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Connecticut embodies quintessential New England, with a long history of patriotism, ingenuity, and industry. One of the original 13 colonies of the United States, Connecticut was established by English Puritans who left the Massachusetts colony in the 1630s. Today, their influence can still be seen in the colonial villages that dot the countryside, complete with town greens, picturesque white-steeple churches, and the well-preserved landmarks of the American Revolution.
But Connecticut is not without sophistication. Its proximity to New York City has led many to jokingly label it a suburb of that metropolis rather than a state in its own right. An ever-increasing number of people are abandoning the concrete jungle and its high taxes for family homes in upscale, idyllic Connecticut, although the mass daily commute into the city makes travelling by highway or train during rush hour rather undesirable for tourists.
For visitors, Connecticut is about enjoying a culture that places high value on the arts, fine dining, entertainment, and a thriving corporate life, while at the same time stressing those quaint features that differentiate it from the big city nearby.
Connecticut boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in New England. The serenity of the Connecticut River Valley, which divides the state in half, is difficult to match, particularly in the south, where the state's shipbuilding tradition is celebrated in countless museums, historic inns abound, and scull and crew teams train on the river at sunrise every day. The Mystic shoreline in the east offers a taste of seafaring history, with its restored seaport, and the United States Coast Guard Academy just down the coast in New London.
New Haven is the home of Yale University, one of the United States' most prestigious Ivy League institutions, with magnificent architecture dating back to the early 1700s. In the northwest, the rolling Litchfield Hills are full of hiking and biking trails, quaint towns, and antique shops. Visitors flock here from across the country in autumn to glimpse the legendary fall foliage.
Connecticut, like most of picturesque New England, is best known for its historical tourist attractions, museums, and charming old towns and homesteads. Traces of the puritans who settled in Connecticut in the 1600s are still widespread, the history of trade and shipping is fascinatingly documented in hubs like the Mystic Seaport, and the impressive academic pedigree of the state ensures both a wealth of high-quality museums and a lively student population. For those less taken by the state's historic highlights, Connecticut offers plenty to do from extreme sports and a range of fun family activities, to unique culinary experiences and luxurious retreats.
Remarkably, about three quarters of the state is rural, and another major Connecticut attraction is the glorious fall foliage which enlivens the tree-rich country landscape in the autumn months, peaking in September and October. Although the cities of New Haven and Hartford are pleasant tourist destinations with varied cultural sightseeing offerings, the main order of the day for many travellers in Connecticut is the leisurely exploration of vineyards, orchards, lakes, forests and rolling meadows. The Connecticut River Valley is a particularly attractive area, with numerous well-maintained hiking and biking trails to be enjoyed.
The Wadsworth Atheneum is the oldest public art museum in the United States, and famously boasts the largest collection of paintings of the Hudson River School, a mid-19th century American landscape art movement influenced by Romanticism. These fine paintings, originally obtained by Daniel Wadsworth, are now considered American masterpieces. The Wadsworth Atheneum now houses over 50,000 works of art ranging from the ancient to the contemporary, and the building itself is fascinating. The museum also hosts excellent temporary exhibitions and special events like lectures and seminars.
The Old State House was built in 1796. It is one of the oldest state houses in the country and has been named a National Historic Landmark. Visitors can tour the magnificently restored rooms, listen to the audio tour and visit the education centre and museum shop. Celebrated as the site where Connecticut's democracy was born, the Old State House is an interesting monument to the state's proud history and contains some quirky and fun artefacts as well as more sombre, historic ones. The museum hosts frequent events and exhibitions and is open to the public year-round. A visit should entertain and educate the whole family.
Mystic Seaport, just under an hour's drive from Hartford and a popular excursion from the city, allows visitors to experience a classic New England seafaring community. Its four sections include a restored 19th-century village, comprising more than 30 shops and businesses; the waterfront, featuring tall ships and other historic vessels that visitors can climb aboard and explore; the preservation shipyard, where antique vessels are restored using traditional methods and tools; and a collection of galleries and exhibits. Mystic Seaport, which describes itself as 'The Museum of America and the Sea', is the perfect family destination, with several restaurants, boating activities and programmes for children.
Yale, a member of the Ivy League, is one of the oldest universities in the country and one of the most distinguished in the world. Its beautiful campus is home to a wealth of stunning architectural achievements as well as multiple museums, exhibition spaces and theatres. Visitors might browse the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library or take in a performance of the Yale Glee Club. The Mead Visitor Center, located at 149 Elm Street, welcomes visitors from all over the world and is a good starting point. The centre offers free guided tours led by undergraduate students, but groups of 10 or more will need to book a private tour in advance.
Long Wharf Pier in New Haven is the homeport of the Freedom Schooner , a faithful recreation of the schooner involved in the 1839 Amistad Incident, in which a group of Africans being transported to the Caribbean as slaves revolted and took over the ship. The Amistad was seized by the US government, and the Africans eventually won their freedom in a landmark case before the US Supreme Court. Some will know the ship's story from Steven Spielberg's powerful 1997 film of the same name. Today, the replica ship sails the world on peace missions, but it is open to the public when it is in port at New Haven and gives visitors a chance to have a hands-on experience of history. Check out the official website listed below for information on where the schooner can be found.
The stunning exhibitions of the Peabody Museum of Natural History are sure to amaze visitors of all ages. In addition to the Great Hall of Dinosaurs, visitors can discover Egyptian mummies, sabre-toothed cats, and Native American artefacts. Although the museum has all the old-fashioned staples of a natural history museum, efforts have been made to keep it modern and entertaining for children and there are a number of interactive stations in the Peabody. Multiple youth programmes are held during the summer and there are some temporary exhibitions and special events at the museum. Check out the official website listed below for more information.
Mark Twain, one of America's most celebrated writers, lived in a stately house on Farmington Avenue between 1874 and 1891. This elegant, 19-room mansion, built in a Victorian Gothic style, was where Twain wrote many of his most famous and successful works (including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), and has since been declared a National Historic Landmark. Visitors to the Mark Twain Museum Centre can anticipate a fascinating Ken Burns documentary detailing Twain's life and work, and state-of-the-art exhibition facilities. William Faulkner once called Mark Twain 'the father of American literature', and anyone with even a passing interest in American culture, would be ill-advised to pass up a visit to this significant, and memorable museum.
The Connecticut climate is moderate with relatively mild winters (December to February) and warm summers (June to August). Along the coast the summers are cooler and winters warmer, and the northwestern highlands have longer, colder winters than the rest of the state, with heavy snowfall. Rainfall is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year, but summers are prone to thunderstorms. Coastal storms, or 'northeasters', are the most serious weather risk in the state, bringing strong wind and heavy rain, and snowstorms in winter. Spring has the lowest humidity and is a pleasant time to travel to Connecticut.
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