Connecticut Holiday Planning Guide
Perhaps best known for its renowned private and public universities, Connecticut was home to the country's first law school and still boasts one of the oldest high schools in America. More than just a small state packed with students, Connecticut offers visitors a chance to explore some classic New England tourist attractions, including lighthouses, beaches, theaters, museums, galleries, and restaurants. Try your luck at the two large casino complexes, both located on Native American reservations. Rich in history and natural beauty, Connecticut draws newcomers from around the world, with large Polish, Chinese, and Hispanic communities.
Places to Visit in ConnecticutMystic
: Historically a port city, Mystic remains closely linked to the ocean, with the largest maritime museum in the country, an excellent aquarium, and top-notch seafood restaurants.Hartford
: The state's capital and one of New England's oldest cities, Hartford is home to an array of world-class museums and historical sites.Groton
: Coined "Submarine Capital of the World," Groton serves as home for the U.S. Navy's main submarine. Nautical enthusiasts will want to include the submarine museum on their Connecticut itinerary.New Haven
: The state's second-largest city and home of Yale University, New Haven packs plenty of cultural Connecticut attractions and has a lively arts community.Norwalk
: The coastal city of Norwalk offers a diverse array of activities, from exploring a historical mansion to bird-watching on picturesque islands. Litchfield
: Bursting with history and surrounded by lush greenery, Litchfield is arguably the most charming place to visit in Connecticut.
Things to Do in Connecticut
Popular Connecticut Tourist AttractionsMystic Seaport
: Encompassing historical ships, a recreated 19th-century fishing village, a boat house, and much more, Mystic Seaport is the world's largest maritime museum.Gillette Castle State Park
: The Gillette Castle State Park includes an early 20th-century mansion, lush forest, and a number of lakeside walking trails. Mark Twain House & Museum
: A National Historic Landmark, this popular Connecticut attraction is where Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) lived and wrote some of his most important works. Mystic Aquarium
: See fascinating creatures of the ocean depths and learn more about their world in this renowned aquarium. Its beluga whale exhibit is a special highlight. Lake Compounce
: Opened in 1846, Lake Compounce claims to be the oldest continually operating amusement park in the country.The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk
: The Maritime Aquarium plays host to over 2,000 water creatures along with a six-story IMAX theater. Olde Mistick Village
: Part shopping mall and part living museum, all the stores of Olde Mistick Village are set inside buildings typical for 18th-century New England, with many selling handmade or locally produced goods.Yale University
: Include a tour of this prestigious 300-year-old university in your Connecticut vacation to see beautiful Gothic Revival architecture and the library housing rare manuscripts.The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center
: Offering an educational break from gaming at Foxwoods, this well-reviewed museum tells the story of local Mashantucket Native Americans by recreating scenes of tribal life.The Submarine Force Museum
: In this museum packed with nautical artifacts, it's the USS Nautilus--the world's first operational nuclear-powered submarine--that steals the show.
Planning a Connecticut Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Connecticut with Kids
Compact, friendly, and chock-full of opportunities to learn and play, Connecticut makes an ideal family vacation destination. The coastline is dotted with pleasant sandy beaches and history-rich towns, as perhaps best epitomized by the understandably popular Mystic
. Here you can see a perennial favorite of tourism in Connecticut, Mystic Seaport
, as well as New England's only beluga whales. Seaside Norwalk
also boasts an excellent aquarium
along with a kid's museum
, nature trails, and boat tours. Farther inland, Hartford
offers a number of superb museums as well as the expansive Bushnell Park
, complete with carousel, for when the kids need to burn off some energy. To experience the great outdoors on your Connecticut tour, head to Kent
, home of Macedonia Brook State Park and Kent Falls State Park
, providing beautiful scenery and plenty of opportunities for hiking and biking.
Things to do in Connecticut with Kids
Spending the day on the beach is an easy, fun, and wallet-friendly activity to work into your Connecticut vacation. Hammonasset Beach State Park
has some gorgeous sandy stretches while Ocean Beach Park
features a boardwalk full of kid-friendly attractions. If it's not quite sunbathing weather, head to one of the children's museums, such as Imagine Nation
or Kidcity Children's Museum
to give the little ones' minds a workout. Connecticut Science Center
, though not specifically aimed at youngsters, includes plenty of interactive and engaging exhibits. Slightly older children may appreciate the impressive recreated Native American Pequot village at The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center
. As a coastal state, Connecticut may be better known for its world-class aquariums, but Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo
certainly merits a visit, with sections dedicated to the South American rainforest, New England farmyard, and predators.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Connecticut
Though it may be a little state, traffic can make car journeys in Connecticut long and boring for kids. Avoid driving near the border with New York in rush hour, and if you really have to, make sure to bring plenty of games and snacks to keep the kids occupied.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Connecticut
Cuisine of Connecticut
Like much of New England, Connecticut's cuisine features a large amount of seafood, thanks to its long coastline and historical reliance on its seaports and fishing industry. Shad fish are particularly popular in the state and, although they are one of the boniest fish in the world, are well worth trying on your Connecticut vacation. Milk, cheese, and butter also make a big appearance due to the prominence of dairy farming in inland areas. New Haven
is home to a large Italian-American community and excellent Italian restaurants turn up on nearly every corner. In fact, Connecticut's most famous dish is Italian influenced and originates from the area, the apizza. Similar to a traditional pizza in most ways, the apizza's thin oblong shape, chewy texture, and limited use of cheese makes it a dish in its own right. Served plain, it features oregano, tomato sauce, and a little bit of grated pecorino Romano cheese. Famous restaurant Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana invented the white clam pie, in which the apizza is also topped with olive oil, chopped garlic, and fresh littleneck clams. New Haven also claims to be the birthplace of the hamburger sandwich.
If you need a quick bite when sightseeing in Connecticut, simply head to the nearest grinder place. "Grinder" is local lingo for a submarine sandwich, known as "sub," "wedge," "hoagie," or "hero" in other parts of the U.S. These substantial sandwiches are a staple of Connecticut and the popular sandwich chain Subway originates from Milford
Shopping in Connecticut
Whether your style is glitzy malls or a craft market, you might need an extra suitcase for all those Connecticut holiday souvenirs. Westfield Connecticut Post Mall is the largest of its kind in the state, encompassing over 200 stores and an impressive food court. For a quirkier shopping experience, head to one of The Book Barn
locations, a bibliophile's dream stocking over 500,000 books over four locations. The friendly shops of Olde Mistick Village
sell handmade clothes, accessories, crafts, and lots of local produce. Foodies won't want to miss the farmer's market in Westport
, while Jonathan Edwards Winery
is the perfect place to pick up a bottle of New England wine.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Connecticut
History of Connecticut
The Connecticut region was inhabited by multiple Native American tribes prior to European settlement and colonization of the land, including the Paugussetts, Mohegans, and Pequots. The first European explorer to set foot in the area was Dutchman Adriaen Block in 1614. He was followed by Dutch fur traders who built a fort in present-day Hartford
. In 1633, the English began to descend on the land and form colonies, with the largest wave arriving in 1636. Many were Puritans from Massachusetts, led by Thomas Hooker. Visit Henry Whitfield State Museum
on your Connecticut holiday to explore a 17th-century home and experience colonial Connecticut.
European settlers brought many diseases with them, to which the native population had no immunity. Smallpox in particular wiped out thousands of indigenous people, ravaging communities. The pressures of disease, trade, and the relentless expansion of European settlements eventually culminated in the Pequot War, the first serious armed conflict between Native Americans and European settlers in New England. The bloody war claimed somewhere between 300 and 700 Pequot lives and ultimately destroyed the tribe. Afterwards, various New England colonies and their native allies divided the land of the Pequots among themselves. Include The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center
in your Connecticut itinerary to learn more about the Pequot tribe and see a recreated Pequot village.
The English soon outnumbered the Dutch, forcing them to their abandon their fort in 1654. The three English colonies were merged under a royal charter in 1662, creating the crown colony of Connecticut. However, just over a 100 years later, the colony became one of the thirteen to revolt against British rule in the American Revolution. General George Washington called Connecticut the "Provision State," as it helped to provide American forces with a steady stream of weaponry and food as well as contributing soldiers. The British were defeated in 1783 and Connecticut ratified the constitution of the United States America on January 9, 1788, making it the fifth state to do so. Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park
sits on the spot of an important harbor defense of the war, and today includes restored canons along with monuments and memorials.
Connecticut flourished in the years that followed; mills and textile factories were constructed and its seaports became hives of trade activity and fishing. By 1848, the state had abolished slavery and African-Americans from both in and out of the state began to relocate to Connecticut's urban centers to take advantage of employment opportunities.
Growing tensions between the northern and southern states regarding the abolition of slavery came to a head in 1861. The southern states announced their secession from the Union and the country plunged into civil war. Connecticut played a vital role in supplying Union forces with weapons, supplies, and many soldiers. In 1865, the South surrendered and the Confederate states began to rejoin the Union. By this point, over 2,000 people from Connecticut had been killed in combat, a further 2,801 had died from disease, and 689 had perished in Confederate prison camps. Stop by Bushnell Park
on your Connecticut trip to pay your respects at this 49 m (160 ft) tall memorial arch.
The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century saw further development in Connecticut, with the establishment of more factories and increased urban growth. When World War I broke out in 1914, the Provision State again assumed the role of a major weapons supplier. Its industry became indispensable to the U.S. Navy, with the Groton
-based company Electric Boat receiving orders for 85 submarines. The state's importance to the Navy continued through both World War II and the Cold War.
Landscape of Connecticut
Though it may be America's third-smallest state, Connecticut boasts a surprisingly varied landscape, ranging from gentle beaches that run along the Long Island Sound to rugged Berkshire Mountain foothills in the northwest corner. The state's rural regions and bustling cities also contrast, with the former generally in the northeast and northwest and most of the latter hugging the coast. A number of islands sit off the coast, with the picturesque Thimble Islands
becoming a popular Connecticut tourism destination.
Holidays & Festivals in Connecticut
Attending a holiday celebration or local festival during your Connecticut vacation is a great way to learn more about the state and experience some of its best food, music, and handicrafts. Summer and early fall is country fair season, providing a heartwarming taste of rural America. In August, the fair in Chester
gives you a great excuse to visit this small, quintessentially New England town. Spectators can enjoy racing pigs and tractor pulls along with arts and crafts stalls. In September head to Haddam
for the Haddam Neck Fair, a century-old tradition featuring oxen pulling, a horse show, live music, and much more. Durham Fair, at the end of September, is the state's largest agricultural event, showcasing traditions like baking and canning, livestock barns, and live music.
To experience more of the state's proud seafaring heritage, time your Connecticut trip to coincide with Mystic's
Antique and Classic Boat Rendezvous in late July. Pre-1965 cruisers, sailboats, runabouts, and launches all make their way down the Mystic River, accompanied by a parade. If you prefer to just kick back with a drink, stop by the Connecticut Wine Festival in Farmington or Oktoberfest on the Meadow in Stamford
Connecticut Travel Tips
Climate of Connecticut
Most of Connecticut experiences a humid continental climate, with cold winters and warm muggy summers, though far southern and coastal Connecticut has a milder humid temperate climate thanks to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. That said, summer is hot across the state, with average highs of 27 C (81 F) in the coastal New London
region and 31 C (87 F) in inland Windsor Locks
. Winters are cold in the north but less severe in the south, with temperatures generally warming up around May. Fall is one of the most popular times to tour Connecticut, as the days are mild and the green forests that populate the north transform into a riot of red, oranges, and yellows.
Thunderstorms are fairly common in the summer, and the state experiences the occasional tropical cyclone during hurricane season (late summer). Connecticut has around 30 thunderstorms a year and one tornado per year.
Transportation in Connecticut
New England benefits from one of America's most comprehensive public transportation systems, making it possible to explore much of Connecticut without a car. However, doing so will take some advance planning and restrict you to more populated areas. You'll also need to take into account that some services are aimed at commuters and may have a limited schedule on weekends.
Taking the train can be an efficient and enjoyable way to tour Connecticut. The state sits on Amtrak's Northeast Regional line, connecting Hartford with major towns and cities of the region. In southwestern Connecticut, you can make use of commuter lines between New York City and New Haven, stopping at several towns along the way. Towns between New Haven and New London are also serviced by Shore Line East commuter trains.
Many urban areas, including New Haven, Norwalk, and Stamford, have local bus systems. For long distance travel, you can reserve a seat on a Greyhound bus; the major American company operates several routes in-state.
If you do decide to drive during your Connecticut holiday, make sure to avoid the notorious I-95 during rush hour, when it becomes one of the most congested highways in the United States.