It seems as if everyone and their mom knows about Mystic, Connecticut.
The fact is:
Everyone has heard of Mystic because there are so many things to do in Mystic, CT.
While Mystic Pizza bears some responsibility for its fame, the movie producer only got the idea while visiting Mystic in the first place.
Mystic is New England’s answer to other tourist traps in America:
- Gatlinburg, Tennessee
- Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
- St. Augustine, Florida
But, as is typical of a state that peddles historic charm, Mystic, CT, is a tourist destination that oozes class, elegance, and charm.
Many of the activities, attractions, and things to do in Mystic, Connecticut, focus on the old industries of whaling, shipbuilding, and anything maritime.
But there’s plenty more to explore close to Mystic. Much of the surrounding farm and woodland is still intact, unique to Connecticut, so vineyards, hiking, and farm visits are an option here.
And there’s still a bit of kitsch to be found, if that’s what you’re into.
Ready to plan your visit to Mystic? Read on.
A brief guide to finding things to do in Mystic, CT, during COVID
Like most tourist destinations around the world, Mystic suffered from closings and travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On one trip this writer took to Mystic during the pandemic, everything was closed.
So we drove from Greenwich to do what we could do, in a slightly more exotic locale; all the free, open-air activities:
- Walking around historic downtown Mystic
- Hiking through a nearby park
- Eating takeout pizza from Mystic Pizza on the pier overlooking Mystic River
But things have changed a lot in the intervening months.
Check Mystic’s Chamber of Commerce’s website for information regarding openings of individual businesses, but most attractions have reopened.
That said, all Connecticut businesses and organizations are following state-wide guidelines.
While travel restrictions are being lifted, many of the social-distancing requirements are still in effect:
- Wear a mask when indoors
- Maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet from people not in your group
- Most places are maintaining limited capacity, so call ahead to make reservations
But with so many things to do in Mystic, Connecticut, you’re sure to keep yourself entertained, regardless of whether one attraction is closed or at capacity.
Top 10 things to do in Mystic, Connecticut
With so much to do in Mystic, first-time visitors need a quick list of the attractions that everyone seems to do here.
The majority of these attractions are centered around the Mystic River.
The source of this mysterious name is a Pequot term, “missi-tuk”. The term translates to a large river whose waters are driven into waves by tides or wind.
1) Mystic Seaport
Before the arrival of tourists, Mystic was one of the pre-eminent shipbuilding centers in America. Various shipyards along the Mystic River built over 600 ships during a 135-year period starting in 1784.
Ten years after shipbuilding ceased, aficionados founded what is now one of the largest maritime museums in the country in 1929.
The museum hosts:
- A recreated colonial New England coastal village
- Working preservation shipyard
- Maritime and artist exhibitions
- A planetarium
- Historic gardens
- Children’s museum
But one of the most unique draws of Mystic Seaport Museum is the four National Historic Landmark vessels, including the second item on this list, the Charles W Morgan.
2) Charles W Morgan
The Charles W Morgan is the only wooden whaling ship still in existence. It also bears the title of being the oldest still floating commercial vessel in America.
It’s permanently docked at Mystic Seaport, where it can’t hurt any more whales.
After an extensive refit, visitors can explore the ship to learn more about the whaling lifestyle of the 1800s.
Whale oil was immensely valuable before the widespread use of oil extracted from the ground, and whalers lived a hard life to acquire it.
Visit the ship after reading Moby Dick, then see how cramped of a space the crew endured all to enable a ship captain to pursue a dangerous obsession.
Speaking of which, this ship was built for the average height of the 19th century, so watch your head down below!
3) Mystic Aquarium
Not into learning the history of mankind’s efforts to exterminate what’s left of the world’s megafauna?
Then head to the second major attraction built in the Mystic area to keep you occupied: Mystic Aquarium.
This attraction even hosts living whales, of the beluga variety.
Many of the exhibitions are outside, including the belugas and other creatures:
- Sea lions
- The aviary known as Boomerang Island
But a visitor could knock all of these off their list in about 30 minutes if the weather is uncooperative.
Inside exhibits include more of the typical aquarium fare:
While this aquarium is fairly small, it is heavily involved in the work of researching, preserving, and protecting the life of our oceans.
So, there’s no guilt in supporting their mission.
4) Mystic River Bascule Bridge
Speaking of small attractions, the Mystic River Bascule Bridge is cool, but not something that will take-up most of your afternoon.
This unique swing bridge follows a similar construction to more famous drawbridges, like the London Bridge.
In the warm months, this bridge lifts every 40 to 60 minutes for boat traffic, so there should be plenty of opportunities to see the bridge in action while visiting the surrounding downtown.
5) Historic Downtown Mystic
Historic Mystic, straddling the eponymous river, exudes quaint charm.
Mystic’s waterfront park is an ideal location for people watching, or to see the Bascule Bridge in operation.
And yet the main attraction is the architecture of the buildings along Main Street itself. Much of the quaint fishing and whaling village has survived to the present day, and walking around town is a top free attraction here.
6) Mystic Museum of Art
On the edge of downtown Mystic, overlooking the Mystic River, the Mystic Museum of Art is rapidly developing into an attraction in its own right.
While this charming art gallery is petite, the art exhibitions change every few months and display in a gorgeous space festooned with plenty of natural light.
The surrounding manicured gardens are also lovely. Besides, entrance is free, so the only cost of a visit is your time.
An artist colony started the Mystic Museum of Art in 1913, and visitors can participate in one-day art workshops or children’s art classes.
7) Olde Mistick Village
Outdoor malls are fairly commonplace anywhere in the States. But where else can you find a recreated 18th-century New England village while finishing your Christmas shopping?
The charmingly quaint feel to the uniqueness of this shopping center makes it one of the most unique things to do in southern Connecticut.
The range of shops include:
- Christmas shop
- General store with delicious fudge
- Imported Irish gifts
- Garden store
- Pet store
And the experience of walking around is just as pleasant. The owners of the development included such period features as:
- A replica of a steepled New England meetinghouse
- Duck ponds
- Victorian gazebo
And the entire outdoor space is dog friendly, which also lands this spot on our list of the most dog friendly places in Connecticut.
Just be sure to keep your pet away from the ducks.
8) Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center
This nature center has been providing guests the opportunity to experience local flora and fauna first hand for nearly 70 years.
A few of the attractions on-site include:
- Over 10 miles of Connecticut hiking trails
- The natural history museum
- Exhibitions such as injured birds of prey like owls and hawks
And yet one of the most unique and mysterious attractions is a nearby archeological site that Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center has exclusive access to, as caretakers of the land.
Gungywamp is an exceedingly confusing site, with artifacts scattered throughout the 100-acre space.
Some of the major things to see at Gungywamp include:
- Artifacts dating from 2000-770 BC
- A double circle of large quarried stones
- A stone chamber featuring an astronomical alignment during the equinoxes
- Remains of both Native American and colonial American buildings
Due to regular settlement and re-settlement throughout recent history, the site has likely been arranged and rearranged multiple times.
Hence the perennial frustration of archaeologists studying the site.
9) Denison Homestead
Across the road from the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center sits an opportunity to experience yet another piece of 17th century history.
While the inside is interesting, with friendly staff in period dress sharing stories from the house’s long history, the views alone are worth a visit.
Especially in April, when bright, yellow, daffodils surround the Denison Homestead.
10) Seaside Shadows Haunted Tours of Mystic
Like other historical attractions on the East Coast:
- Charleston, South Carolina
- Savannah, Georgia
- Williamsburg, Virginia
Mystic appears to have a larger amount of paranormal activity than the average town.
Or at least better documented ones, for the sake of providing fodder for walking ghost tours of one of the most haunted places in Connecticut.
Whether you believe them or not, ghost stories are a fun way of learning about the local culture: what terrified and mystified locals. It’s also interesting to consider what legends were important enough to keep alive to the present day.
And the Seaside Shadows Downtown Mystic tour is the top walking ghost tour in Mystic.
Connecticut native Courtney McInvale Reardon guides guests on a tour past local Mystic haunts by lantern light.
Spend an evening learning about the events from the 1600s to the present that developed into the best known spooky tales today.
Even more attractions, activities and things to do in Mystic, CT
With the top attractions on your list for your upcoming visit to Mystic, round-out your trip with a few free activities.
Or perhaps you’re planning a more romantic Connecticut getaway?
Either way, this guide has you covered, plus top Mystic restaurants.
Free things to do in Mystic, Connecticut
While visitors don’t equate charming Connecticut with being inexpensive, the most charming towns in Connecticut all feature free things to do.
In fact, more than a few of the top Mystic attractions are free to visitors:
- Exploring downtown Mystic
- Walking and watching the Mystic Bascule bridge
- Wandering through Olde Mistick Village
- Admiring the Mystic Museum of Art
- Walking around Mystic Seaport (just be sure to pay the entrance fee to go into buildings)
Some extra free things to do in Mystic, CT, include:
1) Elm Grove Cemetery
This beautiful cemetery is a short drive away from downtown Mystic, and up the road from Mystic Seaport.
Elm Grove Cemetery is a picturesque work of the Victorian era. It was built during the Rural Cemetery Movement.
The movement created park settings of rolling hills, brooks, and trees. And visitors to Elm Grove Cemetery can still admire the flowers, willow trees, crowns, and trumpeting figures decorating the ornate sepulchers.
The impressive granite memorial arch was an 1890s addition to the entrance.
Today, the park-like atmosphere is worth at least a drive, or better yet a walk, on a nice day. Even those wary of the deceased will appreciate the gorgeous views of Mystic River.
2) Liberty Pole Square
This is admittedly not much of a destination.
But it is a nice place to take a break while wandering around downtown Mystic. The square is at the intersection of Holmes and East Main Street just before heading west across the Bascule Bridge.
The Liberty Pole Square features a large anchor seated on a gray, round, brick platform.
Surrounding the platform is a three foot high stone wall with flat slab stones for sitting and admiring.
The town dedicated this monument to the citizens of Mystic River Valley, who hold in their hearts the precious gift of Liberty.
Thanks to traffic lights, crossing Main Street to appreciate this dedication to liberty may prove a bit difficult.
3) Williams Beach Park
Enjoy some surf, sand, and even a sunset depending on when you visit Williams Beach Park.
This little beach, only 120 feet of shoreline, is the only beach in Mystic proper.
And parking is free, though be prepared to go elsewhere for typical beach amenities like lifeguards and bathrooms.
Some more of the best Connecticut beaches are just a short drive from Mystic, however.
8 of the most romantic things to do in Mystic, CT
With attractions like Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport, visitors sometimes give this town a reputation for being just a family destination.
And while it is, a trip here can also be decidedly romantic.
1) Saltwater Farm Vineyard
100 panoramic acres bordered by tidal marshes, vistas of Long Island Sound, and a cove await at Saltwater Farm Vineyard. The 15 acres of vineyard are planted with six grape varieties, with a popular tasting room on-site.
This top pick of the Connecticut wineries honors its place in Stonington history as coastal Connecticut farmland and a private airport dating from the World War II era.
Regardless of when you visit, you may be so enchanted by this place that you will be planning your wedding here.
2) Uncas Leap at Yantic Falls
This waterfall is a bit of a drive inland from Mystic, in Norwich, Connecticut.
And while the hometown of Benedict Arnold may not be on the top of your list, this is a sweet place to swing-by if you happen to be in town.
Yantic Falls features an easy quarter of a mile trail to a beautiful waterfall, along with a rustic pedestrian bridge, old railroad bridge, and mill buildings converted to apartments.
The Legend of Uncas Leap
Legend has it that Yantic Falls was a favorite camping and battleground for the local Mohegan tribe. In the 1640s, Uncas, Sachem of the Mohegans, led his tribe in battle against the rival tribe of the Narragansetts. Members of the Narragansetts chose to leap to their deaths in the chasm of Yantic Falls than surrender.
The modern falls are part dam and part natural, with a main plunge of 40 feet in height. After the falls, the Yantic River continues through one of the most impressive gorges in the state.
The best time to see the falls is in the winter, when mist freezes on the trees and the water freezes solid in cascades over the rocks.
3) Enders Island
This little island off the coast of Mystic is one of the most unique places in all of Connecticut.
Owned by an organization of Catholic monks, this little island offers a serene and peaceful escape from daily life.
The gardens and sweeping views of Long Island Sound make for a pleasant way to pass an hour or two.
And everything from parking to wandering around is free, as well. That’s why it’s also won the title of one of the best free things to do in Connecticut!
4) Stonington Vineyards
This vineyard is another popular spot for locals, especially for the free concerts on the lawn held each summer.
On a warm afternoon, you’re sure to find plenty of people sitting outside enjoying wine and the gorgeous views, live music in the tasting room, and smiles all around.
5) Harkness Memorial State Park
On the southern end of a peninsula jutting south from nearby New London sits a beautiful turn of the 20th century former estate.
Harkness Memorial State Park features Eolia, a 1906 Roman Renaissance Classical Revival-style mansion. The 304-acre property belonged to philanthropist Edward Harkness before reverting to the state’s care.
The elegant summer getaway for the Harkness family includes over 230 acres of sweeping lawns, stately trees, charming gardens, and plenty of space to spread-out.
You’re sure to see more than a few locals taking their engagement photos here.
6) Argia Mystic Cruises
After spending the day exploring one of the largest maritime museums in America, a relaxing cruise aboard an old sailing ship, watching the sunset, seems ideal.
The Argia, an 81-foot traditional sailing vessel, will take you past the islands and lighthouses of Long Island Sound, and give you plenty of fresh air.
The cruise takes about two hours, exploring Fishers Island Sound, then Noank and Groton Long Point. And while a sunset cruise sounds the most romantic, others throughout the day will provide just as interesting an experience.
Just be prepared for a bit of challenge with parking, as the dock is close to the Mystic Bascule Bridge.
Another local option is Poet’s Lounge Sailing Charters.
7) B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill
Like anywhere else in Connecticut, Mystic is particularly charming in the Fall.
And one of the most romantic attractions to visit during Fall in Connecticut is without question the B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill.
This attraction, a short drive from Mystic, is the last steam-powered cider mill in America. It earned National Mechanical Engineering Landmark status in 1994.
Be sure to visit on weekends, when the cider mill is operating.
But any day is an opportunity to enjoy the cider, which many claim is the best you’ll ever have. And other unique things to try include:
- Cider slushies
- Wine tastings
- Cider donuts
- Apple and blueberry butters
The cider mill is a great stop either heading to or from Stonington, the next romantic spot on this list.
Mystic is actually not a real town.
The village is split between two nearby towns, Groton and Stonington.
And little Stonington, perched on a peninsula jutting into Long Island Sound, is worth visiting on its own.
A quaint holdover from when this area was heavily involved in the 19th century whaling industry, downtown Stonington features a tightly-packed village of houses of varying architectural styles from its heyday.
13 top Mystic restaurants
While many visitors have come to town to experience Mystic Pizza, there’s much more to Mystic and the area than one pizzeria.
The pizzeria on which the movie is based has long closed, by the way, though there is another Mystic Pizza to visit for Julia Roberts aficionados. TV screens inside show the movie all day, every day.
Seafood and yes, Italian, are major dining mainstays here. Below are some top picks:
1) Anthony J’s Bistro
This upscale restaurant is right off of the waterfront in Mystic. Anthony J’s Bistro specializes in Italian and seafood with a cozy ambience.
2) Oyster Club
The historic clapboard house provides a rustic yet chic venue to try the age-old aphrodisiac. If oysters don’t do it for you, there are plenty of other dishes to choose from. All include ingredients from local farmers and fishermen.
After dinner, enjoy the open air, romantic views of downtown Mystic, and a drink, at the Treehouse, the outdoor deck and bar attached to the Oyster Club.
This restaurant has racked-up plenty of accolades and awards since opening in 2011, including from Travel + Leisure, Connecticut Magazine, and Town and Country.
3) Bravo Bravo
This trendy Italian eatery is situated in the Whaler’s Inn in downtown Mystic. Bravo Bravo prides itself on serving modern seaside cuisine with an Italian twist, like its signature osso bucco. Save room for one of their decadent desserts!
4) Go Fish Restaurant
If looking at live fish all day gives you seafood munchies, Go Fish Restaurant sits across the street from Mystic Aquarium in the Olde Mistick Village shopping center.
As the name suggests, this spacious and colorful spot is a go-to for seafood, including its sushi bar.
5) S&P Oyster Company
This stylish yet affordable option in downtown Mystic offers traditional New England dining. And yet the biggest draw is its extensive kids menu, making S&P Oyster Company one of the most kid-friendly restaurants in Mystic.
6) Engine Room
Connecticut Magazine awarded the Engine Room the accolade of Best American in 2019. This rustic restaurant offers a more casual atmosphere than its award would imply. The menu is full of mouthwatering burgers and sandwiches, matched by a lengthy craft beer menu.
Much of the menu comes from Stone Acres Farm in Stonington, much like Oyster Club and Grass and Bone.
7) Vivian’s Mediterranean Market, formerly known as the Pita Spot
Every town in Connecticut has at least one Mediterranean-style restaurant, and the Pita Spot offered the best Lebanese cuisine in the Mystic area.
As of 2019, the Pita Spot has reinvented itself as Vivian’s Mediterranean Market, serving Lebanese and Italian fare prepared and packaged daily.
So you can still enjoy their cuisine, with your home, hotel room, or vacation rental as the venue!
8) Red 36
Polished American cuisine centered on seafood is what draws diners to Red 36. What keeps them coming back are the waterfront views and the outdoor seating overlooking the harbor.
Connecticut magazine awarded this restaurant multiple accolades in 2019, for best outdoor dining and seafood.
Why skip your weekend morning tradition while on vacation!?
Rise is one of the newer restaurants on this list, but has already won recognition for being one of the best options for breakfast and brunch in the entire state.
The shop was started by a former Oyster Club employee. And its clam-shack vibe is perfectly appropriate, situated by the waterfront.
10) Sift Bake Shop
Locals are just as willing as tourists to wait in line to savor the coffee and baked goods at Sift Bake Shop. Owner Adam Young was the winner of the Food Network’s Best Baker in America title in 2018.
Pretty impressive, and likely explains why Sift also scored a place on Connecticut magazine’s list of best desserts in the state.
11) Grass and Bone
This combination butcher shop and sandwich shop started under the premise of making high-quality cuts of meat accessible to the general public. That way, you could enjoy restaurant-quality meat at home in your own cooking.
But the lunch sandwiches at Grass and Bone are pretty damn good.
12) The Shipwright’s Daughter
A new addition to the roster of dining options at Whaler’s Inn, the Shipwright’s Daughter offers another swanky option to experience the local seafood.
The pork belly, roasted oysters, cod chowder, and lobster roll win plenty of praise from visitors.
13) Ford’s Lobster Restaurant
This lobster shack is not in Mystic.
But Ford’s Lobster Restaurant is only a ten-minute drive away in Noank. And it’s well worth the trip!
The patio-only seating, waterfront views, and laid-back vibe alone make this place unique. But the simple yet stupendous menu includes fish tacos, lobster rolls, and higher-end options like roasted cod over mushrooms.
The most famous menu item is the Bisque Bomb, a half-pound of hot lobster smothered in lobster bisque, and all served in sandwich form.
What about things to do in Mystic, CT, in the winter?
The summer months, especially July and August, are busiest at Mystic.
But every time of year has its own appeal in Connecticut, and Mystic is no different.
Winter months mean fewer tourists, so everything from scoring tickets to finding parking is much easier.
Provided you’re not attempting to visit during or shortly after a snowstorm.
Most of the attractions that make Mystic so unique are still open in the winter. In fact, such a large number of indoor attractions or places still visitable in the winter make this one of the best choices for Connecticut winter getaways.
Keep planning your Connecticut getaway
Now that you’ve got your weekend getaway to Mystic in the bag, what about the rest of your time here?
Keep exploring more things to do in Connecticut, and download the free Connecticut Travel Guide.
More guides to explore include:
- All of the best Connecticut beaches lining the length of the state shoreline
- The best flea markets in CT, including one a short drive from Mystic
- Our list of the most charming towns throughout Connecticut
- Check-out our visitor’s guide to our hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut
We hope you discover your love for Connecticut while you’re here!