In Connecticut—the Nutmeg State—you can experience quintessential New England through the historic architecture, expansive farms, and traditional seaports. Here, there's something for everyone to enjoy, whether you're a nature lover, a beach-goer, or a gambler. Take in the round-the-clock entertainment at the state's two immense casinos, peruse historic houses and museums, and eat and drink your way through farm-to-table offerings and wine trail experiences.
Coastal towns, like Mystic and Norwalk, offer Seaport museums and aquariums housing centuries-old ships and native sea life. Far too often, visitors surpass this tiny state, traveling through in route to northern New England destinations. But slowing down and spending some time in Connecticut can truly deliver a well-rounded vacation experience.
Two of the largest casinos in North America surprisingly aren't in Las Vegas—they're in Connecticut. Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket and Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut put gaming and entertainment on the Nutmeg State's map. And you don't have to be a gambler to enjoy them, either. Connecticut's casinos feature some of the state's finest restaurants and host popular concerts and sporting events, including WNBA basketball games. Add to that shopping, spas, comedy shows, and nightclubs—including one beneath a planetarium dome—and you never even need to set foot on the gaming floor.
Mystic Seaport ranks high as one of America's top maritime museum, making it a fascinating place to spend a day. This attraction alone—complete with a stop off in historic in Mystic itself—is worth making the trip to Connecticut. Climb aboard massive ships, watch skilled craftsmen at work, explore a recreated nineteenth-century coastal village, check out art and artifacts exhibits, and cruise along the Mystic River in a coal-fired boat. A day at the Seaport tells the tale of how the sea shaped both America's history and economy.
Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut is the nation's oldest amusement park. However, the facilities aren't antiquated. With a wave pool, a water park, and numerous roller coasters and rides for young kids, the whole family can have fun. The park operates May through October with shows and carnival nostalgia featured alongside their rides. When October rolls around, the Haunted Graveyard—a scary Halloween themed attraction—moves in, adding another dimension to your visit. For the ultimate family experience, stay on-site at Bear Creek Campground.
The warm and gentle waves of the Long Island Sound welcome folks to Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison. And this beach—the largest in the state— is a popular place, hosting more than one million visitors each year. When summer's crowds dissipate and the seaside camping season ends, the busy vibe at Hammonasset changes. This is a great time to take a scenic stroll along the water and observe the natural beauty of the Connecticut shoreline.
The Mystic Aquarium—neighbor to the Mystic Seaport—boasts a world-class facility that houses sea life ranging from mesmerizing jellyfish to playful penguins. But that's not all they offer. Check out their 4-D theater, sea lion shows, and whale feedings. Add to your aquarium experience by reserving your spot in an animal encounter program. Spending time in the tank with a beluga whale or engaging with penguins in their simulated habitat is one for the bucket list.
Touring this castle takes you back in time through historic Connecticut. Gillette Castle in East Haddam is an architectural anomaly and the former quirky home of actor William Gillette. The state perk grounds alone, with their Connecticut River views, will take your breath away. Venture inside the castle (for a small fee) and take a self-guided tour around the holiday. you'll be fascinated by the story behind this intriguing home as well as the beautiful Christmas decor. After the tour, hang out on the weekend afternoon for outdoor entertainment including bonfires, carolers, and a children's scavenger hunt.
Connecticut is home to one of the nation's best Native American museums featuring history, arts, and culture. Built by the Pequot tribe that experienced an influx of tribal funds following the opening of Foxwoods, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum in Mashantucket uses multimedia, interactive displays, and thoughtfully presented renditions of the tribe's evolution and its struggle to survive.
Sign up for an audio tour to experience everyday life in a Native American village, but keep in mind that the Mashantucket Pequot Museum is only open from April through November each year (with reduced hours in November).
Nothing beats eating fresh-cooked seafood al fresco in a waterside setting. And that's what makes the famous Abbott's Lobster in the Rough in Noank worth a pilgrimage. For years, Abbott's has been known for making the best lobster rolls in all of New England—a quarter-pound mound of sweet lobster, bathed in butter, and served on a toasted bun (deemed a "Connecticut-Style hot lobster roll). Open seasonally from early May through mid-October, Abbott's is a BYOB restaurant. So, pack some drinks to enjoy alongside your food and the views.
Off the coast of Connecticut in the Long Island Sound lies an archipelago of tiny, storied islands. In fact, one of the Thimble Islands is so small that it holds nothing more than a gazebo. Depart from Stony Creek aboard the Volsunga IV with Captain Bob for a memorable jaunt around these exclusive, private island hideaways. You'll hear tales of pirate treasure, about circus legend Tom Thumb, and hear the recount of a newlywed couple's revenge on a meddling mother-in-law. If you fall in love with the Thimbles, why not buy one? That is if you have a few spare millions.
There are 26 vineyards along the Connecticut Wine Trail, so, for the best experience, design your Connecticut itinerary around visiting only a few. It's a lovely way to support Connecticut's push to maintain its agricultural heritage while encountering some of Connecticut's most picturesque countryside. Most wine trail members offer tastings and many offer vineyard tours, as well. Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston is one of the most enchanting stops on the trail. This winery's Hayloft Wine Bar resides on the second floor of a nineteenth-century barn that overlooks scenic Lake Waramaug. It's an ideal place to spend a summer or autumn afternoon. Or, pack a picnic and visit Sunset Meadow Vineyards in Goshen to enjoy live music seasonally on Sunday afternoons.
If you're looking for organic produce, fresh fish, and artisanal farmers market finds—like handmade cheeses or homemade kombucha—the Westport Farmers Market has it. This market is chock full of produce grown by regional farms and offered alongside gluten-free baked goods and vendors selling ethnic lunch items. Head there on Thursdays throughout the growing season (May 23 through late fall) to pick up your weekend dinner. Or pop in for a meal during lunchtime if you need a break from the office.
New Englanders know how to make chowder (regionally pronounced "chowdah"). And at Westport's Chowdafest, each fall, you can sample the best soups from up to 40 restaurants from Connecticut to Maine. Each restaurant enters its chowder to be judged in one of four categories, including Classic New England Clam Chowder, Creative Chowder, Soup or Bisque, and Vegetarian. Admission gets you unlimited samplings of all the chowders in the fest and you can enjoy them alongside Wave Hill Breads, Little Leaf Farms salads, and ice cream and frozen treats.
Learn about Yale University's 300-year history by taking a tour through its New Haven campus. Guided tours—conducted Monday through Friday at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.—take you through the central campus area and into the Gothic Sterling Memorial Library and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Hear about student life, view 100 panels of translucent marble in the Beinecke Library, and marvel over the quintessential New England architecture. Tours are geared towards a broad audience and offered in several foreign languages.
Elizabeth Gardens in West Hartford offers over 100 acres of formal gardens, green spaces, recreational facilities, and walking trails. Here, you can take several tours that teach you about the park's history, native trees, thriving perennials, and rose gardens. Join the park in June for their annual fundraiser, Wine and Roses, complete with a cocktail reception, light fare, desserts, dancing, and a silent auction. The park is open sunrise to sunset and the Pond House Cafe's take-out window offers gourmet hot dogs, ice cream, cold drinks, and warm-weather snacks throughout the summer.
Enjoy professional Shakespeare performances at Pinkney Park on the waterfront in Norwalk. This trendy section of town (referred to as Rowayton) is located near the Metro-North train station and boasts the area's finest restaurants (for a bite to eat before or after the show). Take in remarkable renditions of timeless Shakespeare tragedies and comedies while kicking back on the lawn. High backed chairs are reserved for the hillside, while blankets get a seat up front. Or, you can pay to reserve a chair for the best seating in the house.
If you've never tried glamping, Club Getaway's chic cabins, complete with linens and daily housekeeping, will bring you back to your childhood (but in an adult-only atmosphere). This camp, geared towards adrenalin junkies and fitness fanatics, offers road biking, mountain biking, waterskiing, wakeboarding, stand-up paddle boarding, canoeing, and kayaking. You can also participate in daily Zumba and yoga classes. Their gourmet camp dining hall accommodates any special requests and cocktail enthusiasts will love the on-site bar.
The Danbury Fair Mall is considered one of the best shopping experiences in Connecticut. Complete with high-end stores like Lord and Taylor, Anthropologie, and J Crew, this mall draws shoppers from both Fairfield County, Connecticut and Westchester County, New York. The mall, itself, was built on the site of the historical Danbury Fair which hosted a yearly agricultural exhibition from 1869 to 1981. In its early days, the fair offered goods from tobacco and home-brewed wines to hats, boots, and saddles. Today, fair memorabilia is displayed throughout the mall's food court and a double-decker carousel honors the land's roots.
Tucked away in Connecticut's Appalachia is Kent Falls State Park with its 250-foot waterfall and hiking trails. In the spring, gushing water will kiss your face as you hike the park's main trail up the falls. In the fall, the waterfall becomes more of a trickle, as the surrounding foliage takes the main stage. Bring your fishing pole (complete with a fishing license) to try your luck at catching a trout. The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset and has a limited capacity, dictated by available parking spaces.