Attractions in the Constitution State That Won’t Cost You a Penny
At only 110 miles at its widest point and 70 miles at its longest, Connecticut may be a compact state, but its diverse landscape offers plenty of free activities for families traveling on a tight budget. For vacationers in search of rest and relaxation, cozy seaside villages often give way to pristine beaches and green open spaces, many of which are free to explore. Families wishing for a more sophisticated experience should visit larger Connecticut cities, some of which are dotted with renowned museums and active government buildings, which you can often visit at no cost.
Submerging Into Fun
Set along the Thames River in the town of Groton, the Submarine Force Library and Museum (1 Crystal Lake Rd., Groton, CT) is operated by the U.S. Navy and celebrates the history of the underwater vessel. Visitors are greeted by a series of small submarines stationed outside the museum’s front doors. Once inside, explore exhibits filled with thousands of artifacts and models and photographs documenting the development of submarines through the years. Kids in particular will enjoy the recreation of a submarine’s attack center and the full-size replica of Bushnell's Turtle, the pioneering vessel used during the American Revolutionary War. Make sure you walk to the pier and step inside the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered vessel, where you can tour the torpedo room, control room and crew’s mess.
Just across the river from Groton is the city of New London, home to the Connecticut College Arboretum (270 Mohegan Ave., New London, CT). Spread across 750 acres, the arboretum offers free self-guided and guided tours. Spend your day wandering across undeveloped natural areas dotted with ponds, islands and salt marshes, or visit the on-site greenhouse filled with an extensive cacti and orchid collection. The arboretum is free to visitors year-round, whether winter snow blankets the ground or fall foliage dots the landscape. Free events also take place throughout the year, including curated wildflower walks during the spring, nature talks reserved for kids and evening strolls under the full moon.
Politics in Action
Watch democracy at work at the Connecticut State Capitol (210 Capitol Ave., Hartford, CT) via free, one-hour guided tours, available year-round on weekdays. Learn all about the history of this 1878 Victorian Gothic building, which is based in the heart of downtown Hartford, as you walk its stately marble halls. The educational tour also gives kids insight into some of Connecticut’s most storied figures, such as Governor William Buckingham and Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale. Tours also include stops inside the Hall of Flags, the Connecticut Hall of Fame, and, when possible, the House and Senate chambers where you may observe the legislative session from the public galleries.
Fine Art for the Family
Set on the Yale campus, the esteemed Yale University Art Gallery (1111 Chapel St., New Haven, CT) houses more than 200,000 pieces of art, with the collection highlighting such items as ancient Roman sculptures, Edgar Degas paintings and Dorothea Lange photos. Not only is admission to the museum free, but the venue also stages no-cost family-friendly events throughout the year, including the Stories and Art program, which rolls out story and craft time sessions for kids. The information desk offers activity handouts for children about to tour the museum, while weekly teen programs include snacks and give burgeoning artists the tools needed to express themselves in a variety of mediums.
A Day at the Beach
Based halfway between the towns of New Haven and Bridgeport, the Silver Sands State Park (1 Silver Sands Park Way, Milford, CT) is set along the shores of Long Island Sound. Summer fun is on tap as you spend the day swimming, fishing or bird-watching in a region teeming with more than 200 species of feathered friends. Set out for an adventure upon the park’s three miles of boardwalk trails as you soak up views of the surrounding water, wetlands and dunes. On days when the tide is low, you’ll be able to walk to nearby Charles Island, the reported home of Captain Kidd’s 17th-century buried treasure.
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A travel writer since 2002, Leah Rendon has written countless articles for online pop-culture magazines and various travel-related websites, including Eurobooking and World66. Gosford also has experience in copywriting, having developed a series of articles related to network marketing. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a degree in theater arts.