Hartford, Connecticut City Guide: 10 Family Friendly Spots

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Hartford, the capital city of Connecticut, is located smack in the middle of the Nutmeg State- less than two hours to Boston, New York City, and Providence, Rhode Island. First settled in the mid 1600s, Hartford has become known over the centuries as the home of authors Mark Twain and Harriett Beecher Stowe, the insurance capital of America and home to several colleges and universities including Trinity College, University of Hartford, and the University of Saint Joseph. 

We’ve lived in Connecticut since 2004 and since having children, we have explored dozens of family friendly attractions and restaurants- see our index of CT blog posts here. This week we are sharing 10 great spots in (or super near) Hartford the whole family will love.

Getting around town: The dash Shuttle is a great option for getting around the downtown Hartford area; there are ten stops. The shuttle operates from 7am to 7pm Monday through Friday and varying options on the weekend. On the street, metered parking is available on most street and parking garages are readily available 

Dining: There are tons of dining options in and around Hartford; a few good guides include this one, this one, and this one.

10 Kid Approved Things to Do in Hartford:

  1. The CT Science Center has four floors of hands-on exhibition space, a Butterfly garden, movie theater, and even a rooftop garden. The museum offers several daily special programs, daily focused events, and tons of seasonal events. Plan on spending the better part of a day getting your STEAM learning on!
    Kids will especially love all of the hands on experiments focused on biology, geology, health and wellness, astronomy, and athletics.
    Read our full blog post here.
  1. Kid City Children’s Museum in Middletown (20 minutes south of Hartford) is best suited for the toddler and preschool crowd. There are three floors of exhibits that include Space Age Road Trip, Middleshire, Toddler Sea Caves, a Main Street, a farm, dress up costumes, and a fishery. 
    Kids will especially love the Sea Caves (for the 2 and under set) and the dress up costumes.
    Travel Tips here.
  1. The Mark Twain House and Museum was home to American author Samuel Clemens during the late 1800s. During the family’s time in Hartford, Clemens wrote dozens of his most popular novels and stories including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.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 especially love the scavenger hunt, the nursery, and Billiards Room.
    Read our full blog post here.
  1. The Connecticut Capitol building and adjacent Legislative Office Building (LOB) overlooks Bushnell Memorial Park’s 41 acres in the heart of Hartford and was restored in the 1980s to the original colors and design of the 1878 building. The addition of the Legislative Office Building allowed for office space for Connecticut’s 151 Representatives and 36 State Senators. The first and second floors of the LOB and the first floor of the Capitol are both open to the public and free guided tours are offered during the week.  The Museum of Connecticut History is located across the street and is free to visit during the week.
    Kids will especially love the CT Hall of Fame, CT Wall of Honor, the horse fountain, and the various statues.
    Check out Bushnell Park across the street, which includes a carousel, a pond, walking trails, outdoor sculptures, and tons of seasonal events and concerts.
    Read our full blog post here.

5. Children’s Museum in West Hartford (10 minutes west of Hartford) encourages a love of learning in children through several hands-on science and nature themed exhibits. One of the oldest children’s museums in America, the museum complex includes nine exhibits, a planetarium, wildlife sanctuary, preschool all on campus, and the Roaring Brook Nature Center in nearby Canton (another 20 minutes west of the museum)
Kids will especially love Cony the Whale (try not to get wet!) , the Lizard Lair, and the Butterfly House.
Travel Tips here.

6. The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, opened in 1844, is the oldest free public art museum in America. The term “atheneum” refers to a “cultural institution that includes a library, works of art and artifact, which is devoted to learning history, literature, art, and science.” The museum has a collection of over 50,000 pieces of art, ranging from paintings and sculptures to furniture, installations, and china, many of which are on display throughout four museum complex buildings open to the public. 
Kids will especially love the outdoor sculptures, theLeWitt art installations, collections of furniture and serving pieces, and special events like Second Saturdays family events and highlights tours.
Read our full blog post here.

  1. Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill (15 minutes south of Hartford) is one of the largest dinosaur track sites in America, some of which are 200+ million years old! The park includes two miles of nature trails;  an arboretum of 200+ species of trees, plants and flowers; and an indoor museum housed under a massive dome.
    Kids will especially love the 20 foot model of a dilophosaurus, the Discovery Room, mining for gems and fossils and making their own tracking casts (from May through October).
    Travel Tips here.
  1. Places to Hike throughout Central Connecticut: Connecticut has 142 state parks and state forests, covering 255,000 acres of public space and thousands of trails for both amateur and veteran hikers. Many parks have smaller (1-3 mile) hikes that include features like waterfalls and various water features, and old forts.
    Kids will especially love the waterfalls at Southford Falls and Wadsworth Falls, and the castle at Gillette Castle. 
    Travel Tips: State parks are free to visitors with a CT license plate and many are free to all visitors. Some parks have amenities like indoor bathrooms, grills, and park rangers, but most have portapotties. 
    Read our full blog post here.
  1. Sporting Venues in Hartford: Connecticut sports teams often get overshadowed by the nearby cities of New York and Boston. BUT, we do have a few “local” teams including the Hartford Athletic soccer team, Hartford Yard Goats AA baseball team, Connecticut Sun WNBA basketball team, and the Hartford Wolfpack AHL hockey team. The Yard Goats play at Dunkin Donuts Park in downtown Hartford from April through September and the Wolfpack play at the XL Center in downtown Hartford from October through April.
    Kids will especially love themed nights with free admission gifts. 
    Travel Tips: Check online for promotional programs and events and nearby parking options.
  1. New England Air Museum in Windsor (20 minutes north of Hartford) has 90,000 square feet of exhibition feet spread across 3 hangars, and an additional outdoor space, to display 60 of the 110+ aircrafts in the museum’s collections. Visitors are able to climb inside many of the aircrafts and meet with several former pilots. There are rotating exhibits, daily programs and hands-on crafts for children, and special events for scouts and school groups.
    Kids will especially love sitting inside various helicopters, pretending to fly using various simulators, and exploring the KidsPort exhibit for the preschool crowd. 
    Read our full blog post here.

Looking for other Connecticut City Guides? Check out our features on Coastal Connecticut, Mystic, 30 Places We Love (soon to be updated to 50!) and 32 Places to Eat throughout Connecticut. And our recent 15 FREE things to do in CT is getting a lot of buzz. 🙂

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5 Comments

  1. I had no idea there were so many great options for family friendly activities! I love a children’s science museum. When I have kids, I’d love to visit.

  2. I cant believe how many fun things there are to do! It looks like there is so many great hikes. Its cool how many museums there are for kids!

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