Connecticut provides a perfect New England escape from the hustle and bustle of its big city neighbors. When you go, it’s easy to discover the unique charms of the Constitution State.
From quaint towns and scenic rolling hills to early American history and a lively, seafaring coastline, Connecticut provides plenty to see and do for everyone looking for a fantastic vacation.
Before you start exploring, be sure to check out our list of 11 interesting and beautiful places to visit in Connecticut. Then go make travel memories you’ll treasure for years to come!
1. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana – New Haven, CT
Upon arriving in Connecticut, one of the first things you’ll notice is the state’s love of pizza. Pizza is a big deal here; there’s at least one pizza joint in every town, big or small!
Yet the heart of the state’s pizza passion is Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana. Since 1925, Frank Pepe’s coal-fired pizza (or “ah-beets” as the locals say) has developed into its own legendary classification—New Haven-style pizza.
After waiting in a line out the door to get into the original location in New Haven, I recommend ordering the famous white clam pizza or the classic original tomato pie. For dessert, walk next door to Libby’s Italian Pastry Shop for some tasty cannoli or Italian ice.
2. Goodspeed Opera House – East Haddam, CT
Located on the scenic shores of the Connecticut River, the Goodspeed Opera House brings world-class theatrical talent to the picturesque town of East Haddam.
Originally built in 1876, this beautiful Victorian-era theater provides fantastic musicals throughout the year. Historically, a number of these productions have even made their way to Broadway.
If you’re looking for a nice date night or family outing, get your tickets in advance to a show at Goodspeed. I recommend going early to eat at one of the local restaurants near the theater, such as the Gelston House, and taking in the fine river views.
3. Mystic Seaport Museum – Mystic, CT
To catch a glimpse of the life of sailors and shipbuilders of yesteryear, make your way to the Mystic Seaport Museum, the largest maritime museum in the US.
Located on the water in tourist-friendly Mystic, this must-see isn’t housed in your standard museum building. Rather, it consists of a working shipyard, a recreated 19th-century seafaring village, several ships to see and tour, and over 60 historic buildings to explore.
Highlights include the postcard-worthy Thomas Oyster House, the blacksmith shop, and the Charles W. Morgan, America’s last surviving wooden whaling ship. Walking through the bowels of the ship is a step back in time to a forgotten, otherworldly era.
4. Haystack Mountain State Park
While the coastline is popular to explore, you’ll want to make sure to experience the natural beauty of inland Connecticut as well. One of the best places to see it firsthand is Haystack Mountain State Park, outside Norfolk.
Here you can make a short day hike through the forest to the summit of Haystack Mountain, 1,716 feet above sea level. At the top, you’ll find a striking stone observation tower worthy of a climb.
From the tower’s viewing deck, you can see marvelous 360-degree views of the Connecticut countryside, as well as Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York. And in autumn, it’s a spectacular place to take in Connecticut’s vibrant fall foliage.
5. Mark Twain House – Hartford, CT
One of Connecticut’s most famous residents, Samuel Clemens (AKA Mark Twain), lived in Hartford from 1874 to 1891. Today, you can visit his Victorian family home and see where he wrote classics like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
As you explore the 25-room mansion, you’ll get an intimate look at how the popular American writer and his family lived. Several guided tours are offered so you can experience this unique national historic landmark in multiple ways.
There are many impressive rooms in the house, from the uniquely designed entrance hall and cozy library to the bright conservatory and the fascinating billiard room, where Twain actually did much of his writing.
6. Griswold Inn – Essex, CT
When you imagine a quaint New England village, you’re likely picturing Essex, founded in 1664 along the Connecticut River. And at the heart of Essex is the storied Griswold Inn, one of America’s oldest continuously operating inns.
Since 1776, the Griswold Inn has provided lodging, a lively tavern, and a place to gather for locals and visitors. While an ideal place to stay during your Connecticut trip, the inn’s cozy dining area definitely shouldn’t be missed.
With dimly lit, atmospheric rooms covered in old ship illustrations, a meal at the Griswold Inn is a quintessential Connecticut evening full of character and history. You’ll be left wondering, “if only these walls could talk!”
If you can, come to the inn on Monday nights to listen to sea shanties performed by a local live band. It’s a packed house, and even if you don’t know the words, you’ll eventually end up singing along with everyone else!
7. Yale University – New Haven, CT
For over 300 years, Yale University in New Haven has remained one of the top colleges to pursue higher education in the US. A list of this Ivy League school’s notable alumni feels like flipping through the pages of a history book.
Today you can visit this renowned university firsthand on your own or through a student-led campus tour. From ornate, Gothic-style architecture and unique residential colleges to the historic old campus and the nearby New Haven Green, there’s plenty to experience.
Yale also offers a number of fascinating museums and libraries on campus. I suggest visiting the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library and the Sterling Memorial Library.
When you’re done exploring Yale, head over to Koffee?, a nearby coffee shop and popular hangout for students and locals.
8. Litchfield Hills
Quite possibly my favorite part of Connecticut, Litchfield Hills encompasses the scenic northwest corner of the state. With photogenic country towns and pastoral outdoor beauty you can see in a day, here are my recommended stops:
- Litchfield Town Green – Litchfield’s charming town green offers a number of shops, restaurants, and the often-photographed First Congregational Church.
- Arethusa Farm Dairy – Based in Bantam, this popular local dairy shop serves up some of the best ice cream around. Across the street, you’ll also find tasty baked goods at Bantam Bread Company.
- West Cornwall Covered Bridge – This scenic 172-ft covered bridge harkens back to a bygone age. One of the few left in the state, you can still drive on it!
- Kent, CT – A lively small town, Kent provides antique stores, shops, and great food options. Plus, you can see the beautiful Kent Falls nearby.
- Appalachian Trail – The Connecticut section of the AT cuts through Litchfield Hills, giving you the chance to traverse the trail and say hello to through hikers.
- Lake Waramaug State Park – Enjoy a picnic lunch, kayak, or swim along the still waters of serene Lake Waramaug.
9. Gillette Castle State Park
Originally the home of actor William Gillette, Gillette Castle is both a beautiful mansion and creative oddity designed by the famed actor himself. Serving today as a beloved state park, the 24-room medieval-inspired dwelling is a popular destination for Connecticut travelers.
This one-of-a-kind castle is well-known for its eccentricities, including secret passageways and rooms, 47 unique doors, a trick bar, built-in couches, spying mirrors, and more.
The park’s grounds provide a number of hiking options and scenic river views, including the Railroad Trail. This historic trail follows the path of Gillette’s own miniature train that used to operate on the property.
10. Essex Steam Train – Essex, CT
Chugging along the breathtaking Connecticut River Valley, the Essex Steam Train gives you a fantastic opportunity to take in the state’s natural beauty aboard a vintage train.
The train starts at the historic 1892 Essex station and meanders for 12 miles through Chester and Deep River. A narrated round trip, you can also board a riverboat for a delightful cruise along the Connecticut River.
The train offers several special experiences, including rail bike peddling trips, a 4-course dinner train, and North Pole Express trains at Christmastime.
11. Louis’ Lunch – New Haven, CT
There’s nothing more American than a hamburger, right? Well, you can dine where it was first invented in 1900 at the tiny Louis’ Lunch in New Haven.
Recognized by the Library of Congress as the hamburger’s birthplace, Louis’ Lunch still serves its simple burgers the way they were made over 100 years ago. This means they’re amazingly cooked in the restaurant’s original cast iron grills from 1898.
A cozy space with well-worn seating and old-school atmosphere, Louis’ Lunch gives you a rare opportunity to taste Connecticut history firsthand. Just don’t ask for ketchup!
Afterwards, you’ll want to wash down your burger with a cold bottle of Foxon Park white birch soda, Connecticut’s soft drink of choice.
Did we miss any of your favorite places in Connecticut?
Let us know in the comments if there are any more places in Connecticut that you would add to our list!