Seth Wenig / Reuters

The Empire State Building in New York

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Construction on the 102-story building, sketched out in a mere two weeks, was begun in 1930 and completed in 410 days. Why so quickly? Its builders were competing with two other skyscraper projects and wanted to be the first one finished.

What's special: The iconic art deco marvel is one of the city's favorite landmarks -- and New Yorkers are particularly protective of it since it regained its status as the city's tallest building after Sept. 11, 2001. The observation decks on the 86th and 102nd floors provide the city's best views, with visibility pegged at 80 miles on the clearest days.

The tower lights change almost daily or weekly, depending on special events. On Monday, for example, the building was lighted in the colors of the New York Giants, who beat the New York Jets the previous day. It'll be orange, black and white on Halloween.

One thing you didn't know: On average, lightning strikes the building's antenna 100 times a year.

Best way to see it: Figure out what time the sun sets, get in line a couple of hours earlier and wait to ascend to the 86th floor. Photography buffs may prefer the morning, as there are smaller crowds and less glare off other buildings.

What to expect: With 3 million visitors a year checking out the view, this isn't a tourist spot for the impatient or crowd-phobic. The 86th-floor deck is outdoors (though fenced in) and much larger than the glassed-in observatory on the 102nd floor. Avoid the on-site line by buying tickets several weeks in advance online; tickets start at $20. You'll still have to wait in the long line for the elevator unless you buy the express ticket, but that's nearly $50.

Where to eat: Grab a slice at Rosa's Pizza in the building's West 33rd Street lobby. The building's sit-down restaurant, Heartland Brewery, claims to be the largest beer hall on the East Coast and serves several kinds of rotisserie chicken.

Info: 212-736-3100,

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