Whether you're interested in history, literature, art, sports, science, or outdoor recreation, there is so much to learn and do in Connecticut's capital city of Hartford. Situated between New York City and Boston, Hartford is an often overlooked destination, yet its manageable size, attractive buildings like the gold-domed State Capitol, and location on the vibrant Connecticut River make it a perfect weekend getaway. The city's top attractions are not merely tourist destinations, they're important cultural and community resources that stimulate the imagination. As notable former resident Mark Twain once proclaimed of Hartford, "You do not know what beauty is if you have not been here.”
Step Into Mark Twain's World
When you tour Mark Twain’s whimsical Victorian house, located on Hartford's west side, you'll "meet" the beloved author and his family—cats included—and understand his work, life, times, and humor in a way that is three-dimensional and quite poignant. Known best by his pen name, Samuel Clemens wrote his most enduring novels, "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," here in this home, and among the many special events and experiences the property hosts each year are opportunities to write in Twain's library. Spend time viewing a film and exhibits and shopping for Twain-themed and Hartford gifts in the adjacent museum, as well.
Stop and Smell the Roses in Elizabeth Park
Hartford's West End neighborhood is home to Elizabeth Park, America’s oldest municipal rose garden where you can stretch your legs and inhale the sweet fragrance of flowers in bloom. The roses, in a vivid array of colors and heirloom varieties, are at their peak in June, but this is a photogenic spot to visit year-round with greenhouses, gardens, a pond with a fountain, and the Pond House Café, a waterside restaurant serving colorful fare made with fresh, local ingredients. Elizabeth Park also hosts outdoor movies, concerts, and ballet performances; yoga classes; and workshops and tours for garden enthusiasts.
Visit America’s Oldest Continually Operating Public Art Museum
Founded in 1842, Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum is a city treasure. Stepping inside this dramatic Gothic Revival building is like entering an artistic time capsule, where you will be impressed and inspired by the caliber and diversity of works on display. Home to more than 50,000 objects including notable collections of Hudson River School paintings, colonial American decorative arts, European and American Impressionist paintings, and Samuel Colt firearms, the Wadsworth also hosts changing exhibitions and events such as the annual holiday-season Festival of Trees and Traditions.
Cheer for the Home Teams
Downtown Hartford's XL Center is home ice for the Hartford Wolf Pack AHL team and UConn men's hockey team and sometimes home court for UConn men's and women's basketball. Get tickets to a game, and you'll be adopted instantly into the Pack or Husky Nation.
On the east side of the capital city, Riverside Park and Riverfront Plaza are ideal places for a picnic or walk along the Connecticut River, which played a critical role in Hartford's development. The first Europeans settled on the river's shores in 1635 and the city's insurance industry was starting in 1810 to provide peace of mind for shipping companies operating on New England's longest river. You can even walk across the Connecticut River on the Founders Bridge Promenade for spectacular views, particularly during fall foliage season. The sculptures you'll see on the bridge and in the parks are part of the Lincoln Financial Sculpture Walk: a collection of 16 commissioned works that celebrate Abraham Lincoln's life.
Take Your Kids to the Connecticut Science Center
Hartford's must-see family attraction is this interactive science museum, where kids of all ages can learn without ever realizing they're not just having fun. The Connecticut Science Center's striking riverfront building holds four floors of exhibits plus a 3D science theater, where movies screened explore the natural world. In the Sports Lab alone, you'll have experiences that range from engineering the perfect bike to skiing on simulated slopes to racing using your brain waves. Don't have kids? Check the Science Center's calendar of programs geared for adults including popular Liquid Lounge events, when the museum becomes a grown-up playground.
The 1914 carousel in Hartford's Bushnell Park is a moving work of art that delights riders of all ages. When you're longing for simpler times, choose one of the ponies handcarved by Russian immigrants Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein, and allow the carousel's music and motion to soothe your spirits. Housed inside an enclosed pavilion that allows for an extended season, the carousel is an affordable diversion at just $2 per ride. Carousel lovers may also want to make a side trip to the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol while they're in the Hartford area.
Experience Theater in the Round
Riveting performances await at Hartford Stage, an intimate theater-in-the-round, where there isn't a bad seat in the house. For more than 50 years, this stage has been home to everything from Shakespeare plays to world-premiere musicals. Holiday-season productions of "A Christmas Carol" are a cherished Hartford tradition. Devoted to educating as well as entertaining, Hartford Stage also offers theater enthusiasts unique opportunities, from pre-show discussions to classes for kids, teens, and adults.
Discover Connecticut's Past
The Connecticut Historical Society Museum & Library in Hartford's West End chronicles the state's past via a variety of engaging exhibits. With a collection of more than 4 million artifacts and publications, including treasures such as one of the five flags that decorated President Abraham Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theatre on the night he was assassinated, the Society has deep collections to draw on for changing exhibitions, as well. In addition to showcasing more than 400 years of objects made in Connecticut, hands-on activities provide insight into everything from how Native American moccasins are stitched to the work children did in Industrial-era factories.
Savor a Taste of New Orleans
Black-Eyed Sally's is more than just Hartford's best place to celebrate Mardi Gras. It's your always reliable spot for down-home fare like gumbo, smoky ribs, jambalaya, and fried oyster po’boys. It could be sleeting sideways in the capital city, and you'd never know it when the live music's playing. From jam sessions to national blues acts, the calendar is loaded with performances that transport Connecticut residents and visitors to the sultry bayou.
Get to Know Harriet Beecher Stowe
Mark Twain's Hartford neighbor, Harriet Beecher Stowe, is best remembered as the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," a novel that powerfully ignited antislavery sentiments. At the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, next door to the Mark Twain House, you can tour the Victorian brick cottage where she lived from 1871 to 1896 and "meet" this prolific and multifaceted woman who also wrote children's stories and was the Martha Stewart of her day.
Tour Cedar Hill Cemetery
Many Hartford notables—including Katharine Hepburn, Samuel Colt, and J.P. Morgan—are buried within this peaceful, park-like, 270-acre cemetery in the city's South End. You're welcome to visit free any time the cemetery is open and embark on your own self-guided tour or check the schedule of upcoming themed tours and experiences offered by the Cedar Hill Cemetery Foundation. Lantern-lit Hallowed History tours in October are particularly popular.
Catch a Show at Brew HaHa Comedy Club
Connecticut Yankees take pride in their ability to laugh off everything from losing seasons to power outages. Whenever they need a humor boost, the state’s oldest comedy club comes through with a line-up of comics like Jay Black and Jourdain Fisher who are hot names on the club, competition, and festival scene. You'll find Hartford's Brew HaHa Comedy Club in the dimly lit, brick-walled basement of the city's popular microbrewery, City Steam. Before venturing downstairs, view the brewing operation and admire the architectural details inside this former department store, which has been a Hartford landmark since 1876. You can order from the full menu of pub fare and loosen your laughter muscles with beers crafted via a unique, steam-powered process.
View Some Expensive Rocks
Hartford is home to minimalist sculptor Carl Andre’s largest work: "Stone Field." His first outdoor site sculpture, which debuted in 1977, was also his last, and if you check it out, you may have an inkling as to why. Located at the intersection of Gold and Main Streets near Hartford’s Ancient Burying Ground and Center Church, you could wander past the 36 boulders strewn across a triangular lawn and easily never know they're art. The city spent $87,000 on this installation, an investment many still question, but at least the cost of admission is free!
Drink and Mingle at Hartford's Prettiest Bar
It's a three-level party at the Russian Lady: Hartford's storied nightlife spot and one of the prettiest bars you’ll ever encounter. Among the antiques are 900-year-old Chinese doors, repurposed as a bar top. You might find a DJ, acoustic act, or band in the main-floor restaurant, the second-level billiards room and vodka lounge, or on Hartford's largest rooftop patio, and on Saturdays, all three are typically hopping. This is a great spot to watch the Huskies or your favorite team, too. The laidback restaurant has both individual tabletop and big-screen TVs.