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Have you ever heard of the historic city of New Haven?
Located on the coastline of Long Island Sound, New Haven, Connecticut, was founded in 1638 as the first planned city in the United States. It served as a co-capital of the state during the Colonial era and is home to many distinguished organizations.
Nicknamed “the Elm City” due to the trees’ prevalence, the coastal city is filled with academic excellence and culture, including several colleges and three nationally-ranked regional theatres. Whether you enjoy wandering through historic New England cities, looking for some of the best activities in Connecticut, or are visiting one of the five universities in town, here is your guide for things to do in New Haven, Connecticut.
Map for this guide
Here is a map I created just for you to go along with the information in this guide!
- Brown: Transportation
- Red: Apizza
- Orange: Restaurants
- Yellow: Sweets
- Purple: Things to do in New Haven
What are the best things to do in New Haven?
1. Head to Wooster St. and try New Haven’s signature Apizza.
2. Walk around Yale University’s campus.
3. Visit the Peabody Museum of Natural History.
4. Try out It Adventure Ropes Course at Jordan’s Furniture.
5. Walk along Pardee Seawall Park.
6. Explore the historic lighthouse at Lighthouse Point Park.
7. Enjoy a show at one of New Haven’s many world-class theatres.
8. Visit Louis’s Lunch, the restaurant that created the modern-day hamburger.
9. Catch a concert at Toad’s Place.
How to Get to New Haven, CT
Trains will be your most convenient public transportation option to get to New Haven, especially if you’re coming from New York City. Otherwise, adding a stop in for your New Haven itinerary is a great choice for your New England road trip, due to its connections.
New Haven is just off I-91 and I-95, and can be easily accessed by car. Unless you’re spending all your time in downtown New Haven, many of the places on this list you’ll need to drive to reach. Plan to rent a car or think about rideshare. Major companies like Uber and Lyft both operate in New Haven.
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If you’re coming up from New York City, the Metro-North New Haven train line is your choice. New Haven line trains leave Manhattan from Grand Central Terminal or Harlem-125th St, and it takes a little over 2 hours to arrive at the last stop. However, Amtrak trains also stop at Union Station in New Haven, so you have even more train options.
Where to Stay in New Haven, CT
Since I grew up right outside New Haven, I’ve never stayed in a hotel while visiting the city. However, there are several quality hotels that are close to the city center and the Yale University campus.
Where to Eat in New Haven, CT
New Haven, Connecticut, is full of incredible food influenced by the Italian-American population that calls this area home. They even have their own style of pizza, called Apizza, repeatedly ranked as the top in the United States. It deserves its own section!
Honestly, pizza is already pretty perfect. However, there is a pizza style known to the small state of Connecticut that is truly the best around. The Apizza style was created by immigrants coming to New Haven, Connecticut, from around Naples, Italy, at the turn of the 20th century. It’s a thin crust, coal-fired pizza, most similar to New York style. But, it’s differentiated from its neighboring technique by its chewiness, shape, and toppings.
There are now several restaurants in New Haven, Connecticut that serve the style, like Sally’s, Modern, and BAR (this particular dance club and brewery has originated its own flair on the apizza style.) However, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana originated the pie and is still widely considered the best. Pepe’s signature Apizza is their white clam pizza with fresh littleneck clams on top of a white pizza. I promise it’s delicious.
If you’re interested in visiting some of the top Connecticut breweries, make sure you check out my guide.
While the Apizza style has spread throughout Connecticut and to nearby New York’s Westchester County, you need to add this to your New Haven itinerary and try it for yourself. On any given day, Apizza places have lines out the door, with locals and tourists alike vying for their spot at one of the storied booths to enjoy a fantastic pie.
Since Italian influence is strong in New Haven, fantastic Italian restaurants include Consiglio’s Restaurant, Basta Trattoria, and Olives and Oil Wine + Cucina. And if you’re looking for a fancier night dining out, Tre Scalini is one of the best.
If Italian food isn’t your favorite, New Haven also has a variety of other great styles. Bella’s Cafe is my favorite spot for brunch. Shell & Bones Oyster Bar and Grill has phenomenal seafood, right on the water. Or, try Atticus Bookstore & Cafe for some great choices, including their vegetarian and vegan options.
Are you interested in an original? According to the Library of Congress, Louis’ Lunch, opened in 1895, is recognized for originating the modern-day hamburger.
Bakeries, gelato, and coffee shops abound in the college town. There are at least seven coffee shops within walking distance of the Yale University campus. Donut Crazy is known for its wacky donut flavors. Libby’s Italian Pastry Shop is a staple mom-and-pop bakery. Katalina’s Kupcakes is home to rich, decadent cupcakes. Doughilicious has jumped onto the edible cookie dough trend. Even a favorite New York City cookie shop Insomnia Cookies has now made its way to New Haven.
Things to do in New Haven, CT
Take a tour of historic Yale University
The Ivy League institution is a stalwart of New Haven, Connecticut. Yale University* traces its roots back to the 1640s when colonial clergymen established a school in the European tradition. It was formally named Yale College in 1718 for a Welsh merchant and benefactor of the school, Elihu Yale. It’s the third-oldest university in the United States, behind only Harvard University and the College of William and Mary. Throughout its history, it has been a place of incredible academic study, achievements, and has produced numerous notable alumni.
Although you can choose to wander the campus at your leisure, guests can also opt to take a free tour of the historic campus, led by current students. The tour leaves from the Visitor Center daily, just across from the New Haven Town Green. The campus architecture is beautiful, and it’s a pretty fantastic walk through the storied academic grounds. You can also register online for a free virtual, interactive tour of the campus.
You can also visit any of the University’s museums, most notably the Yale University Art Gallery*, Yale Center for British Art*, the Peabody Museum of Natural History*, and the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library*.
*During the COVID-19 pandemic, Yale University and all of its facilities are closed.
Explore prehistoric fossils at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History *
Looking for things to do in New Haven about dinosaur history? The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University is a great place to spend your time. Founded in 1866, today, the museum has several world-renown permanent collections. The most well-known is in The Great Hall of Dinosaurs. It features many skeletons, including a mounted Brontosaurus skeleton and The Age of Reptiles mural by artist Rudolph Zallinger.
The museum offers tours of various exhibits included with your admission ticket on Saturdays and Sundays.
Marvel at the rare works found at Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library*
This is one of those libraries known for being a book lover’s paradise. Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library is one of the largest collections of rare books and manuscripts in the world, with more than one million total volumes.
Since its opening in 1963, the library has grown to contain some of the very first copies of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, John James Audubon’s Birds of America, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
The building itself has no windows; instead, opaque panes made of Vermont marble act as windows. Sunlight filters through them to reach inside, which prevents the rare papers from damage. While you have to be a researcher or Yale member to access the prints themselves, there are several special exhibitions available to visitors for public viewing, like the University library’s first books dating back to 1742, or the Gutenberg Bible.
Pay your respects at the Grove Street Cemetary
Adjacent to the Yale campus, Grove Street Cemetery is the final resting place of some of New Haven’s most important former residents, including Connecticut inventor Eli Whitney, who invented the cotton gin. It was established in the 1790s as the first charted burial grounds in the country after the former cemetery on the New Haven Town Green became overcrowded.
Notable features include the entrance gate to the cemetery, which is considered one of the best examples of Egyptian Revival architecture. It’s a quiet, historic place, full of some truly incredible monuments.
Walk around the Town Green
A square park encompassing five of New Haven’s most central streets–Chapel Street, Temple Street, College Street, Church Street, and Elm Street–the New Haven Town Green was first established in the 1640s as a Puritan marketplace. Throughout its history, General George Washington spoke on the grounds during the American Revolutionary War, and Abraham Lincoln gave one of his presidential campaign speeches here.
Today, the picturesque 16-acre park at the city’s heart features three historic churches and the New Haven Town Hall along its sides. The Green is a great place to add to your New Haven itinerary for a stroll or a picnic, especially during the warmer months, or to attend outdoor concerts, fairs, festivals, and other community events.
Spend a day at the various New Haven Colleges and Universities
Although Yale University is the most historical of the higher education institutes in New Haven, there are many other colleges in town. The University of New Haven, Albertus Magnus College, and Gateway Community College all call the city of New Haven home.
This is one of the most exciting things to do in New Haven, Connecticut. It’s something you’ll need to see to believe! Housed in the former New Haven Register newspaper’s building, Jordan’s Furniture is a chain of furniture stores in New England.
Within each of their stores, they house different attractions. Their New Haven, Connecticut location houses It Adventure Indoor Ropes Course, which boasts the largest indoor high ropes course in the world. It’s incredible! With two ropes courses and a bunch of different adventure indoor activities, including climbing walls and zip lines, it’s undoubtedly an exhilarating experience.
Walk along the coast at Pardee Seawall Park
This 1.3-mile park is located right next to the beaches and offers beautiful Long Island Sound views. Walk, bike, or relax on benches, conveniently located along its path. It’s one of the best things to do in New Haven, Connecticut on a beautiful, leisurely day.
Enjoy the view from Lighthouse Point Park
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Situated on Long Island Sound, the park is built on the site of a Revolutionary War battle. This shoreline park a beautiful area to add to your New Haven itinerary.
There are two main features of Lighthouse Point Park. First, the Five Mile Point Lighthouse, originally built in 1805 and decommissioned in 1877, was added to the National Registry of Historic Landmarks in 1990.
Secondly, the antique Lighthouse Point Carousel was built in 1916 in the folk art style. After closing in the 1970s due to weather damage, the City of New Haven restored the antique Carousel a decade later and it became listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. It has 72 restored mounts on a 60-foot platform and is decorated with paintings that represent New Haven.
Hike the trails or stop and smell the roses at East Rock Park
East Rock Park is one of the most popular things to do in New Haven because of its beautiful location and varied landscape of forests, cliffs, and rocky boulders. It’s a quick drive from most surrounding towns in Connecticut and a quick drive just north from downtown New Haven.
With more than 10 miles of trails and a variety of interesting outdoor activities available to visitors–from rock climbing to hiking, and from sledding to ice skating in the winter–there is something here for everyone. Throughout the spring and summer months, you can find more than 50 varieties of roses in full bloom at the Pardee Rose Gardens inside the restored Pardee Greenhouse.
However, many people choose to come to this park for is its hiking. For an excellent vantage point of the surrounding towns, hike to the Summit, at the top of East Rock Park, and you’ll find one of the best views in the state. With a 360-degree panorama of the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound, you’ll be able to see for miles.
Catch a performance at one of New Haven’s award-winning theaters
There are three world-class theaters in New Haven – the Shubert, the Long Wharf, and Yale Rep.
Opened by the turn of the 20th Century theatre moguls, the Shubert brothers, the Shubert Theater in New Haven, Connecticut, was originally a testing ground for new shows before they opened on Broadway. To date, more than 300 productions have opened at the Shubert before making their Broadway debuts, including Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, and My Fair Lady.
Today, the Shubert hosts several different projects throughout the year, including Broadway “out-of-town” tryouts and national tours, ballets, and concerts. If you happen to be in town on the first Thursday or Saturday of the month looking for things to do in New Haven, the theater offers a free tour to the public at 11 a.m.
In 1965, a new performance space, using borrowed movie theater seats, opened in a vacant warehouse on New Haven’s harbor. Today, it’s known as the Long Wharf Theater. Showing six plays per season operating in its two performance spaces, the theater was also the recipient of an honorary Tony Award, New York City theatre’s highest honor, in 1978 for its Excellence in Regional Theatre.
Yale University has one of the highest regarded theatre programs in the country – it only makes sense they would have phenomenal performances. Yale Rep is Yale School of Drama’s professional-in-residence company and has also won a Tony Award for Excellence in Regional Theatre. They’ve had seventeen productions transferred to Broadway, and boast more than 100 premieres since opening in 1966.
Day Trips from New Haven
New York City
You can easily add a day trip to New York City into your New Haven itinerary. Head to Union Station and take a Metro-North train headed south into Grand Central Terminal. If you’re interested in learning more about the Big Apple activities, check out my list of free things to do in New York City, and free museum hours in New York City.
Poughkeepsie, New York
Less than a two-hour drive north into upstate New York you’ll find Poughkeepsie. If you enjoy the history of American presidents, you’ll find the estate and birthplace of Franklin D. Roosevelt on the grounds of his Presidential Library and Museum, as well as the beautiful raised park Walkway Over the Hudson. If you’re looking for great upstate getaways, here is my guide to Poughkeepsie.
Sample 3 Day New Haven Itinerary
Today is a Yale day! Breakfast at one of the coffee shops walking distance from the campus. Then, head to the Yale University campus for a tour of the grounds. After, you can spend the afternoon wandering through the Yale University Art Gallery. Head to dinner at Tre Scalini or Consiglio’s before your show at one of the three historic New Haven theaters.
Today is all about the apizza. While Pepe’s is my favorite, you can choose any of the famous apizza places on Franklin Street for a pie or two. Then, walk over to Libby’s Italian Pastry Shop for dessert before heading to Pardee Seawall Park and Lighthouse Point Park for a beautiful walk by the water. Then, over to BAR for dinner to try out the apizza style with flair.
Today is for the adventurous things to do in New Haven, Connecticut. If you’ve always wanted to visit New York City, this would be your day to train in and explore. Otherwise, head to the Peabody Museum to observe the world-class paleontology collections. Lunch at Atticus Bookstore & Cafe before spending your afternoon at It Adventure Ropes Course at Jordan’s Furniture to test your skills on the high ropes. End your New Haven itinerary with a beautiful dinner at Shells & Bone.
From the gorgeous grounds and history at Yale University to absolutely incredible food–if you’re taking a road trip through New England, make sure you take a stop off in New Haven, Connecticut.
What are your favorite things to do in New Haven, Connecticut?