12 Top Things to Do in Mystic, Connecticut

Mystic Seaport Connecticut

DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

Mystic, a shipbuilding and whaling hub during the 17th to 19th centuries, is Connecticut’s best-known shoreline city. Situated on the banks of the Mystic River—the two sides are linked by the state’s most photographed and fascinating upward swing-span bridge—it's home to must-see attractions known for entertaining families and enthralling maritime history buffs.

Some of the best things to do in Mystic, like grabbing a slice of pizza made famous by the movie "Mystic Pizza," are famous far beyond Connecticut’s borders. Others, like observing the restoration of historic sea vessels, are hidden treats beloved by local residents that are well worth discovering.

01 of 12

Tour a Legendary Lighthouse

Stonington Lighthouse Museum

shunyufan / Getty Images

7 Water St, Stonington, CT 06378-1422, USA
Phone +1 860-535-1440

Just a 10-minute drive from downtown Mystic, the Stonington Lighthouse Museum tells the story of its light, which operated from 1840 to 1889 before serving as housing for the many keepers who ran nearby breakwaters until 1909. Eventually, it was purchased by the Stonington Historical Society in 1925 and turned into a museum by 1927.

Learn about the maritime and agricultural history of the area, once populated by farmers, sea captains, and sailors, see artifacts left behind by its former inhabitants, and climb the 29 steps to the top of the tower to view the scenic Fisher's Island Sound and three states—New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut—on a clear day.

02 of 12

Visit the Mystic Museum of Art

Mystic Museum of Art

Mystic Museum of Art

Head to the Mystic Museum of Art to view its impressive collection of more than 250 works hailing from its founding in 1913 through today. American artists Beatrice Cuming, Henry Ward Ranger, and Robert Brackman are featured, while other works represent Tonalism, American Impressionism, and everything in between. Other recent traveling exhibitions have highlighted contemporary quilting patterns, printmaking and typography, and Norman Rockwell's beloved Saturday Evening Post covers, among other artistic themes.

9 Water St, Mystic, CT 06355-2592, USA
Phone +1 860-536-7601
03 of 12

Make Memories at Mystic Aquarium

Beluga Whale viewing window, Mystic Aquarium
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images
55 Coogan Blvd, Mystic, CT 06355-1927, USA
Phone +1 860-572-5955

Far more than a home for a vast variety of marine creatures including New England’s only captive whales, Mystic Aquarium is a research and rescue facility and a multifaceted attraction that captivates all ages. Allow a full day to experience all the aquarium has to offer, including sea lion shows in the Foxwoods Marine Theater, touch tanks, ​and a 4-D theater.

Mystic Aquarium is perhaps best known for its one-of-a-kind encounter programs, which allow visitors to meet a beluga whale or an African penguin up-close. Although the added fee of around $100.00 for a close encounter is steep, the experience is one you’ll remember for a lifetime.

04 of 12

Explore Mystic Seaport Museum

Mystic Seaport, Connecticut
Walter Bibikow / Getty Images
75 Greenmanville Ave, Mystic, CT 06355, USA
Phone +1 860-572-0711

Mystic Seaport Museum, a 17-acre village on the banks of the Mystic River, is Connecticut’s best living history attraction. Climb aboard the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship in existence and the crown jewel of Mystic Seaport Museum’s collection of historic vessels. You can also see a planetarium show, marvel at extensive collections of maritime art and artifacts, or chat with coopers, shipsmiths, and other village artisans. After several hours exploring the venue, sustenance isn't far away as several lunch options are right on site.

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05 of 12

Observe Mystic’s Bascule Bridge in Action

Mystic CT Bascule Bridge

TripSavvy / Kim Knox Beckius

Mystic, CT 06355, USA

The bascule bridge spanning the Mystic River has been in operation since 1922. “Bascule” is French for “seesaw,” and this unique style of drawbridge was patented in 1918 by Thomas E. Brown, who also designed the Eiffel Tower’s elevator.

Much like a seesaw, the bridge is opened by the mechanical lowering of immense counterbalancing weights. When the bridge opens to allow tall boats to pass through, traffic backs up on Route 1. One of the best vantage points for watching Mystic’s bascule bridge in operation is the dock behind the Steamboat Inn.

06 of 12

Sail Aboard the Schooner Argia

Mystic Seaport

TripSavvy / Kathleen Messmer

12 Steamboat Wharf, Mystic, CT 06355, USA
Phone +1 860-536-0416

You wouldn’t skip the Colosseum in Rome. Don’t miss the chance to set sail out of Mystic, Connecticut’s historic shipbuilding port. From May through mid-October, the two-masted Schooner Argia will take you through the bascule bridge and out dancing on the breezes of Fishers Island Sound. Pack a picnic or snacks and your own beer, wine, or non-alcoholic beverages for a daytime or sunset lighthouse- and island-spotting cruise.

07 of 12

Sip Sweet or Hard Cider Made the Old Fashioned Way

B.F. Clyde's Cider Mill

Cynthia Donovan / Flickr / CC BY-2.0

129 N Stonington Rd, Mystic, CT 06355, USA
Phone +1 860-536-3354

Mystic is home to the only steam-powered cider mill in the U.S. still cranking out sweet apple cider and potent hard cider. Each fall, ​B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill is a family friendly destination for apple cider donuts, fresh-pressed cider, and apple wine tastings. October and November weekends are the best time to go, as that’s when you can see the old press in action, operating just as it always has since 1881.

08 of 12

Savor a Slice of Heaven at Mystic Pizza

Mystic Pizza

TripSavvy / Kathleen Messmer

56 W Main St, Mystic, CT 06355, USA
Phone +1 860-536-3700

The movie that launched Julia Roberts’ career also put a little pizza spot in Mystic, Connecticut, on the map. Fun fact: "Mystic Pizza" wasn’t actually filmed at the restaurant—a replica was built inside a nearby warehouse—but three decades later, Mystic visitors still love stopping into Mystic Pizza for “a slice of heaven” and the chance to see movie memorabilia. Try the garlicky Seafood Delight pie topped with shrimp, clams, and scallops.

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09 of 12

Hunt for Rare Vinyl at Mystic Disc

Mystic Disc Record Store

TripSavvy / Kim Knox Beckius

10 Steamboat Wharf, Mystic, CT 06355, USA
Phone +1 860-536-1312

You thought record stores were as extinct as dinosaurs? Not in Mystic, where Mystic Disc has survived for more than 33 years thanks to owner Dan Curland’s vast music knowledge and devoted customers. Rock, jazz, country, folk, and reggae are all represented and if you’re a vinyl collector, you’ll want to spend hours flipping through the bins in the cramped shop. Even if you haven’t owned a turntable in years, the nostalgia factor alone is worth the visit. Customers can also listen to anything before they buy. 

10 of 12

Shop and Dine at Olde Mistick Village

Olde Mystic Village

Lisa Jacobs / Flickr / CC BY-2.0

27 Coogan Blvd, Mystic, CT 06355, USA
Phone +1 860-536-4941

Remember the days before mega-malls and Amazon? If so, you’ll love poking around the cute shops at Olde Mistick Village. Sporting the look and feel of an early 1700s New England village, the retail complex appeals to gift seekers with shops like Irish Eyes, Sofia’s Mystical Christmas, and Raining Cats and Dogs. Outdoor activities, books, tea… whatever excites you is likely to have a shop catering to that specific interest. There’s even an old-fashioned kite shop. When you work up an appetite, treat yourself to homemade ice cream or a meal at restaurants like Steak Loft or Go Fish.

11 of 12

Take a Stroll Around Downtown Mystic

Downtown Mystic

m01229 / Flickr / CC BY-2.0

This historic but lively coastal neighborhood stretches along both banks of the Mystic River. Downtown Mystic is home to more than 80 independently owned shops, restaurants, bistros, ice cream parlors, and souvenir stores. Downtown is also the setting for special events like the Mystic Outdoor Art Festival and the St. Patrick's Day Mystic Irish Parade.

31 Water St, Mystic, CT 06355-2568, USA
Phone +1 860-572-5942
12 of 12

Go Bird Watching

Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center

Lisa Jacobs / Flickr / CC BY-ND 3.0 

Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center is a lush, green nature reserve where local residents and visitors can go hiking, birding, or looking for wildlife. Situated on 350 acres of mixed woods, wetlands, and meadows, you can wander the trails and enjoy searching for marsh birds, turtles, and frogs in the pond and wildflowers in the meadows.

109 Pequotsepos Rd, Mystic, CT 06355, USA
Phone +1 860-536-1216
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12 Top Things to Do in Mystic, Connecticut