This agreeable little town is between Bristol and New Britain in Hartford County.
While Plainville isn’t a tourist hotspot, there’s a lot going on both in the town and close by.
At the end of August Norton Park is the scene of a hot air balloon festival, a riot of colour that you have to catch on camera.
A short hop west is the amusement park Lake Compounce, which has been open for business since 1846 and is known for its two juddering wooden rollercoasters.
There’s also inspiring natural scenery and vistas that extend for miles from the ancient west-facing crags of the Metacomet Ridge.
1. Lake Compounce
The oldest continuously operating amusement park in the United States is in easy reach of Plainville, and makes a fun-packed family day out in summer.
Open since 1846, Lake Compounce has its own lakeside beach, and a water park called Crocodile Cove included in the admission price.
Also packing in the crowds are the thrill rides, two of which grab the headlines: Wildcat (1927) is officially the 14th oldest wooden rollercoaster in the world, with a drop of 24 meters and a top speed of 48 mph.
The modern Boulder Dash, from 2000, pushes the limits for what wooden coasters can do, and even two decades after it opened still ranks in the top five wooden rollercoasters in Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards.
Littler children will be thrilled with Lake Compounce’s plentiful light amusement rides, while the park reopens with a spooky theme at Halloween and again at Christmas with the largest tree in Connecticut.
2. Hill-Stead Museum
The industrialist and art collector, Alfred Atmore Pope, commissioned this Colonial Revival house on a hill-top in nearby Farmington in 1901. The house was actually designed by his daughter, the pioneering female architect, Theodate Pope Riddle, collaborating with the New York firm McKim, Mead & White.
Theodate moved in after her father passed away, and later willed the property as a memorial to her parents, providing that the house and its invaluable contents remain untouched.
In 19 rooms you’ll be wowed by Impressionist art by Monet, Mary Cassatt, Degas, Manet and Whistler.
There are engravings by Albrecht Dürer, and woodblock prints by Japanese masters like Hokusai, Hiroshige and Utamaro.
This is all complemented by marvellous decorative arts like rugs, furniture and Sung dynasty porcelain.
Hill-Stead’s grounds are also delightful and were designed by landscape architect Warren H. Manning, with a formal sunken garden by Beatrix Farrand.
3. Bradley Mountain/ Sunset Rock State Park
The narrow, linear Metacomet Ridge cuts along the east side of Plainville on a 100-mile course from Long Island Sound to the Massachusetts-Vermont boundary.
This basalt formation is 200 million years old, and the tough igneous rocks have been left standing as ledges while the rest of the landscape has been weathered down over time.
The closest land-form to downtown Plainville is the 207-meter Bradley Mountain, which has a glorious setting overlooking Crescent Lake.
Walkers can trace the lakeshore on the relatively gentle red trail, or try a longer and more scenic hike on the orange trail, which carries you up to Bradley Mountain’s dramatic summit.
Bradley Mountain is also served by the Blue-Blazed Metacomet Trail, which tracks the ridgeline across Connecticut from Meriden and will lead you to other peaks close by.
4. Crescent Lake
It’s easy to forget that this serene 56-acre lake in Sunset Rock State Park is just a few hundred meters from the I-84. At the western foot of Bradley Mountain, Crescent Lake is blissfully quiet and a favoured fishing location for locals.
There are catfish, trout, black crappies, and smallmouth and largemouth bass in these waters.
You can cast off from the shore or bring a non-motorized boat.
Other water-based recreation is permitted, like kayaking, canoeing and sailing, while the shores are primed for family picnics.
5. Pinnacle Rock/Rattlesnake Mountain
There’s more natural drama on the Metacomet Ridge just east of Plainville, where Pinnacle Rock stands at 180 meters.
This might not seem like an epic height, but the prominence of the Metacomet Ridge ensures a healthy challenge for hikers and panoramas that compensate the effort.
Following the Metacomet Trail there’s a stiff 4.4-mile out-and-back walk to the top of Pinnacle Rock, visiting Rattlesnake Mountain in Farmington on the way.
At both peaks the views extend west across the city of Bristol and Lake Compounce, but also down to Hartford.
6. Farmington Canal Heritage Trail
At Northwest Drive in northern Plainville you can step onto a path that continues unbroken for almost 25 miles to the Massachusetts border.
This is the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, which is on the former railbed of New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.
Before that the exact route had been used by the Farmington Canal, built during the 1820s to create an inland trade route between New Haven and Northampton, MA.
Since the railroad closed, an 81.2-mile trail has taken its place, and this is 85% complete as of 2019. One of the largest missing sections runs through Plainville to the top of Southington.
7. Walnut Hill Park
The renowned Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park, landscaped this marvellous urban park close by in New Britain earlier in his career.
Walnut Hill Park took shape in the early-1870s on what had previously been a barren hillside.
This is one of only five parks in the state on the National Register of Historic Places.
The most arresting feature here is the hilltop formal garden on the east side of the park, linked to New Britain’s Main Street by a regal stairway.
This ovular space has geometric lawns edged by flowerbeds, a pergola and a 27-meter obelisk raised in 1930 to commemorate New Britain citizens who died in the Great War.
Down the slope to the west are athletic fields and the Darius Mill Band Shell, staging summer concerts.
8. New Britain Museum of Art
Backing onto Walnut Hill Park from the north is the first museum dedicated exclusively to American art.
The New Britain Museum of Art opened in 1903 and doubled in size exactly a century later when the modern Chase Family Building was constructed.
The collection has also grown dramatically over the last few decades, to become a who’s who of American art from the colonial and federal-era portraits to post-contemporary art, via the Hudson River School, American Impressionists and the Ash Can School.
Some of the many important names represented are George O’Keeffe, J.
Alden Weir, Chuck Close, John Singleton Copley, John Singer Sargent and Childe Hassam.
Throughout 2019 the museum’s LeWitt Family Staircase was adorned with spectacular botanical murals by Louise Jones, and there was an excellent exhibition chronicling Shaker Seating Furniture.
9. New England Carousel Museum
Downtown Bristol is a mere 10 minutes by road, and one reason to make the trip is for this museum showcasing a century of carousel craftsmanship in a historic factory.
On display in this thrilling space are pieces from the great carousel horse carvers like Stein & Goldstein, Dentzel and the Allan Herschell Company.
The museum doubles as a restoration facility headed by a qualified master carver and master painter.
You can peruse scores of stunning antique horses, and there are lots of hands-on activities for wee ones, including a working Venetian indoor carousel.
In the same building is the Museum of Fire History, with decades’ worth of fire-fighting and fire-house signaling equipment.
Kids can get hands-on here too, trying on gear, pulling alarms and ringing fire bells.
10. Norton Park
This urban park is a cornerstone for Plainville, as the scene of events and celebrations, particularly in the summer.
When there isn’t anything special happening Norton Park, dating back to 1928, has open fields, woodland and facilities for basketball and soccer.
There’s an outdoor pool, with a separate area for toddlers, although passes can be pricey for non-residents.
On Tuesday evenings from the beginning of June to early August there are free concerts at the bandshell at 18:30. The summer season at Norton Park builds up to the Plainville Fire Company Hot Air Balloon Festival in August, which we’ll cover in more detail below.
11. Relic Brewing Company
This well-regarded craft brewery has picked up a raft of awards in the last few years, and opens Wednesday to Saturday.
Normally there will be 15 or so beers on tap at the friendly, no-frills taproom, but you can also taste a menu of wines, ciders and hundreds of different whiskies and bourbons.
On draft in September 2019 there was a contingent of fruity IPAs as well as a Belgian wit, a porter, an English ale, a stout and a German pilsner.
Relic puts on a trivia night on Thursdays at 19:00, and regular live music on Fridays and Saturdays.
12. Paderewski Park
This pleasant local green space is right next to downtown and is set around a large pond with an island in the middle.
You could bring children to feed the many ducks and geese (oats and grains!), and there’s a much-loved splashpad open June, July and August.
This is free for the public and is next to a large conventional playground.
There are open lawns and picnic areas under shade by the pond, which is stocked with fish for anglers.
For older visitors there’s a ton of sports facilities at Paderewski Park, including baseball fields, tennis courts, a basketball court and a soccer field.
13. AMC Plainville 20
Watching a movie has never felt more decadent at multiplexes like Plainville’s AMC 20. People even travel to watch movies here, and the secret is the recliner seating.
You can lean back and stretch out your legs without worrying about people behind or in front, and sink back into the comfy, cushioned seat like you’re at home.
If you catch a presentation at the cutting-edge Dolby Cinema here, your recliner will have a built-in rumbler so you can literally feel the action.
There are also IMAX and 3D screens at AMC Plainville 20, and reserved seating makes the whole experience even smoother.
14. Rogers Orchards
At the South End of Sunset Rock State Park is a farm that was established in 1808 and is now in its eighth generation.
Rogers Orchards uses eco-friendly Integrated Pest Management to grow pears, plums, apricots, nectarines and peaches that you can buy from the farm stand.
Delectable baked goods like cookies, cakes, apple cider donuts and 15 types of pies are also made here using ingredients from the farm.
The highlight of the calendar is apple season in autumn when you can visit Friday to Sunday to pick 20 varieties.
The Rogers Orchards website publishes a full schedule telling you when favorites like Macoun, Red Delicious and Idared are ready to be picked.
15. Plainville Fire Company Hot Air Balloon Festival
Norton Park is a pageant of colour on the last weekend of August, when dozens of hot air balloon take to the skies.
The event, sponsored by the Plainville Fire Company, celebrated its 35th edition in 2019 and is lauded as the most colourful free event in the state.
The festival gets underway on the Friday night with a fireworks display at sunset.
Then you watch balloon launches at 06:00 and 18:00 on the Saturday, and then at 06:00 on Sunday.
Over the course of the weekend you can try every food truck imaginable, catch live music, watch a classic car show and potter around bustling craft tents.
And if you’re really feeling brave you can sign up for a ride on one of the hot air balloons.