Paying a visit to the Constitution State, but don’t want to break your budget? Worry not; there are plenty of things to do in Connecticut for free that will immerse you in the state’s rich cultural, industrial, scientific and athletic histories.
From reading rare British books at Yale to walking along a former railway trail to keeping up with the Huskies at the University of Connecticut, we’ve set out to prove that a trip to Connecticut doesn’t have to be expensive.
The mission of the Museum of Connecticut History is threefold: It aims to preserve the history and honor the role Connecticut played in the evolution of U.S. government, military and industrial power. The museum has plenty of items in its multiple collections to keep you curious and exploring all day, including vintage toasters, an early 20th century voting booth, coins, clocks and the Colt firearms collection.
Here you can also view original Connecticut government documents from the 1700s and see portraits of former Connecticut governors. Be sure to see the exhibit honoring Connecticut soldiers in the military section. If you need some direction, download the scavenger hunt from the museum’s website before you go.
The Airline State Park Trail travels 50 miles across 11 towns in eastern Connecticut, stretching from Thompson in the north to East Hampton in the south. The trail is a former railway dating to the 1870s. Similar to New York City’s High Line, the tracks have since been removed and the remaining throughway serves as a path for walking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing.
The south section of the trail runs 22 miles from East Hampton to Windham and passes along parks, state forests and two viaducts. The north section travels about 28 miles from Windham to Thompson and includes mostly gravel paths. There are various access points to the trails in the towns it passes through (with parking).
Those interested in Connecticut’s government should pay a visit to the Connecticut State Capitol. Visitors are welcome to engage in self-guided tours all day. Brochures for the Capitol, Capitol sanctuary and legislative office building are available online. One-hour guided tours are also offered on weekday mornings by reservation only.
Erected in the 1870s, the capitol is a National Historic Landmark worth over $200 billion and made from New England-sourced marble and granite with a gold leaf dome. Visitors will see statues of state heroes Nathan Hale and Prudence Crandall as well as Civil War Gov. William Buckingham. Don’t miss the Hall of Flags, featuring various flags carried by soldiers from Connecticut during wars.
Visiting the Yale Center for British Art is one of the most popular things to do in Connecticut for free, probably because the museum’s collections and exhibits are so expansive and impressive. You don’t have to travel across the pond to see some incredible paintings, sculptures and drawings, as the museum claims to be home to “the largest and most comprehensive collection of British art outside the United Kingdom.”
Various tour types are offered including a docent-led introductory tour concentrating on the museum’s collections and the building’s modernist architecture. There are also tours of special exhibits. Need to do some research? Make an appointment to visit the museum’s reference library and archives to have access to 35,000 rare books and 40,000 reference books.
The Connecticut College Arboretum spans 750 acres and contains plant collections ranging from the exotic to those native to southern New England. Stroll along the walking trails that cross the arboretum with a trail map downloadable from the arboretum’s website. Or register for a docent-led tour held on the first or second Sunday of the month May through October. The native plant collection includes flowers, trees, bushes and woody vines, some wild and some cultivated. Head to the Caroline Black Garden for a Japanese vibe or to the azalea garden to see the impressive flowering shrubs in spring.
Set in Stamford’s Cove Island Park, the Soundwaters Coastal Education Center educates the public on environmental issues related to animals living in Long Island Sound and other area waterways. The aquarium on site is home to animals from Long Island Sound, coastal salt marshes and freshwater species from area rivers. Kids will love the touch tank.
Are you a big UConn Husky fan? You’re not alone. Athletics are so popular at the state university there is a museum on the main Storrs campus honoring the athletes and coaches who have led the teams to victory time and time again.
The Huskey Heritage Sports Museum chronicles the history of UConn sports since the 1890s and features artifacts throughout, including jerseys, basketballs, baseball gloves, field hockey sticks, NCAA Championship trophies and a statue of the school mascot, a Husky named Jonathan. See photos of UConn’s All-American athletes and life-size cutouts of basketball superstars Ray Allen and Rebecca Lobo.
Head to the Westport Astronomical Society on Wednesdays from 8 to 10 p.m. for free stargazing experiences held in the dome observatory and on the property’s lawn, if the skies are clear. The Westport Astronomical Society is home to one of the largest telescopes in Connecticut and it also has a special solar telescope for viewing the sun. Stargazers might see galaxies, stars, planets and nebulas on their visit with specialists on hand to tell them all about the items in the night sky they are discovering. Also featured are monthly talks with experts from other observatories and planetariums.
And for more things to do in the Northeast, check out Budget-Wise.
What are some of your favorite free things to do in Connecticut? Share them in the comments below.