Empire State Building Sunrise Experience

One of the things about living in a place like New York City is that often you don’t end up exploring many of the things that visitors consider a “must do” (unless, of course, you have visitors and accompany them!). But one of the silver linings of this pandemic time, when so many things are not available, is that you can find yourself drawn to figuring out what it is that you can do. One of my daughters discovered that the Empire State Building has an experience, limited to a very small group, where you watch the sun rise from the 86th floor observation deck. So, the day after Christmas in 2020, we found ourselves walking through the quiet city streets before dawn on a very cold and windy morning on our way to enjoy this experience.

Tickets are extremely limited – only 30 people – and on the morning we did it, there were only 18 (including ourselves). Our temperatures were taken, masks were required, and we filled out a health questionnaire upon checking in. Sunrise on Dec 26 was at 7:19, so we checked in at 6:30 and were allowed up (4 to an elevator) at 6:45.

We had noticed even while walking there that the sky was brightening toward the east, and when we walked out to the observation deck, there was a definite sense of dawn even though the Chrysler Building was still illuminated.

Being up there with so few people meant that often you had the feeling of having the deck – and the views – and the city! – to yourself.

From the deck, you could see not only the dawn, but the way the morning light hit buildings in every direction, giving them a pink glow.

I see many, many more sunsets than sunrises, so it was lovely to see the light slowly increase.

Finally, the sun appeared above a low bank of clouds on the eastern horizon! Over the next half hour, the morning sun rose and no longer gave a rosy glow, but simply illuminated the city – from One World Trade south to the entirety of Central Park looking north to Harlem. At 8AM, they were going to let regular ticket holders come up, so just before that, we left and were offered a private ride to the lower floor that held a display on the history of the building as well as a few fun photo ops. There were no other people there, and I can only imagine how crowded it must be usually (or how hard it is to get that perfect King Kong shot!).

Walking back home to make coffee at what would normally be very close to the start of my day, I reflected on the experience. It was expensive, but the privacy of being up there with virtually no one else there made it worth the cost to me. Would I have preferred it be sunset rather than sunrise? Well, yes – but I can see that there is no way for them to clear the observation deck for a private sunset experience like they can at sunrise by simply opening earlier to a small group. Would I have preferred for it to be less cold? Definitely, although in the warmer months the sunrise is earlier so you have to be there earlier as well (as early as 4:30 near the summer solstice). The ESB sunrise experience runs most days in the peak tourist season (and yes, that will come again!) and only a few days per month the rest of the year. For the price, you want to be sure the weather is good because the tickets aren’t refundable if it is rainy or snowy and you can’t see much. For this reason, I waited until two days before to book – and in more popular times, it is possible that all the slots are gone by then. So all in all, I was very glad I went and very happy with the experience of seeing my city welcome the sun from King Kong’s personal favorite perch.

3 thoughts on “Empire State Building Sunrise Experience

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