In my trip to New York in 2015, I went up the Top of the Rock observation deck at Rockefeller Center. In my more recent trip this summer, I went to the observation deck in the Empire State Building. I will compare my experiences so those visiting the Big Apple can decide what to do for themselves:
Cost: For two, Top of the Rock standard tickets are $75. For two, Empire State Building standard tickets are $70. However, the Top of the Rock tickets are purchased for a particular day and time where the Empire State Building tickets are not timed and good for any day a year from the purchase date.
Location: Both observation decks are easily accessible by subway in midtown Manhattan and close to other tourist attractions.
Visit duration: Both visits lasted about an hour.
Views: Both buildings are in the center of midtown Manhattan, so you get similar views. Here they are from the Empire State Building:
And from the Rockefeller Center:
Hopefully, you get the picture even with the weather differences (I was blessed with especially amazing weather on my most recent trip to New York where I went up the Empire State Building). As you might be able to tell from the differences in the pictures, the Empire state Building itself is the last large building between midtown and lower Manhattan: the views looking south from the Empire State Building are unobstructed. However, I think the Empire State Building makes the skyline more characteristic, which is one of several reasons I prefer the Rockefeller Center.
Another reason I prefer the Rockefeller Center is the unobstructed views of Central Park that perfectly contrast the characteristic buildings to the south. The only thing I didn’t like about the Rockefeller Center was the glass panes on one of the observation decks, it made taking pictures a bit difficult.
While both offer amazing views, I much prefer seeing Central Park with minimal obstructions and having the Empire State Building itself as part of the skyline.