Leafy Greenwich on Connecticut’s rich Gold Coast is a town with serious money. In fact, it’s one of the wealthiest communities in the country, and a bastion of investment firms and hedge funds.
I’ll give you an idea of what Greenwich is about: The town has its own polo club, drawing thousands of spectators on Sundays in summer. Meanwhile the local public library has a fine art gallery, with exhibitions to rival a full-fledged museum.
There’s opulent shopping and dining on Greenwich Avenue, a profusion of green spaces, summer cruises to islands on Long Island Sound
Greenwich also has a real artistic pedigree, bestowed to the town by the Impressionists of the Cos Cob Art Colony in the late 19th century.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Greenwich:
1. Bruce Museum
This fantastic museum is posted on a hill enclosed in parkland, in a mansion that was bequeathed to the city by the textile magnate Robert M. Bruce (1822-1908). He donated the property on the condition that it be turned into a museum when he passed away.
The Bruce Museum mixes natural history and art, with wonderfully curated exhibitions. These cover topics like local and global environmental history, mineralogy, and Native American agriculture in Connecticut.
You can pore over intertidal wildlife (with a live marine tank) and a primeval forest environment in a woodland diorama.
The art collection at the Bruce Museum is centered mainly on the Impressionists from the Cos Cob Art Colony. I had a fine time browsing pieces by the likes of Leonard Ochtman, Childe Hassam, and Emil Carlsen.
Finally, the sculpture collection is formidable, with pieces by Auguste Rodin, Frederick MacMonnies and Hiram Powers.
2. Greenwich Avenue Historic District
The north-south backbone of downtown Greenwich is on the National Register of Historic Places. The cityscape is furnished with Italianate, Georgian Revival and Commercial-style buildings.
These were raised over the course of a few decades from the late-19th century to immediately after World War I.
As a pedestrian you can take a leisurely wander, admiring the refined architecture and solemn monuments like the town hall (1905) and the Richardsonian Romanesque-style Havemeyer Building, at No. 290 and dating back to 1892.
Greenwich Avenue stands out as a shopping destination too. I’d allow as long as you can to explore upscale boutiques, galleries, design stores and chic bakeries, interspersed with familiar names like Apple and Sephora.
There’s no lack of places to eat along the way, whatever your palate or budget.
3. Greenwich Audubon Center
When it opened in 1943 this was the National Audubon Society’s first environmental education society in the United States.
The Audubon Center was unique at the time, not just in the way it protected nature from human intrusion; It helped people interpret and learn about the natural world at close quarters.
The Audubon Center takes care of seven different sanctuaries around Greenwich, adding up to almost 700 acres.
You can explore seven miles of trails, conveying you through hardwood forest and historic fields, and past a lake, waterfall, streams and pools.
The Welcome Center has a gallery, gift shop and children’s learning space at the main sanctuary. There’s a fun lineup of conservation-themed programs all year, like a popular hawk watch.
4. Bush-Holley House
An exciting piece of American cultural history, this sweet clapboard house was the heart of the Cos Cob Art Colony at the turn of the 20th century when it served as a boarding house.
The colony was born around 1889 when John Henry Twachtman settled in Greenwich. He was followed by many other prominent Impressionists, including Theodore Robinson, J. Alden Weir and Childe Hassam.
They attracted scores of students to this house, which originally went up in the late-1720s. This first opened as a museum in 1958, just after it had been purchased from the widow of Elmer Livingston MacRae.
The house is beautifully maintained, and you can take a peek in the afternoon from Wednesday to Sunday to hear about its colonial and artistic past.
Amazingly, many of the objects depicted in well-known Impressionist works can still be found in the house. To me it felt like they had just been left here the day before.
To continue the theme, a restored 19th-century railroad hotel close by is an exhibition space for American Impressionist art.
5. Greenwich Point Park
The pick of Greenwich’s four beaches is on a peninsula poking out into Long Island Sound. It’s a popular place for locals and visitors (for a fee) to spend a day in the sun in summer.
The beach is watched by lifeguards all summer, and along with changing rooms and showers there are two snack bars just behind.
The beach is part of a 150-acre park, etched with trails and sprinkled with historic buildings. These are from the old estate of the banker and railroad tycoon John Kennedy Tod (1852-1925).
The Bruce Museum Seaside Center can be found at the park, and has exhibits about the beach and touch tanks.
On the water are designated areas for windsurfing, kite-surfing and salt-water fishing. Meanwhile on dry land you can reserve a shelter, picnic tables and grills.
I fell in love with the sunsets at Greenwich Point Park, and on a clear day you can make out the Manhattan skyline from the beach.
6. Island Ferries
June through mid-September you can head down to the ferry dock off Arch Street to catch a boat to one of Greenwich’s islands in Long Island Sound. These run hourly or half-hourly, and as you’d expect there are more services on weekends.
Great Captain Island is the better served of the two destinations and has an impressive granite lighthouse dating back to 1868.
After disembarking you can set off along the island’s walking trails among oaks and hickory. You can also go birding, take a picnic or lounge at one of the beach areas.
Island Beach (formerly Little Captain Island) is also a public park donated to the town in 1918. I love this place most of all for its 900+ feet of sandy beach.
Check out the Cruise to Nowhere, a calming two-hour cruise through the waters off Greenwich, and you’re encouraged to bring your own refreshments.
7. Fjord Fish Market, Cos Cob
If you’re like me and want to know exactly where your fish and seafood comes from, Fjord Fish Market will be right up your street. This business is a local chain, with several locations in Connecticut.
There’s a superb selection of premium, responsibly sourced cod, scallops, oysters, lobster, salmon, shrimp and a lot more besides.
You can also pick up delicious freshly prepared takeout food. The menu features New England classics like fish & chips and lobster rolls, as well as filet sandwiches, Cajun halibut bites, grilled salmon, poke and sushi.
8. Diane’s Books
Going strong for some 40 years, Diane’s Books is a local bookshop with the dimensions of a public library.
The shop claims to have the largest selection of family books in the United States. I was impressed with the friendly staff happy to answer questions and point me in the right direction.
If you’re just visiting Greenwich you can arrange to have your books shipped, and the shop also offers a free gift-wrapping service.
Children will of course be besotted by Diane’s Books. But there’s lots for grown-ups to love too, including visits by famous authors.
Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White (The Glass Ocean) have all paid a visit in recent years.
9. Greenwich Polo Club
You know a place is posh when it has its own polo club. Greenwich’s was established in 1981, and all through the summer stages high-goal matches for the public.
The field is in Connecticut’s green countryside and is held as one of the world’s leading high-goal venues (one of only three of its kind in the United States). The club is home to the White Birch polo team, which has dominated the sport for the last 25 years.
Some of the best players in the world have starred here. Among them are Mariano Aguerre, Nacho Figeuras and Facundo Pieres, and you can see performers of this caliber from spring to late summer in a series of cups and exhibitions.
Each Sunday more than 2,000 people descend on the club to witness the spectacle. Gates open at 1 PM and the game begins at 3 PM.
10. Montgomery Pinetum
A public park in more than 100 acres of lush forest, the Montgomery Pinetum was once the estate of the businessman Colonel Robert Montgomery. He started planting rare conifers on his land in the first half of the 20th century.
The woodland is streaked with trails past magnificent mature trees. I love the wealth of specimen plants and wildflowers that burst into bloom in spring and early-summer.
There’s an ornamental lake, benches, picnic tables and grills that can be reserved. The Montgomery Pinetum is also home to the Greenwich Botanical Center.
This is based at the lovely Horticulture Building with a greenhouse, kindling interest in horticulture through special events, classes, exhibitions and volunteer activities.
11. Neuberger Museum of Art
The prestigious art museum for Purchase College is moments away across the state line. This is one of the largest university museums in the United States, set up in 1974 with a donation by the financier Roy Neuberger.
From that initial gift of 108 pieces the collection has burgeoned to more than 6,000. The focus here is on 20th-century luminaries like Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and lots more.
The museum also holds a celebrated collection of African art, as well as sculpture by the likes of Yayoi Kusama, Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi.
On my visit, I had the privilege of seeing Romuald Hazoumè Fâ Series. This is a series of 20+ monumental works on canvas depicting Fâ divination in West Africa.
12. Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens
I would make a day of it in Purchase by visiting another sensational art attraction. This one is on the campus of the PepsiCo world headquarters and is named after the former chairman of the board and CEO, Donald M. Kendall.
He was responsible for these elegant sculpture gardens. On 168 manicured acres are some 50 works by the most important sculptors of the 19th and 20th century.
The gardens are open weekends, April to mid-November. During this time you can wander among art by Rodin, Alberto Giacometti, Barbara Hepworth, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Joan Miró, Claes Oldenburg, Max Ernst, to name just a few.
13. Bruce Park
This charming public park on the Long Island Sound shore is part of the same parcel of land donated to Greenwich by Robert M. Bruce for the Bruce Museum in 1908.
Bruce Park is littered with the gneiss outcrops that occur around the Greenwich and Cos Cob area. My head spins when I consider that these date back 450 million years.
Amid the maples, evergreens and oaks are numerous amenities. These include playgrounds for kids, a walking/jogging trail, ponds with waterfowl, a baseball diamond, horseshoe pits, tennis courts and a bowling green maintained by the Greenwich Lawn Bowling Association.
Bruce Park is stunning in spring when the daffodils, dogwoods and azaleas all come into flower at the same time. Later in the season the rose garden is not to be missed.
14. Flinn Gallery
It’s par for the course that Greenwich’s public library should have its own art gallery. This exhibition space is non-profit and volunteer run, and displays art from a wide array of media, genres, regions and periods.
The art on show is often for sale, with proceeds funding the many programs of the Friends of Greenwich Library.
There’s something new to check out every few weeks, and the standard is dazzling. When I compiled this list, Scapes was a display of landscape painting by Julie Langsam, Paul Balmer, and William Ruler, exploring ecological concerns and the hope for renewal.
15. Putnam Cottage
Dating right back to 1690, Putnam Cottage on the old Boston Post Road has a captivating tale to tell.
In the middle of the 18th century this dwelling was expanded into a tavern. Where it gets exciting for me is that there’s documentary evidence that George Washington stopped here with his troops in 1776 during the Revolutionary War.
The building earned the name Putnam, after the General, Israel Putnam. He escaped from the Red Coats on a thrilling horseback ride past this location to get reinforcements from Stamford.
Putnam Cottage is painted bright red and is preserved as a Revolution-era tavern. When I inquired, this building was open for tours by appointment.