This quiet industrial town is at the geographic heart of Connecticut.
Berlin may not be a honeypot for tourists, but has some stupendous natural landscapes and lots of fun things to do for families, especially on the Berlin Turnpike.
Berlin is by the Metacomet Ridge, a 100-mile basalt fault.
The ridge’s peaks were created by lava flows 200 million years ago and stand tall as rugged cliffs while the surrounding landscape has been weathered away down the ages.
Hiking is definitely on the agenda, as the ridge is crossed in Berlin by two Blue-Blazed walking routes, the Metacomet Trail and the Mattabesett Trail.
1. Ragged Mountain Memorial Preserve
This basalt mountain on the Metacomet Ridge is one of the most beloved hiking and climbing locations in the Hartford area.
Here the ridge reaches a height of 150 metres but climbs precipitously from the east bank of the Quinnipiac River and offers far-reaching views over Berlin, Southington and portions of New Britain from the cliff tops.
The main hiking route is the Metacomet Trail (more below), but there’s a whole system of shorter trails all intersecting with a main five-mile loop, so with a bit of planning you can tailor a walk that suits you.
2. Metacomet Trail
We’ve seen that the Metacomet Ridge passes through Berlin, and the unusual quantity of ancient volcanic landforms all around makes for some great hiking.
The 50-mile Metacomet Trail follows the course of the ridge from Meriden, just south of Berlin, up to the Massachusetts state line.
As well as Ragged Mountain, there are a few places where you can get onto the route in Berlin, for hikes that vary between moderate and strenuous.
Berlin’s Parks and Red Department has published detailed guides, and perhaps the most spectacular but also testing walk, takes you into the Hanging Hills up to the Hubbard Park’s castle-like observation tower, Castle Craig (1900), on East Peak.
Setting off from the parking lot at Edgewood Road, there’s an elevation change of 260 metres on this 4.5-mile one-way hike.
3. New Britain Museum of American Art
One of the advantages of being so close to New Britain is that this exceptional museum is only ten minutes away.
When it opened in 1903 it was the first museum in the country devoted exclusively to American art.
The collection runs the gamut, from colonial-era portraits to newly acquired post-contemporary works centered around Graydon Parrish’s famous The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy.
Among the many important artists represented at the museum are Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keeffe, John Singer Sargent, John Singleton Copley, Marcus Jansen, Frederic Church, as well as movements like the Hudson River School, America Impressionists and Ash Can School.
One distinguished recurring name in the Impressionism collections is Childe Hassam, with 11 oil paintings.
The museum’s Cafe on the Park looks out on the adjacent Walnut Hill Park (1870), an early commission for the great Frederick Law Olmsted.
4. Safari Golf
You have to admire the care that has gone into this 18-hole miniature golf course on a scenic hillside over the Berlin Turnpike.
The greens are set on terraces , traced by large models of giraffes, elephants, gorillas and lions, as well as streams, cascades and neatly tended shrubs and perennials.
There are lots of opportunities for photos as you play, including a waterfall that you can walk behind.
At the end you can reward yourself with an ice pop or frozen cone.
In summer the course stays open as late as 22:00, and if you can manage a hole-in-one on the 18th you win a free game.
5. Timberlin Golf Club
By the base of Ragged Mountain is a highly-rated municipal golf course.
These 18-holes were first landscaped in the early 1970s by Al Zikorus, but just over a decade ago were given a thorough redesign, re-contouring all of the fairways and adding extra bunkers.
The fairways can be tight here and those bunkers are a real scourge, so your iron game will need to be on point.
A computer-controlled irrigation system, helps to keep the greens quick even after heavy rain.
In summer 2019 green fees were $40.50 on weekdays and $43.50 on weekends for 18 holes.
6. Pistol Creek
This former golf 18-hole course was abandoned in the early-2000s and was bought back by the town in 2008 at twice the price to avoid the land being turned into condo complexes.
Not only is Pistol Creek a beautiful place to hike, cycle or jog, it’s remarkable to watch the this water-rich man-made environment being reclaimed by nature.
In wet weather you can get around on the paved cart trail, one of the few lingering reminders of what was here before.
Depending on the season you may see herons, kingfishers and the occasional beaver.
The former clubhouse is rented out for events.
7. Team vs. Time
This escape room brand has two locations, one in Chicago and the other right here in Berlin.
Team vs Time has four rooms to solve, each with a well-crafted back-story and high production values that will draw you into their historical or fantastical worlds for as long as it takes to get out.
For an idea of what awaits you, there’s “Cure of the Alchemist”, “Save the Queen”, “The Lost Book of Spells” and “Gangster’s Gamble”. Each room has its own required team size, stress factor and difficulty level, and the only thing that stays the same is the one-hour time limit.
You’ll feel like you’re on a movie set as you work your way through clues using a mix of problem solving and teamwork.
8. Still Hill Brewery
Something Connecticut isn’t short of is craft breweries, and there’s a good one close by, tucked round the back of a light industrial complex in Rocky Hill.
The taproom at Still Hill is open Thursday to Sunday and in summer 2019 there were 12 beers on draught.
Some of the picks are the Still Hill American Pale Ale with citrusy hop notes and a sturdy malt base, Still Hill Sluggy Buggy stout, with chocolaty tones from cocoa nibs, and Still Hill Rainy Day Band Aid Blues, a classic Czech-style pilsner.
The taproom has a cool, rustic feel and has regular live music and stand-up comedy, and food trucks parking on a rotating schedule out front.
9. New Britain Stadium
You won’t have to travel for some sports action in Berlin, as the home of the New Britain Bees is a couple of miles along Route 9. Founded in 2015 and taking over from the defunct Rock Cats, the Bees play in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, which isn’t affiliated with the MLB.
During the season you can come to the 6,146-seater stadium to see the Bees up against outfits mostly from across the Eastern United States.
In 2019 the Atlantic League reached an agreement with Major League Baseball to test out possible rule changes, so as well as watching some former and future big league talent, you may get a glimpse of what the next few seasons hold in store for the baseball’s highest tier.
Tickets are as little as $5, and local craft beer from the Alvarium Beer Co. is now served at the rooftop patio.
10. Lamentation Mountain
On the Metacomet Ridge there’s another abrupt peak in the south of Berlin.
Lamentation Mountain reaches a height of 220 metres and warrants the climb for painterly cliff-top views west to the Hanging Hills and over Silver Lake immediately below.
The ridge is traversed by another Blue-Blazed walking route, the 51-mile Mattabesett Trail, which intersects with the Metacomet Trail at the foot of the mountain.
The hike here has a manageable gradient, and leads you into lush deciduous woodland up to the dry basalt ledges.
The Mattabesett Trail, continues south as far as Totoket Mountain on the Metacomet Ridge in Guilford before cutting north-east through a metamorphic landscape on the way to the Connecticut River at Middletown.
11. Picture Show at Berlin
Berlin has a branch of the nationwide Picture Show cinema chain and you could hardly pick a more luxurious way to enjoy a movie.
Following a recent update, the cinema has electric-powered luxury recliners, with footrests and built-in cup holders.
There’s lounge-style seating at all screens, so what beggars belief is just how cheap it is to watch a movie here.
As of 2019, the priciest tickets for adults are $10.75 (after 16:00 on weekends), but you can see a new Hollywood release for as little as $8.50 on weekdays, and $5 if the screening starts before noon, and Tuesdays are $5 all day.
12. Karabin Farms
At the western foot of Ragged Mountain is a typical New England fruit farm growing 17 apple varieties and opening for a PYO season on Saturdays and Sundays between mid-August and late-October.
Starting with Zestars and ending with Red Delicious and Cameo, the PYO experience at Karabin Farms includes a free wagon ride through forest to a bucolic orchard, with the chance to spot deer and wild turkeys on the way.
In spring and summer you can also call in for flowers, while pumpkin season arrives in Fall, and there’s a choice of cut-your-own and pre-cut Christmas trees from late-November.
The farm stand sells more fruit and vegetables, as well as farm-raised meats, pickles, local honey and various grades of maple syrup tapped on the farm.
13. Berlin Batting Cages
Despite the name, this family fun attraction off the Berlin Turnpike is more than just batting cages.
Of course, the cages are here, and use state-of-the-art technology to help you bump up your batting percentage (12 pitches for $.99 or $30/hour). But there’s also two miniature golf courses here at Putter’s Paradise, and you can pick between the tricky Challenge Course, or the Fun Course, which has a windmill, bucketwheels and a wishing well.
There’s also a new grand prix circuit for go-karting, and a bumper boat circuit in a large clear pool, just the ticket for children on hot summer days.
14. New Britain Youth Museum at Hungerford Park
If you’re in the area with smaller children or toddlers, this museum and nature center has enough to hold their interest for a couple of hours.
Inside are colourful, lightly educational exhibits at the New Britain Youth Museum, and displays devoted to nature at the Hungerford Nature Center.
This also has tanks for fish, snakes, turtles and lizards, all of which came to the center orphaned or injured.
The same applies to the hawks and owls in the aviary, as well as the llamas, goats, sheep, ducks and cows in the barnyard outside.
After visiting the animals you can pootle off along the park’s labelled nature trail.
15. Van Vleck Observatory
Wesleyan University’s astronomical observatory is close to Berlin in Middletown and opens to the public every Wednesday night.
During the observing nights you’ll get to peer through the observatory’s 16-inch (410 mm) and a 20-inch (510 mm) telescope if the skies are clear.
Before that there’s a 30-minute presentation by a member of the university’s Astronomy Department, dealing with specific space news topic or going into detail on a new discovery.
Wednesday nights are aimed at high school age and above, but there are also kids’ nights on the first and third Friday of the month in the academic year, and once-monthly Saturday night observing sessions run by the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford (ASGH).