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Whether you’re an out-of-stater planning a vacation or a Connecticut resident looking to check off your bucket list, here’s a sampling of the best things to do in Connecticut that was inspired by Yankee’s 2020 feature “The 85 Best Things to Do in New England.” How many have you seen, done, or eaten?
10 Best Things to Do in Connecticut:
Essential Connecticut Experiences
1. Step Back in Time at Mystic Seaport Museum
One of the great things about being a schoolkid in New England is the field trips to living history museums, but even adults will love tramping down dirt roads to an era when blacksmiths still ply their trade, dinner is cooked over an open hearth, and indoor plumbing is not yet a thing. And among the “holy trinity” of these field trips, along with Plimoth Patuxet Museums (formerly Plimoth Plantation) and Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, is Mystic Seaport in Mystic, CT. History floats at the nation’s leading maritime museum, where no fewer than four ships at its piers have been designated National Historic Landmark vessels (including the Charles W. Morgan, the world’s last wooden whaling ship). Located on 19 acres along the Mystic River, Mystic Seaport also offers visitors the chance to explore a re-created 19th-century seafaring village and a working preservation shipyard (where the Mayflower II recently underwent a rebuild before returning home to Plymouth, Massachusetts).
2. Grab a Slice of New Haven–Style Pizza
After southern Italian immigrants to this Connecticut city began baking coal-fired pies that were crisper, thinner, and more topped-to-the-edges than the traditional Neapolitan pizza they’d known back home, New Haven-style pizza (or “apizza”) was born. Almost a century later, fans still fight over the supremacy of Sally’s versus Frank Pepe’s: Pepe’s opened first, in 1925, while Sally’s, founded by Pepe’s nephew Salvatore Consiglio, opened in 1938. Both venues cook their pies at blisteringly hot temperatures in cavernous coal-fired brick ovens. And both secretly add an eyedropper’s worth of some addictive, mystical substance that keeps us hankering for more. And as if that weren’t enough, locals also savor the pies at Modern Apizza and the relative newcomer Bar.
3. Soak Up Literary Legacy at the Mark Twain House & Museum
Since Mark Twain is famed for his tales of the Mississippi, it may be surprising to learn that some of his most productive years were spent in Hartford. The mansion where he spun his yarns about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn is now the Mark Twain House & Museum, which — from the “speaking tubes” in the walls to the billiard room that served as his office — offers a fascinating glimpse of Twain himself. Though we generally ascribe qualities of modesty and frugality to New England’s old houses, this magnificent 25-room home speaks of Hartford’s heyday as a commercial powerhouse, while its exuberance expresses its famous owner’s larger-than-life personality.
4. Stroll an Ivy League Campus at Yale University
Along with its fellow New England Ivies — Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth — Yale University boasts a beautiful, brick-filled campus that is a star in its own right even as it incubates the movers and shakers of tomorrow (one of which might even be your guide on a student-led tour). The Yale University Art Galleryshowcases classic canvases by Hals, Trumbull, and van Gogh, among others — world-class art, all for free. Across the street, and also free, is the Yale Center for British Art, the premier collection of British art outside the United Kingdom. There’s more than enough to keep you occupied until Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural Historyreopens in 2023 after a $200 million renovation.
5. Revisit the Amistad Uprising That Galvanized the Abolitionist Movement
In 1839, Sengbe Pieh led a revolt among kidnapped Africans aboard the slave ship Amistad that would ultimately result in their return home as well as play a pivotal role in the American abolitionist movement. Today, their inspiring story lives on in New Haven, the city where the Africans were initially jailed during their trial — from the 14-foot monument at City Hall to the Amistad reproduction schooner berthed at Long Wharf.
6. Cruise Through Connecticut’s Storied Thimble Islands
An archipelago of more than 300 islands in Long Island Sound, the Thimble Islandswould simply be masses of glacier rock to anyone who didn’t know about the families who once lived there or the laborers who cut the islands’ famed pink granite — stone so valued it helped build the Lincoln Memorial and Grant’s Tomb and the base of the Statue of Liberty. Once considered the “Newport of Connecticut,” with hotels and ballrooms, they were popular enough that President William Taft, who had become enamored with the Thimbles while at Yale, set up a summer White House on Davis Island. The Thimble Islands are also reputedly where Captain Kidd buried his famous treasure — and definitely where some of the region’s high rollers still live today. You can book a narrated cruise with a local tour boat, or catch a ride on the Thimble Islands Ferry.
7. Feast on a Connecticut-Style Lobster Roll
The debate over which style of lobster roll is best — Maine’s cold-with-mayo vs. Connecticut’s hot-and-buttered — may never be resolved. But you can better understand the passion of the southern New England partisans when you visit Lobster Landing, a marina-side shack in Clinton that’s tricky to find but worth the effort. The menu board typically features just three items, and the headliner is the superlative lobster roll: a toasted sub roll loaded with a quarter pound of freshly shelled, lemon-spritzed, butter-slathered lobster. (Owner Enea Bacci’s secret? Par-cooking the lobster in broth, then gently tossing the meat with butter in a warm pan.)
8. Stop and Smell the Roses at Elizabeth Park
From mid-June to October, America’s oldest municipally operated rose garden — officially known as the Helen S. Kaman Rose Garden — is the undisputed star of Elizabeth Park, a 100-acre urban Eden in West Hartford. There’s more than two acres of wall-to-wall roses, with arches muffled in climbers and Technicolor beds of unfurling buds in every shade of white, red, pink, yellow, and orange — more than 800 varieties in all. (It’s no wonder that brides line up on weekends to snap photos under the blooms.) The rest of Elizabeth Park is equally entrancing, from the playgrounds and walking trails to the expansive East Lawn topped with a scenic overlook.
9. Discover Indigenous Stories at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum
Walking past the dioramas at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, a major museum of Native American culture in Ledyard, Connecticut, you might be inclined to speak in hushed tones, as if intruding on the ultra-lifelike models of indigenous people here. The tribe that created one of the world’s biggest casinos also gave birth to this state-of-the-art museum and research center, whose exhibits, stunning dioramas, and re-created Pequot village, complete with sound effects, enhance our awareness of and appreciation for this remarkable nation’s story.
10. Drink in the Historical Vibe at the Griswold Inn
Shipbuilders and sailors were slaking their thirst as early as 1776 at the Griswold Inn and Tap Room in Essex. Today patrons can sit down to a hearty meal in one of the dining rooms or head down to the Tap Room — a cozy spot warmed by an old stone fireplace, the glow of a vintage popcorn machine, and a twinkling year-round Christmas tree. But when patrons join the Jovial Crew band in rounds of sea chanteys, this historic barroom fills with the warmest kind of cheer. In honor of the Griswold’s founding, order the inn’s own Revolutionary Ale.
What would you add to the list of the best things to do in Connecticut? Let us know in the comments below!
And see more great things to do in Connecticut (and beyond) in “The 85 Best Things to Do in New England.”This post was first published in 2020 and has been updated.