5 free things to do in Connecticut, from art to parks

HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut is a small state that can be crossed in a matter of hours, depending on traffic, offering relatively easy access for travelers looking to visit various corners of the state. One compact area packed with attractions is the southeastern region, which includes Long Island Sound and a popular shoreline state park, Yale University’s hometown of New Haven, sites related to New England’s maritime and military industry, and the University of Connecticut in the eastern part of the state. Here are five free things to do and see there.

Submarine Force Museum: The Submarine Force Museum on the Thames River in Groton is home to the Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered vessel and first ship to reach the North Pole. It’s the only submarine museum operated by the U.S. Navy and is the primary repository of artifacts, documents and photographs related to the history of submarines in the military. The museum traces the development of submarines, from the so-called Turtle, the first American submarine developed for use in the Revolutionary War, to today’s Ohio and Virginia class submarines.

The museum’s collections include tens of thousands of artifacts, documents and photographs. Its reference and research library holds 6,000 volumes.

Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park: Connecticut is a destination for amateur historians. One of the 13 colonies, it played a key role in providing munitions to the fledgling U.S. Army.

A visit to Connecticut’s shoreline can include a stop at the Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park in Groton in southeast Connecticut. British forces, commanded by Benedict Arnold, captured the fort in 1781 and killed 88 of the 165 defenders.

The Ebenezer Avery House that sheltered the wounded after the battle has been restored on the grounds and the Monument House Museum features displays of Groton’s history.

Hammonasset Beach State Park: Hammonasset, Connecticut’s largest shoreline park, offers a boardwalk and more than two miles of beach. Parking is free from mid-September to April 20. But even during the season when a parking fee applies, visitors can parking in nearby downtown Madison for free and bike the two-mile route east on Route 1 to Hammonasset.

Madison is known for Madison Art Cinemas, a movie theater in downtown that opened in 1912, and R.J. Julia Booksellers, one of the better-known book stores in Connecticut.

Yale Center for British Art: The Yale Center for British Art houses the largest collection of British art outside the United Kingdom. Admission is free, insisted upon by its benefactor, Paul Mellon, a 1929 Yale graduate.

The museum boasts paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings and a rare books collection, said Scott Wilcox, chief curator of art collections.

The building, which was the final design by architect Louis I. Kahn, is itself an attraction. Its exterior of matte steel and reflective glass is considered a landmark of 20th-century museum architecture, Wilcox said. While you’re there, take a stroll around the campus of the famous university with its picturesque buildings, walkways and manicured lawns.

Connecticut State Museum of Natural History: The Museum of Natural History and Connecticut Archaeology Center at the University of Connecticut in Storrs boasts the single largest repository of Connecticut Native American, colonial and industrial artifacts.

The materials document more than 11,000 years of the area’s past. Collections include a large sample of Connecticut Indian stone bowls, reconstructed pottery vessels, groundstone tools, a 12-foot dugout canoe carved from an American chestnut tree, Mayan and other Central American Indian artifacts such as stone tools, woven hammocks and skeletal remains.

The submarine the Nautilus is on exhibit at the Submarine Force Museum and was the first nuclear-powered vessel as well as the first ship to reach the North Pole. Courtesy of Submarine Force Museum
The Groton Monument at Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park in Groton, Conn., was erected around 1830 to commemorate a 1781 Revolutionary War battle in which British forces, commanded by Benedict Arnold, captured the fort and killed 88 of the 165 defenders. Courtesy of State Parks Division of Connecticut’s
A gallery with a painting by J.M.W. Turner at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Conn. The center houses the largest collection of British art outside the United Kingdom. Courtesy of Yale University
The exhibit “Human Nature: Looking Closer at the Relationships between People and the Environment” is featured at the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History. Courtesy of Connecticut State Museum of Natural Hi
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