Visit New York's Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

An internationally renowned molecular biology lab sits on the former grounds of a 19th-century whaling company.

By Allie Wilkinson
Jun 3, 2014 9:30 PMNov 14, 2019 10:33 PM
Less than two hours from Manhattan, Cold Spring Harbor is a town of about 5,000 and a popular day trip from the city. | Peter Stahl/Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory


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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.

40°51'30'' N, 73°27'59'' W

Located just outside the historic seaside town of Cold Spring Harbor, the eponymous laboratory sits on the former grounds of a 19th-century whaling company. The institution was founded in 1890 as a biology teacher training laboratory, but is now an international leader in molecular biology and cancer research. 

Nobel-ity: Eight Nobel laureates have worked at the laboratory, including James Watson, who discovered DNA’s double-helix structure with Francis Crick in 1953. 

Stretching 80 feet, the sculpture "Waltz of the Polypeptides" is one of the artworks on the Cold Harbor Spring Laboratory grounds. | Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Tour It: Learn about the lab’s Nobel legacy, historic architecture and current research in cancer and neuroscience on a 90-minute tour led by graduate students and postdoctoral candidates. Tours ($5) are offered from March through October. Reservations must be made seven days in advance; call 516-367-8455.

History Lesson: On the opposite side of town, The Whaling Museum and Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor allows you to step back in time and explore the area’s whaling history. The museum has an extensive scrimshaw collection, and New York’s only 19th-century whaleboat that’s fully equipped with its original gear — but don’t worry, it hasn’t been in use for nearly 100 years.

All About Trout: Across the street from the lab, watch one of the daily feeding demos at the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery and Aquarium, which has the largest living collection of freshwater fish, reptiles and amphibians native to New York. 

=Famous for past Nobel laureates, the lab is still a center for cutting-edge research. | Michael Englert/Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Sea-bound: Take a scenic paddle around the tranquil waters of nearby Oyster Bay, past lush wetlands and waterside homes. Kayak rentals are available May through September from the WaterFront Center in Oyster Bay, less than 7 miles away. 

Go: Two of metro New York’s biggest airports — LaGuardia and JFK — are about 30 miles away. Stay in Cold Spring Harbor and walk or bike to the lab and other sites.

Go Deeper: From October through June, the laboratory’s DNA Learning Center offers its monthly hands-on “Saturday DNA!” programs for ages 10 and up. Past programs have focused on botanical barcoding, fingerprinting and even using bioluminescent proteins of one organism to study the genes of another. Sessions are two hours long and cost $15 per person; reservations and payment must be mailed. Free public lectures are also offered throughout the year. 

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