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8 Must-Have Experiences in Connecticut

Connecticut Travel Insider Guides
by Hillary Federico Jan 31, 2017

Connecticut is packed with great things to do for both kids and adults. From exploring its scenic coastline via a backcountry drive to museums and historic sites, these are eight of the essential experiences to have while visiting the Constitution State.

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

1. Take a walk through history at Mark Twain’s house.

 Mark Twain HouseHartford, United StatesOpen for guided tours Wednesdays through Sundays, this house was the former residence of Samuel Langhome Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain.

Visit the Mark Twain House and Museum on Farmington Avenue. From 1874 to 1891, this was the home of Samuel Langhorne Clemens and his family and said to be where some of his most productive writing took place. Here, he wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, Life on the Mississippi, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Tramp Abroad and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Adjacent to the house sits the museum, which includes a rotating exhibition hall, a theater showing a mini-documentary of Twain, classroom space, a lecture hall-style auditorium, a store and a cafe. There’s also a research library available by appointment only.

2. Grab yourself a seat at the Tony Award-winning Goodspeed Opera House.

 Goodspeed MusicalsEast Haddam, United StatesGorgeous opera house located on the banks of the CT River. This is a great place to see everything from Oklahoma! to A Christmas Carol. Especially fun around the holidays.

Opened in 1963, the Goodspeed Opera House has produced more than 250 new and newly revived musicals on their main stage and their second stage in Chester, CT. Today, it’s the first regional theater in America to earn two special Tony Awards, one in 1980 for outstanding contributions to the American musical and a second in 1995 for distinguished achievement for a regional theatre. Past productions have included Bye Bye Birdie, Guys and Dolls, Fiddler on the Roof and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Tickets can be purchased online here.

3. Watch the bridge rise and fall in downtown Mystic.

 Mystic River Highway BridgeStonington, United StatesThis is a definite local experience to see the bridge open up for larger boats to pass. While shopping through downtown Mystic, there’s a siren that goes off to signal that the bridge will raise. The road shuts down, so watch for everyone to stop and watch the show!

After you’re done exploring Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport, venture downtown for some shopping, dining and a really authentic local experience: watching the bridge open. At regular intervals (and on-demand during the slower months), the drawbridge on Main Street lifts up toward the sky allowing larger boats and ships to pass. A loud siren signals that the bridge will be opening soon. The road and sidewalks close and passerby everywhere stop and rush to get a better view.

4. Explore the grounds of Yale University.

 Yale UniversityNew Haven, United StatesThis is a must-do for everyone (even those who aren’t looking at colleges). Yale University offers everything from carefully curated art/ history museums to public events. Even better? There’s a ton of local shops and restaurants to visit nearby.

Yale University is a huge part of the fabric of downtown New Haven, but you don’t have to be a Yalie to visit it. Check out the quad, Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Yale Center for British Art and the Yale University Art Gallery, among other nonresidential buildings open to the public. Once you’re done touring the grounds, grab a bite at one of the many varieties of restaurants in the area.

5. Get lost in the corn maze at Lyman Orchards.

 Lyman OrchardsMiddlefield, United StatesThis place is especially great for families. Check out the corn maze (which they create according to theme every year) and finish off with a dozen of their fresh apple cider donuts. Make sure to grab a pie before heading home and freeze it for Thanksgiving (if you can wait that long)!

This is a rite of passage for any Connecticut local during the fall months. Every year Lyman Orchards announces a new theme for their corn maze, which encompasses roughly 4 acres. Once you find yourself out amongst civilization again, don’t forget to make a pit stop into their marketplace. Do not skip grabbing a bite of their fresh baked apple cider donuts and remember to bring a pie home for the family.

6. Stroll the hallways of the Wadsworth Atheneum.

 Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of ArtHartford, United StatesIf you’re someone who appreciates art both historic and modern, this is a great place to visit. Fun fact: it’s actually the oldest continually operating public art museum in the US.

Founded in 1842 and opened in 1844, the Wadsworth Atheneum is the oldest continually operating public art museum in the US. It’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum, which is located in Hartford, CT, features nearly 50,000 works of art. Everything from Roman antiques and European impressionist paintings to modern masterpieces and the Samuel Colt firearms collection can be found within the hallways.

7. Find a good spot (and a good book) at R. J. Julia’s.

 R J Julia BooksellersMadison, United StatesI love this independent bookstore to hide away on a rainy afternoon. The atmosphere is really charming and there’s even a small cafe in the back where you can purchase sandwiches, pastries and coffee.

If you consider yourself a bibliophile or are just looking for a quiet place to enjoy a cup of Joe, head to R.J. Julia Booksellers for all that and more. For more than 25 years, this independent bookstore has sat in this sleepy section of Madison, CT and prides itself on, as they say, “putting the right book in the right hands.” As a business, they’ve won several prestigious awards like the Publishers Weekly Best Bookseller of the Year and Connecticut Magazine’s Best Bookstore. R.J. Julia’s also hosts roughly 300 events a year, including book readings, author talks and story time.

8. Ride the carousel at Bushnell Park.

 Bushnell Park CarouselHartford, United StatesA fun place to bring your family year round. In the winter, expect a visit from Santa and maybe even some ice skating, while in the summer there’s almost certain to be some event going on whether it’s a marathon or an art festival.

The restored wooden carousel has 36 hand-carved jumper horses, 12 stationary horses, two chariots and a Wurlitzer 153 band organ. The carousel operates May through mid-October and also by special appointment for private parties.

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