Last Updated on January 15, 2024 by Kelly
The city of New Haven is one of the oldest cities in the United States and is also the home of Yale University. As a result of hosting an ivy-league university, the city is filled with lots of parks, museums, and galleries. New Haven also has a strong reputation for being one of the best pizza cities in the country. I lived in New Haven for several years, and I really enjoyed the city’s proximity to the ocean and its numerous activities. In this post, I’ll share with you my picks for the 21 best things to do in New Haven, Connecticut.
About New Haven, Connecticut
The area surrounding New Haven was first settled by the Quinnipiac tribe. In 1638, English Puritans arrived to the harbor. The settlement was originally named Quinnipiac but later changed to Newhaven.
The city of New Haven was one of the first planned cities in the United States. The town was built on a grid of nine squares, with the center square serving as a public common area. That center square, now called The Green, is still the city’s central gathering place.
In 1701, Yale University got its beginnings as the Collegiate School in Old Saybrook. The school was then moved to New Haven. In 1718, after a wealthy merchant named Elihu Yale donated much of his money to the university, the name was changed to Yale College.
New Haven used to be co-capital of the state of Connecticut, serving alongside the city of Hartford from 1701 to 1873. However, Hartford eventually became the sole capital city of Connecticut. Today, New Haven is known as the “Cultural Capital of Connecticut.”
New Haven also survived the Revolutionary War, unlike many small towns in Connecticut. When British troops occupied New Haven during the Revolutionary War, British General Charles Garth decided not to burn the city because it was “too beautiful a town to burn.”
The city of New Haven has seen its fair share of economic downturns and revivals over the years. Today, it is known for its cultural, historic, and educational significance. There’s much to learn about New Haven’s history, so it’s definitely worth visiting one of its many museums!
21 Best Things to Do in New Haven
1. Yale Visitor Center Tour
149 Elm St, New Haven, CT 06511
One of the best things you can do while visiting New Haven is to sign up for the Yale Campus Tour. I’ve been on the campus tour several times over the years. Whenever I had family or friends visiting from out of town, I made sure to sign up for the tour. It was always a hit! You’ll get to see several of the famous sites listed below, and your guide will be able to give you all the relevant history. You can also take a self-guided walking tour with their map.
2. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
121 Wall St, New Haven, CT 06511
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is one of my absolute favorite spots at Yale University. I might be a bit biased because I already love to hang out at book stores and libraries, but Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is truly a stunning library. The entire library is solely dedicated to rare books and manuscripts, and it’s one of the largest libraries in the world dedicated to rare finds.
The library was built in 1963 and named after three brothers that attended the university: Edwin Beinecke, Frederick Beinecke, and Walter Beinecke. Inside the building, you’ll see a spectacular glass-enclosed tower of book stacks that’s six stories tall. On the main floor, you can see an original copy of the Gutenberg Bible. (There are less than 50 copies in existence today.) On the ground floor, you can find books from the 18th century that were part of the original Yale library.
The white, gray-veined marble panes of the exterior are one and one-quarter inches thick and are framed by shaped light gray Vermont Woodbury granite. These marble panels filter light so that rare materials can be displayed without damage.
The library’s exterior is comprised of square marble panes. The marble filters light so that the rare books are protected from the sun. If you visit inside the building on a sunny day, the marble panes seem to glow.
Visiting Beinecke is free. Public exhibitions do not have an admission charge.
3. Sterling Memorial Library
120 High St, New Haven, CT 06511
Sterling Memorial Library is Yale’s largest library and one of the most iconic buildings on the campus. This gothic-style library looks more like a cathedral than a library. There are over 3,000 stained glass windows in the library! Each of the decorative panes was inspired by famous book sources from around the world.
Sterling Memorial Library was built in 1930 and it was named after John William Sterling, a New York attorney and Yale alumni (Class of 1864) who left a sizable portion of his estate to the university.
The main entrance was designed to look like a nave, similar to a European cathedral. The nave is complete with cloisters, clerestory windows, and side chapels. Inside, there is a tall tower that contains 16 levels of book stacks. The main entrance hall tells the story of the history of Yale Library. Many of the rooms were also designed to reflect their reading topics. For example, the English Study room has window decorations depicting King Lear, Lady Macbeth, and Hamlet.
4. Yale Center for British Art
1080 Chapel St, New Haven, CT 06510
The Yale Center for British Art is the largest museum of British art outside of the United Kingdom. The museum contains thousands of paintings, prints, books, and sculptures by British artists. Admission to the museum is free for everyone.
Be sure to see all our posts about destinations in Connecticut!
5. Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
170 Whitney Ave, New Haven, CT 06511
The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History is currently set to re-open in 2024. Notably, it is expected that it will be open to the public with free admission in perpetuity. The museum is currently undergoing renovations that will expand the gallery space by over 50%. They’ve also recently added a Wall of Glass that will bring significantly more natural light into the museum.
The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History was founded in 1866, and it contains over 14 million objects from 10 different collections. The museum is known for its Great Hall of Dinosaurs, where you can see the fossils of several different types of dinosaurs.
I really enjoyed my visit to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and I hope to return once it re-opens!
6. East Rock Park
41 Cold Spring St, New Haven, CT 06511
For one of the best views of New Haven, head to East Rock Park. If you drive up the hill to the upper parking lot, you’ll have a sweeping view of New Haven, Yale University, and New Haven Harbor. The park is open from sunrise to sunset and has picnic facilities.
The summit of East Rock is approximately 350 feet higher than the Mill River below it. The Soldiers & Sailors Monument at the top of the rock can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. The monument serves as a memorial for soldiers that died in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War.
The top of East Rock is easily accessible by car or by bicycle. If you’d like to hike to the top, you can take the Giant Steps Trail which has a total climb of 285 feet. (You can access the trail at the English Drive gate.)
If you’re in town during the 4th of July, there’s typically a celebration with fireworks at East Rock Park. I attended that event my first year living in New Haven, and it was a lot of fun!
The East Rock neighborhood is a popular place for Yale faculty, interns, residents, and fellows to live. There are lots of great restaurants on Whitney Avenue and Orange Street to check out!
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I may earn commissions from qualifying purchases.
TIP: When I moved to New Haven, I brought a travel guide book and it gave me so many ideas for weekend adventures. I highly recommend getting one! I wrote notes in the margins of mine, as well as the dates of when I visited each place. It’s now a treasured souvenir from that chapter of my life.
7. Edgerton Park
75 Cliff St, New Haven, CT 06511
Edgerton Park is located right on the border of New Haven and Hamden. I used to live right next to this park, so it was a place I frequented often!
The park is styled after 18th century English landscape gardens. The property was originally owned by Eli Whitney and was later bought by Frederick Brewster. He constructed a large English-style Tudor home that he named “Edgerton” because it was located on the edge of town. Brewster gifted the estate to the city of New Haven after his death. The mansion was torn down to create a public park, but the carriage house and several other buildings still remain in the park. There are several greenhouses in the park currently.
I would often play frisbee at Edgerton Park or lay in the grass and read. It was the perfect place to go when it snowed, because there was lots of pristine snow untouched by the city. I also really enjoyed watching Shakespeare in the Park there on summer evenings.
8. Yale University Art Gallery
1111 Chapel St, New Haven, CT 06510
At the time of this writing, admission to the Yale University Art Gallery is free to the public Tuesday through Sunday. There are a number of exhibitions and collections that display more than 4,000 pieces of art. The museum contains a wide variety of artworks, including international pieces, historic pieces, and modern art. The museum also has a rooftop terrace and a sculpture garden.
9. The Green in Downtown New Haven
250 Temple St, New Haven, CT 06511
Visiting New Haven’s Green is an essential part of any visit. New Haven was one of the first planned cities in the United States, and the city began as a 9-square grid. The Green was established in the center of that grid, and it continues to be an important gathering place in downtown New Haven.
The Green is 16-acres and is surrounded by historic buildings. There are 3 churches on the Green that were all built in the early 1800s. These include the United Church, the Center Church, and the Trinity Episcopal Church. Each of the churches has a unique architectural style: Federal style, Georgian style, and Gothic Revival style.
As you walk across the Green, you may not know its history as the original graveyard for the city of New Haven. As the city grew, the gravestones were moved to Grove Street Cemetery, but not the bodies! Scholars estimate that there are between 4,000 to 5,000 people buried under the Green. When I lived in New Haven, one of the oak trees fell down and they found a skull and bones beneath its upended roots! You can also learn more about New Haven’s spooky history by taking a ghost tour.
The Green has been listed as a National Historic Landmark and is also on the Connecticut Register of Historic Places.
10. Grove Street Cemetery
227 Grove St, New Haven, CT 06511
The Grove Street Cemetery was established in 1797 and it was the first cemetery in the United States designed with family plots. Many of its tombstones date back to the 1600s. The cemetery is a National Historic Landmark. There are tours of the cemetery. Be sure to see the Egyptian Revival Gateway to the cemetery.
11. Louis’ Lunch
261 Crown St, New Haven, CT 06511
Louis’ Lunch was established in 1895 and is thought to be the place where the hamburger was invented! If you’re a foodie, you have to visit Louis’ Lunch for its historical significance to American dining! Be sure to check their website for operating hours.
The restaurant is one of the oldest family businesses in the United States, and is currently under 4th-generation ownership. The Liberty of Congress has officially recognized Louis’ Lunch as the Birthplace of the Hamburger Sandwich.
The hamburger got its beginning when a man in a hurry asked owner Louis Lassen for a meal on-the-go. Louis placed steak trimmings between two pieces of toast, and the rest is history! If you go to Louis’ Lunch, you’ll find that the burgers are still served on plain white toast.
12. Shubert Theatre
247 College St, New Haven, CT 06510
The Shubert Theatre has been a hub of performing arts since 1914. Many of the country’s most popular actors got their start at the Shubert Theatre, including Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable. Check the Shubert Theatre’s schedule to see what is showing during your visit to New Haven!
13. Listen to the Whiffenpoofs
The Whiffenpoofs in an a capella group that is comprised of 14 Yale senior students. It’s the world’s oldest collegiate a capella group. Check out their website to see if you can catch one of their shows! We got to see them perform live and it was truly a memorable experience!
14. Wooster Square and Little Italy
Wooster Square and Little Italy are located to the east of downtown New Haven. Wooster Square is a historic park located in the neighborhood. New Haven’s Little Italy is also located in this neighborhood. Little Italy contains some of New Haven’s most famous pizzerias: Pepe’s and Sally’s. (More on those below!)
15. Eat New Haven-Style Pizza
New Haven is one of the biggest pizza cities in the United States and can hold its own against cities like Chicago and New York. New Haven pizza is often called apizza (pronounced ah-beets), to stay close to its Italian roots. New Haven pizza is known for a chewy thin crust, simple tomato sauce, and just a bit of cheese.
There are a handful of very famous pizza restaurants in New Haven, and we personally recommend that you try all of them. We’ve been to all of them, and we honestly can’t pick a favorite. Our best advice is to just eat at all of them at least once!
The main pizza rivalry in New Haven is between Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally’s Apizza. They’re located on the same block in Wooster Square in the Little Italy district.
It’s believed that Frank Pepe, an immigrant from Italy, is the inventor of New Haven’s style of pizza. He topped his signature pie with olive oil, crushed tomatoes, pecorino romano cheese, and herbs. If you visit Pepe’s, be sure to try the White Clam Pizza and the Frank Pepe’s Original Tomato Pie. The white clam pizza was invented in the 1960s and it’s one of their most popular pizzas! The pizzeria is still a family-owned business. There’s often a line out the door, so get there early and enjoy!
Sally’s Apizza made me question everything I ever knew about pizza. Their classic pie has tomato sauce and toppings, but I was surprised to learn that melted cheese is not necessarily a staple ingredient. And you know what? I didn’t even miss it! The pizza I tried was delicious, and our server was absolutely hilarious. The restaurant was established by Sal, Frank Pepe’s nephew, in 1938.
We also have to mention the pizza at BAR. We visited frequently for their mashed potato pizza, and I brought almost all of my visiting guests to Bar to try it. Make sure to order a white pie with mashed potatoes, garlic, mozzarella, and bacon. This is the place where all the Yalies take their friends and family!
|Check out our complete guide to New Haven style pizza!
16. New Haven Museum
114 Whitney Ave, New Haven, CT 06510
The New Haven Museum is located off of Whitney Avenue. At the time of this writing, an adult admission ticket costs $4 and the museum is open to the publicW Wednesday through Saturday. The museum focuses on exhibitions that highlight New Haven’s history.
17. Eli Whitney Museum & Workshop
915 Whitney Ave, Hamden, CT 06517
The Eli Whitney Museum & Workshop is technically located in the city of Hamden, right at the border between New Haven and Hamden. The museum focuses on experiential exercises. The museum is located on the land in which Eli Whitney built the first American factory back in 1798.
18. Lighthouse Point Park
2 Lighthouse Rd, New Haven, CT 06512
The lighthouse at Lighthouse Point Park was built in 1847. It’s a great place to go for a picnic or a beach walk.
19. IT Adventure Indoor Ropes Course
40 Sargent Dr, New Haven, CT 06511
IT Adventure Indoor Ropes Course is the perfect activity for a rainy day! All of the ropes courses are located indoors, and it’s actually the world’s largest indoor ropes course. There are 4 levels of courses that have dozens of challenges.
20. West Rock Ridge State Park
1134 Wintergreen Ave, New Haven, CT 06514
In addition to East Rock, there’s also a West Rock! The park has a lot of trails, including the famous Regicide Trail. (West Rock served as a hide out for several regicide judges of King Charles I after they fled England.)
21. Toad’s Place
300 York St, New Haven, CT 06511
Numerous music legends have played at this New Haven night club. Check out the Toad’s Place calendar to purchase show tickets.
Hotel Recommendations in New Haven
- Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale: While I was living in New Haven, I observed that this was the most popular hotel for visiting guests. I even stayed there myself when I interviewed for my position! The hotel is within walking distance to Yale University, the New Haven Green, and Union Station. Be sure to grab breakfast on the weekend at John Davenports at the Top of the Park. The restaurant is located on the 19th floor and has sweeping views of the city!
- The Blake Hotel: This boutique hotel is also centrally located to Yale University’s campus. The hotel was named after Alice Blake, who was the first woman to graduate from Yale Law School. The Blake Hotel also has a cool rooftop bar (High George) that is open seasonally.
- The Study at Yale: This 4-star hotel is located near the Arts Campus, which is where you can find many of New Haven’s museums and libraries.
- Courtyard New Haven at Yale: This Marriott property is located within walking distance to the university campus.
For a full list of hotels in New Haven, click here.
Best Restaurants in the New Haven Area
Below are our picks for some of the best restaurants in New Haven. We’ve personally been to each of these restaurants and can attest to their deliciousness!
- Bar: Get the mashed potato pizza! I crave this pizza all the time and wish I could go back to Connecticut to eat it.
- Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana: Order the white clam pizza!
- Prime 16 Tap House + Burgers: We would frequently visit this restaurant for gourmet burgers.
- Louis’ Lunch: Birthplace of the hamburger, you have to visit at least once.
- Bella’s Cafe: This is our favorite brunch spot in New Haven. Everything we ate there was absolutely incredible. One of the hardest parts about leaving New Haven was leaving Bella’s!
- Sally’s Apizza: Easily one of the best New Haven pizzerias!
- Modern Apizza: This is another one of New Haven’s famous pizzerias. You have to add it to your list!
- 116 Crown: A popular bar that makes excellent craft cocktails.
You also need to try a Connecticut-style lobster roll while you’re in New Haven. The lobster meat is served warm on a bun with melted butter on top. They are the best!
How to Get to New Haven
New Haven is located in the state of Connecticut on the northern portion of Long Island Sound. The city is located right off of New Haven Harbor and the Quinnipiac River runs alongside the eastern portion of the city.
If you’re traveling to New Haven from New York or Boston, it’s very convenient to take the train. New Haven’s Union Station has multiple Amtrak routes. The train from New Haven to New York is about 1 hour and 45 minutes long. The train from New Haven to Boston is about 2 hours and 30 minutes long. I took the train to both New York and Boston frequently from New Haven, and I found it to be very convenient!
You can also fly to New Haven. Tweed New Haven Airport (HVN) is located just 5 miles east of New Haven. The airport is fairly small and has just a handful of regional flights. When I was flying back and forth between my hometown of Seattle and New Haven, I would often fly into Bradley International Airport (BDL). Bradley International Airport is located 53 miles north of New Haven. You can either rent a car and drive down I-91 to New Haven, or you can book a shuttle to take you.
Finally, you can drive to New Haven. The city has easy access to both I-91 and I-95.
Attractions Near New Haven
Below are some nearby attractions we visited while living in Connecticut. These make for easy day trips from New Haven.
75 Greenmanville Ave, Mystic, CT 06355
The Mystic Seaport Museum is home to historic vessels and a charming marina village. The seaport was constructed to appear as a 19th-century village. The buildings were not re-created, but rather original buildings that were transported to Mystic. I took my parents to the Mystic Seaport Museum during their visit, and it was one of their favorite things we did in Connecticut. The museum features a number of maritime exhibitions, the marina is filled with historic vessels, and there are two 19th-century period gardens. Children will especially enjoy the planetarium and the children’s museum. Be sure to check the events schedule prior to your visit.
|See our full guide to Fall in New England!
Pez Visitor Center
35 Prindle Hill Rd, Orange, CT 06477
The Pez Visitor Center has a large collection of Pez dispensers. Take the self-guided tour through the 4,000 square building and learn all about this famous candy.
New England Fall Foliage
The best time to see the fall foliage in New England is late September through early November. If you’re able to visit New Haven during this time, you absolutely have to go for a drive to see the autumn leaves. You can even schedule a dinner train to fully take in the beauty!
Sleeping Giant State Park
200 Mt Carmel Ave, Hamden, CT 06518
If you’re looking for a hike near New Haven, check out Sleeping Giant State Park. The profile of the mountain resembles a “sleeping giant.” The Sleeping Giant Tower Trail will take you to the top of Mount Carmel where you’ll find a concrete tower. The trail is about 3.1 miles long out-and-back, with about 600 feet of total elevation gain. This was my husband and I’s first trail together!
Hammonasset Beach State Park
1288 Boston Post Rd, Madison, CT 06443
Hammonasset is Connecticut’s largest beach state park. During the summer, this is where I would often go for a beach day. The beach is located on the northern shore of Long Island Sound. The park contains over two miles of sandy shoreline. It’s the perfect place for beach walks, sunbathing, and picnics. You can even camp there. The campground has 556 grassy campsites, and there are 8 cabins that can be rented.
55 Coogan Blvd, Mystic, CT 06355
Mystic Aquarium is an aquarium that hosts a number of marine animal exhibits, including beluga whales, steller sea lions, penguins, sharks, and rays. At the time of this writing, advanced tickets are required.
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
77 Forest St, Hartford, CT 06105
The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is dedicated to preserving Stowe’s Hartford home and her legacy. The center is open 3 days a week at the time of this writing. During the interactive tour, you’ll learn all about her life and her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her home, which she lived in for 23 years, is a National Historic Landmark. At the time of this writing, a general admission ticket costs $20.
Mark Twain House
385 Farmington Ave, Hartford, CT 06105
The Mark Twain House and Museum will teach you all about the life and writing of author Mark Twain. He lived in the house from 1874 to 1891, and it was at this house that he wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The home is a National Historic Landmark. We toured the home and would absolutely recommend it to others.
Gillette Castle State Park
67 River Rd, East Haddam, CT 06423
If you want to see a medieval-looking castle in Connecticut, head to Gillette Castle State Park. Tours of the castle resume May 28, 2022 through September 5, 2022. The castle was built under the direction of WIlliam Hooker Gillette, who was an actor, novelist, and playwright. Gillette was heavily invested in the creative process of its construction, and as a result, he included a movable table on tracks and built-in couches. There are also numerous trails surrounding the estate. We visited on a warm spring day and really enjoyed strolling around the property.
Savin Rock Park
435 Captain Thomas Blvd, West Haven, CT 06516
Located in West Haven, Savin Rock Park is easily accessed from New Haven. The park used to serve as an amusement park with an appearance very reminiscent of Coney Island. The park has a boardwalk along the waterfront and is a nice place to go for a walk.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is New Haven worth visiting?
New Haven is definitely a city worth visiting. If you’re into history, you’ll enjoy the town’s many museums. Many of the museums focus on the city’s role even prior to the Revolutionary War. If you’re into food, you’ll enjoy the many pizzerias that make New Haven famous. And if you’re into the arts, Yale University is home to many art galleries, theaters, and museums.
When is the best time to visit New Haven?
The best time to visit New Haven is between late September and early November. The fall foliage will be at its peak and it makes the whole city incredibly picturesque. I personally enjoy late September because the city buzzes with excitement at the start of each academic year.
Is New Haven a fun city?
New Haven is a fun city because there are numerous restaurants, bars, theaters, galleries, and museums. Because it is home to Yale University, there are plenty of cultural events that occur throughout the year.
Where’s the best place to live in New Haven?
If you’re looking to move to New Haven, we highly recommend the East Rock neighborhood. The neighborhood is easily accessible to downtown New Haven and Yale University. There’s tons of restaurants along Orange Street and Whitney Avenue, and there are several parks that are within walking distance. We lived in the East Rock neighborhood off of Whitney Avenue for 3 years and we really enjoyed the neighborhood! It’s a popular neighborhood for Yale interns, residents, fellows, and faculty.
Summary: Best Things to Do in New Haven
When I moved to New Haven, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this small city in Connecticut. I ended up really enjoying the city. I found that there was always tons of things to do in New Haven, and big cities like Boston and New York were only a quick train ride away. I hope you found this guide helpful as you plan your own trip to New Haven!
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