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 Plymouth, Massachusetts’ colony, 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. 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. From a recreated 16th-century native Pequot village and the last surviving whaling ship to a working model of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin and a premier aquarium, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Connecticut.
1 Mystic Seaport
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, shipbuilders, and others who provisioned the ships. Several museums feature ship figureheads, nautical art, the history of shipping, and ship models.
2 Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History is one of the main highlights for visitors to Yale University. Its comprehensive collections feature a range of topics, from dinosaurs and New England birds to Greek and Roman antiquities and aboriginal art. The exhibits of Native American cultures are exceptional, featuring everyday items and arts, from Blackfoot, Apache, Sioux, Cheyenne, Crow, Navaho, Zuni, Pima, Hopi, and other traditions, as well as an outstanding collection of aboriginal bark paintings. Children won’t want to miss the Egyptian mummy in its atmospheric exhibit area.
3 Mystic Aquarium & Institution For Exploration
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 attractions include the XD Motion Theater Deep Sea 3D and exhibits based on Dr. Robert Ballard’s expeditions.
4 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 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.
5 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’s life. Visitors will encounter a 16th-century coastal Pequot village, a glacial crevasse from 18,000 years ago, as well as life on a reservation from 1675 to the 1970s.
6 Lake Compounce: Family Theme Park
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 specially designed for younger children. There are also kiddie rides, including a mini coaster, for those not big enough for the thrill rides.
7 New England Air Museum
The New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks is spread throughout two large hangars, with more than 70 aircraft. On display are helicopters, amphibious aircraft, jets, WWII aircraft, and others. It’s not all just airplanes to look at, though. Interactive exhibits include science demonstrations and a flight simulator.
8 Weir Farm National Historic Site
This lovely, country retreat in Wilton was the summer home of artist J. Alden Weir for 40 years. The site includes his studio, home, and other buildings as well as a visitor center. Visitors can see some of his original works, and travel the Painting Trail to observe the scenery that was inspirational in many of his paintings. Also unique are the painted bison spread around the grounds, featuring scenes from the Weir Farm.
9 The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
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.
10 Roseland Cottage
Located in Woodstock, this 1846 Gothic-Revival-style summer house is referred to as Henry C. Bowen House, Roseland Cottage, or The Pink House. It is a National Historic Landmark. Inside, the appearance remains much as it was in the 19th century when it was often used to entertain guests, including US presidents. On the grounds are gardens, an icehouse, a barn with an indoor bowling alley, and a garden house.