From highbrow and historical to hip and high adventure, Hartford packs a lot into its 18 square miles. Capital of Connecticut and second in size to Bridgeport in population, Hartford’s city life includes cultural venues, educational and medical institutions, sports arenas, fine dining, and historical houses and neighborhoods.
Originally a trading post and fort named The House of Good Hope, the city has long prided itself on its cultural underpinnings. The Wadsworth Atheneum, the nation’s oldest public art museum, is located in the robust downtown area. Exhibiting nearly 5,000 works of art, its collections include Hudson River School landscapes, both American and European Impressionist painting and modern masterpieces. A few blocks away is the Connecticut State Capitol, a Hartford historic site and an architectural gem with its intricate marble exterior, statuary and a gold-leaf dome. Free guided walking tours are offered each morning and afternoon.
Among must-see downtown Hartford attractions is The Old State House, Connecticut’s original capitol, where visitors can learn about Connecticut state history. A short walk away, the 27-story headquarters of The Travelers offers visitors free admission to its observation tower to enjoy city views.
Just east of downtown, the Connecticut Convention Center with its 2005 opening stands as the newest venue of its kind in the Northeast. The center overlooks the Connecticut River and anchors Adriaen’s Landing, a $775-million riverfront development project. The adjacent Connecticut Science Center offers 150 hands-on exhibits such as SimMan, a healthcare mannequin, and Robot Humanoid, a showcase of advances in robotics.
Northwest of downtown, several historic sites provide a glimpse into Hartford’s rich literary legacy. A must-see Hartford attraction is the Mark Twain House, an ornate example of Victorian Gothic architecture. Visitors also enjoy the more austere Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, which showcases horticulture in warmer months, and the West Hartford home of Noah Webster, the man who gave us the first dictionary of American English.
Hartford cemeteries are the final resting place for many famous people from our nation’s past. In southwestern Hartford is Cedar Hill Cemetery, established in 1864, which encompasses 270 acres. Among many other distinguished and notable persons buried in the cemetery are actress Katharine Hepburn, who always spoke fondly of her hometown; Samuel Colt, who invented the Colt revolver; and financier John P. Morgan. The cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places.
During summer months, those who enjoy being outdoors can take boat tours and rent rafts at Adriaen’s Landing. Thirty minutes northwest of the city line is Satan’s Kingdom State Recreation Area on the Farmington River where visitors can rent inner tubes and float downstream through miles of gorges and rapids, or brave the whitewater with a guided rafting tour. The park has free parking as well as facilities for changing clothes. 45 minutes south is the gem of Connecticut’s state park system, Hammonasett Beach, with miles of white sand, gentle surf, well-equipped pavilions and nature trails.
Hartford is an easy-to-reach destination via air or rail as it shares an international airport with Springfield, Massachusetts and is on an Amtrak line.