Probably best known as the home of Yale University and the pizza capital of America (it may be self proclaimed, but we agree!), New Haven is the second largest city in Connecticut. It’s situated two hours north of Manhattan and about two hours south of Boston, right on the I95 corridor. The city of 130,000+ residents has many cultural neighborhoods, rich history, and several family friendly attractions that are FREE to visit.
Getting around town: Pay close attention to street signs and parking meters. Check ParkNewHaven for information on garages, More information on all forms of transportation to and from New Haven here. There are plenty of maps that offer paths and routes to follow- the popular Walk New Haven Cultural Heritage tour maps can be found here.
Dining Locally: Most of the places on this list do not have dining facilities; however there are HUNDREDS of options for just about every type of food throughout New Haven. Known as the Pizza Capital of the World, any visitor MUST head to Wooster Street (“Little Italy”) to try Pepe’s, Sally’s, Modern, BAR, or Zuppardi’s (amongst others) for brick oven “apizza”. Some trustworthy restaurant indexes can be found here and here and here.
Staying local: We consider ourselves “locals” (under a 30 minute drive) so we don’t have much reason to stay at a hotel, but have it on good authority that the Omni New Haven at Yale, New Haven Hotel, and the Marriott Courtyard at Yale are all great options and centrally located to many of the places we’ve mentioned in this post.
Eight FREE Kid Friendly Places to Explore in New Haven:
Yale University is home to two world class art museums: the Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG) and Yale Center for British Art (YCBA). The Art Gallery, founded in 1832, is the oldest university art museum in America and includes nearly 300,000 pieces of art in its collection. The Yale Center for British Art is located directly across the street and is the largest museum, located outside the United Kingdom, dedicated to British art, with over 20,000 drawings, 2,000 paintings, 250 sculptures, and 40,000 volumes in the museum’s research library.
The best part: The Sculpture Terrace, the collection of American silver, jewelry, and flatware, and the tomb of Jonathan Trumbull at YUAG; The collection of busts on display at the YCBA.
Travel Tips: Both museums are closed on Monday; open Tuesday through Sunday with varying hours from 10am-5pm; check here for more information on YUAG and YCBA; both museums are handicap accessible with elevators; strollers are allowed; coat rooms and lockers are available in both museums; there are plenty of restrooms available on most floors of both museums; both museums offer plenty of activities and special events- check for family events at YUAG and YCBA; there are small gift shop kiosks near the entrances to the museums; check online here and here.
Read our full post here.
Lighthouse Point Park is a 82 acre park on Long Island Sound that has sweeping water views and plenty of space for outdoor fun. The 1847 Five Mile Lighthouse, 70 feet tall, is closed to visitors for repairs, but the 1916 carousel is open on weekends (12pm-4pm) with over 70 figurines (look out for the single camel and two dragon chariots). There are also walking trails, a large playground (and smaller toddler playground), splash pad (open during the summer) and dozens of picnic tables in shaded areas.
The best part: The water views and abundant open space for the whole family to play.
Travel Tips: The park is open year round from 7am until sunset; lifeguards on duty during summer months; there is a per-car entrance fee; concessions and restrooms facilities on site.
Bonus: New Haven is home to several parks that offer sports fields, playgrounds, walking trails, and more; check here for a great index.
The Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop is just (like, literally steps) over the city line in Hamden. The main building was the site of the 1798 gun factory that Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, built. Today the space hosts frequent hands-on workshops for children, school groups, and families and also has permanent exhibits on engineering games, the Gilbert train system, maker spaces, and a massive wooden doll house. The museum and workshop is located inside the East Rock Park grounds.
The best part: The outdoor Water Lab and walking through the covered bridge over the Mill River to the 1804 Coal Shed (the oldest surviving building on the property) and various walking trails.
Travel Tips: The indoor museum and workshop are open to visitors on weekends and free to visit; plenty of free parking; restroom facilities inside the workshop; plan on 30-60 minutes to explore the exhibits and participate in a workshop– more time for the outdoor exhibit and walking trails.
East Rock Park is a 425 acre park that includes 10 miles of hiking trails, the Mill River, athletic fields and courts, a 112 foot monument at the top of the mountain, the Trowbridge Environmental Center (which showcases the flora and fauna of the park) and the Pardee Rose Garden and Greenhouse (blooming with flowers from early spring through fall). Take a 20 minute hike to the top of the park to check out views of the New Haven area and Long Island Sound, and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, a 112 foot high monument honoring New Haven soldiers who died in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War. While not currently open to the public, guests can usually go inside the monument and climb up to an observation deck.
The best part: The paved road path (yellow trail) to the top of the park and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Guests will enjoy reading the placards that describe the history and restoration of the monument and the large map of the views of the city and Long Island Sound.
Travel Tips: The park is open from sunrise to sunset; several parking lots are available near multiple entrances to the park (check here) and there are a few handicap parking spots at the top of the park, but cars are not currently allowed to drive to the top; portapotties are available at the fields near the parking lot.
Read our full post here.
The Blessed Father Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center (formerly known as the Knights of Columbus) is the world’s largest lay Catholic organization. The 137 old institution has been located at seven different buildings located within a one mile radius of downtown New Haven Connecticut. The organization first began in the basement of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven. Today, the center invites visitors to explore two floors of exhibits that feature the Pope, a timeline of the history of the Knights compared to international history, and various religious artifacts.
The best part: Feeling like it’s Christmas all year long with the collection of creches from around the world.
Travel Tips: The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10am-4pm and is free to visit; plenty of free parking underneath the museum (take the elevator to the lobby floor); a gift shop and restrooms are located to the right of the lobby; public exhibits are across two floors (handicap accessible via elevator).
While the Peabody Museum of Natural History, one of the oldest university natural history museums in America, is currently closed for renovation, we wanted to include it on this list as it is a top New Haven spot children of all ages will enjoy. The museum is currently under a $160 million dollar renovation and is slated to reopen in 2024. Originally opened in 1866 by George Peabody, the museum’s collection includes the wildlife dioramas, Egyptian artifacts, collections of native birds, minerals, and the famous Hall of Dinosaurs (with multiple dinosaur skeletons).
Travel Tips: When the museum reopens, it will be free to visitors and have daily events and workshops, special family friendly programs, and opportunities for scholars, historians, and even children to explore its collection.
If you’d like to see “before” photos, here is our post from our visit back in 2019.
Bonus: The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is located on Yale’s Campus. The library opened in 1963 and touts more than one million books, and thousands of photographs, maps, posters, paintings, and art objects in its collection. The Beinecke is best known for the center, six story glass enclosed tower of 18,000 volumes. While children will most likely just quickly glance at the architecture, there is a rotating exhibit on the second level that is free and open to the public. While most areas of the library are reserved for students, faculty, and visiting scholars by appointment, the public is also welcome to peek at the first books from the 1742 Yale Library on the ground floor and the adjacent Noguchi sculpture garden (visitors can also peek down into the garden from street level.
Travel Tips: The library is open to the public for varying hours each day- check here; the public exhibition space is located on the second floor; there are no public restrooms.
Looking for other nearby FREE fun? Check out our Coastal Connecticut Guide, which includes several family friendly attractions with 30 minutes of New Haven (and several of which are free) and our list of 15 Free Things to Do in Connecticut (several of which are near New Haven and can be explored all year long!) And check out our index of Connecticut posts here including our Mystic and Hartford City Guides. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.