There are plenty of things to do in New Haven CT including wandering through Yale University’s campus and free museums, eating the city’s famous apizza, and exploring its many parks and rail trail.
Nestled in roughly the middle of Connecticut’s coast, New Haven is a city alive with activity, largely centered around renowned Yale University.
Whether it’s visiting a museum, strolling through New Haven’s downtown, or taking in the panoramic view from one of the city’s parks, you’ll find plenty of things to do in New Haven CT.
And best of all…many of the things to do in New Haven are free to the public. That’s because the majority of museums are owned and operated by Yale, which through its endowment, provides free admission to all.
The best things to do in New Haven CT
The following are the best things to focus your itinerary on when visiting New Haven.
Stroll through Yale University’s Old Campus
At the heart of New Haven is the renowned Yale University, a member of the Ivy League and, founded in 1701, the fourth oldest university in the United States.
Yale’s campus is considered to be among “the most beautiful in the world” with its gothic architecture and charming courtyards. And while Yale’s newer buildings are also interesting, it’s the old campus you’ll want to focus your time in.
Anyone is free to throughout Yale’s campus and it’s worth it to spend some time wandering amongst its buildings and green spaces. Yale’s old campus is between College Street, Elm Street, High Street, and Chapel Street. But you’ll notice that the college’s signature gothic architecture stretches into a few adjacent blocks as well.
Grab some apizza
No, that’s not a typo. Apizza is the name of the type of pizza New Haven is known for. And while you’re visiting you’ll definitely want to try some.
Baked in a coal-fired oven, apizza has a thin, crisp, and slightly charred crust. While you’ll find apizza served with the traditional toppings, the two most famous apizzas have clams with no sauce and margherita toppings of mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes.
Visit the Yale University Art Gallery
Among the more cultural things to do in New Haven CT is to visit the Yale University Art Gallery.
As the oldest university art museum in the Western hemisphere, the Yale University Art Gallery has an extensive collection containing more than 200,000 objects including African art, Asian art, early European art, American art, and modern and contemporary art to name a few. You’ll also find Vincent Van Gogh’s famous The Night Cafe here.
All Yale museums are free to the public which means you can spend as much or as little time in them as you’d like. (1111 Chapel Street)
The Yale Center for British Art
Another museum on Yale’s campus you won’t want to miss is the Yale Center for British Art.
Founded by Paul Mellon, an American philanthropist and art collector, who donated his collection of British art to Yale in the 1960s, the Center’s collection spans over 500 years, including paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, and rare books.
And not only is the artwork impressive but the museum’s building, designed by Louis I. Kahn, is considered a masterpiece of modern architecture. Free to the public.
Explore East Rock Park
Among the best outdoor things to do in New Haven CT is to visit East Rock Park.
This 425-acre park is popular among locals as it offers fantastic views of the city, Yale University, Long Island Sound, and the New Haven harbor.
Within the park, you can also explore an extensive trail system, including the popular Giant Steps trail which offers panoramic views. There’s also a playground and picnic tables for anyone to enjoy. Non-hikers can drive the auto road to get to the summit. (41 Cold Spring Street)
Attend a show at the Shubert Theater
A visit to the Shubert Theater in New Haven is a must for theater enthusiasts.
Opened in 1914 and designed in the Italian Renaissance style with 1,600 seats, the Shubert has a long history of hosting a variety of performances over the years, including Broadway shows, concerts, ballets, and everything in between. (247 College Street)
Visit Lighthouse Point Park and its antique carousel
Among the best warm-weather things to do in New Haven CT is to visit Lighthouse Point Park.
Lighthouse Point Park is located in the southernmost part of the city along the shore. Here you’ll find 82 acres of wide open space including a long stretch of beach, a splash play area, a playground, a concession stand, picnic tables, a fishing pier, and walking trails.
Near the beach, you’ll also find the deactivated Five Mile Point Light and the antique Lighthouse Point Carousel. Built in 1916, the carousel operates from Memorial Day through Labor Day and costs only 50 cents to ride. Today there are less than 100 of these carousels still in existence throughout the country. (2 Lighthouse Road)
Bike, run, or walk along the Farmington Canal Trail
New Haven is the starting point for one of the longest trails in all of Connecticut. In fact, the Farmington Canal Trail is so long it – consisting of 81.2 miles – it reaches into Massachusetts. However, while the goal is to eventually have a continuous trail, a few sections still need to be completed.
You can pick up the Farmington Canal Trail on Temple Street in New Haven, between Grove Street and Trumbull Street, not too far from the New Haven Green. Here you’ll find a greenway with a paved path that continues northward up to Southington, totaling 25 miles.
To reach other sections of the trail, it’s currently necessary to travel some distance by road. The gaps in the trail are expected to be completed by 2023. Check the trail’s website for a map and details.
Wander and go shopping in New Haven’s downtown
The heart of downtown New Haven, near Yale University, is home to a variety of boutiques, shops, and eateries.
You’ll find chain stores like Apple, J. Crew, and Urban Outfitters, here. But you’ll also come across independent shops like the women’s clothing store Idiom Boutique, (1014 Chapel Street) or Hull’s Art Supply and Framing (1144 Chapel Street).
Book lovers will want to head over to Atticus Bookstore Cafe for a cozy atmosphere and curated books and gifts (1082 Chapel Street). And a trip to New Haven wouldn’t be complete without a stop in the Yale Bookstore which carries Yale-themed merchandise, and a wide selection of general interest books. (77 Broadway Street)
Visit a Farmer’s Market
Among the warm-weather things to do in New Haven CT is a visit to one of the city’s many farmer’s markets.
These outdoor markets, hosted by CitySeed, showcase fresh produce, baked goods, and other unique specialty items and gifts.
In most years, markets can be found in Wooster Square (511 Chapel Street), Dixwell Q-House (197 Dixwell Avenue), and Edgewood Park (corner of Whalley and West Rock Avenues). The days, times, and months when these markets operate vary so check the website for more information.
CitySeed also hosts a Winter Market from January to March in West Hills Middle School. (511 Chapel Street)
Tour the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
If you’re interested in science, history, and the natural world, you’ll want to make time to tour the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.
This museum has an extensive collection of fossils, minerals, and other specimens, and offers a glimpse into the evolution of life on Earth, including dinosaurs. The Great Hall of Dinosaurs and the Hall of Mammalian Evolution are among the museum’s most popular exhibits, featuring a wide range of specimens from different eras and regions of the world.
In addition to its exhibits, the museum also houses several research centers, making it a hub for cutting-edge scientific research. Free to the public. (170 Whitney Avenue)
Explore Edgerton Park
Adjacent to popular East Rock Park is Edgerton Park, a 25-acre former estate with community gardens, walking paths, and greenhouses.
In 1965, benefactor Fredrick F. Brewster, an industrialist, donated the land to the town of New Haven but stipulated that his house be demolished before turning the grounds into a public park.
Today, the original wall of the estate, greenhouses, a carriage house, and a bridge remain. Edgerton Park is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and its prior owner before Brewster was Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin. (75 Cliff Street)
Catch a play at the Long Wharf Theatre
Among the cultural things to do in New Haven CT is to catch a play at the Long Wharf Theatre.
Established in 1965, Long Wharf Theatre has been at the forefront of the American theater scene, presenting groundbreaking plays and musicals for decades.
The theater’s main stage seats 468 people and has hosted world premieres by major playwrights such as August Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein, and Athol Fugard.
Long Wharf’s programming is known for its focus on contemporary works that explore important social and political issues, as well as classic plays that have stood the test of time. It also presents a mix of dramas, comedies, and musicals, and has a strong commitment to fostering new talent and showcasing emerging playwrights. (222 Sargent Drive)
Visit the Sterling Memorial Library
One experience you won’t want to miss while visiting New Haven is a visit to Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library.
As one of the largest and most prestigious libraries in the world, the Sterling Memorial Library offers a wealth of resources and services for researchers and the general public. Visitors can explore the library’s vast collections, which span a wide range of subjects and time periods and include rare and valuable items such as manuscripts, maps, and ancient texts, including the iconic Gutenberg Bible.
Beyond the collection, an exploration of the library’s stunning architecture and artwork, including the ornate nave and the striking stained-glass window, is worth the visit alone. (120 High Street)
Learn about the history of PEZ candy
Among the fun things to do in New Haven CT is a visit to the PEZ candy visitors center. While technically in Orange, the PEZ Visitor’s Center is only a 12-minute drive from the center of New Haven.
Think of this visitor’s center as an interactive museum that offers a look at the history of PEZ candy and the iconic candy dispensers. You’ll see thousands of PEZ dispensers on display, including rare and vintage pieces.
There’s also a gift shop (of course!) where you can purchase dispensers and candy as well as themed merchandise. (35 Prindle Hill Road, Orange)
Explore the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Among the unique things to do in New Haven CT is visit the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. This library, which is part of Yale’s campus, houses a vast collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps, and other rare materials, with a particular focus on Western civilization.
The library’s building was designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft and completed in 1963, featuring a unique modernist exterior made of translucent marble panels that allow natural light to filter through.
In the library, you’ll find some of the world’s most treasured literary works, including one of the 48 known copies of the Gutenberg Bible and manuscripts by literary giants such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Gertrude Stein. Public visitors are welcome in the exhibition hall at select times during the week (see the website for details). (121 Wall Street)
Stop by The New Haven Museum
To get a better understanding of the history of the city stop by The New Haven Museum.
Established in 1862, the New Haven Museum showcases exhibits on various aspects of the city’s history, including its early colonial past, industrial development, and social and cultural movements. Visitors can take guided tours of the museum or explore the exhibits on their own to gain a better understanding of New Haven’s past. (114 Whitney Avenue)
Visit the Blessed Michael McGivney Center
Anyone interested in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States should stop by the Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgimage Center, formerly known as the Knights of Columbus Museum.
This center was established in November 2020 to advance the vision of Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal organization.
Visitors will learn about McGivney’s life and legacy through the many exhibits of the organization’s history and especially its founder. (1 State Street)
Fly at the Urban Air Adventure Park
Among the things to do in New Haven CT with kids is to visit the Urban Air Adventure Park in nearby Orange.
Here you’ll be able to climb a ropes course, jump on multiple trampolines, try out the trapeze, ride bumper carts and go-karts, fly through the air in a sky rider, play games in the arcade, bowl, and experience a number of other fun activities.
The park is generally open in the afternoon during the week and from 10 AM and into the evening on weekends. (260 Bull Hill Lane, Orange)
Wander through the Grove Street Cemetery
New Haven’s Grove Street Cemetery is one of the oldest burial grounds in the nation having opened in 1796. A walk amongst its tombstones reveals the history of the city.
The cemetery is the resting place of many historically significant figures including, Eli Whitney, the inventor of the transformational cotton gin. And Noah Webster, the first to publish an English language dictionary in the United States, is also laid to rest here.
Grove Street Cemetery is a National Historic Landmark and can be found at the corner of Grove and Prospect Streets. (227 Grove Street)
Visit the Ely Center for Contemporary Art
Another museum worth visiting during a trip to New Haven is the Ely Center for Contemporary Art.
Located in a historic 1901 English Elizabethan-style house, the Center is dedicated to promoting contemporary artists’ works that are “challenging, conceptual, and provocative”. The center also strives to be diverse and inclusive while promoting “dialogue around global and community issues”.
Check the website for recent exhibits and hours. (51 Trumbull Street)
Explore the Marsh Botanical Garden
A visit to The Marsh Botanical Garden reveals a hidden gem on the Yale University campus. Here you’ll find a beautiful and tranquil outdoor space filled with a diverse array of plant life, including exotic and rare specimens from around the world.
In addition to the garden’s natural beauty, you’ll also have the opportunity to explore the greenhouses, which house a collection of tropical plants and orchids. Reservations may be necessary. Check the website for more details. Admission is free. (265 Mansfield Street)
Bring the kids to the Connecticut Children’s Museum
Families of young children visiting New Haven over the weekend will want to spend some time at the Connecticut Children’s Museum in downtown New Haven.
This hands-on educational museum is designed for children ages 2-10 and has a focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts. Examples of interactive exhibits for kids include being able to pilot a spaceship, conduct science experiments, explore the human body, and design and build structures.
The museum is open on Saturdays from 12 PM – 5 PM. Admission is $10 per person over the age of 1. (22 Wall Street)
Wander through the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments
Those with a deep interest in music, and particularly music history, will want to make a stop at the Morris Steinert Collection of Musical Instruments. The instruments range from a number of different cultures and time periods. Admission is free.
The Collection is typically open Tuesday through Friday, 1 PM – 4 PM, and Sunday, 1 PM – 5 PM, September through July. Check the website for any updates regarding hours. (15 Hillhouse Avenue)
Climb high on the It Adventure Ropes Course
Among the fun things to do in New Haven CT with children is to visit the It Adventure Ropes Course.
This huge indoor facility calls itself “the largest ropes course in the world”. There are four levels of activities and 100+ challenges including zip lines, bridges, swinging beams, and numerous rope ladders.
The minimum height to participate at It Adventure is 48” or 42” with an adult chaperone. Admission is between $20-$25 per hour (check the website for details). This course is located inside a Jordan’s Furniture Store. (40 Sargent Drive)
Take in the Panoramic views at West Rock Ridge State Park
Among the outdoorsy things to do in New Haven CT, is to take in the views from West Rock Ridge State Park.
Similar to East Rock Park, West Rock Ridge cliffs provide vistas of downtown New Haven and the suburban towns to the west of the city.
There are also 21 miles of trails within the park including the Regicides Trail that runs along the ridgecrest. Visitors can also partake in fishing, horseback riding, rock climbing, boating, picnicking, and cross-country skiing in the winter. (1134 Wintergreen Avenue)
About Kerry Flatley
Kerry Flatley has lived in New England for the past 26 years. She has roots in Maine & Massachusetts, family in New Hampshire, and grew up close to the Connecticut border. She loves all that this region has to offer – the ocean, mountains, islands, history, villages, and cities. When she’s not writing about New England, she’s relaxing at home in the Boston suburbs with her two teenage daughters and husband.