It’s impossible to imagine New York City without its skyscrapers, and it’s equally impossible to imagine visiting the city without going up at least one of those skyscrapers to see the view from the top. The obvious choice might seem to be the Empire State Building but …
… maybe you should think again. After all, when you’re on the Empire State Building you can’t see the Empire State Building! There is something missing from your view of that iconic skyline.
The Top of the Rock
30 Rockefeller Plaza is the tallest of the Rockefeller Center’s many buildings and has branded its rooftop experience as The Top of the Rock. When we visited in 2008 it was possible to buy a ‘Sunrise and Sunset’ ticket. This allowed us to make two visits to its observation terraces on the same day. But why would we want to do that? Well, read on to see the differences between my day and night photos; I think you’ll agree it was worth it!
Our first visit, quite early on a sunny day, gave us pretty clear views of Manhattan, though inevitably there was some haze from pollution. The low sun probably added to that, while also making the photos more atmospheric. We stayed about an hour and a half, with the sun gradually getting warmer and the roof top busier, though never too crowded.
Manhattan from the Top of the Rock
Part of the lowest terrace was shut for a fashion shoot but as there are three altogether it didn’t inhibit our enjoyment. Indeed, it gave us some added photo opps. Of the three terraces, the 67th and 69th floors are partly indoor, but include outdoor terraces with transparent safety glass. The 70th floor, the uppermost level, provides a completely open air, unobstructed 360-degree view. Not the best place for those nervous of heights, and a bit windy, but great for photos; this was my favourite of the three terraces.
Sunset on Top of the Rock
Later the same day (about 6.00 PM) we returned for our second visit. Although it was a little busier than in the morning, we didn’t need to queue to buy tickets, and on showing the one purchased earlier were able to progress quickly through the exhibition and after only a five minute wait, back up to the roof terraces. We’d timed it perfectly. Although still light, the sun was starting to dip in the sky, and after a brief walk around the terrace we settled on a good spot from where we could watch it set. We were soon pleased that we’d done this, as the roof started to fill up and later arrivals had to settle for looking over the shoulders of others.
As the sun set the Hudson River glowed orange, and it caught the edge of the Empire State Building as if it were illuminated, even before its artificial lights came on.
Once the sun had gone we remained, taking photos (far too many photos!) of the lights as they came on all over Manhattan and beyond. The solid stone pillars that support the retaining wall made great impromptu tripods, so I was able to get decent shots even when it got quite dark. And by now the crowds had dispersed; surprisingly, most people left when the sun dipped below the horizon rather than wait, as we did, to see the lights coming on all over Manhattan.
On returning home I had a go at creating a panorama from some of my shots to try to capture the impact of this iconic scene. And yes, the Empire State Building is there, taking centre stage!
I last visited New York City in 2008, which is when these photos were taken