Recently praised by USA Today as one of the most liveable places in America, Danbury is a small city near the southern shore of the upscale Candlewood Lake, only 50 miles northeast of New York City.
Here you’ll be in the very southern foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, with peaks rising to 300 metres under a mantle of hardwood and softwood forest.
There’s a whole constellation of parks and protected natural spaces in and near Danbury where you can hike, go horseback riding, fishing and boating, or just bask in the sun on a summer’s day.
Danbury also has a pro ice hockey team, somewhere you can pick your own apples and pumpkins in fall, and one of the top upscale malls in New England.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Danbury:
1. Tarrywile Park & Mansion
More than a typical urban park, Tarrywile Park & Mansion is 722 acres of undulating greenery on what used to be a farm and orchard.
Where Tarrywile Park really stands out is for the lovely historic properties within its borders.
The finest has to be the Shingle Style Tarrywile Mansion, raised in 1897 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This elegant building can be toured by appointment and is rented out for weddings and special events.
Another structure at the park is the Gothic Revival Hearthstone Castle, dating from 1899 and awaiting restoration.
In spring and summer you can amble in the flower garden, while the picnic area is in a pastoral orchard.
The Children’s Garden has a pond with koi carp and bullfrogs in the reeds, and there’s yoga in the park every Sunday morning from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
2. Danbury Railway Museum
At the old Union Station on the Danbury Branch of the Metro-North Railroad there’s a museum telling the story of the railroads in southern New England and neighbouring New York.
The station dates to 1903 and closed in 1993 when a new station was built on the other side of the block.
It’s a handsome building in a Richardson Romanesque style with fine Colonial Revival flourishes.
Both the station and the six-acre railyard are a delight for train enthusiasts, endowed with more than 70 pieces of historic equipment and artefacts.
There’s beautiful old rolling stock including a Boston & Maine 1455 Steam Engine and detailed model train sets.
Train rides are offered on weekends from April to November and there’s a calendar of special events all year round.
3. Danbury Museum & Historical Society
For a sense of place, drop by this museum on Main Street, which preserves an ensemble of five historic buildings.
Apart from Huntington Hall, which was built in 1963 and houses the offices, gift shop and library, the structures include the John Rider House (1785), John Dodd Hat Shop (1790), the Little Red Schoolhouse (late-18th century) and the Marian Anderson Studio.
The latter was used by the world-famous operatic contralto Marian Anderson (1897-1993), who lived in Danbury for more than a half a century.
You can see inside these historic buildings on Saturday afternoons in spring, summer and autumn, while the Exhibit Hall is open daily from Tuesday to Saturday.
In summer 2019 the main exhibition was “Driving Danbury Forward”, exploring how the car and other modern modes of transport changed everyday life in the city.
The museum is also a community hub for a host of local societies and puts on a popular cursive camp in July for children and parents.
4. Ives Concert Park
This gorgeous pond-side park is next to the Western Connecticut State University campus west of Danbury and is named for the Modernist composer Charles Ives (1874-1954) who was born in the city.
Ives Concert Park pays tribute to this cultural connection with a rich programme of concerts and theatre performances at its amphitheatre on weekends in the summer months.
This series attracts more than 60,000 people and is the only stage in the area dedicated to live entertainment.
At the time of writing in July 2019 the programme included a production of Much Ado About Nothing, ballet, live comedy, a reggae festival and a concert by Jefferson Starship, among a host of other events.
Of course, you can visit the 40-acre park during the week to admire the gardens and walk the public hiking trails.
Every couple of weeks in summer there’s a Yoga at Sunset class, with details published on the park’s website.
5. Candlewood Lake
Formed in the 1920s by a hydroelectric dam at the junction of the Housatonic River and Rocky River, Candlewood Lake covers more than 5,400 acres and is the largest lake in Connecticut.
This majestic body of water borders Danbury to the north and is understandably desirable for its sweeping natural beauty, with some of the state’s most expensive real estate on its shores.
Along 60 miles of shoreline there are little tourist resorts, complete with golf courses, beaches and marinas.
At the lake’s very southern shore, just a couple of miles from the centre of Danbury, is the 11-acre Candlewood Town Park, boasting a beach, picnic areas, a playground and boat dock, all in this picturesque environment.
6. Blue Jay Orchards
You could pass an idyllic day in late-summer or autumn at this 140-acre orchard and market, picking your own apples and taking an old-time hayride to the pumpkin patch.
Over the course of a few weeks, from the beginning of September to the end of October, a medley of apples will be ready for picking, whether it’s the juicy and sweet Galas early in the season, the crisp and sweet Braeburns later on, or the tart Granny Smiths at the end.
Blue Jay Orchards grows 15 different varieties and you can time your visit by checking the website.
When you come you have to make a detour to the farm market, for its jams, jellies, pastries, pies and cookies.
People travel a long way just for the cider and the apple cider donuts!
7. Danbury Fair Mall
Danbury claims the second-largest mall in Connecticut, which is also the fifth-largest in New England.
You’ll find it just off I-84, across from Danbury Municipal Airport.
There are just under 200 stores and services at Danbury Fair, and most of these are midmarket and upmarket retailers like Banana Republic, Macy’s, L.L. Bean, Gap, H&M, Michael Kors and Abercrombie & Fitch.
Also here is a huge branch of the fast fashion store Primark on the upper floor of the Sears store.
The mall was built on the site of a historic fairground, and rekindles that atmosphere with SummerStage, a programme of outdoor concerts, arts and crafts and fund for children throughout July and August.
8. Bear Mountain Reservation
North of the city proper, there’s another place to enjoy Candlewood Lake in amongst the suburban communities on the lake’s western shore.
On rocky terrain with some awesome perspectives of the lake, Bear Mountain Reservation is threaded with twisting trails that guide you into deep woodland and then out onto glorious open meadows.
There are ten colour-coded trails, the longest of which is the Red Trail, at 1.7 miles.
9. Collis P. Huntington State Park
Taking the name of the 19th-century railroad magnate Collis Potter Huntington, this 1,000-acre state park is on land donated by his heirs in the 1970s.
The park had been landscaped decades before, at the turn of the 20th century, with five man-made ponds, a system of trails and a small stone lighthouse that is still standing on one of the ponds’ islands.
On arrival you’ll be confronted by naturalistic sculptures of bears and wolves, and these are the work of Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973) who had her studio here.
Visit for hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing in winter.
Autumn and early-winter is bow-hunting season, so it’s important not to stray from the trails at this time.
10. Hemlock Hills
In the beautiful, hilly environment just past the Danbury Fair Mall there’s a string of connected natural spaces, starting in the west with the Hemlock Hills and pushing east through Pine Mountain, Bennett’s Pond State Park and the Wooster Mountain State Park Scenic Preserve.
With peaks rising to just over 300 metres, this densely wooded landscape is in the southern foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, which begin in western Connecticut, cutting through Massachusetts and into Vermont.
Those parks are connected via a system of walking trails, like the Yellow and Red Trail, both linking Hemlock Hills with Pine Mountain.
These two trails are steep but family-friendly and both bring you to a beautiful vantage point.
The Red Trail is also intersected by the Blue Trail, which leads you to the 56-acre Bennett’s pond, enclosed in untouched forest and primed for fishing and mountain biking on its shores.
11. Ives Trail & Greenway
You can go for an adventure without straying far from Danbury on this 20-mile trail, which carries you through that hardy terrain to the south of the city.
Best suited to more experienced walkers, the Ives Trail & Greenway begins at Bennett’s Pond in Ridgefield, before meandering through protected spaces in the rugged southern portion of Danbury, into Bethel and ending up in Redding.
Near the start in Ridgefield you’ll travel among spectacular glacial erratics, boulders deposited at the end of the last Ice Age.
Most memorable of all is the overlook at Charles Ives’ preserved cabin, near the top of a peak and blessed with far off views of the rippling forest.
12. Richter Park Golf Course
Danbury’s excellent public course is hailed as the best in the Tri-State area and is nestled on the west shores of the West Lake Reservoir.
For non-residents Green Fees range from $50 to $83 (Friday to Sunday) and include a complimentary cart and a small bag of balls for the new driving range.
The course is a tricky 18-hole, par 71, designed by Edward Ryder and with undulating fairways.
Remarkably, 14 of the 18 holes have water hazards and the greens are guarded by 49 newly renovated bunkers.
13. Danbury Ice Arena
Open every day of the week, Danbury Ice Arena has a mix of public sessions, adult open hockey and open free style at its two rinks from 07:00 until 24:00. The facility dates back to 1999 and was given a big expansion in 2004. Every week there are special classes to help you brush up on your skating or puck-handling skills, as well as youth leagues for kids.
Over the last 20 years a succession of professional teams has taken up residence at this 3,000-capacity venue.
The Danbury Whalers, once of the NHL when they were based in Hartford, played five seasons here until 2015. The current tenants are the Danbury Hat Tricks, taking their name from the city’s hat-making heritage, and playing in the Federal Hockey League against other franchises based in the East.
14. Squantz Pond State Park
This beauty spot is less than ten miles north of Danbury, near the west shore of Candlewood Lake.
Squantz Pond is a treat in summer when you can go swimming, motor-boating and fishing on this 270-acre body of water, created when the reservoir was filled in the 1920s.
Also in the park is a nature center, picnic area and a spot where you can hire canoes and kayaks.
On the west side, trails lead off into the high ground of the Pootatuck State Forest.
Follow the Blue Trail to climb to a scenic overlook to cast your eyes over the pond and Candlewood Lake beyond.