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12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Connecticut

Written by Lana Law and Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
May 4, 2020

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Connecticut is the southernmost of the six New England States and one of the original Thirteen Colonies. The Dutch were the first Europeans to settle, near today's Hartford, soon followed by the English from the Massachusetts colony of Plymouth, eager to establish a trading position for lucrative beaver pelts. New Haven's four-mile-wide harbor soon made it one of the most active ports in the northeast, providing access to markets that helped its growing manufacturing industry.

New Haven became an early center for education with the founding of Yale University, and today its art and natural history museums are among the finest in the northeast.

Attractions for today's tourists recall these early influences, as well as the contributions of the Native Americans, whose culture is still active in Connecticut. A recreated 16th-century native Pequot village and the last surviving whaling ship are only the beginning of the historical places to visit, while a premier aquarium and popular amusement park keep kids happy.

With this list of the top tourist attractions in Connecticut, you'll find plenty of things to do for the whole family.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Mystic Seaport

Mystic Seaport
Mystic Seaport | ReefTECK / photo modified

Mystic Seaport recreates a historical seaport village as part of one of the most prominent maritime museums in the United States. A major part of the museum is its outstanding collection of floating craft, including the world's last remaining wooden whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan (1841). Other historical ships featured are the Joseph Conrad, the schooner L.A. Dunton, and various steam vessels.

The buildings on the 19-acre grounds are not only the houses and stores of a small village but also the sailmakers, ship builders, and others who provisioned the ships. Several museums feature ship figureheads, nautical art, the history of shipping, and ship models.

Address: 75 Greenmanville Ave, Mystic, Connecticut

Official site: www.mysticseaport.org

Accommodation: Where to Stay near Mystic Seaport

2. Yale University Museums

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History | StrangeInterlude / photo modified

Yale University's campus, in the center of New Haven, contains a number of outstanding museums, the most important of which are the Yale University Art Gallery and the Peabody Museum of Natural History. The art museum's collections are especially strong in art from the ancient Mediterranean world and from Africa and the ancient Americas.

Also strong on American artists, the galleries exhibit works by John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer, George Bellows, John Singer Sargent, and other premier artists.

The Peabody Museum of Natural History feature a wide range of collections, including dinosaurs, ancient Greek and Roman finds, and Native American cultures. The latter collections feature arts and everyday items from Sioux, Navaho, Cheyenne, Blackfoot, Apache, Zuni, Hopi, and other cultures. Egyptian mummies and other artifacts are popular with children.

The campus itself is a tourist attraction, with buildings by Eero Saarinen, Frank O. Gehry, and other prominent architects. The visitor center has a video and historical displays; free student-led campus tours are offered each morning.

Address: 149 Elm Street, New Haven, Connecticut

Official site: http://www.yale.edu/

Accommodation: Where to Stay in New Haven

3. Mystic Aquarium & Institution for Exploration

Mystic Aquarium & Institution For Exploration
Mystic Aquarium & Institution For Exploration | bunnygoth / photo modified

At the Mystic Aquarium, you can encounter ocean animals and experience Birds of the Outback, an interactive exhibit. Reach in and touch a ray, go beak to nose with a penguin, and get up close to beluga whales and other popular animals, such as Steller sea lions, African penguins, and blue-tongued skinks.

Other things to do here include computer generated animations in the Wild Arctic exhibits that allow visitors to interact virtually with a polar bear and meet a walrus. An indoor dinosaur trail in Jurassic Giants featuring 12 giant animatronic dinosaurs includes tyrannosaurus rex, stegosaurus, and other prehistoric creatures.

Further attractions include the XD Motion Theater Deep Sea 3D and exhibits based on Dr. Robert Ballard's expeditions.

Address: 55 Coogan Blvd, Mystic, Connecticut

Official site: www.mysticaquarium.org

4. Gillette Castle State Park

Gillette Castle State Park
Gillette Castle State Park

Located on a 184-acre estate in East Haddam, the unique Gillette Castle is the 1919 home of William Hooker Gillette, known for being the actor who played the original Sherlock Holmes.

The 24-room home has the appearance of a medieval fortress from the outside, and the interior has hand-hewn woodwork and unique features designed by Gillette himself, including wooden door latches and light switches. The walking trails he designed through the estate are just as unusual, with wooden trestles and arched bridges.

In the spring, summer, and fall, you can cross the Connecticut River from Chester on the Hadlyme ferry, with beautiful views as you approach the castle.

Address: 67 River Road, East Haddam, Connecticut

Official site: https://www.stateparks.com/gillette_castle_state_park_in_connecticut.html

Accommodation: Where to Stay near Gillette Castle State Park

5. The Mark Twain House & Museum

The Mark Twain House & Museum
The Mark Twain House & Museum

Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, and Olivia "Livy" Clemens moved into their newly built three-story Hartford mansion in 1874, and it was in the height of late Victorian style.

A tour reveals some of its innovative modern conveniences, as well as many of the writer's eccentric habits (such as keeping kittens in the pockets of the billiard table). Louis C. Tiffany was one of the designers for the home's interior, which shows many of the exotic decorative influences of the era.

Clemens wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and several others of his best-known works while living here. The Victorian Gothic mansion is a National Historic Landmark. Adjacent to the mansion is the restored home of author Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. You can tour the Gothic Revival cottage, where she lived from 1873 to 1896.

Address: 351 Farmington Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut

Official site: http://www.marktwainhouse.org/

6. Lake Compounce: Family Theme Park

Lake Compounce: Family Theme Park
Lake Compounce: Family Theme Park | Jeff.Kelly / photo modified

Lake Compounce theme park in Bristol is thought to be the oldest operating amusement park in the United States and is home to a 1927 wooden roller coaster and a 1911 carousel. This popular summer family outing features all kinds of rides and games.

Connecticut's largest water park, Crocodile Cove, has wave pools, water slides, and sections especially designed for younger children. There are also kiddie rides, including a mini coaster, for those not big enough for the thrill rides.

Address: 186 Enterprise Drive, Bristol, Connecticut

Official site: https://www.lakecompounce.com/

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bristol

7. Wadsworth Atheneum

Wadsworth Atheneum
Wadsworth Atheneum

The country's oldest free public museum, Wadsworth Atheneum houses more than 50,000 works of art in its Gothic-style building. Particularly impressive are its collections of American arts, especially works of the Hudson River school. Among more than 5,000 American works of art are portraits by John Singleton Copley, paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe and Andrew Wyeth, and sculpture by Alexander Calder.

The European collections feature Italian Baroque painting, the Surrealist artists, and Impressionists including Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The European Decorative Arts collection is composed of more than 7,000 pieces, from ancient glass and bronzes to ceramics from Meissen, Vincennes, and Sèvres.

The Cabinet of Art and Curiosity room was inspired by the wealthy Victorian collectors who displayed their treasures in cabinets, without labels or curation. These collections mix artworks with natural history and other curiosities; digital touch screens provide information that would normally be on labels in a modern museum.

Address: 600 Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut

Official site: https://thewadsworth.org/

8. Submarine Force Museum and the USS Nautilus

USS Nautilus
USS Nautilus | Douglas Muth / photo modified

The United States Navy's official submarine museum is on the Thames River in Groton, housing and displaying submarine artifacts, photographs, and exhibits. The highlight to most visitors is the chance to board and explore USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear powered submarine.

Here, they get a sense of what life and work was like for a submarine crew. Elsewhere in the museum, exhibits follow the development of undersea travel from its beginnings with David Bushnell's Turtle, constructed in 1776.

In the museum's theater, a film, the 45-minute A Century of Silent Service covers the Submarine Force's early history through World War II. In the Mini-Theater, "Forty-One for Freedom" is a 20- minute film on the design, construction, and mission of the Navy's ballistic submarines in the Cold War.

Address: 1 Crystal Lake Road, Groton, Connecticut

Official website: www.ussnautilus.org

9. Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center

Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center
Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center

The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center is a tribally owned complex that presents exhibits on the Native American and natural history of southern New England. The indoor exhibits feature dioramas, text panels, interactive computer programs, and a series of films that highlight the evolution of Mashantucket Pequot life.

Visitors will encounter a 16th-century coastal Pequot village and learn about life on a reservation from 1675 to the 1970s. In a simulated glacial crevasse from 18,000 years ago, they can experience the creaking ice and winds as they discover more about the effects of the last ice age.

Address: 110 Pequot Trail, Mashantucket, Connecticut

Official site: http://www.pequotmuseum.org

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mashantucket

10. New England Air Museum

New England Air Museum
New England Air Museum | cliff1066(TM) / photo modified

The New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks is spread throughout three large hangars, with more than 55 of its 100-plus aircraft on display at any time, along with a collection of aircraft engines.

Flying craft include helicopters, amphibious aircraft, jets, WWII aircraft, and others, including two historic examples of balloon baskets, one of which is the oldest surviving American-built aircraft. It was built and flown by Plymouth, Connecticut native and aeronaut Silas Brooks in the 1870s.

Silent Wings is an exhibit featuring the World War II glider pilots whose missions were some of the most dangerous of the war.

Address: 36 Perimeter Road, Bradley International Airport, Windsor Locks, Connecticut

Official site: http://www.neam.org/

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Hartford

11. Roseland Cottage

Roseland Cottage
Roseland Cottage

Also called The Pink House because of its distinctive color, Roseland Cottage was the summer home of Henry and Lucy Bowen and their young family. Bowen was a successful New York businessman and often entertained prominent visitors here, including four U.S. presidents and other political figures.

The house is an excellent example of the Gothic-Revival-style popular in the mid-1840s, with a steep roof, sharply pointed gables, and elaborate ornamental fretwork under the eves. The interior is just as richly decorated in Victorian style, with pocket doors, patterned carpets, wallcoverings that imitated tooled leather, and diamond- pane windows with inserts of stained glass.

Inside the carriage barn is the oldest surviving indoor bowling alley in the U. S. and the house overlooks a parterre garden with 600 yards of boxwood hedge surrounding 21 beds of perennials and colorful annuals. The house and gardens are a National Historic Landmark.

Address: 556 Route 169, Woodstock, Connecticut

Official site: http://www.historicnewengland.org/historic-properties/homes/roseland-cottage

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Woodstock

12. The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum | Mike_Shake / photo modified

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum features changing exhibits of thought-provoking contemporary art and does not collect art or hold a permanent collection. It showcases works based on changing themes and is dedicated to promoting the work of innovative artists who encourage viewers to think creatively. Also on the grounds is a two-acre outdoor sculpture garden.

Several other attractions in Connecticut are good places to visit for tourists interested in art. Among them are the Weir Farm National Historic Site in Wilton and the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. Weir farm was the summer home and studio of artist J. Alden Weir, and the Griswold Museum is a restored 1817 mansion whose owner hosted a number of American Impressionist artists and collected their works.

Address: 258 Main Street, Ridgefield, Connecticut

Official site: http://aldrichart.org/

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Ridgefield

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

imageMore Things to Do in Connecticut: Along with the attractions mentioned here, you'll find more places to visit in the cities of Hartford and New Haven, and in the many small towns in Connecticut. For summer travel, see our handy guides to the best beaches in Connecticut and the top beach hotels.

imageWhere to Go from Connecticut: For more shore attractions, as well as the gilded age mansions of Newport, see our page on the top tourist attractions in Rhode Island. Not far north of Hartford, there are more things to do in Massachusetts.

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