Top Things to do in Mystic, CT with Your Family
Mystic, Connecticut has been pleasing families since its founding in 1654. One of America’s best family destinations, it entertains and educates kids and parents alike. There is excitement on the water, under the water and beside the water.
There are so many wonderful things to do in Mystic, CT. You can stroll through our seafaring past in Mystic Seaport. At Mystic Aquarium, encounter amazing sea mammals. Then explore Dr. Robert Ballard’s artifacts from the Titanic. Continue on to Groton to visit the submarine service and the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear powered vessel. Finally, stop at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. Discover the history of the Native Americans who inhabited Connecticut long before the colonists arrived. In just a three-day weekend in Mystic, your family will go 18,000 years back in time and will create a lifetime of memories.
Mystic is located on Connecticut’s Atlantic coast at the mouth of the Mystic River. The name Mystic derives from a Pequot term meaning large river with wind driven or tidal waves. The town is just off I95 approximately three hours drive from New York and two hours from Boston. You can also take Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor train service to Mystic. Bradley Airport, one hour away at Windsor Locks, is the nearest airport.
Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea is a living museum, a recreated 19th Century village with real, preserved buildings staffed by actors and artisans. There are sailors, fishermen, smiths, coopers, printers and general merchants. You walk into the past and experience life as it was two centuries ago. If walking is tiring, catch a ride with a horse and buggy.
Galleries feature maritime art, ships’ models and beautiful old ships’ figureheads. Visit the Planetarium and navigate by the stars. You can board many of the restored historic ships including the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whale ship, the Joseph Conrad, an 1882 square rigged training ship, and the L.A.Dunton, an early 20th Century fishing schooner. Enjoy the water and take a harbor tour on the Sabino, a 1908 coal fired, wooden steamboat.
Kids will find lots to do beyond the hands-on exploration of the village. They can communicate with flags, paint their faces as pirates and play in a playground built around a ship. To appreciate Mystic Seaport you need at least a full day, but you can explore at more depth over several days. We always discover something new when we visit.
Mystic Aquarium features beluga whales, sea lions, African penguin, sharks and many other fish. There are several touch tanks which allow you to touch sharks, rays, and crabs. There are encounter programs with the beluga whales and with the penguins. Most families can plan to enjoy at least a half day at the Aquarium. The aquarium is also home base for Dr. Robert Ballard, the marine archaeologist who found the Titanic. Dr. Ballard displays both his exploration vehicles and artifacts that he has recovered.
The USS Nautilus and the Submarine Force Museum in Groton is a 12 minute drive (8 miles) from Mystic. The Nautilus is the world’s first nuclear powered vessel and it was the first ship to go to the North Pole. You can board the Nautilus and completely tour the submarine. The museum traces the development of submarines from the 1700s. You will also see several miniature submarines on display. Entrance to the Nautilus and the Museum is free. Plan a half day visit.
Mashantucket Pequot Museum
Twenty minutes away (10 miles) from Mystic, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum traces Native American history from the Ice Age to the present. There are excellent dioramas that show Pequot tribal life and diet over 18,000 years. There are also good interactive displays. Both tribal culture and natural history are described. America was already populated when the first European settlers arrived. The Pequot Museum clearly demonstrates this.
Plan a half day at the Pequot Museum in order to appreciate its exhibits. The Museum is near the Foxwoods and MGM Grand casinos for those with a fondness for gambling. The Mohegan Sun casino is a little farther away.
There are several other, lesser known attractions in the greater Mystic area. You can ride a steam train and a wooden riverboat in Essex. Argia Mystic Cruises offers river and harbor cruises. The Dinosaur Place in Oakdale features dinosaur replicas in a park. Major music and comedy acts regularly appear at the casino theaters. Tickets are often available.
Mystic and the surrounding area also have good factory outlet shopping. Finally, there are several mini-golf courses for the aspiring golf champions in your family and several bowling lanes as well.
Accommodations, Restaurants and Tickets
Our family prefers staying at Hilton Mystic for three simple reasons: facilities, location and people. The hotel rooms are spacious and the indoor pool is always fun for the kids. The hotel is opposite the Mystic Aquarium so we can walk. Finally, the staff members are friendly and always ready to help with suggestions. You also can buy attraction tickets from the hotel at a discount so just ask the front desk.
There are many good dining options in Mystic and the hotel staff will offer guidance if you want particular cuisines. For excellent seafood and a view of the drawbridge try the upscale S&P Oyster Co. For movie fans of Julia Roberts, Mystic Pizza is a must stop. Finally, the kids will love the rich and creamy ice cream at Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream. Or, try the the Mystic Sweet Shoppe, owned by small-batch ice cream makers who locally source their dairy and also specialize in homemade fudge and gourmet artisanal chocolates.
When visiting Mystic, try planning your tour so that you know which attractions you will be visiting. There are value packages available including a Mystic Pass Card and a Mystic Pass Plus Card. These offer discounts on several museums and are a good value. Check out the Mystic Country website for more specific details.
- See all of our vacation photos from Mystic, Connecticut.
- Learn more about family vacations to New York City and things to do near Boston.
Our Hilton Mom Voyage team members live throughout the U.S. and have traveled by air and car all over the world with their families!