From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
Hartford’s most common nickname, “The Insurance Capital of the World,” might not make it sound like a very exciting place to be. But locals know better — this town is full to the brim with fun and entertaining activities and adventures to take on, including a wealth of literary legacy and even leftovers from local royalty. (Yes, we’re talking about Gillette Castle.)
Founded all the way back in 1635, Hartford is also one of the oldest cities in America, lending it some interesting historical significance and a wealth of interesting things to do and places to explore. It’s home to several colleges and universities, including the famous Trinity College (not to be confused with the one in Dublin, Ireland). Here are some of the very top things to do in Hartford, Connecticut!
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
Although Hartford may be known as a major urban center, it’s also lucky enough to be tucked between some of the most stunning natural outdoor spaces in the northeast. Here are a few of the best state and national parks to visit in the Hartford, CT area.
Spanning almost 450 acres of beautiful Connecticut forest and lakeside, Black Rock State Park is a popular go-to for camping, swimming, hiking and more. It also features prominently in the indigenous history of this area, and guests can learn more about the Native Americans who called this place home first when they visit.
It may be relatively small, occupying just 80 acres of a nearby town called Rocky HIll. But Dinosaur State Park is well worth a visit, even if it were only thanks to its Jurassic-era sandstone-embedded fossil tracks, which date approximately 200 million years old (!). Fortunately, though, there’s even more to bring your here, as the park hosts miles of hiking trails and an informative museum shop to help you learn more.
With over 1,500 acres of outdoor space to explore, Gay City State Park gives visitors the chance to get a peek at Connecticut’s industrial roots. Along with its green spaces, this park is also home to extinct mill-town ruins and stone foundations, making it a great place to commune with history… or to take an ever-so-slightly creepy photo shoot!
Straddling the nearby towns of East Haddam and Lyme, the start of Gillette Castle State Park is, well, Gillette Castle, which was actually originally built as a private residence for actor William Gillette, who lived there from 1919–1937. The stone mansion boasts, among other things, 47 distinct doors and locks, a hand-carved bar opened with a secret latch, and a series of ceiling mirrors that allowed Gillette to view visitors from his bedroom.
Whether it’s swimming, picnicking, or participation in a wide range of interpretive programs, Stratton Brook State Park likely offers whatever diversion you’re looking for. The park is also notable for its Massaco Forest Pavilion, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) back in 1935.
Sometimes also known locally as, simply, Wadsworth Falls, you can probably guess what Wadsworth Falls State Park is famous for. Of course, those cascades are only one draw to this 285-acre green space, which also offers walking trails, a swimming pool, and more.
Tucked along the banks of the Connecticut River just 3.5 miles north of Hartford, Windsor Meadows State Park offers a quiet refuge to city dwellers — as well as a boat launch, picnic tables, seasonally available toilet facilities and more.
You don’t have to get very far from town at all to enjoy some beautiful, walkable adventures. Here are some of the best hiking trails in and around Hartford.
Just twenty minutes west of downtown Hartford, Talcott Mountain State Park offers this beautiful and rugged adventure, which meanders about eight miles all told and sees a little more than 800 feet in elevation gain, putting it firmly in the moderate category as far as hiking is concerned. The King Phillip Cave via Metacomet Trail also brings you up to Heublein Tower, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the Hartford skyline.
This network of trails creates a span of just over five miles to adventure on, including paved sections that are great for runners and cyclists. In the winter, Red, Northwest Road, and Dyke Pond Road Loop is also popular for snowshoeing, and leashed dogs are welcome on the trail as well. Woof!
Don’t let the names fool you — these numerical reservoirs may sound boring, but the trails around them are anything but. The West Hartford Reservoir #6 Blue Blaze Loop offers a leisurely stroll of just over four miles in length and about 400 feet in elevation gain, making it a workout for sure… but a worthwhile one. Once you see the view, you’ll understand!
A moderately-trafficked loop of a little less than four miles, the Metropolitan District Reservoir #5 Red Loop offers wanderers lakeside views, beautiful forest coverage, and some lovely leaf-peeping opportunities come fall.
While this isn’t the most scenic or forest-dense trail in the state, it’s a great opportunity for those who live on the east side of town to get outside in a flash. The East Hartford Loop runs just about two miles in length and sees very little in the way of elevation gain, making it a good opportunity for those new to hiking… or runners and cyclists who need some good, flat ground.
With all the cool things to see, do, and explore in Hartford, Connecticut, you’re going to need some solid fuel to get you through. Here are some of the best restaurants in Hartford, no matter what you’re hungry for.
Located right in the heart of downtown Hartford, Salute has been a town institution for over a decade — and once you get a taste of their hearty, hit-the-spot cuisine, you’ll know why. Executive Chef Dave Caudill and his motivated and inventive kitchen team crafts delicious house-made pastas, meat dishes and more. Buon appetito!
A beloved family-owned Mexican restaurant with locations in both Hartford and Mansfield, Coyote Flaco is the perfect place to satisfy your cravings for tacos and tequila — not to mention burritos, beans and rice, nachos and a wide range of other south-of-the-border favorites.
Looking for the best vegetarian and vegan eats in Hartford? Fire-N-Spice is a go-to amongst local plantivores, serving up delicious, indulgent dishes that you’d never guess are completely sans meat or dairy. We hear especially good things about the pomegranate tempeh!
Indian food has stood the test of time when it comes to something satisfying, delicious and diverse — and India Grill is a great place to go when you’re in the mood for a little spice in Hartford. Along with their dine-in menu, this joint also caters, so hit them up for your special event or office luncheon!
Conveniently located in West Hartford, Black Bamboo Chinese Restaurant may be a small storefront — but it more than makes up for that with its large menu, filled with many great vegetarian and vegan options. High on the list for those looking for the best Asian food in Hartford, this place serves up everything from lo mein to szechuan and all that lies betwixt!
Once food and the great outdoors are taken care of, there are still plenty of activities to keep you occupied in Hartford this weekend — and beyond. Here are a few of our favorite options.
Hartford is a great place to raise a family — and with all these great to-dos, your kiddos certainly won’t be bored!
Mystic is a great mini-getaway from Hartford for any occasion, but especially if you’ve got sea-loving young ones in your fam. The Mystic Aquarium is one of the best-known ocean conservatories in the state, and gives your kids the opportunity to visit with a wide range of critters and learn more about their importance place as stewards of our planet.
Any parent knows it can be difficult to get kids excited about learning… but a trip to the Connecticut Science Center can change all that. With interactive exhibits and dynamic educational events and programs, this is a hands-on way to learn how the world works — and it’s way more fun than anything you’ve ever done in a classroom.
It’s easy to stay occupied in Hartford during the daytime… but what about after nightfall? Here are some of the best things to do after hours.
Want to experience world-class, award-winning dramas, classics and musicals… without necessarily taking the train to NYC? Hartford Stage offers a wide range of entertainment and cultural experiences throughout the year, including community engagement events built to help get you and your family actively involved in local going-on.
While almost everybody finds themselves coloring as a kid, we so often lose interest or attention in creative expression as we age. What better way to reignite the passion than to add some adult beverages into the equation? Muse Paintbar is kind of like a combination of watching Bob Ross while having a drink with your favorite people — though all-ages events are also available for those looking for things to do with the kids. Kick back, relax, and let the creative spirit (and spirits!) move you.
It’s true: you don’t have to spend a fortune to experience all Hartford has to offer. Here are some options to get into on the cheap.
Perhaps the best-known art museum in Hartford, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art offers a wide range of permanent and rotating collections that will help get you up, close and personal with decades and decades of art history. Admission starts at $15 for visitors from outside of Hartford, but Hartford residents get in free! Discounts are also available for youths students and seniors.
Although many of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer take place along the Mississippi, Mark Twain actually penned much of that work (and many others) while he was residing right here in Hartford — and you can see the digs for yourself. The Mark Twain House is a must-visit for literati of all stature, and tickets cost only between $13-$21 each.
Close by to the Mark Twain House is another must-do for literature lovers, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center offers more than just a look at the famed author and activist’s home: it serves today as a place to preserve and interpret a wide collection of her works and also to inspire commitment to wider social justice movements and change.
Want to go out on the town without a single cent in your pocket? Here are just a few of the options available to you in Hartford.
A beloved actress and American icon, Katharine Hepburn was born in Hartford, and calls its Cedar Hill Cemetery her final resting place. Her grave is located on the west side of Section 10 — but the whole cemetery is a great place for a bit of a somber stroll, as well.
The oldest publicly-funded park in all of America, Bushnell Park was first opened all the way back in the 1850s — and wandering along its green spaces is a totally fun, totally free way to spend a sunny (or even snowy) afternoon. This is also one of our top things for couples to do in Hartford!
Everyone needs to feel pampered now and again. Here are some of the best options for getting your spa day on in Hartford.
The kind and empathetic folks at A Touch of Bliss Organic Spa, which is located in West Hartford, know that wellness is about the whole picture — not just one piece. Enjoy holistic and comprehensive care, with everything from massages and facials to waxing and makeup services.
Want to feel like a queen for a day? At Victorian Day Spa, you can enjoy a vast range of services, from mani/pedis to massage and everything in between, in a relaxing and indulgent atmosphere.
Staying in shape is about more than your, well, shape — it’s about your mental and physical health, too! Here are some of the best gyms and yoga studios in Hartford.
Most fitness enthusiasts know it’s always a work in progress — and you’ll be joined by others who share that perspective at West Hartford’s WIP Fitness. Show up, do the work, and keep making the progress you’re after!
A fitness studio that offers a wide range of yoga classes (including high-intensity and heated versions) as well as more relaxed practices — and some Zumba, barre, and pilates on the side — Hartford Sweat is the perfect place to get your sweat on, no matter how you prefer to make it happen.
You could easily play forever in Hartford alone, but there are so many wonderful places in the surrounding area to explore!
Some may call it simply “The City” — but if you’re in the mood for a musical, a great meal, or just to feel mashed amongst a crowd for a while, New York is within easy reach of Hartford. The best part: once you’re done, you can simply leave without having to worry about actually living in all that mess!
If you’re looking for a different sort of New York getaway, consider heading upstate. The Finger Lakes area is renowned for its stunning scenery as well as its delicious wines, and at less than five hours away from Hartford, this area makes for the perfect romantic getaway.
Vermont is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the entire northeast, and whether you’re after a casual forest stroll or a more serious hiking adventure, you’ll find what you’re looking for in the Green Mountain National Forest. It’s an especially beloved spot for those looking to enjoy the fall foliage!
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Hartford that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Hartford? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.
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