17 Cool Things to Do in Hartford On Your Connecticut Vacation

Planning an East Coast road trip with a stop in Connecticut? Map out the best things to do in Hartford, CT. Lush with historical sites, artisanal eateries, flourishing parks, and a vibrant cultural scene, Hartford, Connecticut’s capital city, is just waiting to be explored.

Frolic through blooming rose gardens and galavant around the Riverfront Recapture parks. Join an outdoor yoga class, watch the rowers on the Connecticut River, and jam to live music. Embrace Hartford’s rich New England history throughout the city’s many museums, like The Mark Twain House & Museum. Then, enjoy a night out downtown with a Broadway production at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center.

Having trouble choosing what to do on your vacation? Perfect your itinerary with this complete guide to the coolest places to visit in Hartford, Connecticut!

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The Mark Twain House & Museum

History and literature fans, kick off your Connecticut explorations with a stop at The Mark Twain House & Museum. Just off of Farmington Avenue, this 19th-century Victorian Gothic home was Twain’s residence from 1874 to 1891. It features 16,000 artifacts, tours, and events to learn about the literary genius and lifestyle of “the father of American literature.”

The Mark Twain House & Museum

First, snap a selfie with the lifesize lego statue of Mark Twain. Wandering the rooms at the Mark Twain House & Museum, you’ll find the office set up as if Twain had been working on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn five minutes ago. The library is lavishly adorned with Greek-style sculptures, vases, and a restored chaise lounge bed.

You can even get an intimate peek into Twain’s personal life by reading letters he wrote to his wife and editors. Take the Living History Tour for an immersive experience led by an actor playing Twain, or his wife, Olivia Clemens.

Connecticut Science Center

The Connecticut Science Center will keep your family busy for hours. The 165 interactive exhibits keep kids engaged while they have fun exploring astronomy, biology, geology, and more. Whether you’ve got a future doctor or engineer on your hands, your child’s imagination will soar at this science center.

Connecticut Science Center

The Kids Space at the Connecticut Science Center is geared towards toddler scientists to help them explore their senses, while older kids will love exploring the Engineering Lab and Forces in Motion. Watch as they design and race cars and roller coasters.

In the Health Lab, your kiddo will feed Esther the Digester to see how diet affects the body, roleplay in the ambulance, and have a dancing challenge to measure heartbeat.

After your scientist has worked up an appetite, head to Sorella’s on Main Street for some authentic Italian food like pizza fresh from the stone-fired oven.

Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Art aficionados should put the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art at the top of the list of Hartford points of interest. This public museum is situated downtown along Main Street and holds over 50,000 diverse masterpieces and artifacts. From American Impressionist paintings to contemporary art, you’ll spend hours immersed in the exhibits.

Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Sweeping marble staircases and grand high ceilings greet you as you enter the Wadsworth. Study famous pieces like Andy Warhol’s Early Colored Jackie and the European collection’s array of surrealist works by Claude Monet and Salvador Dali.

Browse the extensive exhibit of European decorative pieces, like Jeremias Ritter’s Nautilus Cup, a tiny man riding a pearly-shelled snail. Appreciate American art like the 1848 self-portrait of the museum’s founder, Daniel Wadsworth.

Stop by Berkins on Main for pre or post-art museum pick-me-ups like buttery croissants, flavorful frittatas, and gooey cinnamon buns, washed down with a chai tea latte.

Elizabeth Park

Embrace the lovely New England weather at West Hartford’s Elizabeth Park. With over 100 acres of green spaces, gardens, and roses galore, this is the perfect way to connect with nature while on vacation. Just along the south border of Asylum Avenue, this park is famous for its 800 types of roses and for being the United State’s first municipal rose garden.

Elizabeth Park

Helen S. Kaman Rose Gardens are a sight to behold. Amble under arches of perfectly primed roses, feeling like you’re in a fairy tale. In the middle of the garden, rest in the wooden gazebo, covered with green vines and flanked by vibrant blooming roses. Breathe in and smell the fragrant florals floating through the fresh air.

Mosey through formal gardens, Cactus and Orchid Greenhouses, and take a walk around Laurel Pond. Stop by the Pond House Cafe for refreshments in the peaceful ambiance of Elizabeth Park Conservancy.

Great River Park

Looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle downtown? Great River Park is the perfect spot for outdoor activities on the East Hartford side of the Connecticut River. Your family will love biking along the pathways, fishing by the river, and sightseeing in the park.

Great River Park

Mosey Great River Park’s paved walkways parallel to the sparkling water of the Connecticut River, and watch rowers gliding along in their streamlined boats.

Bring fixings for a cookout, and fire up a public grill. You’ll feel at ease as you picnic with a unique panoramic view of downtown Hartford beyond the Connecticut River. After eating, let your little one monkey around on the playground for a while.

Continue your Great River Park expedition on the west side of the river by crossing the Founders Bridge Promenade directly into Mortensen Riverfront Plaza.

Connecticut State Capitol

While in Hartford traversing Connecticut’s capital city, it’s only fitting to visit the Connecticut State Capitol. Stop at this National Historic Landmark along Capitol Avenue to delve into the state’s rich history.

Connecticut State Capitol

As you approach the Connecticut State Capitol, marvel at the dazzling golden dome atop the building. The flourishing greenery of Bushnell Park provides a lovely backdrop for the High Victorian Gothic-style building.

Entering inside and notice detail-oriented decor and moldings and the grand marble and granite staircase. The statue of Revolutionary war hero Nathan Hale presides over the ornately decorated hall. Take a guided or self-guided tour of the Capitol to explore the chambers and learn about Connecticut’s history.

After your day soaking in the grandeur of the Connecticut State Capitol, hop across Bushnell Park to Trumbull Street. At Salute Italian Restaurant, feast on handmade pasta, calamari, and plump ravioli in a cozy atmosphere.

Bushnell Park

Bushnell Park is more than pretty flowers. This park played a major role in Hartford being chosen as the capital city. Spearheaded in 1854 by Reverend Horace Bushnell to revive the downtown area, today, Bushnell Park’s 41 acres continue to flourish and provide a beautiful green space for all.

Bushnell Park

Walking the peaceful grounds of Bushnell Park, hear the chirps of birds as they flit among the trees. When you begin to hear laughter and notes of music floating through the air, you know you’re close to the Bushnell Park Carousel. The tranquil pond beside this amusement makes for the perfect photo op and a picturesque spot to bask in the whimsical atmosphere.

Pass by memorials like the tribute to Israel Putnam, a Revolutionary War hero, and the Spanish-American War Memorial. To learn more about these and about Horace Bushnell’s influence on the park, follow along with the Historic Park Tour.

Mortensen Riverfront Plaza

Experience the spirit of Hartford at Mortensen Riverfront Plaza, possibly the city’s most lively public park. Special events take place almost daily here, bringing the public together to boogie at live concerts or find zen during yoga classes.

Mortensen Riverfront Plaza

Challenge yourself to find all 16 sculptures honoring our 16th president at the Lincoln Financial Sculpture Walk. Go fishing on the boardwalk, or check out what the local fishermen are catching. At the water’s edge, investigate the Nina and Pinta replica ships.

Claim your spot on the grass at the Riverfront Stage, and groove the night away to live music and performances of rock-n-roll, jazz, reggae, and more.

Being on holiday doesn’t mean you need to skip your exercise routines. Come during the early evening and join a variety of community events like outdoor yoga, Zumba, Tai Chi, or dancing classes. Mortensen Riverfront Plaza has outdoor fun for everyone.

Butler-McCook House & Garden

Stepping into the Butler-McCook House & Garden is like taking a time machine back to the 18th century. Nestled on the corner of Main Street and Prospect Street, this 1782 Georgian Colonial is Hartford’s oldest house. History buffs will love this time capsule home.

Wandering through the immaculately restored rooms, the lives of the families who lived at Butler-McCook House & Garden come to life. As their neighbors abandoned their homes for Asylum Street residences, the Butler McCook family was dedicated to Main Street. They kept up with changing styles over the centuries with renovations like the Colonial Revival kitchen and a Greek Revival mantle over the fireplace.

Get a glimpse into the past as you look at Civil War artifacts, family mementos, and photographs of the original neighborhood. Strolling through the gardens behind the house, take shelter under the shady trees and have a rest on a bench as you admire the manicured gardens.

Old State House

The Old State House is a must-see for history fans as a historic gem in the urban Hartford landscape. Delve into socially and politically focused exhibits about Connecticut’s civil rights movements and government.

Old State House

Approaching the Old State House, you’ll see Lady Justice gleaming from atop the golden dome. Inside, the Senate and House of Representatives Chambers have been immaculately restored back to their 19th-century aesthetics and are open for you to roam through. Check out their exhibits dedicated to notable moments through history like the Amistad Trial and the Prudence Crandall Trials that took place at the Old State House.

If you’re looking for an eatery within walking distance from the Old State House, pop into Feng Chophouse for American-Japanese fusion cuisine. Whether you want tender Wagyu steak, fresh sushi, or light and crispy tempura shrimp, this restaurant will satisfy any craving.

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center will give your vacation a thought-provoking twist. Nestled on the corner where Forest Street meets Farmington Ave, plan to spend a few hours here after your Mark Twain Museum visit. Through engaging tours and exhibits, the center sheds light on Stowe’s life and modern social issues.

At the Visitor Center converted from an old carriage house, begin your tour of the Victorian home where Harriet Beecher Stowe lived and wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Decorated with her family’s original home furnishings and belongings, you’ll find the exact table where Stowe wrote, set up with her papers, books, and a lamp.

During the tour, learn Stowe’s motivations for writing her infamous anti-slavery novel. The center’s mission is to inspire ongoing conversations about social justice. Take a reflective walk among the blooming tulips and shrubs in the garden, inspired by Stowe’s writings about her love of gardening.

Riverside Park

Outdoor activities abound at Riverside Park. This park sets itself apart from the others because you can choose from wooded or waterfront paths and get out on the water. Your entire family will have a blast jogging, biking, and rowing, through Riverside Park and the Connecticut River.

Get your heart pumping and your hips swaying during one of the Moves and Grooves dance classes. Your whole family can get involved and learn choreographed dance moves inspired by nature in the park. Or head to the Riverfront Boathouse to sign up for rowing lessons with Riverfront Rowing, one of New England’s premier rowing community programs.

Play volleyball on one of the sandy courts, or enjoy a game of cricket at Riverside Park’s fields. Slow things down by moseying along the river boardwalk, passing modern sculptures, and looking out across the river to the east.

Cathedral of Saint Joseph

The Cathedral of Saint Joseph welcomes all, whether you’re looking for a place of worship or you simply want to admire the modern architectural style and ecclesiastical art. This stunning cathedral can easily be added to your Hartford travels as you drive by Farmington Ave.

Cathedral of Saint Joseph

The Cathedral of Saint Joseph is modern and imposing from the outside, with mighty walls of concrete and limestone rising 281 feet up. Stepping inside, you’ll be astonished by the largest ceramic mosaic of God in the world covering one wall. The colorful light refracts through the stained glass windows casting rainbow light onto the rows of pews, telling the story of Jesus’ procession to the cross.

Meanwhile, the cavernous ceilings give the organs a sonorous echo as the smell of incense begins to grow in the air. Visit the Cathedral of Saint Joseph for a Sunday mass or to appreciate the artwork.

Museum of Connecticut History

History Enthusiasts, tack on a visit to the Museum of Connecticut History to discover a treasure trove of military and industrial artifacts. A Beaux-arts-style building houses the museum together with the Connecticut Supreme Court and the Connecticut State Library. The stately historic building is a collage of modern government, US history, and innovation.

Museum of Connecticut History

In the lobby of the Museum of Connecticut History, appreciate the divine architecture of grand columns and marble staircases. Compare the portraits of every Connecticut governor to see how styles and fashion have evolved over the past 200 years.

Make your way to the World War I collection to examine shoes, a watch, and notebooks from a personal effects box, service medals, and dog tags from the war. Browse an exhibit dedicated to Colt Firearms, hosting a collection of ammunition and guns. You might also be intrigued by the Mitchelson Coin Collection, boasting over 10,000 coins from across the world.

The Bushnell Performing Arts Center

While in Hartford, CT, catch a show at The Bushnell Performing Arts Center. Broadway-level theater, live music, comedy, lectures, and more, The Bushnell Performing Arts Center has something for everybody.

The Bushnell Performing Arts Center

Filtering into Mortensen Hall to find your seat, you’ll be mesmerized by the Art Deco interior, with refracted lights from the geometric shapes and patterns lining the walls. If you’re attending a performance by the Symphony Orchestra, make your way to the Belding Theater. The magnificent ceiling mural features the moon, sun, and stars, lined with golden details.

This holiday season, the Bushnell Performing Arts Center will host a production of Alladin, a Manheim Steamroller Christmas show, and an exploration of science from Neil deGrasse Tyson.

After your show, cut across Bushnell Park to Max Downtown, where you can find prime cuts of juicy steaks and a selection of martinis and wines in the buzzing downtown area.

Trumbull Kitchen

The Trumbull Kitchen has just what you need to unwind after a day of Hartford sightseeing. Indulge in delicious dishes, artisanally crafted cocktails, or a glass of wine in the intimate atmosphere of this trendy restaurant. Trumbull Kitchen is perfect for couples on a date night or groups of friends ready to chat the night away over some of Hartford’s best food and drinks.

In the dimmed lighting of this cozy eatery, order comfort food classics like bacon-wrapped meatloaf, or dig into a juicy Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich. The menu at the Trumbull Kitchen also offers globally inspired cuisine like Chiang Mai Curried Noodles and Korean Steamed Buns.

Order an expertly mixed cocktail like the Basil Bramble Smash, a glass of vino from their extensive wine list, or a chilled local brew on draft. Sit on the patio, enjoy the mild Hartford weather, and people watch as pedestrians gallivant down Trumbull Street.

New Park Brewing

Calling all craft beer connoisseurs! Head to West Hartford’s first craft brewery, New Park Brewing to sit back and relax in the Tap Room and sample some of Hartford’s finest craft beer. Check out the brewery for events like comedy shows, live music, and even Sunday brunch.

Test out the pineapple and passionfruit notes of Blender Kiliki or the Don Gato sour ale’s perfectly balanced tart lime and fresh mango flavors. If you like it hoppy, grab a frosty Cloudscape IPA. Sip on your fresh beer with a view of the brewery itself through a window.

Get your brunch on at New Park Brewing with brews, bottomless mimosas, breakfast burritos, and Belgium waffles. Swing by the brewery on a Tuesday for trivia night. Armed with a beer, you’ll surely be the trivia master.

Can’t get enough of New Park Brewing’s beer? Grab a growler to take your favorite home with you.


Ryan O'Rourke is a seasoned traveler and the founder & editor of Treksplorer, a fiercely independent guide to mid-range luxury travel for busy people. With over 20 years of extensive travel experience, Ryan has journeyed through over 50 countries, uncovering hidden gems and sharing firsthand, unsponsored insights on what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay. Backed by his travel experience and in-depth research, Ryan’s travel advice and writing has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and Matador Network. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter/X at @rtorourke.

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