11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Hartford
Often overshadowed by larger New England cities, the capital of the state of Connecticut is well worth visiting. Booklovers will find plenty of things to do in Hartford, for here they can tour the homes of two American literary giants - Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The Wadsworth Atheneum contains a large and outstanding collection of American arts, and several other museums and historic homes add to the city's cultural attractions. Children will love the Connecticut Science Center and the carousel in Bushnell Park.
See also: Where to Stay in Hartford
1 The Mark Twain House & Museum
Samuel (Mark Twain) and Olivia "Livy" Clemens commissioned their new home in Hartford in 1873 and moved in the following year. The house had every latest convenience, some of which you'll see demonstrated on the tour of this three-story Victorian mansion. Louis C. Tiffany was one of the four designers engaged for the interior of the house, and you'll see some of the exotic influences that were popular at the time.
Throughout the tour, you'll hear engaging stories that reveal insights into both Samuel's and Livy's personalities and the somewhat eccentric habits of the entire family. The death of their daughter made it difficult for them to return to this house where she had grown up, so the family sold it in 1903. But Clemens recalled their years in the Hartford home as the happiest and most productive of Twain's life. It was here that he wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and several others of his best-known works. The Victorian Gothic mansion is a National Historic Landmark.
Address: 351 Farmington Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut
2 Wadsworth Atheneum
The Wadsworth Atheneum has one of the finest American arts collections, particularly works of the Hudson River school. It is the oldest free public museum in the United States and houses more than 50,000 works of art in its impressive Gothic-style building. Major highlights of the European collection are Italian Baroque painting, with major works by Caravaggio, as well as the Surrealist artists, represented here in works by Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, and René Magritte. Works by Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir represent the Impressionists, and the museum continues its mission to support living artists by adding contemporary works to the collection regularly.
Decorative arts are a major focus, and among 7,000 objects in its European Decorative Arts collection are ancient glass and bronzes and an outstanding ceramics collection, especially of Meissen, Vincennes, and Sèvres ware. Perhaps the most engaging room is the Cabinet of Art and Curiosity, a room inspired by the Victorian collectors who dedicated rooms to their collections of art, technology, and natural curiosities. More than 200 objects from the European Decorative Arts collection are displayed in cabinets as they might have been in the home of a wealthy collector. They are without labels, inspiring a more personal and interactive experience, although you can find details about any piece by a mobile tour or digital touch screens.
Address: 600 Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut
3 Elizabeth Park Rose Garden
The country's first municipal rose garden and third-largest in the United States, Elizabeth Park Rose Garden was named for Elizabeth Pond and planted on 102 acres donated to the city by her husband, Charles H. Pond, in 1903. Today, the garden contains more than 15,000 plants with 800 varieties of roses. These include old and new varieties of hybrid tea, climbers, hybrid perpetual, floribunda, shrub, and pillar roses. They are in bloom all summer, but the most spectacular time to visit is in late June and early July when the ramblers covering the arches are in full bloom. In the winter, the park is open for ice skating.
Address: Prospect Avenue and Asylum Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut
4 Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
The restored house of author Harriet Beecher Stowe, where she lived from 1873 to 1896, is in Hartford's Nook Farm neighborhood, close to that of fellow writer Mark Twain. Stowe made a profound contribution to the Abolitionist movement with her depiction of slavery in her book Uncle Tom's Cabin to the point where Abraham Lincoln once credited her with starting the Civil War.
The kitchen design of the Gothic Revival cottage is based on the kitchen described in her book The American Woman's Home. The house, which has a steep hip-roof, bay windows, and two side porches, is undergoing long-term restoration, but tours of the property are still offered and include details about restoring such a significant historic site. Also included is the neighboring Katharine Seymour Day House, home of the author's grandniece, now the Stowe Center Research Library and the Stowe Center's administrative offices and used for exhibits and programs sponsored by the center.
Address: 77 Forest Street, Hartford, Connecticut
5 Museum of Connecticut History
In the State Library and Supreme Court Building, the Museum of Connecticut History contains a collection of firearms, portraits, and other historical exhibits that trace the state's history and technology. Shown here are Connecticut's original manuscripts of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution as well as political memorabilia that includes signs, campaign buttons, and women's suffrage banners. One of the finest collections of American coins is here, covering from the 17th century to the present. Home of Colt's Manufacturing Company, Hartford was a major center for firearms manufacture in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the museum displays one of the world's finest collections of Colt-made weapons.
The most recent additions to the museum are the quilts created for the Freedom Trail Quilt Project, which commemorates the importance of the Underground Railroad, the Amistad Case, and the African American experience in Connecticut. The Freedom Trail is a popular tourist attraction that links historic properties, gravesites, and monuments associated with these and with persons such as Paul Robeson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Prudence Crandall. Four quilts representing Connecticut's regions were completed in 1998 as a tribute to the Freedom Trail.
Address: 231 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut
6 State Capitol
On Capitol Hill overlooking Bushnell Memorial Park is the High Victorian Gothic State Capitol, built in 1879. It contains the State Senate Chamber; the Hall of the State House of Representatives; and the offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Secretary of the State. The building is a National Historic Landmark with many beautiful features, from the inlaid white and red Connecticut and Italian marble floors to the stained glass windows.
Guided and self-guided tours (ask for a tour brochure) include the Hall of Flags, the Connecticut Hall of Fame recognizing the outstanding achievements of Connecticut residents, and a chance to watch the proceedings of the General Assembly from the public galleries when in session.
Address: 210 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut
7 Bushnell Park
This 37-acre park next to the Capitol grounds is noted for being America's first public park. It contains the Civil War Memorial, the Pump House Gallery, the Israel Putnam statue, and a 1914 Stein and Goldstein carousel. With 48 hand-carved wooden horses and two chariots circling a Wurlitzer band organ, this is one of only three surviving Stein and Goldstein carousels in existence.
8 Connecticut Science Center
You'll enjoy most of the 168 exhibits in this hands-on science museum as much as the kids. Each section explores some facet of the world around us, with kid-pleasing DIY activities. At Forces in Motion, they can make and test flying devices; at Invention Dimension, they'll race robots and invent with Legos; at Planet Earth, they'll feel hurricane-force winds and make their own weather forecasts. Others include Sight and Sound; Exploring Space; Picture of Health; Energy City; and River of Life, with a marine touch tank that examines Connecticut River and its creatures.
Address: 250 Columbus Blvd, Hartford, Connecticut
9 Ancient Burying Ground
The Ancient Burying Ground is Hartford's oldest historic landmark and the only one to survive from the 1600s. The oldest gravestone is from 1648, and there are about 6,000 graves, as it was Hartford's only graveyard until the early 1800s.
Address: 60 Gold Street, Hartford, Connecticut
10 Butler-McCook House & Garden
Built in 1782, Butler-McCook Homestead is the oldest house in Hartford and was home to generations of a family who lived here nearly 200 years, from the Revolution to the middle of the 20th century. "Witnesses on Main Street" uses their words and experiences to show the changes in Main Street, from wooden homes and small shops into a modern city of steel, brick, and stone. Displays of art, antiques, and other household furnishings do not depict the house at a specific moment in its long history, but show the changes that occurred over the years. Special interest tours focus on various topics: women, art, and the Cook family's world travels. The Victorian garden was designed by Jacob Weidenmann.
Address: 396 Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut
11 Old State House
The Old State House is built on the site of the former Hartford Convention and the first Amistad Trail. Built in 1796, this National Historic Landmark is one of the nation's oldest state houses. On display are many interesting exhibits, with paintings and miscellaneous collections. Some have claimed the building is haunted. Guided or self-guided tours are available.
Address: 800 Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut
Where to Stay in Hartford for Sightseeing
The best place to stay in Hartford is in the compact city center. The downtown area is dominated by the State Capitol grounds and Bushnell Park, and most of the attractions are within a mile or two of this central reference point. The Amtrak station is to the northwest, and access to downtown is easy from either Interstate 84 or 91. Below are some highly-rated hotels in good locations:
- Luxury Hotels: The Hartford Marriott Downtown is right in the center of the action and directly connected to the Connecticut Convention Center. Housed in a beautiful historic building dating from 1876, the newly renovated Residence Inn offers full suites with kitchens and is steps from the Wadsworth Atheneum. For Sports fans or concert goers, the Hilton is conveniently connected via skywalk to XL Stadium.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The Homewood Suites by Hilton, within walking distance of the Amtrak station, is set in a 1913 heritage building and offers one- and two-bedroom suites. A bit to the north, the Radisson Hotel Hartford is surrounded by many of the city's finest restaurants. This hotel has a seasonal outdoor pool, and rooms on the upper floors have fantastic views out over the city. Two miles south of downtown, the recently renovated Best Western offers good-value rooms and provides a free shuttle service to local attractions.
- Budget Hotels: Across the river in East Hartford, three miles from downtown, is the Comfort Inn & Suites, with complimentary breakfast and free parking. Also in East Hartford, the newly renovated Holiday Inn has an indoor pool, 24-hour business center, and a restaurant. The Days Inn, with basic but affordable rooms, is less than three miles south of downtown, near the Hartford-Brainard Airport.