18 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Connecticut
We may earn a commission from affiliate links ()
Connecticut may not be large (it's the third smallest state), but this New England charmer is packed with fun things to do and top tourist attractions you won't want to miss. Whether you're a fan of buzzing cities or prefer smaller towns that ooze personality, you won't be at a loss for ways to stay busy during your visit to the Nutmeg State.
Head to one of Connecticut's best beaches for a quiet day by the Long Island Sound, window shop in Greenwich, tour a glass house in New Canaan, or get inspired by the art on display in the Yale University Art Gallery. No matter what tickles your traveling fancy, you'll find it, and so much more, in Connecticut.
Bringing the kids? They'll love the rides at Lake Compounce, the creations at Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, and the animals at Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport. The best part? Connecticut's diminutive size makes it easy to spend a long weekend visiting multiple spots.
Choose which to hit first with our list of the best tourist attractions in Connecticut.
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic
Once you step foot on the vast grounds of the Mystic Seaport Museum, you'll see why it is deemed one of the top tourist attractions in Connecticut. This impressive spot boats a working shipyard, planetarium, children's museum, discovery barn, re-created 19th-century seafaring village, and a large collection of historic boats.
The most famous of these is the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whale ship in the world. Climb aboard for an informative tour. You'll see the giant vat where whale blubber was boiled into oil and the tiny bunks slept in by the crew.
Book a cruise on the smaller passenger boats, or rent a rowboat if you're hoping to get out on the water.
There's so much to see here that you'll want to reserve at least two hours (but we'd suggest more). When you get hungry, there are a few on-site restaurants to choose from.
Address: 75 Greenmanville Ave, Mystic, Connecticut
Official site: www.mysticseaport.org
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Mystic Seaport
Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Mystic, CT
2. Yale University Museums, New Haven
Yale University is a shining gem set in the center of New Haven. While parts of the city leave a bit to be desired (there are some shady areas, so it's best to stay close to the campus itself), this Ivy League heavyweight brings culture to the forefront of this port town.
The Yale University Art Gallery is tucked away just off the main green. Home to over 250,000 objects, this is where you'll find masterpieces crafted by the likes of Monet, Degas, and Manet.
If you're hankering for dinosaurs, head to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, one of the top tourist attractions in Connecticut. Here, you'll spy everything from fossils to meteorites to Babylonian carved stone divination objects among the more than 14 million specimens and objects on display.
The Yale campus itself is a tourist attraction, with fascinating buildings designed 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, Mystic
Mystic Aquarium is the best aquarium in Connecticut. It is home to impressive indoor and outdoor exhibits, beluga whales, a Stingray Touch Pool, Sharks Touch Habitat, a Marsh Trek, and an Animal Rescue Center. Hoping to pet a starfish? You can do that, and so much more, in the Discover Long Island Sound exhibit.
There are so many fun extras offered here that you'll want to carve out even more time for your visit. For an additional fee, guests can book a Penguin Encounter, where they can get nose to beak with one of the world's most fascinating birds.
Or, choose a private training session with a sea lion, a feeding and painting session with stingrays (yes, they can actually paint), or a one-on-one session with a harbor seal.
Don't miss the California Sea Lion Show at the on-site Foxwoods Marine Center. You're in for a real treat that involves costume changes, original music, and an interesting family-friendly story line.
Other fun attractions include interacting with computer-generated animations in the Wild Arctic exhibits. Here, you can play virtually with a polar bear, and meet a walrus. An indoor dinosaur trail in Jurassic Giants featuring giant animatronic dinosaurs includes tyrannosaurus rex, stegosaurus, and other prehistoric creatures, as well as two 4D theaters.
Address: 55 Coogan Blvd, Mystic, Connecticut
Official site: www.mysticaquarium.org
4. Gillette Castle State Park, East Haddam
Gillette Castle is one of Connecticut's most unique attractions. Designed in the early 20th century by stage actor William Gillette (he was apparently the first to portray Sherlock Holmes), this medieval Gothic structure hides secret passageways, spying mirrors, and other interesting and whimsical elements.
While the 24-room castle is the highlight of this attraction, the 184-acre estate is more than worthy of exploration. Perched atop the towering Seven Sisters, the views from above are spectacular, especially if you time your visit for the height of fall's vibrant color show. It is peppered with walking trails that are spotted with wooden trestles and arched bridges.
Below lies the sparkling Connecticut River, which you may have crossed if you took the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry from Chester to reach the castle.
Address: 67 River Road, East Haddam, Connecticut
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Gillette Castle State Park
5. The Maritime Aquarium, Norwalk
Norwalk's Maritime Aquarium is one of the best attractions in Connecticut for families. In fact, this is the second-most visited family attraction in the state. Inside, guests can touch a stingray, ogle river otters, watch sharks feed, or pet a jelly fish.
Home to five female harbor seals, the new 160,000-gallon seal exhibit is unmissable. Guests can view the seals from three sides and two levels: through floor-to-ceiling, first-floor windows that look directly at the tank; looking up from underwater; and looking down from the second floor.
If the weather cooperates, visitors can join an educational boat cruise aboard a 64-foot catamaran. Choose whether you'd like to set out on a seal-spotting or birding mission, a sunset cruise, or a Marine Life Encounter.
Back on land, be sure to check out a film at the new 4D movie theater.
Address: 10 North Water Street, Norwalk, Connecticut
Official site: https://www.maritimeaquarium.org/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Norwalk
6. Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo, Bridgeport
A visit to Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo is one of the top things to do in Bridgeport, and for good reason. It's small enough to walk around without getting lost, large enough to spend a couple of hours exploring, and jam-packed with animals, ranging from spider monkeys to alligators to sloths to a giant anteater.
The only zoo in Connecticut, this animal-lovers' haven is popular with families who want to give their kids a chance to get up close and personal with some of the world's most adorable wildlife.
Children can crawl through plastic tubes that lead into the depths of a prairie dog enclosure, have a colorful bird land on them in the Walk-Through Aviary, spy a gator in Alligator Alley, or see an Amur leopard.
When hunger strikes, the Peacock Café offers traditional kid fare, like chicken fingers, plus the children's meals come with a toy animal they can take home.
Address: 1875 Noble Avenue, Bridgeport, Connecticut
Official site: https://www.beardsleyzoo.org/
7. Lake Compounce, Bristol
Fans of thrill rides won't want to miss a trip to Connecticut's best theme park, Lake Compounce. Set in Bristol, this 175-year old venue is the oldest continuously operating amusement park in North America. And boy is it chock-full of fun! This is definitely one of the best tourist attractions in Connecticut for families.
Boulder Dash is one of the best wooden roller coasters in the world, while the 65-mile-an-hour Phobia Phear Coaster will exhilarate (and likely scare) every brave rider. We suggest letting lunch digest before boarding these exciting rides.
Don't worry, there are less thrilling rides on offer. The Flying Elephant, giant Ferris Wheel, and carousel will please kids (and grownups) of all ages.
An on-site water park makes it easy to cool down and continue the fun in a more refreshing manner. Plunge down Mammoth Falls in a tube, laze through the river on Croc-O-Nile, or putter around Bayou Bay. Bring water shoes, as the ground is rough and can get quite hot during summer.
Address: 186 Enterprise Drive, Bristol, Connecticut
Official site: https://www.lakecompounce.com/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bristol
8. The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford
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/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Hartford
9. Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford
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/
10. The Glass House, New Canaan
The Glass House is a must-see attraction in Connecticut, so it's important to time your visit right. You'll need to buy a ticket in advance to ensure entry to this spectacular property, which is open to the public between mid-April and mid-November.
The transparent house is the main attraction, its glass walls allowing indoor guests 360-degree views of the verdant landscape and shimmering pond that stretch out below. The house was designed and lived in by Philip Johnson, a noted architect known for his contemporary designs, and is complemented by a circular swimming pool, brick guesthouse, a painting gallery, pavilion in the pond, Da Monsta building, and an interesting Sculpture Gallery.
Due to its secluded location in a residential neighborhood of New Canaan, cars are not permitted to visit the site on their own. Instead, visitors must drive to the Glass House Visitor Center & Design Store in town, at 199 Elm Street. From here, guests will board a shuttle to the site.
Address: The Glass House Visitor Center & Design Store, 199 Elm Street, New Canaan, Connecticut
Official site: https://theglasshouse.org/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in New Canaan
11. Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison
Beach lovers fall upon the soft sand of Hammonasset Beach State Park year-round, but this pretty shore is packed come summertime. One of the best state parks in Connecticut, this is where you'll find one of the top beaches in all of Connecticut. Once you dip your toes into the calm water of the Long Island Sound, you'll understand why.
Stretching over two miles, Hammonasset Beach is the largest beach in Connecticut, which means that even at its busiest, you'll find space to stretch out your towel and raise your beach umbrella. Beachin' isn't the only fun thing to do on this Connecticut beach. Popular activities include canoeing, kayaking, swimming, SUPing, and fishing.
Visitors can also walk the winding nature trails and visit the impressive Meigs Point Nature Center. Grab a bite at one of the concession stands, use the facilities, and book a campsite if you're averse to leaving so soon.
Hammonasset Beach State Park Campground is one of the best places for camping in Connecticut, offering 558 sites, a volleyball court, playground, bathrooms, showers, and so much more to those who want to stay overnight at this top attraction.
Address: 1288 Boston Post Road, Madison, Connecticut
Official site: https://hammonasset.org/
12. Submarine Force Museum and the USS Nautilus
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 for 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
13. Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, Mashantucket
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: https://www.pequotmuseum.org/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mashantucket
14. New England Air Museum, Windsor Locks
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
15. Roseland Cottage, Woodstock
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
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Woodstock
16. The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield
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
17. Greenwich Avenue Shops, Greenwich
Greenwich Avenue is where the Lululemon-clad moms of this glitzy town go to be seen. Whether you want to window shop in the high-end stores (we're talking the wallet-crushing Hermès, Saks Fifth Avenue, Richards, and Moncler) or sip a mocha latte in an upscale café, you're in for a luxe experience.
The main street of this plush suburb, Greenwich Avenue is also home to some of the town's best restaurants, which means you can enjoy a relaxing lunch or dinner while on a break from all that retail therapy. Not willing to bust the bank for a bagel? No worries, you'll find mid-scale options to tempt your palate, as well as chains like Starbucks.
When you've had enough of shopping and eating, make your way to the Greenwich Historical Society to soak up the history behind this beautiful town. Visiting the Bruce Museum is another top thing to do in Greenwich for those with extra time. The interesting exhibits are constantly changing and contain information on everything from massive geodes to more recent scientific discoveries.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Greenwich
18. Stamford Museum & Nature Center
The Stamford Museum & Nature Center is a hands-on spot beloved by locals of all ages. Whether you're visiting in hopes of wandering the winding walking trails, ogling the statues that pepper the hilltop garden, or letting the kids lose in one of the best playgrounds in Connecticut, you're in for a treat.
Create something unique out of recycled materials in the Recycled ReCreations Makerspace, put your binoculars to use while bird-watching, or spend time getting to know the animals at the center's adorable Heckscher Farm. This working New England farm houses your everyday farm creatures like goats, horses, and chickens. It's also home to a Maple Sugar House.
The Overbrook Nature Center & Gift Shop is not to be missed, especially on Sundays, when they offer the Explorer's Program for kids. Inside, you'll find cute creatures to examine while your little ones borrow an Explorer's Backpack to participate on the hike.
Address: 39 Scofieldtown Road, Stamford, Connecticut
Official site: https://www.stamfordmuseum.org/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Stamford
Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Stamford, CT
More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com
More 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.
Where 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.