Even if you are winter-averse, you need not give the season a cold shoulder, and spend your time in Connecticut indoors hoping for spring to arrive. Instead, you should head outdoors as the state has lot to offer in terms of tourist attractions and activities. Here are the top picks for enjoying amazing winter holidays in Connecticut.
Go ‘classic’ by visiting some of the historic house museums
If you want to take the traditional route to your holidays and stick to the ‘classic’ theme, visiting some of the state’s historic house museums from the list below, which get decked up for the holidays, should be on your to-do list.
- Keeler TavernMuseum: Located in Fairfield County’s Ridgefield, the rich architectural history and beauty of this 18th century historic building is sure to mesmerize you. Take the 45-minute docent-led tours of this museum to see its exhibits, and know about the role it played in the Battle of Ridgefield. Once you have taken the tour, tromp through the snow outside to get awed by the cannonball that’s embedded in the wall. Keeler Tavern Museum stays open on Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday from 1pm to 4pm. Don’t forget to visit the Gift Shop that houses a wide variety of exclusive gifts.
- Lockwood-Mathews Mansion: Boasting of unparalleled architecture, this grand mansion inNorwalk is one of the most significant and earliest Second Empire Style country houses in the US. From Wednesday to Sunday, you can take the guided tours (that start every hour in between 12 pm and 3pm) of this national historic landmark. The house gets decked up with traditional Victorian decorationsand lavish treesduring the holidays, which augment its opulence during this period.
- Florence Griswold Museum: From Miss Florence’s designer Fantasy Trees and Artist Trees, to the extraordinary Georgian architecture of this building, Krieble Gallery’s contemporary, light-filled spaces, and the 13-acre site of this art museum with its rolling landscape, you will have a lot to take in while visiting this placein Old Lyme. If your visit is close to Christmas, you can see the entire house dazzling in its Christmas finery.The museum stays open between 10am and 5pm from Tuesday to Saturday, while on Sundays, you can enter it from 1pm to 5pm. If your visit here is close to lunch hours, you can head to Café Flolocated on the veranda that overlooks the Lieutenant River. You may either have a picnic on the lawn, or opt for the table service on the veranda.
- Mark Twain House &Museum and Harriet Beecher Stowe Center: If you are in Hartford, don’t miss visiting the Twain House (9:30am to 5:30pm daily except for special days like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Christmas Eve when it stays closed). This will let you enjoy the Gothic beauty of this 25-room Victorian mansion where Mark Twain wrote and lived from 1874-1891. From here, hop to the neighboring Harriet Beecher Stowe Center (Sun: Noon to 5pm; Monday to Saturday: 9:30am to 5pm; Closed on December 24-25 as well as Thanksgiving). Check the collections belonging to Stowe and her family, explore the impact of the author’s anti-slavery novel published in 1852 – Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and think if you can link 19th century issues (such as positive change and social justice) to contemporary headlines.
- Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum: A short drive from Hartford’s museums will bring you to this museum in the state’s largest historic district of Old Wethersfield that would offer you the quintessential New England experience. Take the 1-hour tours for an immersive, entertaining and informative experience dating back to the mid-18th and early-19th centuries. Make sure to check the museum hours and tours before you come here to avoid disappointment.
Ski and Sea
Winter holidays aren’t complete without getting out in the snow. Thanks to its position in southern New England, Connecticut falls in the Snow-Belt region. For you, this means getting snow on slopes throughout the winter to enjoy a wide variety of outdoor activities. Here are your top picks and locations to make the most of the state’s snowy landscape:
- Powder Ridge Mountain Park and Resort (Middlefield): Go snowboarding, tubing and skiing on the downhill slopes this winter.
- Mohawk Mountain (Cornwall): Perhaps the prettiest views you will find in the entire state are on display here, which you can enjoy while snowboarding and skiing.
- Mount Southington Ski Area (Plantsville): If picking up the basics of skiing and snowboarding is on your agenda, head straight to this place where anyone belonging to any age group can learn how to ski from experienced instructors. In case you already know how to make it downhill, enjoy skiing and snowboarding here with family and friends.
- Ski Sundown (New Hartford): From skiing and snowboarding to snowmaking, this is one extraordinary winter wonderland that you shouldn’t miss. If you are up for some challenge, hit one of its 16 trails (15 of which stay lit up at night to facilitate nighttime skiing).
If ice skating is on your mind, you can head to
- the Simsbury Farms Ice Rink (Simsbury)
- Bushnell Park’s Winterfest Rink (Hartford)
- RoseGarden Ice Arena (Norwich)
If the weather is favorable, you can even take your pick from one of the many hiking trails in Connecticut. In case hiking is too tiring for you to indulge in, go for any of these that involve more of eating and drinking than tromping and trudging through snow:
- Connecticut Beer Trail that will take you to several award-winning brewpubs and breweries (such as Overshores Brewing Company, 30 Mile Brewing Company etc) many of which host special events apart from offering you delectable food and fine dining experiences.
- Connecticut Wine Trail that will let you sip a glass or two of the state’s fine local wines at the statewide vineyards (such as Chamard Vineyards, Maugle Sierra Vineyards & Winery, Land of Nod Winery, Jones Family Farms etc)
- Connecticut Chocolate Trail that will let you treat the chocolate lover in you with visits to some popular local chocolate artisans as well as world-renowned chocolatiers (such as Guittard family’s Guittard chocolate, and Guilford Green’s The Village Chocolatier, to Mystic Sweets & Ice Cream Shoppe positioned close to Mystic Drawbridge, and much more)
If you are looking for something laid back and less arduous, you can explore the Connecticut shoreline. Two places worth checking out are:
- Hammonasset Beach State Park (Madison): Take a strollon the long boardwalk, enjoy the waves caressing your feet while walking down the 2-mile stretch of sand, or just watch and listen to the variety of gulls. While you are here, don’t forget to taste some craft beer, fine wine, and top shelf liquor at Madison Wine Exchange. For dinner, you can savor some delectable French cuisine at Bar Bouchée. And if you have plans to stay close to the beach, you can check into Madison Beach Hotel.
- Harvey’s Beach and Town Beach (Old Saybrook): Apart from its cultural and historical sites, Old Saybrook – the oldest town of Connecticut, has beautiful beaches being where you can play on the sand or take a leisurely stroll, shop for knick-knacks, stay in nearby hotels and resort, and eat delicious dishes. When visiting these beaches, you can sample the fare at Luigi’s Restaurant,Saigon City Restaurant, Fresh Salt, Livs Shack, as well as Penny Lane Pub & Restaurant. For a luxurious stay near the beaches, you can head to Saybrook Point Inn, where you will get to enjoy breathtaking views, pampering spa services, and some of the finest cuisine to appease your taste buds.
If winter outdoor activities aren’t your cup of tea, here are some that you can consider during your Connecticut trip:
- Enjoy a concert at Infinity Hall in Norfolk or Hartford where you will get to enjoy a blend of intimate music fromtop-notch performers, and some fine dining options.
- Get up close and personal with Beluga whales, African penguins and seals at Mystic Aquarium in Mystic.
- See Long Island Sound’s river otters, sharks, sea turtles, jellies, seals, and a wide variety of other marine animals at this place in South Norwalk.
- Work up a sweat in the indoor adventure course of Manchester-based Soarin’ Indoors, or test your climbing skills at the climbing walls suitable for different ability levels at Wallingford’s Prime Climb.
- Have some hands-on fun with the interactive exhibits of Hartford’s Connecticut Science Center.
- Pez Museum: This place in Orangefeatures a massive collection of classic Pez candy and dispensers, along with the fascinating history of the company. Drop in at the gift shop to pick some little candies at discounted rates.
Tips for international travelers
Before traveling to Connecticut, check if you need US visa or ESTA.Make sure to check a list of Visa Waiver Program countries. In case you are a national or citizen of one of the countries listed here, you will be eligible to apply for admission under the VWP (Visa Waiver Program). You should check the eligibility criteria for submitting an application under the VWP.
Remember that you will need ESTA approval to board a carrier that will take you to the USA under the VWP. ESTA is an automated system that’s used to establish the visitor’s eligibility to travel to the US under the VWP, and decide if such travel poses any security or law enforcement risk. ESTA isn’t a visa though. Yet, it has become mandatory since January 12, 2009. So, before you pack your bags for Connecticut, make sure to check ESTA status(individual or group).