The Best Things to do in Hartford, Connecticut

The 15 Best Things to do in Hartford, Connecticut

As the capital city of Connecticut, there’s so much history in each Victorian building in Hartford. Whether you’re touring historic sites in New England or wandering through museums dedicated to the United States’ most extraordinary minds, there’s a lot to learn in Hartford.

In addition to history, there’s also a great deal of beauty to be uncovered here. From rose gardens that look like a scene straight out of Alice in Wonderland to a massive museum housing an astounding collection of art through the ages, there’s so much to do in Hartford.

But with so much to do, how do you know where to start? We’ve compiled a list of the absolute best things to do in Hartford for you – from taking in a Broadway-level show to riding on a historic carousel. Stick to these fun and unique things to do in Hartford, and you’re bound to have an amazing time in this capital city!

15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Hartford

1. Stop and Smell the Roses at Elizabeth Park

Best Things to do in Hartford, Connecticut: Elizabeth Park

Covering 102 acres, the Elizabeth Park Conservancy is filled with some of the best sights in Hartford. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this lovely park offers garden, recreation, walking loops, and more. You’ll fall in love with the beauty of this one-of-a-kind place.

No matter when you visit, you can bet that something will be in bloom in the park’s many gardens. See a rainbow of tulips in the Robert A. Prill Tulip Garden in early spring, marvel at the hosta plants in the Charlie Ortiz Hosta Garden in late summer and fall, and fall in love with the vine-covered Perennial Garden from spring to summer.

But the crown jewels of this park are its rose gardens. The Helen S. Kaman Rose Garden was the first municipal rose garden in the US and is the third-largest rose garden in the country today. It continues to delight fans. You’ll feel like you fell down the rabbit hole and into Alice’s Wonderland thanks to the otherworldly beauty of this garden. 

In the Heritage Rose Garden, you’ll find roses of especially old varieties, some predating 1867. It’s one of very few heritage rose gardens in the US.

Throughout the year, you can take tours that lead you around the park and through its history. These tours often focus on particular gardens, so you’ll likely come away with much more knowledge of these beautiful blooms and how to tend to them. You can also develop your green thumb with the park’s Garden Lectures series and additional gardening programs.

In the summer, the park is home to outdoor concerts, movies in the park, and ballet performances. Enjoy the show, and then stop by the Pond House Cafe, an upscale, stunningly beautiful restaurant tucked away in the park. 

The park also strives to support healthy living. With their Walk With a Doc program, you can get out and get active while you ask important health questions of your doctor or medical student leader. You can also take a free yoga or Falun Dafa class. Children can also learn to play tennis for free.

2. Tour the Connecticut State Capitol

Fun Things to do in Hartford, Connecticut: Connecticut State Capitol

Overlooking Bushnell Park, a visit to the Connecticut State Capitol is one of the must-do things in Hartford. Constructed of marble and granite and crowned by a gold leaf dome, it’s as much a fun thing to do for architecture lovers as it is for history buffs. 

The capitol houses the State Senate Chamber, the Hall of the State House of Representatives, and the offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the Secretary of State. Throughout the capitol, you’ll also find a vast collection of artifacts from Connecticut’s history. 

When you visit this historical landmark, you can take a self-guided tour anytime throughout the day. But you can also book a guided tour, provided you’re able to arrive in the morning. Visiting the State Capitol is a great way to learn more about Connecticut’s history and how the state has developed into the one we know today.

3. Explore the Connecticut Science Center

What to do in Hartford, Connecticut: Connecticut Science Center

At nine stories tall and with more than 165 hands-on exhibits, the Connecticut Science Center is one of the coolest things to do in Hartford, especially if you’re visiting with kids. The museum is dedicated to the exploration of our world and the worlds beyond.

The Science Center contains both traveling and permanent exhibits. Learn about what makes our bodies tick in the Hartford HealthCare Health Lab, discover how alternative energy can work in a model city in Energy City, explore native species of Connecticut in the Rooftop Garden, and much more.

Also on-site is the Maximilian E. and Marion O. Hoffman Foundation Science Theater, a 3D theater offering movies that dive deep into scientific topics, like the exploration of the animal kingdom. The theater also has live shows, like the Wildlife Encounters, where you can meet unique animals in person.

The museum offers special events and programs, like a monthly Sensory Friendly Day, where exhibits’ volumes are lowered, and the lights are dimmed to create a more enjoyable experience for those with sensory processing differences.

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4. Step Back in Time at the Mark Twain House & Museum

Cool Things to do in Hartford, Connecticut: Mark Twain House and Museum

From 1871 to 1894, the Mark Twain House & Museum was where Samuel Clemens, aka the great Mark Twain, called home. It’s also where he created many of his best-known characters. 

Today, his house is a museum and is one of the best things to do in Hartford, especially if you’re a history or literature lover. This American High Gothic house is quite a sight, and the grounds around it are equally as beautiful.

This restored home, a National Historic Landmark, offers exhibits and events illuminating the legacy of Twain. Tour his home to find a vast collection of artifacts from Twain’s life, as well as artwork from renowned artists dedicated to Twain and his stories. You can also dive deep into his life with an orientation film made by famous documentarian Ken Burns.

The museum hosts many events throughout the year. Often, these events focus on Twain, the greater literary world, or historical but seldom-heard stories. You’ll also find more hands-on events for adults and children alike, like a journal-making workshop in honor of the fact that every member of the Clemens family kept a journal.

5. Enjoy a Performance on the Hartford Stage

Unique Things to do in Hartford, Connecticut: Hartford Stage

The Hartford Stage is a regional theater well known for producing revivals of classic plays and musicals, as well as innovative new shows. It previously won a Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater and has collected several more national honors to date. Seeing a show here is easily one of the most fun things to do in Hartford.

This theater puts on several high-caliber shows throughout the year, so you can be sure there’s something to see when you take your Hartford vacation. But the Hartford Stage is also well-known for its acting studio. 

If you’re visiting over the summer and your little one is an aspiring actor, taking a Summer Studio class is a must. These studio sessions vary by length, ranging from one week to five weeks. They’re also divided up by age, so anyone from preschoolers to 18-year-olds can get in on the fun of putting on an incredible production. 

The Hartford Stage also offers classes and studio sessions for adults. Dive into an intensive six-week improv course, prepare a monologue and get advice from the pros, learn to write a play, or spend a day learning how to be a director.

6. Marvel at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Fun Things to do in Hartford, Connecticut: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Featuring over 50,000 works of art, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is as much a work of art itself as it is one of the best art museums in New England. This Gothic building houses European Baroque art, ancient Egyptian and Classical bronzes, Hudson River School landscapes, and much more. 

You’ll even find early American furnishing among the museum’s extensive collection. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this museum is the largest art museum in all of Connecticut.

Hartford, Connecticut Bucket List: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

The museum is dedicated to the exploration of the interconnection of art and culture. Featuring both traveling and permanent exhibitions, you can take in the massive collection of artwork on a docent-led Highlights Tour. 

You can learn even more about art history by attending the museum’s lecture series. The museum also offers more events and programming, like film showings, children’s art programs, and Second Saturdays, which offer free admission so families can take part in art projects, special tours, and live performances.

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7. Ride the Carousel at Bushnell Park

What to do in Hartford, Connecticut: Bushnell Park

Covering 37 acres, Bushnell Park is the oldest publicly-funded park in the United States. Today, it’s a lovely place to spend a day with the family, filled with many of the best Hartford activities and attractions.

The park is an arboretum of rare and native trees. Enjoy the beauty of over 150 varieties of trees, and pick up a Tree Walk brochure to learn more about them. 

Also in the park, you’ll find many stunning statues and memorials, like the Spanish-American War Memorial. From May to October, you can take an Arch Tour, where you’ll get an in-depth look at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, a stunning Gothic monument.

Go for a walk around the pond, where you can take in the tranquility of the park and enjoy the sights of downtown Hartford. Then, go for a ride on the historic vintage carousel, with its 48 hand-carved wooden horses that dance around to a Wurlitzer band organ. 

When winter arrives, you can head to Bushnell Park for Winterfest. Take photos with Santa, get out on the ice of the outdoor rink, or take a lesson to become a champion skater.

8. See a Show at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center

Best Things to do in Hartford, Connecticut: Bushnell Performing Arts Center

The Bushnell Performing Arts Center is where to go in Hartford if you want to see Broadway-caliber shows, breathtaking concerts, and live performances you won’t soon forget. For over 90 years, it’s been serving as one of the top Hartford attractions for arts and community gatherings of all kinds.

Listen to the Hartford Symphony Orchestra put on a stunning performance, marvel at the dancers of the Ballet Theatre Company, and have a night at the opera with the Connecticut Lyric Opera. In addition to local talent, you can also see touring Broadway shows, comedians, and guest speakers on the Bushnell Performing Arts stage.

This theater strives to show that arts are for everyone. You’ll find that many of the shows at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center have American Sign Language performances, as well as sensory-friendly performances for those with sensory processing differences.

9. Learn about the History of the Old State House

Best Things to do in Hartford, Connecticut: Old State House

You can visit the Connecticut State Capitol, but it’s not the first place in Connecticut to hold the state legislature. The Old State House was the original seat of the state legislature and is today a historical landmark and one of the top Hartford attractions. 

It’s somewhat of a museum, but it’s more than that. It’s a community gathering place that’s focused on education and enrichment. 

The Old State House offers tours, exhibits, and special events centered around Connecticut civics. Learn about important moments in Connecticut’s history and greater American history. Beyond historical conversations, you’ll also find programs that invite the public to get together and celebrate arts, culture, and more. 

The Old State is home to a summer concert series and a historic farmers’ market. You’ll love enjoying the heart of Hartford and getting to know the city during these wonderful events.

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10. Enjoy the Music and Culture of the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz

For over 25 years, Paul Brown, a noted Hartford jazz bassist and music educator, produced Monday Night Jazz Concerts in Bushnell Park, where thousands from all over the Greater Hartford area and beyond gathered together for a night full of picnicking to the sound of world-class entertainment. 

On the 25th anniversary of these summer events, the first Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz was held. Over 30 years later, this festival is one of the best and more unique things to do in Hartford.

This free festival invites you to listen to both local and international-renowned jazz performers while the State Capitol and the downtown Hartford skyline provide a beautiful backdrop for the many performances. 

The three-day festival takes place every summer, and in addition to toe-tapping music, you’ll also enjoy food from local vendors and artwork from local artisans. You’ll learn about jazz history, delight in local treats, and meet the wonderful residents of Hartford at this community-focused event.

11. Tour the Connecticut River Valley on a Train and Riverboat

Unique Things to do in Hartford, Connecticut: Essex Steam Train and Riverboat

Head over to Essex for one of the most fun things to do in the Hartford area. The Essex Steam Train & Riverboat offers a one-of-a-kind tour of the Connecticut River Valley. Step back in time at the historic 1892 Essex Station, where you’ll climb aboard a steam train with vintage coaches for a narrated trip through quaint New England towns. 

Once your train trip ends, the fun isn’t over yet. You’ll boat the Becky Thatcher Riverboat at Deep River Landing and cruise down the Connecticut River before returning back to Essex Station.

The company also offers a bevy of different experiences. You could go on this journey a number of times and always experience something new. Climb aboard the Essex Clipper for a dinner train, complete with a four-course meal served in restored 1920s Pullman dining cars, or go on a dinner train with a murder mystery to solve. 

Go on kid-focused tours, complete with favorites like Thomas the Tank Engine, to delight little ones. Or have tea time, Pullman style. You can even learn how to operate the train yourself. 

12. Journey through Time at the Museum of Connecticut History

Looking for free things to do in Hartford? Learn about how Connecticut came to be at the Museum of Connecticut History. This museum traces the growth of the state and the role it played in the US becoming the country it is.

Here you’ll find both permanent and temporary exhibits that focus on the state’s government, military, and industrial history. Learn about the Freedom Trail and follow its history in the Freedom Trail Quilt project, explore the legend and legacy of the Charter Oak that founded the colony of Connecticut, study the creation of the Colt firearms, and much more.

The collection of artifacts at this museum is vast and eclectic. From women’s suffrage banners to mementos from legendary showman P.T. Barnum, there’s much to see and learn in this museum. It’s also housed in the Supreme Court and Connecticut State Library building, providing you with even more opportunities to learn about Connecticut history when you visit the museum.

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13. Be Dazzled by TheaterWorks

Fun Things to do in Hartford, Connecticut: TheaterWorks

Situated on Pearl Street in downtown Hartford, TheaterWorks has been delighting Hartford residents and visitors alike since 1985. A beautiful, historic brick theater is where this theater company calls home and performs its contemporary plays. These award-winning shows are one of the best Hartford activities, especially if you are a theater lover.

Throughout its season, TheaterWorks puts on several unique performances, from Broadway favorites to more underground stories. In addition to these plays, the theater company also puts on more low-key shows, like intimate concerts. Their Living Room series invites local musicians or visiting artists to grace the stage and bring their unique stylings to Hartford. 

TheaterWorks strives to be a cultural hub as much as a top performing arts venue. Alongside outstanding performances, they also put on TW Talks, conversations with knowledgeable experts that shed light on diverse topics. Learn about the importance of award-winning plays, dive deeper into the impacts of racism and colorism, and explore the realities of immigration in the modern world. 

14. Enjoy the History and Beauty of the Butler-McCook House & Garden

The Butler-McCook House & Garden is the only 18th-century home still standing on Hartford’s Main Street. Today, it serves as a time capsule of Hartford’s past and one of the best things to do in Hartford. 

For 189 years, the Butler-McCook House & Garden was home to four generations of a family that witnessed and recorded the city’s evolution from the American Revolution to the mid-20th century. 

Inside, you’ll find artifacts accumulated over the course of nearly two centuries by this family. The house looks much the same as it did back in 1782 on the outside, though the inside is a mix of the many generations that called it home. Also on the property is a restored Victorian ornamental garden, which only accentuates the house’s beauty.

You can book a tour of the grounds to see it all and step into the past. Kids under six are admitted to the museum for free.

15. Travel through History at Old Sturbridge Village

Hartford, Connecticut Bucket List: Sturbridge Village

There are many wonderful museums in the Hartford area, but the Old Sturbridge Village is the only living museum, making it one of the most unique things to do in Hartford. 

Located in nearby Sturbridge, Massachusetts, Old Sturbridge Village recreates life in New England from the 1790s to the 1830s. Covering more than 200 acres, there’s much to explore in this museum.

Here you’ll discover 40 historical buildings with costumed historians who can introduce you to the world they live in. See where the Quakers congregate in the Friends Meetinghouse, drink and dine in the Bullard Tavern, meet the animals of the Freeman Farm, and much more. 

For even more learning opportunities, adults and kids alike can get in on hands-on educational programs. Adults can participate in historical craft classes, while kids can attend weeklong Discovery Adventures or overnight Night at the Museum programs.

The village is also a scenic place to explore. There are several nature trails, open seasonally, to walk along to see more of the beautiful grounds.

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There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Hartford, CT. What’s your favorite thing to do in Hartford? Let us know in the comments!

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About the Author:

  • Jacqueline Gualtieri

    Jacqueline is a writer and editor pursuing the freelance life to explore the world. Born and raised in New Jersey, she spent her college years in Boston before settling down with her partner and puppy in Monterey, California.

    When she’s not writing, you can often find her planning her next trip. Road trips are her favorite, whether it’s driving across the country or simply exploring a new city in her own backyard. She loves uncovering the history of every new place she goes.

    Jacqueline has a restless passion for learning and makes it a goal to pick up a new skill every year. She’s picked up embroidery, crocheting, knitting, and cross-stitching, but she’s hoping to master more languages to help her in her travels. She’s also a published author, with short stories and poetry appearing in several anthologies.

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