High culture may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of JFK International Airport. After all, this insanely busy airport, handling more than 60 million passengers a year, has its hands full just being a hub of aviation. JFK is the gateway to New York and to North America for millions of passengers every year, but it is about as far from a museum as you can get.
However, New York City is home to some of the best museums in the world. And if you have time to spare between flights, taking a stroll around a museum can be the perfect antidote to the sometimes stressful and busy environment of JFK Airport. Leave your bags behind at a JFK luggage storage, and you can check out some fantastic museums without heading too far from the airport.
If you’re unsure where to go, check out our guide to the best museums near JFK. Between the airport and New York City itself, you’ll find some fascinating cultural sites to explore.
King Manor Museum
The historic 1806 home of Rufus King is a monument to a dark chapter of American history but also to the light that came after. Rufus King was a noted antislavery activist back before the Civil War that ended the barbaric practice forever. And while the house is beautiful enough in its own right, it’s the history of the abolitionist movement that is at the forefront here.
Exploring the house on a guided tour will teach you more about the work of King and his fellow abolitionists to stamp out the practice of slavery and the tensions that led to the Civil War. The house also hosts temporary exhibitions of contemporary art that focus on the ongoing legacy of this tumultuous past and celebrate the progress that has been made, as well as recognize the progress still to be achieved. More than just a slavery museum, this is a great place to understand the deep roots of America’s ‘peculiar institution’ and reflect on how it still shapes society to this day.
Rock Hall Museum
Probably the closest Museum to JFK airport geographically, you can reach Rock Hall with an hour’s ride on the N31 bus. Along the way, you’ll pass some of the most beautiful natural areas in the JFK area, including Rockaway Beach, with its windswept waves perfect for surfing.
Rock Hall is a beautifully preserved relic of an earlier time. This stately manor house close to the city dates back to 1767 and the prerevolutionary period. The former home of English plantation owner Josiah Martin, the house changed hands several times over the centuries before becoming the property of the state. Inside, the period furnishings and decoration are much as they would have been in Martin’s time, making this house a window into a vanished era of the past.
Franklin Square Historical Museum
Franklin Square is an often overlooked but fascinating and historic town on the outskirts of New York, not far from JFK International Airport. The Franklin Square Historical Museum explores the history of the town that once had the dubious distinction of being the largest city in the United States that wasn’t connected to the railroad network. Walt Whitman taught at the high school here, and it’s also where credit cards were invented. As you can see, this small town has quite a quirky history that’s fun to explore if you have some downtime between flights at JFK.
If you’re after something a little bit bigger, Queens Museum is an art and history museum that explores the story of this celebrated Borough of New York and also displays work by artists from the area. Founded in 1972, the museum is known for its Panorama of the City of New York, the scale model of the five boroughs that was built for the 1964 World’s Fair.
A large portion of the museum’s 10,000 artifacts date back to this World’s Fair. However, the museum also has an impressive collection of Tiffany glass dating back to the early part of the 20th century. The collection also houses artwork by Salvador Dali, among other artists. This is a great place to come for an eclectic look at a borough that is sometimes overshadowed by Manhattan but is nevertheless worth learning more about. Plus, the revolving temporary exhibits continually offer something fresh and new to learn about this part of New York.
New York Hall of Science
Also known as NYSCI, this science museum is located right next to the Queens Museum, but the displays on offer could hardly be more different. With its many interactive exhibits explaining the world around us, this is a fantastic place to bring kids if you have a little more time to kill on a JFK Airport layover. You can shrink yourself down and explore the world of microbes or learn more about physics in the Rocket Park. You can even search for life on other planets and explore the possibility of contact with aliens.
This is a great place to educate your kids, but it’s also a good option to let them burn off some energy between flights. Besides, there’s a good chance you may learn a few new things yourself.
New York is known in part for its astonishing array of world-leading museums. But you don’t have to go into Manhattan to enjoy the cultural treasures on offer here. Just a short journey from JFK Airport, you’ll encounter some great museums that can provide you with a glimpse of a different side of New York.
Of course, if you really want to see some cultural treasures, Manhattan is easily reached from the airport, so you can explore the Met, MoMA, and the Museum of Natural History if you have the time. In short, there’s no reason to be bored on a layover at JFK. Just drop off your bags and check out some of these fantastic attractions.