15 Top-Rated Things to Do in Mystic, CT

Written by Shandley McMurray
Updated Dec 23, 2023
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Mystic exudes quintessential New England charm. Sitting quietly on the shores of the Mystic River, this quaint seaside village is an ideal day trip destination from either New York or Boston. For those worried this tranquil spot will be boring, it's not. Mystic is packed with fun things to do, especially for families.

Charles W. Morgan whaling ship at the Mystic Seaport Museum
Charles W. Morgan whaling ship at the Mystic Seaport Museum

Gleaming white sailboats bob "hello," while a clanging bell draws attention to the historic Mystic River Bascule Drawbridge. When closed, it links tourists to the center of town, allowing easy access to a multitude of unique shops, delicious eateries, and two of Connecticut's top tourist attractions: Mystic Seaport Museum and Mystic Aquarium.

Inhale the brisk sea air, gobble the freshest of seafood, and soak up the history in this adorable small town with our list of the top things to do and places to visit in Mystic, CT.

1. Board a Boat at the Mystic Seaport Museum

Mystic Seaport Museum
Mystic Seaport Museum | Photo Copyright: Shandley McMurray

If you can only visit one place during your trip, make it the Mystic Seaport Museum. This impressive harbor boasts everything from a planetarium to a working shipyard, and is one of the best places to photograph in Connecticut. The re-created 19th-century seafaring village is one of its crown jewels. Each building is authentic and houses friendly and knowledgeable staff to teach you about life in the 1800s. You'll see first-hand how the sailors banked, printed newspapers, and carved ships.

Don't miss the "Voyaging in the Wake of the Whalers" exhibit, where you'll learn about America's historic relationship with the whaling industry. Then, climb aboard the Charles W. Morgan (the world's last wooden whaleship) to see where the whalers slept, ate, and boiled blubber into oil. There are multiple other ships to explore, including the full-rigged Joseph Conrad.

Leave the seaport in your wake as you board one of their passenger boats. Whether you rent a rowboat; sail on the working catboat, Breck Marshall; or float on the steam-run Sabino, you're sure to have a rollicking good time on the open sea.

Visiting with kids? Little ones can dress like a sailor and swab the deck at the Funk Children's Museum or learn the science behind a ship's sail and hull design at the Discovery Barn.

Insider's Tip: Carve out an extra hour, or better yet two, for your visit. There's so much to see that you won't want to miss a thing. When it's time to eat, choose from one of two laid-back restaurants, Spouter Tavern and the Propeller Café. Or, grab a bite at the more upscale Greenman's Landing, which is open seasonally.

Address: 75 Greenmanville Ave, Mystic, Connecticut

2. See the Beluga Whales at the Mystic Aquarium

Beluga whale at the Mystic Aquarium
Beluga whale at the Mystic Aquarium

Rated one of the best attractions in Connecticut, the palatable and fascinating Mystic Aquarium is a crowd-pleaser. It's here that you can see Beluga Whales up close or learn to train them as part of a paid encounter program. This popular package is also available for exclusive access to penguins, seals, and sea lions for an additional fee. Ever wanted to see a stingray paint? Join the "Paint with a Stingray" encounter.

This aquarium scores extra points for offering so many opportunities for visitors to interact with its aquatic residents. Touch the soft wing of a sting ray in the Ray Touch pool, run two fingers along a shark's back in SHARKS! Touch Habitat, meet a lobster, or feel a starfish in Discover Long Island Sound. Then visit Scales & Tails. If you're lucky, you'll get to pet a baby alligator.

Wander through the indoor and outdoor exhibits to find jellyfish, giant turtles, eels, thousands of fish, and poisonous frogs. One of our favorite spots is the outdoor Pacific Northwest, where you'll see (and definitely hear) seals and sea lions at play.

Just past the Marsh Trek (keep your eyes peeled for turtles) you'll come to the Animal Rescue Clinic. Take a moment to peek through the holes to see rescued seals being rehabilitated. This is a small part of what your admission pays for-conservation efforts that extend far beyond these patients.

Insider's Tip: The California Sea Lion Show at the Foxwoods Marine Theater is unmissable. Unlike other more mundane sea lion shows, this spectacle involves tailor-made music, costume changes, and a story line that's fun for the whole family.

No one will blame you for turning your day trip into a weekend getaway, as it's easy to spend many hours at this phenomenal attraction.

Address: 55 Coogan Blvd, Mystic, Connecticut

3. Taste the Food Samples at Olde Mistick Village

Olde Mistick Village
Olde Mistick Village | Photo Copyright: Shandley McMurray

It's hard to beat the charm found in Olde Mistick Village, an outdoor mall set in a recreated 18th-century New England Village. Wandering through the quaint cottages is a treat, helping to make this one of the best places to visit in the state. It even boasts a duck pond and water wheel.

The best thing to do here, other than shop, is to sample the tasty fares on offer. From homemade fudge to flavored vinegars, there's a bevy of delicious items you'll have to take home.

With the exception of Franklin's General Store, which sells an assortment of jams, the most delicious candied nuts, and souvenirs, the majority of shops are themed. Sticky Situations sells honey like you've never tasted it before-it's been infused with flavors of everything from avocado to chipotle. Their sister store, Extra Virgin has a similar idea, only they flavor olive oils and vinegars. Pop on the Block offers popcorn in every flavor imaginable (including maple, pizza, Cajun, and jalapeno).

When you've had your fill of samples, head to one of the over 50 stores, including Mystic Kite Shop; Sofia's Mystical Christmas; the pet-centric Raining Cats and Dogs; or Kitch, which sells kitchen items you never knew you needed. Kids will adore the quirky Alice in the Village tea shop and café featuring hanging playing cards, Eat me! signs, and the bottom half of Alice (from Alice in Wonderland, of course) dangling from the ceiling.

Feeling peckish? Try Pink Basil (we highly recommend the coconut soup) or Mango's Wood Fired Pizza Company (the dough is delish).

Address: 27 Coogan Blvd, Mystic, Connecticut

4. Watch the Mystic River Bascule Drawbridge Open and Go Shopping in Historic Downtown Mystic

 Overview of the Mystic River Bascule Drawbridge and historic Mystic
Overview of the Mystic River Bascule Drawbridge and historic Mystic

Downtown Main Street is where it's at. It's here that you'll find the town's top tourist attraction, the Mystic River Bascule Drawbridge. Built in 1922 to cross the Mystic River, it joins the west and east sides of this popular street. If you're lucky, you can watch it open, allowing tall boats to travel up (or down) the river. This usually happens every hour at 40 minutes after the hour between 7:40am and 6:40pm between May 1st and October 31st.

Bascule is a French term meaning seesaw. It describes the process by which the bridge is raised and lowered using counterweights. The mechanism responsible for this movement is uncovered, allowing visitors to see the machinery in motion.

When it's down, the drawbridge allows cars and pedestrians to cross the river to visit the many local shops and eateries lining Main Street and its offshoots. Shopping is one of the best things to do in Mystic, especially if you're visiting on a warm, sunny day.

Whether you're looking to purchase a bracelet, ball, or coaster at the award-winning Mystic Knotwork (on Holmes Street); buy specialty items just for men at Trove (who doesn't want bacon jam?); or crave a juicy burger from the vibrant Engine Room restaurant (also on Holmes Street), the drawbridge will lead you to the best of everything Mystic has to offer.

5. Get Inspired at the Mystic Museum of Art

Mystic Museum of Art
Mystic Museum of Art | Photo Copyright: Shandley McMurray

Just up the street from Sift Bake Shop is the Mystic Museum of Art, also known as the MMOA. Housed in an adorable cream-colored building on the shore of Mystic River, this art gallery is a palatable size, featuring several simultaneous exhibits enticing enough to make this one of the top attractions in Mystic.

The gallery rooms are spacious and open, with natural lighting helping to show off their impressive displays. The glass doors leading to the perfectly manicured back garden and river are so beautiful, you may fail to notice the paintings hung on either side.

The museum's exhibitions change regularly, which makes it easy to come back again and again without getting bored. Plus, the MMOA offers classes for both kids and adults and hosts special events like Art After Dark, featuring live music, food, and art (obviously).

Insider's Tip: Staff at the MMOA are more than willing to answer any questions you may have, and admission is free. You'll have to pay for parking, but you can bring your ticket to the desk to be validated if you've stayed for a half hour or longer.

Address: 9 Water Street, Mystic, Connecticut

6. Cruise the Harbor on The Argia

The Argia
The Argia | Photo Copyright: Shandley McMurray

No trip to Mystic would be complete without a relaxing cruise on the water. Climb aboard the Argia, an 81-foot, two-masted Gaff Topsail schooner, for a glimpse into what sailing would have been like in the early 19th century. Don't worry, it's US-Coast-Guard-inspected and approved.

Whether you choose to feel the wind in your hair during the day or opt for a more romantic sunset setting, each cruise lasts two hours and takes you past islands, lighthouses, and the incredible homes lining the Mystic River. This is a perfect way to truly appreciate the impressive coastline, and easily one of the best things to do in Mystic in summer. They begin sailing on May 1st through mid-October.

Another bonus: The Argia's staff are super friendly and very knowledgeable about the area. Plus, water and lemonade are included with each ticket. Tourists are free to pack their own picnics.

Insider's Tip: These cruises are perfect for those who don't have the best sea legs. The well-sheltered waters mean there aren't any big waves to contend with. Plus, as one of Connecticut's best beach towns, tourists really should make the most of this quaint maritime town by hitting the open water.

7. Get Outside at the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center

Great horned owl
Great horned owl

Escape the buzz of Mystic's historic downtown at the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. Boasting more than 10 miles of trails through woodlands and wetlands, there's no shortage of nature to explore. Keep your eyes peeled for the 17th-century stone walls peppered throughout the grounds, and listen for the soothing sound of babbling brooks.

The center is made up of two locations: The main facility, which is located on Pequotsepos Road, is where you'll find animals (including owls and hawks), special exhibits, and trails. Coogan Farm (on Greenmanville Avenue) boasts a welcome center, farmhouse, store, pavilion, and more trails. You'll want to put aside a few hours to truly appreciate this beautiful nature reserve.

Insider's Tip: Stop at the visitor center before you hit the trails. They offer maps, so you won't get lost. Also, wear comfy shoes; the terrain can be rough in spots and tricky for small children and the elderly.

Address: 109 Pequotsepos Road, Mystic, Connecticut

8. Eat a Donut (or Three) at B.F. Clyde's Cider Mill

Apples ready to be made into cider at B.F. Clyde's Cider Mill
Apples ready to be made into cider at B.F. Clyde's Cider Mill | Cynthia Donovan / photo modified

Nothing says fall quite like the smell (and taste) of fresh apple cider. The oldest, and only, steam-powered cider mill in the United States, B. F. Clyde's Cider Mill in Old Mystic is a popular tourist attraction and the perfect place to spend an hour or two. It's here that you can enjoy the sound of a steam whistle while stepping back in time to see how this popular drink was made. Keep in mind that these demonstrations only happen on weekends.

The mill's original owner, B.F. Clyde, began making cider in 1881. Since then, his family has carried on the tradition of cranking out their sweet treats in this National Historic Landmark.

Sample the sweetest cider you'll ever taste and buy a treat to take home. We highly recommend the cider, apple butter, and maple syrup. Be sure to time your visit well. Clyde's is only open seasonally from September to late December. Due to its popularity, you should also expect to stand in long lines to make your purchase.

Insider's Tip: Save room for a cider donut (or three). They literally melt in your mouth.

Address: 129 N. Stonington Road, Mystic, Connecticut

9. Visit the Old Lighthouse Museum

Stonington Harbor Lighthouse
Stonington Harbor Lighthouse | Photo Copyright: Shandley McMurray

While this small stone lighthouse isn't technically in Mystic, it's worth a visit. A mere seven-minute drive southeast on Route One, Stonington is considered by locals to be a suburb of Mystic.

Surprisingly, the Stonington Harbor Lighthouse isn't located directly on the end of the peninsula. Instead, you'll find it tucked quietly behind a white picket fence off Water Street, backing on to a bay, only a few hundred feet from Stonington Point.

Smaller than you'd expect, it has stood proudly as a safety beacon on this spot for over 170 years. Inside, you'll find six rooms of exhibits highlighting the town's seafaring history.

A quick climb of the 29 stone steps rewards tourists with an impressive panoramic view of three states — Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island.

10. Play in the Sand at duBois Beach

DuBois Beach at sunset
DuBois Beach at sunset | Photo Copyright: Shandley McMurray

A stone's throw from the Stonington Harbor Lighthouse, duBois Beach sits at the tip of Stonington Point. This small, sandy beach is a perfect spot for a picnic and an ideal location to catch the sunset.

The surf here is mild, making it safe for swimming, especially for those visiting with young children. Plus, lifeguards are on duty during the high summer season. There are no amenities at this popular place to visit, so you'll have to find another place for food and a bathroom. Luckily, the beach is within a quick and easy walk to Water Street, which is lined with charming shops and restaurants.

Insider's Tip: duBois Beach is owned by the Stonington Village Improvement Association and operated by the Stonington Community Center. If visiting during the warmer months, be prepared to pay a small fee (which is used to help keep the beach clean and safe) at the gate before entering.

11. Cruise on a Catamaran with Mystic Boat Adventures

Mystic Boat Adventures is one of the most fun things to do while in Mystic. Fuel your adventurous side by renting a two-person catamaran. Feel the wind whip through your hair and your heart flutter as you speed through the scenic waterways surrounding this beautiful town.

Unlike other river cruises, you're the driver on this adventurous tour. A guide will take you on a 25- to 30-mile journey past the downtown, Bascule drawbridge, historic whaling ships at the Mystic Seaport Museum, and Fisher's Island Sound. You'll also pass lighthouses, ogle at spectacular coastal mansions, and explore hidden coves.

Captain Rob is as friendly as they come, and he brings a burst of life to each guided tour. He's also great at taking pictures, so don't be shy-you'll want photographic evidence of you speeding across the water!

12. Enjoy a Treat at Sift Bake Shop

As aesthetically pleasing as its treats are delicious, Sift Bake Shop is one of Mystic's most well-loved eateries. If the mouthwateringly beautiful pastries aren't enough to sway your belly, the sweet smell of this restaurant's heavenly baked goods are sure to do the trick.

Head baker and co-owner Adam Young is winner of the Food Network's 2018 Best Baker in America award. And he's as passionate about his French-inspired creations as he is about the ambience of this local hot spot. From sandwiches to baguettes to macaroons, there's plenty to please the palate. Most who come here can't stop at just one, leaving with a large bag bursting with goodies.

We suggest staying in to enjoy your purchases. Choose from a seat on the outdoor balcony, overlooking the Mystic River, or tuck in to your almond croissant at a comfy table inside. There's complimentary lemon water on offer, and you won't have to fight for a place to sit as there's no public Wi-Fi, which means no laptop users reserving tables for hours.

Insider's Tip: Weekend mornings are incredibly busy, with lines extending down the sidewalk. Aim to arrive early. They open at 7am.

Address: 5 Water Street, Mystic, Connecticut

13. Step Back in Time at the Denison Homestead Museum

Denison Homestead Museum
Denison Homestead Museum | Photo Copyright: Denison Homestead

The Denison Homestead Museum is worthy of a visit, even if just to ogle its historic façade and wander its many wooded trails. Built in 1717, this unique beauty is worthy of at least a few photos, and it's a quick five-minute drive from town.

Over 160 acres greet visitors to this museum, which is part of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, which you'll find slightly higher on our list of the best things to do in Mystic.

While the original home was built here in 1663, it burned to the ground years later, in 1717. Since being rebuilt at that time, six generations of the Denison family called this manor house their home.

Today, this charming home is on the National Register of Historical Places. It is currently open for tours by appointment, most often between June and October. Speaking of June, the Denison Farmers Market returns to this area on the first Sunday of June, serving fresh goodies every Sunday thereafter from 12pm to 3pm through October.

Don't miss the Daffodil Festival in early April. You'll have a chance to celebrate spring while gawking over the impressive collection of 100,000 blooming daffodils. Late September plays host to another popular event: the annual 17th Century Encampment.

Address: 120 Pequotsepos Road, Mystic, Connecticut

14. Go Hiking in Bluff Point State Park

Bluff Point State Park
Bluff Point State Park

Another attraction located in neighboring Groton, Bluff Point State Park is an ideal place to visit for outdoor adventure. In under 15 minutes, tourists can reach this dramatic coastal reserve that hugs the Long Island Sound.

To walk on the actual bluff, visitors will have to hike the trails that wind their way through verdant woodland and open areas. The 3.6-mile loop trail is well maintained and dogs are welcome to use it, too, as long as they are leashed.

A stunning Connecticut State Park, this is a popular place to mountain bike, hike, and fish, so plan to spend at least a few hours enjoying the captivating views and crisp, fresh air.

Parking is free for Connecticut residents, but those from out of state will have to pay a fee when visiting between May 1st and October 31st.

Insider's tip: Bring binoculars to spy some of the area's most spectacular birds.

15. Find Tranquility at the Peace Nature Sanctuary

The Peace Nature Sanctuary lies serenely on the banks of the Mystic River, almost directly across from the Mystic Seaport Museum. As its name implies, this is the place to visit if you're looking for tranquility.

Known as the Peace Grove in the late 19th century, this site once hosted close to 10,000 people for peaceful meetings. Today, it is operated by the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center (DPNC) and used as a nature reserve, as well as a site to host classes on important topics like conservation and other environmental education.

May is a popular time to visit for flower lovers. This is when 400 pink lady's slippers burst into bloom. While this preserve is technically not open to the public (you're supposed to book a hike with the DPNC or attend one of their organized programs) many people park on the road and walk in.

Address: 233 River Road, Mystic, Connecticut

Where to Stay in Mystic for Sightseeing

Mystic has just a handful of hotels, mostly in the mid-range price bracket.

Luxury Hotels:

  • Hilton Mystic is the only four-star hotel in town. It has a range of spacious rooms and suites with contemporary décor, including polished dark wood furnishings, work desks with chairs, and framed art on off-white walls. The hotel is just one block from I-95. Amenities include a restaurant that offers kids' meals, as well as a saltwater swimming pool, lounge with evening entertainment, and a workout room.
  • Another luxe option is the Whaler's Inn. The boutique hotel has a great location right downtown and is within walking distance of restaurants and shops. The rooms and suites here occupy five different buildings and have a cozy New England maritime ambience about them. Book a room in the Hoxie House for a romantic getaway — these come with air-jet soaking tubs, Mystic River views, and fireplaces. The inn also has family-friendly suites with bunkbeds, and kids stay free here.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • Hyatt Place Mystic is a top mid-range option with allergy-free rooms with modern decor and sofa beds that work great if you're traveling with the kids. The hotel is within walking distance of the historic Mystic Seaport. Amenities include a free hot breakfast, heated outdoor swimming pool, 24-hour workout room, and business center. The Hyatt Place is also pet-friendly.
  • If you're looking for a family-friendly property that is affordable check out the Hampton Inn & Suites Mystic. Less than two miles from downtown Mystic, it features spacious and contemporary rooms and suites, including interconnected room options. Rooms come with blackout curtains, desks, mini-fridges and microwaves, and coffee makers. There is a free breakfast in the morning, as well as a swimming pool and workout room. Dogs are also welcome to stay.
  • The Holiday Inn Express Mystic is another option. It has nicely appointed rooms and suites, including options for families. All are clean and comfortable. Amenities include a swimming pool and fitness room, as well as meeting rooms for business travelers. The free continental breakfast includes hardboiled eggs, pastries, bread, cereal, and juices.

Budget Hotels:

  • Howard Johnson by Wyndham Mystic is the best budget option in town. The hotel has spacious rooms with bright-colored accent walls and matching bed runners that make them feel less generic. They also come with refrigerators and microwaves. The hotel caters to families, and kids stay free. Amenities include an indoor heated swimming pool, fitness center, and vending machines.
  • Another budget option is the Rodeway Inn. Rooms are basic but tidy at this two-star hotel. Amenities include a swimming pool, free parking and Wi-Fi, and a 24-hour front desk. It is also dog friendly.

Map of Things to Do in Mystic, CT

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Getaways in Connecticut: If you simply want to enjoy a relaxing weekend or a quick romantic trip, see our guide to the Top Weekend Getaways in Connecticut. You may also find inspiration in our list of Best Small Towns in Connecticut. Alternatively, head to the capital and explore the sights of Hartford.