Top Attractions in Connecticut: Best Things to See and Do with Kids
Connecticut may be small, but the Nutmeg State sure knows how to pack in a ton of fun. From historic villages to sandy beaches to amusement parks, there are plenty of exciting tourist attractions in Connecticut to make a family visit well worth the trip any time of year.
It’s not easy narrowing down the list of things to do in Connecticut with kids, but we’ve made our picks for the 25 best kid-friendly activities in CT for residents and visitors alike. As locals, these are the places that we frequent with our children, and the first stops we make with family and friends whenever they're staying with us from out of town. So leave your FOMO at the door and start checking these spots off your CT bucket list.
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Kid-Friendly Tourist Attractions in Connecticut
1. Mystic Seaport – Mystic
Take a step back in time with a visit to Mystic Seaport. The Seaport encompasses a huge complex spread across 17 waterfront acres and is set up as a 19th-century village with 30 period buildings from around New England. Historic vessels, a planetarium, a working shipyard, gardens, and direct access to the water make this spot the nation’s leading maritime museum. Make sure to check out their daily calendar for wooden ship workshops, cooper demonstrations, and even a sea shanty or two.
2. Mystic Aquarium – Mystic
There are thousands of animals at the Mystic Aquarium, but it's the beluga whales that steal the show. Located in the outdoor Arctic Coast exhibit, these whales are very engaging and can entertain your family for a while. The aquarium is also home to Northern fur seals, Steller sea lions, California sea lions, black-footed penguins, stingrays, and more. With tons of hands-on experiences, it is easy to spend a few hours here, but keep in mind that the exhibits are both indoor and outdoors so plan accordingly.
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Pet a penguin at the Mystic Aquarium.
3. Maritime Aquarium – Norwalk
Jiggle a jelly, play hide and seek with a meerkat, or go cruising across the sound. It’s all in a typical day at the Maritime Aquarium. Located in the neighborhood of South Norwalk, it is easy to spend some time under the sea while learning about the Long Island Sound and its inhabitants.
4. Essex Steam Train and Riverboat – Essex
Best known for themed rides like the popular North Pole Express or Day Out with Thomas, this spot is a ton of fun for train and boat enthusiasts all year round. The Essex Steam Train offers dinner trains and combination packages for the train and riverboat. In the last few years, they've also offered rail bikes that allow you to pedal your way along the tracks.
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Fun novelty menu items at Foxwoods.
5. Foxwoods Resort and Casino – Mashantucket
It’s true, all kids need is a pool to think a hotel is awesome. Add to that gaming, bowling, go-karting, zip-lining, and so much more, it’s hard to figure out who is going to have more fun at Foxwoods – the parents or the kids. And, we haven’t even gotten into the ridiculously indulgent concoctions at the Connecticut outpost of the Sugar Factory.
6. Downtown Cabaret Theatre – Bridgeport
The DCT’s Theater for Young Audiences series is a “must-see” for any budding thespian. There are no rows of seats at this theater! All Downtown Cabaret Theatre shows are BYOB and Picnic, and the audience is seated at big round tables around the stage.
A meat lover's dream at Frank Pepe's Pizza. Photo courtesy of Frank Pepe's Pizza
7. Frank Pepe's Pizza – New Haven
For a great meal in Connecticut, look no further than the award-winning gold standard (according to The Daily Meal) of pizza - Frank Pepe. The New Haven location has been serving up the coal-fired pizza since 1925. The crust is thin, the toppings are plentiful, and this legendary pizzeria lives up to its reputation. Make sure you try the classic White Clam Pie (and maybe a classic pepperoni for the kids).
Outdoor Tourist Attractions in Connecticut for Kids
8. Olde Mistick Village – Mystic
Located across the street from the Mystic Aquarium, Olde Mistick Village is an outdoor shopping area designed to look like a colonial village. Complete with a town green, duck pond, and a gazebo, the walking paths connect to shops with handcrafted gifts and locally made souvenirs. Make sure to grab a potion at the Cloak and Wand.
RELATED: Connecticut Outdoor Adventures Guide
Monkeying around at Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo.
9. Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo – Bridgeport
It’s all happening at the zoo! Connecticut’s only zoo is home to wolves, tigers, prairie dogs, and so much more. Don’t forget to save time for a ride on the carousel.
If you are looking for a little island living along the Gold Coast, then Sheffield Island is just the spot.
10. Sheffield Island Lighthouse – Norwalk
If you are looking for a little island living along the Gold Coast, then Sheffield Island is just the spot. This Victorian-style lighthouse built in the mid-1800s sits at the entrance of Norwalk Harbor. Sheffield Island Lighthouse is maintained by the Seaport Association which operates a seasonal ferry to the island. Make sure to check out special events such as pirate adventure weekends and evening clambakes.
11. Dinosaur Place – Oakdale
Take a trip back in time to the prehistoric lands of Eastern Connecticut when you visit The Dinosaur Place at Nature’s Art Village. There are over one and a half miles of dinosaur-filled nature trails to explore on foot at this 60-acre family fun adventure park! After you're finished exploring, cool off at New England’s largest splash pad.
12. Dinosaur State Park – Rocky Hill
A REALLY (really!) long time ago, Dinosaurs roamed the Connecticut countryside. Fortunately for us, a little piece of this pre-history has been preserved in The Dinosaur State Park. Dino lovers will be able to get up close and personal to this pre-historic slice of our past in the Discovery Room. There are tons of hands-on activities to engage even the youngest of visitors.
Adventure awaits at Adventure Park at The Discovery Museum.
13. Adventure Park at The Discovery Museum – Bridgeport
Connect with the great outdoors while you soar through the trees on a series of ziplines. Located in Southern Connecticut, this is a tree-top adventure park with 11 trails. The Adventure Park offers different challenge levels, from beginner to advanced.
14. Brownstone Adventure Sports Park – Portland
Perfect for big-kid adventures, Brownstone is located in an old flooded quarry with rock climbing, wakeboarding, swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, cliff jumping, scuba diving, team building, 14 zip lines, water obstacles, rope swings, and more. This spot is a truly unique one-of-a-kind ultimate outdoor adventure park.
15. Farmington River Tubing – New Hartford
Those seeking a little adventure can try going down the Farmington River in a tube. With three sets of rapids, this river ride will definitely get your adrenaline pumping.
Illuminated rides at Lake Compounce. Photo courtesy of Lake Compounce
16. Lake Compounce – Bristol
Lake Compounce is the oldest, continuously-operating amusement park in North America. You can find the famed Boulder Dash rollercoaster here – a Connecticut point of pride. This wooden coaster frequently finds itself topping lists of the Best Wooden Roller Coaster In The World. For those less adventurous, this park has a lovely section for the preschool crowd.
Hit the slopes at Powder Ridge.
17. Powder Ridge Mountain Park and Resort – Middlefield
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, you can head to Middlefield for a fun-filled day at Powder Ridge Park. Kids can snow tube, snowbike, ski, snowboard, mountain bike, and more. The Ridge also has a packed schedule of cultural events, sports competitions, music festivals, and food festivals.
18. Sherwood Island State Park – Westport
With over 238 acres of shoreline to explore, swim, fish, hike, or relax in, it's no wonder that Sherwood Island is a gem of Fairfield County. Begin your adventures to Sherwood Island with a stop at the Nature Center. This summer facility is located on East Beach and is lovingly operated by the local non-profit, Friends of Sherwood Island.
19. Hammonasset State Park – Madison
Families will find sand and waves at Connecticut's largest shoreline park along with a 3.5-mile walking and cycling path. Beautiful views abound and the Meigs Point Nature Center hosts kid-friendly programs and exhibits, along with car-top boating and fishing opportunities. If you want to spend the night under the stars, check out the Hammonasset campground. The beach is rocky with plenty of natural wonders to enjoy.
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Play farmer for a day at Jones Family Farms.
20. Jones Family Farms – Shelton
You can pick your own strawberries and blueberries in summer, pumpkins in the fall, and Christmas trees during the holidays. This 400-acre family-owned farm has been sharing the land with Connecticuters since 1848. In the great words of Farmer Jones, “Be good to the land and the land will be good to you.”
Museums in Connecticut for Kids
21. Stepping Stones Museum for Children – Norwalk
Stepping Stones' renovated space has been a childhood rite of passage for over 20 years. Kids love splashing around at the popular Energy Lab’s water tables or checking out one of the Museum’s special programs in the Multi-Media Gallery. The new Lights On! and Dinosaurs: Big Adventures exhibits are sure to keep kids coming back for more.
RELATED: Connecticut Museums Guide
Interactive exhibits at the Connecticut Science Center.
22. Connecticut Science Center – Hartford
At the Connecticut Science Center, you can get up close and personal with sound waves, see what you can engineer in the lab, and explore a variety of scientific concepts. This 154,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility features more than 165 hands-on exhibits spanning 10 galleries, all filled with learning experiences for the whole family.
23. Stamford Museum and Nature Center – Stamford
From the cows on Heckscher Farm to the giant blue slide at Nature’s Playground, it’s easy to spend a day at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center. The Overbrook Nature Center, Trails, and Nature's Playground are specifically geared towards kids.
24. Yale Peabody Museum – New Haven
With life-sized dinosaurs, dazzling diamonds, mummies, meteorites, and everything in between, the Peabody has been capturing young minds for more than 150 years. The Yale Peabody Museum is currently undergoing a major renovation and is scheduled to open in 2024 with free admission.
Admire beautiful works of art at Yale University Art Gallery.
25. Yale University Art Gallery – New Haven
Located on the corner of York and Chapel streets, you’ll find the Yale University Art Gallery. Founded in 1832, this museum offers a collection of more than 250,000 works of art including pieces from Van Gogh, Picasso, and Monet.
All photos by the author except where indicated