15 Best Things to Do in East Hartford (CT)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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East Hartford is a residential and industrial town set right on the Connecticut River where Hartford’s skyline comes into view.

It takes little more than five minutes to reach one downtown from the other, across the Founders Bridge. So a lot of the best things to do locally can be found a couple of miles across west in Hartford.

But East Hartford does have a few things to recommend it. A big one for me is the sumptuous Wickham Park, which is embroidered with lots of ornamental gardens.

The town’s biggest employer is the aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney. If you’re interested in this aspect of East Hartford’s story there’s a museum showing off jet and turbine engines.

1. Wickham Park

Wickham ParkSource: www.ctvisit.com
Wickham Park

This marvelous park on the east side of town is maintained by a non-profit foundation and charges a small fee for cars. I feel it’s a small price to pay to visit something truly special. 

In store is a mosaic of different gardens, including a wetland garden, lotus garden, oriental garden, English garden, arboretum and Scottish garden, to name just a handful.

The formal Cabin Garden, at the highest point in the park, is a delight for its stirring view west to Hartford.

Alongside the ornamental gardens Wickham Park is a place for recreation. There’s a system of trails, an 18-hole disc golf course, five tennis courts, two softball diamonds, and horseshoe pits.

Also here is an aviary, home to a variety of birds of prey. In addition, make time for the museum/nature center where you can find out about plant and animal life in the area. I was intrigued to learn about the Wickham Family who donated this former estate in 1967.

2. Great River Park

Great River ParkSource: Cheng Yu / shutterstock
Great River Park

At East Hartford’s Great River Park there’s two miles of illuminated riverfront fringed by trees and grassy areas.

People cross the Founders Bridge or the Charter Oak Bridge to take in Hartford’s cityscape from the east bank at sunset. 

I reckon there are plenty of other reasons to come. For one, you’ve got engaging outdoor sculpture at Great River Park, and food trucks stop by in the warmer season. 

Then on Thursday evenings in summer there’s the Sounds of Summer series at the 350-seater amphitheater, bringing soul, Latin rhythms and rock ‘n’ roll classics.

On a typical day you could go for a jog or make use of the fitness stations. Or you could just hop across to Hartford to grab coffee or takeout, and go for a picnic by the water.

3. Pratt & Whitney Hangar Museum

Pratt & Whitney Hangar MuseumSource: Pratt & Whitney / facebook
Pratt & Whitney Hangar Museum

On Tuesdays and Thursdays you can visit a hangar at the Pratt & Whitney Campus. Awaiting you here is an amazing collection of engines from the company’s earliest days to the 21st century.

The pièce de résistance for me is the F135 afterburning turbofan, used in the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.

The aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh was employed by Pratt & Whitney for a time during WWII, and you can view the desk that he worked at while he was here.

Among a variety of piston engines from the interwar and WWII era there’s a R-1340 “Wasp”, which powered record flights by Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post. 

Also impressive is the R-2800 “Double Wasp”, used for some of the United States’ most important aircraft in the war, like the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Added to these are numerous jet engines, and intriguing prototypes that were never put into mass production.

4. Hartford

HartfordSource: Sean Pavone / shutterstock

In East Hartford I gravitated towards the big city across the river for things to do. Hartford offers all the dining, culture and entertainment you’d want from a big urban center.

Hartford is dominated by the insurance sector, and was the richest city in the United States in the last decades of the 19th century.

At that time Mark Twain was a resident, and his Gothic mansion to the west of the city is hailed as one of the best writer’s home museums in the world.

Broadway musicals, top-tier music artists and world-famous comedians take the stage at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center.

There are outdoor performances at the park, of the same name, the oldest publicly funded park in the United States. Bushnell Park has a gorgeous carousel from 1914 turning to the strains of a Wurlitzer Organ.

5. Wadsworth Atheneum

Wadsworth AtheneumSource: Shanshan0312 / shutterstock
Wadsworth Atheneum

Hartford’s fabulous Wadsworth Atheneum is the oldest public art museum in the United State. This institution dates back to 1844, and was founded by Daniel Wadsworth, son of one of Hartford’s wealthiest men.

The collection, which has grown over 160 years, is both massive and eclectic. Strong points include Italian Baroque painting, 20th-century Surrealist art, works by the Hudson River School and American Modernism by the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe and Marsden Hartley.

Browsing the galleries I was stopped in my tracks by masterpieces by Caravaggio, Renoir, Joan Miró, Magritte, Max Ernst, Joseph Wright of Derby and many more.

The museum’s decorative arts inventory is also staggering, and features Chinese, Meissen, Vincennes, Sèvres and Chinese porcelain. There’s also Italian maiolica, English silver, Venetian glass, and a trove of pre-Columbian pottery.

Check out the Cabinet of Art and Curiosity, displaying some 200 objects in the style of a European cabinet of curiosity from the Early Modern Period.

6. Connecticut Science Center

Connecticut Science CenterSource: Richard Cavalleri / shutterstock
Connecticut Science Center

Cross the Founders Bridge and the first big attraction you’ll come to is the Connecticut Science Center, holding nine stories of hands-on, educational fun.

There are over 165 creative exhibits here, dealing with a multitude of topics. A few of these are sight and sound, forces, engineering principles, space exploration, planet earth, human health and a great deal more.

KidSpace is a stimulating play area for children under seven, with building blocks and water experiments. Elsewhere at Invention Dimension kids can build a LEGO masterpiece and race robots.

There’s a Butterfly Encounter on Level 4 in a tropical greenhouse, and further up is the awesome Sports Lab. This exhibit goes into the science behind pro-level performance, while Energy City is all about renewable energy and green lifestyles.

I’d urge everyone to catch a show at the museum’s 3D theater, with a 30 ft x 40 ft screen and an 18,000-watt Dolby sound system.

7. Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field

Rentschler FieldSource: C5 Media / shutterstock
Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field

The University of Connecticut’s football team’s home field is a 40,000-capacity stadium that opened in 2003. The UConn Huskies compete in the NCAA Division I FBS (independent), the highest level college football in the United States.

From the end of August through November you can come to see regular season games against college football giants.

The benefit of the Huskies being one of the smaller teams in the conference is that games rarely sell out at Rentschler Field. But, all the same, I loved the atmosphere here, and there’s a lively tailgating scene before games.

Both women’s and men’s United States national soccer teams have occasional fixtures at Rentschler Field. There’s also a lineup of events in summer, including fairs and fun runs.

8. Makens Bemont House

Makens Bemont HouseSource: Barbara Bresnahan / Flickr
Makens Bemont House

This residence is one of a group of historic houses next to Martin Park. In the care of the Historical Society of East Hartford, the Makens Bemont House was built in 1761. 

Five bays across, with clapboard cladding and a gambrel roof broken by three dormers, the property has been preserved as an 18th and 19th-century home inside. It’s a compelling reminder of the sudden wealth enjoyed along the Connecticut River at the time.  

The floor is laid with pine boards, and there’s a Federal-style mantelpiece and some Greek Revival flourishes in the northwest chamber.

The house was moved about half a mile along Burnside Avenue in 1971. Today it opens in spring and summer for occasional tours, and it’s a chance worth taking.

9. East Hartford Golf Club

East Hartford Golf ClubSource: East Hartford Golf Club / facebook
East Hartford Golf Club

Any avid golfers itching for a round in East Hartford will find a very serviceable muni course just across the road from Wickham Park.

The 18-hole par 72 course at East Hartford Golf Club should be a light test for newcomers. Still, there are some challenges like dense tree cover close to the fairways, small greens, and a few hills.

Most of the fairways are pretty simple, except for on the 12th, which has a dramatic dogleg right. I’ve got to say I found the rates economical by Connecticut standards, even for non-residents.

The One Wood Pub is somewhere to kick back after a long round. There’s a tempting menu of apps, salads, burgers, wraps and sandwiches here.

10. Connecticut’s Old State House

Connecticut's Old State HouseSource: Jay Yuan / shutterstock
Connecticut’s Old State House

While you’re in downtown Hartford I think it’s worth making the pilgrimage to the cradle of Connecticut’s democracy.

The outside of the Old State House (1796) has been returned to its Federalist style. This building is thought to have been the first major project by famed architect Charles Bulfinch.

The lower story is built from Connecticut brownstone, while the two floors above are from brick, with a white portico, balustrade and cupola.

For a small fee you’ll get access to a variety of spaces. These include a compelling museum, the Governor’s office, Connecticut senate and House of Representatives, and a historic cabinet of curiosities.

The museum has lots of interactive exhibits and artifacts like Mark Twain’s bicycle, a fragment of Hartford’s famous Charter Oak (felled by a storm in 1856), and a fire truck from 1912. The Joseph Steward Museum of Curiosities upstairs has oddities like a two-headed calf.

11. Mortensen Riverfront Plaza and Sculpture Walk

Mortensen Riverfront PlazaSource: Jay Yuan / shutterstock
Mortensen Riverfront Plaza

The Hartford side of the Connecticut River has been revitalized in the last 20 years, with a project tying the west bank to downtown Hartford.

At the Mortensen Riverfront Plaza there are grassy terraces for outdoor shows and a quay for trips on the Lady Katharine. This vessel zips off on a program of themed cruises along the Connecticut River.

North of the Founders Bridge is the Sculpture Walk, which came together in the 2000s.

Here, 16 pieces of public art by renowned sculptors like Don Gummer and Bruno Lucchese have been erected by the water. They’re all dedicated to the life of Abraham Lincoln and accompanied by interpretive plaques.

Best of all for me are the festivals and live shows, bringing extra color to summer evenings in Hartford.

12. Dunkin’ Park

Dunkin' Donuts ParkSource: Waz8 / Wikimedia
Dunkin’ Park

Ever since NHL’s Whalers departed for North Carolina in 1997 Hartford has been without a top-level professional team of any description.

But in 2016 the sports scene in the city’s sports scene got a shot in the arm when the Minor League baseball team, the New Britain Rock Cats, switched to Hartford to become the Yard Goats. 

A compact but perfectly formed stadium was built for them, at the 6,121-capacity Dunkin’ Park. This helped to regenerate a neglected part of the city north of I-84. 

The ballpark has a brick exterior to help it fit in with the school building across Pleasant Street, and along Trumbull Street. I love the windows that let you see right into the home bullpen and the field behind.

The Yard Goats are the Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, so you’ll witness some young talent destined for baseball’s highest level.

13. Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk

Evergreen WalkSource: www.thepromenadeshopsatevergreenwalk.com
Evergreen Walk

Next to I-84 to the northeast of the town there’s a group of malls, big box stores, drive-ins, and sit-down restaurants all on a hilltop site.

To my mind, the most polished of these is Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk. This is an outdoor lifestyle center on meandering walkways lined with brands like Banana Republic, Gap, Sephora, Clarks, L. L. Bean, New Balance, Pottery Barn and L’Occitane, just to get you started.

Moments away are the Plaza and enclosed The Shoppes at Buckland Hills. There you’ll find the likes of Macy’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods, while there are restaurant locations like Red Robin, Olive Garden, Five Guys and LongHorn Steakhouse.

You can make an evening of it with a movie at the Cinemark multiplex, which has an IMAX screen.

14. Gilman-Hayden House

Gilman-Hayden HouseSource: Jerry Dougherty / Wikimedia
Gilman-Hayden House

Keep going to the north end of Main Street in East Hartford and you’ll come to a minor historical landmark in a rural/residential neighborhood.

A private home, the Gilman-Hayden House has been standing since 1784 and has had some eminent occupants in its time.

The Williams family lived here up to the mid-19th century, and are renowned for the merchant William Williams (1731-1811). He was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence.

In 1867, one Edward Hayden took up residence at this property, and he is known for the diary he kept during and after the Civil War. The building is in the Georgian style, clad with clapboard and spanning five bays.

15. Martin Park

Martin ParkSource: Preston Coates / facebook
Martin Park

At this local park you can view the rest of the Historical Society of East Hartford’s little ensemble. This includes the Burnham Blacksmith Shop (1850) and the Goodwin Schoolhouse (1821). 

The park itself is well-looked after, and has a basketball court, baseball field, football field, an outdoor pool and playgrounds for toddlers and bigger kids.

There’s also open greenery, framed by hardwood trees if you just want to hang out. If I had to pick a favorite thing it would be the linear trail, leading off along the green banks of the Hockanum River.

15 Best Things to Do in East Hartford (CT):

  • Wickham Park
  • Great River Park
  • Pratt & Whitney Hangar Museum
  • Hartford
  • Wadsworth Atheneum
  • Connecticut Science Center
  • Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field
  • Makens Bemont House
  • East Hartford Golf Club
  • Connecticut's Old State House
  • Mortensen Riverfront Plaza and Sculpture Walk
  • Dunkin' Park
  • Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk
  • Gilman-Hayden House
  • Martin Park