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Empire State Building

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Empire State Building

Plunging like a syringe into the sky above Fifth Avenue, the mighty Empire State Building stands nearly 1500 feet (457m) tall, its 102 stories dominating the Manhattan skyline as they have done since its (famously rapid) construction in 1930-31. The building reigned supreme for forty years as the world's tallest structure; and though it's now been outstripped, with New York's own One World Trade Centre and 432 Park Avenue, among others, exceeding it in height, there's not a tower in the world that can outstrip the Empire State Building in the public imagination. This grandest of skyscrapers is the quintessential symbol of American power, a lasting tribute to New York City's resilience through the Great Depression – and, though it's easy to forget, the workplace of 21,000 enviable financiers, techies and broadcasters (plus the Boy Scouts of America), who can call one of the best-known landmarks in the world their office!

Enter the gilded Art Deco lobby of the Empire State Building, and pause to admire the gold-leafed ceiling murals and a wall embossed with a sparkling aluminum reproduction of the building itself. Then take the lift up to the first observation deck, on the 86th floor of the building, or pay a little more to ride all the way to the 102nd floor, where you'll be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views across New York – not to mention New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts in clear weather. By night, the views of the city lights are even more striking, and the building itself is brightly illuminated, its colored floodlights changing hue to reflect national celebrations like St Patrick's Day and Red Cross Day. The tower's open until 2am, and even boasts its own saxophonist: the perfect mood music for the many marriage proposals that take place on the observation deck. A lucky 14 couples a year can even tie the knot atop the famous structure – but they have to wow the judges of the "Empire State Building Valentine's Day Wedding Contest" with an essay on why they want to say their vows there first! If your own plans are less romantic, you can still take part in a classic February event at the tower: the annual Empire State Building Run-Up, in which masochistic runners compete to be first up the 1576 stairs to the first observation deck (the record is 9 minutes and 33 seconds, apparently).