Top Things to Do in Connecticut in the Summer

walking on the beach is one of the top summer activities in ctCozily wedged between NYC and Boston, Connecticut is ideal for an easy getaway this summer.

 

Planning a trip to Connecticut in the summer is the best way to let your hair down and unwind doing some of your favorite things.

 

And considering our state’s size, the diversity of options is surprising.

 

You can discover everything from shopping to foodie heaven and from wine tasting to art, music and history.

 

Here’s our list of the top things to do in Connecticut in the summer, in no particular order:

Absolute best summer activities in Connecticut

The stereotypes about summer in New England are true.

 

The one about summer being all about outdoor activities, at least.

 

Connecticutians spend most of their time on the water or in the woods.

 

This writer does, at least.

Plan a trip to a Connecticut beach

walnut beach boardwalk in Milford, CTThe best Connecticut beaches offer a perfect escape when you need your summertime beach vacation fix.

 

Each beach has a different atmosphere, amenities, even entrance requirements. But a little advanced planning is all you need to enjoy your day.

 

Some of the most memorable picks include:

Greenwich Point Park, also known as Tod’s Point

Greenwich Point Park is one of the crown jewels of Greenwich, Connecticut, boasting:
  1. A long stretch of sandy beach
  2. Miles of walking trails
  3. Boating opportunities
  4. And sweeping views of the New York City skyline

Sherwood Island State Park

One of the most unique features of this Connecticut state park is the three-color sand on the beach. Red and black sand adds to the more typical cream-colored sand. The colors stem from garnet and magnetite, respectively.

 

The minerals separate with the tides, creating beautiful stripes in the beach.

 

This 238-acre expanse of Sherwood Island State Park is worth a visit, regardless of the time of year.

Hammonasset Beach State Park

This is not your average day at the beach.

 

This is a visit to Connecticut’s largest shoreline park.

 

Here, you’ll discover over 2 miles of beach, with soft sand ideal to spend a few hours relaxing by the waters of the Long Island Sound.

 

Whether you want to swim, bask in the sun, or stroll along the boardwalk to take in the dunes, the lovely beach and tempting cool waters are calling your name.

Take an American Impressionist art tour

Victorian era rose garden in Hartford, ConnecticutQuaint, charming Connecticut entranced some of the foremost artists of the early 20th century.

 

Artists like Hassam, Twatchman, and Metcalf were major movers-and-shakers of the American art scene.

 

And many of them lived and visited various artist colonies throughout the state.

 

They painted many of their most famous works on summer getaways in Connecticut.

 

Some top art museums to see their work and appreciate their sources of inspiration include:

 

Bush Holley House

Located in Greenwich, this circa 1730 house is not just a National Historic Landmark. The Bush-Holley House is also the home of Connecticut’s first art colony. When it became a boarding house in 1890 it gained notoriety as the gathering place for artists, writers, and editors.

 

The neighborhood of Cos Cob, CT, still retains vestiges of an artsy, funky, vibe thanks to this influence a century ago.

 

Weir Farm National Historic Site

Three generations of American Impressionist painters frequented this spot. The Wilton farm is the ideal site to get a feel for the stunning landscape that inspired American paintings hanging in the farm’s art galleries.

 

Florence Griswold Museum

One last, must-see gallery is the Florence Griswold Museum, featuring work from the Lyme Art Colony. Works include artists such as Hassam, Twachtman and Metcalf . These creators were major influencers of the American Impressionism movement.

Take a Connecticut wine tour

 

Wine tours, more likely bring California to mind.

 

Perhaps the Willamette Valley.

 

And yet, the Connecticut Wine Trail is making a name for itself.

 

The organization has grown to feature 25 Connecticut vineyards and wineries.

 

Make a day of it by visiting the eclectic selection of tasting rooms, vineyard tours and exciting meals offered at the various vineyards.

 

You’ll soon discover why Connecticut is one of the fastest-growing wine regions in the country.

Ride an old-fashioned train and riverboat: Essex Steam Train

The historic 1892 Essex Station offers a unique journey through the Connecticut River Valley. The ride on a steam locomotive pulling vintage coaches is a rare find east of the Mississippi. The 2.5-hour round-trip rolls by the New England towns of Deep River and Chester. It also offers an eco-excursion through local coves and preserves in one of the last great wild places in the world.

 

You can also disembark at Deep River Landing to board a riverboat excursion. Board the Becky Thatcher riverboat to cruise along the Connecticut River and then head back to Essex station on the locomotive.

Head to the hills

Want more than the trails at Weir Farm, Gillette Castle, and state park beaches?
 
Perfect.
 
Because they barely scratch the surface of opportunities for hiking enthusiasts in Connecticut.

 

Some of this writer’s top picks for summertime hiking trails throughout Connecticut include:

 

Don’t forget the bug spray. Connecticut insects don’t compare to biting insects in other New England states in this writer’s experience.

 

But mosquitoes here are still nothing to trifle with.

 

Peruse art galleries & museums

 

Lighthouse in New London, ConnecticutIf you appreciate art (Impressionist and otherwise), summer is prime for art-centered day trips. Connecticut offers many art museums and galleries to discover, including:

Bruce Museum

This is the best of all worlds. The Bruce Museum of Greenwich combines:

  • Natural history
  • Art
  • And science

Throughout its changing galleries and exhibits. It is an accredited museum by the American Alliance of Museums, which is apparently no easy feat. This accomplishment speaks to the unique nature of the Bruce Museum collection. It is known for pushing the boundaries of museum traditions. Since its founding, it helps visitors develop an appreciation for natural science, history, and the arts.

Bendheim Gallery

This gallery offers original artwork for sale created by both established, and emerging artists. Exhibitions at this downtown Greenwich institution are free and change every six weeks.

Samuel Owen Galleries

Home to contemporary art, this gallery in Greenwich specializes in the work of established and mid-career artists. With selection of:

  • Original paintings
  • Sculptures
  • Mixed media
  • And limited-edition prints

You’re sure to find something intriguing.

yale university in New Haven, ConnecticutYale University Art Gallery

This is worth the trip as you not only see a diverse collection of art in the most impressive collegiate collection of art in the Western Hemisphere.

 

Be sure to use the opportunity of strolling the stunning campus of this historic university afterwards.

Hygienic Gallery

This gallery in New London includes mixed media, printmaking, paintings, and sculptures. Afterwards, be sure to follow the downtown walk highlighting a collection of original murals.

Golden Thread Gallery

This gallery in West Hartford features all mediums of art focusing on the human condition.

Maple and Main Gallery

Are you looking for unique artwork for your home?

 

Then you can purchase the work of such artists as Peter Barrett’s seascapes, Kathleen DeMeo’s prints and B. Rossitto’s nature scenes.

Mystic Seaport

Why, yes, summer is the ideal time to visit Mystic Seaport.

 

Or rather, that’s when everyone and their mother seems to visit it, plus the various attractions, activities, and things to do in Mystic, CT.

 

How to relive the best parts of your childhood, summer edition

Want to revisit some of the most awe-inspiring moments of your childhood?

 

Connecticut offers several crazy-fun excursions.

 

This writer has dragged a niece or nephew to more than a few of these attractions.

 

Partly for them, but also for nostalgia’s sake.

Connecticut aquariums

One might consider aquariums galleries in their own right as home to thousands of species of marine life.

 

On a hot summer day when you’re already too sunburnt for the beach, you can still get up close to the life of Long Island Sound and beyond.

 

They’re some of the best indoor activities in Connecticut for a rainy day, too.

 

Pressing your face against the glass in fascination is acceptable.

 

Licking the glass is not.

Maritime Aquarium

This top of the Norwalk, CT, attractions hosts 75 live exhibits, with 300 different species.

 

They even offer guided boat tours of Long Island Sound.

Mystic Aquarium

This is a great place to spend a rainy day in Connecticut encountering marine mammals, fish, invertebrates and reptiles. The aquarium commits itself to all things that live underwater. You’ll learn about the role these sea creatures play for the planet and the importance of helping to conserve the ocean’s delicate balance.

 

Amusement Parks

 

The Lake Compounce amusement park is a top summertime activity in ConnecticutNot everyone is a fan of the noise, food and rides of an amusement park.

 

That said, Connecticut’s amusement parks offer a trip down memory lane, including:

Lake Compounce

This is the oldest operating amusement park not just in Connecticut but the entire U.S.

 

Covering 332 acres, you can ride the Wildcat, jump on the raft slide or spend time at the beach or cooling off at the water park.

Quassy Amusement & Waterpark

Located in lovely Middlebury, this is one of the few operating trolley parks in the US. Although it is much smaller at just 20 acres, Quassy features a ride in every acre.

Thrillz High Flying Adventure Park

Thrillz in Danbury offers over 20 rides as well as more interactive experiences like zip lines and rock climbing.

Xtreme Play Extreme Adventure Park

If you aren’t intimidated by some major ride thrills, Xtreme Play is the place for extreme and unforgiving rides.

 

Atlantic Beach Park

This is a landmark destination. Attractions include a historic carousel. It adds a unique, unexpected touch of charm to this otherwise very rambunctious park.

 

And yes, Atlantic Beach Park is in Rhode Island.

 

Close enough. New England states are tiny!

 

Summer shopping destinations in Connecticut

This writer has to admit that shopping is not their forte.

 

Hence why it’s at the bottom of the list of summer activities.

 

That said, some of the most unique shopping experiences are ideal for the summer months.

 

Greenwich Avenue and the downtown Greenwich shopping district

The downtown Greenwich Avenue shopping district is a destination for all of Connecticut and beyond. A huge number of high-end luxury boutiques and local shops line the street.

 

The Greenwich Sidewalk Sales attract shoppers from all over in July.

Connecticut flea markets

Connecticut is home to some fantastic flea markets and farmers markets throughout the state.

 

Some of the best flea markets in Connecticut are tops for antiques, vintage items, and locally-crafted gifts.

All the best things to do in Connecticut in the summer

Many of the most unique attractions and things to do in Connecticut are great any time of year.

 

And yet, some are ideally suited to the summertime.

Glass House

 

Well-known architect Philip Johnson designed the Glass House. As the name implies, this lovely building is a pavilion designed to focus on providing views of a pond and lovely woods below. Covering 1,815 square feet, the glass walls and doors open up unto the landscape ushering in what became an iconic mark of American architecture. Johnson lived in the home until his death in 2005. His remarkable architectural style is edgy and modern yet gives way to the rustic surroundings which becomes the focal point of the home.

Thimble Islands

Unsuspecting travelers easily miss the chance to explore this unique Connecticut summer attractions.

 

But the Thimble Islands have been a summer destination for centuries.

 

At minimum, a summer ferry tour around this archipelago is in order.

Gillette Castle

 

Gillette Castle in the summerThis medieval castle is an unexpected sight sitting on the southerly hill of the “Seven Sisters.”

 

Completed in 1919 after five years of construction, the building is the former home of William Hooker Gillette.

 

Mr Gillette was a noted actor, director and playwright. He gained fame as the first American actor to play Sherlock Holmes.

 

The mansion features 24 rooms and lots of other quirky details, making it one of the most unique attractions in all Connecticut.

 

It is a sight to behold if you love architecture and history, with:

Hand-hewn southern white oak throughout the castle

  • Forty-seven uniquely designed doors
  • Period furnishings
  • Built-in couches
  • And endless examples of Gillette’s creativity and ingenuity

 

The grounds are also lovely. Trails meander throughout the property that include such unique features as:

  • Stone-arch bridges
  • Wooded trestles
  • A vegetable cellar
  • Railroad station
  • And a goldfish pond

 

Explore Litchfield Hills

Saville DamThis area is perfect for both a day trip of exploring or as a summer weekend getaway.

 

The Litchfield Hills area offers some of the most dramatic views in the state. They are as equally breathtaking in the summer as they are in peak CT fall foliage season.

 

The area is also steeped in history and charming points, including two covered bridges. The more famous (and historic) one is in West Cornwall, and yet both popular spots for selfies.

 

And lovely white church spires like Litchfield Congregational Church add to the quaint charm of the area.

 

Lovely small towns, cascading waterfalls, hiking, canoeing and ice cream at Arethusa Dairy are just a few other highlights here. If you aren’t up to too much activity, it is also a spot known for its scenic highways and byways. They’re ideal for a drive through meandering hills, towns and farmland.

 

Love antiquing?

 

This is the spot to discover great finds. Some of the best antique shops in CT sit along the country roads of Litchfield County.

Historic Sites for the summertime

 

Roseland Cottage in ConnecticutAs far as the United States goes, Connecticut is old.

 

As such, the state hosts historic sites galore. They range from Revolutionary War sites to Victorian architecture and from lovely town greens to museums.

 

Aside from previously mentioned top hits, some of the best sites to visit include:

Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum

This impressive mansion located in Norwalk, is America’s first chateau. It has a staggering 62 rooms, making it a virtual palace of the Victorian era. Some of the features to admire at this National Historic Landmark include:

  • The fine stenciled walls
  • Intricate woodwork
  • And stunning skylit rotunda

Mark Twain House

The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, was home to this American literary icon. In fact, this is where he wrote his most important work. It’s also where the writer claimed to have lived the happiest years of this life.

 

That said, the building itself is worth visiting as a National Historic Landmark. This is a great spot to learn more about Victorian life as well as Twain’s legacy.

 

On your visit, don’t forget to note:

  • The stunning floor-to-ceiling woodwork
  • Sweeping staircase
  • And painstaking attention to detail both on the exterior architecture and interior décor

 

Other historic sites include buildings where history happened, as well as charming Connecticut towns:

  • Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum
  • Beecher Stowe’s Victorian-era home (next door to the Mark Twain House)
  • The gothic Roseland Cottage
  • Historic Wethersfield, a 375-year-old village founded in 1634
  • Elizabeth Park Rose Garden, the oldest public garden in America and one of the best things to do in Hartford, CT

Mohegan Sun

 

If you’re the gambling type or looking for pure entertainment Mohegan Sun is a casino owned and operated by the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut. It is a destination for people looking for fun with everything you can imagine under one roof. Shopping, fine dining, entertainment, and even sporting events are all available at Mohegan Sun.

 

The arena here hosts acts as diverse as the Lumineers and Charo.

 

Which speaks to this writer’s eclectic musical tastes.

Discover even more things to do in Connecticut in the summer

Elizabeth Park rose gardenThese activities just scratch the surface of the things to do in Connecticut in the summer.

 

Check-out our other guides to summer in Connecticut, including:

 

And by the way, summer is the high season in Connecticut.

 

Prefer to skip the crowds?

 

Then you should also avoid fall in Connecticut.

 

But the other seasons are delightful for the introverts of the world:

 

And the top attractions, activities, and things to do in Greenwich, Connecticut make our little town an ideal summer getaway destination.

 

Or anytime of year, for that matter.

 

Just saying.