Fun and Free In CT

Fun and free in CT. As the mother of three boys of varying ages, I’m always looking for something new and fun to do that won’t break the bank. But it seemed like every time I would search on “free things to do in CT” or “free things to do in Connecticut”, I would come up empty handed (or on a page with a ton of spam.

Well, no more. Introducing your ultimate guide to Connecticuts free festivals, summer programs, museums, parks, beaches, and more.  Organized in a simple, easy to read way, you should be able to find multiple free things to do in a short drive from your home. If you happen to be visiting Connecticut, hopefully this list will give you some ideas on free activities to fill your day. And if you live in the state, you should find some precious free gems here.

Did I miss your favorite free activity, festival, park, or something else? I’m always adding to the list! Drop me a note at liz@chiefmomofficer.org to let me know of anything missing so I can add it to the site!

Free CT Festivals – In Order By Month

Free CT Summer Events – Ongoing Summer Musical Events For Free!

 

Free Things to Do By Town – In Alphabetical Order

 About State Parks – Protip before we start – snag the Charter Oak Pass (Life Use) – to get free admission to all parks if you’re 65 or older! Some parks are free only on weekdays or offseason, and this can change over time. Visit the full fee schedule for all CT state parks/forests/beaches – make sure to check this before your visit for up-to-date fees!

Ansonia – Free Things To Do

  • Ansonia Nature and Recreation CenterOur land is a typical Connecticut landscape that encompasses 150 acres of wooded hills, grassy fields, streams,  and  a two acre pond of which provides sanctuary to many species of New England flora & fauna. Join us for a guided hike every Sunday at 1:00…Visit onSaturdays at noon for our popular Creature Feature program with our resident animals or every Sunday for a Guided Hike at 1 PM”

 Barkhampsted  – Free Things To Do

  • American Legion State Forest and Campground – “Four season fun can be found at American Legion/Peoples State Forests which offer the region’s finest fishing, hunting and winter sporting activities nestled amid the wooded splendor…Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935, the historic Nature Museum features displays on forestry, flora and fauna native to Connecticut, local history artifacts, rocks and minerals, and insects.  Programs are offered throughout the summer.  The Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Museum is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, Friday through Sunday 10:30 am – 4:30 pm. Admission is free.”

 Derby – Free Things To Do

  • Osbornedale State Park– “Osbornedale State Park is located in the Naugatuck Valley Hills just east of the Housatonic River in Derby and Ansonia. The land was once the lushly forested hunting grounds of the Paugussett Indians. Fur traders, such as John Wakeman in 1642, were the first people of European descent to move into the Indians’ territory. Permanent settlers began arriving in the late 1650’s. The land was gradually purchased from the Paugussetts for items such as clothing or cooking utensils. Because the Europeans concept of property rights was not embodied in the Indian culture, the Indians often sold the same parcel of land several times.”

East Haddam –  Free Things To Do

  • Devil’s Hopyard State Park and Campground – “Could the round holes in the falls really be the work of the devil?  Or, just nature and water making their mark for future generations?  Visit Devil’s Hopyard and find your own answer to this age-old mystery.”
  • Gillette Castle State Park– Free parking, free to walk around the castle grounds and the park, cost to tour the castle. “It looks like a medieval fortress, but a step inside the stone castle reveals the built-in couches, table trackway, and woodcarvings that all point to the creative genius that was William Gillette”

Fairfield – Free Things To Do

  • Connecticut Audubon Society Center“The Connecticut Audubon Society conserves Connecticut’s environment through science-based education and advocacy focused on the state’s bird populations and habitats. Founded in 1898, the Connecticut Audubon Society operates nature facilities in Fairfield, Milford, Glastonbury, Pomfret, Hampton, and Sherman, a center in Old Lyme, an EcoTravel office in Essex and an Environmental Advocacy program in Hartford. Connecticut Audubon Society manages 19 wildlife sanctuaries around the state, preserves 3,300 acres of open space in Connecticut and educates over 200,000 children and adults annually. Working exclusively in the state of Connecticut for over 100 years, Connecticut Audubon is an independent organization, not affiliated with any national or governmental group”

Griswold

  • Hopeville Pond State Park and Campground – “Visitors can fish, swim or camp on the serene shores of Hopeville Pond. The site, which once boasted several successful mill operations, offers a fine mix of quality recreation and local history.” Free weekdays

Groton – Free Things To Do

  • Groton Submarine Force Museum, “The Submarine Force Museum, located on the Thames River in Groton, Connecticut, maintains the world’s finest collection of submarine artifacts. It is the only submarine museum operated by the United States Navy, and as such is the primary repository for artifacts, documents and photographs relating to U.S. Submarine Force history. The museum traces the development of the “Silent Service” from David Bushnell’s Turtle, used in the Revolutionary War, to the Ohio and Virginia class submarines.”

Haddam – Free Things To Do

Hamden – Free Things To Do

  • Sleeping Giant State Park – “Two miles of mountaintop resembling a sleeping giant give this park its name, and make it a distinguishing feature on Connecticut’s skyline…Two miles of mountaintop resembling a large man lying in repose, the “sleeping giant”, is a popular feature of the south central Connecticut skyline. A 1 1/2 mile scenic trail leads to the stone observation tower on the peak of Mt. Carmel which provides an excellent view of Long Island Sound and the New Haven area.” Free weekdays

Hebron – Free Things To Do

  • Gay City State Park – “Gay City State Park offers a glimpse into Connecticut’s industrial roots with over 1500 acres of endless opportunities for outdoor fun including the exploration of extinct mill-town ruins and stone foundations.” Free weekdays

Kent – Free Things To Do

  • Kent Falls State Park – Free on weekdays. “Wander across the covered bridge, hike the falls, and feel the mist on your face as water cascades 250′ down on its way to joining the Housatonic River.”
  • Macedonia Brook State Park and Campground – “The 2,300-acre Macedonia Brook State Park, originated with a 1,552-acre gift from the White Memorial Foundation of Litchfield in 1918. The park’s exciting terrain has resulted from the slow wearing down of its hard rock formation base. The Blue Trail crosses Cobble Mountain and several other peaks, offering outstanding views of the Catskills and Taconics. Numerous springs and streams add to the pleasure of hiking”
  • Lake Waramaug State Park and Campground – “Scenically, few bodies of water in Connecticut can rival the picturesque setting of Lake Waramaug.  When vivid fall foliage is mirrored in the unrippled lake surface, the park becomes a mecca for sightseers and photographers.” Free weekdays

Killingsworth – Free Things To Do

  • Chatfield Hollow State Park – “Hike the trails in search of Indian caves, explore the jagged rocky ledges and recesses, relax by the cooling waters, or picnic in the soft pine woods at Chatfield Hollow State Park.” Free weekdays

 Lyme – Free Things To Do

  • Selden Neck State Park – This park is actually an island, so you’ll need to bring a boat to get to it. No fees for visiting, fees for camping. “Though called Selden Neck, this park is actually an island. Cut off from the mainland in the 1850s, Selden Neck has spent the better part of 160 years on its own as the largest island in the Connecticut River”

Hartford – Free Things To Do

  • State Capitol– Free one-hour guided tours on weekdays. View statues, the Hall of Flags, and the CT Hall of Fame. You can even see the General Assembly when the House or Senate is in session!
  • Governor’s Mansion– The official residence of the governor of CT, there are occasional free tours during the holidays – visit the site for details!
  • Coltsville National Historic Park– “Designated a National Historic Landmark in 2008, the Coltsville Historic Districtoffers a unique glimpse into life in mid-19th century America from the elegant “Armsmear” mansion of Samuel and Elizabeth Colt to the factory buildings of the Colt Firearms Manufacturing Company to the worker’s housing. Free tours Starting June 3: Every Saturday & Sunday, 10 am & 2 pm. Starts at Colt Monument at the 130 Wethersfield Avenue entrance to Colt Park.”
  • Museum of Connecticut History, HartfordAt the Museum of Connecticut History, you’ll find exhibits that trace the growth of the State and its role in the development of the nation. The Museum focuses on Connecticut’s government, industrial and military history. Find out how Samuel Colt, Elisha Root, and Mark Twain figure into the story and the ingredients he’s discovered that mark Connecticut as a standout place of invention in the late 19th century. Museum is open Monday-Friday: 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. and Saturday: 9:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.”
  • Elizabeth Park Rose Gardens, Hartford–“ The rose garden is the center of Elizabeth Park. It is the first municipal rose garden in the United States and the third largest rose garden in the country today. There are over 15,000 rose bushes and 800 varieties of old and new roses in the garden. Elizabeth Park is open from sunrise to sunset every day of the year.”  There are concerts in the summer as well

Litchfield – Free Things To Do

  • Tapping Reeve House & Law School– “TAPPING REEVE HOUSE & LAW SCHOOL takes visitors on a journey through the life of a real student from the early 19th century. Through role-playing, hands-on areas, and interpretive exhibits, each visitor explores timeless issues of travel, communication, education, and community.”
  • White Memorial Conservation Center– “An Environmental Education Center and Nature Museum located in the heart of the 4,000-acre White Memorial Foundation, in the hills of northwestern Connecticut.” Museum has a small charge with a number of “children free” weeks, where kids under 12 are free, you can check out the details here. 40 miles of trails are free to walk

Milford – Free Things To Do

  • ·Silver Sands State Park – The State Park acquisition of Silver Sands, ultimately involving over 300 parcels, began after Hurricane “Diane” destroyed 75 homes in 1955.  The City of Milford, needing help to renovate the battered beach, asked the Park Commission for help with the nearly overwhelming task.  When the land transfers were complete in 1960, Silver Sands became the state’s fourth shoreline park. “

Middletown

  • Wadsworth Mansion– Free tours every Wednesday from 2-4 PM, with occasional free events. “The trails around the Wadsworth Mansion are free and open to the public daily between sunrise and sunset.” Also in July on Wednesdays, you can go picnicking and enjoy concerts-all for free
  • Wadsworth Falls State Park – “Enjoy hiking or biking the varied trails of the park or spend some time enjoying the beautiful falls.  For a longer stay, visit the designated swimming and picnic area of the park.  Please note that swimming and picnicking are prohibited at the Big Falls – it is an area intended for short visits to view the scenic falls.” Free weekdays

New Britain – Free Things To Do

  • Walnut Hill Park New BritainA rose garden, ampetheater, and very large WWI monument await you at Walnut Hill Park. Come for an afternoon and be sure to bring a picnic lunch!
  • CCSU Astronomy– I used to intern here as a teenager (many years ago!). It’s amazing! “Allof the programming is free and open to the general public. Planetarium shows occur at 8 PM on the first and third Saturdays of each month, except when they fall on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or New Years Eve or Day. Directly after each show, if the skies are clear, you’re invited up to the roof to view the night sky through a variety of telescopes and other instruments.” You can see Jupiter and all its moons, or Saturn’s rings!
  • New Britain Industrial Museum– “The mission of the New Britain Industrial Museum is to collect, preserve and exhibit to the general public examples of industrial artifacts representative of the ingenuity and creativeness of generations of Hardware City people in a continuing effort both to cultivate awareness of their past productivity and to inspire future industrial accomplishment. They’ll be in a new facility in early September, and there will be free admission for every Saturday morning from 10-12.”
  • New Britain Museum of American Art– “The New Britain Museum of American Art’s founding in 1903 entitles the institution to be designated the first museum of strictly American art in the country. That year, a $20,000 gift of gold bonds to the museum’s former parent, the New Britain Institute, from industrialist John Butler Talcott, created funds to purchase ”modern oil paintings.” Subsequent purchases, with advice from New York museums and galleries, further defined ”modern” to mean American works of art, now numbering more than 8,300. With particular strengths in colonial portraiture, the Hudson River School, American Impressionism, and the Ash Can School, not to mention the important mural series The Arts of Life in America by Thomas Hart Benton, the museum relies heavily on its permanent collection for exhibitions and programming, yet also displays a significant number of borrowed shows and work by emerging artists. Free Saturday admission from 10 a.m. to noon, and free admission to active members of the military and up to five of their family members from Memorial Day to Labor Day”
  • CCSU Art Department– “The Central Connecticut State University Art Galleries are first and foremost educational galleries. Every semester, (they) have at least three major shows, one of which showcases CCSU student artwork. In May, at the end of the spring semester, studio art majors exhibit their work, and in December, at the end of the fall semester, art education majors exhibit their work before beginning their student teaching in the spring. Monday-Friday, 1:00pm-4:00pm. Admission to all exhibits and events hosted by the CCSU Art Galleries is free”

New London – Free Things To Do

  • Connecticut College Arboretum– The Connecticut College Arboretum provides a welcome connection with the natural world, offering opportunities for teaching, research, conservation, recreation and public education. The Arboretum is open to the public seven days a week from dawn to dusk.” First and Second Sunday of each month offer a free guided tour, from May -October
  • Fort Trumbull State Park– Free parking, free to walk around, cost to tour the fort. “Since Colonial times Fort Trumbull served as the location of various military forts, schools and research facilities for the United States Army, Coast Guard and Navy. The first Fort Trumbull was built to protect the New London Harbor from British attack and later served as part of the country’s coastal defense system. The masonry fort (the third) that stands today was constructed between 1839 and 1852.”

New Haven – Free Things To Do

  • Knights of Columbus Museum– “Established in 1982, the Knights of Columbus Museum, Inc. is a nonprofit institution serving the educational interests of the general public through periodic exhibitions of artwork and related content. Located in New Haven, Conn., where the Knights of Columbus was founded in 1882, it also serves as an archive, repository, and gallery for documents and artifacts pertaining to the Catholic fraternal organization’s foundation, history and activities. Open Daily, Sunday through Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.”
  • Yale Center for British art– “The Yale Center for British Art houses the largest collection of British art outside the United Kingdom. Presented to the university by Paul Mellon (Yale College, Class of 1929), the collection reflects the development of British art and culture from the Elizabethan period onward. Open Tuesday – Saturday 10 AM – 5 PM, and Sunday noon to 5 PM.”
  • Yale Collection of musical instruments– “The Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments is committed to fostering an understanding and appreciation of musical instruments from all cultures and periods.. It provides access to and disseminates information about its holdings to Yale students, faculty, and staff; to scholars, musicians, and instrument makers; and to the broader public. The museum’s galleries are open from September through July – Tuesday–Friday 1PM – 4 PM and Sunday 1–5 PM.”
  • Yale University Art Gallery– “The Gallery’s permanent collection was founded in 1832 when the patriot-artist John Trumbull gave more than one hundred of his paintings to Yale College. Since that time, the collection has grown to number more than 200,000 objects representing Eastern and Western cultures and ranging in date from ancient times to the present day. Tuesday–Friday10:00 am–5:00 pm; Thursday (Sept.–June)10:00 am–8:00 pm; Saturday–Sunday11:00 am–5:00 pm”
  • Sterling Memorial Library– “Located in the heart of today’s Central Campus, the Sterling Memorial Library is one of Yale’s most prominent buildings, as well as being the largest of all the Yale libraries.  It currently houses approximately 4 million volumes on 16 floors of book stacks.  It was built in the Collegiate Gothic style, resembling a European Gothic cathedral, with its 60-foot ceiling, cloisters, clerestory windows, side chapels, and a circulation desk altar.  Hours vary by library, check the link provided for details.”
  • Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library– “Individuals are always welcome to visit the Beinecke Library’s ground floor and mezzanine public exhibition areas, to see the building, permanent exhibitions, and varied special exhibitions throughout the year. An information sheet about the library’s history, mission, architecture, collection, and services is available at the security desk at the entrance and the special exhibitions can be enjoyed on a self-guided basis.”
  • Yale School of Architecture exhibitions– “The exhibits in the gallery explore how the field of architecture and individual designers impact how we live. “
  • Yale Peobody Museum– “Mission is to serve Yale University by advancing our understanding of earth’s history through geological, biological, and anthropological research, and by communicating the results of this research to the widest possible audience through publication, exhibition, and educational programs.Open Tuesday through Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Sunday Noon to 5:00 pm. Free on Thursdays from 2 – 5 PM from September through June. Or on the first full weekend of the month, Bank of America or Merrill Lynch cardholders and employees receive one free admission when they present their valid credit or debit card or proof of employment. The Museum is free on the Sunday and Monday of Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend for the Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy of Environmental and Social Justice, the ¡Fiesta Latina! celebration usually held in October, and the Summer’s Last Roarcelebration usually held on a Saturday in late August. Check event listings for specific dates and times! If you’re a CT resident you can also usually get a discount or free pass through your library.”
  • Elm Shakespeare Company– Free Shakespeare shows every summer – a must see!

Sharon – Free Things To Do

  • Housatonic Meadows State Park and Campground – “Camping under the tall pines on the riverbank at Housatonic Meadows evokes a genuine back-to-nature feeling.  The clear, cold river water also provides a fine opportunity for fly fishermen to test their skills on trout and bass.”

Simsbury – Free Things To Do

  • Heublein Tower at Talcott Mountain State Park– “The Tower Trail is 1.25 miles long; a walk to the Tower takes approximately 30 – 40 minutes. Also running through the park is a section of the Metacomet Trail, developed and maintained with volunteer assistance by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. …Museum hours are 10 am to 5 pm”
  • Stratton Brook State Park – “Stratton Brook offers swimming, picnicking, and interpretive programs in a beautifully wooded setting, with wheelchair accessibility.” Free weekdays

Sprague – Free Things To Do

  • Salt Rock State Park Campground – Free to visit the park, but fees for camping. “Covering 149 wooded acres in a rural setting that was once farmland, Salt Rock offers walking trails, river and fishing access in addition to its 71 tent and RV sites. Located in eastern Connecticut, the campground is near many tourism destinations including Mystic and New London attractions.”

 Southbury – Free Things To Do

Stamford – Free Things To Do

  • SoundWaters Coastal Education Center– “Located in Stamford’s Cove Island Park,  the SoundWaters Coastal Education Center opened in the fall of 2000. Our Center is free and open to the public, and home to hundreds of species native to Long Island Sound. It includes a Teaching Aquarium with aquatic tanks that feature benthic animals from the Sound and coastal salt marshes, fresh water animals that live in local rivers, special tanks for horseshoe crabs and Diamondback terrapins, and a touch tank. It also houses a Learning Lab and environmental displays. The SoundWaters Center is open from 10:00 – 5:00 daily, Tuesday – Saturday. From Memorial Day to Labor Day a parking pass is required for the Cove Island Park.”

Storrs – Free Things To Do

  • Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry–“The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry (BIMP) was established for the purpose of promoting public recognition of puppetry as an art form through the preservation and exhibition of puppets created by Frank W. Ballard on the campus of the University of Connecticut. By expanding this collection to include the work of other puppeteers; by maintaining permanent records; by preserving the heritage and traditions of the art of puppetry; by providing the residents of Connecticut, and others, with a unique source of entertainment and education, the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry shall offer a continuing variety of puppetry events for all ages”
  • UConn Animal Barns– “Everyone is welcome to explore our animal barns that are open to the public and to learn more about the animals that are used in the Department of Animal Science program. Visitors can see dairy and beef cows, sheep, and horses. The poultry units are closed to the public. Young animals can be found in the barns at the following times of year at barns that are opened to the public: baby foals in the summer in outside paddocks at Horse Unit II, lambs during February and March outside only at Livestock Unit 1, dairy calves year-round at the Cattle Resource Unit and beef calves beginning in mid March outside at Livestock Unit 1. Every day visitors can view the UConn dairy cows being milked from 12:30 – 3:00 p.m. at the Kellogg Dairy Center.”
  • J. Robert Donnelly Husky Heritage Sports Museum, “The Husky Heritage Sports Museum is the ultimate library documenting the wide-ranging successes of Connecticut’s athletic programs. The state-of-the-art design and layout of the 2,700 square foot Husky Heritage Sports Museum, named after benefactor and 1940 Connecticut basketball and football captain J. Robert (Bob) Donnelly, vividly captures all of the energy, excitement and enthusiasm that is associated with “Huskymania”. The museum is free of charge to the general public during regular business hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday) at the UConn Alumni Center.”

Thomaston – Free Things To Do

  • Quaddick State Park – “The state park was once the site of Thompson’s town farm where elderly residents of the village spent their reflective years. Prior to that, it had been a fishing area of the Nipmuck Indians” Free weekdays

Torrington – Free Things To Do

  • Burr Pond State Park – “Go swimming and have a picnic at Burr Pond, then hike the trails and learn about the history of Borden’s Condensed Milk.” Free on weekdays

Union – Free Things To Do

  • Bigelow Hollow State Park – “Bigelow Hollow State Park and the adjoining Nipmuck State Forest offer over 9,000 acres of recreation opportunities including miles of hiking trails, the 18 acre Bigelow Pond, and 300 acre Mashapaug Pond in Eastern Connecticut.” Free on weekdays

Voluntown – Free Things To Do

Washington – Free Things To Do

  • Steep Rock Preserve– “The Steep Rock preserve offers hiking trails which follow the river banks and provide access into the hillsides above. Near the north end, there are remnants of carriage roads, one of which leads from Tunnel Road to the site of the Holiday House (no longer standing), a hotel built in 1893 by philanthropist Edward I. Van Ingen as a retreat for young working women from New York City.Farther downstream, trails traverse the slopes above the river and follow the double oxbows (where the river loops south, north, and then south again). Nearby is the railroad tunnel, a rough arch cut through the rock ledge which allowed just enough room for the locomotive and cars to pass through.”

Westport – Free Things To Do

  • Sherwood Island State Park – “Connecticut’s first state park is still one of its finest. Have a leisurely lunch in the shade of the picnic grove, swim in Long Island Sound, or view marsh life from the observation platform at Sherwood Island…The Nature Center is open Wednesday – Sunday 10 am to 4 pm.” Free on weekdays in the fall before Memorial day and after Labor Day, and free on weekends after two weeks before Memorial Day/after Labor Day
  • The Observatory at the Westport Astronomical Society For over 40 years, the Westport Astronomical Society has brought the wonders of the night sky to the thousands who have visited the observatory. We’re a volunteer-run, non-profit organization that’s free and open to the public every Wednesday night from 8-10 pm, if the skies are clear. Remember, near the summer solstice it doesn’t get dark until late, so please plan to come after sunset. The Dome Observatory covers a 12.5″ Newtonian telescope and the lawn regularly hosts the HUGE 25″ Obsession telescope, the largest in Connecticut available to the public. WAS has free monthly meetings with experts at the top of their fields. We feature speakers from the Hayden Planetarium, The American Museum of Natural History, Yale, NYU, UConn, Cornell, Wesleyan, Columbia as well as educators from all over the globe who enrich our community with cutting edge discussions on cosmology, physics, and astronomy.

Wilton – Free Things To Do

  • Weir Farm National Historic Site– “Designed and preserved by artists, Weir Farm National Historic Site welcomes everyone to  experience the power of creativity, art, and nature. Escape to the only national park dedicated to American painting and rediscover the beauty of light and color in everyday life.” “There are no fees to visit Weir Farm NHS. Access to the parking lot, grounds, special programs, Burlingham House Visitor Center, Weir Studio, Young Studio, and ranger-guided tours of the Weir House are free of charge.”

Woodbury – Free Things To Do

  • Flanders Nature Center – “Flanders Nature Center & Land Trust acquires, preserves, and manages land; and uses the land to promote the understanding and appreciation of nature, art, and the environment.” Enjoy hiking and visiting historical buildings

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