12 Things To Do in Waterbury, Connecticut

Last Updated on February 27, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Nestled in New Haven County, Waterbury is a mid-sized city in Connecticut with a rich history and many attractions. Once a bustling brass manufacturing center, the city has reinvented itself into a vibrant destination with museums, performing arts, historic sites, and some of the best pizza in the world.

With its prime location in central Connecticut, Waterbury makes for an ideal day trip or weekend getaway if you’re staying in New Haven, Hartford or along the Connecticut shoreline. The 12 things highlighted in this article will give you a great overview of sites and activities to fill your itinerary when visiting Waterbury.

Sample Apizza at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana

No trip to Waterbury is complete without sampling its famous pizza, Apizza. And there’s no better place to experience authentic Naples-style pizza than Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana. This beloved local establishment first opened in 1925 using recipes straight from Italy.

Today, Pepe’s award-winning white clam pie draws pizza aficionados from far and wide who don’t mind waiting in line for a taste. The crisp yet chewy crust comes loaded with fresh clams, olive oil, oregano and grated cheese. For a delightful combo, order the white clam topped with bacon. Pepe’s has expanded over the years but the Wooster Street location in New Haven remains a popular flagship.

Learn about the City’s History at the Mattatuck Museum

As Waterbury’s premier arts and history museum, the Mattatuck Museum is considered the best introduction to the cultural heritage of greater Waterbury. Exhibits chronologically showcase the history and diverse communities that helped shape the region, spanning early indigenous people, Colonial times, the American Civil War and Waterbury’s rise as an industrial powerhouse producing brass, clocks and watches.

Don’t miss displays on legendary Waterbury clock companies like the Seth Thomas Clock Company. Art lovers can admire the museum’s impressive permanent collection which includes a riotous mix of classical art, Connecticut Impressionists, the Hudson River School, 20th century modernists, Postwar and Contemporary pieces.

Stroll Through History at the Waterbury Green Historic District

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Waterbury Green showcases the city’s beautifully preserved 19th and early 20th century architecture. The Green served as the starting point for Waterbury’s early industrial and civic expansion. Lining the Green are historic buildings like City Hall, churches, banks, retail stores and commercial buildings constructed in high styles ranging from Victorian to Art Deco.

Be sure to appreciate architectural details as you stroll by. Standouts include the Mayor’s Office featuring carved brownstone, the Victorian Gothic Revival style of First Congregational Church and the soaring vaulted interior of the 1912 Beaux-Arts City Hall and Opera House. The Green area also hosts free outdoor events and concerts during summer.

See Stunning City Views from Holy Land USA

Sitting atop Pine Hill just outside Waterbury lies the ghostly yet striking remnants of Holy Land USA. This abandoned 18-acre theme park opened in 1960 displaying miniature replicas of Biblical sites and scenes around a glowing 50-foot steel cross.

After falling into disrepair the park closed in 1984. Today visitors can still access the grounds to glimpse debris filled sites and climb the winding path to be rewarded with panoramic views high above Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley. The illuminated cross still crowns the hillside like a beacon. Photographers flock here to capture the ironic beauty in decay and the magnificent sunsets.

Enjoy Nature at the Chase Family Ski Slope

Offering a scenic natural backdrop from downtown Waterbury, Chase Family Ski Slope lets you enjoy fresh air and outdoor recreation minutes from the city center. Operated by the Waterbury Park and Recreation Department, this community park encompasses a 1,500-foot long snow ski slope, 7 kilometers of woodland walking trails and a quaint old field stone warming hut at the base of the hill.

When cold temps bring snow, locals flock here for affordable skiing and snow tubing. Year round the trails welcome hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers. Pack a picnic lunch to eat al fresco style at the tables dotting the park. Families also enjoy the park’s playground, game courts and picturesque landscaping.

Check Out Creepy Cryptids at the Beacon Falls Monster Mart

The only store in Connecticut solely devoted to monsters and cryptids, Beacon Falls Monster Mart offers a unique experience for visitors of all ages. Meet owner Rob Krischunas and view his menagerie of handcrafted replicas depicting legendary creatures like Bigfoot, werewolves, mermaids, Mothman and the Jersey Devil.

Many pieces are created in tribute to reported Connecticut and regional sightings. Buy a souvenir figurine or get lost wandering floor-to-ceiling displays ranging from creepy mummies, aliens and movie villains to horror icons like Frankenstein and a life size Elvira. Don’t know a Chupacabra from a Wendigo? Ask Rob all your burning questions about monsters! Monster Mart celebrates spooky in the most friendly way.

Catch Rising Talent at Seven Angels Theatre

Boasting a prime venue in the newly revived Palace Theater building, Seven Angels Theatre supports Waterbury’s lively performing arts scene. This professional non-profit theater company stages an eclectic lineup showcasing a mix of topical works, reimagined classics and cheeky comedy shows. Musicals are often on rotation featuring impressive regional talent.

For something completely original check their schedule for experimental theater collaborations or new play reading events. Fostering rising talent in Connecticut, Seven Angels also hosts student productions from area schools. Reasonably priced tickets keep shows accessible for locals while welcoming visitors. With full stage sets and intimate seating, Seven Angels brings Broadway caliber theater to Waterbury.

Tour the Timexpo Museum

Watch fanatics will appreciate the historic horology exhibits at the Timexpo Museum, an endeavor by the Timex Group USA headquartered in Middlebury. Their collection showcases over 160 years of the company’s pioneering work plus precursors that influenced early timekeeping.

See Renaissance sundials, 18th century pocket watches, porcelain clock sets and vintage Timkex wristwatches from the 1940s to the digital era. Standout pieces include Mickey Mouse watches prototypes and rare celebrity endorsed pieces like Elvis, The Beatles and Marilyn Monroe collaborations. Don’t know the difference between a tourbillon and a chronograph? Interactive displays demonstrate the craftsmanship behind watch movements, cases and dials. Visitors gain appreciation for Connecticut’s innovators advancing time technology through the centuries.

Gorge on Pizza All Day Long

Here’s a unique way to experience Waterbury’s famous pizza scene. Participate in the competitive eating event known as the Pizza Tour de Waterbury held on the last Sunday of every August. Teams bike between the city’s top pizza joints seeing who can consume the most ‘za in 3 hours.

The tour traditionally begins downtown at Amici’s Restaurant sampling their brick oven pies then heads to Pepe’s followed by stops at a dozen other acclaimed pizzerias. While the timed pizza gorging competition has its champions more relaxed riders simply soak in the street festival vibe enjoying delicious pizza. Expect good natured pizza wars as shops try wowing customers with most unique speciality pies. Join the festivities or plan a DIY tour any weekend.

Explore Industrial History on the Naugatuck River Greenway Trail

Stretching from Torrington to Derby, the still developing Naugatuck River Greenway Trail system aims to follow the river end-to-end eventually totaling over 40 miles for hiking and cycling. Sections traversing Waterbury make nice short urban hikes with opportunities to witness old mills, factories and hardware plants that fueled the region’s past manufacturing legacy.

The most scenic segment starts downtown at Library Park heading south to Chase Park. Here the trail parallels the river lined with abandoned industrial complexes like Scovill Manufacturing. Interpretive signs explain their history while graffiti art adds visual intrigue. North of downtown completed trail sections reach from Library Park to Rotary Park while additional lengths are actively being developed.

Celebrate Cultural Diversity During Ethnic Heritage Festivals

Among Waterbury’s best qualities is the rich cultural diversity found in its neighborhoods which annually manifests through spirited heritage festivals. Both Oakville and Brooklyn neighborhoods host popular June events celebrating Italian culture through live music, traditional dancing, foods, carnival rides and a procession honoring St. Anthony of Padua the beloved patron saint.

In August the Gathering of the Vibes event in Wolcott celebrates all things Caribbean for a vibrant homecoming festival drawing West Indian transplants from across New England and New York. Event food vendors provide samplings of curry goat, jerk chicken, oxtail stew and curry potatoes while reggae bands keep festivities pumping all weekend long. Embrace Waterbury’s multiculturalism by adding an ethnic festival to your social calendar.

Tour the Last Folder and Fastener Company Factory in the US

Once the “Brass City” manufacturing mecca of the world, Waterbury has nearly seen all its factories close down. Yet one small family business still carries the torch of American labor production. The Sylvan Brandt factory represents the lone folder and fastener company still operating in the US.

Third generation owner Craig Brandt leads brief free tours explaining how punches and presses crank out pins, brads, binder rings and rivets much as they have since opening in 1937. Seeing the machines running nonstop visitors gain appreciation for goods still made locally versus outsourced overseas. Employees take pride sharing their craft and Waterbury’s industrious heritage keeping history alive one rivet at a time.

Conclusion

With its prime central Connecticut location, vibrant multi-cultural communities and pivotal manufacturing history, Waterbury makes an appealing travel destination away from the state’s crowded tourist havens. Upping its urban revitalization efforts in recent years, the city now balances modernizing while preserving its past identity through historical sites and cultural festivals.

Foodies flock here to sample famous pizza but can fill an itinerary finding more hidden charms like Holy Land’s hilltop views, industrial heritage along the Naugatuck River and community spirit during seasonal celebrations. For theater, art or running the ski slope locals embrace the small city lifestyle. When visiting New Haven or Hartford save a date to also uncover these 12 things to do showcasing why Waterbury warrants more travel attention.

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