30 Places We Love in Connecticut

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Connecticut may be the third smallest state (5,543 square miles), but what it lacks in size, it makes up with so many fun places to explore and so many family friendly activities. I have lived in Fairfield County in Connecticut for 20 years. And over the past 20 years my family has explored most of the Nutmeg State, from Greenwich to Mystic and Fairfield to Torrington. Since our daughter was born over a decade ago, we’ve found just about every spot to be kid friendly. While we plan on adding to this list each month, and will share annual updates, this is our first round of places we love in Connecticut.

A good spot for information is ctvisit.com. The state tourism site is filled with suggestions (we always go here first when we’re checking on something to do or want more information before heading out). The website is organized by lodging, eating, and seasons, but also has a great “region” section. We have found this section most helpful when we have a spot picked out but want to know what else is nearby. We also have a post on 32 places to eat in Connecticut and we’ve created a great series of CT food trails: cupcakes, chocolate shops, cookies, hot dogs, crepes, tacos, and bakeries.

Note: Some of these places are currently closed due to pandemic restrictions. Check ahead before visiting. 

1. Chelsea Piers CT in Stamford: A massive sports complex that includes three pools (one of which is an Olympic size pool); a 6,000 square foot Water Play area; multiple ice skating rinks, basketball and racquet ball courts; tracks; a gymnastics complex; climbing walls; and several dining options. Chelsea Piers offers a class or program for every conceivable activity and plenty of open time sessions to explore.
Kids will love the water play area, with three slides and a toddler splash pad, and open gym times.
Best for ages 2 and older (but younger kids will enjoy the “parent-and-me” swimming lessons and toddler gym spaces.
Best to go: Anytime (although we love the Water Play area during the colder winter months) but many programs and open sessions require advanced reservations.
Plan on spending 90-120 minutes for most open space sessions.

2. Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield: Founded in 1964 by fashion designer and contemporary art collector Larry Aldrich, the Aldrich is unique in that there are no permanent collections. Each gallery features a new artist every 5-6 months.
Kids will love the outdoor sculpture garden and tiered grassy area in front, and the “Take One, Leave One” box on the second floor.
Best for ages 6+
When to go: It’s always a good time to visit an art museum (read why here), but this is a great place to spend a rainy or cold morning.
Plan on spending 60 to 90 minutes

3. Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford: The 93 acre complex includes over a dozen gardens, ranging from butterflies and vegetables to wildflowers and magnolias, and 10 trails, all of which are less than a mile. Many of the collections were planted 50-100 years ago by Dr. Bartlett and later, the faculty and students of the University of Connecticut.
Kids will love completing the scavenger hunt found here.
Best for ages 5+, or sturdy toddler walkers or toddlers that like being held in a carrier.
When to go: fall (the foliage is stunning) or early spring or summer mornings.
Plan on spending 90 minutes- 2 hours based on the number of trails you want to explore

4. Stamford Museum and Nature Center in Stamford: There are over 80 acres of gardens, trails, and buildings spread out across the complex. Visitors are welcome to visit with animals, smell the fruits and vegetables in the garden, check out the playground, explore the mansion, and hike and walk some of the trails.
Kids will love watching the animals being fed and playing on the playground
Best for ages 10 and under
When to go: all year! But summer and fall are especially fun
Plan on spending 2 hours
Read our full post and travel tips here.

5. Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk: Featuring over 2,700 marine animals in 75 exhibits, the Long island Sound museum includes plenty of touch tanks, feeding shows, and chances to get up close (really close!) to jellyfish, harbor seals, and river otters. There are even opportunities to take cruises on Long Island Sound.
Kids will love the touch tanks, feeding times, IMAX Theater, and completing the scavenger hunts.
Best for ages 12 and under, but there is plenty to engage kids of all ages
When to go: winter! It’s a great place to explore inside and plenty of room for the toddler crew to run up and down the ramps safely.
Plan on spending 2-3 hours, especially if attending a feeding

6. Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk: We had a membership to Stepping Stones for YEARS when our kids were younger, and it was one of our most favorite places to visit. There are both permanent and rotating exhibits, and an entire space dedicated for the under 1 crowd. The museum participates in the Association of Children’s Museum reciprocity program.
Kids will love the water room, outdoor space for programs, and the interactive dance floor.
Best for ages 8 and under
When to go: all year long, and definitely in the first opening hours or end of day. During colder months, it gets very crowded during lunchtime and afternoon hours.
Plan on spending  2 hours, more if attending a special program or workshop

7. Weir Farm National Historic Site in Wilton: The only National park site in Connecticut, Weir Farm was the home and studio of American Impressionist artist J. Alden Weir. The 60 acre space includes walking trails amongst woods, fields, and waterways.
Kids will love borrowing a knapsack with sketch book and magnifying glass to complete a scavenger hunt and earn a Junior Ranger badge
Best for ages 5-12 years old
When to go: spring, summer, and fall when everything is in bloom
Plan on spending 2 hours

8. Earthplace in Westport: A 62 acre open space complex that includes hiking trails, a 120 seat amphitheater, indoor and outdoor animal exhibits, playground and classrooms.
Kids will love seeing all the birds in the Birds of Prey exhibit, and animals in Animal Hall
Best for ages 8 and under
When to go: All year long, but it is especially beautiful in fall and spring
Plan on spending  2 hours (longer if you hike all the trails)
Read our full post and travel tips here.

9. Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport: The only zoo in Connecticut, the 140 acre space is home to over 100 species of animals divided into 9 distinct indoor and outdoor exhibits. Some of the most popular exhibits include the Amur tigers, leopards, alligators, and red pandas.
Kids will love the carousel, the free roaming peacocks, and the animals, of course!
Best for ages 12 and under
When to go: all year! Late afternoon, the crowds tend to be calmer.
Plan on spending 2 hours

10. Discovery Museum in Bridgeport: In addition to a planetarium, there are a dozen exhibits featuring a wide variety of interactive science and technology challenges. The museum also offers  Challenger  simulations, hands on workshops and overnight stays at the museum.
Kids will love Energy Network, Moonbase, and  Everbright exhibits.
Best for ages 5- 12 years old (but the toddler set will love Preschool Power)
When to go: Great for the cooler winter months
Plan on spending  2 hours

11. PEZ Visitor Center in Orange: Invented in Vienna, Austria as an alternative to smoking, PEZ candy became popular throughout Europe and then America. The first US manufacturing outpost was built in 1973 in Orange and the Visitor Center was added in 2011. Guests can see the largest collection of PEZ memorabilia and the largest PEZ dispenser, play interactive trivia games, and take a peek down into the production floor.
Kids will love choosing a favorite themed collection of dispensers, and shopping in the Gift Shop (part of each ticket is a credit in the Gift Shop).
Best for ages 3 and older
When to go: Anytime but it’s calmer in the mornings.
Plan on spending 1 hour

12. Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven: The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest lay Catholic organization, dating back to the late 1800s. The museum in downtown New Haven shares the history of the organization and prominent figures, as well as its connection to many national and world events.
Kids will love the interactive touch screens with trivia, the Papal gallery, and display of gifts from all 50 states.
Best for ages 6-18 years old
When to go: each year, the museum hosts a special Christmas themed exhibit that is especially unique and popular.
Plan on spending 2 hours

13. IT at Jordan’s Furniture in New Haven: The largest indoor ropes course in the world, with two distinct courses that go 60 feet in the air and include 100 different obstacles like rope ladders, cargo nets, planks, and bridges.
Kids will love both courses, the double cat walk, and free falling 50 feet in the air (look away parents!)
Best for heights 48” and taller,
although there is LittleIt, for kids shorter than 48 inches. Younger kids will also like the Liquid Fireworks water show.
When to go:
Right when it opens at 10am, or later in the day. It’s busiest during mid day hours. The last tickets old is one hour before closing.
Plan on spending
a minimum of one hour; most courses will require a 2 hour session.

14. Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven: Founded in 1866, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History moved to its current location in 1925 and is in the middle of a massive renovation.  The ten scientific collections open to the public visually tell the story of many elements of planet Earth, and offer many hands on programs, speakers, and family focused fun.
Kids will love Great Dinosaur Hall, with over a dozen real dinosaur skeletons, the wall of leaf ants (they’re alive!), North American Dioramas, and artifacts from Egyptian Dynasties.
Best for ages 5-12 years old
When to go: Any day but Monday, when it is typically closed. Check back in 2021 for a reopening plan.
Plan on spending 2-3 hours
Read our full post and travel tips here.

15. Yale Center for British Art and Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven: Both museums are free to the public. The YUAG is the oldest American college art museum, with over 200,000 pieces of art in its collection and the YCBA is home to the largest collection of British art outside of the United Kingdom.
Kids will love Stories and Art, on the second Sunday of the month, and Family Days at YUAG. Both programs allow for interactive learning about the exhibitions and collections of art.  Bonus: Stop by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library for a quick peek at the display of the collection. While the museum is not geared towards children, it’s cool to visually see the collection.
Best for ages 8 and older
When to go: Friday, Saturday, Sunday for the Art Gallery
Plan on spending 2 hours at each museum
Read more about why we love bringing the kids to art museums here.
Read our full post on the museums here.

16. Thimble Islands Tour in Branford: First discovered in the early 1600s, there are now 25 islands that encompass the Thimble Islands of Stony Creek in Branford. Chartered boats offer hourly cruises throughout the harbor during peak summer season, and on the weekends in late spring and early fall. The Sea Mist is a 44’ Carman, two deck boat a popular choice.
Kids will love sitting on the top deck and feeling the breeze, and keeping an eye out for fish.
Best for ages 5 and older
When to go: summer (no tours offered November through April)
Plan on spending 2 hours, including boarding time.

17. Kidcity Children’s Museum in Middletown: A three story, hands on museum that includes Sea Caves, a farm, a fishery, space exhibit, medieval village, and a special spot for the under 2 crowd. All exhibits are handmade by local artists and the museum participates in the Association of Children’s Museum reciprocity program.
Kids will love the fact that just about everything is hands on and interactive!
Best for ages under 8 (it’s really geared towards the toddler crew)
When to go: all year!
Plan on spending 90 minutes to 2 hours to fully explore the museum

18. Connecticut Science Center in Hartford: Located in the heart of the state capitol, the science center has over 40,000 square feet of exhibit space and dozens of interactive activities focused on topics ranging from geology and biology to geometry, astronomy, and music.
Kids will love lying inside a Mars pod, solving tangrams, catching bubbles in a bubbles show, and about a hundred other hands-on activities.
Best for ages 5-15 years old (although the toddler set will love Kidspace water exhibits)
When to go: all year, but it’s an especially perfect indoor spot on a cold winter day
Plan on spending 4-5 hours to explore the full museum.
Read our full post and travel tips here.

19. Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford: American author Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, moved around the country, but spent 17 years raising his three daughters in the Nook Farm neighborhood of Hartford. The home and museum opened to the public for tours in 1974 and includes three structures: the museum, carriage house (where the coachman and his family lived and currently used for offices and meeting space) and the main house, available to the public only by tour.
Kids will love The Aetna Gallery, which includes a timeline of Clemens’ life, benches to sit and listen to audio clips of readings from his collection, artifacts from his life, and the infamous “Paige Compositor”
Best for ages 8 and older
When to go: During the holiday season, when the home is festively decorated.
Plan on spending 60-90 minutes for a tour
Read our full post and travel tips here.

20. Essex Steam Train and Riverboat in Essex: Most well known for the North Pole Express, Day Out with Thomas, and Rail Trail, the trains (and bikes) take guests on all sorts of adventures.  The North Pole Express is a 90 minute train ride to visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Each train card is staffed by an elf who leads guests through a singalong and brings cookies and hot cocoa. Pajama attire is encouraged! A Day Out with Thomas usually occurs in the spring and early summer and includes a 30 minute train ride with a visit from Sir Topham Hatt and activities at the Station House. The Rail Trail includes varying trails throughout the Connecticut River area. Guests must pedal a 2 or 4 person rail bike.
Kids will love the North Pole Express and Rail Trail (best for ages 5+, so their feet reach adjustable pedals)
Best for ALL ages (but 5+ for the Rail Trail)
When to go: North Pole Express tickets go on sale in early September and sell out within a few days; A Day Out with Thomas tickets go on sale in late winter; Rail Trail tickets will be released in early spring.
Plan on spending 90 minutes to 3 hours depending on your adventure

21. Submarine Force Museum & USS Nautilus in Groton: Known as the ”Submarine Capital of the World,” Groton is home to the USS NAUTILUS, the world’s first nuclear-powered ship and the first vessel to go to the North Pole, and a museum that showcases the history of the Nautilus and several other submarines. There are both indoor and outdoor exhibits, as well as the opportunity to explore the HS (Historic Ship) Nautilus, which was in service from 1854 until 1980 and home to 105 crew members and 13 officers.
Kids will enjoy the control rooms where they can pretend to steer the submarines and periscopes and the replica of Bushnell’s Turtle, the first submarine built, inside the museum and exploring the Nautilus.
Best for ages 5 and older
When to go: Any day but Tuesday, when the museum is closed.
Plan on spending one hour inside the museum and one hour outside and aboard the Nautilus
Read our full post and travel tips here.

22. Ocean Beach Park in New London: So many ways to have fun in the sun! There’s a boardwalk with an amusement park, three water slides, an arcade, an Olympic size pool, changing rooms, and a half mile of sugar sand beach. There’s plenty of activities for younger children including a playground,  sprinkler park, and miniature golf. There are four options for food at the park, ranging from a full service restaurant to take out counters and ian ce cream parlor.
Kids will enjoy it all!
Best for ALL ages
When to go: during the summer (open late May through early September)
Plan on spending the whole day.

23. The Dinosaur Place at Nature’s Art Village in Oakdale: The 60 acre complex has been taken over by 40+ life size dinosaurs guarding the four walking trails T Rex Tower (a two story outdoor playscape), Monty’s Playground, and Splash Pad. There are plenty of options for dining, tons of picnic tables, and places to run freely.
Kids will enjoy the splash pad, playground, and climbing structures.
Best for ages 10 and under
When to go: summertime and early in the morning. The complex is open late spring through fall, but the splash pad in the summer is a huge draw!
Plan on spending 2-3 hours

24. Mystic Seaport in Mystic: The largest maritime museum in the United States, Mystic Seaport was founded in 1929. Spread out over 19 acres with over 60 different exhibits, buildings, and boats, the Seaport recreates 19th century life in a seafaring village.  Most popular are the three ships: The LA Dunton, the Joseph Conrad, and the Charles W. Morgan. The Conrad, built in Denmark as a training ship, was a merchant marine ship that now hosts “Ship to Shore” camp programs each summer. The Dunton is a fishing ship from the 1920s. The Morgan is the oldest wooden whaling ship in the world still afloat and was in use from 1841-1921.
Kids will love exploring all three ships and checking out  where they carved parts of the whale and store the blubber, Children’s Museum (best suited for kids under age 8) and Home Port (geared towards kids ages 8-12).
Best for all ages with specific museums geared towards specific ages.
When to go: spring, summer, and fall. The Seaport is open all year, but has more events and programming during warmer months. Avoid weekends in the summer when it is most busy.
Plan on spending at least 4-5 hr hours to see exhibits, more for special programs.
Read our full post and travel tips here.

25. Mystic Aquarium in Mystic: Frequently awarded a top aquarium in New England by Trip Advisor and visited by close to a million people each year, the aquarium is open year round, with plenty of exhibits both indoors and outdoors. Some of the most popular exhibits include the beluga whales, harbor seals, penguins, and Steller sea lions, which can only be found on the East Coast at Mystic Aquarium.
Kids will love the touch tanks, feeding sessions, and shows.
Best for ages 2-12.
When to go: all year- but especially when it’s warm enough to take your time with the outdoor exhibits.
Plan on spending 2 hours exploring the exhibits, more if you stay for shows.
Read our full post and travel tips here.

26. New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks:  One of the largest aviation museums in America, it boasts a collection of over 100 aircrafts, more than half of which are on display in three outdoor hangars. The museum includes over a dozen exhibits that showcase the aviation history of New England, including honoring pilots in combat, memorials from various wars, and hot air balloon baskets. Guests can also “fly” a Cessna 172 using computerized flight simulators and explore the cockpits of various aircrafts like the Douglas A-26C Invader, Bell UH-1B Huey, and Kaman SH-2F Seasprite.
Kids will love Flights of Fun Family,  special programs offered each weekend that include hands-on demonstrations and activities.  There’s also a scavenger hunt throughout the museum kids can complete for a special gift from the Gift Shop.
Best for ages 5 and older
When to go: Any day but Monday when the museum is closed.
Plan on spending 2-3 hours
Read our full post on the museum here.

27. Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury: A 20 acre amusement park that includes 20 rides and roller coasters, the Splash Away Bay water park, and a spot to swim in Lake Quassapaug. There are several rides geared towards families and some appropriate for younger children. There’s also a laser maze, arcade, and “zoo” themed playground.
Kids will love it all!
Best for ages 5 and older (there are about ½ dozen rides for towards younger kids). Read about height restrictions here.
When to go: during the summer, on a weekday. Quassy is typically open on weekends in the spring and fall, and everyday during the summer.
Plan on spending the day to maximize your time to repeat rides over and over

28. Lake Compounce in Bristol: The other big amusement park in CT, it is the oldest continuously operating amusement park in America. Spanning over 300 acres, the park includes over 40 rides, a beach and Crocodile Cove waterpark. There are daily performances, including Daniel Tiger, and guests can even camp overnight at Bear creek Campground.
Kids will love it all!
Best for ages 5 and older. Read about height restrictions here.
When to go: during the summer, on a weekday. Lake Compounce is typically open on weekends in the spring and fall, and everyday during the summer.
Plan on spending the day to maximize your time to repeat rides over and over

29. Connecticut State Parks: There are 139 parks spread throughout the state. State residents receive free admission; out of state guests are charged a nominal fee at some parks- check here for the full list. We made it a goal to check out at least a dozen and so far in 2020, we have visited 7 parks. Here are some recent favorites:

Read our posts on where to hike throughout Connecticut here.

30. Connecticut State Beaches: While there are dozens of waterfront areas to swim, boat, and fish throughout Connecticut, many smaller beaches are restricted to town residents. Some beaches may offer daily out-of-town guest passes that range in fees from $20-$50 per day. There are four state beaches at popular state parks and admission to these popular spots is free to CT residents and a nominal charge for out of state visitors. These beaches include Sherwood Island in Westport, Silver Sands in Milford, Hammonasset Beach in Madison, and Rocky Neck in Niantic. All four spots include large sandy areas, ample parking, facilities including camp grounds (reservations are required and sell out quickly) and public restrooms, and concession stands. Beaches are usually staffed by lifeguards from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
Kids will love low tide! Many of the beaches expand significantly at low tide and tide pools are perfect for the toddler crew.
Best for all ages!
When to go:
When the park opens (usually 8am). On weekends, many of the beaches reach capacity by noon.
Plan on spending
the whole day, especially when low tide is mid day.

Bonus: Here are some links that include EVEN MORE spots to visit, organized by theme. Connecticut has a “trail” for just about everything:

  • This list of nature centers, arboretums, and aquariums.
  • Ice Cream Trail throughout Mystic County in the eastern part of the state.
  • Connecticut Art Trail, a partnership of 21 museums and historic sites throughout the state.
  • Connecticut Beer Trail, with over 100 (!!!) breweries that offer everything from tastings and tours to special events and full service restaurants to a generous rewards program AND spaces for kids to hang out and play.  Our favorites include Two Roads, Bad Sons, and
  • Connecticut Wine Trail, with over 20 vineyards that offer tastings and tours, a passport program that offers 75 different prizes, and plenty of outdoor space to picnic (and for little kids to run around without disturbing anyone or breaking anything!) Our favorites include Jones (coordinate picking fruit, pumpkins, or a Christmas tree!),  Chamard (their bistro is AMAZING!), Gouveia (best views!), and Jonathan Edwards (lots of space for kids to run around!)
  • Connecticut Barn Trail, with hundreds of historic barns spread throughout the state.

Another great resource is this comprehensive list of nature centers, arboretums, and aquariums.

Looking for more fun in Connecticut? Check out our City Guides to Coastal Connecticut, Mystic New Haven, and Hartford; our list of 15 Free Things to Do in Connecticut; where to eat in Connecticut; our index of hiking posts throughout Connecticut; and our index of Connecticut posts here. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter

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