There’s so much more to New Haven than Yale University.
Yes, the university, one of the oldest in America, and its many museums and collections are a huge draw.
But the list of activities, attractions, and things to do in New Haven, Connecticut, doesn’t end with Yale.
English Puritans founded the city in 1638 as the first planned city in America. They wanted to create a colony separate from the rest of Connecticut.
Today, this very walkable college town is a dream for:
- History lovers
- Even the outdoorsy
And it’s only an hour drive from Greenwich, Connecticut, making it one of the most ideal Connecticut day trips.
Curious about New Haven, including the many secret places and gems that seem to tie-in with the mystery of Yale and the town?
Then read on.
Things to do in New Haven CT during Covid
As was the case with most of the new articles on our website, this guide to visiting New Haven started during the COVID pandemic.
Many surrounding states were cut-off from visitors due to rising infection rates. So Connecticutians needed to either explore their state, or sit at home in the doldrums for weeks on end.
And this Connecticutian made more than a few trips to New Haven during the pandemic.
While Yale’s museums, galleries, and collections were closed for over a year, many of the restaurants and parks remained open.
And walking along the city streets was even more delightful than normal, with less car and foot traffic.
Now vaccination rates are up and infection rates are steadily declining. And so, much of New Haven and Connecticut in general has reopened.
And exploring New Haven is a cheaper and just as interesting cultural trip as one abroad.
Best things to do in New Haven, Connecticut
New Haven fits a lot into a relatively small package.
There’s so much to do here, in fact, that a one day visit may not suffice.
Focus on what’s most important to you, of course.
For a tour of the most heavy-hitting points of interest in New Haven, the next section has a quick itinerary of the most unique attractions in New Haven.
Top 3 most unique things to do in New Haven
A day would barely scratch the surface of exploring some of the spots that make New Haven such a unique place.
That said, one day would be enough to get some major sightseeing in, and possibly even fit a visit to Ikea for that lamp you’ve been eyeing.
Below is this writer’s curated itinerary for a day trip when he’s showing visitors around New Haven and wants to be sure their visit impresses.
With a foundation date of 1701, Yale University is the third oldest institution of higher learning in America.
The two older universities are Harvard and the College of William and Mary, this writer’s alma mater.
Over the course of its history spanning three centuries, it has helped to intellectually develop:
- Five American Presidents
- 19 US Supreme Court Justices
- 61 Nobel Laureates
Today, this Ivy League member is worth a visit, if only to walk around the campus.
Except for a few striking modern edifices, the majority of the campus is Collegiate Gothic style. The architects designed the buildings to be reminiscent of Gothic cathedrals. The idea follows the medieval tradition that universities were temples of learning.
In actuality, that tradition, like many in Connecticut, was pilfered from England.
When Yale’s campus was built, designers wanted to age the stones quickly to match the campuses in Cambridge and Oxford.
So, they poured acid down the walls.
While the acid did a fantastic job of aging the stones, it also quickly degraded the mortar. The builders had to start from scratch after stones started to dislodge and fall on passersby.
They reconstructed the stone faces, but left nature to do the work of aging the stones.
A modern-day, free tour of Yale University
Walking along the stone sidewalks while bells chime as students rush by reminds one of the prestigious English colleges.
Walking the entire 260-acre campus in downtown New Haven would take a while, but major points to check-out include:
- The mansions on Hillhouse Avenue
- Harkness Tower, a 217-foot structure towering over High Street in the Memorial Quadrangle
- Sterling Memorial Library, the largest of the libraries at Yale. The cloisters, arches, and 60-foot ceiling provide the drama of a European cathedral
- Old Campus, a 4-acre courtyard that includes the oldest academic building on campus, Connecticut Hall
- John Pierpont House, the oldest private home in New Haven, just across from the New Haven Green
The John Pierpont House also serves as the Yale University Visitor Center. When there isn’t a dangerous pandemic, visitors can schedule a tour of the campus, led by a Yale undergraduate. It’s one of the best free things to do in all of Connecticut.
The above list doesn’t include any of Yale’s impressive collections.
More to follow.
See at least one Yale museum or collection
Yale University has done an impressive job of collecting wonders of both the artistic and natural worlds.
Many of these attractions are free, or nominal in cost to enter:
- Yale University Art Gallery
- Yale Center for British Art
- Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
- Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
- Yale Collection of Musical Instruments
- Cushing/Whitney Memorial Library
- Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium
Enjoy some of America’s most iconic food where it all began
Typical of any port city, New Haven has always played host to, and been more open to diverse ideas and people. And that has led to the molding and refashioning of some staples that at this point seem too American to associate with any one location.
In 1900, a customer approached Louis Lassen’s lunch cart in downtown New Haven. The customer asked for a quick lunch that he could carry.
Mr Lassen took trimmings from his steak sandwiches, put them between two pieces of toast, and sold the first hamburger in America.
While there’s been some controversy regarding whether it was actually the first, it is according to the Library of Congress.
Currently, a fourth-generation member of the Lassen family runs the spot. They still cook their burgers on the unique, vertical stove towers in use since 1898.
And the only condiments available to top their burgers are cheese, tomato, and onions.
Don’t waste your time asking for others.
Before you get too excited, pizza wasn’t invented in New Haven.
But Italian immigrants from around Naples, in southern Italy, introduced a unique style of pizza to America at the turn of the 20th century.
Called Apizza, it is a thin crust pizza cooked using a coal fire. While it’s similar to New York-style pizza, avoid conflict in New Haven by recognizing that it’s different thanks to its:
- choice of toppings
Apizza style has spread throughout Connecticut and into the Hudson River Valley, and for good reason.
Asking a New Haven native their favorite pizza is as risky as asking someone their favorite sports team or political affiliation.
Few dispute that Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana either originated the pie, or has been making it the longest, first opened in 1925. Frank Pepe’s and Sally’s Apizza regularly win slots on national best-of lists.
Some more modern contenders for best pizza in New Haven include:
A local favorite that combines two classic Connecticut ingredients is the clam pizza. Typically, it’s a white pizza topped with fresh littleneck clams and is surprisingly delicious.
If you want to keep exploring, or want to spend more than a day in New Haven, keep reading the list!
10 of the best hidden gems and secret places in New Haven
The state has a reputation for being conventional. That said, there are plenty of quirky, eccentric, and unique points of interest in Connecticut.
Some of the most unique spots in and near New Haven include:
Skull and Bones
Of Yale University’s many tomb societies, or elitist and secretive student-run societies, Skull and Bones is the most famous.
The tomb-like structure, built in the mid-1800s, has hosted many illustrious members, including:
- Three American Presidents, including both members of the Bush family
- Presidential cabinet members
- Titans of the finance and media industries
- Supreme Court Justices
The inside of the Skull and Bones Tomb is rumored to be covered in the macabre: skulls, coffins, and similar funereal decor.
Many more rumors swirl around Skull and Bones. One, that the students stole the skull and bones of Apache war chief Geronimo became widely believed. So much so that Geronimo’s descendants sued the organization to get his remains back.
East Rock Park
Two reddish ridges surround New Haven, appropriately named East Rock and West Rock.
From downtown New Haven, pass through the tony East Rock neighborhood to reach East Rock Park.
This 425 acre park, centered on the 365-foot, one and a half mile East Rock, offers sweeping views of the city and Long Island Sound.
The Soldiers and Sailors Monument honors those who gave their lives in America’s wars atop East Rock, and is visible from much of New Haven. It was built in 1887, so it only commemorates battles before that date. But it’s one of the most impressive military monuments in the country.
In June and July, the Pardee Rose Garden is in full bloom. After exploring the garden at the base of East Rock, follow one of the ten miles of hiking trails to reach the top.
Then, enjoy a gorgeous sunset view from the top, one of the most romantic things to do in Connecticut, especially with a picnic.
While multiple factors led to the end of the independent New Haven colony, one of them was sympathy for regicide.
Several of the judges who voted to convict and execute King Charles I in 1649 later fled to New England after King Charles II ascended the throne.
But living in remote New England wasn’t enough to avoid the king’s wrath.
For an unknown period of time, three judges wound-up hiding in a large, cracked, boulder in what is now West Rock Ridge State Park. Sympathetic locals brought them food to keep them alive until a panther forced their departure.
Even after the judges left New Haven’s care, the king refused to give the colony a royal charter, forcing it to eventually disband.
But the rock still stands, unsurprisingly.
The mini-cave is named, “Judges Cave”, and the trail leading to it is named, “Regicides Trail”.
Farmington Canal Trailway
New Haven merchants funded the construction of the Farmington Canal at the turn of the 19th century to help the city’s port compete with Hartford.
Eventually, the canal and parallel rail line connected New Haven all the way to Northampton, Massachusetts.
As other modes of transportation became more popular, the canal and railway first fell into disrepair. But creative minds converted much of it to one of the best things to do in New Haven.
The Farmington Canal Trailway stretches from downtown New Haven to Farmington, CT. And plans are already in place to complete the remaining portions so that cyclists and walkers can travel to the old terminus of the railway.
The trail passes through charming towns and by delightful breweries, making it a delightful way to spend an afternoon.
West Haven Beaches & Boardwalk
Just to the west of New Haven’s harbor lies a quarter of all Connecticut’s public beaches. It even includes one that the Boston Globe awarded the title of one of the best in New England.
West Haven connects its four public beaches via a boardwalk, so visitors can easily walk or cycle from one beach to another.
The beach that won an award in 2018 for one of the best beaches in New England is a birder’s paradise. Sandy Point Beach is a major stopping point for migratory birds, and an important breeding ground for shorebirds.
Savin Rock Park is also part of this constellation of parks. From the 1870s to the 1960s, this park was known as Connecticut’s Coney Island. Attractions included an amusement park with five massive wooden roller coasters and an almost 1,500-foot pier.
But hurricanes and West Haven’s development led to the park’s conversion into the tranquil spot it is today. A boardwalk, benches, and a greensward along the shore provide space for peaceful reflection.
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
In the center of Yale is the largest edifice on the planet dedicated to the preservation and collection of rare manuscripts and books.
The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is a jewel of Yale University’s assortment of collections.
The exceedingly rare and unique manuscripts in the collection are worth a visit, including:
- A Gutenberg Bible
- John James Audubon’s Birds of America collection
- The mysterious Voynich Manuscript, written in a code yet to be deciphered by experts
That said, the building itself, perfectly designed to store these precious works, is a marvel.
This library is a top pick on the list of the best free things to do in Connecticut, learn more there.
The Crypt at Center Church
At the center of New Haven Green, the Center Church is a Georgian-style marvel from the early 1800s.
United Church of Christ members often offer free tours for some of the more historically significant points of the church.
Some upstairs highlights include:
- The working pipe organ and harpsichord
- A Tiffany stained glass window
- Family pew of Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin
But the hidden gem of the church is what lies beneath.
The congregation built this church in 1813 over a portion of the oldest burial ground in New Haven. Rather than risk desecrating the remains in the process of removal, the church simply installed a crypt.
The crypt is one of the best preserved in all of New England, with tombstones dating from 1687 to 1812.
While there is no documentation to prove this is one of the most haunted places in Connecticut, it is worth a tour.
Grove Street Cemetery
And speaking of the macabre, a short walk from the New Haven Green will bring you to another first among cemeteries in America.
The Grove Street Cemetery is the first chartered cemetery in the United States. Other firsts assigned to this burial ground, as befit its founding in 1796, include being the first arranged in family lots. The named avenues and cross streets demonstrate another first, as the cemetery was designed within a city plan.
It’s also the first private, non-profit, cemetery in the world.
This cemetery marked the beginning of “a real turning point… a whole redefinition of how people viewed death and dying”, according to historian Peter Dobkin Hall.
The space is park-like, tranquil location in the heart of New Haven. It’s a perfect spot to contemplate life and appreciate some of the greats of Elm City’s society over the centuries.
While burial in the cemetery was open to all, some notable members of the elite are also buried here. For example, the roster includes:
- Fourteen Yale presidents, including one buried in full samurai attire
- Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin
- Noah Webster, of dictionary fame
- Charles Goodyear, inventor of vulcanized rubber
- Roger Sherman, the only Revolutionary War hero
Roger Sherman was the only person to sign all four foundational documents of the Republic:
- The Articles of Association
- The Declaration of Independence
- The Articles of Confederation
- The Constitution
The Grove Street Cemetery is ringed by a brownstone wall, constructed in 1845. The main gate is in the Egyptian revival style. The style was very popular in New England then. Building it around a cemetery tied-in well with the interest in both the afterlife and ancient Egypt, much admired in the mid-1800s.
PEZ Visitor’s Center
Remember those iconic candy dispensers from your childhood?
Founded in 1927 in Austria, the PEZ candy company has two headquarters:
- One in Traun, Austria
- The other is in Orange, Connecticut, just west of New Haven
And the PEZ Visitor’s Center is worth a detour if you’re interested in this memorabilia, or just feel like checking out a kitschy roadside attraction.
Some of the major things to spot include:
- A timeline of PEZ history
- The chance to check-out the PEZ factory floor
- A fourteen foot tall motorized PEZ dispenser
Top attractions in downtown New Haven
Aside from points like Grove Street Cemetery and Yale University itself, what else is there to do in downtown New Haven?
Quite a lot, actually. Especially if you’re still starving for local eats.
New Haven Green
All traditional New England towns and cities have a center green, but New Haven’s is impressive.
When the planners first laid-out the city in 1638, New Haven’s Green sat at the center of a grid pattern of central town streets:
- Chapel Street
- Temple Street
- College Street
- Church Street
- Elm Street
What started as a central marketplace for Puritans acquired other uses over time:
- It was the first cemetery
- Then a gathering place for society-approved places of worship
The cemetery is long-gone, with the exception of the Center Church’s crypt. And yet the historic churches from the early 1800s remain, lining Temple Street in the middle of the park campus:
- Trinity Church
- United Church
- Center Church on the Green
Fun fact, New Haven Green is a spacious 16-acres. The Puritans planned for that size because they wanted to ensure that the space could accommodate exactly 144,000 people.
That precise number was the total they believed would survive the Second Coming of Christ.
Until He returns, the New Haven Green is a delightful spot, with plenty of shady places to sit and relax. The trees here are young elms resistant to Dutch elm disease. They were planted in a hurry to replace the older ones that the afore-mentioned disease exterminated.
Just be on the lookout for panhandlers.
Several summer evening concert series or arts festivals happen here or nearby:
- Music on the Green
- The 15-day International Festival of Arts & Ideas
With very few exceptions, New Haven Green is within walking distance of everything in downtown New Haven. Major points on Broadway Avenue, Chapel Street, and Whitney Avenue are all close-by.
Many see this street as the quintessential college town street, hugging Yale University as part of its stretch from one end of New Haven to the other.
But really, the main draw is the stretch from Temple Street or Church Street, around New Haven Green, to Park Street.
Either direction gets a little dodgy past that.
But that portion of Chapel Street is packed with:
- Victorian homes with large yards
- Coffee shops
- Art galleries, especially the Yale University Art Gallery and Yale Center for British Art
There’s even a decent nightlife here.
Wooster Square & New Haven’s Little Italy
To the east of downtown, across the train tracks and hemmed-in by I-91, sits the Little Italy of New Haven.
Wooster Square is the center of Little Italy, where you’ll find some of the most romantic restaurants in Connecticut.
It’s where the apizza style made its debut on this side of the Atlantic. The two oldest pizzerias are close to each other: Pepe’s, here since 1925, and Sally’s, established in 1938.
But the neighborhood is full of other Italian options, like the new rival for best pizza in Wooster Square, Zeneli’s.
The city of New Haven restructured historic Wooster Square to match its appearance at the turn of the 20th century, with one major exception.
A border of Yoshino cherry trees line the park, and a major festival marks their blooming each spring. Wooster Square hosts an annual fair celebrating Connecticut cherry blossoms in the park, one of the best spring festivals in Connecticut.
A springtime visit to New Haven is one of the best things to do in Connecticut in the spring.
Museums & Indoor Activities in downtown New Haven
As befits a city that’s hosted an Ivy League university for centuries, New Haven is an intellectual playground. All of Yale’s collection of galleries and curated collections make the list of the best indoor activities in all of Connecticut.
Yale University Art Gallery
Yale may not be the oldest university in America, but its premier art gallery is the oldest university art museum in America.
It’s also the oldest in the entire Western Hemisphere.
Established in 1832, the Yale University Art Gallery first occupied a Romanesque building on Chapel Street.
Thanks to an ever-expanding collection, the art gallery, rambles with multiple expansions on four floors.
It is an art museum in all but name.
Some of the largest collections in terms of pieces include art from:
- The ancient Mediterranean world (13,000 objects)
- The African continent (2,000)
- The ancient Americas (1,500)
While the collection spans human history, a sizable portion of the collection is devoted to:
- African sculpture
- 1800s American Realism
- French Impressionism
- Early Italian paintings
- Modern art, two of the most famous pieces being Kazimir Malevich’s The Knifegrinder and Joseph Stella’s Brooklyn Bridge
As befits an American institution, American art has a significant presence. There are even exhibits devoted to decorative furniture and arts from America, especially New England.
Yale Center for British Art
Little, unassuming New Haven also hosts the largest collection of British art outside of the United Kingdom.
It seems ironic, considering it was a hotbed of anti-royal sentiment in the colonial era.
The collection at the Yale Center for British Art spans artistic history of the islands from the Elizabethan era to the present day.
That said, a large portion of the collection is from a period stretching from the end of the 1600s to around the 1850s. This period roughly matches what is called the Georgian period. Culturally, it witnessed huge upheavals in Britain with the start of the Industrial Revolution, around 1700. And the period’s art demonstrates it beautifully.
But even modern artists are represented in the exhibitions. There are even non-British artists who simply spent time and created works there.
The Yale Center for British Art sits across Chapel Street from the Yale University Art Gallery. Both are close to the rest of the Yale campus, and New Haven Green.
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
This museum was the coolest place ever when I was a little boy.
Anyone who aspired to be the next Indiana Jones could appreciate the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.
The Peabody Museum started in 1866, with modest beginnings as a collection of mostly gemstones.
But it has since grown into one of the most respected and influential institutions in the scientific community.
Some permanent exhibitions in a building many refer to as “The Sistine Chapel of Evolution” include ones focused on:
- Native American populations in Connecticut
- The evolution of mammals and humans
The Daily Life in Ancient Egypt gallery houses a large part of Yale’s Egyptology collection, first acquired in the late 1800s. Some of the pieces in this exhibition include:
- A mummy and coffin
- Black diorite bust of a Ptolemaic King
- Granite head of Osiris
It’s hard to say which exhibit captivated my childhood mind more: the Egyptians or the dinosaurs.
And yet the most famous permanent exhibition here is the Great Hall of Dinosaurs.
The collection is one of the largest and also historically important fossil collections in the entire country. Othniel Charles Marsh, a founding member of the museum, gathered a large part of it in the Bone Wars.
The most mesmerizing is likely the mounted skeleton of a juvenile brontosaurus. The skeleton spans the length of the 155-foot Age of Reptiles mural.
Artist Rudolph F Zallinger painted the mural over the course of 5 years, completing it in 1947.
This museum is sure to be even more inspiring after its multi-year renovation is complete.
Sterling Memorial Library
At a place like Yale, even the libraries host impressive collections, because of course they do.
The university’s main library dates to 1931.
It fits in very well with the rest of the campus, in a Gothic Revival style of James Gamble Rogers’ design.
The Sterling Memorial Library creates a feeling of pious devotion to learning. The front features a tower hosting the sixteen levels of book stacks. The main nave of the library has lofty pointed Gothic arches and a gorgeous coffered ceiling.
Decorations of reading rooms evince different levels of scholastic study, be it monastic or leisurely. Meanwhile, stained glass windows throughout the building evoke literary greats, including:
- King Lear
- Lady MacBeth
One of the largest collections of Ancient Babylonian artifacts in the world is housed here, since its start in 1911.
Other interesting collections housed here include:
- The Yale Music Library
- Benjamin Franklin Collection and Papers
- Yale Film Archive
Even more Yale collections
The above list does not cover the more unique, or decidedly more creepy, collections on Yale University’s campus.
A few more niche collections for the curious include:
- Yale Collection of Musical Instruments, featuring instruments up to 2,000 years old
- The Cushing Brain Collection, an assortment of abnormal brains collected a century ago
- An extensive collection to document medicine’s history at the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Memorial Library
- The Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium is great for observing the night sky
Some of these could be one of the best Connecticut date night ideas, depending on your date.
Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center / Knights of Columbus Museum
Michael McGivney was a Catholic born in Connecticut to Irish immigrant parents in the 1800s. He became a priest, and founded the Knights of Columbus.
Father McGivney founded this fraternal order in 1882 to serve its members by providing mutual aid to its members. Focus was on especially helping immigrants and their families.
Today, the organization that started in the basement of St Mary’s Church in New Haven has almost two million members worldwide.
But the headquarters is still in New Haven in a modernist building constructed in the 1970s, and hosts a free museum.
The exhibitions here change regularly. As befits the location, they are largely devoted to social and historic themes vis-à-vis the Knights of Columbus and Catholic church.
A major draw is during the holiday season, when the Knights of Columbus Museum displays crèche sets from around the world.
New Haven Museum
Curious to learn more about the history of New Haven itself?
Then head to the New Haven Museum while you’re in town.
Four permanent exhibits and changing exhibitions display the museum’s vast collections. All are devoted to New Haven’s history as a center for shipbuilding, trade, and invention.
Furniture, silver, glass, textiles, and ceramics represent local crafts trades from the 1600s to the 1800s in New Haven. Meanwhile, the museum’s collections also include:
- A full-sized, working version of the cotton gin
- One of the first Morse code receivers
Both invented by New Haven locals.
But here, you’ll also find plenty of fine arts, with drawings, paintings, prints, and watercolors from local artists.
The New Haven Museum is a regular host of concerts from the New Haven Summer Jazz Festival series. The festival celebrates the diversity of jazz music and culture in New Haven, and several of the concerts are free.
It Adventure Ropes Course
This is obviously not a museum.
But to have a ropes course hovering over a furniture store is one of the most unique combinations of businesses in the country.
It’s way more interesting than a combination coffee shop and bar.
And only just as dangerous.
Jordan’s Furniture is a New England chain of stores. The New Haven branch occupies the former New Haven Register newspaper building.
Each Jordan’s Furniture store hosts a different attraction. And in the case of the New Haven branch, it hosts It Adventure Ropes Course, the largest indoor ropes course in the world.
It’s perfect if you need a little physical activity after exploring museums. Or if you would like to purchase a couch and ride a zipline without making any stops.
It’s your trip, you do you.
New Haven Theatre
Yale University continues to develop artists, many of whom settle at least temporarily in New Haven. And the theatre scene is alive and well here.
Theatres in New Haven are less expensive than Broadway in Manhattan, and locals claim they’re just as good. My parents used to bring us to New Haven to see the occasional show.
With four kids, it wasn’t cheap to try to make us cultured, so every opportunity to do so for less was worth the effort.
The jury’s still out on whether it was productive.
As the name implies, New York theatre magnates Shubert Brothers opened this 1,600 seat theatre in 1914.
In the intervening century, the Shubert Theatre has hosted over 300 world premieres. Thanks to its proximity to the City, many new shows opened here before their debut on Broadway.
Some of the culturally impactful shows that first premiered here include:
- My Fair Lady
- The Sound of Music
Liza Minnelli fans will appreciate that she first performed in a Broadway production here in Flora the Red Menace, in 1965. The Marx Brothers performed here during their vaudeville days, as did a bunch of Barrymores (Ethel, John, and Lionel, to be exact).
Today, the Shubert Theatre hosts varied productions, besides live acting:
- Classical recitals
- Broadway “out-of-town” tryouts
- National tours
Long Wharf Theatre
Local theatre geeks took over a vacant warehouse on New Haven’s harbor in 1965 with the belief that theatre was for everyone. Using borrowed movie theater seats, they created a new performance space now known as the Long Wharf Theatre.
Its two performance spaces host six plays per season, including new plays and modern updates of classics.
Yale Repertory Theatre
The Yale Repertory Theatre represents one of the highest regarded theatre programs in America.
The Yale Repertory Theatre is the Yale School of Drama’s professional-in-residence theatre company. It’s won a Tony Award for Excellence in Regional Theatre, as well as hosted over 100 premieres since it first opened in 1966.
While the ticket prices are reasonable, the small space in the former Calvary Baptist Church means no seat is bad. Just be sure to arrive early and plan to not leave your seat during performances.
Top outdoor activities in New Haven, Connecticut
After walking around downtown and visiting as many museums as you can stomach, there’s still more to do outside, just beyond downtown.
After visiting East Rock Park and West Haven’s beaches, some more top parks and outdoor activities in New Haven include:
West Rock Ridge State Park
Aside from the Judge’s Cave, West Rock Ridge State Park also offers panoramic views of New Haven from the top of its ridge.
Another top trail circles Lake Wintergreen. Time your thirty to forty minute walk around the lake to catch the view close to sunset, with golden colors reflecting off this body of water.
Lighthouse Point Park
This gem of a park is in the East Haven neighborhood.
Lighthouse Point Park occupies a Revolutionary War battleground. But the park is better known for being the city’s beach destination for over a hundred years.
Five Mile Point Light
This decommissioned lighthouse earned its name by being located exactly five miles from New Haven’s Green.
It helped ship traffic to avoid the rocky outcroppings of this bluff from 1847 until 1877. The lighthouse and keeper’s cottage were restored in the 1980s and are now on the National Register of Historic Places.
While you can’t access the lighthouse, it’s a great focal point for your photos of the park, perched on the watersedge.
Lighthouse Point Carousel
Right next to the lighthouse is one of the few remaining antique carousels in the world.
First constructed in 1911, the antique carousel is still operating on national holidays and summer weekends. While New Haven added it when every town had a carousel, most were decommissioned to the point where only about a hundred still exist today.
72 restored mounts populate its 60-foot platform:
- 69 horses
- 2 chariots
- 1 lonely but very determined camel
Lighthouse Point Park is also a major stopping point for many birds on their migratory routes, which draws birders in the spring and fall.
But with a fishing pier, a Long Island Sound beach, and well-shaded grounds for picnics, there’s something for everyone.
That said, the entrance fee is pricey for non-New Haven residents. And the neighborhood appears to be getting resentful of people parking on their streets for free to walk-in.
But the entrance fee is worth at least one visit, especially for the views of New Haven across the harbor.
Pardee Seawall Park
Drive along Townsend Avenue towards Lighthouse Point and you’ll pass this 1.3 mile park.
Pardee Seawall Park hugs the shoreline, offering gorgeous views of Morris Cove, New Haven harbor, and Long Island Sound. While swimming or using a restroom isn’t possible here (with no access to either), this is a free attraction, unlike Lighthouse Point Park.
It’s especially lovely at sunrise or sunset.
Boulevard Flea Market
New Haven’s flea market, on Boulevard Avenue, reminds this writer of massive markets in Malawi where anything and everything was sold.
The New Haven Flea Market is not the place for quaint, charming finds. And yet, it’s a great place to shop for deals on produce and goods from all over, and all outdoors.
It’s on our list of the best flea markets in Connecticut for a reason.
Sleeping Giant State Park
Just north of New Haven, in Hamden, Connecticut, sits Quinnipiac College, the source of political polls.
Across the road from its campus is Sleeping Giant State Park. It’s so close, that you’re sure to pass many college students hiking on a nice weekend afternoon.
The traprock mountain earned its name because its shape gives the appearance of a large, sleeping, person.
That person is possibly of the giant persuasion.
The hike to the tower at the top of the ridge is fairly easy, and the view from the tower is lovely. This is one of the most popular and most visited state parks in Connecticut for a reason.
Top restaurants and places to eat in New Haven, CT
New Haven is a culinary destination, and not just for its hamburgers and pizza.
In keeping with its style of being a smaller, more manageable New York City, New Haven seems to have every culinary tradition imaginable.
Two of my favorite restaurants are on Temple Street:
- My favorite Laotian restaurant, Pho Ketkeo
- And a great Ethiopian restaurant with questionable service, Lalibela
There are plenty of Chinese, Turkish, Thai, even Caribbean options in downtown New Haven, as well.
Or if you’d rather a smattering of global cuisine in one sitting (or standing), head to Food Truck Paradise.
This strip of Long Wharf Drive, wedged between the harbor and I-95, is where drivers on the highway will see hordes of colorful food trucks. While this is the most noticeable location, there are three others where over 150 food trucks gather around lunchtime each day:
- Yale-New Haven Hospital (on Cedar Street)
- Yale’s Trumbull College (on Elm and York Streets)
- Prospect and Sachem Streets, by Yale’s School of Management
Romantic restaurants in New Haven
Some of the most romantic restaurants in all Connecticut are here in New Haven, for different reasons:
- Shell & Bones Oyster Bar, for its seafood served in front of sweeping views of New Haven harbor
- Union League Cafe, a French restaurant with a Parisian brasserie ambience
- L’Orcio, for homemade Italian pasta in a charming and historic townhouse
- Tre Scalini, with a traditional romantic Italian restaurant atmosphere
- Mecha, for a more casual romantic dining experience, slurping ramen noodles
Miya’s Sushi even made the list of most unique restaurants in Connecticut, thanks to its menu devoted to the chef-owner’s vision of sushi in 2150.
More Italian restaurants in New Haven
More Italian restaurants in New Haven include:
Vegan, Vegetarian, and Brunch in New Haven
Bella’s Cafe is perfect for brunch.
Atticus Bookstore & Cafe offers vegetarian and vegan options to accompany your literary perusing.
American restaurant J.P Dempsey’s on State Street is one of the most dog friendly places in Connecticut.
New Haven Ice Cream
Finish your culinary tour (or start it, or what have you) at Arethusa Farm Dairy. An outpost from the very upscale creamery in Litchfield, this ice cream parlor on Chapel Street is well worth the sugar low afterwards.
8 excellent day trips from New Haven
Located almost halfway between the CT shoreline, New Haven is an ideal starting point for various day trips in Connecticut.
There are more than a few bucolic towns nearby with some of the best Connecticut wineries, but any reason to explore the area is a good one.
Charming towns near New Haven
Shortly after its founding, New Haven citizens spread along the coast to found many of the nearby towns.
And they remain largely charming and quaint little Connecticut beach towns.
Between its charming downtown and green and gorgeous beaches, Milford is a destination in and of itself.
Another cute town just east of New Haven, Branford has one of the best Connecticut breweries, Stony Creek. It’s also home to the Thimble Islands, small islands accessible only by boat, a holdover from the Victorian era.
Guilford is home to one of the best apple orchards in Connecticut, Bishop’s Orchards. It’s also where you’ll find The Place, without question one of the most unique places to eat in the entire state.
Another adorable beach town, Madison has a cute downtown and Hammonasset State Park, the largest of Connecticut’s beaches.
Sitting at the mouth of the Connecticut River, Old Saybrook was a favorite haunt of Katharine Hepburn.
Our hometown is about an hour’s drive from New Haven, or about the same on the train. The list of attractions, activities, and things to do in Greenwich revolve around the lifestyles of the rich and (in some cases) famous.
About an hour in the other direction, Mystic is New England’s most charming tourist trap, made famous by the movie, Mystic Pizza. But there are way more things to do in Mystic than just grabbing a slice.
Drive 42 minutes inland from New Haven to reach Connecticut’s state capital, Hartford. This city enjoyed a heyday in the Victorian era, around the same time as New Haven. And many of New Haven’s top attractions are from that period.
Places to Stay in New Haven, Connecticut
As far as inns and hotels in New Haven, aim for the center of downtown. The compact city means most attractions are within walking distance, so you’ll be able to park your car and leave it there for the length of your stay.
Reasonably priced considering its location, The Study at Yale offers a collegiate feel to its atmosphere. This 4-star hotel is well-decorated with a modern, calming vibe. Be on the lookout for their lobby area, which has a museum-like, study atmosphere, with comfy leather chairs and ottomans.
The Graduate hotel chain opens hotels in historic buildings near college campuses. And the Graduate New Haven is a great introduction to the brand. It occupies the former Hotel Duncan, a local landmark since 1894. That said, it has been stylishly restored while still evoking classic Ivy-League nostalgia.
Directions and how to get to New Haven, CT
New Haven is easy to reach via car, as it sits at the intersection of I-95 and I-91, which heads north from the coast. Having a car will make it easier to reach the destinations on this list a little farther from downtown. And yet everything downtown is easily walkable.
Lyft and Uber are both available here.
If you’d prefer to take the train, that’s just as easy. The Metro-North line connects New York City to New Haven. Bring a book, as the trip takes a little over two hours. Amtrak also makes stops at New Haven’s Union Station.
Keep planning a trip to see the most unique things to do in Connecticut
Want to add more to your itinerary?
Plan your trip based on the season:
- Connecticut winter getaways and all the requisite CT winter activities
- Or pick and choose from our list of unique things to do on your birthday in CT
Then keep exploring the most unique attractions, activities, and things to do in Connecticut. And be sure to download the free Connecticut Travel Guide.