniforms on the staff, there’s also a sense of place to the building itself. You’ll find this cohesiveness carried over to the Experience app, where Deco type and a gold and black color scheme reinforce the sensation that you could be in no other place in the world. Like the building itself, the app serves “to educate and inspire,” in the words of Observatory Director Jean-Yves Ghazi. Experience it yourself and you'll know immediately why the Empire State Building has been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.

empire state building experience app

About the Author

Ethan Wolff is the author of numerous guidebooks to New York, having covered the city for more than two decades. He has written for New York Magazine, BlackBook, and Details, among others. In addition to his work as the editor of City Guide, Ethan covers NYC’s talk and lecture scene for the website Thought Gallery. He lives with his wife and two daughters in the Windsor Terrace neighborhood of Brooklyn.

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