Connecticut — Attractions
As one of the original 13 American colonies, Connecticut attractions are mainly historic. From the salty maritime heritage on display at Mystic Harbor to 17th-century hamlets like Old Saybrook that still retain much of their colonial feel, this compact state is packed full of early Americana. The state’s main cities of New Haven (home to Yale University) and Hartford, however, are in a state of decline so most of the attractions are along the coast or in its charming colonial towns, where living museums and working farms provide great day outings that are particularly popular with kids.
This 79-year old complex recreates the atmosphere of a 19th century New England seafaring village. It’s a fascinating place with tall whaling ships bobbing in the harbor, and 30 historic buildings relocated from around New England to create an authentic coastal village. Mystic Seaport is arguably Connecticut’s top tourist attraction, so plan to spend at least three hours (if not a whole day) to experience the 19-acre living museum.
Address: Mystic Seaport, 75 Greenmanville Ave, Mystic, CT 06355
Mark Twain House and Museum
Connecticut’s favorite son, the legendary writer Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), lived in this stunning late 19th century Gothic home for 17 years. He wrote classics like Huckleberry Finn during this time and the home remains exactly as it looked when Twain lived here. The highlight is the one-hour guided tour that ends in his writing room. Get a sense of his inspiration at the small museum on site with a collection of memorabilia.
Address: Mark Twain House & Museum, 351 Farmington Avenue, Hartford, CT 06105
The city of New Haven, Connecticut and Yale University are inseparable. Nearly all of the city’s cultural attractions are related to the Ivy League institution, and the beautiful campus with its stately period architecture is open to guests to explore. Three historic churches face Temple Street and are worth a look, but the real highlights are the Yale University Art Gallery and Yale Center for British Art, two amazing repositories of artwork by many great American and British masters. New Haven’s oldest home (c. 1767) is now the Yale Visitor Center, which offers a one-hour guided tour of the campus and other information.
Address: Yale University, 246 Church Street, New Haven, CT 06520
Mystic Aquarium is one of the best aquariums in the country and boasts a superb mix of animal performances and marine exhibits. The sea lion show is the main attraction, followed closely by feeding time of the Beluga whales. Penguins, sharks, manta rays, and most of the other creatures of the sea are also highlights The Beluga Encounter is a particularly special experience for those who want to get in the water with and touch these magical creatures. The Penguin Encounter is a similar attraction that allows you to get up close and personal with the birds.
Address: Mystic Aquarium, 55 Coogan Blvd, Mystic, CT
This rural region is the most rustically scenic yet sophisticated part of Connecticut. A wealthy getaway spot for New Yorkers who are bored of the Hamptons, Litchfield is ideal for a multi-day road trip. The city folk transformed the center of colonial-era towns like Washington into coffee shops, fusion cafés, and boutiques. Highlights include: Woodbury, with its 30 or so antiques shops; Litchfield, with its classic Town Green surrounded by trendy boutiques and inns; and lovely Norfolk, which was founded in 1758. There are a dozen colonial hamlets to explore in this pastoral region, most of which have comfortable bed and breakfasts and great little restaurants.
Address: Central Connecticut
Connecticut’s southern coast, or the Shore as locals call it, is a lovely stretch of the Atlantic dotted with 300-year old villages and quiet, undeveloped beaches. The ideal way to explore the Shore is to base yourself in either Madison or Guilford, two charming colonial towns that date to the 1600’s. Both offer excellent shops, restaurants, accommodation, and a charming atmosphere that is hard to beat. A selection of mellow beaches lies just up the road in either direction, so a rental car is essential for this kind of getaway.
Address: Southeastern Connecticut
Connecticut River Valley
One of the most important waterways in America, the Connecticut River is the longest in New England and has been used for transportation, commerce, and recreation for centuries. Taking a river cruise is the main way to experience this lush corridor of the state, and there are plenty of quaint, colonial-era towns along its banks to stay in. From the tiny hamlet of Chester to the tranquility of Old Lyme or the postcard worthy riverside town of Essex, this is one part of Connecticut that deserves a multi-day road trip to step back in time and slow down your heart rate.
Address: Interior Connecticut