Filled with history and charm, Essex, CT is the perfect place to enjoy a relaxed vacation on your own, with a loved one, a group of friends, or the entire family. Start your trip with a meal at the Griswold Inn which has been welcoming travelers since 1776. Then head out to incomparable attractions such as the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat, the Florence Griswold Museum, or one of the oldest standing buildings in the state, the Pratt House. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Essex Steam Train & Riverboat
The Essex Steam Train & Riverboat, which is operated by the Valley Railroad Company, offers a memorable excursion across Connecticut’s rivers. It is the only steam train and riverboat connection in the entire United States and can be found operating seasonally from May through October. You’ll be able to choose from one of two operating steam locomotives and can pick from multiple class experiences such as coach, first class, an open-air car, and even ride aboard their caboose, or cabin car. There are several events held onboard throughout the year such as the Essex Clipper Dinner Train, which is a romantic culinary event which USA Today highlighted as a “Memorable Meal”.
1 Railroad Ave, Essex, CT 06426
2.Connecticut River Museum
© Connecticut River Museum
Built in 1813, the Connecticut River Museum is a cultural and educational institution which focuses on the maritime heritage of the Connecticut River Valley. The three-story museum is housed in a restored steamboat warehouse from 1878 and is one of the last of its kind to remain on the river. You’ll see several maritime-related artifacts, nautical artwork, and navigation equipment - much of which was donated by the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. The permanent exhibition on shipbuilding includes models of steamboats and many historical maps which are fascinating to see. You’ll also be thrilled to see a full-scale replica of the first American submarine, Turtle, in the museum.
67 Main St, Essex, CT 06426
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© Essex Historical Society
The Pratt House, which was constructed sometime in the mid-17th century, is a historic house museum and one of the oldest surviving buildings in the state. Listed on the National Register of Historic Place, the house museum was owned by a single family for over 2½ centuries before coming into the hands of the local historical society. There are docent-led tours held within Pratt House daily. During the tour you will be able to see several stunning aspects in the architecture and decor like the period furniture as well as the accurate, period-appropriate kitchen gardens.
19 West Ave, Essex, CT 06426, Phone: 860-767-0681
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4.Cooper & Smith Gallery
© Cooper & Smith Gallery
At the Cooper & Smith Gallery you’ll be able to explore over 5,000 square feet of exhibition space that is filled with contemporary fine art in a wide range of styles and genres. The gallery is steeped in tradition and emphasizes oil paintings using drawing-based disciplines. It’s a wonderful place for both new and experienced collectors alike as it’s the perfect environment to take in new art, from abstraction to realism. You’ll be able to see works by artists such as Tom Root, Molly McDonald, Henry St. Clair, Merrill French, Judith Pond Kudlow, and James Coe. There are several art exhibitions and other events which you can attend held at the gallery throughout the year.
10 Main St, Essex, CT 06426, Phone: 860-581-8526
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5.Florence Griswold Museum
© Florence Griswold Museum
A National Historic Landmark, the Florence Griswold Museum is focused on the home of Florence Griswold. To make ends meet, Florence would take in borders, one of whom was artist Henry Ward Ranger. He encouraged other artists to do so as well and the home soon became the epicenter of the Old Lyme Art Colony - the core center of growth for American Impressionism. You will be able to see an extensive collection of American Impressionist paintings in the 9,500 square feet of exhibit space. Some of the highlights in the collection are Summer Evening by Childe Hassam, Laurel by Edward Francis Rook, and East Hartford Meadow by Milton Avery.
96 Lyme St, Old Lyme, CT 06371, Phone: 860-434-5542
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© Truffle Shots
Locally created by a mother-daughter partnership, the chocolate truffles by Truffle Shots are internationally award winning. Created in small batches, their concoctions are created with premium ingredients which melt as soon as they hit your tongue. There are over thirty amazing flavors to try out with some of the most popular being the Minted Grapefruit, Tellicherry Cardamom, Caramel Beurre Noisette, Miel Habanero, and the Fig Balsamico. There is no alcohol in any of the Truffle Shots so chocolate lovers of all ages can indulge in their sweet tooth. You can create a nine-pack custom assortment so that you can mix and match different flavors to try out.
The Barn at Griswold Square, 47 Main St, Essex, CT 06426, Phone: 860-581-8351
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7.The Griswold Inn
© The Griswold Inn
The Griswold Inn is a historic dining establishment that serves classic American cuisine using simple ingredients and imaginative form. Combined, this creates a perfect combination of flavors that is sure to satiate even the most finicky diner. The seasonal menus are created by award-winning Executive Chef Toppin and features high quality pork chops, aged beef, and fresh seafood. On Sunday mornings you can enjoy their famous buffet-style Hunt Breakfast, a tradition which started during the War of 1812. The black-tie dining room is full of charm and character and is a wonderful place to enjoy a romantic meal with your significant other.
36 Main St, Essex, CT 06426, Phone: 860-767-1776
© Olive Oyl's
Olive Oyl’s is a carry-out restaurant that was established in the heart of Essex in 1991. The restaurant is situated just steps away from the picturesque Connecticut River and is a lovely place to stop by and pick up some of the sweet and savory culinary concoctions they create. The menu changes to reflect the seasonal ingredients that are freshly available, so you’re sure to be in for a treat whenever you visit. You can feast on seasonal salads, fresh soups, and daily specials such as Ponzu grilled salmon and New England crab cakes. Other favorites also include their coffee cakes, buttermilk bran muffins, and their tempting scones.
6 Main St, Essex, CT 06426, Phone: 860-767-4909
8 Best Things to Do in Essex, Connecticut
Attraction Spotlight: The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat
Dedicated to preserving the rich industrial heritage of the region, the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat welcomes a multitude of both local and international visitors each year. At this historic attraction, visitors can relax aboard riverboats, ride the rails, and see several significant New England and Connecticut landmarks. As the only steam train and riverboat connection in the country, this attraction offers a unique experience that is bound to inspire and educate.
The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat, or the EST&R for short, has been operated by the Valley Railroad Company since 1971. Though this may seem recent, the company has been active in the region since 1868. The first rail lines built by the company began running in 1871 and ran from Hartford to Saybrook Point. After the company was bought out by the New Haven Railroad, the line was improved due to investments made by its new owners. While WW1 introduced the widespread use of the automobile, the railroad system saw a corresponding decline in ridership. Despite this, however, the Valley Railroad Company was rescued by a dedicated group of volunteers, which ensured its survival through the economic hardships brought on by innovation. Having obtained a formal lease from the State of Connecticut in 1970, the Valley Railroad Company regained its independence and reintroduced trains connecting Essex to Deep River. It is these very lines that visitors can enjoy today.
Train and Boat
Visitors seeking an excursion into the center of the Connecticut River Valley will likely relish a ride in style aboard the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat. Starting at the historic Essex train station, visitors will ride the rails for 2.5 hours while taking in the sights and the accompanying narration provided by the tour guides. Over the course of the 12-mile journey, visitors will see the historic towns of Chester and Deep River. In addition, visitors will also see sites that are only accessible by boat, such as Selden Neck State Park. The excursion is focused on showcasing the ecology of the area by pointing out the coves, preserves, and tidal wetlands of the New England coast. Bird watchers will have ample opportunities to observe many avian species, such as red-winged black birds, Greenland geese, blue herons, and egrets to name a few. Those undertaking this journey in February or March may even see a bald eagle or two as that is when they typically migrate from Canada to the Connecticut River Valley.
Once the journey reaches the Deep River landing, passengers will be escorted onto the Becky Thatcher riverboat, aboard which they will undertake a further 1 hour and 15 minute journey. With multiple decks, visitors have plenty of vantage points to choose from as they settle in to observe the tranquil Connecticut River. Along the way, visitors will see many historic sites such as Gillette Castle, the Haddam Swing Bridge, and the Goodspeed Opera House.
Harkening back to the roaring twenties, the EST&R provides a luxurious dining experience that lets visitors get a taste for decadence. The dinner train ride lasts for 2.5 hours, giving diners ample time to finish their gourmet chef-prepared meals and take in the unforgettable sights of the region.
Those planning a visit between the months of June to October are invited to try the Saybrook Special. This unique journey is offered on the first weekend of every month and provides unparalleled views of historic and natural sights not otherwise covered in the other itineraries on offer at the EST&R. Known for being the largest inland coastal forest located between Boston and New York, The Preserve is easily one of the major highlight of the journey. Visitors will be able to see glacial pathways, unspoiled forests, and the rocky landscapes that characterize the region’s geological character.
Gillette Castle Connection
Visitors who prefer exploration on foot will likely enjoy a hike to Gillette Castle. Once the home of William Gillette, the actor known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes on stage, the castle now offers moderately graded hiking trails along its extensive grounds.
The EST&R offers a variety of special programs that combine niche interests with their special curated journeys. Whether it’s a special holiday-themed ride catered to preserving the magic of the season for their youngest passengers or a sophisticated night of wine and chocolate, the EST&R has something for every type of guest.
1 Railroad Ave, Essex, CT 06426, Phone: 860-767-0103
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