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Day Trips in CT: Here are 50 fun things to do, from pizza to parks (and a castle, too)

Hands reach across a glass counter towards two ice cream cones.
Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative
A customer picks up their ice cream order at the UConn Dairy Bar in Storrs, Conn. on Tuesday, June 18, 2024.

In the eyes of surrounding New England states, Connecticut might seem like it's got a bit of an identity crisis. We’re nestled between New York City and Boston, two vibrant cities that split our sports fandom and offer so much that even some life-long residents might shrug at what’s around them. But Connecticut is bursting with things to do in nature, history, the arts and more.

From the southern shoreline to the hills in the northwest, state parks and public gardens offer a break from the hustle and bustle. But we've got plenty of excitement too; our cities are packed with things to see, places to go and great food. Historically, Connecticut plays host to art that New York turned its nose up to — like the first Picasso gallery in America.

The Celtics might have just won their 18th NBA championship, but who needs the pros when you have UConn’s two title-winning college basketball teams? Oh, and pizza! Ours is the best. It’s not up for debate. Grab a slice (or a lobster roll – those are delicious, too) as a pit-stop on the way to our beaches.

We’ve broken up the state into five regions. Go out and explore!

Litchfield Hills | Eastern Shoreline | Capital Region | Quiet Corner | Western Shoreline


Litchfield Hills (Northwest Corner)

In autumn, leaf-peeping steals the show here, with colors blanketing the rolling landscape. But Connecticut’s northwest corner has many other gems, if you know where to look. From flowing waterfalls to relics of an industrial past, the Litchfield Hills are packed with spots to explore.

What to do if you're a …

Nature lover

West Cornwall Covered bridge in West Cornwall, Connecticut July 22, 2022.
Joe Amon
/
Connecticut Public
West Cornwall Covered bridge in West Cornwall, Connecticut July 22, 2022.

  • Soak up a waterfall at Kent Falls. Feel the mist on your face as water plunges 70-feet into the mighty Housatonic River. Spring snow melts make the falls a memorable sight, but the scene is worth taking in any time of the year. A nice summer rain can really get those cascades pumping! Open daily, with a staircase winding its way up alongside the falls.
    Kent Falls in Cornwall, Connecticut July 22, 2022.
    Joe Amon
    /
    Connecticut Public
    Kent Falls in Cornwall, Connecticut July 22, 2022.
  • Why not go look for some charcoal? Connecticut’s forests are packed with hidden stories, including long-buried charcoal pits. Charcoal, the lifeblood of the state’s iron industry, fueled furnaces used to make weapons and wheels that rolled across America. Don’t miss the Beckley Furnace in East Canaan, a towering relic of that industrial past, where workers forged “pig iron,” so named for how the molten metal looked when it was poured – flowing crosswise to a channel called a "sow" and feeding smaller ingot molds.

Shopper

  • Vintage toys, gaudy light fixtures and unique musical vinyls are some of the many hidden (and often nostalgic) treasures waiting to be re-discovered on the massive floor of the The Collinsville Antiques Company of New Hartford. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with ample parking out front. A great spot for quirky gifts!
  • After antiquing, a short drive will take you to the LaSalle Market & Deli. A staple of Collinsville for years, this restaurant offers sit down dining, ice cream and live musical performances throughout the year – all in the heart of Collinsville’s historic downtown.
  • From LaSalle, a two-minute walk will take you to Antiques on the Farmington. This multi-seller space features dozens of dealers spread out over two floors. It’s a delightful collection of ephemera, with new goodies added daily. Open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Eastern Shoreline

Handcrafted oars dangle from the skylight at the Institute Library in New Haven, Conn.
Eda Uzunlar/WSHU
Handcrafted oars dangle from the skylight at the Institute Library in New Haven, Conn.

Connecticut’s eastern shoreline encapsulates the picturesque New England summer-on-the-water scene, while simultaneously offering a packed list of activities that aren’t on the beach. The southeastern corner of the state has rich maritime history to explore, fresh offerings in culture and the arts, and the vibrant cityscape offered by New Haven. Though much of Connecticut’s shoreline is privately owned, there are plenty of chances to take a beach day – Hammonasset Beach is an entire state park devoted to the water. Take your time driving down the coastline and stop often – Mystic (home of the famous “Mystic Pizza,” though you might not see Julia Roberts) is a classic, but there’s always more to see than what meets the eye.

What to do if you’re a…

Historian

  • The Florence Griswold Museum has a notable and extensive collection of impressionist paintings, some of which were painted mere steps away from where they’re housed in Old Lyme, the center of American impressionism. The grounds consist of much more than a museum – the mansion that became the home of some 200 artists throughout the early 20th century is open for exploration. Its education center offers a nearly non-stop schedule. 
    • While you’re there, make a stop at Café Flo, where you can take a break to sit, sip, and enjoy the view of the Lieutenant River.
    Visitor Beverly Schirmeier recreates the scenery on the campus of the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Conn.
    Eda Uzunlar/WSHU
    Visitor Beverly Schirmeier recreates the scenery on the campus of the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Conn.

  • High above the Connecticut River, a stone fortress known as Gillette Castle sits, waiting to be explored. The castle, located in what’s now Gillette Castle State Park, was built between 1914 and 1919 by actor William Gillette, best known for his role as Sherlock Holmes. In his will, Gillette, who had no spouse or children, simply expressed a desire not to leave the home to a “blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” The state took control of the castle a few years later. Explore the grand estate, as well as its surrounding trails.
  • The Institute Library is a historic gem that even some New Haven residents don't know about. Nestled between a tattoo parlor and a bike shop on Chapel Street near the New Haven Green, this nearly 200-year-old library is one of the few “membership” libraries to remain standing in the United States. Don’t be fooled – you don’t need to become a paying member of the space to visit. You’re free to drop by, peruse centuries’ worth of archival records about the area, make your way through the vinyl collection, and start up what will absolutely be some intriguing conversation on comfy couches upstairs. 
    “De-Circulated, an Interpretation of Banned Books” by Karen Duncan Pape on display in the upstairs gallery at the Institute Library in New Haven, Conn.
    Eda Uzunlar/WSHU
    “De-Circulated, an Interpretation of Banned Books” by Karen Duncan Pape on display in the upstairs gallery at the Institute Library in New Haven, Conn.
    • A little more history for you, since membership libraries are no longer all the rage: The advent of the public library system in the United States allowed for residents to borrow books — which, at the time, were quite expensive — without having to buy them. But before the public library came to New Haven, membership libraries were the only option. “In the case of New Haven, Connecticut, if you wanted to be able to read books, you basically had to be affiliated with Yale University,” said Eva Geertz, the library’s operations manager. “These were, like, working guys. And they had the brainchild, ‘we can sort of build a library system that people will pay a little bit to be a member of.’”

Creative

Aerial photograph of Goodspeed Opera House
Dave Wurtzel
/
Connecticut Public
The Goodspeed Opera House on the banks of the Connecticut River of East Haddam in 2024.

  • If you’re looking for a spot to get a book you never knew you wanted, this is the place. If you’re looking to meet some friendly people/cats/goats or to get lost in immaculate gardens with sweet signs to remind you of your way, this is also the place. The Book Barn, a favorite in Niantic, offers more than 500,000 titles, many of which are priced at just a few bucks. This pick is for the bookish kind, yes, but is also a place to visit for anyone who’s interested in inserting some child-like wonder into their day. There are three Book Barn locations in Niantic, all of which are wonderful, but the main show is at 41 West Main St. 
    The ‘New Age/Occult’ book section on the grounds of the Book Barn in Niantic, Conn.
    Eda Uzunlar/WSHU
    The ‘New Age/Occult’ book section on the grounds of the Book Barn in Niantic, Conn.
    • If you’re looking for a good cup of coffee and a sweet treat to pair with your browsing, the waterside Sift Bakeshop is just down the street. The pecan sticky buns and ebbieoche (a hard-to-say, easy-to-eat braided cinnamon and sugar bread) are fan favorites.
  • According to its long-time staff member Dan McMahon, the best way to make the most of a visit to the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam is to spend all day in the area. Start the leisurely drive along the Connecticut River to this postcard town less than half an hour north of Niantic. On the way, stop in Chester, the neighboring town, to walk down the one-block downtown bursting with shops and restaurants. When you reach the Opera House – which doesn’t actually show any operas; it’s a stage strictly for musicals – have a drink overlooking the river in the house’s gorgeously refurbished bar.
    • The shows you’ll see there are like no other. With two Tonys under its belt and a comparatively smaller theater that makes for an intimate experience, you’re bound to see a show that you won’t forget. There’s also a chance the show makes it to Broadway after its debut – more than 20 musicals that began at Goodspeed have done the same. 
      • If you’re looking for a quick bite in the area, Goodspeed staff recommend Simon’s for sandwiches. 
A counter of platters piled high with baked goods.
Eda Uzunlar / WSHU
An assortment of pastries at Sift Bake Shop in Niantic, Conn. The outdoor seating area has a view of Niantic Bay.

Foodie

  • If you’ve been in Connecticut for more than five minutes, you’ll know we’re quite proud of our pizza — or apizza (like ah'beetz). There are an overwhelming number of guides (here here, or here) on what pizza to get in New Haven; if you’re still struggling, you can ask just about anyone you see about their go-to spot. Odds are you’ll end up in Little Italy near Wooster Square, quite possibly at Frank Pepe’s. 
    A worker at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana takes a piping hot pizza out of a coal oven and places it into a to-go box during a weekday lunchtime rush. The restaurant was founded in 1925 by Italian immigrant Frank Pepe in New Haven, and has since opened locations across the Northeast.
    Ryan Caron King
    /
    Connecticut Public
    A worker at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana takes a piping hot pizza out of a coal oven and places it into a to-go box during a weekday lunchtime rush. The restaurant was founded in 1925 by Italian immigrant Frank Pepe in New Haven, and has since opened locations across the Northeast.
  • After you’ve had your slice (or a whole pie), the natural conclusion to your culinary experience will be at Libby’s Italian Pastry Shop, or just Libby’s. There, you’ll find a wide variety of cannoli and other pastries, which are all phenomenal. But the raison d'être of this recommendation is for their iced cappuccino, which really isn’t coffee at all – but rather, some delicious ice cream with a hint of espresso. It’s a non-negotiable.
  • A Connecticut lobster roll is not a Maine lobster roll. Where some folks might expect cold lobster meat, mayo and coleslaw, the lobster roll experience in our state is served hot and simply – with copious amounts of butter to enhance the taste of the meat. There are many spots along the coast to get fresh lobster, including Lobster Landing in Clinton, about a half-hour east of New Haven. The menu at Lobster Landing is simple, but the folks in the shop encourage customers to BYO any food the restaurant doesn’t serve – drinks, desserts, and anything else you want to go with your lobster dinner.

Capital Region (Central Connecticut)

Yes, the gold-domed state Capitol draws eyes (and maybe some flashbacks to middle school field trips?) from visitors trekking down Interstate 84. But the capital region offers many more curiosities to the itinerant daytripper. From trolley rides to ferries, dinosaurs to cutting-edge fighter jets, the Hartford region has it! (Wait, isn’t that a slogan?)

A statue of Nathan Hale stands alone in the east atrium of the Connecticut State Capitol.
Joe Amon
/
Connecticut Public
A statue of Nathan Hale stands alone in the east atrium of the Connecticut State Capitol.

What to do if you're a …

Historian:

  • Take a tour through “Historic Hartford.” Start your journey by walking through the iconic state Capitol building. Constructed with New England marble and topped with an iconic gold-leafed dome, the building cost about $2.5 million when it was built in the 1870s (today it’s valued around $200 million). After touring the Capitol, step back in time to Connecticut’s original seat of government, the Old State House, home to historic trials and even debates over secession. Thirsting for 19th-century vibes? Check out the Isham-Terry House & Garden, a genteel time capsule of what high-life in Hartford was like in 1896. Today, the house is visible from I-84 and hosts tours (usually by appointment) from May through October.
  • Visit the Mark Twain House, a 25-room architectural marvel that was home to one of America’s most famous authors while he wrote some of his most famous works, including “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” While on the tour, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the “Cat in a Ruff.”
    Mark Twain House, Hartford Connecticut. Samuel and Olivia Clemens built their three-story Hartford home in 1874. 55-minute tours are available seven days a week.
    Mark Mirko
    /
    Connecticut Public
    Mark Twain House, Hartford Connecticut. Samuel and Olivia Clemens built their three-story Hartford home in 1874. 55-minute tours are available seven days a week.
  • After checking out the Twain House, walk next door to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, home to the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” an anti-slavery novel that pushed Stowe to international celebrity. Guided tours through the National Historic Landmark are available, alongside modern gallery spaces. Open Wednesday through Saturday.
  • More of a visual person? Check out the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, the oldest continuously-operating public art museum in the United States. The downtown gallery features a collection of over 50,000 works spanning 5,000 years. If landscapes are more your style, don’t miss the New Britain Museum of American Art, which features internationally-acclaimed works from the Hudson River School.

Transportation geek:

The CT DOT ferry between Rocky Hill and Glastonbury in 2023.
Tony Spinelli
/
Connecticut Public
The CT DOT ferry between Rocky Hill and Glastonbury in 2023.

  • Got a kid who loves trains? Are you a big kid who still loves trains? (It’s OK; trains are cool.) Ride into the past at the Connecticut Trolley Museum. Working trolleys offer rides; there are boardable streetcars and even a large collection of firehouse equipment.

Family Trip Planner

With animals that were designed to standout and delight in the midst of the amusement park the Coney Island Style installation does as well in the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, Connecticut December 27, 2023.
Joe Amon
/
Connecticut Public
With animals that were designed to standout and delight in the midst of the amusement park the Coney Island Style installation does as well in the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, Connecticut December 27, 2023.

  • Itching to relive the magic (or terror) of childhood? Check out the New England Carousel Museum. Delight your senses with antique carousel art, hundreds of unique carousel figures (including horses, donkeys and rabbits – oh my!) and take a ride on the museum’s working indoor Venetian carousel.
  • While things went a bit sideways for Mr. Hammond, here’s a Jurassic Park we fully endorse. The past comes alive at Dinosaur State Park where hands-on, kid-friendly exhibits surround dinosaur footprints preserved from 200 million years ago.
  • Try out some putts at Matterhorn Mini Golf. Yodeling fades in and out as you make your way through this Swiss-themed course, which culminates with a par-3 18th hole featuring “a 71-foot long alpine meadow complete with wildflowers.” It’s about 30 minutes west of Hartford.
  • Take a picnic. There are too many beautiful parks in this region to mention, but Wickham Park just outside the capital city offers large grounds, animal exhibitions and beautiful trails and gardens. In Hartford, check out Elizabeth Park for more floral wonders – the rose garden is a can’t miss when it’s in bloom. (Did you know it’s the country’s oldest public rose garden?)
    The downtown Hartford skyline pokes up from the horizon looking east from the Elizabeth Park Rose Garden. The Elizabeth Park Conservancy says the 2.5 acre garden is the first municipal rose garden in the United States and currently the third largest. It is home to more than 15,000 rose bushes and 800 varieties. (Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public)
    Mark Mirko
    /
    Connecticut Public
    The downtown Hartford skyline pokes up from the horizon looking east from the Elizabeth Park Rose Garden. The Elizabeth Park Conservancy says the 2.5 acre garden is the first municipal rose garden in the United States and currently the third largest. It is home to more than 15,000 rose bushes and 800 varieties. (Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public)

Quiet Corner (Northeast Connecticut)

While southwest Connecticut blends with New York City’s bustle, the state’s northeastern corner oozes the opposite – rustic New England charm. The Quiet Corner is so-named for a reason. Scenic drives. Rural farms and plenty of low-key living. But this part of Connecticut still has plenty of gems. From race tracks to ice cream, basketball to bird-watching, let’s make some noise for the quietest part of the Nutmeg State.

What to do if you’re a …

Sports fan

  • Check out a UConn basketball game. The University of Connecticut is home to two basketball powerhouses. The men are fresh off their sixth national NCAA title. The women have won 11. Both are can’t-miss on the court! 
    UConn Huskies ready to take on UCF Knights during the NCAA Tournament second Round at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut March 21, 2022.
    Joe Amon
    /
    Connecticut Public
    UConn Huskies ready to take on UCF Knights during the NCAA Tournament second Round at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut March 21, 2022.
  • More of a gear head? Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (about 50 miles from downtown Boston) offers NASCAR races, a historic track and even an 18-hole golf course for those looking to downshift with some relaxing drives of a different sort. 

Foodie

  • Visit the Traveler Restaurant in Union, Connecticut. Located right off Interstate 84 between New York and Boston, you’re sure to find something on the menu that delights your palette. And your inner bookworm will be pleased, too; the restaurant encourages all patrons to take a free book when they leave.
  • Drive about 20 minutes south to the UConn Dairy Bar. It opened in the 1950s to sell sweets from the nearby UConn creamery. Today, the bar serves an assortment of ice cream flavors, from seasonal favorites like Hazelnut MOOcha Latte and Jonathan XV Supreme, to fun fresh takes on classics like blueberry cheesecake and black raspberry. Eggs, artisanal cheese and other frozen treats are also for sale.
    UConn student and UConn Dairy Bar employee Janise Park, 21, prepares an ice cream order for a customer at the UConn Dairy Bar in Storrs, Conn. on Tuesday, June 18, 2024.
    Raquel C. Zaldívar
    /
    New England News Collaborative
    UConn student and UConn Dairy Bar employee Janise Park, 21, prepares an ice cream order for a customer at the UConn Dairy Bar in Storrs, Conn. on Tuesday, June 18, 2024.

What to do if you're a …

Nature lover

  • Zip over to the Adventure Park at Storrs, where adrenaline-pumping rope courses wind through the treetops. Get a new perspective on Connecticut’s forests as you hook into zip lines, climb ladders and cross bridges connecting dozens of treetop platforms. There’s even a kid-friendly adventure pad for younger daredevils. 
  • Hikes of all types, in morning and night! Billing itself as “green by day and dark by night,” The Last Green Valley is a national heritage corridor offering everything from stargazing parties to daytime river paddling. Check out their website for the next family-friendly event (there are too many to mention here!). But to start you off, here are some trail suggestions:

    • Are you looking for more of a low-key beginner-level hike with nice views? Putnam’s River Trail offers asphalt-covered walks and scenic views of the Quinebaug River. 
    • Ready to step up your outdoors game and embark on a hike that’s a little more challenging? Head over to Thompson, Connecticut, and walk to Tri-State Marker East, a stone pillar erected in the 1880s at the point where Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts meet. (Perfect for that tri-state selfie!)
  • Bird watchers, this suggestion is for you. Pick up your binoculars and flock to the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Pomfret location, where beautiful birds can be spotted year-round. A 700-acre sanctuary offers views of whip-poor-wills and Blackburnian warblers. Trails are open from dawn to dusk.

Western Shoreline

Interior of the sculpture gallery at The Glass House in New Canaan, Conn.
Eda Uzunlar/WSHU
Interior of the sculpture gallery at The Glass House in New Canaan, Conn.

It almost seems like the closer you get to New York, the more dense Connecticut neighborhoods get. But with density comes a plethora of things to do. The state’s western shoreline is punctuated by two of its biggest cities, Bridgeport – nicknamed “Park City” for its nearly 1,800 acres of public space (Beardsley Park is a favorite) and Stamford – a fast growing-city with pockets of charm, with smaller gems sprinkled in between.

A tip for scenic views and less stop-and-start driving: If you’re in no rush, take the extra half hour and opt for the Merritt Parkway over Interstate 95. Or, route yourself along local roads from town to town to find your own hidden gems.

What to do if you’re a…

Nature lover

A vegetable greenhouse sits on the grounds of Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens in Stamford, Conn.
Eda Uzunlar/WSHU News
A vegetable greenhouse sits on the grounds of Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens in Stamford, Conn.

  • Start your morning at the Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens, just minutes away from Stamford’s downtown. With 20 different types of gardens (herb, butterfly, you name it) and upwards of a dozen different trails, this is the perfect place to get into the day with the breeze and a cup of coffee. (If you’re coming from the city’s center, we recommend Lorca or Modern Love Coffee Roasters on the way). One tip: Get there early to hear the bird calls, and lounge in one of the many quiet sitting areas.
Visitors tour The Glass House in New Canaan, Conn.
Eda Uzunlar/WSHU
Visitors tour The Glass House in New Canaan, Conn.

  • If you’re looking to enjoy both land and sea, the Sheffield Island Lighthouse and Harbor Tour is the stop for you. After boarding the 48-person ferry in Norwalk, you’ll take in the sites with a one-hour narrated harbor tour, passing three lighthouses on your way. You’ll get to explore the final lighthouse of the tour, which was built more than 150 years ago and stands as a historic monument, when the ferry docks at Sheffield Island. Make sure to pack a cooler for the ride and the island – bringing your own food and drink is allowed. 
  • Visit The Glass House in New Canaan, and expect to stay a while. Not only does the campus spread out over nearly 50 acres, it’s also the site of multiple permanent works from architect and designer Philip Johnson, including The Glass House, built in 1949. After taking in the architecture, head inside to the stunning painting and sculpture galleries. The campus’ Brick House, partner of the Glass House, underwent restoration for more than a decade, and has recently reopened. A tip from the facility's Christa Carr is to go on Sundays when there’s an option for self-guided tours — with no time limit. “See what you want to see, as long as you want, and take your time … everything is open,” Carr said. “And we have educators located at all the different buildings who can answer questions.”

Family Trip Planner

  • The Stratford Antique Center, locally recognized as “the big blue building,” holds more than 16,500 square feet of stuff – salt and pepper shakers, antique chairs, picture frames, whatever the imagination can muster – and is the perfect place to bring a family. With hundreds of vendors continuously updating their booths, everyone can find something they’ll like, even if it’s just window shopping. “I was coming here when my kids were tiny,” staff member Nancy Cole said. “I’d come to browse, to shop.” 
A shopper peruses the antiques collections at the Stratford Antique Center in Stratford, Conn.
Eda Uzunlar/WSHU
A shopper peruses the antiques collections at the Stratford Antique Center in Stratford, Conn.

  • Have kids — or playful adults — that need to burn off some energy? They’ll love the Adventure Park at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport. Tucked into the forest behind the museum, the park has 190 treetop platforms and 38 ziplines to climb and fly through. The park also boasts more than a dozen trails with different difficulty levels, so everyone can feel a good challenge. For folks who prefer their adventure inside, the Adventure Park is just steps away from the Discovery Science Center and Planetarium
  • The Jones Family Farm, established more than 100 years ago in Shelton, has 500 acres of space to pick your own strawberries earlier in the summer, and blueberries later in the season. For 21+ family members who want a break from picking berries, the farm has a winery with daily wine tastings. To know exactly how the crops are doing and what you might find at the farm, call (203) 929-8425 for the farm crop report, recorded daily. The farm’s winery hosts a music series on weekends that runs into September.

Learn more about Connecticut!

Want more to explore by the shore? The WSHU podcast "Off the Path"has everything from quirky roadside attractions and eccentric oddities to places with deep historical significance from New York to Boston and beyond. This season tells the stories of sailors and celebrate aspects of life on the high seas.

Connecticut Public's Your Start newsletter features headlines and stories from across Connecticut and New England, previews of upcoming talk shows, the weather forecast and a daily personal greeting from our journalists.

Eda Uzunlar (she/her) is a reporter for WSHU.
Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.