The State of Connecticut lies to the north of Long Island Strait, the stretch of ocean water that separates the coastal towns of Bridgeport, New Haven, Old Lyme and Mystic and other small villages in Connecticut from Long Island in New York.
When you look at a map of Connecticut, you see names such as Milford, Cromwell, Newington, West Haven, Kent, Essex, Colchester, New London – names that are all very English in origin. There is no doubt that the many of the early settlers who came from England wanted to transport a little bit of England with them, and the smaller the town or village, the more that this is apparent.
In many of the smaller towns you will even find a Village Green, a Village Church, and a high street or Main Street, with a cluster of houses with their white picket fences. Add a porch, veranda, rocking chair and an American Flag out front, and you know you have found the picturesque, idyllic ‘small town America’.
The best thing about Connecticut is visiting the small towns both along the coast and inland, and while there are some biggest cities, it is the small towns and villages that have the charm and style that makes Connecticut so popular for people seeking a contrast to big city New York and Boston. Much of the State is also covered by forests, so in the Fall there are all the colors of the leaves changing as winter approaches. Snow comes with winter, and in Winter it is harder to get around, and some places also close up, but with Spring arriving, everything takes on a new life.
Connecticut is only a small state in size, about 100 miles across and 60 miles from top to bottom, making it easy to see around. Some of the cities, like Bridgeport, the biggest city with a population of around 144,000 people developed through manufacturing, and industry, and like many American Industrial cities, they have suffered from both urban sprawl and inner city crime and decay. Revitalising the inner city is high on the agenda of city planners, and Bridgeport is an example of this.
Some of the places and things to see in Connecticut are as follows –
Fall Colors – (early October to mid to late November). Fall colors and the timing of the change of color will depend on the types of tree, the season and temperatures. Most people know that Chlorophyll is what makes leaves stay green, but what they may not know is that for Deciduous trees that drop their leaves in winter, the drop in temperature as winter approaches causes the trees to stop producing Chlorophyll and it is this that causes the leaves to change in color.
Connecticut has a number of State Forest Parks where you can see the Fall colors, some with lookouts too, but equally if you travel to any of the smaller roads to or near these villages – Kent, Cornwall, Somers, Norfolk, Bloomfield, Hamden, Hampton or Litchfield you will find lots of good places to see and witness the change of colors. There are also bike trails too in a number of locations too.
New Haven – with a population of around 130,000 started as a Dutch Settlement for a short while, before English settlers arrived to establish the New Haven Colony in 1636. From the early days, the City was built around the New Haven Green in the Center, a 16 acre green space that stills exists to this day. The old City Hall building (1861)is located at 165 Church Street.
New Haven is most famous as being the home of Yale University, one of the ‘Ivy League’ Universities in the United States, with its history dating back to 1701.
- The Yale Visitor Center – is located at 149 Elm Street
- Yale University Art Gallery – (1832) 1111 Chapel Street
- Yale Center for British Art – 1080 Chapel Street
- Peabody Museum of Natural History – (1866) 170 Whitney Street
- Collection of Musical Instruments – 15 Millhouse Avenue
- Art and Architecture Gallery ( Rudolph hall) – 180 York Street.
- Shubert Performing Arts Theater – (1914) 247 College Street.
New Haven was also a big industrial center for many years, and best known for the small armaments that it produced – with Whitney rifles, Colt 45’s and Winchesters all produced here. The Eli Whitney Museum is located here at 915 Whitney Avenue (See www.eliwhitney.org ).
There are many Galleries and museums in town – some of these being
- Hammonasset Beach State Park
- East Rock Park – cnr Orange and Col Springs Streets
- East Shore Park – Woodward Avenue
- Sleepy Giant State Park – in Hamden (hiking, biking, fall colors)
- Five Mile Point Lighthouse and Park
- Edgerton Park – 75 Cliff Street
- Edgeworth Park – 720 Edgewood Avenue
- Thimble Islands – cruises. See thimbleislandcruise.com Tel: 203 488 8905
SMALL TOWNS and VILLAGES – the great thing about driving is just heading wherever the road or the mood takes you to discover the ‘hidden gems’ that make for a great memory.
Look for the farms, the small cider makers, small breweries, wineries, fishermen, lobsters, antiques, boutiques, cafes, corn mazes, old houses, shops and lots more…
These are just some of the small villages that you might just come across -
- Stratford – is not far from Bridgeport, and is on a long Barrier Sand Island. Head to Long Beach to see the long beach and lots of shorebirds in the summer in and around the Great Meadows Tidal Wetlands. Also check out the Two Roads Brewery in Stratford.
- Greenwich – a stylish village with lots of galleries, shops, boutiques and cafes to enjoy, with a number of events during the summer months.
- Westport – there are over 200 historic houses here, including the 1795 Wheeler House, with downtown Theater productions, and good shops and boutiques.
- Litchfield in the Litchfield Hills – has a really pretty Village Green in its center, with the Congregational Church, North and South Streets all popular places to wander. Also look for Topsmead State Forest – a great place for hiking. Litchfield is also where the writer Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in 1811.
- Kent – is located on the Housatonic River, and has a number of 19th century houses as well as the famous Morrison Gallery located here.
- Madison – arts, crafts, books, food and the Sculpture Mile (outdoor sculptures)
- Guilford – Segway tours from the Village Green to see historic homes and museums
- Old Saybrook – best known for its antique Shops and Soda Fountain drinks
- Mystic – on the Mystic River is a great place to stay, with the Mystic Seaport here on the Mystic River. There are a lot of things to seein Mystic, and also nice drives out into the countryside from here too. Look to see the Olde Mystic Village 27 Coogan Avenue – shops and restaurants in a re-creation of a 1720 Village. Nearby is the Mystic Aquarium at 50 Coogan Boulevard with its Beluga Whale and Titanic Exhibition. See the Arts Center and museums at 9 Water Street; Connecticut River Museum 67 Main Street; Mystic Seaport Museum – see mysticseaport.org Tel: 888 973 2767. See restored sailing ships here and other exhibits.
- Old Lyme – see the magnificent Florence Griswold Museum at 96 Lyme Street
- Essex- Connecticut River trip – catch a Riverboat and Train tour of the valley – from 1 Railroad Avenue Essex. Tel 860 767 0103 See essexsteamtrain.com Also see the Connecticut River Museum at 67 Main Street, Essex. See www.ctrivermuseum.org Tel: 860 767 8269. There is a lot to explore here.
- Groton – see the USS Nautilus Submarine and museum. See ussnautilus.org Tel: 8606943558 located at 1 Crystal lake Road, Groton.
- Norwich – see the Slater Museum at 305 Broadway, Norwich. See slatermuseum.org This house museum has a great turret that stands out above the museum.
- New London – see the 1926 Lynam Allyn Art Museum specialising in American Art at 625 Williams Street, New London. See lynamallyn.org Tel: 860 443 2545. Also look for the Firehouse Square Maritime Art Gallery at 239 Bank Street. Also head to Ocean Beach Park, and look for some of the historic homes that are located here.
- Mashantucket – see the Mashantucket Pequot Museum at 110 Pequot Trail, Mashantucket. See pequotmuseum.org Tel: 800 411 9671.
- Stonington – see the Jonathan Edwards winery at 74 Chester Maine Road, North Stonington See jedwardswinery.com Tel: 860 535 0202 and the Saltwater Farm Vineyard at 349 Elm Street in Stonington. See www.saltwaterfarmvineyard.com
- Ledyard – see Maugle Sierra Vineyards, 825-827 Colonel Ledyard Highway, Ledyard. See mauglesierravineyards.com Tel: 860 464 2987.
- Preston – see Preston Ridge Vineyard at 100 Miller Rd, Preston. See prestonridgevineyard.com Tel: 860 383 4278.
- Westbrook - on the coast with a great beach, where you can kayak or sail, with good shops, oyster bars, boutiques and more.
- Putnam – a great place to look for special antiques
- Niantic – overlooking the yacht marina, with the beaches and cafes all here.
- Wethersfield – this is a beautiful historic village with more than 50 homes dating back to the 1700 and 1800’s.
- Willimantic – another great little village, with the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum at 55 Bridge Street. See cteastrrmuseum.org Tel: 860 456 9999. There is also the Willimantic Brewing Company located here too.
- Waterbury – was where the Timex watch company had their watch making production set up. Today the Timex Group Museum is located here at 175 Union Street. See timexpo.com Tel: 203 3465710.
- Windsor – In East Windsor look for the Trolley Museum at 58 North Rd. See ct-trolley.org Tel: 860 627 6540. Also at Bradley International Airport see over 80 old aircraft at the Air Museum at 36 Perimeter Road, Windsor Locks. See www.neam.org Tel: 860 623 3305.
- Cheshire – is where you will find 80,000 comics, antique toys and collectibles in the Barker Museum located at 1188 Highland Avenue. See barkermuseum.com Tel: 203 699 3822.
- Bristol – to the west of Hartford has an amazing Carousel Museum with hand carved horses made by Stein & Goldstein – the master craftsmen who emigrated from Russia. The museum is located at 95 Riverside Avenue, Bristol. See thecarouselmuseum.org Tel: 860 585 5411.
- Storrs (in Mansfield) – is where you will find the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the School of Fine Arts on the University Campus. It is located at 1 Royce Circuit. See bimp.uconn.edu Tel: 860 486 8580.
- Covered Bridges – with heavy snow falling in winter, bridges are particularly vulnerable, so to stop snow closing the bridge, they sometimes have built what are called “Covered Bridges” – where there is roof over the bridge, and walls on each side.
Here in Connecticut there are a small number of these covered bridges to see – the oldest being at Kent (built in 1842), West Cornwall (1864) and the newest in Brooklyn in 2010. There are also ones at East Hampton (1936), Avon (1968), East Haddam (1976) and Somers (2002). See www.coveredbridgemap.com/ct for directions to find them.