Connecticut has had a creative bent since at least the Age of Impressionism.
It’s why there are so many world-class museums in Connecticut, and nearby.
While I’m sure artistic and creative types lived in and appreciated the area before then, that’s the earliest documented period I’m aware of in which Connecticut was artistically influential.
That was the time in which the Bush-Holley House housed an artist colony while serving as a boarding house. It’s why the building is the only one in Greenwich on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
Such famous Impressionist artists spent time there painting, including:
- Ernest Lawson
- Childe Hassam
- Theodore Robinson
- John Henry Twachtman
- J. Alden Weir
And you can’t blame them. The train ride out from New York City was relatively quick and easy, and they could find ample scenes to inspire them.
Today, our state is still a mecca for American art lovers. Exploring the various museums is one of the best things to do in Connecticut.
Read on for our list of the best museums in Connecticut, stretching from:
- Greenwich and the Gold Coast
- Connecticut Shoreline, including New Haven and Mystic
- The Connecticut River Valley, around Hartford
We also included some tips for checking-out the visual, music, and performing arts while you’re here.
A guide to the best museums in Greenwich, CT
Of the museums geographically in Greenwich, you could knock visits to all of them out in one day. But that seems rather stressful, and you’re looking to enjoy your visit, and checking-off to-do lists are not for weekend getaways in CT.
1) Bruce Museum
For most people in the Northeast, the Bruce Museum requires no introduction.
Voted the “Best Museum” in Greenwich, CT, several times over, the Bruce Museum collection features engaging permanent galleries and more than 12 inspiring exhibits that change annually.
Most older locals remember when the Bruce Museum used to have monkeys. Bring it up with anyone who was a child in the 1970s or earlier, and they’ll likely get nostalgic.
Sans monkeys, it’s still a fantastic place to explore art, science and natural history in a picturesque setting that is as remarkable as the objects within. There’s no question that the Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences is one of the best Greenwich attractions.
Events at the Bruce Museum
The Bruce Museum hosts two major events each year, both held outside. The Outdoor Crafts Festival happens each May, one week before Memorial Day weekend. The Outdoor Arts Festival happens early October, typically Columbus Day weekend.
They both make the lists for (respectively):
2) The Bush-Holley House & Greenwich Historical Society
Built in 1730, the Bush-Holley House is a fascinating historic CT museum located in the famous Cos Cob section of Greenwich, Connecticut. The house was passed down through many generations of the Bush and Holley families.
Today, the Bush-Holley House is also the home of the Greenwich Historical Society. Founded in 1931, the Greenwich Historical Society is a unique Connecticut landmark that focuses on preserving Greenwich’s rich history. It does so through its collection of documents, photographs, maps, programs, menus, and books that date back to the 19th and 20th centuries.
Less than two miles from Stanton House Inn, this National Historic Landmark offers guided tours throughout the year. And after a major renovation, you can see art painted on the property during the artist colony days. Various exhibits also give you a feel for how the property and house looked during different times in its past.
3) Flinn Gallery
The upper floor of the Greenwich Library features the extensive music collection as well as the Flinn Gallery. The Flinn Gallery is a non-profit, education oriented gallery devoted to presenting art of all mediums from a wide range of techniques, visions, and periods. It receives over 11,000 visitors each year and curates six exhibits between September and June.
4) The Brant Foundation Art Study Center
The Brant Foundation Art Study Center is a one-of-a-kind gallery that lends works to more than a dozen exhibitions per year. It strives to promote education and appreciation for contemporary art and design. This center is every art lover’s dream destination!
5) Bruce Museum Seaside Center
This museum focuses on educating visitors about the beachside ecosystem. It’s a perfect activity for when you’re showing-off the various family-friendly activities in Greenwich, with kids in tow.
6) Neuberger Museum of Art
While this may not be in Greenwich, it’s just over the border in Purchase, New York. The Neuberger Museum of Art is located on the SUNY Purchase campus, and is an easy drive from downtown Greenwich.
The museum started with a major donation from Roy R. Neuberger in the early 1970s. It’s since grown into the nationa’s tenth largest university museum. Its collection largely centers around modern, contemporary, and African art.
Where else can you see art in Greenwich, Connecticut?
The above museums aren’t the only opportunities to explore the visual arts in Greenwich.
7) Greenwich Arts Council
One more major organization in town devoted to the arts is the Greenwich Arts Council. Their office on the second floor of the Greenwich Senior/Arts Center has a gallery showcasing local and other artists. The building itself is beautiful, it’s Greenwich’s original town hall with a Beaux Arts design.
8) Art to the Avenue
The Greenwich Arts Council’s most well-known event in town is Art to the Avenue. This summer event works with local businesses on Greenwich Avenue to display art from local artists. Their opening night event is worth checking out for the various small parties hosted up and down the Avenue.
9) Greenwich Avenue Art Galleries
And even when Art to the Avenue is happening, there are still plenty of art galleries on and near Greenwich Avenue to explore. Some of our favorite Greenwich art galleries include C. Parker and Samuel Owen.
10) Franklin Street Art Works
If you need to round-out your visit, head to Franklin Street Art Works in downtown Stamford, Connecticut. This contemporary art space hosts a cafe and three to four exhibitions per year.
Music & Performing Arts in Greenwich & the CT Gold Coast
Visual art comes in different forms. If you’re a fan of live theater or music, you have more than a few options in Greenwich and nearby.
11) Greenwich Symphony Orchestra
We highly recommend making a point to see the Greenwich Symphony Orchestra when you’re in town! This entertaining group of talented musicians features world-class soloists, fabulously low ticket prices, and moments that will make unforgettable memories.
12) The Greenwich Summer Concert Series
Throughout the summer, you’ll discover a vibrant live music scene burgeoning in the heart of historic Greenwich! The Greenwich CT Summer Concert Series, featuring around 20 outdoor shows, allows both local and out-of-town musicians to grace the stage and entertain plenty of passersby.
13) Curtain Call
Though not technically in Greenwich, the nearby Curtain Call Theater in Stamford offers an incredible experience for thespians. This community theater puts many a New York City stage to shame!
14) Westport Country Playhouse
This nationally recognized theater in Westport, Connecticut, is a non-profit organization that puts on some of the most entertaining and professional productions in the region. Westport Country Playhouse keeps the doors open year-round for any visitors who wish to enjoy a fantastic show in a welcoming and community-centered environment.
15) The Palace Theatre
If you’re looking for some amazing live entertainment during your stay in Greenwich, be sure to take a trip to the Palace Theatre in Stamford! This venue has been providing locals and visitors with some of the best arts and entertainment since 1927.
Some excellent day trips to visit the best museums in CT
Once you’ve visited our recommendations in Greenwich and nearby, you can easily continue inland or up the coast to find even more fantastic Connecticut museums.
Connecticut Shoreline Museums
Drive up the Connecticut coast if you’re looking for a children’s museum or simple more museums unique to Connecticut.
16) Stepping Stones Museum
Head to the Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk, Connecticut. This is a hands-on museum for children ages 10 and under. From the experience of trying to bring my 9 year-old niece there, make sure your kids agreed that it’s age appropriate before going.
17) Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum
After a fierce battle to preserve it from the wrecking ball of mid-20th century highway building, the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion is the best still-standing examples of Second Empire architecture. And the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum is a fantastic opportunity to explore the lives of a Gilded Age family without the excess (or drive) to Newport, Rhode Island.
17) P. T. Barnum Museum
The famous P. T. Barnum of circus fame spent the majority of his life in his beloved Bridgeport.
He served as mayor, and bequeathed several spaces to the city, many have become the best things to do in Bridgeport, Connecticut. And that list, which includes Seaside Park, also features the P. T. Barnum Museum.
This attraction features much of his collection, including such oddities as an authentic unwrapped mummy and preserved elephant.
There’s no question this is one of the most unique attractions in Connecticut.
Ridgefield, Wilton, and Danbury Museums
Ridgefield is one of the most cute towns in Connecticut, so it’s worth a visit whether you’re into museums or not. Walking the main street, visiting a Revolutionary war site, and hiking make the list of the best attractions in Ridgefield, Connecticut.
18) Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
For more art museums, be sure to visit the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield. It’s the only museum in Connecticut devoted to displaying only contemporary art.
19) Weir Farm National Historic Site
20) The Danbury Railway Museum
The downtown Danbury train station, built in 1903, is now a fully restored museum and one of the best things to do in Danbury, CT.
Even if you’re not a train enthusiast, a love and appreciation for the Northeast’s rich history is all you need to find a stop at the Danbury Railway Museum location fascinating. There is a collection of historically significant artifacts on display, as well as an extensive rail yard with historic railroad equipment and rolling stock.
The opportunity to take a weekend ride on a historic Connecticut train is what makes the Danbury Railway Museum a must-see.
The Best Connecticut Museums hosted by Yale University in New Haven
Head further up the coast to the city of New Haven, CT, for all of Yale’s various museums.
20) Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
The Peabody Museum of Natural History is another natural history museum locals remember fondly from their own childhood. Including this writer.
21) Yale University Art Gallery
The Yale University Art Gallery, the oldest university art gallery in the Western Hemisphere, is definitely worth a peruse on the Yale campus.
22) Yale Center for British Art
Visitors to the Yale Center for British Art have returned commenting that it’s just a lot of pictures of boats and ships. As I haven’t been (after the above resounding recommendation), draw your own conclusions.
23) Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
The modern architecture of this building is interesting enough.
Designed to preserve the rare manuscripts and books stored here, the building’s covering of translucent marble is magical when the sun hits it.
Visitors will find such fascinating works as an original Gutenberg bible, John James Audubon’s Birds of America, and the ever-mysterious Voynich Manuscript.
But regardless, it’s tough to argue that Yale University’s various museums don’t make the list of the best free things to do in Connecticut.
The ones that are free, anyway.
The best Connecticut museums in Mystic Country
Last but not least, head to Old Lyme and Mystic, Connecticut, to visit a few more art and history museums.
Thanks to some expert curation and decades of experience, visiting museums in the area is one of the best things to do in Mystic, Connecticut.
24) Florence Griswold Museum
Florence Griswold’s home was another center of the American Impressionist art movement. Visiting the Florence Griswold Museum is worth a trip if you’re not already overwhelmed by Impressionist art on your trip.
25) Mystic Seaport Maritime Museum
No list of the best museums in Connecticut would be complete without a mention of the Mystic Seaport Museum.
The largest maritime museum in America has been in operation since 1929. Two of the biggest draws are the recreated coastal New England village and the Charles W Morgan, the only surviving wooden whaling ship in the world. And it’s what started the process of turning what was a dilapidated old town into the charming tourist attraction that Mystic, Connecticut, is today.
26) Mystic Museum of Art
This charming yet elegant art museum overlooks Mystic’s harbor.
It’s a small art gallery, but entrance is free and worth visiting for both its rotating exhibitions as well as its beautiful grounds.
27) Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center
The sheer size of this museum in Ledyard, Connecticut, alone is noteworthy.
The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center is the largest museum devoted solely to Native American history and culture in the world.
It’s one of the most unique things to do in all Connecticut, and is worth a visit for its fascinating exhibitions.
This writer’s personal favorite is a recreated 16th Century coastal Pequot village.
An American Impressionist getaway along the CT Shoreline
Speaking of which, a great itinerary to see the various centers for American Impressionism in Connecticut is simple to follow. Be sure to include plenty of time for meandering and visiting local farms and other attractions during peak season.
Heading from NYC to Greenwich, start at the Bush-Holley House in Greenwich before driving to Weir Farm Historic Site. Afterwards, head up to Old Lyme, CT, to visit the Florence Griswold Museum.
If you’re lucky, you may see more than a few of the scenes that inspired the painters over a century ago.
The Best Connecticut Museums near Hartford
Head inland to Hartford, CT and nearby to find even more influential Connecticut museums.
28) New Britain Museum of American Art
A fun fact that I didn’t learn until writing this article is that the New Britain Museum of American Art was the first museum in the country devoted to displaying American art. It’s been doing so since 1903.
29) Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art opened its doors in Hartford in 1842. Its collection is broad, filling-up the largest art museum in Connecticut.
Some of the collections most well-known at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum include:
- Hudson River School landscapes
- French and American Impressionist paintings
- European Baroque art
- Ancient Egyptian art
- Classical bronze sculpture
And much more.
30) Mattatuck Museum
Mattatuck Museum focuses on the culture of Waterbury and the surrounding Naugatuck Valley. Its collections include art and works by the various peoples that have made that valley and the state their home.
31) Connecticut Science Center
The Connecticut Science Center in Hartford is a premier children’s museum with a wide range of activities for both children and adults. Egyptian sarcophagi, fossils, bones, gemstones, and preserved insects are among the exhibits.
With a massive 154,000 square foot expanse of glass and steel overlooking the Connecticut River, the center is Hartford’s most kid-friendly attraction.
The César Pelli-designed structure, which opened in 2009, is one of Connecticut’s best children’s museums. The Connecticut Science Center, which provides hands-on experiences and a unique perspective on science, is a popular destination for both children and adults.
32) Mark Twain House Museum
Mark Twain commissioned a Neo-Gothic mansion in 1873, where he and his family lived during his happiest years.
The house was where Twain wrote some of his most famous works, including “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Unfortunately, Twain lost much of his fortune due to poor investment and had to move to Europe.
And after the death of one of their daughters, Twain’s wife couldn’t bear to live in the house with painful memories. The house was sold, but the museum was refurbished to recreate the opulent days. Today, the Mark Twain House Museum is a National Historic Landmark, and a major attraction for fans of Twain and architecture. Visitors can take a guided tour of the mansion, which covers three stories and includes original furniture.
And be sure to head next door to the museum devoted to contemporaneous writer and abolitionist, Harriet Beecher Stowe. She was most famous for her work, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
33) Connecticut Trolley Museum
In East Windsor, Connecticut, the Connecticut Trolley Museum houses over 70 pieces of rail equipment dating back to 1869.
It operates a 1.5-mile heritage railroad over the original right-of-way of the Hartford and Springfield Street Railway Company’s Rockville Branch. It also holds the accolade for being the country’s oldest incorporated museum dedicated to electric railroading.
The museum has static and moving displays, self-guided tours, and antique fire apparatus and motor coaches on display. The Isle of Safety, a roofed platform once in downtown Hartford, is also operated by the museum. Admission to the Connecticut Trolley Museum includes one free trolley ride and admission to the Fire Truck Museum.
You finished the guide to the best museums in Connecticut! Ready for more things to do in CT?
Museums are a big draw to Connecticut, but that’s not all there is to do here.
Keep exploring the many attractions, activities, and things to do in Connecticut:
- Top free things to do in CT
- The most charming towns in Connecticut
- The best Connecticut beaches
- Favorite Connecticut hiking trails
- Our guide to the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut, which didn’t make this list, as it’s more of an outdoorsy area
Or check-out our guides to Connecticut, by season:
Updated and republished on November 5, 2023