On the mouth of the Quinnipiac River in eastern Connecticut, New Haven has a storied past. In 1638, English Puritans first settled in the area, and from there a plan to develop a town that would prioritize green space and protect its historic buildings.
As the home of Yale University, several spectacular churches, and with New Haven being 20 percent green or open space, the vision has been successful. Visitors can come to explore the things to do in New Haven and experience a beautiful downtown district mixed with a vibrant culture, including one of the top theaters in the Northeast. From there, you’ll have a peaceful time walking the storied streets to the many parks and attractions on the campus of Yale University.
In this post, we'll cover:
12. New Haven Museum
When it comes to telling the story of New Haven, Connecticut, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the history of Yale University. But with a broader focus, the New Haven Museum explores the city and region’s past through extensive collections housed in four permanent halls.
Inside the museum, you’ll find a fine arts collection that showcases the landscapes of New Haven as they were when the town was just beginning. Additionally, discover the works of 17th century cabinetmakers, maritime artifacts, and a working replica of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin.
11. Shubert Theater
In the early 1890s, the Shubert Brothers, who were big players in the New York theater scene, branched out and opened a gorgeous theater in New Haven. When the doors first opened in 1914, the Shubert Theater quickly became the testing ground for the next Broadway stars, including Liza Minnelli in 1965.
While many miles from Broadway itself, the 1600-seat theater was the place to dust the cobwebs of the shows that would soon take the world by storm. Since the Shubert Theater opened, there have been over 300 world premieres and over 600 Broadway trials.
Today you can experience fantastic productions along with live music from classical to jazz.
10. Yale Center for British Art
From the Elizabethan period to the 21st century, the Yale Center for British Art has a startling collection of works, the largest of its kind outside of the UK. Visitors can trace the journey of British art through the eras thanks to the assemblage of paintings by Hogarth, Reynolds, Hepworth, and Constable among others.
It isn’t strictly a British-born gallery. In fact, you’ll also find works by Canaletto and Whistler, both of whom played a large role in British art and often created portraits of prominent British figures. Alongside the many works of art, you’ll be able to explore an incredible collection of rare books.
9. Knights of Columbus Museum
A Catholic fraternity, the Knights of Columbus, was formed in 1882 by Reverend McGivney and it continues their traditions to this very day. The Knights of Columbus Museum is dedicated to preserving and promoting their fascinating history through a series of temporary exhibits.
Focusing on their broader social and cultural impact in relation to Catholicism, the museum is an interesting visit. One permanent collection includes a large gallery devoted to the founder along with ornaments that have connections to the Roman papacy and Columbus himself.
If you find yourself in New Haven during the holiday season, the Knights of Columbus Museum is famed for its Christmas displays featuring a nativity scene and creche sets and figurines.
8. Little Italy
Some of the best restaurants in New Haven can be found in the city’s own Little Italy. After a big day exploring Yale University or the many parks around town, make your way to Wooster Street for a night of pizza, pasta, and everything in between.
Just east of downtown, Little Italy is teeming with aromas of bruschetta and ravioli along the vibrant street. While you can’t go wrong at any of the authentic establishments, you can’t beat the pizza at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana. The restaurant opened in 1925 and always features a line. Thankfully, its coal-fired pizza is worth the wait.
Another popular option is Consiglio’s Restaurant, which has a broader menu, including homemade pasta and their famous eggplant parmigiana.
7. Lighthouse Point Park
Featuring a scenic beach, views of Long Island across the sound, and a lighthouse from the 1800s, Lighthouse Point Park is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. The lighthouse is no longer in operation and sadly can’t be climbed. However, it adds a stunning element to an already picturesque landscape that makes the park a must-visit.
During the spring and fall months, migratory birds stop by Lighthouse Point Park on their routes to the north and south. The various bird species include songbirds along with larger birds of prey. You can learn more about the transient wildlife through ranger-led programs.
Afterwards, find a picnic table or spread out on the lush grounds and enjoy the views.
6. East Rock Park
With one-fifth of New Haven dedicated to green and open space, you’ll have an easy time enjoying nature while exploring the downtown streets and the Yale University campus. East Rock Park is the biggest such space in town and is named after the enormous 1.5 mile, 365 foot high rock.
From the top, you can enjoy far-reaching panoramic views of not just New Haven, but as far as the Long Island Sound. After letting your camera go to work, head down the rock to the Pardee Rose Garden. Although there are some perennials, peak blooming season is in June and July when almost 5 dozen roses sprout, filling the greenhouse with a burst of vibrant colors.
Continue exploring the park on the many trails, many of which lead to historic markers, including the Civil War Soldiers Monument and Indian Head Peak.
5. Yale University Art Gallery
Across multiple buildings on the Yale University campus, the Yale University Art Gallery covers a vast array of genres and eras. Upon opening in 1832, the gallery became the first university art gallery in the US and has remained at the forefront of local culture through the decades.
The Yale University Art Gallery features works by dozens of celebrated artists including Duchamp, Picasso, Lichtenstein, and Rothko. Some of the gallery’s most popular displays include their collection of African sculptures and artifacts which number in the thousands. Complementing this extensive assemblage is their art from the Mediterranean world, with over 13,000 works and objects on display.
All visitors will also have the chance to experience a wide range of temporary exhibitions which often include master prints, photography, and portraits from around the world.
4. New Haven Green
On the original nine-square settlement plan created by John Brockett, the New Haven Green was to be the centrepiece. Now a privately owned park in downtown New Haven, it’s a historic space enveloped by the most happening streets in town, and the place to go to relax and be with friends and family.
A National Historic Landmark, visitors can explore three churches from the 1800s, each one an architectural gem. Beneath the shady oaks you can get comfortable and enjoy a page-turner, while families can spread out with space to play yard games and have a picnic.
At the center of local life, the New Haven Green is a vibrant place on the weekend and is often the host of local events, including the New Haven Jazz Festival and the Festival of Arts and Ideas.
3. Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
In the Hewitt Quadrangle on Wall Street, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is an incredible hive of rare scripts and novels. The amazing literary archive is housed within an enormous building constructed in 1963 and a gift to Yale from the Beinecke family.
One of the biggest buildings purely dedicated to rare works, the library is a memorable place to wander. Here you’ll come across various displays that include a copy of the Gutenberg Bible and original copies of works by such luminaries like Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, and Benjamin Franklin.
Other scripts you’ll find within the library are prints from the 1700s hailing from places like Japan and Korea. You can also peruse newspapers from before the Civil War.
2. Peabody Museum of Natural History
On Yale’s Whitney Avenue, the Peabody Museum of Natural History was formed in 1866 by George Peabody, a renowned philanthropist. It was one of the first natural history museums in the world and over time it’s grown to be one of the biggest.
Visitors can experience a combination of extensive galleries that cover paleontology, anthropology, geology, and biology, among others. One of the most popular exhibits expands upon the museum’s stunning Egyptology collection. Here you can witness the granite Head of Osiris, mummies, coffins, and a bust of the Ptolemaic King.
The Peabody Museum of Natural History is also home to a Great Hall of Dinosaurs, including a mounted brontosaurus, along with one of the most complete fossil collections in the United States.
1. Yale University
One of the most storied educational institutions in the world, Yale University is home to several of the attractions on this list, plus historic Gothic Revival buildings, stunning grounds, and a lively atmosphere when school is in session. No time in New Haven would be complete without exploring the campus located on Chapel Street.
Yale was founded in 1701 and was known as the Collegiate School. Almost twenty years later, it changed its name to Yale and moved to New Haven. Over the centuries, the campus expanded as its illustrious reputation took hold across the United States. Today, you can roam the university grounds on your way between the Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Art Gallery and the amazing Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.