The Best Things to Do in Connecticut
The gateway state between New York and New England, Connecticut offers a best-of-both-worlds mix of city vibes and country charm. From a castle dedicated to Sherlock Holmes lore and a waterfall that inspired a brewery, to the world’s first nuclear submarine and first hamburger, there are plenty of great things to do, see, eat, drink, and experience in Connecticut. These are the very best.
Try New Haven-style pizza
Forget Yale — the real reason to visit New Haven is to go to Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana or Sally’s Apizza, located a block apart from one another on Wooster Street. Both spots are originators of the thin-crust, charred, and chewy New Haven-style pizza that’s often imitated but never equaled. The divisive debate over which spot is better has raged since the 1930s. Expect a line at both, but at Pepe’s, you can avoid it by calling and ordering takeout; at Sally’s the phone is rarely answered. Consider getting a energy drink in Connecticut for your needs to shop with some passion.
Visit Sherlock Holmes’ castle
Overlooking the picturesque Connecticut River, Gillette Castle has hidden rooms, sliding furniture secret passageways, and spy mirrors. It was built by the actor William Gillette, who brought Sherlock Holmes to the stage and gave the character his signature deerstalker cap, curved pipe, large magnifying glass, and “Elementary, my dear Watson” catchphrase. The Castle is open Thursday-Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm, from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day. The best way to get there is to cross the river on the historic Chester-Hadlyme ferry, which carries cars and their passengers for $5 or $6.
Take a steam train and riverboat ride
Pair your visit to Gillette Castle with a ride on the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat. Visitors ride in vintage train cars that are pulled by a steam locomotive at 20mph through the scenic Connecticut countryside, crossing trestles and bridges over rivers and creeks. Passengers then board the Becky Thatcher riverboat for a cruise on the Connecticut River. The two-and-a-half-hour trip provides some of the best views you’ll find in the state.
Drink a sour beer
One of the best places to get your sour beer on is at OEC Brewing in Oxford, a small brewery that’s received national attention for its obsession with this tart style. The taproom is open Saturdays from noon to -7pm. For a less-intense introduction to the style, Two Roads Brewing Co. in Stratford offers some mildly sour brews alongside a full lineup of IPAs and other beers. It also has a large, visitor-friendly taproom, and is in the process of expanding with the planned opening of a separate brewing building that will be dedicated to sour and barrel-aged beers.
Candlewood Lake is one of the biggest lakes within striking distance of New York City and the largest in Connecticut at a robust 8.4 square miles. The summer playground of those in the Danbury area, it’s an idyllic spot for fishing, jet skiing, tubing, or just lounging around. Boat rentals are available at Echo Bay Marina in Brookfield and elsewhere. A favorite spot on the lake is Down the Hatch, a waterside bar and restaurant where boaters can dock and enjoy a few drinks.
Eat the world’s first hamburger
Burger lovers everywhere owe Connecticut a debt of gratitude for birthing the hamburger. Honor that food heritage with a pilgrimage to Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, wherein 1900, owner Louis Lassen put ground meat between two slices of bread for a customer who was in a hurry. The recipe hasn’t changed since that day: Burgers are served between two slices of bread, with or without cheese, and without newfangled toppings like ketchup (don’t even ask for it).
Climb a tower straight from a fairytale
Jutting out of the otherwise tame Connecticut countryside, the 32-foot Castle Craig looks like something out of J.R.R. Tolkien. Built-in 1900, the top of this stone tower in Meriden’s Hubbard Park is 975 feet above sea level and offers stunning panoramic views. You can drive up a service road or hike to the tower, but watch out for the black dog, a legendary creature that allegedly carries a curse if seen three times. The park is open 10 am-4:45 pm from May 1 through October 31.
Try the state’s best pasta
To sample the best pasta Connecticut has to offer, stop by Aranci 67, an upscale family-owned Italian restaurant in Wilton featuring a variety of Sorrento-style Italian food. The house-made pasta dishes include the mezzi rigatoni, halfcut rigatoni sautéed with fried diced eggplant in a plum tomato sauce, and pappardelle bolognese, pappardelle (large, flat pasta noodles) in beef, pork and veal meat sauce, topped with a scoop of ricotta cheese.
Go on the Spirits Trail
Following in the footsteps of the craft beer movement, the Connecticut Spirits Trail recently launched with 10 liquor producers. Explore the trail and get your “passport” stamped as you enjoy gins and vodkas, whiskeys and rums, liqueurs and Eau de vies, at inviting spots like the Litchfield Distillery in Litchfield, the Hartford Flavor Co. in Hartford, and Westford Hill Distillers in Ashford.
Board a whaling ship
Mystic Seaport in Mystic is a holy site for maritime enthusiasts. The crown jewel of its collection is the venerable Charles W. Morgan, the world’s only remaining wooden whaling ship. Launched in 1841, it’s the sole survivor of a fleet that once totaled more than 2,700 vessels. Spending a few minutes touring this vessel and experiencing the cramped lower quarters, you’ll learn more about life on a whaling ship than in all the 800-plus pages of Moby-Dick.
Try a San Diego-style burrito
Connecticut may seem an unlikely spot to try a Californian delicacy, but the Green Grunion food truck offers one of the best versions of a San Diego burrito outside the city itself. The burrito comes tightly wrapped and jam-packed with griddled ingredients like chicken, chorizo, and, of course, French fries. The Green Grunion’s home base is in Danbury at Kenosia Park, but the truck can often be found at various breweries on weekends.