Are you considering visiting Connecticut this year? Here are some of the most fun, cool, and unique things to do in CT, New England. These sights, activities, and attractions are sure to make for an unforgettable vacation experience.
Connecticut, the southernmost state in New England, is a gem waiting to be discovered. Often overshadowed by its bustling neighbors, New York and Massachusetts, this charming state offers a unique blend of urban sophistication and rural tranquility. With its rich history, picturesque landscapes, and vibrant cultural scene, Connecticut is a treasure trove of experiences that cater to every type of traveler.
Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, or a foodie, CT has something for everyone. Stay at a cozy cabin in the woods. Explore the historic seaport of Mystic, hike through the breathtaking Appalachian Trail, or indulge in the state’s burgeoning food and wine scene. From the rolling hills of Litchfield to the sandy shores of the Long Island Sound, Connecticut’s diverse landscapes offer endless opportunities for adventure and relaxation.
But Connecticut is more than just a destination; it’s a state of mind. It’s the feeling of crisp autumn air on a scenic drive through quaint New England towns. CT is the thrill of discovering a hidden gem in one of its many art galleries and museums. It’s the warmth of a hearty meal in a cozy farm-to-table restaurant.
So, pack your bags and get ready to discover the best of Connecticut. This guide will take you through the best things to do in Connecticut, each offering a unique glimpse into its rich heritage and vibrant culture.
Best Places to Visit in Connecticut
Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do in Connecticut? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this underrated vacation spot. So keep reading to discover all these unique Connecticut places to visit.
Are you looking for city attractions and cultural sites? Or would you prefer a tranquil getaway in nature? Whatever you’re planning, Connecticut can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best things to do in Connecticut that you should know about.
1. Mystic Seaport
Looking for the best things to do in CT? Step back in time at Mystic Seaport, the nation’s leading maritime museum. Located in the charming town of Mystic, this living history museum offers a fascinating glimpse into New England’s seafaring past. Wander through the recreated 19th-century seafaring village. It’s here where you’ll find historic buildings, working tradesmen, and even a few sea shanties being sung.
The star of the show is the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship in the world. Climb aboard and imagine life at sea during the height of the whaling industry. But the maritime wonders don’t stop there. You’ll also find a collection of historic vessels, a preservation shipyard, and a planetarium that navigates the night sky using traditional maritime techniques.
After a day exploring, unwind at one of Mystic’s waterfront restaurants and enjoy fresh seafood while overlooking the Mystic River. Whether you’re a history enthusiast or a nautical novice, Mystic Seaport is a must-visit destination that brings Connecticut’s maritime heritage to life. It’s easy to see why this is one of the best things to do in CT!
2. Yale University Art Gallery
For a unique experience like no other, you’ll want to check out this top place to visit in Connecticut.
Art enthusiasts should not miss a visit to the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven. As the oldest university art museum in the Western Hemisphere, it houses an impressive collection that spans centuries and continents. From ancient artifacts to contemporary masterpieces, the gallery’s diverse exhibits offer something for every art lover.
Explore the European art collection, which includes works by renowned artists like Van Gogh, Manet, and Picasso. Or delve into the ancient world with the gallery’s extensive collection of Greek and Roman art. The gallery also boasts a significant collection of African and Asian art, as well as modern and contemporary works.
The architecture of the gallery itself is a work of art. The modernist Kahn building, designed by famed architect Louis Kahn, is a masterpiece of light and space. Best of all, admission to the gallery is free, making it an accessible cultural experience for all.
After immersing yourself in art, take a stroll around Yale’s historic campus. Or, explore the vibrant culinary scene in downtown New Haven. A visit to the Yale University Art Gallery is not just about viewing art. It’s also about experiencing the rich cultural tapestry of Connecticut, providing one of the best things to do in CT.
3. The Mark Twain House & Museum
If you’re looking for unique things to do in CT, this one isn’t to be missed. Literature lovers will be enchanted by the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford. This stunning Gothic Revival mansion was the home of Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, from 1874 to 1891. It was here that Twain penned some of his most famous works. This includes “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
Step inside and you’ll be transported back to the 19th century. The beautifully restored interiors reflect the Clemens family’s life and times, complete with richly decorated rooms and original Tiffany & Co. designed features. Guided tours offer insights into Twain’s life, his writing, and his significance in American literature.
Next to the house is the museum, which hosts a variety of exhibits about Twain’s life, his work, and his enduring legacy. Don’t miss the Aetna Gallery, which houses a permanent exhibition on Twain’s life and work. This includes his iconic white suit and writing desk.
A visit to the Mark Twain House & Museum is a journey into the life and mind of one of America’s greatest writers. It’s a must-visit for any literature enthusiast, offering a unique blend of history, literature, and architecture. This sight is truly one of the CT attractions you won’t want to miss!
4. Lake Compounce
Looking for the best things to do in Connecticut? Don’t miss Lake Compounce!
For a dose of fun and excitement, head to Lake Compounce in Bristol. It’s the oldest continuously operating amusement park in the United States. Since opening its doors in 1846, Lake Compounce has been delivering thrills and family fun with a mix of classic rides and modern attractions.
Adrenaline junkies will love Boulder Dash, voted the world’s #1 wooden roller coaster. For something a bit more relaxing, take a leisurely ride on the Lake Compounce Carousel, a beautifully restored antique merry-go-round. The park also features a water park, perfect for cooling off on a hot summer day.
But Lake Compounce is more than just rides. It’s about creating lasting memories. Enjoy a picnic by the lake, watch a live show, or enjoy the nostalgic atmosphere of this historic amusement park. And don’t forget to try some of the park’s delicious food, from classic amusement park fare to gourmet treats.
Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or simply looking for a fun day out, Lake Compounce offers an unforgettable experience. As such, it’s undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Connecticut. This experience definitely promises an adventure for the whole family!
5. The Glass House
Architecture and design enthusiasts will be captivated by The Glass House in New Canaan, CT. Designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson as his own residence, this iconic structure is a masterpiece of modern architecture. With its minimalist design and seamless integration with the surrounding landscape, The Glass House is a testament to Johnson’s architectural philosophy and one of the best places to visit in Connecticut.
The 47-acre property features not just the Glass House, but also several other structures designed by Johnson, including the Brick House, the Painting Gallery, and the Sculpture Gallery. Each building is unique, yet they all share Johnson’s distinctive architectural style.
Guided tours offer a deep dive into Johnson’s life, his work, and his influence on modern architecture. You’ll also get to explore the property’s beautifully landscaped grounds, which feature a variety of sculptures and installations.
Visiting The Glass House is not just about admiring a building; it’s about experiencing a piece of architectural history. It’s a must-visit in Connecticut for anyone with an interest in architecture, design, or simply the beauty of minimalist living.
6. Gillette Castle State Park
There’s many places to visit in CT, but this has to be one of the coolest. Perched high above the Connecticut River, Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam is a sight to behold. The castle was the eccentric home of actor William Gillette, best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the early 20th century. With its medieval appearance and quirky architectural details, Gillette Castle is a testament to its owner’s unique imagination.
Explore the castle’s 24 rooms, filled with hand-carved wooden fixtures, secret doors, and a variety of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia. The castle’s exterior is equally impressive, with its fieldstone walls, turrets, and a grand porch offering panoramic views of the river below.
The park surrounding the castle is a destination in itself. Hike along the wooded trails, picnic in the beautifully landscaped grounds, or take a scenic river cruise. In winter, the park transforms into a winter wonderland, perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Gillette Castle State Park offers a unique blend of history, architecture, and natural beauty. It’s a must-visit destination that captures the whimsy and wonder of Connecticut.
7. Mystic Aquarium
Looking for family-friendly things to do in Connecticut? Don’t miss this one! Dive into a world of underwater wonder at Mystic Aquarium. Home to thousands of marine animals, this state-of-the-art facility is one of the premier aquariums in the United States. From beluga whales to African penguins, the aquarium’s diverse exhibits offer a fascinating glimpse into the world beneath the waves.
One of the highlights is the Arctic Coast exhibit, where you can come face-to-face with beluga whales in the largest outdoor beluga whale exhibit in the United States. Don’t miss the chance to touch a shark at the Shark Touch Pool, or marvel at the tropical fish in the Coral Reef exhibit.
The aquarium is also committed to conservation and education. Through interactive exhibits, animal encounters, and educational programs, visitors can learn about the importance of marine conservation. And through this process, they what they can learn about what to do to help.
A visit to Mystic Aquarium is more than just a fun day out. It’s also an opportunity to explore, learn, and be inspired by the wonders of the marine world. It’s a must-visit for families, animal lovers, and anyone with a sense of curiosity. With so much charm and personality, it’s easy to see why Mystic Aquarium is one of the top places to visit in CT.
8. Essex Steam Train & Riverboat
For a unique experience like no other, you’ll want to check out this top place to visit in Connecticut. Experience the romance of a bygone era on the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat. It takes you through the heart of the unspoiled Connecticut River Valley, designated as “one of the last great places on earth” by the Nature Conservancy.
Board the vintage steam train at the historic 1892 Essex Station. Enjoy a scenic ride through charming towns, past sweeping farmlands and along the picturesque Connecticut River. The journey continues on the Becky Thatcher riverboat, where you’ll cruise past the majestic Gillette Castle, the Goodspeed Opera House, and the beautiful landscapes of Selden Neck State Park.
The Essex Steam Train & Riverboat offers a variety of special events throughout the year. This includes dinner trains, sunset cruises, and holiday-themed rides. It’s more than just a train ride; it’s a step back in time and a celebration of Connecticut’s natural beauty.
Whether you’re a train enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply looking for a fun and unique experience, the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat is a journey you won’t want to miss.
9. The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk
Immerse yourself in the aquatic wonders of Long Island Sound at The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. This innovative aquarium focuses on the local marine life of one of America’s most vibrant estuaries. It offers an educational experience for visitors of all ages, making it among the top CT things to do.
Explore more than 75 live exhibits featuring over 2,700 marine animals. This includes sharks, seals, sea turtles, and a variety of fish and invertebrates. Don’t miss the chance to touch a stingray at the Ray Touch Pool, or marvel at the mesmerizing jellyfish exhibit.
The aquarium also features Connecticut’s largest IMAX theater. It’s here where you can watch films that transport you to some of the world’s most extraordinary places.
The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk is more than just an aquarium; it’s a commitment to marine education and conservation. Through interactive exhibits, educational programs, and research initiatives, the aquarium inspires visitors to appreciate and protect the world’s marine ecosystems. In my opinion, The Maritime Aquarium is one of the most fun things to do in Connecticut.
10. The Submarine Force Museum
Dive into the history of undersea warfare at The Submarine Force Museum in Groton. This is the official submarine museum of the United States Navy. Home to a vast collection of submarine artifacts and exhibits, the museum offers a look at the evolution of the “Silent Service.”
The museum’s centerpiece is the USS Nautilus, the world’s first operational nuclear-powered submarine and the first vessel to complete a submerged transit of the North Pole. Tour the submarine and get a first-hand look at life aboard a Cold War-era submarine.
Inside the museum, explore detailed exhibits on the history of submarine development. This includes everything from the earliest human-powered submersibles to today’s advanced nuclear-powered vessels. Interactive displays, historical documents, and personal accounts bring the story of the Submarine Force to life.
Whether you’re a history buff, a military enthusiast, or just curious about submarines, The Submarine Force Museum offers an in-depth and engaging look at the world of undersea warfare. Is this one of the best attractions in CT? You bet!
11. The New England Air Museum
As far as things to do in Connecticut go, this activity is hands-down one of the coolest. Aviation enthusiasts will be thrilled by The New England Air Museum, located in Windsor Locks near Bradley International Airport. As one of the nation’s largest aviation museums, this facility houses a remarkable collection of aircraft, engines, and exhibits that span the history of aviation.
Walk among giants in the museum’s large exhibit hangars. This is where you’ll find over 100 aircraft ranging from early flying machines to supersonic jets. Highlights include a B-29 Superfortress, a replica of the Wright Brothers’ Flyer, and the Sikorsky VS-44A, one of the last great flying boats.
Interactive exhibits allow you to get hands-on with aviation. This includes piloting a flight simulator, testing your skills on a drone flight challenge, or learning about the science of flight. The museum also hosts a variety of events throughout the year. Some of my favorites are open cockpit days, model airplane workshops, and guest lectures.
The New England Air Museum offers an engaging and educational experience that’s sure to inspire and entertain visitors of all ages. It’s a must-visit for anyone with an interest in aviation history.
12. The Connecticut Wine Trail
Attractions in CT come in all shapes and sizes, and this one is among the best!
For a taste of New England, embark on the Connecticut Wine Trail. This is a unique journey through some of the state’s most picturesque landscapes. With 25 participating wineries, the trail offers a diverse array of wines and experiences that reflect the character and terroir of the region.
From the rolling hills of Litchfield Hills to the coastal vineyards of the Connecticut River Valley, each winery offers a unique setting for wine tasting. Sample award-winning wines, tour the vineyards, and learn about the winemaking process from passionate winemakers.
Many of the wineries also host events throughout the year, including wine releases, concerts, and harvest festivals. Some even offer onsite accommodations, allowing you to extend your wine adventure into a relaxing getaway.
Whether you’re a seasoned wine connoisseur or a casual wine lover, the Connecticut Wine Trail offers a delightful experience that combines fine wines, beautiful scenery, and the warm hospitality of Connecticut’s wine community. As such, I recommend this thing to do in Connecticut to everyone I meet!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the coolest things to see and do in CT
Looking to dive deeper into the coolest CT things to do? Here are some common questions (and answers) I get about Connecticut attractions:
What are 3 things Connecticut is famous for?
Curious what CT is popular for? Connecticut, often referred to as the “Constitution State,” is known for a rich history and a diverse range of attractions. Here are three things Connecticut is particularly famous for:
- Yale University: Located in New Haven, Yale is one of the oldest and most prestigious higher-ed institutions in the U.S. Founded in 1701, it’s a member of the Ivy League and has a storied history of academic excellence. The university’s Gothic-style architecture, world-class museums like the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library are notable attractions.
- The Birthplace of the Hamburger: Louis’ Lunch in New Haven claims to have served the first hamburger in the U.S. back in 1900. The small brick establishment still serves burgers today, cooked in the original cast-iron grills, and has become a culinary landmark.
- Submarine Capital of the World: Groton, Connecticut, is known as the “Submarine Capital of the World.” The Electric Boat Company, located in Groton, has been producing submarines for the U.S. Navy for over a century. The U.S. Navy’s primary East Coast submarine base is also located in Groton. And the nearby Submarine Force Museum showcases the history of submarine development. This includes the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine.
In addition to these, Connecticut is also known for its picturesque small towns, beautiful shoreline along the Long Island Sound, and its role in the Revolutionary War.
What is the best time to visit Connecticut?
Connecticut is a year-round destination, with each season offering its own unique charm. Fall is particularly popular for its stunning foliage, while summer is ideal for beach activities and outdoor exploration. Spring offers beautiful blooms, and winter brings opportunities for skiing and holiday events.
Why should people visit Connecticut?
Connecticut, though one of the smallest states in the U.S., offers a unique tapestry of experiences for visitors. Here’s why people should consider visiting Connecticut:
- Diverse landscapes: From the sandy shores of the Long Island Sound to the rolling hills in the northwest, Connecticut boasts a variety of landscapes. Whether you’re looking for beachside relaxation, hiking trails, or scenic drives, Connecticut has it all.
- Rich history: Connecticut played a significant role in the formation of the United States. Historic sites like the Mark Twain House in Hartford, the Mystic Seaport, and the Revolutionary War-era landmarks offer insights into the state’s storied past.
- Cultural experiences: Connecticut is home to world-class museums and art galleries. The Yale University Art Gallery, the Wadsworth Atheneum, and the Bruce Museum are just a few examples. The state also has a vibrant theater scene, with venues like the Goodspeed Opera House and the Yale Repertory Theatre offering top-notch performances.
- Food options: From the seafood shacks along the coast serving fresh lobster rolls to the upscale restaurants in cities like New Haven (famous for its unique style of pizza known as “apizza”), Connecticut is a treat for food lovers.
- Charming small towns: Towns like Mystic, Essex, and Chester offer quintessential New England charm, complete with historic buildings, boutique shops, and local festivals.
In essence, CT provides a blend of natural beauty, cultural richness, and historical significance. This makes it a compelling destination for a wide range of travelers.
How can I get around Connecticut?
CT has a reliable network of trains, buses, and ferries. However, renting a car can provide more flexibility to explore at your own pace. This is especially true for reaching more rural or off-the-beaten-path locations.
What local food should I try in Connecticut?
Connecticut is famous for its seafood, particularly its clam chowder and lobster rolls. The state is also known for New Haven-style pizza, locally known as “apizza”. Don’t forget to try some local wine on the Connecticut Wine Trail!
What is the coolest thing about Connecticut?
The coolest thing about Connecticut is its unique blend of old-world charm and modern sophistication. Nestled between Boston and New York City, Connecticut offers an escape with its picturesque towns, historic landmarks, and serene landscapes. Yet, it’s also home to Yale University, one of the world’s premier institutions, and vibrant cities like New Haven. This juxtaposition of the historic with the contemporary, the rural with the urban, and the scholarly with the artistic gives Connecticut a multifaceted allure that’s hard to find elsewhere.
Whether you’re exploring the cobbled streets of Mystic, attending a theater performance in Hartford, or savoring a slice of the state’s famed apizza, the best Connecticut things to do are full of surprises.
Are there any outdoor activities in Connecticut?
Absolutely! Connecticut offers a wide range of outdoor activities. This includes everything from hiking in the state parks to sailing on the Long Island Sound. The state is also home to numerous beautiful beaches and scenic bike trails.
What should I pack for a trip to Connecticut?
What to pack depends on the season of your visit. Summers can be hot, so bring light clothing, sunscreen, and a hat. Winters can be cold and snowy, so pack warm clothing and sturdy shoes. Always bring a good pair of walking shoes, as there’s plenty to explore on foot!
Recap: Coolest things to do in CT
Connecticut, with its rich history, diverse landscapes, and vibrant cultural scene, offers a wealth of experiences for every traveler. Whether you’re exploring the historic maritime heritage of Mystic Seaport, immersing yourself in the world-class art at the Yale University Art Gallery, or savoring the flavors of the Connecticut Wine Trail, the Constitution State is sure to leave you with lasting memories.
But the true charm of Connecticut lies not just in its attractions, but in its spirit. It’s a place where history and modernity coexist, where natural beauty and cultural sophistication intertwine. It’s a place that invites you to explore, have fun, and fall in love with its unique charm.
So, pack your bags, set your spirit of adventure free, and come discover the best things to do in Connecticut. The Constitution State awaits!