Chances are if you’re planning a family vacation in Connecticut, you will find no shortage of kid-friendly places to add to the travel itinerary. Every region has its own special offerings for visitors to enjoy. Whether you're following the footsteps of Jurassic-era prehistoric beasts or enjoying the thrilling rides at Lake Compounce, the oldest continuously operating amusement park in the United States, exciting attractions await for tots to teens and children in between. Exploring natural wonders, delving into fascinating history, and visiting quaint coastal towns are among the fantastic things to do in Connecticut.
1. Make new discoveries at the Connecticut Science Center
Boasting over 165 hands-on exhibits, the Connecticut Science Center stimulates the mind with its enriching programming that focuses on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. Set in the town of Hartford, this kid-friendly destination is a top stop for many on a family vacation in Connecticut. From Science Alley to Sight and Sound, Genome Me, Energy City, and Invention Dimension, there is a whirlwind of activity that encourages children to think and tinker. Another must-see while visiting the museum is the Butterfly Encounter featuring beautiful winged creatures fluttering about.
2. Marvel at the colorful fish at The Maritime Aquarium
Exploring the fascinating world of animals is always one of the top family attractions in Connecticut. In Norwalk, The Maritime Aquarium invites families to take a deep dive and discover amazing exhibits. There are many special experiences, from taking “sealfies” with the sweet harbor seals common in New England waters to getting to stroke gentle species at the Shark and Ray Touch Pool. Over at the Woodlands exhibit are adorable North American river otters, while the Journey with Jellies display is sure to mesmerize. During your visit, head to the 4D Theater for a thrilling cinematic experience.
3. Enjoy a family field trip to the Stepping Stones Museum for Children
Learning can be fun, and the Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk certainly counts as one of the enriching Connecticut kid activities. Through play, young visitors get to develop and discover everything from arts to science and culture. Different areas feature fun, hands-on activities that teach new skills, from painting and finishing at Build It to imaginative play at Tot Town, designed for little ones with puzzles, book nooks, and other activities that spark curiosity. Throughout the year, the museum also hosts special events highlighting interesting subjects such as space, music, and paleontology.
4. Hike and breathe in the fresh air at Mount Riga State Park
There’s nothing quite like bonding outdoors while on a family vacation in Connecticut. Mount Riga State Park offers ample opportunity for recreation. The undeveloped public area in the town of Salisbury is a great place to get moving with gorgeous surroundings for scenic hikes. There are several trails, including the 6.1-mile Bear Mountain Trail that offers moderate hiking and spectacular views from the highest peak in the state. Nearby, the shorter Undermountain Trail at 3 miles attracts hikers and joggers, while those who want a more invigorating hike head to the Appalachian Trail, spanning a little more than 15 miles.
5. Delve into the life of a literary master at the Mark Twain House & Museum
Whether your children have read "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" or not, they will probably get excited when they tour the residence of one of America’s literary greats. A visit to the Mark Twain House & Museum is one of the Connecticut kid activities that can’t be experienced anywhere else. Set in Hartford, the American High Gothic-style structure served as the home of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, and his family from 1874 to 1891. Inside, you’ll get to see the grand entrance, drawing room, and other spaces, as well as the impressive library where the writer spent much of his time.
6. Immerse yourself in the world of aviation at the New England Air Museum
Flight and aviation fascinate kids, and the New England Air Museum makes a great addition to a family vacation in Connecticut. Located at the Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, this American aerospace museum is one of the largest in the country and offers plenty to see and do. Exhibits include "8 Minutes: Bradley Air Museum and the 1979 Windsor Locks Tornado," which tells the story of the aftermath of the natural disaster. For those who come mainly to see the planes, there are over 55 on display in 3 hangars and an outdoor display area.
7. Learn about prehistoric creatures at Dinosaur State Park
Set on 80 acres in Rocky Hill, Dinosaur State Park is a natural history preserve featuring some of the largest dinosaur tracks in North America. As far as family attractions in Connecticut go, this one is a hit with kids obsessed with prehistoric creatures. Underneath the geodesic dome, there are 200 million-year-old fossil tracks most likely made by the Dilophosaurus. The Discovery Room provides insight into the Age of the Dinosaur with hands-on activities, while The Dig Pit is a hit with young visitors. There are other things to do including the Arboretum of Evolution and 2 miles of nature trails.
8. Enter the fascinating world of underwater ships at the Submarine Force Library and Museum
Setting foot inside the USS Nautilus, the world’s first operational nuclear-powered submarine, is sure to be one of the memorable moments on a family vacation in Connecticut. You can enjoy this experience and more at the Submarine Force Library and Museum located on the Thames River in Groton. The museum theater provides an excellent primer with the film "A Century of Silent Service," which highlights the early history of the Submarine Force, while the mini-theater presents the film "Forty-One for Freedom" that touches on the design and construction of the U.S. Navy’s ballistic submarines during the Cold War era.
9. Get ready for rides and roller coasters at Lake Compounce amusement park
Since 1846, the Lake Compounce theme park has been welcoming thrill-seekers drawn to the fun rides, entertainment, and attractions for the entire family. As one of the top Connecticut kid activities for more than a century, it is a highlight of any family vacation. Among the highlights of this New England favorite are the wooden roller coaster Boulder Dash, the C.P. Huntington Train, and Crocodile Cove, the largest water park in the state with wave pools and waterslides. There are also entertaining shows such as Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Day and classic kiddie rides at this park in Bristol.
10. Order thin-style pies from the originator at Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana
Since 1925, Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana has been satisfying people’s cravings for tasty pizza. The originator of thin-style coal-fired pies, this casual Connecticut eatery chain is the perfect stop on a family vacation in Connecticut. Whether visiting Fairfield, Danbury, or another one of the 11 New England locations, diners are in for a delightful experience with specialties such as the White Clam Pizza, the Spinach, Mushroom and Gorgonzola, the classic Margherita, and the seasonal Fresh Tomato Pie. If you want to visit the site where it all began, head to the New Haven location in the Wooster Square Historic District.
11. Journey through the Connecticut River Valley on the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat
Taking a ride on the historic Essex Steam Train and Riverboat is like traveling back in time. The unique experience adds old-school charm to Connecticut family vacations. There are several options to explore the Connecticut River Valley including the 2.5-hour train and riverboat journey or the 1-hour riverboat tour. Both make for memorable moments and travel past picturesque spots such as Selden Neck State Park, Pratt Cove, and Chester Creek, revealing rich wildlife from ducks to swans and bald eagles, depending on the time of year The excursions are round-trip and leave from the Essex Station.
12. Stroll around Mystic Seaport Village
If you're looking for leisurely family attractions in Connecticut, a trip to Mystic Seaport Village is in order. The destination features much to see and do with many of the historic buildings dating back to the 1800s. Rich in maritime history, the seaport village features original shops with handcrafted woodwork and other endearing finds. The riverside setting boasts many structures that serve as informative public exhibitions, such as the Wellman Building and more. Other attractions in the vicinity include Playscapes, the Children’s Museum, Discovery Barn, and the Treworgy Planetarium. If you want to grab a bite, stop by Mystic Pizza, the same spot that inspired the movie starring Julia Roberts and Matt Damon.
13. See the only beluga whales in New England and more at Mystic Aquarium
One of the most captivating Connecticut kid activities is spending a few hours at the Mystic AquariumMystic Aquarium. Set in a quaint village, this marine attraction has the distinction of being home to rare Steller sea lions along with other magnificent creatures, such as beluga whales and African penguins. There are also enriching experiences that shine the spotlight on ocean life, from the SHARKS Touch Habitat to hanging out with trainers and attending animal feedings. The aquarium also taps into technology with its Undersea VR program that takes you on a realistic ocean journey that kids and grown-ups will enjoy.
14. Spend a day with the incredible animals at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo
For over 90 years, Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo has welcomed generation after generation of animal lovers. The wildlife haven in Bridgeport is one of the top family attractions in Connecticut with its captivating resident animals, from the Amur tiger to boa constrictors, golden lion tamarins, and everything in between. There are also many endangered species in the zoo’s care including the red wolf and giant anteater. Other highlights include a tropical rain forest and aviary, a New England farmyard that is home to pigs, cows, goats, and sheep, and an inviting café to grab a bite while taking a break from walking around.
15. Go apple picking at Beardsley’s Cider Mill and Orchard
Depending on the season you travel here, one of the quintessential Connecticut kids activities to enjoy is to go apple picking with the family. The place for that fun tradition is Beardsley’s Cider Mill and Orchard. Set in Shelton, the family-friendly attraction boasts 10,000 dwarf apple trees in the orchard and 400 peach, plum, and nectarine trees on the farm. You’ll also want to snap family pictures against the backdrop of the beautiful scenery. There is also a small farm store and bakery with delicious, made-from-scratch pies such as apple, pecan, strawberry rhubarb, and others. From October through early November, the staff makes refreshing hard apple cider.
16. Expand your mind at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
Curious minds can wander the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven. Founded in 1866 by George Peabody at the request of his nephew, paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh, the museum is home to 10 scientific collections that showcase life on earth, as well as engaging exhibits. At the front of the museum, a giant dinosaur sculpture greets young visitors. Inside, permanent halls include Fossil Fragments: The Riddle of Human Origins, the Hall of Mammalian Evolution, Day in the Life of Ancient Egypt, and Birds of Connecticut, among others. Be sure to stop by the Discovery Room to see bearded dragons, walking sticks, and more.
17. Take in a performance at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport
Children’s theater offers a fantastic experience for family vacations in Connecticut. In Bridgeport, the Downtown Cabaret Theatre continues to entertain audiences of all ages with exciting productions, musicals, and more since first opening its doors in 1976. Along with the Main Stage Concert series that features cover tributes to legendary bands such as the Eagles, there are quality shows that kids will love, with recent productions including "The Little Mermaid," "Snow White," and "Sister Act." If you’re traveling in town, be sure to secure tickets for the best seat in the house. Concessions are sold here, though patrons are also invited to bring their own beverages and picnic to enjoy during the performances.