The state of Connecticut is packed with great things to do for families on a vacation adventure. It offers a diverse blend of experiences all in close proximity to each other – from relaxing and active, historic and contemporary to cultural and nature-orientated. You can travel from just about any point in Connecticut to any other in less than two hours. For these reasons, we’ve compiled a list of top attractions in Connecticut
Must See Connecticut Attractions
Wonderful museums, historic places, and seaside spots beckon to Connecticut visitors. Connecticut has plenty of attractions to offer visitors, but you may not believe the top 10 things that you must see while visiting the state.
Mystic Seaport, the Museum of America and the Sea
Mystic Seaport is America’s leading maritime museum. It is a re-created seafaring village where you can learn, discover and experience the rich and exciting world of American maritime history. You can climb aboard historic vessels, take a cruise down the Mystic River aboard a wooden coal-fired steamboat, and explore highly interactive displays and exhibits that include a working preservation shipyard in action. Learn about how the sea has shaped America’s history and economy.
Mystic Aquarium & Institution for Exploration
Mystic, Connecticut, is also home to another top attraction—the Mystic Aquarium. Founded in 1973 to serve as a living laboratory and as a major public exhibit, this is currently one of the most visited attractions in Connecticut.
Encounter ocean animals with a visit to the Mystic Aquarium. Some of the most popular animals here include beluga whales, Steller sea lions, African penguins, and blue-tongued skinks. Other attractions include the XD Motion Theater Deep Sea 3D, and the exhibit, Titanic – 12,450 Feet Below based on famed scientist and Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard’s expeditions.
Dinosaur State Park
Who doesn’t like dinosaurs? Visit the Dinosaur State Park which is known as one of the country’s largest dinosaur track sites. Underneath the park’s geodesic dome, you will find an impressive display of Jurassic fossil tracks made over 200 million years ago. Go on a hike to explore more than 2 miles of nature trails as well as the Dinosaur State Park Arboretum to discover some unique flora and plant families that appeared during the age of the dinosaurs.
Lake Compounce Amusement Park
Lake Compounce in Bristol is known as the oldest and longest operating amusement park in America. In fact, it has been operating for 156 years now. The park features more than 50 rides and attractions, including the Splash Harbor Water Park, Zoomer’s Gas n’Go antique car ride and Boulder Dash, voted the number one wooden roller coaster in the world. The two oldest rides are a 1927 wooden coaster and a 1911 carousel. The coaster is a must, and the park also has the largest water park in Connecticut.
Gillette Castle State Park
Gillette Castle in East Haddam is a very well-maintained and thoughtfully presented historic site. The twenty-four room mansion reminiscent of a medieval castle was the quirky home of actor William Gillette (known for his role as Sherlock Holmes.) It has been preserved as a Connecticut state park.
The visitor’s center has a brief introductory video on Gillette’s long life and acting career, followed by a walk through the home itself. The tour is mostly self-guided, but guides are posted in a few areas to provide details and point out interesting quirks of the home (of which there are a few).
Hammonasset Beach State Park
If you’re going to hit one beach in Connecticut, Hammonasset should be the one. The relatively warm and gentle waves at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison make the largest beach in the state a popular place for families. More than one million visitors head for this Connecticut attraction each year. When summer’s crowds dissipate and the seaside camping season ends, Hammonasset is still a scenic place to stroll and to observe the natural beauty of the Connecticut shoreline.
Spend at least one fun and relaxing day on the beach where you can go swimming, build sand castles, play water sports, or just have quality bonding time strolling along the park’s idyllic boardwalk.
Essex Steam Train and Riverboat
The thrill of travel under steam power is part of the thrill at the Essex Train & Riverboat in Essex. Here, the excursions run through the Connecticut River Valley, where the broad river and surrounding hills are gorgeous in any season. The Steam Train offers many special events, but perhaps most special of all is the opportunity to take a ride on a riverboat as part of your journey! You’ll board the vintage steam train at the historic, 1892 Essex Station, meander through the Connecticut River Valley. At Deep River Landing, board the Becky Thatcher and take an hour-long cruise on the river, then return to the train for the ride home.
There is much to see and do at Yale University in New Haven. The Yale University Visitors Center offers guided one-hour walking tours of the historic campus, including Connecticut Hall where Nathan Hale, William Howard Taft and Noah Webster studied. The Peabody Museum of Natural History is one of the main highlights for visitors to Yale University. This comprehensive museum features a range of topics from dinosaurs and Egyptian mummies, to Native American Indian artifacts.
Art lovers will be enthralled while touring Yale University Art Gallery (including paintings by Manet, Picasso, Monet and van Gogh.)
Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center
The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center is the largest Native American museum in the world. This state-of the-art museum boasts life-size exhibits, dramatic films and touch-screen computer programs that put the excitement of the past right at your fingertips. 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, a glacial crevasse from 18,000 years ago, as well as life on a reservation from 1675 to the 1970s.
The Beardsley Zoo
Beardsley Zoo has a rich collection of animals that visitors can view and interact with. Families can enjoy fantastic local hiking trips, go on zoo scavenger hunts as a family, and learn more about how to protect the environment through the zoo’s conservation efforts.
Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, the only zoo in the state, is situated on 52 lush acres in historic Beardsley Park in Bridgeport. The Zoo features 300 individual animals representing nearly 100 species native to primarily North and South America. Before you leave, grab a bite at the Peacock Cafe, eat in the Picnic Grove and take a ride on the colorful carousel.
The charm of Connecticut can be found in its small towns and main streets. Explore unique shops and galleries, get immersed in the café culture and soak in the authentic life. Enjoy the scenic shoreline and country drives, antique shopping, world-class museums, historic sites, and plenty of activities and attractions for your family.
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
The dinosaur hall itself is a reason to visit. The Peabody Museum of Natural History has an amazingly large collection of dinosaur bones that most anyone would find extremely interesting, even those who aren’t usually into dinosaurs. I also was impressed by the large collection of stuffed birds.
Additionally, there is an extensive Native American area of the museum.
You can find out more information about the museum here.
PEZ Visitor’s Center
Come check out PEZ up close and personal. The visitor’s center has over 4,000 square feet dedicated to all things PEZ! When you visit you will see the largest, most comprehensive collection of PEZ memorabilia on public display in the world! There is even a PEZ motorcycle built by Orange County Choppers. Additionally you can check out the world’s largest PEZ dispenser, get a glimpse into the production process via a viewing area, play a PEZ trivia game, and of course shop in the retail area.
Who knows maybe you will find the perfect addition to your PEZ collection.