JFK Airport Layover Sightseeing

jfk airport layover sightseeing

New York City could take a lifetime to explore – so you might as well begin with a quick visit into Manhattan on your JFK Airport layover. Provided you have a minimum of eight hours, we would certainly recommend hopping on the city’s public transit system to explore one or two key areas of the city. With burrows well suited to every interest and taste, you’re sure to find something that will inevitably lure you back to the city on a return visit. Below, we have detailed a few suggestions for quintessential art, culture and outdoor experiences, but of course, the city’s offerings extend well behind this! Shopping and eating at hip and emergent boutiques and restaurants can consume a weeklong vacation alone. Spend some time researching that which fits your interests before embarking on a high-speed layover from JFK.

Airport Overview

John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) is a behemoth located just beyond the perimeter of Manhattan. For those with a layover of less than six hours in New York, it is likely best to avoid the traffic-induced headache found when attempting to get into the city. Rather, spend your layover wandering through the eight terminals that make up this institution in air travel. Unfortunately, the airport does fail to offer up any groundbreaking activities or amenities beyond her sheer size, so if you’re really in need of some comfort you might find yourself in a swanky private lounge. For more information on the airport itself, check out our JFK Airport Guide.

Sightseeing Options

Below are a few essential sights.

Times Square and the Rockefeller Center

new york city times square

Electric and chaotic, it is hard to visit New York without at least passing through the epic Times Square. Navigate your way through the madness as neon signs flash above you, entering into shops as you dare. Moving north, you will eventually find your way out of the hubbub and at the foot off the iconic Rockefeller Center. Peer through windows for a glimpse of a live NBC filming, or wander into the curio shop for TV memorabilia. If you happen to be there in the winter with a little extra time, consider strapping on skates for a quick loop around the rink at the base of their picturesque Christmas tree. If you have time, go to the Top of the Rock for an incredible view of the city. You can purchase your tickets online so that your wait time will be minimal.

Time Required: Block off a minimum of two hours to make your way through Times Square and up to the Rockefeller Center. Add on a bit more time should you wish to shop or browse. This estimate does not include transport to and from the airport.

How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required. Be sure to keep time and rush hour traffic in mind as you plan your entry and exit from NYC.

Central Park

central park

Need to stretch your legs and take in a bit of fresh air through a gentle intro to NYC? The trek up to the infamous Central Park may well be worthwhile! Located in the heart of Manhattan – dividing the posh Upper East and Upper West sides, a strong along the winding paths is another essential NYC experience. Whether you devote your wandering to searching for the perfect look-out hill, strolling the around the lakes and ponds or simply taking in some sensational people watching, the fresh air in this urban park is sure to rejuvenate you between flights. Veer out of the park to admire the multi-million dollar brownstone homes, and swing into a deli for a classic New York style bagel to take back to a park bench under a tree.

Time Required: Wandering Central Park can take as long or as little as you’d like. We would recommend roughly an hour for a decent tour of the park and a few of its surroundings. This estimate does not include transport to and from the airport.

How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required. Be sure to keep time and rush hour traffic in mind as you plan your entry and exit from NYC.

The MoMA

new york city moma

The Museum of Metropolitan Art (the ‘MoMA’) is believed to be among the most influential modern art galleries on the planet. Founded in 1929, it was the first of its kind to be devoted entirely to contemporary art. Today, it houses an absolutely sprawling collection of modern and contemporary paintings, drawings, sculptures, photography, books, prints, and modern media. Some of the most famous pieces housed within include Van Gough’s Starry Night, Monet’s Water Lilies and Dance (I) by Henri Matisse. Equally as impressive as the contents is the six-floor building itself. Designed by a Japanese architect in the early twentieth century, this is yet another testament to modern art.

Time Required: The MoMA takes days to explore in her entirety – but a preliminary visit can be done with a minimum of an hour and a half. It all really depends on which exhibits you hope to see, and how long you’d like to spend at each. Audio tours and Gallery Talks are also available, should you desire a bit more guidance. Check the website for additional details. This estimate does not include transport to and from the airport.

How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required. Be sure to keep time and rush hour traffic in mind as you plan your entry and exit from NYC.

Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour

new york city soho

Given the sheer volume of major sights in New York City, a layover might best be spent on an open-top hop on hop off bus tour. This ensures you have the chance to see all the major sights, while also affording you the opportunity to get off and explore those that interest you most. The ‘Downtown Loop’ covers the city’s most iconic sights and neighbourhoods, including the Empire State Building, Radio City Music Hall, the Rockefeller Plaza, Greenwich Village, SoHo and Little Italy. If you’re hoping to see a bit more of the city, you may want to combine the Downtown Package with the Uptown Loop, which swings past Central Park, the MET and the MoMA. The Brooklyn Tour and the Night Tour might also be of interest for those looking for something a little different. The live commentary on all tours gives further insight into the city’s development over the years, in addition to information on what you’re passing. Buses come to each stop approximately every 30 minutes.

Time Required: All routes last two hours, assuming you do not get off the bus. If you only purchase the downtown loop, your ticket is valid for a 24-hour period, while the ‘All Loops’ ticket is valid for either 48 or 72 hours. Be sure to factor in time for getting off the bus and exploring the various sights that you pass.

How to Get There: While the tour can be picked up at any point in the city, it is easiest to start at the stop in Times Square stop on the Downtown Loop. From JFK, this involves taking the E train to the 42nd Street Port Authority stop and walking to Times Square from there.

Transportation

JFK is connected to downtown Manhattan through public and private transport options. Often, given the traffic, the AirTrain/Subway combination is the quickest and most reliable way to reach the city center.

Public transit options include:

  • AirTrain (all terminals): Connects the airport to Jamaica Station (NY Transit lines E, J and Z trains, Long Island Rail Road, along with a number of bus lines, Howard Beach Station.
  • Bus: A handful of bus lines connect only nearby neighborhoods to the airport directly – most bus lines must be connected to through the AirTrain.
  • NYCAirporter (Ground Transportation and Welcome Center desk near baggage pickup): An express bus connects JFK to Penn and Grand Central Stations, with free shuttle services from the stations to elsewhere in the city. Departures occur 7 days a week, at every half hour between 5am and 11:30pm. For fares and schedules visit: NYC Airporter.

Private transit options include:

  • Taxi (Arrivals): Taxis are available at the arrivals halls in all terminals. Note that traffic is an enormous influence on the cost and timing of taxi service to the city center.
  • Car Rental (Baggage Claim): A number of rental services are available. Organize your rental at Baggage Claim and then take the AirTrain to the Federal Circle Station to pick-up your vehicle.
  • Private Car or Shared-Ride Van (Port Authority Welcome Center): Reservations for private cars or shared-ride van hires can be made in the arrivals hall of each terminal

Before You Go: Layover Tips

Now that you are motivated and excited for your mini layover vacation, just make sure to check a few final logistical concerns off your list before you fully commit.

  • Do you need to organize a visa to leave the airport? Requirements change frequently and for each nationality, so be sure to seek out current details on the availability, cost and procedures of obtaining a transit visa.
  • When is your next flight’s check-in time? Make sure you double check with your airline exactly when you need to be at the airport – and plan your layover accordingly.
  • What are security wait times like at the airport? Some airports are notorious for long security wait-times, so be sure to do a bit of research in advance and factor that into your overall time-budget.
  • What’s happening with your luggage? When you check in to your first flight, be sure to confirm whether your luggage is checked through or needs to be picked up between your connecting flights. Visit our New York City JFK Airport Guide for information about Luggage Storage.

Other Useful Resources

Finally, here are a few handy resources to help you plan your layover even more thoroughly:

buy a lounge pass