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Hartford, Connecticut 72-Hour Vacation

City Sights Sans Stress
The Tourist and Mark Twain

The Hartford Skyline at Night
The Hartford Skyline at Night

Boston may have more historic mystique, but Connecticut's capital won’t confound you with traffic snarls, one-way-streets and misleading highway signs. The Big Apple certainly boasts superior nightlife, but walking between Hartford's hot spots in your Manolo Blahniks won't leave you with painfully blistered feet. Though Hartford is the often overlooked and underappreciated middle child of Northeast cities, the riverside capital that bloomed with the development of America's insurance industry has enough sophistication to entertain without the usual hassles of urban escapes. Better still, we know that when we choose Hartford for a long weekend away, the ease with which we can come and go opens up a world of recreational opportunities, from river tubing to Craps shooting.

Though most downtown hotels fall into the category of fairly standard, business-class lodging, many are conveniently located within the compact city center. The Hilton Hartford is a particularly good choice. The Residence Inn, although designed for long-term stays, is a suitable option for those who want to feel right at home in Hartford. The city's newest hotel, the Hartford Marriott Downtown, is attached to the recently built Connecticut Convention Center. Each of these hotels is located near a stop on the route of the Hartford Star Shuttle, a complimentary downtown shuttle bus service, which makes it easy for visitors to tour the city with relative little hassle, or sore feet.


The State Capitol Building
The State Capitol Building

When a hearty breakfast is in order, locals know precisely where to go—Mo's Midtown just off of Farmington Avenue in the West End. So why not hop in your car and head to Mo's, where you'll find thick, buttery pancakes, mounds of hash browns fresh from the griddle and probably the best omelets in town. After such a feast, you'll be fueled up to discover the city that serves as the seat of government for America's third smallest state. Although you might feel like walking after ingesting a calorie and carbohydrate laden meal at Mo's, it's a bit too far to make it back downtown by foot, so hop in the car once more and drive by Bushnell Park and the glittering, gilded dome atop the 1878 State Capitol Building, designed in High Victorian Gothic style, which is one of the city's most prominent architectural features. The statehouse, a National Historic Landmark, is the perfect starting point for a walking tour of the city. If you choose to venture inside, complimentary guided tours provide insight into Connecticut's storied past and the perfect opportunity to view government in action when the legislature is in session.

Bushnell Park, the nation's oldest public park, also doubles as the capitol's front lawn. This oasis of green, designed by Jacob Weidenmann, contains its fair share of surprises: at the northwest corner of the park, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch is a distinctive, brownstone monument that honors the 4,000 Hartford residents, including 128 African-American soldiers and 400 locals, who battled on behalf of the Union during the Civil War. In the southeastern corner of Bushnell Park, view changing exhibits of works by Connecticut artists inside the Pump House Gallery, which also doubles as a pleasant little bistro with ample patio seating from late May through early September. The best treat of all is the centrally situated Bushnell Park Carousel, a meticulously restored antique merry-go-round that dates back to1914. For just a dollar, riders of any age can choose a mount and canter away to the tunes of the Wurlitzer 153 band organ. The carousel operates from May through mid-October.

From the northeast corner of Bushnell Park, walk north one block on Trumbull Street and then take a right on Pearl. At the intersection of Pearl and Main Streets, you'll find Hartford's Old State House. This predecessor to the current capitol is one of the oldest state houses in the nation and was the site of the signing of the country's first written constitution. Designed by noted architect Charles Bulfinch and completed in 1796, the Old State House is now a museum of history and curiosities that you can explore at your leisure for a modest admission fee; only $6 for adults and $3 for kids.

If the weather is threatening, or if walking doesn't appeal to you, reserve a Heritage Trail guided sightseeing ride through the capital. Sit back and discover the city through the eyes of some of its most famous former residents, including Mark Twain, Samuel Colt and Katharine Hepburn. One of the city's distinctive local landmarks is the onion-shaped, cerulean-toned dome of the original Colt Firearms Factory. Nestled on the banks of the Connecticut River, the factory was re-built by Colt's wife, Elizabeth, in 1864, following a devastating fire. Colt died in 1862.

The Mark Twain House and Museum
The Mark Twain House and Museum

Now that you've familiarized yourself with the city and worked up an appetite, it's time to hop in a car and venture off to Hartford's historic West End. Merely cruising along the tree-lined, sleepy little streets that comprise the majority of this neighborhood is a treat; nearly 70% of the neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Districts. You won't find a more scenic spot for lunch than the Pond House Café in Elizabeth Park. Munch on organic veggie salads, creative sandwich selections and hearty hot entrées inside this bright and inviting restaurant overlooking the park's duck pond. We won't tell if you sneak a crumb or two out for the feathered freeloaders who flock to America's oldest municipal rose garden. Elizabeth Park boasts more than 15,000 rose bushes arrayed in beds, on arches and along fences. More than 900 varieties of roses bloom each year at this magnificent spot, which is at its peak in early summer. The herb, perennial and rock gardens, along with 100-year-old greenhouses, ensure that there is always something in bloom.

Once you've literally stopped and smelled the roses, you'll want to tour two landmark West End homes: literary legends Samuel Clemens and Harriet Beecher Stowe were neighbors at Nook Farm during the late 19th century. Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, was at the pinnacle of his career—he published seven novels, including Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, between 1874 and 1891 while residing in the nineteen-room Victorian mansion with Tiffany appointments. The Mark Twain House and Museum showcase s Hartford's most famous former resident and provide s perspective on his work, his genius and the triumphs and tragedies of his life, often via humorous passages from the author's own writing inscribed on key spots along the museum's wall. Stowe's fame peaked prior to her Hartford days with the publication in 1852 of the anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. But, as you visit the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center or tour her Victorian cottage (adjacent to the Twain house), you'll learn that her 51-year writing career was actually remarkably diverse. If souvenir shopping is on your agenda, be sure to allow time to browse in the museum gift shops at both historic sites.

The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch
Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch

Nearby West Hartford Center, a short jog west on Farmington Avenue is also a prime destination for shoppers with boutiques, galleries, a toyshop and even a dog bakery within a walkable radius. Many of the curbside coffee shops and restaurants offer café-style outdoor seating, so grab a steamy cappuccino and watch the world go by.

Just a short walk away, you'll find the recently developed Blue Back Square, the area's newest, hippest shopping and dining destination. Part faux-small town village center, part modern promenade, the square contains all the amenities a consumer could possibly, well, consume—chain retailers like Barnes & Noble and REI, chic indie boutiques, a state-of-the-art health club and a movie theater as well as myriad upscale eateries. We were particularly partial to Grant's Restaurant & Bar, which features a diverse, ever-evolving menu that runs from the classic—think clams casino or steak au poivre—to more daring contemporary creations.

Continue to Day 2


Hartford Hotels
Hartford Restaurants
Hartford Attractions
Connecticut Trave Guide
Harford Restaurants
Hartford Tourism Board

* Hartford images courtesy of the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau.

P020707 (Updated: 07/19/13 RD)

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