Fewer than 40 miles separate New Haven and Norwalk, but the road connecting them, Connecticut’s I-95, is full of day trips for any traveler.
Less than 40 miles separate the Connecticut cities of New Haven and Norwalk, but the compact space is bursting with fun locations to relax for a few hours or even a day. Situated about halfway between Boston and New York, the strip along I-95 that connects New Haven and Norwalk is easily accessible when you need a break from business in the big city, and the location on Long Island Sound opens the door to everything from an afternoon of museum hopping to a relaxing picnic lunch on a lovely white sand beach. These 10 historic, cultural, and scenic opportunities satisfy a variety of tastes.
Settled in 1638 by English Puritans, New Haven is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. The Quinnipiac Native American tribe lived in the area when the Puritans arrived, and a nearby college is named after them.
1. Yale University
The most famous college in the area, however, is Yale University, named for an early benefactor, Elihu Yale. The university offers free guided and self-guided campus tours throughout the year (except for holiday breaks) that focus on the architecture, traditions, and history of the 300-year-old Ivy League institution. Tours include the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which houses a rare Gutenberg Bible.
2. Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
While on campus, visit the world-class Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History to view an impressive collection of Native American arts and crafts, Egyptian mummies, wooly mammoths, and dinosaurs. Be sure to visit one of the world’s largest murals, which depicts life in the days of the real Jurassic Park.
3. Yale University Art Gallery & Yale Center for British Art
Home to more than 200,000 pieces of African, Islamic, Asian, and contemporary art, Yale University Art Gallery offers a cultural feast for the senses. The coin collection includes items from Ancient Rome and gold pieces from 19th century U.S. mints, and the American paintings and sculpture collection spans more than 250 years of art history. The Yale Center for British Art houses the largest and most comprehensive collection of British art outside the United Kingdom, with portraits and landscapes that range from the Elizabethan era to modern times.
4. Shubert Theatre
Located off the Yale campus in the heart of the downtown entertainment district, Shubert Theatre is the place to enjoy dance performances, concerts, and Broadway shows at a fraction of NYC prices. The Shubert opened in 1914 and became a favorite place to try out new shows before opening them on Broadway. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” with Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza premiered at the Shubert, as did “The King and I” and “Oklahoma.”
A young, unknown actor named Marlon Brando made his debut at the Shubert in the Tennessee Williams’ classic “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and The Marx Brothers tore up the stage with their brilliant comedy antics. Even if you don’t see a show here, take the free backstage tour to learn about 100 years of American theater history.
5. The Barnum Museum
Located a few miles south of New Haven, Bridgeport is the birthplace of Phineas Taylor Barnum, better known at P.T. Barnum. As a traveling showman and entrepreneur, he introduced the world to the magic of the circus. He also discovered singer Jenny Lind, the two-foot tall man who became known as Tom Thumb, and many other circus legends. Ladies and gentlemen and children all ages, you will love this museum.
6. Hammonasset Beach State Park
Head for the beach in Branford a few miles south of Bridgeport. With more than 550 acres, Hammonasset Beach State Park is Connecticut’s largest public beach park. It offers overnight camping, miles of bicycling and hiking trails, fishing, swimming, and two miles of sand. The Meigs Point Nature Center offers exhibits and programs year-round.
7. Maritime Aquarium
End your north-south Connecticut day trip odyssey in Norwalk. Widely regarded as one of the best aquariums in the U.S., the Maritime Aquarium is home to harbor seals, jellyfish, and other denizens of the deep-water ecosystem in Long Island Sound and the nearby Atlantic Ocean. The IMAX theater features films with environmental themes. As a bonus, the aquarium is in the historic waterfront area of South Norwalk with plenty of restaurants and shops nearby.
8. Sheffield Island Lighthouse and Ferry
Spend a relaxing few hours touring an 1868 lighthouse that now houses a museum maintained by the Norwalk Seaport Association. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the lighthouse is a classic piece of American nautical history. The ferry ride to the island offers three hours of round-trip sightseeing on its own.
9. Stepping Stones Museum for Children
Interactive exhibits make this museum ideal for kids and the adults they bring along. A popular exhibit is the Energy Lab, where kids can test and learn about solar, wind, and water power. The outdoor Community Garden includes a special butterfly garden.
10. Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum
The sprawling Lockwood-Mathews mansion was built in the 1860s by Wall Street railroad tycoon LeGrand Lockwood and was later owned by New York businessman Charles Mathews. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1971, which protected it from developers. In addition to Victorian era furnishings and architecture, the house features rotating exhibits that focus on specific aspects of the era, such as vintage photos.
The short stretch of highway between New Haven and Norwalk offers more to see and do than you could ever experience in a single day. Share your favorite Connecticut getaway with us on Twitter.