The town of Norwich grew up in the 17th century where the Yantic and Shetucket Rivers converge at the head of the Thames.
This spot was primed for a port and by the 18th century Norwich had lively shipping and shipbuilding trades where now there’s a picturesque riverside park.
The Native American Mohegan Tribe, present long before, has a reservation by the Thames just outside Norwich where there’s an ultra-modern casino resort.
An obelisk in town marks the approximate resting place of the Mohegan sachem Uncas, from whom the land for Norwich was bought in the 17th century.
He led the Mohegans to dominance over rival tribes in the region by joining forces with the English colonists.
Elsewhere, Norwich has a classy art museum, a compelling history to uncover and a tempting array of pick-your-own fruit farms, wineries and craft breweries all in easy reach.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Norwich:
1. Slater Memorial Museum
The kind of museum that any town would envy is in a beguiling Richardson Romanesque building, dating to 1886 and the career pinnacle of architect Stephen C. Earle.
On the grounds of the Norwich Free Academy, the museum is famed for its plaster casts of some of the great works of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Renaissance sculpture.
That superlative collection is joined by high-quality permanent exhibitions of 20th-century American art, Asian art, African art, European decorative arts and a display recounting the round-the-world voyage made by the museum founder William Slater and his family in 1894-95. The airy Converse Art Gallery stages six temporary exhibitions a year, including the annual Connecticut Artists Juried Exhibition.
2. Mohegan Sun
Towering over the Thames River from the west bank is an ever-expanding casino resort run by the Mohegan tribe on their reservation.
Mohegan Sun has 1,563 rooms, two casinos with hundreds of slots, a 10,000-seater arena and entertainment venues like the Wolf Den, booking classic acts like Blue Öyster Cult and Salt-N-Pepa.
The Mohegan Sun Arena is home court for the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, and stages NCAA Division 1 games and WWE events.
The line-up of major recording artists to play dates here is strong and includes names like Taylor Swift, Jay-Z and Fleetwood Mac.
The resort has 46 dining options, eight clubs, a luxury spa and golf course, and plays host to major events in summer like the New England Food Truck Festival at the end of August.
3. Casino of the Sky
The centrepiece of Mohegan Sun since 2001, the Casino of the Sky has 11,000 square metres of gaming, with 600 slot machines and blackjack and roulette tables, all drenched in opulence.
High above the casino floor are the sun, moon and stars on the largest functional planetarium dome in the world.
Wombi Rock meanwhile is three storeys high and made up of 12,000 pieces of onyx gathered from quarries in Mexico, Iran and Pakistan.
These were then shipped to Carrara, Italy to be fused into kaleidoscopic panes of glass.
Wombi Rock holds the Vista Lounge club, looking over the entire gaming floor, and set up with a cocktail bar, dance floor and plush alcoves to hang out in.
4. Leffingwell House Museum
The oldest elements of this Colonial-era house, held as one of the most complete in New England, date as far back as 1675. The Leffingwell House grew over the next century, and its present layout is a rough square with two main facades and a configuration that looks like two saltbox houses have been attached at a corner.
A clue to the building’s hotchpotch evolution lies in the unusual number of kitchen hearths.
As a tavern, the Leffingwell House was an important meeting place in the run-up to the Revolutionary War, and had become a spacious home to a patriot by 1776. In the spring and summer months you can visit the house on Saturdays to see historic pieces going back to the foundation of Norwich in 1659, and immerse yourself in the 18th-century way of life.
5. The Spa at Norwich Inn
On the way to Mohegan Sun is a spa often hailed as the best in the state by several publications or their readers (YANKEE Magazine, New England Travel & Life, Connecticut Magazine and Hartford Magazine). You can find out for yourself why The Spa at Norwich Inn is held in such high esteem, whether you want beauty treatments, to detox, rejuvenate or just leave your cares behind for a few hours.
On hand at the spa are 37 treatment rooms, a fitness centre, indoor pool, salon, sauna and a more besides, all in 42 blissful acres of ornamental gardens
6. Mohegan Park
The largest park in Norwich is a generous sweep of woodland enclosing Spaulding Pond.
There are formal spaces next to the water, where you’ll come across square, pavilion and fountain.
One of the prettiest parts is the path across the pond’s earthwork dam, through pergolas and beds of flowering plants.
Mohegan Park’s gardens are a real treat in June and July, and the rose garden is hired out at this time for wedding ceremonies.
For outdoor recreation there’s a swimming area, nature trails, playgrounds for kids and a multi-use ballfield.
7. Dodd Stadium
Can you get more American than a hot dog, beer and a ballgame on a warm summer’s evening? A few Minor League franchises have come and gone in the 25 years since the Senator Thomas J.
Dodd Memorial Stadium was completed.
As of 2019 the main tenants are the Norwich Tigers, a Short Season A-affiliate of MLB’s Detroit Tigers.
The ballpark seats 6,270 and as of 2019 is set for a round of improvements, including LED lighting.
Food is as much a part of the experience here as in the big leagues, and while you watch some potential Major League stars you can munch on pizza, pretzels, gourmet burgers, nachos, Philly cheese steaks or ballpark staples like hot dogs and peanuts.
The stadium is almost never sold out, and the best seats go for as little as $12.
8. Yantic Falls
Something you might not expect in Norwich is a roaring waterfall almost in the middle of town.
Yantic Falls is the birthplace of Norwich’s industry, going back to a grist mill that cropped up here in the 17th century.
Earlier the waterfall is believed to have been the site of numerous deaths when members of the Narrangansett tribe fell into the chasm after being chased by Uncas’ Mohegans following a battle in 1643. A footbridge takes you over the 12-metre drop and its forbidding rocks, and when the sun is low the falls’ mist will make a rainbow.
9. Howard T. Brown Memorial Park
This little park is in the Norwich Harbor District and has a romantic location where the Yantic and Shetucket meet at the head of the Thames River.
There’s a path to enjoy this large expanse of water, and a bandstand encircled by manicured hedges.
As information boards will tell you, this was the scene of heaving wharves and shipyards 300 years ago.
Chelsea Landing as it was known was a mass of schooners, brigs and sloops unloading goods from the Caribbean and Europe.
By 1774, at the dawn of the Revolutionary War, Norwich was the 12th largest town in the colonies due to this brisk trade.
10. Epicure Brewing
A couple of streets in from the old harbour you can sit down with a pint, half-pint or flight of craft beer from Wednesday to Sunday.
With exposed pipes overhead, Epicure Brewing has a neatly designed 75-seat taproom pouring a range of beers brewed onsite in a 15BBL system.
On tap in summer 2019 were the light and crisp First Pilsner, the clean, gently-hopped Stay Pretty blonde, Finnegan Dealt It Irish red, with caramel notes, the full-bodied Lightning Struck Twice oatmeal ale, and a line-up of citrusy IPAs.
Epicure Brewing prides itself as a “Bring Your Own Food/Make Yourself at Home” kind of place, and there are Korean, Mexican, Indian and Pizza joints within a minute or two on foot.
11. Mashantucket Pequot Museum
To get a deeper sense of the area’s Native American past you can make the short trip to this museum in Mashantucket, run by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.
On display are artefacts from all nine of the Native American peoples of eastern United States, with pieces dating from the 1500s to the 1900s.
Complementing these collections are ambient sound, interactive stations, life-size dioramas, photography and footage.
To illustrate, “Glacial Crevasse & A World of Ice” takes you to the depths of an Ice Age glacier and “Arrival of the People” explores Native American creation stories.
You can get a sense of how the warming climate changed life in the Northeast 6,000 years ago, and at “Pequot Village” you’ll see the various skills practised by the Peqout tribe in the 16th century.
From there you’ll learn about colonisation, the Pequot War of 1637 and the dramatic changes experienced by the tribe from the end of the 17th century to the present.
12. Holmberg Orchards & Winery
Now in its fourth generation, the Holmberg Orchards farm was first purchased by a newly immigrated Swedish couple in 1896. The sons of the founders planted fruit trees in the 1930s, and by the 1960s Holmberg Orchards was one of New England’s foremost fruit-growers.
You can pick your own fruit from June to October, starting with blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.
Peach and nectarine season begins in late-July, while the farm’s many apple varieties are ready from mid-August to October, partly coinciding with pumpkins in fall.
The farm market is open all year for seasonal fruit and vegetables, some grown here and some sourced locally.
There’s also baked treats, hard cider, local homemade sauces and cider-scented candles.
Since the 2000s the family has broadened its scope to include winemaking, growing Gewurztraminer and Pinot Blanc, which go into four varietal wines.
Come to try these, and a range of fruit wines on weekend afternoons at the farm’s Wine Barn.
13. RoseGarden Ice Arena
For affordable family fun, Norwich has a well-liked ice rink hosting Public Skate sessions every day of the week.
You can get on the ice for $7 ($4 for kids and seniors), and skate rental is $5. On Friday nights the lights go down for a special Laser Skate event.
The RoseGarden is a local hockey facility hosting youth and AHL (Adult Hockey League) games.
You can join in the action at pick-up games provided you’ve got all the right gear.
If your form needs a little work, or you have children who need to learn how to skate the rink’s Ice Academy offers lessons for skaters of all standards aged three and up.
14. Norwichtown Historic Cemetery
If you need any more proof of Norwich’s historical significance you’ll find it at this cemetery dating back to 1715. Charged with atmosphere, the Norwichtown Historic Cemetery is in two portions linked by a little footbridge, and at the parking lot on Old Cemetery Lane there’s a box with leaflets telling the site’s story.
Among the more important burials is the mother of Benedict Arnold, who was born in Norwich and famously switched sides in the Revolutionary War.
Another is Samuel Huntingdon, one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence and the President of the Continental Congress from 1779 to 1781. In the build-up to Halloween the town puts on ghost tours in this rather spooky place.
15. Preston Ridge Vineyard
This vineyard tended by two families is in the pastoral hills across the Thames from Norwich.
The location could hardly be prettier, on a ridge where you can watch the Connecticut countryside unfold for 20 miles.
Preston Ridge grows mostly white grapes like Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Riesling, Cayuga and Chardonnay, but also reds like Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon in its 60 acres.
The Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon varietal wines have picked up Amenti del Vino and CT Specialty Food Association awards in the last few years.
The tasting room, open Friday to Sunday, is adorable and has a deck so you can marvel at the vine-laded hillside and rolling woodland behind.