I travel in the U.S. quite a lot and when I travel, it’s on the cheap. There aren’t a lot of free things to do, but you might be surprised to find that a lot of fun things are not real pricey. I did find Hartford to be a very easy city to get around in (and I’ve been lost in a lot of cities in the world). We ran a map quest of the places we wanted to visit before leaving home. The streets were well marked and the highway on and off ramps were easy to find. Here are my suggestions of things to do on the cheap.
Bushnell Park is the biggest park in the city, in fact among the oldest in the country. Brownstone Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch was dedicated in 1886. There is a fancy, old (1914) carousel located here ($1 per ride). This is a good picnic stop if you need to slow things down a bit.
Elizabeth Park is the 3rd largest rose garden in the country (15,000 flowers). Try to see this in the spring or early summer.
Riverfront Park has shopping and boats and a nice walkway.
Hartford Star – free downtown shuttle
Connecticut Fire Museum and Connecticut Trolley Museum are in East Windsor just a few miles from the airport. $7 covers both places including a 3 mile ride on a trolley car.
**New England Air Museum – 10:00 – 5:00 – $9.00 (AAA discount) (open every day) is an absolute for airplane buffs. It is located on the north end of Bradley Airport about 7 miles down the perimeter road. The museum occupies 3 buildings of about 75,000 sq ft plus outside displays. There are sections on Military history and aircraft, women in aviation, the Tuskegee Airmen, the history of civilian aircraft and a lot of interactive displays. Allow between 1 ½ and 3 hours for this one.
***Mark Twain House – 9:30 – 5:30 – $16.00 is (as far as I’m concerned) a must see for anyone at all interested in history, architecture, or literature. There is a large museum with an introductory film and a room full of displays. I learned a lot of interesting facts about Mark Twain (Samuel Clemmons). He was born in Hannibal, MO, and that is where the Huck Finn and Mark Twain stories took place, but this house in Hartford is where he wrote those and several other stories. The mansion itself is pretty amazing from an architectural view point (especially considering the time period).
**Harriett Beecher Stowe Center- 9:30 – 4:30 – $8.00 is right next door to Mark Twain’s house. (These are downtown, just off I84). Interestingly, they were neighbors and knew each other. If you’re doing the one and have extra time, you should do Harriett’s place, but of the two, this one rates slightly lower on my list of must dos. Harriett’s whole family was very influential in their time. She wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and according to President Lincoln, was the “little lady who started this Great War”.
If you have more than one day you really should drive to:
***Mystic Seaport – 9 – 5, every day – $16.00. This was about an hour and 15 minute drive south east from Hartford. The town of Mystic actually has a ton of stuff to do: Nature Center, Aquarium, Arboretum, Essex Steam Train and River Boat, and lots of lighthouses. We, however, did only the Seaport Whaling Village and that took us several hours. There is a preservation shipyard where you can watch ships being rebuilt and a village where you can watch craftsmen at work. You can go onboard several ships, and just imagine the conditions endured while sailing the oceans in these craft. They have some excellent museums with rotating special exhibits including “Black Hands, Blue Seas” about black sailors. The wind off the water was wicked cold and there was a lot of walking (or in my case a lot of wheelchair riding – they rent wheelchairs and are very accessible). The guides were very informative and the village was very interesting. There is an excellent seafood restaurant also or you can buy snacks at the souvenir shop. Of course, while we were near the coast, we had to take a little drive t check out a local beach which was very nice (and free I might add).
Hartford is only one of many great destinations that can be explored and enjoyed on a beer budget. As always, research your hotels ahead of time and call the hotel direct for reservations. If it’s a slow time of year, I can often save $20 per night this way. Fill up on your free continental breakfast at the hotel and buy snacks at a local grocery store. Dinner for us is always a local specialty – in this case New England clam chowder and seafood. Enjoy Hartford’s attractions whether your interests are in history, aviation, literature, or just good travel with new things to experience.