Around Ledyard in New London County are the kind of attractions that draw people from near and far.
Right in the town is the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation, commanded by the immense Foxwoods Resort Casino, with its monolithic hotel towers and endless gaming, dining, entertainment and shopping.
In the opposite direction at Groton is the region’s primary submarine base, with a real nuclear sub you can board.
There’s seafaring heritage of an older kind at Mystic, which has one of the top maritime museums in the United States, a world-beating aquarium and a main street made for pottering around.
In between, Ledyard boasts pastoral orchards, a historic house museum and the last working 19th-century sawmill in the state.
1. Foxwoods Resort Casino
Towering over the treeline on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation is a Vegas-style megaresort.
The first casino arrived in 1986 and was joined by a hotel tower in the early 90s.
In the last 15 years Foxwoods has expanded at dizzying rate, and in 2015 an entire Tanger outlet mall opened here (more later). Foxwoods Resort Casino has two hotel towers (2,266 rooms in all), two huge performing arts venues, spas, a video arcade, standalone stores and a whole directory of restaurants, nightclubs and bars.
Not to forget gaming, there are more than 5,500 slot machines at Foxwoods more than 250 tables for roulette, craps, blackjack and poker.
2. Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center
Much of the funding for this enlightening museum on the native peoples of eastern North America came from Foxwoods casino revenues.
The museum opened in 1998 in an airy, glass-clad building by New York’s Polshek and Partners (now Ennead Architects). Within are compelling artifacts from the 1500s to the 1900s, as well as handicrafts and artworks commissioned especially for the attraction.
Realistic 3D dioramas and interactives illustrate the history of the Mashantucket Pequot.
One immersive walk-through exhibit recreates an entire Pequot coastal village from the mid-16th century, with 51 life-sized figures engaged in crafts from weaving mats to sharpening arrows.
The building also comprises a 56-meter observation tower, where you can view the reservation and casino, and a big slice of rural south-eastern Connecticut.
3. The Submarine Force Museum
A moment across the town line in Groton is the United States Navy’s main submarine base on the East Coast.
Groton’s time as a naval station began as long ago as 1868, and the base was adapted for submarines in the 1910s.
The museum here is managed by the Navy’s Naval History & Heritage Command Division and brims with submarine artifacts, but also has a small armada of vessels.
The star of the show is the nuclear sub, USS Nautilus, which we’ll cover next.
You can enter a reproduction of a Sturgeon-class sub’s attack center, peer through working periscopes, inspect midget submarines from World War II and see a full-sized replica of the Turtle, dating to 1775 and the first submarine to be deployed in combat.
The Medal of Honor Gallery pays tribute to the US Navy’s eight submarine Medal of Honor recipients.
4. USS Nautilus
It’s hard not to be awed by this vast and historic piece of hardware berthed in front of the Submarine Force Museum.
The USS Nautilus, in service from 1954 to 1980, was the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine.
Because of this new means of propulsion, the vessel broke a long list of submarine records in its first years of operation, including the longest submerged cruise and the highest speed.
Stepping aboard, the aft compartments, around the engine room are understandably off limits, but you can squeeze through the bridge, control room, galley, crew’s quarters and captain’s stateroom, all with the help of a self-guided audio device.
5. Maugle Sierra Vineyards
This relaxed but sophisticated winery is on a 100-acre farm with a history dating back to the 19th century.
The winegrowers here have plated hardy red varetials, Marquette and St. Croix, as well as the late frost white St. Pepin, to cope with Connecticut’s hard winters.
And on a snowy winter’s day you could repair to the cosy fireplace at the end of Maugle Sierra’s tasting room, which has an elegant mahogany bar.
In summer the view of the vines from the patio and deck is a treat, and there’s usually live music on Fridays.
In 2019 a single wine tasting came to $12 and included six wines (three whites, a rosé and two reds).
6. B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill
From the beginning of September, the oldest steam-powered cider mill in the country stirs into action for a great family day out.
A National Historic Landmark, B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill was founded in 1881 and on weekends throughout the fall you can call in for cider-making demonstrations.
The mill’s store is open seven days a week through to the end of December, selling sweet cider and hard cider of course, but also apple pies, apple cider donuts, candy apples, pumpkin bread, kettle corn, as well as freshly picked apples and pumpkins.
7. Nathan Lester House
In more than 100 acres of grounds stands a simple but well-proportioned farmhouse from the end of the 18th century.
The property is owned by the Town of Ledyard, and the house and its accompanying barns are full of artifacts belonging to the Ledyard Historical Society.
On Tuesday, Thursday and weekend afternoons in summer you can tour the period interiors and pore over centuries of Ledyard history at the Tool Museum.
Out in the grounds is the sweet Great Oak Garden and more than 2.5 miles of trails to wander along.
All of this is free, though donations are welcome.
8. Main Sawmill
At 175 Iron Street in Ledyard sits the only working up-down sawmill in Connecticut.
This water-powered sash mill was built by one Israel Brown in 1869 and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972 when it was restored to working order.
The saw, oriented vertically, is housed in a wood frame structure with a gabled roof, and is fed logs through a wide opening in the front.
The mechanism is powered by an iron water turbine attached to a system of pulleys and belts.
The Main Sawmill opens up for free demonstrations on Saturdays in the spring and fall, when you can see it make light work of locally harvested timber.
9. Holmberg Orchards & Winery
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A lovely way to spend a fall day in Connecticut is on a bucolic farm picking your own apples.
Holmberg Orchards is in its fourth generation and set in the rambling hills of Gales Ferry.
In the autumn you can pick 25 apple varieties as they come into season, from Gala to Macoun.
There are also pears (Bartlett, Bosc etc) and pumpkins, and you can turn a visit into a family day out on weekends with tractor rides, cider donuts and slushies.
Two grape varieties, Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer, are also cultivated on the farm.
The historic Wine Barn (c. 1850), built from old American chestnut, is open Saturdays and Sundays between Memorial Day weekend and the start of November.
For a $10 taster you’ll be given half-ounce pours of any seven wines or ciders.
And finally, Holmberg’s Farm Market is open all year for fresh produce, specialty foods and home-baked pies, muffins, donuts, breads, cookies and much more.
10. Grand Theater at Foxwoods
On any scale the main venue for shows at Foxwoods would be vast.
The Grant Theater can seat 4,000, and despite its hangar-like dimensions is praised for its acoustics, unbroken views and comfort.
The seating is laid out on three large tiers: Orchestra, Parterre and then Mezzanine in the nosebleeds, with two centrally- located VIP sections.
The program is diverse, and in late-2019 some of the big names were Jerry Seinfeld, Rick Ross & Jeezy, the B-52s, Incubus, Jay Leno and ZZ Top.
There’s also a steady stream of comedians, magicians and music artists at the Fox Theater, and at more intimate spaces like the Atrium Bar Lounge.
11. Tanger Outlets Foxwoods
If you need a break from the gaming floor at Foxwoods there’s now a sizeable outlet mall at the resort.
This is the first in Tanger’s nationwide chain of malls to be housed under one roof, and among the brands are Nike, Gap Factory Outlet, Michael Kors, H&M, Brooks Brothers, Calvin Klein, Samsonite, Levi’s, J. Crew, Clarks, Guess, Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and many more premium brands.
A bonus is that Foxwoods’ Rewards Points are accepted by about 3/4 of the stores here.
There’s also a handful of outlets for sweet treats, like Doc-Popcorn, Cinnabon and Häagen-Dazs.
12. HighFlyer Zipline
On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays you take an adrenaline-pumping flight, high above Mashantucket’s woodland.
You’ll ascend the 33-story Fox Tower where a zip-line three quarters of a mile long zooms over the landscape as far as the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center.
On the ride you’ll reach a top speed of 60 mph, with a bird’s eye view of the landscape and the wind in your hair.
With four parallel lines, this is the only zip-line in the United States to be launched from a hotel tower.
There’s a complimentary shuttle service between the Fox Tower and museum for riders and spectators.
13. Lake of Isles
Update: Our golf course will be closed until we receive a definitive answer from state and local authorities as to the…
If you have money to burn you can play one of the best courses in Connecticut at Lake of Isles, next to Foxwoods Resort.
This 36-hole facility was designed by esteemed architect Rees Jones, and has a North and South Course, both praised for their expansive layouts.
The one available to the public is the North Course, bending around the north shore of the club’s 90-acre eponymous lake.
This track takes in some testing wetland areas, with a front nine marked by a couple of tricky dog-leg par 4s and a rolling back nine with a mammoth par 5s at the 15th.
Given the massive scale of the North Course, carts are obligatory, and a round can cost upwards of $100, although you can play nine holes in fall for as little as $69.
14. High Rollers Luxury Lanes and Sports Lounge
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In keeping with the opulence of Foxwoods there’s even a high end bowling alley/restaurant at the resort.
With chandeliers and over-sized leather banquettes, High Rollers Luxury Lanes evokes the atmosphere of early Vegas, but mixes that with state-of-the-art technology and a menu for all tastes.
There are 20 lanes in total (six VIP), all of which conform to Professional Bowlers Association regulations, and all with full food and beverage service.
There are large flat-screens throughout, and billiards and shuffleboards in the sports lounge.
Check the website for nightly promotions.
Just off Ledyard’s south-eastern tip is the picture-book village of Mystic, which embodies everything people love about the New England coast.
Mystic’s Main Street is a string of upmarket boutiques and maritime-oriented gift shops, and spanning the Groton and Stonington sides of the Mystic River is a century old bascule bridge with an exposed mechanism and two massive counterweights overhead.
The Mystic Seaport Museum upriver shows you all the trades of a traditional maritime town, and docked in front is the Charles W.
Morgan (1841) the only surviving wooden whaling ship from the 19th-century American merchant fleet.
Also indispensible for families is the Mystic Aquarium, renowned for mammals like Steller sea lions and New England’s only beluga whales.