Traveling in 2021? Please check with each state/destination for its current COVID-19 guidelines, as these are constantly changing and the most accurate, up-to-date information may not be reflected here.
Connecticut is one of New England’s most popular states. It’s southerly location and proximity to New York City make it an easy choice for a day trip or weekend trip to New England. And like the rest of the region, Connecticut is chock full of charm, history, and things to do and see.
Planning a visit to the Nutmeg State? We’ve put together an essential list of 50 of the top things to do in Connecticut. The activities on this list range from historic sites, family attractions, and quirky highlights to classic Connecticut items to eat and drink and beautiful spots not to be missed. Get ready to check off your Connecticut bucket list!
See the world’s last remaining wooden whaling ship
At one time, the fleet of whaling ships regularly sailing in the Atlantic was 2,700. The very last of these, The Charles W. Morgan, can be seen at Mystic Seaport. The ship, built in 1841, has the distinction of being the only wooden whale ship still afloat. There are a lot of great things to see at Mystic Seaport in general, so don’t miss it when visiting Connecticut.
Be impressed at Gillette Castle
Want to visit the epic stone castle of “Sherlock Holmes” high on a cliff? Yep, me too! Gillette Castle is well known among Connecticut attractions and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The actor William Gillette commissioned this home, and it was built in 1914. Gillette was most famous for portraying Sherlock Holmes, thus, the character has become quite attached to the castle.
Even without that interesting tidbit, this place is impressive, sitting high atop one of the hills of the “Seven Sisters”, in what is now known as Gillette Castle State Park.
Hit up the Durham Fair
This is one of the biggest agricultural fairs in all of New England. Today, it is a huge event, with a midway, rides, animal events, a monster truck rally, amazing fair food, and so much more. Fall of 2021 will mark the Durham Fair’s 101st anniversary.
Try your luck at CT’s famous casinos
When New Englanders want to win big, they play in Connecticut. The popular Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are the two spots everyone knows. These are both resorts, with much more than just gambling going on. Entertainment and activities are endless here, so be sure to take a closer look.
Stroll Connecticut’s longest stretch of beach
Heading to the coast is a must-do in Connecticut. If you’re in search of a long, welcoming beach, the 2-miles of sand at Hammonasset Beach Park are calling your name. See all 15 of Connecticut’s best beaches here.
Stop by The Mark Twain House
Are you a literary fan? You might want to pay a visit to The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford. Author Mark Twain, born Samuel Clemens, lived in this 11,500 square foot home from 1874 to 1891. While in residence, he wrote some of his most famous works, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
Take a peek at the Glass House
Speaking of cool houses, albeit ones of a very different nature, architecture lovers should not miss The Glass House. This is—you guessed it—a house made largely of glass. But truly, it’s more than that. The site comprises 14 structures across 49 pastoral acres, the focal point of which is The Philip Johnson Glass House, built by architect Philip Johnson between 1949 and 1995.
Sip at CT’s craft breweries
New England is keen on craft beer, and when in Connecticut, you simply have to stop at some of the local breweries. You can follow the CT Beer Trail to see and sip them all.
Dine at Arethusa al Tavolo
Regularly listed among the best restaurants in Connecticut, this Litchfield Hills spot has a robust menu that changes daily. Arethusa al Tavolo offers fine American dining crafted by Chef Dan Magill. Truly a farm-to-table establishment, the restaurant sources its butter, cheese, and all of its dairy from the 350 cows at its own connected Arethusa Dairy Farm.
Relax on a riverboat
To best enjoy the beauty and atmosphere of the Connecticut River, why not take a river tour? You can sail aboard a classic riverboat AND take a ride on a steam train with this company. If you just want to get on the water, various other cruise options are available to help you experience CT’s wildlife and scenic charm.
Ride an antique carousel
In downtown Hartford, you’ll find a classic carousel that’s over 100 years old! The 1914 Bushnell Park Carousel has been lovingly restored and guests can now take a ride on the historic painted steeds.
Explore the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
Get your culture on while traveling in Connecticut! The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, located in Hartford, boasts of a collection of nearly 50,000 works of art. Not only does it have 5,000 years of creativity on display, but it holds the honor of being the oldest continuously-operating public art museum in the United States.
Visit the belugas at Mystic Aquarium
Mystic Aquarium is one of the top things to do in Connecticut with kids! No kids? No problem? Adults love aquariums, too!
While there are many species living at the aquarium, the highlight might be the bright white beluga whales. They are lucky to have the largest outdoor beluga whale habitat in the entire United States
Grab a slice at Mystic Pizza
After admiring those adorable belugas, head to Downtown Mystic, CT for a slice of pizza. Specifically: Mystic Pizza! Fans of the 1980’s film starring Julia Roberts might find it hard not to stop here at the original location. And delicious pizza is available, of course!
Go to Devil’s Hopyard State Park
This is a great place for outdoor adventure in CT. Devil’s Hopyard State Park has beautiful hiking trails criss-crossing its 1000 acres, but it also has a lovely cascading waterfall, Chapman Falls. This is definitely a place you’ll want to explore for a bit, so considering camping here in the park, too.
See more of Connecticut’s prettiest waterfalls.
Discover the inspirations for Gilmore Girls
The early 2000’s saw many viewers obsessed with the quaint setting of the WB series Gilmore Girls. Set in a fictional town called Stars Hollow, CT, this show brought small-town Connecticut to life for many. While you won’t find the real Stars Hollow here, sadly, you can find spots that are reputed to have inspired creator Amy Sherman-Palladino.
Towns in the Litchfield Hills like Washington and Bantam will certainly give you a Stars Hollow vibe, but be sure to stop by The Mayflower Inn & Spa, said to be the inspiration for Stars Hollow’s Independence Inn, if not the whole show itself.
Have idyllic fall fun in a corn maze
What could be more representative of fall fun than a corn maze! Ellsworth Farm has a great one (and they also have apple picking! Win Win!)
Eat a lobster roll (in the place where it was invented)
Visiting New England? You gotta have a lobster roll! But Milford, Connecticut is said to be the very place where this awesome dish was first concocted. And while in Maine and other spots a lobster roll is often served cold, in CT, it is served warm, which in my opinion, is the better approach! Check out where to get the best lobster rolls in CT.
Visit the oldest operating amusement park in the US
You will find nostalgic charm at Lake Compounce, currently the USA’s oldest amusement park still in operation. It’s not just classic rides either, they’ve also got as well as Connecticut’s largest water park onsite. PS: Don’t miss riding “Boulder Dash”, voted the world’s #1 wooden roller coaster.
Peruse the The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
Like contemporary art? Come to The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield. This museum exhibits exclusively contemporary art, and prides itself on its “visionary exhibitions.”
Delight in nature at the Elizabeth Park Conservancy
You will find exquisite natural beauty at the Elizabeth Park Conservancy in Hartford. Perhaps most stunning is its rose garden, which typically blooms from Father’s Day to early fall. The Conservancy is open to visitors 365 days a year.
Follow the Connecticut Wine Trail
Did you know Connecticut has one of the fastest growing wine regions in the US? Yep! And you can tour the hottest spots when you follow the Connecticut Wine Trail. Stop and sip at amazing wineries and vineyards all over the state. If you’re looking for a guided tour of CT wineries, those are available also, from providers such as this one.
Drop by the campus at Yale University
Ah, Yale. That beacon of higher learning and academia. And a beautiful campus, too.
Fly into the New England Air Museum
The New England Air Museum is located in Windsor Locks, CT, and is a great place to visit for those with an interest in aircraft. There are not only exhibits of historic aircraft, but regular demonstrations and opportunities for learning. More than 55 aircraft of all kinds are on display in large sweeping hangars.
Have a day at the beach
This might not be the most unique item on this Connecticut bucket list, but it’s one worth including. There are many awesome beaches in Connecticut where you can have a fun day on the sand.
Stop at B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill
Did you know there is only one remaining steam-powered cider mill in the United States? That is B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mil in Old Mystic. They make hard cider and many other delicious apple treats. Visit in the autumn (they open in September), and get ready to wait in line for their delicious cider doughnuts.
Tour the Connecticut State Capitol
Even if you don’t have time to tour this state building, it’s worth a look at the grand exterior! There are self-guided tours, doable with a brochure available inside the building, but if you can, take a guided tour to learn more about the state’s history.
Browse this massive used book store
Avid readers and bookworms (like me) will find heaven on earth at the Book Barn in Niantic, CT. Not only is this used bookstore MASSIVE, with approximately 500,000 books on their shelves, they also have adorable CATS walking around. I mean, this is probably the #1 thing to do in Connecticut as far as I’m concerned.
Climb aboard the USS Nautilus
Have you ever wanted to tour a submarine? The Submarine Force Library & Museum is home to the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear powered submarine. The self-guided tour of the Nautilus is free, so go hop aboard and explore!
Get your hike on
Hiking is an essential New England activity. While you might not think of Connecticut as being a hiking mecca—it’s certainly not as hilly and mountainous as states like New Hampshire and Vermont), there are still hundreds of fantastic trails for hiking, walking, and exploring.
Find some historic, classic covered bridges
Covered bridges are a New England staple, and Connecticut has a few. The longest of these is the West Cornwall Covered Bridge, pictured below. Drive across slowly and revel in a moment that will take you back in time.
Experience the world’s largest indoor ropes course
The largest indoor ropes course in the entire world is located in New Haven, CT. Perhaps surprisingly (and a bit oddly) it’s located at a furniture store! There are more than 100 things to do at the IT Adventure Indoor Ropes Course, including a “liquid firework show (water show), double catwalk, crisscross angled rope ladders, zig-zag swinging beams, cargo nets, bridges, and so much more.” This place looks Fun with a capital F.
Visit the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center
The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center is a nonprofit educational center dedicated to the knowledge and celebration of indigienous cultures. It has been open since 1998 and is owned-and-operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. There’s a lot going on at this museum, which houses an auditorium, gallery, restaurant, classrooms, and plenty of exhibit space. This is the place to go to discover the history of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and dive deeper into the area’s natural history as well.
Admire Roseland Cottage
Historic homes are a wonderful place to visit, allowing guests to step into the past. The pink-painted Roseland Cottage, located in Woodstock, is a Gothic Revivial home built in 1846. You can tour the house and gardens and see what summers were like for Henry and Lucy Bowen and their family.
The house is simply beautiful, and also boasts the oldest indoor bowling alley in the world.
Ride a snowbike at Powder Ridge Park
Powder Ridge Park is a perfect place to enjoy the winter in Connecticut. They also have plenty of summer activities, too!
In the winter, the unique thing not to be missed is snowbike riding. This unusual activity is a great way to enjoy the magic of the slopes if you’re not a skiier or snowboarder. It’s just like…riding a bike!
Learn stuff at the Connecticut Science Center
Science museums are a wonderful way to pass a rainy day or a weekday afternoon: there’s so much to see and do. The Connecticut Science Center is no exception. In addition to exciting traveling exhibits there are over a dozen permanent exhibits, including Exploring Space, Butterfly Encounter, River of Life, Engineering Lab, and Rooftop Garden. Kids will be thrilled about all the interactive stuff that invites them to touch, jump, and even be LOUD (check out the Sight and Sound Exhibit).
Eat some apizza
No, that’s not a typo. “Apizza” is New Haven-style pizza, and it has some pretty interesting distinctions. Check out this definitive guide to find the best place to sample apizza.
Revel in fall colors in Litchfield County
It’s no secret that fall in New England is spectacular. And Connecticut boasts its own fair share of gorgeous autumn foliage. Litchfield County is one of the best places to take in the fall color, with its rolling hills and pastoral scenes everywhere you look.
Go ice skating at Bushnell Park
When winter arrives, Winterfest hits Hartford. In downtown’s Bushnell Park, an ice skating rink appears each year, where families can glide on the ice and enjoy one of the best winter activities there is. Best of all, the ice skating and skate rentals are totally free. This is a unique offering that you don’t see often and it makes it possible for thousands of visitors to enjoy the rink each holiday season. Very cool.
Catch some live theatre
There is a great deal of excellent professional (and amateur) theatre in the state of Connecticut. Check out Goodspeed Opera House for Broadway-quality productions, Yale Repertory Theatre for some serious drama, and the Ivoryton Playhouse for fun summer stock shows.
Pick your own produce
Farmer’s markets, berry farms, apple orchards: find a local spot in Connecticut where you can pick your own items fresh from the ground, tree, or bush. Ellsworth Farm in Litchfield Hills is a great option for these activities.
Christmas time? Consider cutting down your own Christmas tree from one of these Connecticut farms.
Spend time at Bluff Point State Park
Bluff Point State Park is an 800-acre park on a largely undeveloped peninsula between the Poquonnock River and Mumford Cove. Here you’ll discover pleasant trails for biking and hiking, with views over Long Island Sound.
Keep your eyes peeled for plenty of avian wildlife, and if you’re into fishing, bring your poles. Potential species to be caught include bluefish, striped bass, summer and winter flounder, blackfish, and more. With a permit, you can also fish for shellfish here.
Check out the historic homes in Wethersfield
One of the things that attracts many visitors to New England is its historic buildings. If you enjoy historic homes, make your way to Old Wethersfield. There you’ll come upon CT’s largest historic district, with over 100 pre-Civil War-era homes.
Go lighthouse hopping
It should come as no surprise that Connecticut has lighthouses in abundance! You can tour some of them or view them from land or by water only in some cases. You may find that one particular lighthouse quickly becomes your favorite.
Interestingly, there are many tales of haunted lighthouses in Connecticut. Learn about those and more haunted places in New England here.
Escape to one of CT’s charming small towns
Small towns in New England are such special places. In Connecticut you can find many such villages and towns, perhaps even when you’re not looking for them. But to give you a few hints, here are a couple of the cutest small towns in Connecticut: Old Saybrook, Guilford, Kent, Storrs, and Simsbury. For an excellent place to stay in/near these towns, consider one of these charming Connecticut cabins.
Eat at the cafe that invented the hamburger
Louis’ Lunch in New Haven has the true record: they are the birthplace of the hamburger sandwich and the Library of Congress says so. Grab a classic burger in this small, cute restaurant, but know that they only offer tomato, onion, and cheese so you get the burger’s true flavor.
Bike along the Farmington River Trail
Connecticut is a great destination for cycling with many trails zig-zagging across the state. One not to miss is the Farmington River Trail, a 26-mile stretch of mostly paved trail. With pretty views of the river, woods, and scenic mills, this is one of the best.
Take a walk on the Niantic boardwalk
This walk isn’t very long, comprising just over 1 mile, but it’s a pleasant and relaxing place to take in views over Long Island Sound.
Sample the delights at Jonathan Edwards Winery
Wine is, to me, one of my favorite parts of travel, if not life itself. The Jonathan Edwards Winery is a fabulous CT winery of a bicoastal nature: much of the harvest still comes from Wine Country itself, California’s Napa Valley. Enjoy tastings and tours at this beautiful site and take home a bottle of your favorite, if you so choose.
Go camping in Pachaug State Forest
Get out in the wilderness in Connecticut’s largest state forest. Covering 24,000 acres, Pachaug State Forest presents countless opportunities to revel in the great outdoors. There are several different campgrounds for pitching your tent (or parking your RV) and there is even a horse camp, so equestrians can enjoy the trails over several days.
You might also like:
- 101 Things to Do in New England: The Ultimate New England Bucket List
- 10 Unique Airbnbs in Connecticut: Boats, Treehouses, & More
- The Best Family Vacations in New England: 8 Exciting Destinations
Pin this post to save for later!
Amy is the founder of New England with love. A proud Vermonter, she hopes to share her love of New England and help you find the best adventures in the region. Amy is also blogger/founder at Two Drifters, where she writes alongside her husband about romantic and couples travel, relationships, honeymoons, and more. When not working on websites, Amy is probably reading, cuddling with her husband and cats, & drinking a maple latte.