The 18 Best Things to Do in Connecticut

Beach and lighthouse at sunset

Ivan Lebedev / EyeEm / Getty Images

In Connecticut—the Nutmeg State—you can experience quintessential New England through 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 miss this tiny state, traveling through en route to northern New England destinations. But slowing down and spending some time in Connecticut can truly deliver a well-rounded vacation experience.

01 of 18

Visit the Former House of Mark Twain

Inside an old-timey living room of Mark Twain's former house
Archive Photos / Getty Images

The iconic novelist lived in this beautiful American High Gothic-style Hartford home from 1874 to 1891. It's where he wrote "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," and "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court." The Mark Twain House, restored and maintained as a museum, is now considered a National Historic Landmark. Come to explore the grounds, learn about Twain's legacy, and participate in regular activities, lectures, and educational programs.

02 of 18

Peruse an Old-Timey Village

Cute boutique in colonial-style building in Chester

Doug Kerr / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Chester, Connecticut, is an old mill town whose single-block Main Street is flanked by picturesque 19th-century buildings housing art galleries, boutiques, and independent eateries. Only about 4,300 permanent residents live in this sleepy village, a tranquil escape from bustling Hartford just 30 minutes away. Consider it a very Americanized version of the English walled cathedral city from which it gets its name.

03 of 18

Ride on an Antique Steam Train

Antique steam train outside traditional train station in Essex
Buyenlarge / Getty Images

The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat offers another nostalgic experience in the lower Connecticut River Valley. You can take a one-hour narrated tour via vintage steam locomotive—or make it two and a half hours if you fancy a riverboat ride also. The train departs from a 1892-era station and travels 12 miles round-trip through charming villages and nature reserves, including scenic Deep River, Chester, and Selden Neck State Park.

04 of 18

Find Round-the-Clock Entertainment at Connecticut's Casinos

Interior of Connecticut's Mohegan Sun

Mario Tama / Getty Images

Two of the largest casinos in North America aren't in Las Vegas—they're in Connecticut. Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket and Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, are open and lively 24/7/365. 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. Base yourself at the casinos, and you're also near more than a dozen other popular attractions in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

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05 of 18

Visit Mystic Seaport

Mystic Seaport

TripSavvy / Kathleen Messmer

Mystic Seaport ranks high as one of America's top maritime museums, 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.

06 of 18

Get Your Thrills at Lake Compounce

Lake Compounce Zoomerang Roller Coaster
Connecticut Office of Tourism

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 spooky Halloween-themed attraction—moves in, adding another dimension to your visit. For the ultimate family experience, stay on-site at Bear Creek Campground.

07 of 18

Kick Back at Hammonasset Beach State Park

Couple walking on the Hammonasset Beach Boardwalk
Kim Knox Beckius

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 a 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.

08 of 18

Explore Gillette Castle

Gillette Castle in the fall
Connecticut Office of Tourism

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 park 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—especially around the holidays. You'll be fascinated by the story behind this intriguing home as well as the beautiful decor.

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09 of 18

Learn About Native American History and Culture

Pequot Museum in Connecticut

Mario Tama / Getty Images

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 uses multimedia, interactive displays, and thoughtfully presented renditions of the tribe's evolution and its struggle to survive. Be sure to sign up for an audio tour to experience everyday life in a Native American village.

10 of 18

Eat Fresh Lobster

Close up of an Abbott's Lobster Roll
Connecticut Office of Tourism

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.

11 of 18

Cruise the Thimble Islands

Aerial view of the Thimble Islands, CT
Connecticut Office of Tourism

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.

12 of 18

Taste Wine on the Connecticut Wine Trail

People relaxing while a band plays at Sunset Meadow Vineyard, CT
Kim Knox Beckius

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.

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13 of 18

Go Gourmet at Westport Farmers Market

People shopping at Westport Farmers' Market
Westport Farmers' Market 

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 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. 

14 of 18

Experience New England Cuisine at Chowdafest

A woman grabbing toppings at Chowdafest

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, ice cream, and frozen treats. 

15 of 18

Tour Yale University

Building that is part of Yale University

Steve Dunwell / Getty Images 

Learn about Yale University's 300-year history by taking a tour through its New Haven campus. Daily guided tours take visitors 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. 

16 of 18

Smell the Roses

Flowers at the Elizabeth Park Conservatory
Elizabeth Park Conservatory

Elizabeth Gardens in West Hartford offers more than 100 acres of formal gardens, green spaces, recreational facilities, and walking trails. Here, you can spend several hours learning about the park's history, native trees, thriving perennials, and rose gardens. Join the park in June for its 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 takeout window offers gourmet hot dogs, ice cream, cold drinks, and warm-weather snacks throughout the summer.

(You may also want to visit the White Flower Farm in Litchfield.)

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17 of 18

Enjoy Shakespeare on the Sound

Actors rehearsing at Shakespeare On The Sound
 Shakespeare On The Sound

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.

18 of 18

Hike a Waterfall

Kent Falls State Park, Connecticut

  Posnov / Getty Images

Tucked away in Connecticut's portion of 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 (with a fishing license, please) to try your luck at catching a trout. The park is open year-round and has a limited capacity, dictated by available parking spaces.