From natural wonders to man-made attractions, Connecticut – the third smallest US state – packs a lot into its modest size, including a number of unique ways to occupy your time.
With its picture-perfect towns, verdant landscapes, sandy beaches and cascading waterfalls, Connecticut is positively oozing with quintessential New England charm. Meanwhile its rich history is celebrated at a number of exceptional cultural venues that can be found sprawled statewide. Below, we’ve picked out 20 of the most unique places of interest you’ll find anywhere in Connecticut.
Visit a world class museum
Connecticut is packed full of great museums and a number of them serve to celebrate the state’s long and illustrious nautical heritage. One such institution is the Mystic Seaport Museum, widely considered America’s leading maritime museum. Here visitors will find a huge assortment of exhibits and artefacts, including a planetarium, historic wooden ships, a replica of a 19th-century seafaring village and even a working shipyard. Highlights include the original 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan, America’s oldest commercial ship still in existence.
75 Greenmanville Avenue, Mystic / Weds-Sun 10am-4pm Closed Mon-Tues
Book at GetYourGuide.com
For a cultural visit of an entirely different kind, Connecticut is also home to the Mark Twain House and Museum, which honours one of the nation’s defining cultural figures. Originally built by the author as a home for him and his wife, the 25-room Victorian mansion was later officially designated as an National Historic Landmark and today welcomes visitors who come to explore its opulent and impeccably restored confines, complete with fascinating memorabilia and many of its original fixtures and fittings.
385 Farmington Avenue, Hartford / Fri-Sun 10am-4.30pm Closed Mon-Thurs
Get up close and personal with amazing wildlife
For an entire state to have only one zoo is somewhat surprising, but Beardsley Zoo certainly succeeds in carrying Connecticut’s wildlife mantle. Featuring mainly North and South American animals, including several endangered species, the zoo places a keen focus on educating visitors on the delicate balance that exists between living things and their environment. Other stand-out attractions include a tropical rainforest with free-flight aviary, a New England Farmyard, and a carousel.
1875 Noble Avenue, Bridgeport / Mon-Sun 9am-4pm
If you’ve had your fill of land animals, then the Mystic Aquarium offers the chance to see some of the world’s most captivating marine-based species. The aquarium’s indoor and outdoor exhibits feature thousands of aquatic creatures, including beluga whales, African penguins, rescued seals, and a staggering variety of colourful fish. There are also sea lion shows and an animatronic dinosaur experience that lets you step back in time to the Jurassic period.
55 Coogan Boulevard, Mystic / Mon-Sun 9am-6pm
Immerse yourself in New Haven’s foodie scene
The city of New Haven has a richly diverse culinary scene that has emerged out of its own indigenous heritage as well as its increasingly multi-cultural community of residents. Taste of New Haven is an acclaimed local company that runs fully guided group food tours that invite guests to learn all about this long foodie heritage while sampling some of the delectable local dishes, delicacies and treats. Tours are themed around specific food types, such as pizzas, tacos and chocolate, with plenty of stop-offs at local food outlets along the way. Private tours are also available.
Embark on a memorable sailing trip
Nestled around two miles off the southeast coast of Connecticut, Fisher’s Island Sound is one of the jewels in the region’s crown. Anyone keen to explore its magical waters can do so by joining a small-group sunset cruise or full day sailing trip. Operated by local charter company Sail Poets Lounge, these weekday tours are the brainchild of sailing veteran and acclaimed musician Darin Keech. Groups of up to 6 board their vessel at the mouth of the Mystic River and set sail into the Sound, considered one of the best sailing destinations on the East Coast. Your boat will have its own large bathing sundeck and sun shade seating. Guests can chose to eat on board while under sail or at anchor, or stop at an island beach or dine dockside at a local restaurant.
Become at one with nature
Situated on the shore of Long Island Sound in Madison, and spanning two miles of pristine coastline, Hammonasset Beach State Park is Connecticut’s longest shoreline park. Visitors can enjoy swimming, strolling along the boardwalk, or just relaxing in the sun and surf, and for the more adventurous minded there are also bicycle rentals, as well as activities such as saltwater fishing, scuba diving, hiking and boating.
1288 Boston Post Road, Madison / Mon-Sun 8am-7pm
America’s first municipal rose garden when it opened at the turn of the 20th century, Elizabeth Park Rose Garden is a horticulture lover’s paradise. Boasting some 15,000 bushes and about 800 varieties of roses, the venue’s expansive 2.5 acres also features greenhouses, nature walks, perennials and rock gardens to explore, while inside the charming Pond House there’s a restaurant, lounge and auditorium.
1561 Asylum Avenue, Hartford / Mon-Sun 8am-7pm
Walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs
Most dinosaur-themed attractions rely on replicas as their main form of entertainment, but the Dinosaur State Park is a little different. A National Historic Landmark, it features authentic Jurassic-period dinosaur tracks and a diorama depicting the setting in which the park’s tracks were made. There are also a variety of engaging interactive exhibits and the chance to cast your own dinosaur footprint to take home as the ultimate memento from your trip.
400 West Street, Rocky Hill / Tues-Sun 9am-4pm Closed Mon
Explore an early 20th century-built castle
Straddling the towns of East Haddam and Lyme, Gillette Castle is pretty much as close as you’ll get in the US to the kind of fortification that are ten-a-penny in Europe. Built in the early 20th century by stage actor William Gillette, the 184-acre estate offers spectacular views of the river below. Inside, the medieval Gothic-style stone castle contains secret passageways, intricate locking mechanisms, and other whimsical treasures that can be explored at your leisure.
67 River Road, East Haddam / Mon-Sun 8am-6pm
Peruse an historic university art gallery
Founded in 1832, making it the oldest university art museum in the Western Hemisphere, Yale University Art Gallery houses a major encyclopedic collection of art across several historic interconnected campus buildings. The works on display represent the full breadth of global cultures and range from ancient times to the present day, including more than 1000 African art objects and 13,000 pieces dating from the Neolithic to early Byzantine periods.
1111 Chapel Street / Tues-Fri 10am-5pm Sat-Sun 11am-5pm
Experience the thrills of a zipline
Feel the cool, crisp, air as you soar nearly a mile over the treetops at almost 60mph on the HighFlyer Zipline at Foxwoods. Located at Fox Tower, a 33-story glass hotel tower at Foxwoods Resort Casino, the zipline adventure culminates a mile away at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, where you’re guaranteed to disembark while beaming from ear to ear. The experience caters to families, friends, groups and the young at heart, and runs for 50 minutes.
350 Trolley Line Boulevard Foxwoods Resort, Fox Tower Drive, Mashantucket
Book at GetYourGuide.com
Pick up some bargain antiques
Antique lovers visiting Connecticut will want to include a trip to Clinton during their stay. The small town has become a hot spot for browsing and buying fine antiques, with a large number of antique stores to be found here. Many of them are clustered closely along bustling Main Street, with furniture pieces, trinkets and speciality goods often positioned on the sidewalk as a way to capture the attention of passers-by.
Another mecca for devotees of all things old and beautiful is Stamford, just a hop and a jump from the New York border. Here you’ll discover a veritable beehive of antiques stores Among the places to head if you want to pick up some great bargains and mementos are Avery & Dash Collections on Jefferson Street; Stamford Modern on Pacific Street; and Hamptons Antique Galleries on Canal Street.
Discover Connecticut’s rich wine landscape
With 35 scenic wineries dotted across the state, Connecticut is a well-established wine region. The self-guided Connecticut Wine Trail invites you to visit as many as you can, and even hands out novelty passports so you can keep track of which ones you’ve been to via stamps – with special section for logging your favourite wines at each vineyard. Each winery has a dedicated tasting room where you can sample some of the on-site produce and most also run tours of their facility that let you learn about the wine making process.
Take in some charming seacoast villages
Connecticut is home to a number of historic seacoast villages, and two of them can be explored during a private New England Seacoast Villages tour. Catering to groups of up to five, tours begin in picturesque Noank, at the mouth of the Mystic River. After taking a look around this shipbuilding and artist community village you’ll head to Mystic where you’ll visit the iconic 1853 Spicer Mansion. You’ll then walk along the river while hearing stories about Native Americans, English Colonists, sea captains, whaling, rum running and more, all offering a special glimpse into New England maritime history. Tours last for around 2.5 hours.
Book at Viator.com
Let your hair down at a fun-packed festival
Connecticut has a busy calendar of festivals and fairs each year and among the most eagerly anticipated is the Connecticut Garlic & Harvest Festival. Now in its 16th year, the event has grown to become one of New England’s largest food festivals, featuring over 200 vendors, most of which share garlic as a common thread. Visitors can enjoy unique garlic specialties at two garlic-themed food courts, as well as live music performance, cooking demos, and garlic growing lectures. There’s also the chance to purchase quality merchandise from dozens of hand-made crafters and specialty food vendors, including over twenty garlic farms selling garlic for both planting and eating.
Bethlehem Fairgrounds, 304 Main Street North, Bethlehem / 9-10 October 2021
A festival with a true social conscience, Mystic River Jam Festival at Mystic Shipyard is a hugely popular two-day, annual music event showcasing a wide musical genres from rock to reggae, blues to jam. Notable names from the regional music scene who have performed in recent years include Mystic Dead, Phil Adams Group, and Troublemakers. The event has also gained praise for its charitable contributions to Sails Up 4 Cancer and Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center – both well-deserving local causes. To learn more, visit www.mysticriverjam.com.
Mystic Shipyard / 25-26 June 2021
Enjoy some captivating theatre
The plays of William Shakespeare make for compelling viewing in any setting, but there’s something especially memorable about enjoying them in the open air. Every Summer, a large public park in the Connecticut town of Rowayton plays host to Shakespeare on the Sound, an outdoor festival featuring live professional performances of the Bard’s plays. Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2021, the event is designed to open up Shakespear’s great classics to a diverse cross-section of people of all ages and backgrounds. There’s a “Pay What You Will” night on Tuesdays, while on Wednesday-Sunday, standard general admission tickets are $25, and children under 12 are free. They also offer VIP tickets for $60.
Pinkney Park, Rowayton / 15 June-3 July 2021
A little known jewel on the Connecticut shoreline, the Ivoryton Playhouse is a unique theatre with a fascinating history. Built in 1911 as a recreation hall for the workers of the Comstock-Cheney factory, it hosted silent movies, dances, town meetings, and vaudeville shows. Several years later it began to host legendary names of the American stage including Katharine Hepburn, Marlon Brando, and Tallulah Bankhead. Today the venue has maintained its reputation as a first class summer theatre venue, producing a year-round professional season of musicals, comedies and dramas in front of enraptured audiences.
22 Main Street, Centerbrook
Visit one of the world’s most prestigious seats of learning
How do you get to Yale University? Work hard. Alternatively, head to New Haven where the historic Ivy League school – one of the country’s oldest – opens its doors to the public with free daily tours run by current students. During the tour you’ll get to marvel at the university’s gothic-style architecture, explore its enchanting libraries, and learn about its 300-year history. While it’s not included in the tour, the university if also home to the Leitner Family Observatory & Planetarium which hosts weekly planetarium shows, after which the observatory’s telescopes are open for viewings.
Sample some locally-brewed craft beer
Connecticut has a vibrant beer brewing scene and at its vanguard since 2012 has been Two Roads Brewing. Founded by four beer-loving friends, the brewery is housed in a former machine factory and produces a diverse range of craft brews, many of which have received awards and widespread acclaim. As well as offering visits to its taproom and tasting room, the brewery also plays host to a regular programme of events including an Oktoberfest, outdoor movies, food truck fairs, and plenty more.
1700 Stratford Avenue, Stratford / Thurs-Fri 4pm-9pm Sat 12pm-9pm Sun 12pm-6pm Closed Mon-Weds
Spend the day at a thrilling adventure park
Said to be the oldest, continuously-operating amusement park in North America, Lake Compounce is packed full of activities and attractions to suit every age and taste. From heart-pounding adventures aboard hurtling roller coasters to a classic carousel, giant ferris wheel and even an on-site water park, the venue is guaranteed to deliver a memorable day out for the entire family.
185 Enterprise Drive, Bristol
Join a spine-tingling ghost walk
Join one of New Haven’s longest-running ghost tour company on a night walk through some of the coastal city’s spookiest sites, such as the Skull and Bones Society, New Haven City Hall, New Haven Public Library, Grove Street Cemetery, and more. During the tour, expert guides and master storytellers will reveal the city’s hidden history and weave fascinating tales of New Haven’s most haunted spots. Tours run for around 1.5 hours and are suitable for all ages.
Book at Viator.com
Hop aboard a historic steam train
Transporting you through the scenic landscapes of the Connecticut River Valley, the Essex Steam Train lets you experience train travel as it used to be. The historic steam locomotive features vintage coaches where you’ll be comfortably ensconced as you pass charming towns and learn fascinating facts from your enthusiastic conductor. Passengers can also pick from several special activities including a dinner train service
Indulge in some retail therapy
When it comes to retail therapy in Connecticut, there are few better spots to heads to than Shops at Yale. Located in New Haven’s Chapel Street Historic District, the area features more than 65 stores and boutiques – including several national retailers – all housed within immaculately restored architectural buildings and set along eye-catching bluestone sidewalks. The area is also something of a culture and entertainment hotspot, with several acclaimed restaurants, museums and theatres to be found here.
Chapel Street Historic District, New Haven