View of New York City
Architecture,  New York City

On the Top of the Rock – twice!

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

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.

New York skyscrapers with sunset sky
The sunset begins

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.

Darkness falls

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.

Skyscrapers and pink sky
Lights of Manhattan just after sunset

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!

Panorama of Manhattan at sunset
Top of the Rock panorama

I last visited New York City in 2008, which is when these photos were taken


  • peNdantry

    I visited New York once, many years ago. Just a flying visit on my way elsewhere. I took the time out to visit the Statue of Liberty, but it never occurred to me to venture up a skyscraper.

    I love your observation:

    when you’re on the Empire State Building you can’t see the Empire State Building

    That’s so obvious, and yet, at the same time, not. Clever!

    Wonderful photos, thanks for sharing them!

      • peNdantry

        Unfortunately, I shall never again travel across the Pond, as, years ago, I vowed lifelong abstinence from flying (a measure to reduce my own carbon footprint).

        • Sarah Wilkie

          I admire your resolution but don’t feel I could do the same. The best I can manage is some frantic off-setting and trying to do fewer longer trips so my flights are at least productive!

          • peNdantry

            I certainly don’t hold that against you. We can each only do what we can. Change is tough given the limitations of society’s current infrastructure.

  • Larry Sampson

    I have been to the top of the Empire State Building twice but not the Rockefeller Center. It’s been on my list. Most of our NY trips have been day trips so we usually don’t have time for long lines. But I definitely need to do it. Maybe next fall….or is that wishful thinking.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I think maybe next fall sounds possible, and something to hang on to through the winter. I’m hoping Rich’s Chicago meet will go ahead so maybe you and I will see each other on top of one of that city’s skyscrapers?!

      By the way, we found the lines here a lot shorter than at the ESB so that’s another reason to favour it 🙂

  • rosalieann37

    I haven’t visited the city very often and I don’t remember going up in a skyscraper although I must have done. My sister and I and my grandson did go up to the revolving restaurant – The View and had dinner It wasn’t on top, but we did see skyscrapers.

  • starship VT

    I think your time frame was perfectly clear as you mentioned in the 1st paragraph that you were on a 2008 visit and I was pretty certain that you hadn’t visited since then. Also, I think I remember that you and Chris had visited the city years earlier so I knew that 2008 was not the year of your first visit. NYC right now is a changed city but I hope it rebounds one day. It’s still a great city. Didn’t intend to make you feel that I was confused about your visit in any way.
    What a perfect opportunity for you to capture these incredible photos at 2 different times of the day.

  • starship VT

    Sarah, Reading this blog piece and seeing your great photos has made me unexpectedly sad for several reasons. Over many years I’ve grown to love NYC — my first visit wasn’t until 1972 — and now we have not been there for nearly a year so I miss going there. So glad you & Chris had yet another great opportunity to visit NYC when you did.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I’m sorry I made you sad Sylvia, but grateful to you for this comment. It’s always nice to hear from you, but on this occasion particularly so because it made me realise I’d forgotten to add the date when these photos were taken to the foot of my blog post. I’ve now corrected that oversight so you’ll be able to see that we haven’t been to NYC since 2008. That was our second visit and we’d really like to go back for a third some time, as we both love the city a lot! I hope you get back soon 🤗

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