- 1 Things to do in Mystic, Connecticut
- 1.1 Visit Mystic Seaport, a living history museum
- 1.2 Spend a day at the Mystic Aquarium
- 1.3 Go shopping at Olde Mistick Village
- 1.4 Discover historic Downtown Mystic
- 1.5 Watch the Mystic River Bascule Bridge
- 1.6 Enjoy an ice cream cone from Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream
- 1.7 Grab a slice at Mystic Pizza
- 1.8 Visit one of the Mystic restaurants to enjoy New England-style seafood
- 1.9 Relax on the beach
- 1.10 Visit the Mystic Museum of Art
- 1.11 Spend some time on a boat around Mystic
- 1.12 Test your climbing skills at Fields of Fire Adventure Park
- 2 Things to do Near Mystic, Connecticut
- 2.1 Visit the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center
- 2.2 Go for a hike at Bluff Point State Park
- 2.3 See the future of theatre at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center
- 2.4 See inside a Navy ship at the Submarine Force Library & Museum
- 2.5 Visit the United States National Coast Guard Museum
- 2.6 Taste test along the Connecticut Wine Trail
- 2.7 Visit the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center and the Connecticut casinos
- 2.8 Attend a concert at the Eastern Connecticut Symphony
- 3 Where to Stay in Mystic, Connecticut
- 4 2 Days in Mystic, Connecticut
- 5 Where to go Next After Mystic
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Coming from the Pequot word “missi-tuk,” which stands for a river where its waters are pushed into waves by the wind, Mystic Connecticut transformed from a coastal village to a central seaport town in the late 1700s. Today, it’s a quintessential New England maritime town with charming shops, excellent seafood, and beautiful ocean views.
Growing up in Connecticut, visiting Mystic was always a fun day trip along the coast. And as I got older, it was a favorite mother-daughter overnight destination. Of course, summer is the most popular time to visit. But, the colorful foliage and winter fog of the off-seasons are also lovely to discover. Here’s my complete guide on the best things to do in Mystic, Connecticut!
And if you read to the end, you’ll even find my 48-hour itinerary to Mystic.
Things to do in Mystic, Connecticut
Visit Mystic Seaport, a living history museum
Have you heard of Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia, or Historic Hugenaut Street near Poughkeepsie, New York? Or even Etnoland Dalmati in Šibenik, Croatia? All of these are living history museums–and there’s a great one to visit in Mystic, too!
The Mystic Seaport Museum has been the best maritime museum in the United States since 1929. The museum encompasses a re-created 19th-century seafaring village typical on the Connecticut shoreline during this time. The 19-acre grounds also has a working shipyard, a village, four National Historic Landmark ships, and Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship.
Wander through different buildings, meeting historical reenactors who will tell you more about the area’s maritime history along the way. You can purchase tickets to the tourist attraction when you arrive or online through their website.
Spend a day at the Mystic Aquarium
One of my earliest memories is visiting the Mystic Aquarium with my family! Established in 1973, the Mystic Aquarium is known for its research and conservation of marine life. They host an Animal Rescue program throughout the year and laboratory research projects to maintain the health and biodiversity of our oceans.
With indoor and outdoor exhibits, as well as interactive encounters like Jurassic Giants: A Dinosaur Adventure, and a 4-D theater, there’s something for all ages to experience at the aquarium.
Insider Tip: If you’re planning to visit both the Mystic Aquarium and the Mystic Seaport Museum, you can purchase a combined ticket!
Go shopping at Olde Mistick Village
Located near the Mystic Aquarium, Olde Mistick Village is a shopping center designed like a historic 1720s-style colonial village built in the 1970s. Visitors can browse more than 60 unique shops–like Alice in the Village, Munson’s Chocolates, and Gineva Murano Glass Jewelry (made with hand-blown glass from Murano, Italy)–while strolling down cobblestone streets.
There’s also an adorably duck-filled pond with a waterwheel, a gazebo, a bungalow-like building with colorful facades, colonial-style business signs, and more. There are shops, restaurants, and even a movie theater.
Discover historic Downtown Mystic
There are so many things to do in Mystic, starting with downtown! Along with cute boutiques and small local businesses, you can find several famous landmarks you need to check out on a 48 hour trip to Mystic.
Gift shops like Mystic Disc and The Spice & Tea Exchange, sweets like Candy Shop or Young Buns Doughnuts, and clothing stores like Rochelle’s On Main and the Mystic Army Navy Stores line the shop windows of Main Street’s historic buildings.
Watch the Mystic River Bascule Bridge
If you’re visiting the seaport city, you can’t miss an opportunity to watch the Mystic River Bascule Drawbridge open in downtown Mystic! This historic bridge connects U.S. Route 1 across the Mystic River. Initially built in 1922 by the Otis Elevator Company, it’s fun to watch it in action because the mechanical parts are out in the open.
When the charming drawbridge opens, it stops traffic from moving on both sides of town for about 5 minutes before being lowered back down. Since they open the bridge more than 2,000 times each year–during the summer season, it opens once an hour during daylight hours–you’ll absolutely have an opportunity to see it in action when you’re exploring downtown Mystic.
Fun Fact: The Otis Elevator Company designed and opened the world’s first working passenger elevator at the historic Haughwout Building in SoHo, New York City!
You can check the operating schedule for the Mystic River Bascule Bridge on the state of Connecticut’s website.
Enjoy an ice cream cone from Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream
And what’s better than watching the bridge with an ice cream cone in hand?! Next to the Mystic River Bascule Bridge, you’ll find Mystic’s iconic ice cream shop, Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream.
What started as a homemade ice cream shop in the 1800s became the “ice cream excellence” eatery it is today! In addition to the varied selection of ice cream flavors, you can find a variety of foods, including sandwiches, wraps, and salad. The company makes sure that everything on the menu is prepared using fresh ingredients.
I highly recommend you go to Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream–especially during the summer. Although their lines get longer as the weather gets warmer, the ice cream is delicious and definitely worth the wait!
Grab a slice at Mystic Pizza
Even if you haven’t heard of Mystic, Connecticut, you’ve definitely heard of the 1988 movie Mystic Pizza, starring a young Julia Roberts in her breakout role. Screenwriter Amy Jones stopped by the pizzeria on a summer vacation with her family. She wrote a fictional movie with the restaurant at its heart.
Of course, once the film premiered, the actual Mystic Pizza shop became a legend and a must-visit destination in the seaside town.
Make sure to slip into a booth for lunch when you’re wandering around the city’s downtown for great pizza and to admire the memorabilia lining the restaurant’s walls.
Visit one of the Mystic restaurants to enjoy New England-style seafood
If you want to enjoy some of the incredible seafood dishes this area of New England is known for, you need to check out one of the many excellent restaurants in Mystic. My favorite restaurant in Mystic is Red 36. It’s tucked away from downtown, at the end of a harbor, with outdoor seating right on the water.
Pro Tip: If there’s a restaurant you know you want to visit in Mystic, make sure to try and make a reservation online or by calling them in advance. While the food is worth the wait, there can be long lines to get in–especially in the summer.
Some of my other favorite restaurants in Mystic include:
- B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill
- Bank & Bridge Brewing
- Ford’s Lobster
- Johnny’s Peking Tokyo
- The Engine Room
- Sea View Snack Bar
- S&P Oyster Restaurant & Bar
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Relax on the beach
Part of the Mystic YMCA, Williams Beach State Park is the town’s only public beach. The sandy beach has calm waters, a children’s playground, and you can park for free through the Y.
If you’re looking for something nearby, Misquamicut State Beach over in Westerly, RI, is less than a 30-minute drive from the center of Mystic! It’s a little bigger than Williams Beach, with stronger waves since it’s just beyond the edge of the Long Island Sound. This beach is actually one of my favorite things to do in Rhode Island in the summer!
Visit the Mystic Museum of Art
The Mystic Museum of Art is located in downtown Mystic, overlooking the river. Visitors can enjoy the beautiful gardens and galleries. Along with its permanent collection, its special exhibits rotate a few times a year, which means there’s always something new to see. If you’re inspired to get your hands “dirty,” the museum offers studio art classes for adults and kids, where you can experience creating visual artwork.
Insider Tip: You need to visit the Mystic Art Festival in the summer! More than 100 local artists will fill the town’s streets, showcasing their works. Walk around, take in the art, and purchase something if you find something you love.
Spend some time on a boat around Mystic
Since this is a famous shipyard city, one of the best things to do in Mystic is to take a boat tour to get out on the water. Two historic ships offer tours you can ride, as well as other experiences.
Argia Mystic Cruises
From May through mid-October, the Schooner Argia sails from the Steamboat Wharf in downtown Mystic around Fishers Island Sound. Although it’s now the last commercial sailing ship in Mystic, these sailboats once filled the Harbor.
There are several different tour options throughout the day. Although their tours don’t particularly focus on lighthouses, there are several gorgeous ones along the route, and you’ll have the most luck spotting them on a morning or mid-afternoon tour. They also have a beautiful sunset tour–but it fills up very quickly!
Pro Tip: If you know you want to take this tour, make sure to book early! Since they can only accommodate 49 people on the boat at a time, spots fill up quickly.
Sabino Steamboat Tour
The Sabino steamboat is the oldest wooden, coal-fired steamboat operating in the United States. Initially named the American Queen when it was built in 1868, it was used by the U.S. Navy during World War II and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1992. You can see the steamer’s schedule and reserve your experience on the Mystic Seaport Museum’s website.
Historic Harbor Tours of Mystic
On a 40-minute Historic Harbor Tour, an experienced guide will show you Mystic history and landmarks around the Harbor. You’ll see sites like the Mystic River Bascule Bridge or historic houses along Captian’s Row, but this time from the water!
There are only 17 seats on their sightseeing boat, but they offer several tours all day throughout the warmer months. You can call or email ahead to reserve your spot, or if you’re feeling spontaneous, you can walk up to the tour and book the day-of from the docks next to S&P Oyster Co. Restaurant directly.
Mystic Boat Adventures
If you’re looking for a really personalized experience, you need to check out Mystic Boat Adventures. Offered as both a 1-hour or 3-hour tour, you’ll get up close to historic sites, but on boats that can accommodate no more than 8 people–and you get to drive the boat. Depending on the number of people you’re going with, it can be a truly private trip! You can book your experience on their website.
Test your climbing skills at Fields of Fire Adventure Park
Have you ever tried a high ropes course? You’re secured into a harness high up in the trees with a helmet and a guide rope to help you navigate a series of challenges. If you don’t enjoy heights then this isn’t for you; but otherwise, they’re a ton of fun!
Set on 50 acres of Mystic forest, Fields of Fire Adventure Park has 5 different ariel ropes courses with varying difficulty from beginner to expert. You’ll have 3 hours to tackle the different rope paths, and they’ll provide all of your necessary safety equipment–all you need to do is show up! You can read more and purchase tickets for the experience here.
Things to do Near Mystic, Connecticut
Visit the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center
The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center has strived to ensure that Connecticut wildlife stays safe through conservation and education since 1946. It’s home to over 10 miles of trails through woods and marshes, with 17th century stone walls scattered across the grounds.
The Nature Center has two sections. At the location on Pequotsepos Road, you’ll find animals, trails, and the Visitor’s Center. It also maintains stewardship over the Peace Sanctuary, where the Peace Union once met to advocate for women’s suffrage and non-resistance. The grounds later became a girls’ sleepaway camp before becoming the public nature reserve it is today.
The Coogan Farm area was added to the Center in 2013 and offers ecology, history, and the newest Meditation Walking Path. The Center also offers different nature camps throughout the summers for the youngsters. Set aside some time to truly appreciate this lovely wildlife sanctuary!
Go for a hike at Bluff Point State Park
Over 800 acres of entirely untouched land rests along the Connecticut coastline at Bluff Point Coastal Reserve and State Park. Found in Groton, about 10 minutes away from the center of Mystic, its protected status ensures that the wildlife will stay untouched and free for us to enjoy.
More than 200 species of birds call the park home, which means it’s an excellent place for birdwatching. They also have horseback riding trails, designated picnic areas, hiking trails, and saltwater and shellfishing areas. It’s the perfect place to spend a nice day outside when you’re looking for things to do near Mystic.
See the future of theatre at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center
A few minutes past Bluff Point State Park, you’ll find the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Named after the Nobel Prize in Literature winner playwright, the center has been an incubation ground for more than 1,000 new plays and derived theatre pieces since it opened in 1964.
Fun Fact: The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center has won not one, but two Tony Awards! Their first came in 1979 for Theatrical Excellence, and their most recent was in 2010 for Best Regional Theatre.
Make sure to check out their summer show schedule on their website when you’re planning your trip to Mystic, Connecticut to support the innovative theater. Or if you’re visiting during their off-season, stop off at the Monte Cristo Cottage in New London and see the home where Eugene O’Neill grew up.
While you wait for the Coast Guard Museum to open, you can visit the Submarine Force Library & Museum in Groton. Found on the Thames River, this museum is exclusively overseen by the Naval History & Heritage Command division of the United States Navy.
The U.S.S. Nautilus is the starring exhibit at this museum–the first operational submarine powered by nuclear energy. You can walk through the ship and see what the interworkings of a submarine are on a 30-minute self-guided audio tour.
Visit the United States National Coast Guard Museum
Learn about the history of the United States National Coast Guard here at their museum in New London. Once the newly designed museum opens, you’ll be able to explore more than 200 interactive exhibits to learn more about this division of the U.S. military. You can stay up-to-date on the museum’s opening information by going to their website.
Taste test along the Connecticut Wine Trail
Connecticut has one of the fastest-growing wine regions in the United States, which means it only makes sense to sample while you’re here!
The vineyards on the Connecticut Wine Trail that you’ll find closest to Mystic include:
Visit the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center and the Connecticut casinos
The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center is dedicated to the history of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation that inhabited this region and its land long before the colonists. The more than 300,000 square foot complex showcases permanent and temporary exhibits, and its research center maintains an archive and conversation laboratory to preserve northeast Native American history.
The tribally owned and operated museum is located within Foxwoods Resort and Casino, one of the largest in the region. Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino is its slightly smaller neighbor, with its own entertainment spaces.
Attend a concert at the Eastern Connecticut Symphony
One of the state’s symphonies performs has its home in New London. The Eastern Connecticut Symphony hosts a complete season each year in its home venue; you can find out whether they’ll be hosting a concert during your trip to Mystic by checking the performance schedule on their website.
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Where to Stay in Mystic, Connecticut
- Inn at Mystic – The Inn at Mystic is my favorite place to stay when I’m visiting Mystic! It’s right along the river, and they have two manor houses for guest rooms, which means that each room has unique features. During the summer, they have an outdoor pool open for guests, a great on-site restaurant called the Harbor House, and your stay includes complimentary breakfast each morning.
- Spicer Mansion – The Spicer Mansion is a small boutique inn in a historic house from 1853. Once the summer home belonging to Captain Elihu Spicer, the building has been carefully restored. The hotel has a rooftop terrace, an on-site spa, and a shuttle that will bring you back and forth to the beach. For an additional charge, you can reserve a place at their evening meal.
- The Whaler’s Inn – The Whaler’s Inn (Booking | Hotels) is a historic hotel in downtown Mystic, walking distance from the Mystic River Bascule Bridge, Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream, and all of the stores on East and West Main Street. Made up of five structures, each with its own Mystic history, you’ll love this centrally located accommodation.
2 Days in Mystic, Connecticut
If you only have 48 hours in Mystic, then you’re going to want to prioritize the activities most important to you! Here’s what I recommend for 2 days in Mystic itinerary.
Mystic Itinerary: Day 1
Spend your first day exploring the Mystic Seaport Museum! Start here first thing in the morning so you have time to discover every element on the village grounds and visit the Charles W. Morgan wooden whaler.
After a quick lunch at one of the on-site dining venues, head to Downtown Mystic to shop in the boutiques and grab an ice cream while you watch the Mystic River Bascule Bridge open to let the boats pass by.
As evening approaches, book a boat cruise with one of the operators to enjoy the sunset views over Mystic from the water before making your way to one of my favorite Mystic restaurants for New England seafood to end the day.
Mystic Itinerary: Day 2
You’re up bright and early to head over to the Mystic Aquarium! Explore the indoor and outdoor exhibits, take a chance in the Jurassic Giants: A Dinosaur Adventure, and catch a performance in the 4-D theater. Once you’re done in the Aquarium, make your way across the street to shop at Olde Mistick Village. You can either grab a bite to eat there or make reservations at one of the other Mystic restaurants you’ve been dying to try.
As you head out of town at the end of your 48 hours in Mystic, hit the beach to relax in the sun or walk along the coast, or stop by one of the other cool museums or beautiful state parks before heading home, or to your next destination.
Where to go Next After Mystic
There are so many beautiful coastal towns nearby that you can visit before or after your trip to Mystic!
Insider Tip: I have full guides to fall towns in New England and the best places to go in New England in the winter, which includes other charming towns in Connecticut and Rhode Island near Mystic CT.
An hour’s drive along Connecticut’s stellar sea will bring you from Mystic to New Haven. The “Elm City” is the heart of Yale University, and the home of apizza, which ranks over and over again as the best pizza in the United States! Check out my guide to things to do in New Haven for more inspiration.
In the opposite direction from New Haven, head over the state border into Rhode Island to visit Newport. The city is most famous for the Gilded Age mansions that dot the cliffs leading down to the ocean, built by some of the wealthiest 20th-century Americans. Downtown Newport is packed with boutiques, restaurants, and museums, and from Newport Oyster Festival in late May to the Bowen’s Wharf Seafood Festival as autumn falls in New England–it feels like there’s always something to experience or explore in this waterfront town.
Rhode Island’s state capital is just an hour’s drive northeast of Mystic and is another ideal place to visit after Mystic. This city is the home of another Ivy League college–Brown University. You’ll find events like Waterfire! and the Providence Flea Market, as well as landmarks like Roger Williams Park with its Botanical Garden and Zoo. And with Johnson & Wales College’s culinary program within the city’s limits, you’re bound to find some outstanding cuisine in Providence, too.
With a wide array of historical attractions and parks, you won’t run out of things to do in Mystic, Connecticut!