Searching for interesting and cheap things to do in Connecticut isn’t that hard. This lovely state in the New England region offers several pocket-friendly destinations. Interesting adventures, art activities, stunning nature trails, and Connecticut road trips – you’ll find all of these attractions in Connecticut!
Kick-off your Connecticut adventure with this list of 10 cool, interesting, and budget-friendly destinations!
- 1 Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Adventure
- 2 The Glass House
- 3 Book Barn
- 4 Elizabeth Park Rose Gardens
- 5 West Rock Ridge State Park
- 6 Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
- 7 Weir Farm National Historic Site
- 8 Connecticut College Arboretum
- 9 Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry
- 10 Sunrise State Park
- 11 Your Dream Vacation Home Near Cheap Things to Do in Connecticut
Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Adventure
Location: Essex Station, Essex
Our list of cool and cheap things to do in Connecticut starts with the captivating Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Adventure!
Hop on a vintage steam locomotive and enjoy a 1-hour ride around the picturesque towns of Deep River and Chester! The train leaves the Essex Station and takes you through a 12-mile narrated round-trip journey around the lovely Connecticut River Valley. You’ll pass through stunning areas and bird-watching havens such as the Chester Creek and Pratt Cove.
Upon reaching Deep River Landing, transfer to the Becky Thatcher Riverboat for a Connecticut River cruise that lasts for 1 ¼ hour. Get impressive views of the Connecticut River and its marshes, wildlife, and shoreline! After the trip, the riverboat docks back on Deep River Landing where you’ll board the train for the return trip to Essex Station.
Tickets cost $34.95 per person aged 2 years and up. Discounts are available for seniors, groups, and families.
Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Adventure operate daily during summer, with limited operations from May through October. Visit their site for the exact operating dates and available departure times.
The Glass House
Location: New Canaan, Fairfield County
Let’s move on to a place where architectural wonders abound – The Glass House in New Canaan! This museum is among the awe-inspiring cheap things to do in Connecticut.
The Glass House originally refers to the unique home designed and created by architect Philip Johnson in 1949. It’s a minimalist structure with glass walls where Johnson lived from 1949 until he died in 2005. The Glass House sits among the 14 structures on the 49-acre museum named after it.
The Glass House estate features many of Johnson’s other architectural wonders such as The Brick House, Pavilion in the Pond, Painting Gallery, and Da Monsta.
Visit the nearby Brick House to see auxiliary spaces Johnson used such as technical areas, guest rooms, and bathrooms. Then, head over to the semi-sunken Painting Gallery to view painting collections from various artists such as Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Cindy Sherman, and many more.
The Glass House estate is now listed as a National Trust Historic Site. Get online tickets to visit the museum – Ground Passes cost $20 per person. Kids under five are admitted free!
Location: Niantic, East Lyme
Want to experience a book lover’s paradise in Connecticut? Then, add a visit to Book Barn in your travel bucket list!
Book Barn was established in 1988 and was reopened in 1991 after a fire broke out in the nearby antique store, destroying almost everything in the original bookstore. Book Barn is a book lover’s haven and is spread out in three locations at Niantic Town:
- The Main Barn (41 West Main Street)
- Book Barn Downtown (269 Main Street)
- Chapter Three (55 West Main Street)
These three Book Barn hubs provide visitors plenty of opportunities for buying, reading, and selling books!
The Main Barn features five buildings, a playground, gardens, and table games. Sit and read books, have some coffee, pet some friendly goats, and play with the cat residents here at The Main Barn. Then, continue your book adventure by heading over to Book Barn Downtown and Chapter Three – both stores are just walking distance from The Main Barn. No worries about your budget – all books are available at pocket-friendly prices!
Elizabeth Park Rose Gardens
Next on our list of cheap things to do in Connecticut is a visit to the dreamy Rose Gardens of Elizabeth Park. This natural wonder is guaranteed to fill you with awe and whimsy!
Within the heart of Elizabeth Park lies the United States’ first municipal rose garden – the Helen S. Kaman Rose Garden! It was named in honor of Helen Kaman, the first president of the Elizabeth Park Conservancy.
This extraordinary garden was first opened in June 1904. Today, the garden is home to around 800 old and new rose varieties and over 15,000 rose bushes! Prominent rose varieties include pillar roses, hybrid tea, hybrid perpetual, floribunda, shrub, and climbers.
The garden arches’ roses fully bloom from mid-June to early July. They bloom only once a year, so consider planning your visit around this time! But most of the other roses in the gazebo and the entire garden bloom until fall.
Relax on the benches and take in the wonderful view of the whimsical roses! Admission to the Elizabeth Park Rose Gardens is free for all.
West Rock Ridge State Park
Location: Hamden/New Haven/Woodbridge
Seeking some natural tranquility in your trip to Connecticut? Embark on a journey to the West Rock Ridge State Park! It’s Connecticut’s second-largest state park brimming with history and natural beauty. The park consists of around 1,722 acres of land with lots of activities to do inside!
Hike up the moderate Regicides Trail to reach the famed Judges Cave. The cave is where William Goffe and Edward Whalley, two regicide judges, hid to escape prosecution from King Charles II. Now, the trail is quite rugged and rocky but mostly level, with lots of scenic lake views to enjoy!
Other activities you can do inside the park include mountain biking, horseback riding, bicycling, bird-watching, rock-climbing, and picnicking. Great places for picnics and sight-seeings include Lake Wintergreen and the South Overlook. It’s also a kid-friendly place for some fun nature-tripping!
West Rock Ridge State Park is open to the public with no admission or parking fees.
Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
Location: Ridgefield, Fairfield County
Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum is Connecticut’s only museum solely dedicated to displaying contemporary art. It’s among the incredible sights and cheap things to do in Connecticut – typical admission rate for adults is just $12 while seniors and students aged 13 and up pay only $7.
What makes this museum so unique is that they don’t feature permanent exhibits. All exhibits are rotating, giving a chance for lots of contemporary artists to showcase their work from time-to-time! Aldrich Museum has also featured first-time solo artist exhibitions from then-small artists who became renowned in their fields such as Ruth Root, David Brooks, Hayal Pozanti, and many more.
Book your timed-entry tickets online at the official website of Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum! Apart from the affordable rates, the museum also offers free admission for kids 12 and under, K-12 teachers, and military families. The museum also admits everyone for free every Third Saturdays of the month.
Weir Farm National Historic Site
Location: Ridgefield/Wilton, Fairfield County
Tour around the Weir Farm National Historic Site for a one-of-a-kind combination of natural beauty and visual arts! Weir Farm is a 60-acre national park uniquely dedicated to American painting arts. Discover the home and studio of Julian Alden Weir, America’s most beloved impressionist.
Go on a tour to the Weir House, Weir Studio, and Young Studio (open seasonally). You may sign up for a tour or get self-guided tour brochures from the Visitor Center porch.
Paint to your heart’s delight! You may use the park’s free art supplies to create a wonderful masterpiece featuring the lovely surroundings at the Weir Farm National Historic Site.
Hike any of the numerous trails on the Weir Farm lands. The most popular easy trail is the 2.7-mile Weir Farm to Weir Nature Preserve. The out-and-back trail passes through a lovely forest setting with lush greens, beautiful woods, open fields, and a pond.
Kids can become Junior Rangers through the park’s range of fun and interesting activities! Let them participate in scavenger hunts and they’ll be rewarded with badges and patches!
Explore the current art exhibit at the Visitor Center and Museum Store. You can also pick up a couple of lovely souvenir items here!
Admission is free for all at Weir Farm National Historic Site. All tours, special programs, ground access, and parking are free of charge.
Connecticut College Arboretum
Location: Mohegan Avenue, New London
Continue your trip around Connecticut with a visit to the picturesque Connecticut College Arboretum! Explore 750 acres of both landscaped campus grounds, plant collections, managed landscapes, and natural surroundings. Be amazed by the beauty of classic campus buildings merging with the serene views of the Thames River and Long Island Sound.
Connecticut College Arboretum features easy walking paths that are perfect for families with kids. Along the way, admire around 300 kinds of woody plants and other plant collections. You’ll also spot a four-acre pond along the Native Plant Collection walkways!
Head over to the Caroline Black Garden to find trees and shrubs used in creating beautiful landscapes. You’ll also spot mature conifers and a small stream.
Free guided tours run every first and second Sunday of the month from May till November. The first Sunday features a tour to the Native Plant Collection, while the second Sunday tour is a visit to the Caroline Black Garden. Each tour starts at 10 am and runs for 1-1.5 hours.
Visitors are also welcome to take self-guided tours around the arboretum. Head over to the Main Entrance at Williams Street to get your free self-guided tour brochure.
Entrance to the Connecticut College Arboretum is free for all! That makes it one of the most interesting yet cheap things to do in Connecticut.
Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry
Here’s a small but interesting museum that you and your kids will surely enjoy – the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry! It’s a museum that offers great insights into the wonderful world of puppetry all over the world. Ballard Institute prides itself as the State Puppet Museum of Connecticut!
Go on a 45-minute tour of different kinds of puppets around the world. Learn about the rich history of puppetry’s global roots, its current status, and its exciting possibilities in our modern times. There are over 2,500 puppets to be seen in the museum’s collection!
Apart from the colorful puppets, you’ll also see book archives, manuscripts, drawings, posters, photos, and audio-visual materials covering all things related to puppetry!
Of course, puppet shows are included in the fun activities at Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry! You may also participate in various forums and workshops regularly held at the Institute.
Entrance to the Museum of Puppetry is free of charge! The Institute also accepts donations. Book your free tickets online to ensure a spot at the ever-popular puppet shows!
Sunrise State Park
Location: East Haddam, Middlesex County
Completing our list of budget-friendly Connecticut destinations is Sunrise State Park in the town of East Haddam!
Sunrise State Park is formerly known as Sunrise Resort. It is an abandoned 146-acre summer resort at the heart of Middlesex County. The place was created in the 1930s by Ted Hilton and has been actively operating for 92 years.
During its heyday, Sunrise Resort was a bustling area filled with lots of lodging areas, apartments, cabins, pools, cafeterias, and an arcade plaza. Many families flocked to the resort to enjoy music, good food, and recreational activities. However, the resort closed down in 2008 and was sold to the Connecticut Government.
Since then, the resort was re-established as the Sunrise State Park in 2009. It is in the re-wilding process and is rapidly becoming a nature and wildlife haven.
Enjoy a unique experience of exploring the area’s former man-made remnants as it rejoins the natural surroundings! Have a look at the standing abandoned buildings (don’t enter though, these buildings are state property!), go on hikes, and paddle or kayak on the Salmon River.
Your Dream Vacation Home Near Cheap Things to Do in Connecticut
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To sum it all up, a nice vacation in Connecticut need not be expensive! We’ve covered 10 cool, interesting, and cheap things to do in Connecticut. Start planning your Connecticut budget getaway now!