14 Best Places to Visit in Connecticut
Connecticut is a natural wonderland packed with some of the country's most inspiring landscapes. From crashing waterfalls to sparkling lakes to verdant forests to sprawling golden beaches, there's much to love about the Nutmeg State.
In addition to its organic wonders, Connecticut is packed with charming towns that exude New England charm; maritime villages that beg you to jump on a fishing boat; and larger cities that boast excellent museums, vibrant arts scenes, and fabulous restaurants. No matter what you're looking for, you'll find it in this East Coat gem.
With so many great spots, it can be hard to choose your destination. Whittle down your choices with our list of the best places to visit in Connecticut.
We've found the cure for stress. Hint: it's in Kent. Serenely nestled a mere two hours from bustling New York City, Kent is the place where worries disappear. Home to the picturesque Bull's Bridge, one of only three covered bridges in Connecticut, and two gorgeous state parks (Kent Falls and Macedonia Brook), Kent takes bucolic to a new level.
The town itself is adorable, chock full of charming shops, cafés, and restaurants. It offers a perfect place to unwind and enjoy a sunny afternoon. Don't miss the darling House of Books, an enchanting bookstore on Main Street that dates back to 1976.
Kent's true beauty, however, lies just outside its border, within the rolling Litchfield Hills. This is where your face will be brushed by mist from the Kent Falls, your ears lulled by the crashing sound of water cascading down Macedonia Falls, and your feet massaged by rocks lining the trails through Kent's miles of wilderness.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Kent
The Mystic River gently laps the shores of this lovely maritime village, drawing attention to its storied history as an important port.
All types of vessels, including massive whaling ships, sailed through and docked at Mystic Harbor. You can see replicas, as well as some refurbished originals, at the remarkable Mystic Seaport Museum. With so many great things to offer (i.e. a 19th-century seafaring village, children's museum, and the Charles W. Morgan wooden whaleship), this vast spot deserves a full day of your time.
While in Mystic, book a cruise on the Argia, a two-masted Gaff Topsail schooner, to spot the massive yachts, coastal homes, and sailboats dotting the horizon.
Then, hit the Mystic Aquarium. One of the top places to visit in Mystic, this impressive venue is also one of the best tourist attractions in Connecticut.
Before heading home, stop for a meal and some retail therapy at the unique and picture-perfect Olde Mistick Village, an outdoor mall set to look like an 18th-century New England village.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mystic
3. Old Saybrook
Lovely Old Saybrook is one of the most beautiful beach towns in Connecticut. Harvey's Beach is its main attraction, with its fine sand and calm surf. The Lynde Point Lighthouse, though, is deemed by many to be more picturesque — it's been photographed a bazillion times.
One of the oldest towns in the state, Old Saybrook overflows with charm and enticing antique shops you can't ignore. The background is picture-perfect, especially in the Fenwick Historic district, which boasts shingled cottages dating to the 19th- and early 20th centuries.
Katherine Hepburn once called this quaint town home, a fact never to be forgotten with the cultural arts center named in her honor. The Kate, as it's known to locals, features concerts, films, comedy acts, and other great entertainment year-round.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Old Saybrook
4. Hammonasset State Park
The shining star of Madison, Hammonasset State Park is a must-see. Home to the largest beach in the state — it runs two miles in length — this lovely park is also one of the most popular places to visit in Connecticut. It was opened in 1920 and has been popular ever since. Quite crowded in the summer, especially on a weekend, it's best to hit the beach early, so you can enjoy all it has to offer.
From walking on the boardwalk to cycling to hiking to swimming to SUPing to fishing, there's plenty to keep everyone occupied near this fine sandy shore.
Want to stay even longer? Book a night or more at one of the park's campsites. While in the park, don't miss the Meigs Point Nature Center, an inspiring spot, where wildlife lovers can explore saltwater marshes and spy captivating birds and other creatures.
More business oriented than most other Connecticut towns, Stamford has a lot to offer those who shy away from the Fortune 500 Companies that use it as a home base. Yes, you'll find tall office and condo buildings here, but with this cosmopolitan atmosphere comes a lot of cultural pluses.
The Stamford Museum & Nature Center offers historic education in a serene natural setting. Kids will love the bespoke playground. Where else can you perch in a human-sized bird's nest?
The Avon Theater sits downtown, on the popular Bedford Street, just a couple of minutes' walk from Stamford Town Center. You can watch independent and foreign films here to up your sophistication meter.
Harbor Point has been newly revamped, brightening the South End district. Home to its own waterfront, parks, shops, and restaurants, this section has become an exclusive little hamlet.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Stamford
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Connecticut's pretty capital boasts an impressive watery backdrop. Sitting on the banks of the Connecticut River, Hartford was once known as the House of Hope. Today, this large city (one of the oldest in New England) is a wonderful place to soak up a little nature and culture.
The top attractions in Hartford include the Mark Twain House & Museum, the State Capitol, the Connecticut Science Center, and the impressive Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.
Elizabeth Park is more than worthy of a visit. Sprawling across more than 101 acres through West Hartford and Hartford, this delightful space features a phenomenal rose garden and a sweet little Pond House Café.
Speaking of natural beauty, don't miss a trip to Bushnell Park. The oldest public park in the country, its best to visit during spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Hartford
You'll be hard-pressed to find even one blade of grass out of place in Greenwich. A posh commuter town (NYC is only an hour away by train), this pristine city is one of the most prized (and largest) on Connecticut's Gold Coast. Once here, it's easy to see why it gets so much hype.
In addition to its grandiose, gated homes; immaculate gardens; and sparkling coastline, Greenwich is home to historical gems like the colonial Putnam Cottage, Greenwich Historical Society, and Bruce Museum.
Perfectly intertwined with these cultural mavens are Greenwich's real shining stars: the 147-acre Greenwich Point Park (the view of Manhattan's skyline is unbeatable from this golden beach) and the serene Greenwich Audubon Center (home to miles of trails and a ton of wildlife).
Looking to flex your shopping muscle? Head to Greenwich Avenue. The city's adorable main street is speckled with high-end shops like Sax Fifth Avenue, Lululemon, and Vineyard Vines. When hunger pangs hit, fill up on Italian fare at Mediterraneo, enjoy a curry at Thai Basil, or dine in style at Le Penguin.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Greenwich
8. Silver Sands State Park
Beaches and boardwalks and wildlife, oh my! There's so much to see and do at Silver Sands State Park. Walk along the trails, jump in for a swim, build a sandcastle, gather shells, or try your hand at fishing. No matter what activity you choose, you won't be bored at this lovely state park located in Milford.
While you're here, why not try your luck treasure hunting? According to legend, Captain Kidd hid his valuables on the beach in 1699, and they've never been claimed. You'll have to wait until the tide is low to walk across the sand bar to Charles Island, the believed hiding spot of this supposed treasure. While you're here, check out the incredible birdlife at the sanctuary located on the island. But be sure to leave before the tide comes back in, or you'll be stuck there overnight.
9. Gillette Castle State Park
Gillette Castle serves as the crowning glory atop the southern hill of the Seven Sisters. Designed by William Gillette, a famous actor and playwright between 1914 and 1919, the castle is a true marvel. It boasts interesting wooden locking mechanisms, built-in couches, secret panels, and mirrors set up so the actor could spy on his visitors from above.
The most enjoyable way to reach Gillette Castle is by boarding the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry from the sweet town of Chester, one of Connecticut's most charming small towns. While the ride lasts a mere five minutes, visitors reap spectacular views of the Connecticut River, especially during the colorful autumn months.
With 184 acres of beautiful landscape, a unique 24-room mansion/castle, and a remarkable set of walking trails (they include wooden trestles, tunnels, and a narrow gauge railroad), it's no wonder visiting Gillette Castle State Park remains one of the top things to do in Connecticut.
10. New Haven
A coastal town most famous for being home to Yale University, New Haven presents a wide array of fun things to do.
Soak up the culture at the Yale University Art Gallery. You'll find inspiring works by the greats like Van Gogh, Picasso, and Degas. You'll also spot ancient artifacts and creations from talented modern and contemporary artists from across the globe. The best part? Admission is free.
The university is also home to the well-loved Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale Center for British Art, and Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
At the center of town lies the vibrant New Haven Green, which is hugged by the faux-Gothic, Victorian, and more modern university buildings. It's around here that you'll find many of the area's quirky shops and restaurants. It's also one of the best places for photographers looking some good photography spots in New Haven.
A visit to Wooster Square (on the east side of town) won't disappoint, especially if you visit during the annual Wooster Square Cherry Blossom Festival in late April.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in New Haven
11. Enders Falls State Park
The main reason to visit Enders Falls State Park can be found flowing freely, and serenely, near its center. Enders Falls is one of the best waterfalls in Connecticut. A series of five waterfalls, this glorious spot will help melt your worries away. Watching the water cascade to its final resting place, an inviting swimming hole, is meditative and refreshing.
The park itself is comprised mainly of woodland but is zigzagged with trails that entice visitors to hike through its vast expanse. With over 2,000 acres to explore, you'll want to stay for a while, so it's best to pack a few snacks and water.
Not a real outdoors person? Don't worry. The trails are well maintained and easy. Wear comfortable shoes, and you shouldn't have a problem, unless you don't watch where you step while you're snapping photos of the splendid scenery.
Westport is less pretentious than Greenwich, with as much charm as a typical small, New England town. Its affluent nature serves up a hearty dish of high-end shops (like Lululemon, Vineyard Vines, and Tiffany's) and an even larger plate of upscale restaurants. The Spotted Horse, Pink Sumo, and The Whelk are just three tasty options. For lighter fare, check out the uber-healthy, delish, and locally owned, Granola Bar.
Wandering through the streets of town is almost akin to being on New York's Upper East Side, without the pungent smells, pollution, or noise. Oh yeah, you'll also reap the added bonus of spectacular scenery and friendly locals.
The Saugatuck River winds its way through the heart of town, passing the popular Bar Taco Restaurant, winking at Main Street, and skimming the newly revamped (and uber-impressive) Westport Library. Stand near it long enough, and you'll spot an ibis, snapping turtle, or swans.
At the south edge of town lies Westport's pristine and super soft, sandy Compo Beach. While this beach is reserved for town residents and beach pass holders, visitors can buy a day pass for $45 on weekdays or $70 on a weekend.
Sherwood Island State Park is also in town, offering another great beach option for visitors.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Westport
Stonington may be small (it measures less than one square mile), but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for with charm. Founded in the early 1660s, this maritime town sits on the outskirts of Mystic (about seven minutes away by car).
Stonington boasts an adorable main street peppered with shops, cafés, and restaurants. A short walk will get you to the Stonington Harbor Lighthouse, which has stood stoically for more than 170 years, tucked quietly behind a white picket fence off Water Street. Around the corner lies Stonington Point. From here, you can spy three states—Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island.
A few meters away lies duBois Beach, a small, protected, and sandy spot that's perfect for swimming. During the summer months, the beach is guarded, but expect to pay a small fee to enter. And be warned, there are no concession stands or facilities.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Stonington
14. New London
Once a busy whaling Port, New London is now best known as the home of Ocean Beach Park. A giant outdoor wonderland, this park boasts an Olympic-sized swimming pool, waterslide, playground, arcade, mini golf, and concessions.
The town itself harkens back to days of yore, with its charming buildings (some date back to the 1790s) and the U-shaped historic district that highlights the downtown core and sits at the mouth of the Thames River.
Other popular things to do include taking a Cross Sound Ferry Lighthouse or Mystic Whaler cruise, sniffing flowers at the Connecticut College Arboretum, and visiting Fort Trumbull State Park to learn about the area's maritime history and glimpse a lovely view of the river.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in New London
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Other Places to Visit in Connecticut: Let's face it, there are a ton of great attractions in Connecticut — way more than would fit on our list. When you're finished checking out the awesome spots mentioned earlier, check out these spectacular waterfalls, jump in one of these sparkling lakes, or laze about on one of these sandy beaches.
The Best Places to Visit for a Weekend in Connecticut: Some Connecticut marvels are too wonderful to see only fleetingly. Schedule at least two days for sightseeing in these popular weekend getaways.