Things To Do In New London CT: Top 23 Most Unique Spots | Stanton House Inn
Starr Street in downtown New London, CT

New London, Connecticut, is a hidden seaside treasure in the eponymous New London County. The past is as alive as the salty breeze off the Sound in this city. This once-thriving whaling port, which welcomed the Amistad in 1839, now hosts the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. A ton of unique activities await, from lounging at Ocean Beach Park to enjoying delightful day cruises.

The arts scene bursts with color and life. Downtown features galleries, theaters, and the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, a cultural feast for the senses. Street art enthusiasts will find a canvas six blocks wide, where murals tell stories more vivid than a sailor’s yarn. History buffs can step back in time at the Hempsted Houses and the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse.

Ocean Beach Park is the crown jewel of New London’s coastal attractions. It’s a New England summer haven where children’s laughter rings out, carousel tunes float on the air, and the splash of waterslides adds rhythm to the day. This beloved spot has the magic to turn adults into carefree children and makes every kid wish for an endless summer.

Ready to explore the best things to do in New London, CT? Let’s get into it:

Quick hits

  • New London, CT offers a range of attractions from the historic Fort Trumbull to Ocean Beach Park.

  • Arts and nature are the pillars of the local culture. Venues such as the Garde Arts Center, Connecticut College Arboretum, and Hygienic Art Galleries are worth a visit.

  • The city’s dining scene is diverse, featuring a variety of cuisines that include fresh local seafood and ethnic dishes.

A Brief History of New London, Connecticut

1854 view of New London, Connecticut, from Shore Road

Founded in 1646, New London, Connecticut, quickly rose to prominence. Its strategic deep-water harbor on Long Island Sound made it a major player in our state. By 1784, Connecticut recognized it as one of the first five cities. The city attracted notable residents like Nathan Hale and William Coit.

The year 1781 brought turmoil to the city. That was when Benedict Arnold, a native of nearby Norwich and infamous traitor to the American cause, led a devastating attack on the city. His aim was to obliterate the Patriot fleet and deplete the city’s resources. Fierce battles ensued at Fort Griswold in Groton and Fort Trumbull in New London. Although the British and Hessian forces emerged victorious, the victory came at a heavy cost, with significant loss of life on both sides. It also resulted in the burning of the city, something New London still hasn’t gotten over.

William M. Hart painted New London, Connecticut around 1870 in oil on canvas.

Connecticut recognized New London as a city in 1784, following the Revolutionary War’s upheaval. Fast forward to the War of 1812, and the Royal Navy imposed a nautical blockade along the East Coast, with New London as a reluctant participant. Captain Sir Thomas Hardy, notorious for his disruptions, threatened further destruction if the Americans remained defiant. And we all know how that turned out.

The city’s military significance endured beyond these conflicts. The United States Coast Guard Academy and Coast Guard Station established themselves here. World War II saw Fort Trumbull repurposed as a training site for Merchant Marine Officers, akin to an aquatic boot camp. And from 1950 to 1990, the Naval Underwater Sound Laboratory was busy playing a high-stakes game of hide and seek with submarine acoustics beneath the ocean’s surface.

The Best Things to do in New London, CT

Ocean Beach Park in New London, CT

But New London, CT, isn’t just for history enthusiasts. The city offers a wealth of top attractions for all types of explorers. Whether you’re a nature lover, an art aficionado, or a foodie, you’ll find something to love.

Are you eager to uncover New London’s top attractions? Let’s begin our journey!

Ocean Beach Park

Sunset over Bluff Point Beach Loop

A visit to New London wouldn’t be complete without spending a day at one of its popular attractions, Ocean Beach Park. This top attraction is a must-see. It boasts a 50-meter Olympic-size freshwater pool, triple waterslide, and carousel rides.

Yet, the excitement extends beyond this! After a swim, you can refuel at the Sandbar Café or indulge in a sweet treat from the ice cream and snack bar. For the competitive spirits, a game of 18-hole miniature golf awaits. And for a slower pace, an extensive boardwalk and nature walk offer the perfect way to soak in the seaside scenery. All while enjoying the free atmosphere and exploring fun things to do nearby.

Fort Trumbull State Park

Fort Trumbull State Park

New London, CT, also treasures Fort Trumbull State Park. This historic fort is steeped in history, from its construction in 1777 to its capture by British forces during the Revolutionary War. But it’s not only the history that makes Fort Trumbull a must-visit. Its unique Egyptian Revival architecture sets it apart from typical military installations.

Today, visitors can explore restored living quarters, artillery displays, and interactive exhibits. The park hosts scenic waterfront walks along the Thames River.

Garde Arts Center

For drama and laughter, the Garde Arts Center is the heart of New London’s cultural scene. The Garde Arts Center features walls adorned with Moroccan flair and an atmosphere full of anticipation. Whether it’s:

  • A heart-stirring symphony

  • A comedy act that will have you in stitches

  • Or a dance performance that tempts your toes

The Garde Arts Center has it all. And who knows? You might even encounter some of the renowned personalities delivering talks as illuminating as a lighthouse beam on a foggy night.

Connecticut College Arboretum

arboretum

This 750-acre haven is home to a rich variety of plant species and walking trails. Here, you can connect with the natural world, admiring the blooming:

  • Mountain laurel

  • Deciduous azaleas

  • And dogwoods

For a more immersive experience, there’s a 2.1-mile loop trail that winds through a picturesque forest setting.

Aside from its natural wonders, the arboretum offers educational benefits, including:

  • Guided tours led by Connecticut College students

  • Insights into plant life cycles and environmental conservation

  • A perfect spot for families and school groups

Stroll Through Historic Downtown New London

Historic Downtown New London, CT

Strolling through Downtown New London is an encounter with a harmonious mix of history and contemporary culture. Landmarks like the Richard Douglass House and the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse dot the historic district. In the heart of the city, Parade Plaza buzzes with life, anchored by the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

Make sure to indulge in the local flavors and retail experiences of this dynamic area. On Bank Street, the scent of fresh coffee competes with the briny kiss of the sea. Here, seafood dishes are so fresh they seem to leap straight from the ocean to your plate. And the boutique shops? They’re treasure chests where every find feels like finding pirate booty.

New London Harbor Light

New London Harbor Light

Maritime history buffs will delight in the New London Harbor Light. As Connecticut’s oldest and tallest lighthouse, it has been guiding maritime traffic since 1761. Direct access to the lighthouse is restricted. That said, a view from Pequot Avenue is a great snapshot opportunity.

Custom House Maritime Museum

US Coast Guard lifesaver

Explore the rich maritime heritage of New London at the Custom House Maritime Museum. This museum houses a collection of maritime artifacts. It also features enlightening exhibits, including the ‘AMISTAD: A True Story of Freedom’ exhibition. It was a pivotal event in American history.

The museum’s commitment to maritime preservation is evident in its varied:

  • Collections

  • Educational programs

  • And interactive experiences

These include lighthouse tours and boat trips. The Custom House Maritime Museum is an essential destination for anyone interested in New London’s maritime legacy.

Hygienic Art Galleries

Art buffs, prepare for a visual feast! The Hygienic Art Galleries in New London is the cultural crown jewel, showcasing local talent all year round. This vibrant gallery is a cultural nexus, keeping New London’s art scene as vivid as a painter’s palette.

And there’s more! Don’t just loiter with your hands in your pockets—embark on the New London Mural Walk. It’s a visual scavenger hunt, with each corner unveiling another urban masterpiece. City walls transform into walking galleries, displaying works by renowned international artists. It all serves to infuse New London’s streets with dynamic artistry.

Pequot Chapel

EXIT sign with direction for entry with the ocean in the background

Escape to the Pequot Chapel and find your zen amidst this Victorian holdover. Only a mile from Ocean Beach Park, this non-denominational sanctuary is quite tranquil. Here, you can reflect in peace or attend a soul-soothing service.

Leave the city’s buzz for a moment to enjoy a haven where the ocean breeze hums a calming tune. It’s the perfect spot for unwinding and engaging in silent dialogue with the seagulls, the area’s most attentive listeners.

Paying Homage at Soldiers and Sailors Monument

Standing in the heart of Parade Plaza is the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. This 50-foot-tall granite obelisk is a silent yet powerful tribute to New London’s Civil War veterans. Take a pause here to honor the past. Tipping your hat to these stone-etched heroes is a humble nod to their legacy.

Lyman Allyn Art Museum

Man admiring art

If you’re an art enthusiast, the Lyman Allyn Art Museum is a must-visit destination. It’s a trove of creativity and inspiration, where you can witness a broad spectrum of art. From:

  • The works of old European masters

  • To avant-garde non-Western pieces

  • And American decorative arts that are sure to impress

There’s something for everyone to admire.

The museum’s ambiance is akin to a cozy living room. The Lyman Allyn Art Museum offers more than a visual delight. It’s a soulful banquet that welcomes art lovers and the curious alike.

Restaurants in New London, Connecticut

One of the top restaurants in New London, Connecticut

New London, CT, is a food lover’s dream. Award-winning wings and sushi roll out the red carpet for your taste buds here. Italian and Puerto Rican dishes abound, each serving up a hearty embrace of home-cooked flavor. But the true star of the show is the seafood. At Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock, the lobster rolls are drenched in butter, the steamers are ready to tantalize. And the fried fish is flaky perfection.

For the epicureans and foodie trailblazers, New London unfurls a veritable feast. Sit dockside at On the Waterfront, savoring seafood that’s as fresh as the ocean breeze and steaks seared to a succulent perfection. And all amidst traditional decor reminiscent of an old-world film.

If cozy and casual is more your style, Muddy Waters Cafe provides a warm welcome with fresh-baked goods and satisfying breakfast sandwiches.

Then there’s The Social Bar + Kitchen, the hub for sociable dining. Here, American comfort food pairs with a vibrant atmosphere. Craft beers and dramatic cocktails complement the live music and quiz nights.

New London’s diverse dining scene is sure to cater to every palate with gusto.

Directions to New London, CT, from Greenwich, CT

Ledge Light Lighthouse in the mouth of the Thames River

Charting a course from Greenwich, CT, to New London, CT, is easy. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The journey covers approximately 92 driving miles.

  • Travel time is around 1 hour and 30 minutes, traffic permitting.

  • Your main route will be I-95 North, offering views of Connecticut’s scenic coastline.

A word to the wise: the I-95 can get crowded, particularly during rush hour and holidays. It’s wise to keep a traffic app handy to alert you of any delays.

Hotels, Inns, and Places to Stay in New London

Dated hotel room

Not feeling that much driving on a CT day trip? Then pick somewhere along the way to enjoy a full weekend getaway in CT.

The Inn at Ocean Avenue, a pre-WWI New England relic, offers a boutique atmosphere and soft beds, perfect for romantic getaways in CT. Located near the beach and Eugene O’Neill Theater, it’s ideal for adventure seekers. Each room is a symphony of old glamour, adorned with mirrored furniture and soothing white and off-white hues.

Not for you? There are plenty of other options nearby. They range from:

More Nearby Cities and Towns to Explore Near New London, Connecticut

The USCG's tallship, the U.S. Eagle, is one of only two active vessels in the US Navy and Coast Guard, and is used for training exercises at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT.

New London, CT, is a remarkable destination on its own. And yet its prime location also makes it a great base for exploring other nearby cities and towns. Why not extend your adventure to include more along the Thames River? Each of these places offers their own unique CT attractions and experiences worth discovering.

Groton, CT

Noank Lighthouse in Groton, CT

Across the Thames from New London, Groton, CT, is a city that radiates a distinct coastal charm. Here, you can enjoy some of the best things to do in Groton, CT, like:

  • Delve into naval history at the Submarine Force Library and Museum

  • Walk through a nuclear submarine

  • Explore the remains of a fort at the Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park.

For nature enthusiasts, the Bluff Point State Park and the Poquonnock River Walk offer scenic trails and stunning vistas. And don’t forget about the local breweries, where you can sample a variety of craft beers while enjoying both indoor and outdoor seating.

And you can always continue on to Mystic, Connecticut, on the other side of town from New London.

Waterford, Connecticut

Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, CT

Waterford, Connecticut, is another charming coastal town. Explore the expansive gardens and historic mansion at Harkness Memorial State Park. This writer likes to think that this park on a warm summer day is what Heaven must be like. Or discover new playwrights and theater artists at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Boating and deep-sea fishing are popular activities, thanks to Waterford’s coastal location.

Ledyard, CT

Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center in Ledyard, CT

This little, rural town boasts the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center. It’s the largest museum devoted to Native American history and culture in the world.

But there’s more to Ledyard than just history. The town also offers:

  • Outdoor adventures like hiking in Lantern Hill and Avery Preserve

  • Wine tastings at Maugle Sierra Vineyards

  • The Foxwoods Resort Casino, a major attraction offering a range of entertainment options

With so many things to see and do in Ledyard, CT, is a place you won’t want to miss.

Tl;dr

Well, you’ve done it! You’ve navigated the treasure map of New London, CT, uncovering all its hidden gems. This coastal gem’s storied past could fill a pirate’s chest with tales. Its cultural tapestry is so vibrant, it would outshine a rainbow. New London is a patchwork quilt of experiences, ready to envelop you in its warmth. Whether you’re here for the postcard-worthy vistas or the culinary delights that make taste buds dance, this town is a playground for the curious and the hungry.

Frequently Asked Questions

What state is near New London?

New London is a city in the state of Connecticut, located on the southeastern coast. It is known for its maritime history and being home to the United States Coast Guard Academy. It’s close to the Rhode Island border.

What is the zip code for New London?

The zip code for New London is 06320. This area of eastern Connecticut has a high population density and is predominantly inhabited by white residents.

Is New London CT worth visiting?

New London, CT, is a worthy destination, famed for its historic sites, vibrant waterfront, and rich cultural offerings. It caters to a wide array of interests and preferences, ensuring a memorable visit for everyone.

 

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