12 Things To Do in New Haven, Connecticut

New Haven is a historic and vibrant city located in southwest Connecticut along the Long Island Sound. With its rich history and culture, diverse neighborhoods, renowned dining scene, and Ivy League influence as the home of Yale University, New Haven has so much to offer visitors.

From world-class museums and theaters to historic parks and architecture, unique shops and one-of-a-kind restaurants, there are many great things to do and see in New Haven. The city also serves as a gateway to the surrounding towns of the Connecticut Shoreline and Litchfield Hills if you’re looking to explore more of the Constitution State during your visit.

To help you make the most of your time, here are 12 can’t-miss activities and attractions to have on your New Haven itinerary:

Visit Yale University and Tour the Yale Campus

As New Haven’s most famous institution, no trip here is complete without visiting Yale University. Established in 1701 as the Collegiate School, Yale is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States.

The school’s sprawling campus features architectural styles ranging from Victorian Gothic to modernist. Iconic sights include the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and its six-story glass tower containing rare books and documents. Marvel at the exterior of Sterling Memorial Library, Yale’s main library with one of the largest collections in the world.

For indoor access to some of Yale’s famed buildings, join a free one-hour student-led tour from the Yale Visitor Center. Or opt for a specialty themed tour instead, covering subjects like Yale’s art galleries, history, and science collections. Can’t-missphoto ops on campus include snapping selfies in front of Ingalls Rink, Yale’s hockey rink nicknamed “the Whale” for its curved roof resembling a whale’s back.

Explore the Yale University Art Gallery

In addition to impressive architecture, Yale’s campus is home to magnificent art collections free and open to the public at the Yale University Art Gallery. The on-campus museum was founded in 1832, making it the oldest university art museum in the Western Hemisphere.

Spanning three adjoining buildings, the museum’s vast collections encompass over 250,000 objects. Wander European and American paintings showcasing works by Picasso, Van Gogh, and Pollock. Discover exquisite antiquities, costumes, coins, sculptures, and modern art. One must-see exhibit is Yale’s renowned collection of Cypriot Art, featuring artifacts that date back over 6,000 years.

Allow at least 2-3 hours to tour the gallery’s expansive collections spanning 5,000 years of human creativity and culture. Free one-hour guided tours are also offered if you want to learn more about featured exhibitions or collections.

Shop and Dine on Yale’s Chapel Street

Adjacent to the university campus, Chapel Street offers a fun glimpse into student life at Yale. Browser eclectic shops selling Yale merchandise, gifts, clothing, and more. Or pick up collegiate memorabilia at the Yale Co-op, run by Barnes & Noble.

Chapel Street is also lined with over a dozen bars, restaurants, and cafes catering to students and visitors alike. Grab a cupcake from Milkcraft Emporium or enjoy coffee and gelato under twinkling lights at Atticus Bookstore Café. For heartier meals, visit dining institutions like Claire’s Corner Copia for vegetarian fare or Louis’ Lunch for burgers.Legend claims the hamburger sandwich was invented here in 1900!

See a Show or Exhibit at Yale Repertory Theatre

Yale Repertory Theatre serves as Yale School of Drama’s main stage, hosting world-premiere shows and innovative takes on modern classics. The Tony Award-winning theater company has debuted works by esteemed playwrights like August Wilson and Paula Vogel that went on to Broadway.

Catch a matinee or evening show in the theater’s intimate 500-seat auditorium. Productions range from bold dramas to musicals to comedies, so check out the season’s lineup when planning your visit. Before performances, mingle with fellow theatergoers over drinks in the plush lobby or lounge area.

Can’t catch a show? Theater lovers can still tour Yale Rep’s distinctive angular grey brick building designed by architect Aldo Rossi. The onsite gift shop sells Yale Rep merchandise along with scripts and theater-themed gifts.

Tour the Shops, Galleries, and Restaurants on Audubon Street

New Haven’s hip Audubon Arts District centers around a three-block stretch of Audubon Street in the downtown area. Mosey along, poking into chic boutiques, craft studios, wine bars, and other locally-owned businesses.

Standouts include Artisan jewelry shop Bregular Nest, Clementine paper and gifts, and Idylwild, selling children’s toys and clothes. Stop for a glass of wine at The Red Hen or breakfast waffles topped with fried chicken at ordinary.

Many studios and galleries extend open invitations to pop inside. Highlights include AKUS Gallery with Haitian art and sculptures, Hendeles Art with rotating contemporary art exhibits, and Creative Arts Workshop’s ceramics and weaving studios. Peak inside Erector Square, a former factory converted into workspaces for over 300 artists and small businesses.

The lovely brick buildings now home to this district were formerly the headquarters of Winchester Repeating Arms Company in the late 1800s. Factory workers’ homes were later built in the early 1900s to house immigrant families from Italy, Poland, and Ireland who came to work at the Winchester factory.

Marvel at the Rare Book Treasures at Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Bibliophiles visiting Yale absolutely must add the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library to their New Haven itinerary. Part of Yale University Library’s system of libraries, the Gordon Bunshaft-designed building houses one of the world’s foremost collections of rare books and manuscripts.

Over 1 million printed volumes include a Gutenberg Bible on vellum, one of only five copies in the Americas. The Beinecke also holds illuminated manuscripts spanning the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, such as the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux.

Papers and correspondence provide fascinating glimpses into historical figures like explorer Marco Polo, American presidents, novelists Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, and iconic composers like Mozart. Don’t miss seeing one of only 24 surviving copies of the Gutenberg Bible across the globe.

Even the Beinecke building itself showcases impressive architecture. The exterior’s Vermont marble and granite walls appear solid, but are instead translucent glass panels filtering light to protect the rare collections while still welcoming visitors inside.

See an Imax Movie at Maritime Aquarium

For family-friendly fun just outside downtown, make a day trip to Norwalk to visit the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. Situated along the scenic Norwalk Harbor with views of Long Island Sound, the aquarium features harbor seals, sharks, sea turtles, and jellyfish.

Catch daily feedings and trainer presentations with the harbor seals and river otters. Marvel at colorful exotic fish, playful African penguins, and stealthy sand tiger sharks gliding overhead in the massive Ocean Beyond the Sound exhibit.

movies at the aquarium’s six-story IMAX Theater screen Hollywood blockbusters, kid-friendly animated tales, and educational documentaries focused on nature and exploration. Afterward, take an educational 30-minute boat cruise aboard the research vessel Spirit of the Sound, relaxing on deck while watching for local marine life like birds, lighthouses and buoys marking oyster beds.

The Maritime Aquarium also hosts fun seasonal events like weekend seal cruises, summer fireworks viewing, and Halloween trick-or-treating throughout the aquarium exhibits each October.

Relax at Edgerton Park

New Haven boasts many wonderful parks, but Edgerton Park perfectly encapsulates the city’s blend of nature, history, and culture. Unfolding over 93 acres, the park makes an idyllic setting for picnics, hiking, birdwatching, or just relaxing under towering trees.

Along with hiking trails winding past ponds and stone outcroppings, Edgerton contains several historic sites. Visit the nineteenth century Carpenter Gothic-style James J. Goodwin Castle perched atop a hill overlooking New Haven. Tour interior rooms like the grand parlor and walk the castle’s medieval English style gardens and grounds.

Edgerton Park also contains the Mount Carmel spiritualist camp, established as part of the nineteenth century Spiritualist movement whose followers believed communicating with spirits of the dead was possible. Mount Carmel offers Spiritualist church services, medium workshops, and holistic wellness offerings.

Throughout Edgerton Park, keep eyes peeled for local wildlife including over 100 bird species mating or migrating through the area. Popular species spotting include warblers, hawks, herons, robins, and hummingbirds visiting the park’s flowering gardens.

Check Out the Nightlife and Music Scene

As a spirited college town centered around Yale, New Haven lays claim to an eclectic dining, bar, and music scene. The downtown area along Crown Street and College Street offers plenty of nightlife options. Mingle with Ivy League and college crowds over craft cocktails at Barcade, Ordinary, or Anchor Spa. Hear local bands or touring indie artists perform at Pacific Standard Tavern, Toad’s Place, or College Street Music Hall in the historic Taft Hotel.

For a uniquely Yale tradition, head to one of New Haven’s which originated as university singing groups. Today, students and alumni gather at tables inside cozy taprooms like Restaurant Rudy’s, BAR Nightclub, or Box 63 for evenings filled with friends, beers, and plenty of a cappella songs. Even visitors are welcome to join in the fun!

Beyond downtown New Haven, explore music and nightlife in other dynamic districts like the Ninth Square neighborhood or along Whalley Avenue heading toward Westville village. Find more tucked-away taprooms, late-night eateries serving global cuisine, hookah lounges, and intimate music venues hosting jazz nights.

Try New Haven’s Iconic Pizza

No visit to New Haven is complete without sampling locally beloved pizza, often claimed to be the best in country! The city birt furiously over who crafts the ultimate New Haven-style thin crust pizza, characterized by chewy charred crust, tangy tomato sauce, and just the right amount of melty mozzarella.

Modern Apizza, Sally’s Apizza, Pepe’s Apizza, and Zuppardi’s Apizza frequently top nationwide pizza rankings. Other favorites include Next Door by Piccolo, Kitchen Zinco, and Barracuda. Ready to judge the best pie yourself? Embark on your own pizza taste test challenge of New Haven’s most iconic pizzerias!

Can’t decide where to start? Join a culinary walking tour of Wooster Square, New Haven’s “Little Italy” neighborhood studded with Italian markets, bakeries, and legendary pizza joints. Local guides share pizza recommendations and insight into the area’s 20th century Italian immigrant history while leading you to iconic New Haven pizzerias for slices along the route.

Admire Architecture in the Yale Old Campus Historic District

Architecture buffs will delight touring Yale University’s Old Campus historic district showcasing iconic Gothic revival college buildings. The adjoining New Haven Green historic district also impresses with 18th and 19th century churches and municipal buildings.

At Yale’s Old Campus, iconic structures include Connecticut Hall with its 1752 Georgian-style red brick facade marking it as the longest-standing building on Yale’s campus. Right across Beinecke Plaza lies Phelps Hall, a 1865 Victorian Gothic dorm displaying intricate carvings.

Cross over to the New Haven Green to discover three historical 18th century churches situated around the town green. Visit the Georgian style Center Church on the Green, Trinity Church displaying English Gothic architecture, and the Federal style United Church with its tall white spire.

Architectural history tours visit both districts, guiding you inside select buildings while docents detail significance. Or pick up a free self-guided walk map of the New Haven Green district from the New Haven Museum to explore at your own pace.

Experience the Arts and Culture Scene

A thriving arts and culture scene flourishes in New Haven, led by Yale but encompassing numerous museums, galleries, festivals, and entertainment venues across the city.

The Yale University Art Gallery and Yale Center for British Art house stunning world-class fine art collections. While the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library showcases literary and musical arts treasures.

Museums like the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and the Knights of Columbus Museum add rich cultural offerings focused on anthropology, area history, Catholic heritage, and more. Family-friendly attractions like the Shubert Theatre, International Festival Arts & Ideas events, and the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade also delight visitors.

New Haven bursts with additional live music scenes, indie cinemas, stand-up comedy nights, author talks, cultural festivals, and LGTBQ events welcoming everyone to come experience the creative pulse of the city. Check online event listings, ask at visitor centers and hotels, or simply follow intriguing music drifting out from galleries or theater doorways as you explore downtown and its spirited neighborhoods!

Conclusion


With its vibrant mix of Ivy League culture, history, dining, arts, and architecture, New Haven delivers no shortage of fun things to do for travelers. From iconic Yale University sights and pizza pilgrimages to museums, nature strolls, and show stopping architecture, visitors can craft an itinerary mixing quintessential New Haven experiences along with plenty of local flavor over the course of their stay.

Whether visiting family or students at Yale, or just getting away for a New England weekend, New Haven invites visitors to discover celebrated institutions and local secrets for an enriching getaway. Use the 12 attractions outlined as a launch point while crafting your own New Haven travels.

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