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Connecticut: A Small State with a Big History

Connecticut is a small state in southern New England that's the perfect blend of coastlines, history, and small towns. The entire southern border sits on Long Island Sound, which is why so much of Connecticut's past is shipbuilding, shipping, and fishing. The Nutmeg State is an ideal destination for just about any traveler, whether you're a history buff, outdoor enthusiast, or simply enjoy relaxing on the beach. People tend to lump the New England states together, but Connecticut has a natural beauty and small-town charm all its own.


01 Thimble Islands

Thimble Islands Winter Connecticut enfi / Getty Images

There are a lot of ways to explore the outdoors in Connecticut, but the Thimble Islands are truly unique. Located offshore in the Long Island Sound, the 350 islands, some of which disappear at high tide, are an ideal location for biking, boating, or hiking. Each of the larger islands has an identity all its own. A granite quarry on Bear Island provided stone used in building the Lincoln Memorial and the base of the Statue of Liberty, and President Taft once called Davis Island his summer home. Plenty of cruises will take you around the Thimble Islands, but one of the best ways to see them is by kayak.


02 Kent Falls State Park

Kent Falls State Park Holcy / Getty Images

Kent Falls State Park is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Connecticut and is located not far from the Appalachian Trail. The waterfalls and cascades are its most notable feature, and you can view them from the parking lot. If you want to get closer, hike the 1/4-mile trail to the top of the falls or stop at some of the vantage points along the way for great photo ops. The falls are most impressive in the spring as the mountain snow melts; they fade to a trickle by the end of summer.


03 Mystic, Connecticut

Kent Falls State Park is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Connecticut and is located not far from the Appalachian Trail. The waterfalls and cascades are its most notable feature and they can easily be seen from the parking lot. If you want to get closer, hike the 1/4 mile trail to the top of the falls or stop at some of the vantage points along the way for some great photo ops. The falls are most impressive in the spring as the mountain snow melts and fade to a trickle by the end of summer. shunyufan / Getty Images

From the 17th to 19th centuries, Mystic was a hub for shipbuilding and whaling. The city is situated along the banks of the Mystic River and is an interesting blend of a modern seaside town and a historic district where you can step back in time. The Mystic Seaport Museum is a 17-acre village where visitors can embark on whaling ships and chat with artisans. For something more adventurous, take a sail on a schooner or stroll through downtown, where more than 80 shops, cafes, independent shops, and restaurants await.


04 Dinosaur State Park

Dinosaur State Park mcpuckette / Getty Images

There's a lot of history to experience in Connecticut. At Dinosaur State Park, it goes back more than 200 million years. The main attraction is the preserved Mesozoic floodplain, covered in fossilized footprints believed to be made by Dilophosaurus. The tracks were accidentally discovered during excavation for new construction in 1968. Workers found more than 2,000 tracks. Today, about 1,500 remain buried for preservation with more than 500 visible at the Exhibit Center.


05 Chowdafest

New England Clam Chowder Carminooch13 / Getty Images

You can't visit New England without having clam chowder, and what better place to have it than at Chowdafest? This yearly event is held in Westport on the first Sunday in October. It started as a small local competition; today, chefs come from as far away as Seattle to participate. Come hungry and prepared to vote for your favorite. You'll sample traditional New England chowders as well as the Manhattan variety and many other twists on this classic dish. If clam chowder isn't your thing, check out Chowdafest's sister event in November, the Great Mac and Chili Challenge.


06 Essex Steam Train and Riverboat

Steam Train Tour CHBD / Getty Images

Sightseeing is one thing. Sightseeing from a steam train and riverboat is another. Essex Steam Train and Riverboat is an amazing way to see small towns, tidal wetlands, and historic sites in southeastern Connecticut. Your journey begins at Essex Station, where a steam locomotive pulls vintage dinner and open-air cars through the Connecticut River Valley. At Deep River Landing, passengers board the Becky Thatcher riverboat for a breathtaking cruise where coves, marches, wildlife, and the rocky shoreline are on display.


07 Rocky Neck State Park

Rocky Neck State Park shunyufan / Getty Images

One of the best places for camping in Connecticut is Rocky Neck State Park. Soak up the sun on the white sandy beach or experience the water while fishing and crabbing. A large stone pavilion is perfect for picnicking, and trails lead to Baker's Cave, Tony's Nose, and the salt marsh where you can spot cranes, herons, and hawks along the way.


08 Hammonasset Beach State Park

Hammonasset Beach State Park Holcy / Getty Images

Another option for beach lovers is Hammonasset Beach State Park. This is the state's largest public beach, with more than two miles of sandy shoreline to enjoy. Visitors can go fishing, biking, swimming, and hiking, but camping is one of the most popular activities. More than 500 campsites are available from late spring to early fall. This is one of the best places in the state for stargazing, and the nature center even has telescopes available if you want to get a closer look.


09 Old Saybrook

Old Saybrook Lighthouse mcpuckette / Getty Images

Old Saybrook is an enchanted coastal town dating all the way back to 1635. It sits where the Connecticut River meets Long Island Sound and boasts more 18th century Colonial architecture than most New England towns of its vintage. In the summer, Old Saybrook serves as a gorgeous backdrop for canoeing through the surrounding coves and marshes. Others might choose to enjoy the beach, go sailing, or spend the day relaxing on a fishing boat. There are plenty of seasonal events, too, including beautiful autumnal foliage and the Torchlight Parade during the holidays.


10 Elizabeth Park

Elizabeth Park Roses LeenaDamle / Getty Images

Elizabeth Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is comprised of more than 100 acres of walking trails and gardens, and the grounds are absolutely stunning. This is the ideal place for a casual nature walk, especially in the summer when the rose garden is in full bloom. Best of all, it's free to the public and open year-round.


11 Gillette Castle State Park

Gillette Castle

Perched atop the most scenic hillside overlooking the Connecticut River, Gillette Castle State Park is an architectural wonder and a testament to the eccentricity of William Gillette, famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. Explore the castle's intricate lock mechanisms and hidden mirrors, wander through the wooded park grounds, or enjoy a picnic with a view. The castle's unique charm and picturesque setting make it a must-visit destination for history buffs and nature lovers alike.


12 New England Air Museum

New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Connecticut Ritu Manoj Jethani /

Just a stone's throw from Bradley International Airport lies the New England Air Museum, a treasure trove of aviation history. From the earliest flying contraptions to sleek jet fighters, the museum showcases Connecticut's pivotal role in the skies. Interactive exhibits and a collection of more than 100 aircraft offer an immersive journey through the evolution of flight. Whether you're an aviation enthusiast or a curious traveler, the museum promises an enlightening experience for all ages.


13 Submarine Force Museum

Located along the Thames River in Groton, the Submarine Force Museum offers an unparalleled look into life underwater. Home to the historic USS Nautilus, visitors can step aboard the world's first nuclear-powered submarine and dive deep into the silent world of undersea warfare and exploration. The museum's extensive exhibits and collections chart the evolution of submarine technology, making it a captivating visit for history lovers and families.


14 Lake Compounce

Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut, as seen on July 9, 2016. Opened in 1846, it is the oldest continuously-operating amusement park in the United States. Ritu Manoj Jethani /

For those seeking adventure with a side of nostalgia, Lake Compounce is the destination of choice. As the oldest operating amusement park in North America, it blends charming history with modern thrills. From the wild wooden coaster of Boulder Dash to the splashes of Crocodile Cove, the park offers fun for every adrenaline level. Set against a backdrop of stunning natural beauty, a day at Lake Compounce is a quintessential Connecticut experience for thrill-seekers and families alike.


15 New Haven

Historical building and Yale university campus in downtown New Haven CT, USA

New Haven, more than just the home of Yale University, is a culinary haven with a reputation that transcends state borders. Famous for its pizza, particularly the legendary white clam pie, the city's dining scene offers a melange of flavors. From gourmet to street food, New Haven's restaurants, cafes, and food trucks invite visitors to embark on a gastronomic journey. As you wander through its historic streets, the aromas of international cuisines and freshly baked pizza promise to tantalize your taste buds and satisfy your culinary curiosity.


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