25 Best Things to Do in Bridgeport (CT)

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Dating back to 1821, Connecticut’s largest city by population has been transformed since the turn of the 21st century. Today it’s a diverse hotbed of creativity, with a lot of culture, plentiful green space, and a beautiful shorefront.

Relying on its harbor, this was traditionally a blue collar town, famed for a lot of manufacturing firsts. For example, I found out that the electric plug outlet was invented right here in 1912. 

By the end of the 20th century a once booming industrial center was forging a new path. The cityscape todau is defined by redevelopment, with factories becoming galleries and markets.

The showman, P.T. Barnum lived in Bridgeport for much of his life, served as mayor, and is buried in the city. There’s a museum in his honor, as well as a statue at Seaside Park.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Bridgeport:

1. Learn About a Local Legend

Barnum MuseumSource: flickr
Barnum Museum

The Circus giant P.T. Barnum (1810-1891) was a monumental figure in Bridgeport. He resided in the city for 40 years of his life, and even served as mayor.

Now, there’s a museum in honor of his legacy, and the beautiful stone and terra cotta building was commissioned by the man himself.

All three stories are filled with interesting artifacts, including a preserved elephant, a model of the Feejee mermaid, a miniature circus and an authentic  mummy.

You can also stop by his statue, down the road and overlooking Long Island Sound. Additionally, Barnum super-fans can visit his grave at the local Mountain Grove Cemetery.

When I was last in town, the museum was temporarily closed for renovations, but a timeline had been set for reopening.

2. Meet Some Mammals

Beardsley ZooSource: flickr
Beardsley Zoo

The only AZA-accredited zoo in Connecticut is right here in Bridgeport at Beardsley Zoo.

Explore all the major exhibits—the Rainforest Building, Predators, W.O.L.F., South American Rainforest, Alligator Alley, New England Farmyard, the Native Reptile House, Pampas Plains, and Hoofstock Trail.

In terms of animals, you’ll see a little bit of everything from leopards and tigers to boa constrictors, bald eagles, black swans and prairie dogs.

I have to say, I was spellbound by the Victorian greenhouse, one of the largest in Connecticut, and home to a pair of agave plants that only bloom once every 30 years or so. 

Meanwhile, younger kids are sure to love the replica vintage carousel, and the ever-playful prairie dogs.

3. See Your Favorite Musician in Action

In a big recent project for Bridgeport, a minor league baseball stadium has been converted into a performance venue. The Hartford HealthCare Amphitheater opened in 2021 after three years of construction. 

Take my word for it: It’s a spectacular building, with a vaulting canopy and a capacity for more than 6,700.

The $30 million retrofit now brings a steady flow of top talent to the city in the summer months. A list of  recent performers includes Pixies, James Taylor, Cat Power, Elvis Costello, Queens of the Stone Age, Erykah Badu, and Greta Van Fleet.

4. Get Outside

Seaside ParkSource: flickr
Seaside Park Lighthouse

One of P.T. Barnum’s projects for the city was Seaside Park, along 2.5 miles of Long Island Sound waterfront. 

There are 325 acres of lawns and sports fields, as well as a bathing beach and a wealth of other public amenities. 

These include playgrounds, an exercise area, picnic facilities, and an amphitheater for concerts. My advice is to check the calendar for festivals and one-off concerts in this special location.  

Seaside Park is one of a few public spaces around Connecticut designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, responsible for NYC’s Central Park. The further west you go Barnum Boulevard the more remote things feel, until you get to Fayerweather Island. 

Here you can cross the breakwater rocks to visit a natural wildlife preserve, and a lighthouse that was in operation from 1823 to 1932.

5. Enjoy Some World-Class Art

Housatonic Museum of ArtSource: housatonic.edu
Housatonic Museum of Art

The art museum at Bridgeport’s Housatonic Community College has an amazing collection that caught me off-guard. 

The holdings are rich important ethnographic pieces, dating from the 18th to the 20th century, and sourced from communities in Latin America, Oceania and Africa.

These are combined with works by masters like Picasso, Gustav Klimt, Andy Warhol, Alberto Giacometti, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Matisse and Joan Miró. 

The exhibits rotate to keep things fresh, and they also display current student work from Housatonic Community College.

When I was in town there was an enthralling display of pieces from the collection. It was a privilege to see pieces by Picasso, Yoko Ono, and Andy Warhol in one place.

6. Head to the Cove

Captain’s Cove SeaportSource: flickr
Captain’s Cove Seaport

Captain’s Cove Seaport has been a multifaceted summer hangout for decades. What started out as an empty lot on Burr Creek soon became a great tourist and boating destination.

There’s a great vibe here, and it’s totally family-friendly and relaxed. So, what’s there to do? On sunny days the marina is always filled with boats, but for those who are stuck on dry land, you can enjoy the restaurant and bar.

I don’t need to tell you to order seafood. I’m talking about New England specialties like chowder, fried clams, fish and chips, and Connecticut-style lobster rolls. Live music adds to the atmosphere while you dine. 

There’s a line of cute shops and attractions along the boardwalk, with a pirate exhibit, candles, ice cream, jewelry, and all kinds of other crafty pieces.

7. Cross Long Island Sound

In my opinion, you don’t need a particular reason to cross Long Island Sound on this ferry. 

A private operation, the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company, has been in business since 1883. This makes it one of the oldest-operating ferry companies in the country.

The dock is at the Bridgeport Port Authority at 330 Water St, and the crossing takes just over an hour. Leaving and returning by water is of course an excellent way to connect with Bridgeport’s maritime past. 

There are ten departures a day from Bridgeport on weekdays (and almost double that on weekends), even in mid-Winter

On a warm day in summer you can head out on deck with a book, while The Galley has a menu for all times of day. Also inside, the cozy Lounge has flatscreen TVs showing live sports games.

8. Discover Fading History

Pleasure BeachSource: bridgeportct.gov
Pleasure Beach

You’ll step back in time to a disappearing Victorian beach community when you visit the newly reopened Pleasure Beach. 

The site was always difficult to visit as it sits at the end of a long barrier island. But when the bridge and main access point burned down in the late 1990s, it was all left to rot. 

Originally, the park was founded in 1892 and turn-of-the-century pleasure-seekers could catch the steam ferry over to enjoy the rollercoaster, carnival games, carousel and more.

In the 2010s though, the city received money to revamp the ruins of the historic spot. In the summer you can take a water taxi to one of the prettiest pieces of public beachfront in Connecticut.

For me, the ruins of residences and former entertainment facilities add a touch of mystery to the location.

9. See a Show

Downtown Cabaret TheatreSource: flickr
Downtown Cabaret Theatre

This professional musical theater has been a cultural mainstay in Bridgeport since the mid-1970s. All presented in a cabaret format, there’s a season of shows for all ages. 

I caught a fantastic musical production of Guys and Dolls—everything was great, from the performances to the costumes. I also love the laid-back atmosphere, and how you’re free to bring your own food and drink. 

In addition to the mainstage and children’s theater seasons, there’s a lot of live music here. These are mainly talented tribute acts for famous artists, from Paul McCartney to Neil Diamond.

10. Discover Something Unexpected

Discovery Museum and PlanetariumSource: flickr
Discovery Museum and Planetarium (Photo: Malcom Clark)

Take the kids to the Discovery Museum and Planetarium at the Sacred Heart University Campus.

The educational facility is entertaining and educational, while encouraging hands-on interaction. Take Science in Motion, where kids can learn about the Three Laws of Motion while sinking three-pointers or tackling an adventure course. 

There are several galleries, a few of which change throughout the year, and a good variety of shows at the Planetarium.

As an adult, I found the planetarium show to be the most engaging part for older minds. This is an impressive facility, with 4k projection on a 33-foot diameter dome. 

11. See a Game on Ice

Webster Bank ArenaSource: flickr
Webster Bank Arena

Sports-lovers will want to take a glance at the calendar for Total Mortgage Arena. This 10,000-seat entertainment complex is home ice for the Bridgeport Islanders hockey team. 

They are the AHL affiliate for the New York Islanders of the NHL, so you’ll get to see the next generation of talent in action.

Although the Islanders are the only permanent talent, the arena has a packed schedule. In the course of a year you might catch NCAA basketball and hockey, as well as NHL preseason games.

There are also MMA and WWE events, as well shows by major music artists and comedians. For instance, Bill Burr was in town when I was here. 

12. Go on an Adventure

The Adventure ParkSource: discoveryadventurepark
The Adventure Park

On the grounds of the Discovery Museum and Planetarium there’s an awesome high-ropes course in five acres of woods. 

You’ll encounter a series of zip lines, bridges, ladders and more. These transitions connect almost 200 treetop platforms throughout the park. 

There are 14 different aerial trails here, ranging in difficulty from yellow to double black. Meanwhile children as young as five can conquer the purple course. 

Without question the most thrilling parts for me are the ziplines. There are almost 40 across the park, so you’re never far from the next ride. Lastly, for something truly unforgettable, you could try a nighttime LED-lit Glow in the Park experience.

13. Dine and Socialize

HarborviewSource: westportandbeyond.blogspot.nl

In the colorful Black Rock neighborhood, Harborview Market is a treasured hangout and dining spot. 

This historic commercial building goes back to the 19th century. In the past 100+ years it has served as a grocery, butcher shop, and convenience store. But by the time the current owners took over in 1993, the place was in a sorry state. 

Now, it’s a totally restored, totally hip spot to pick up bakery goods, eat breakfast or lunch, sip on some coffee or listen to some live music with friends.

I love how social everything is. Harborview has been named one of the best places to dine alone, and continues to shine as a local place to meet.

14. Play a Round or Two

Fairchild WheelerSource: bridgeportct.gov
Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course

Hit the golf course at Fairchild Wheeler, which offers not only one but two 18-hole tracks.

The Red course has 6,568 yards, and the course rating is 71.0 with a slope of 124. I played a round here, and loved the challenge to my short game, with its small and quick greens.

The Black course has 6,559 yards with a 71.5 rating and a 123 slope. This course had recently updated its fairway and the bunkers around the greens when I went to press.

While this facility is technically located in Fairchild, it’s also Bridgeport’s municipal golf course, and is extremely easy to reach.

15. Take a Distillery Tour

Asylum DistillerySource: asylumdistillery.com
Fifth State Distillery

For an epicurean experience of a different kind, take a distillery tour at Fifth State Distillery. Remarkably, this is the first distillery in Fairfield county and Bridgeport in almost a century.

In small batches, Fifth State produces gin, vodka and corn whiskey. These are made with locally sourced ingredients, including locally grown, non-GMO Connecticut grains.

They support local farmers, before finally distilling and bottling their product right there in the county. You can book a tour and tasting session, usually taking place on Saturdays. Rather than just sampling neat whiskey or vodka, you’ll have a choice of innovative cocktails to try.

16. Enjoy Some High Culture

Klein Memorial AuditoriumSource: flickr
Klein Memorial Auditorium

If your taste in music is a little more highbrow, head for the Klein Memorial Auditorium. This  1,500-seat venue is the seat of the Greater Bridgeport Symphony Orchestra.

Other companies based here are the New England Ballet Company and Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras.

At the same time you can catch traveling acts at the Klein. A couple of recent visitors include the Vienna Boys Choir and the Lincoln Center Jazz Ensemble. 

I got a little thrill thinking of some of the important figures who have passed through these doors. To name a handful there’s Martin Luther King Jr., Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington, and George Carlin.

17. Pay Your Respects

Mountain Grove Cemetery and MausoleumSource: findagrave.com
Mountain Grove Cemetery and Mausoleum

This rambling burial ground was laid out in a park-like setting, west of the city in the mid-19th century. 

This is the place to pay your respects to P.T. Barnum, who founded the cemetery. His rather austere grave monument features a decorative urn atop a plinth. 

There are also other interesting figures buried at Mountain Grove Cemetery and Mausoleum that you should read up on before your visit.

For one, there’s one the most famous little people in history: General Tom Thumb (1838-83). His marriage to Lavinia Warren (1841-1919) in 1863 was a national sensation. The three-foot, four-inch man has a life-size statue on his headstone and is buried by his wife.

18. Explore the County’s Past

Fairfield Museum and History CenterSource: flickr
Fairfield Museum and History Center

A few minutes away, this excellent museum looks at the history of the entire county, so I’d keep it in mind if you want to know more about Bridgeport. 

You can see where the community began as a colonial settlement, more than 375 years ago, and browse some truly absorbing exhibitions. For instance, I was riveted by a display of aerial photographs and paintings of the county, from between the 1890s and 1960s. 

Check the schedule for lectures and panels led by respected historians and scholars. You can also do your own research about the area in the Special Collections Library.

Look out for holiday events, like the Halloween Spooky Stroll and the Holiday Express Train Show.

19. Have a Beach Day

Jennings BeachSource: flickr
Jennings Beach

The Bridgeport area is replete with the kind of sandy beaches that aren’t often publicly accessible in other parts of the state. 

Next door in Fairfield, Jennings Beach is one of the largest in the area, with 27 acres of sandy shoreline.

It’s very accessible for all, and there are lifeguards on duty during the summer. I came by in July and was amazed at how clean the sands were

Even if you’re not visiting during the warm months, Jennings Beach is still a place worth visiting. October-March, both dogs and horses are allowed on the sand, making for a fun experience.

20. Hit the Trail

Pequonnock River TrailSource: connecticutexplorer
Pequonnock River Trail

Growing steadily and joining up since 2001, the Pequonnock River Trail extends north through the valley for 16 miles. 

The official southern trailhead is the Bridgeport Transportation Center on Housatonic Ave. Here you can join the first of several non-contiguous segments, all the way to Monroe. 

You can bike, skate, walk or even ski along the trail, which is so picturesque, you’ll never want to leave. If I had to pick a favorite local part it would be the stretch north of Beardsley Park, where there’s a little waterfall on the river. 

Out of Bridgeport, there’s beautiful scenery in Monroe where the river twists through William E. Wolfe Park. 

When I compiled this list, an extension was being built downtown, moving the southern trailhead to Seaside Park.

21. Explore a Factory for Vintage Treasures

In the 2010s a 75,000-square-foot former factory was turned into a one-of-a-kind shopping destination. Partly because of its scale Mongers Market is like nothing I’ve seen before.

This beautiful space is filled with vendors specializing in antiques, vintage-style items, and industrial salvage. 

So on your trip through this old factory you’ll find furniture, clothing, old signs, porcelain, lighting, wrought-iron gates, fences, luggage, flooring, huge wooden beams, storage, decorative architectural features, and tons more. 

As someone fascinated by old factory buildings, the location is a big part of the experience for me.

22. Take to the Ice

Wonderland of IceSource: bridgeportct.gov
Wonderland of Ice

Even in the middle of summer, you can enjoy a little skating in Bridgeport, when you stop by Wonderland of Ice.

The city-owned facility is expansive, with an NHL-size rink and a curling facility. When I wrote this article there were ongoing renovations to the lobby, restrooms and locker rooms. 

You can enjoy public skating sessions, pick-up hockey and curling, and also take some lessons to brush up on your skills.

Various teams practice here, but there are still plenty of public slots when you can hop onto the rink regardless of your talent.

23. Reflect a Little

St. Margaret’s ShrineSource: flickr
St. Margaret’s Shrine

One of the more prominent religious sites in Bridgeport is St. Margaret’s Shrine. The Roman Catholic complex includes several different shrines, statues and water features. In addition, the on-site church holds masses that are open to the public.

It was all established in the early 1940s as a monument for peace following the Attack on Pearl Harbor. 

If you can catch one of the events or festivals throughout the year, you’ll love the atmosphere that comes when the solemn shrine is combined with jocular children’s activities like carnival rides.

My favorite time to come is for the Feast of St. Anthony in late August. This event draws some pretty big crowds, features a procession, outdoor mass, and a feast of amazing Italian food from street vendors.

24. Try the Local Art Scene

305 KnowltonSource: blackrockart
305 Knowlton

This arts and events center is housed in a converted old industrial building on the bank of the Pequonnock River.

The Knowlton is a few things rolled into one. The complex features artists’ studios, galleries, an inspiring mural park, and the stylish waterfront Boathouse for events. 

You come for shows, talks from artists, performances and other cultural activities that celebrate the locals of the city of Bridgeport.

Additionally, the building itself is pretty fascinating — it was once the Armstrong Manufacturing Company, a popular tool and die manufacturer in the 1800s. The same company created a very advanced prototype of the early automobile in 1895.

25. Spot the Tiny Lighthouse

Tongue PointSource: flickr
Tongue Point

At the mouth of the Pequonnock River, Tongue Point is on the west side of the entrance to Bridgeport Harbor. 

Standing here and painted deep blue is a tiny lighthouse known as The Bug, only 30 feet tall. This humble beacon was built in the late 1800s, and relocated to Tongue Point in 1919. 

It testifies to the development of Bridgepot as an industrial harbor, helping vessels avoid a rocky reef several hundred feet offshore.

Now, the lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places. When I took a look it was impossible to reach the lighthouse on foot. But there’s a nice view from Pleasure Beach Park, or the water taxi in summer.

25 Best Things to Do in Bridgeport (CT):

  • Learn About a Local Legend
  • Meet Some Mammals
  • See Your Favorite Musician in Action
  • Get Outside
  • Enjoy Some World-Class Art
  • Head to the Cove
  • Cross Long Island Sound
  • Discover Fading History
  • See a Show
  • Discover Something Unexpected
  • See a Game on Ice
  • Go on an Adventure
  • Dine and Socialize
  • Play a Round or Two
  • Take a Distillery Tour
  • Enjoy Some High Culture
  • Pay Your Respects
  • Explore the County's Past
  • Have a Beach Day
  • Hit the Trail
  • Explore a Factory for Vintage Treasures
  • Take to the Ice
  • Reflect a Little
  • Try the Local Art Scene
  • Spot the Tiny Lighthouse