9 Memorable Things to Do in New Haven, CT

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New Haven, Connecticut. Perhaps not a place that normally rolls off the tongue when you think of New England. However, this city, nestled right along Long Island Sound and just a little over an hour away from New York City, might be worth adding to your list! There are so many great things to do in New Haven CT!

My husband and I moved to New Haven almost two years ago and have enjoyed exploring all the city has to offer. Did you know New Haven is actually the OG of U.S. cities? Yep, it was the very first planned city in the United States, founded in 1638. It began with eight streets that were laid out in a four-by-four grid, which is now the historic New Haven Green

Today, the city is a cultural epicenter, with a rich food and arts scene. It was named Best Foodie City in the country in 2014. Restaurants feature food from across the globe, including China, France, Greece, Thailand, India, South Korea, and many more. Several music and arts festivals take place in New Haven as well, like the New Haven Jazz Festival.

There’s no bad time to visit New Haven, since the winters are rather mild here compared to elsewhere in New England. We don’t get nearly as much snow as in northern Connecticut or Boston. (I’m sure there’s science behind it, perhaps something to do with the water along the Sound tempering our climate…but what do I know?) Conversely, summers here are very hot, so to really enjoy being outdoors, I prefer spring or fall. The added bonus during those seasons is you get to enjoy the beautiful colors on all the trees.

Regardless of when you plan to come, I’ve compiled a list of nine top things to see and do in New Haven. These are all things you could experience any time of the year!

Note: Some of these activities might be limited during these pandemic times, but bookmark them as you dream about future travels in a COVID-free world.

Yale University

Photo courtesy Amanda Ghanbarpour

Yale University, one of the eight Ivy League schools and the third oldest educational institution in the United States, has a stunning campus. I could walk around it for hours. The central campus covers 260 acres in downtown New Haven and features many buildings in the traditional “Collegiate Gothic” architectural style. 

Some notable sites at Yale include:

  • Sterling Memorial Library: The largest of all Yale libraries. It might remind you of a European cathedral when you see it, with its dramatic arches, cloisters, and 60-foot ceiling. 
  • Yale Center for British Art: The largest collection of British art outside of the United Kingdom, featuring artwork from the Elizabethan period onward.
  • Yale University Art Gallery: The oldest university art museum in the western hemisphere.
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Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library 

Photo courtesy Amanda Ghanbarpour

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is one of the largest buildings in the world reserved exclusively for the storage of rare books and manuscripts. The interior architecture is stunning, with its six-story glass-enclosed book display in the center. While that display is not open to the public, you can peer through the glass at various levels to see the hundreds of books housed on the shelves. I loved seeing some old classics there like Peter Pan.

The library has special exhibitions that are available for a limited time, as well as a few permanent exhibitions, including the Gutenberg Bible, which originated in Melk, Austria and was gifted to Yale in 1926.

Peabody Museum of Natural History

Photo courtesy Amanda Ghanbarpour

The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History is one of the oldest and largest university natural history museums in the world, most known for its Great Hall of Dinosaurs with a giant mounted Brontosaurus. When we first moved to New Haven, this was one of the places most locals recommended we see. It was easy to spend an afternoon here admiring the various exhibits. The entry fee is only $13 for adults and $6 for children ages 3-18.

Lighthouse Point Park

Photo courtesy Amanda Ghanbarpour

Lighthouse Point Park is a place we discovered shortly after moving to New Haven, and we immediately fell in love with it. It’s been closed this past year due to COVID, so we’ve really missed walking along the shore there to the Five Mile Point Light lighthouse. This park isn’t far from downtown, but it makes you feel like you’re miles from the city. It’s a great place to enjoy some fresh air on Long Island Sound. 

The park also features the old Lighthouse Point Carousel, built in 1911, which is still in operation seasonally. Many people choose Lighthouse Point Park for special events, from birthday picnics to wedding celebrations inside the pavilion.

West Rock Ridge State Park

Photo courtesy Amanda Ghanbarpour

New Haven’s iconic landmarks are its two reddish “trap rock” ridges known as East Rock and West Rock. We live not far from West Rock and enjoy the occasional hike in West Rock Ridge State Park, where you can walk all the way to the top of the ridge and enjoy panoramic views of the city.

One of our favorite parts of the park is Lake Wintergreen. The lake is surrounded by a trail that takes about 30-40 minutes to walk. It’s a nice, scenic path with lake views almost the entire time. We especially enjoy coming here close to sunset — the colors reflecting on the water are stunning during golden hour.

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East Rock Park

View from the top of East Rock – Photo courtesy Amanda Ghanbarpour

On the other side of New Haven is East Rock Park. At the top of the rock you’ll find the Soldiers and Sailors war monument, built in 1887 to commemorate the lives of New Haven residents that were lost during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War. 

Just beyond the monument is an overlook with stunning views of downtown New Haven and Long Island Sound beyond. A grassy area nearby has picnic tables where you can enjoy a packed lunch after the hike up. There are different trails to get to the top — so far we’ve only tried the main, paved trail that’s open to both cars and pedestrians.

Little Italy & Other Food Highlights

Sally’s Apizza – Photo courtesy Amanda Ghanbarpour

As mentioned earlier, New Haven is known for its food scene. Wooster Street is called New Haven’s “Little Italy,” boasting two popular pizzerias that have been around for quite some time: Pepe’s, founded in 1925, and Sally’s, founded in 1938. When we arrived, locals would argue about which pizzeria was better, so of course we had to visit both to decide for ourselves.

Ultimately, our favorite pizza is at Brazi’s Italian Restaurant on the Long Wharf side of New Haven (shh, don’t tell anyone), but we’d still recommend a visit to Little Italy while you’re in town. It’s definitely an experience.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention my favorite Choupette Creperie & Cafe, serving authentic French crepes, both savory and sweet. The owner is a native Parisian who will make you feel right at home. His relative also owns the Swiss restaurant nextdoor, Au Chalet, which serves traditional Raclette meals.

There are lots of other restaurants to try as well, such as Taste of China, Koon Thai, and Roia. Louis’ Lunch is a famous fast food restaurant in a tiny brick building on Crown Street, serving food since 1895. Apparently the Library of Congress credited the owner with inventing the hamburger and steak sandwich.

Another notable culinary experience is to eat from one (or more than one) of the 150 food carts that set up shop during weekday lunch hours in four locations around the city: Long Wharf Drive, Yale-New Haven Hospital (Cedar Street), Yale’s Trumbull College (Elm and York Streets), and the intersection of Prospect and Sachem Streets by Yale’s School of Management.

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New Haven Green & Downtown

Photo courtesy Amanda Ghanbarpour

The New Haven Green feels like the heart of New Haven, perhaps because it truly is where the city first started. The 16-acre green is a National Historic Landmark and is one of the oldest town greens in the U.S. Before COVID, it was a hot spot for many music and arts events. Three historic churches are on the Green and are aptly named: United Church on the Green, Center Church on the Green, and Trinity Church on the Green.

Within easy walking distance of the Green are Broadway Avenue, Chapel Street, and Whitney Avenue, each with their own shops and restaurants. A few of the places I highlighted in this article are on these streets, such as the Yale Art Gallery and Choupette Creperie.

Grove Street Cemetery

Photo courtesy Amanda Ghanbarpour

A cemetery may not typically be on your list when you visit a new place, but if you like history, you may enjoy a stroll through Grove Street Cemetery, which is a National Historic Landmark. The cemetery became the New Haven Burying Ground in 1796 when the town was quickly running out of space to bury people on the New Haven Green. There you’ll find the graves of 14 former Yale presidents along with other notable people. The cemetery is especially nice to walk through in the spring when the many trees on the grounds are in full bloom.

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