12 Things To Do With Family In Bristol, Connecticut

Last Updated on March 4, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Bristol is a charming small city located in Hartford County, Connecticut. With its rich history dating back to the 17th century, diverse cultural attractions, and abundant parks and nature centers, Bristol offers many interesting things for families to see and do together.

From exploring the forests and farmlands that surround Bristol to learning about the city’s manufacturing past at historic sites, this guide will provide you with 12 exciting family-friendly activities in Bristol, CT.

Learn About Bristol’s History at the American Clock & Watch Museum

The American Clock & Watch Museum is one of Bristol’s standout attractions that offers a glimpse into the city’s history as a major center of clockmaking in the 19th century. This museum houses an extensive collection of over 1500 American-made clocks and watches dating from the early 18th century to present times.

Families can tour the museum exhibits depicting the evolution of clockmaking technology and innovations over the past 300 years. Kids can view the Introductory exhibit showing them how early clocks work and compare old wind-up alarm clocks with new modern smartwatches. Overall, it’s an enlightening experience to understand Bristol’s integral role in the clock making industry.

The museum also hosts educational events and programs such as watch disassembling workshops where families can learn hands-on how mechanical timepieces work. With affordable admission prices, the American Clock & Watch Museum makes for an intriguing history-filled visit for families in Bristol.

Marvel at Beautiful Blooms at Elizabeth Park

Spanning over 100 acres, Elizabeth Park is one of the finest public rose gardens in the country displaying over 15,000 rose bushes. Families can leisurely stroll along meandering pathways viewing vibrantly colored roses and floral arrangements surrounding a historic pond. One of the main highlights here is the Rose Garden built in 1904 which contains over 800 varieties of roses in sculpted floral beds and arches.

From late May through October, these beds burst into full bloom showcasing a kaleidoscope of pink, red, white, yellow and orange hues. The scenic park also contains picnicking spots perfect for relaxation, woodland walking trails ideal for short nature hikes, and the Pond House Cafelocated within a vintage 1914 building providing light snacks and refreshments. With free admission, Elizabeth Park’s gorgeous floral gardens make it a blissful green oasis for families to enjoy in Bristol.

Explore the Trails of Pine Lake

For scenic nature experiences, head over to Pine Lake which spans over 138 acres featuring diverse wildlife habitats and vegetation. Families can choose from three color coded loop trails that vary from easy to moderate difficulty levels. The easy 1.1 mile Red Trail offers lakefront views while winding through open fields and thickets of mountain laurel bushes.

The moderate 1.9 mile Blue Trail adds hills and traverses through pine and hemlock groves. Lastly, the most challenging 3.7 mile Green Trail encircles the lake and passes by wetlands. Along the hike, you may spot songbirds, northern flickers woodpeckers, eastern painted turtles and more. The serene glacial lake also has a swimming area and fishing pier. With no admission fee, Pine Lake’s peaceful woodland trails make for rejuvenating outdoor trips for families.

Tour the Local History at Barnes Nature Center

For immersive experiences into Bristol’s natural landscapes and heritage, visit the Barnes Nature Center situated on 130 acres of forests, fields and wetlands. Families can explore 3.5 miles of nature trails passing through diverse ecosystems like Peat Bog Wetlands to gain insights into indigenous plants and local wildlife. The trails also feature historic sights like the Whittemore Standpipe tower built in 1906 that stored water for downtown Bristol.

The Nature Center building itself is a reconstructed dairy barn from the 1920s containing educational exhibits spotlighting the geological transformations of Connecticut over billions of years leading to the current natural environments found around Bristol. Kids can hands-on interact with displays illustrating how glaciers shaped the land and get a first-hand glimpse of native reptiles and amphibians. With free admission and regular public programs, Barnes Nature Center makes for an engaging ecological and historical adventure for families.

See a Show at Bristol’s Spotlight Theatres

For evenings full of laughs and live entertainment, Bristol’s Spotlight Theatres on Burlington Avenue offers great theatric performances suitable for family audiences. Owned and operated by the non-profit Bristol Centre for the Arts, Spotlight Theatres contains two intimate theater spaces seating 130 and 165 people.

Families can enjoy comedies, musicals and dramas acted out by talented youth to mature adult performers from Bristol’s theatre community. Bristol Centre for the Arts also runs a Children’s Summer Theatre camp where kids can participate in fun music, dance, acting workshops culminating in a full musical production. With affordable tickets, Spotlight Theatres provides quality local theater productions for the whole family to enjoy in Bristol.

Go Bowling at Bowl-O-Rama

For some old-school family fun, head to Bowl-O-Rama, Bristol’s beloved bowling center that has been serving up strikes and spares for over 60 years. Families can bond over friendly bowling games on their well-maintained lanes outfitted with bumpers for kids.

Groups can also rent out private lanes for birthday parties and events. After working up an appetite scoring strikes and spares,satisfy cravings at their on-site restaurant which serves classic American fare like burgers, wings, salads and more. Open every day from early afternoon to late evenings, Bowl-O-Rama offers wholesome entertainment the entire family can enjoy together in Bristol.

Tour the American Mural Project

Dedicated to celebrating and preserving the disappearing art of modern mural painting, the American Mural Project is a standout cultural organization located in a converted mill building in the heart of Bristol. Families can tour AMP’s expansive contemporary art space viewing stunning larger-than-life murals painted by renowned artists.

Kids can try their hand at painting vibrant brushstrokes onto movable scaffolding to understand the grand-scale mural creation process. The Project’s artist studios also offer creative youth programs teaching mural painting techniques. With free admission Tuesday through Saturday, the American Mural Project provides inspiring and educational fine arts experiences for families in Bristol.

Go Back in Time at the New England Carousel Museum

Located in downtown Bristol, the New England Carousel Museum contains one of the largest collections of beautifully restored old-fashioned merry-go rounds and carved carousel animals. Families can view rare antique carousels dating from the 1900s assembled by avid collector Dan Campbell.

Kids love seeing the hand painted horses, chariots, giraffes and tigers meticulously adorned with glimmering glass jewels and gold leaf trimming. The Museum hosts fun special events like carousel talks explaining the art of carousel craftsmanship and live organ concerts filling the building with cheerful carousel melodies. With discounted rates for kids under 12, the New England Carousel Museum delivers a delightful ride back into the golden age of carousels for families.

Enjoy a Nature Walk at Indian Rock Nature Preserve

Spanning over 114 acres, Indian Rock Nature Preserve offers families scenic hiking trails through woodlands filled with fascinating geological features. The kid-friendly terrain here has little elevation change making it an easier hike with toddlers and children. Along the 1.3 mile loop trail, you’ll pass by a huge glacial erratic boulder weighing over 275 tons placed during the Ice Age called Indian Rock.

Kids love trying to climb small sections or get their picture taken next to the giant rock. The surrounding Nature Preserve also contains sparkling springs, hemlock groves, wetlands and Native American archaeological sites. With interpretive signs describing natural elements, Indian Rock Nature Preserve provides an enjoyable educational nature walk for families in Bristol.

Have Fun at Rockwell Park

Situated on the banks of the scenic Pequabuck River, Rockwell Park has been a beloved community park for Bristol families for over a century. Families come to enjoy picnics on the sprawling lawns and partake in fun summertime activities together. The park contains a large wooden playground structure where kids can climb obstacle towers, cross wobbly bridges and zip down slides.

On hot days, children can splash around in the swimming hole swimming area roped off along the Pequabuck River. Basketball courts, tennis courts and baseball diamonds offer spaces for sport fun. The park also hosts free music concerts and movie nights during summer providing laidback evenings under the stars. With pedestrian walking bridges over the river and gorgeous views, Rockwell Park is perfect for relaxed afternoons with the family.

Visit the Imagine Nation Museum

Dedicated to nurturing creativity in children, the Imagine Nation Museum located in downtown Bristol provides loads of fun hands-on activities for families. This children’s museum designed for kids 1-8 years old allows them to imagine, build and play across multiple themed exhibit spaces.

Families can construct skyscrapers in Build It, make funny sounds with giant musical instruments in SoundScape, or tell imaginative stories using plush toys and puppets in Once Upon a Time. For messy arts fun, the Art Studio has play dough sculpting tables and kinetic sand stations for tactile creation. With affordable admission rates and annual memberships, Imagine Nation Museum helps inspire innovative thinking and self-expression in children through interactive play.

Tour the Lake Compounce Amusement Park

No family trip to Bristol is complete without a visit to Lake Compounce Amusement Park, New England’s oldest continuously operating amusement park since 1846. Families can scream their hearts out plunging down adrenaline-pumping rollercoasters like the pulse-racing Boulder Dash coaster accelerating up to 60 mph.

Kids love hopping aboard Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood themed train ride chugging around the whole park. Families can also enjoy more relaxed fun like gently spinning tea cups, antique carousels and lakeside paddle boats.

Lake Compounce hosts immersive seasonal events like a dazzling Holiday Lights displays during Christmas and a frightfully fun Haunted Graveyard during Halloween. With affordable rates on passes, Lake Compounce Amusement Park delivers thrilling entertainment the whole family enjoys in Bristol.

Conclusion


With its small town charm yet abundance of cultural, recreational and natural attractions, Bristol offers many memorable activities for families to enjoy quality time together. From admiring beautiful blooms in Elizabeth Park’s Rose Garden to experiencing interactive exhibits at Imagine Nation children’s museum, Bristol provides exciting indoor and outdoor destinations guaranteed to educate, spark creativity and forge lasting memories for everyone in the family.

With scenic trails perfect for short nature hikes to bowling fun at Bowl-O-Rama, Bristol has activities tailored for all interests and ages. So take a day trip or weekend getaway with the whole family to beautiful Bristol, Connecticut to discover rewarding experiences at these 12 remarkable locations across the city.

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