This Popular US Tourist Attraction Is Known For Having Some Of The Longest Lines In The World

When you come to New York City, be prepared to wait in line for the Empire State Building. Though its reputation may precede it, this iconic Manhattan landmark remains uber-popular with travelers, including actual Uber riders who made it the world's top drop-off destination in 2018 and 2019. The building also ranked as the top U.S. tourist attraction for 2022 and 2023 in the Tripadvisor Travelers' Choice Best of the Best awards. However, while looking out over Manhattan from high up might be a phenomenal experience, visitors are understandably less enthused about the long wait to access the building's observatories.

A December 2023 analysis from determined that the Empire State Building is #1 nationally and #6 globally as the most complained-about tourist attraction for long lines. The analysis tracked how often the phrase "long queue" appeared in people's Tripadvisor reviews. This doesn't necessarily mean the building has the real longest lines since there's no system for measuring that across the entire country, like there is at Disney World with its posted ride waits. Yet it still indicates that the lines here certainly feel long for many visitors.

Per the official site, the Empire State Building is generally busiest during the first 2 hours after opening and an hour after sunset. An attraction representative told Tripadvisor users that the wait could be 30–45 minutes during off-peak times. For some visitors, the combination of four different lines for tickets, security, and two sets of elevators nonetheless added up to hours.

The Empire State Building Express Pass and reimagining

The good news is that the Empire State Building offers an Express Pass, just like Universal's Islands of Adventure (which ranked #4 nationally in the same analysis). So, if you're not wild about waiting as long as you would at a theme park, you can bypass the lines and take a glass elevator straight to the top. The bad news is that an Express Pass runs $119, which is $4 to $9 more than you would pay for one fast-tracking you through a day of unlimited Universal rides.

That's not to say the Empire State Building is bereft of fun exhibits. In 2018, the building underwent a $165-million reimagining, installing panoramic, floor-to-ceiling windows on the 102nd-floor observation deck, along with a series of interactive galleries that visitors can experience on the way up. A regular ticket to the top deck (which you can pre-purchase online to reduce your wait time later) is $79 for adults. A ticket for just the 360-degree, open-air observatory on the 86th floor is $44.

On the 2nd and 80th floors, you can walk through exhibits about the history of this Art Deco skyscraper, from its construction and opening in the 1930s to its appearance in pop culture down through the decades. Thanks to the well-known movie image of King Kong scaling the building in 1933, there's even one exhibit where you can see Kong's giant face peering in from outside like you would at Islands of Adventure.

Other New York attractions with long lines

If you want better views of New York City with the Empire State Building visible in the skyline (like above), you might consider visiting the Top of the Rock observation deck instead. Located in Rockefeller Center, the Top of the Rock likewise offers more than one level with indoor and outdoor views. In December 2023, it also debuted a new experience where visitors can sit on a faux construction beam and soar 800 feet above the streets of New York as they recreate the classic 1932 photo, "Lunch Atop a Skyscraper."

The only catch, and it's a big one, is that the Top of the Rock placed second in the very same analysis of the most complained-about U.S. tourist attraction queues. In terms of the wait, it may be no better than the Empire State Building. Ditto for two other popular alternatives, the Statue of Liberty and One World Observatory in the rebuilt World Trade Center. They respectively ranked as #5 and #7 in the analysis. Rockefeller Center showed up as #18, while a pair of museums, the Met (or Metropolitan Museum of Art) and MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art) came in at #15 and #18.

Altogether, New York represents seven of the 20 most complained-about lines for U.S. tourist attractions. Forget that famous movie quote where the angry pedestrian, crossing the street, tells a yellow cab, "I'm walkin' here!" At New York tourist attractions, you're more likely to be waitin' here.