Known for its beautiful beaches and its charming rural towns, Connecticut offers plenty of opportunities for day trips and mini vacations. The hot summer weather tends to lure visitors out to the beaches of Cape Cod and Long Island Sound, while autumn is the perfect time to venture into the countryside and admire the colorful fall foliage.

No matter what the time of year, you can also learn about prehistoric times at Dinosaur State Park, visit Lake Compounce to ride on the thrilling roller coasters, or enjoy an elegant meal at the historic Mansion at Bald Hill.

1. Branford

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Located on Connecticut's Long Island Sound, the welcoming shoreline town of Branford offers plenty of things for visitors to see and do, including breweries, museums, and walking trails.

If you want to spend the day by the water, you can visit one of the beaches on the coast or head out to the Thimble Islands, a beautiful archipelago sitting just off the mainland.

The town is also home to more than 20 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Harrison House museum, which is full of fascinating artifacts that tell the story of the days gone by. More beaches in Connecticut

2. Burlington

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The largest city in Vermont, Burlington is located just below the Canadian border on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain.

The compact, historic downtown area is packed with specialty stores, upscale restaurants, and historic buildings particularly on the pedestrian-only Church Street, where visitors will often find street performers, live music, and local vendor stalls.

From Church Street, it's a short stroll down to the beautiful waterfront, where there are plenty of parks and trails for walkers and cyclists to enjoy.

In the summer, the most popular is a 12.5-mile path that leads to the Lake Champlain Islands via a seasonal ferry. Burlington Map

More romantic weekend getaways in Connecticut

3. Cape Cod

Cape Cod
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Jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, the hook-shaped peninsula of Cape Cod has been one of the country's most popular vacation spots for generations.

There's something here for everyone; families with young children might want to beeline out to the northern side of the peninsula to enjoy the tranquil waters of Cape Cod Bay, while anyone looking for classic New England charm should visit the seaside town of Chatham.

And of course, no day trip to Cape Cod is complete without stopping in Provincetown to soak in the town's rich history and admire its many art galleries. More Cape Cod beaches

4. Chaplin

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Named in honor of Deacon Benjamin Chaplin, one of the first settlers in the area, the town of Chaplin is unique in that it was purposefully constructed on a site that had experienced no prior settlement.

The historic town center has hardly changed since it was originally built in the early 19th century, and it's full of beautiful wood-frame houses as well as significant public buildings like a church built in 1812 and an old town hall from 1840.

On the way out of town, visitors can stop by the picturesque Natchaug River or go for a quick hike in the Natchaug State Forest. Chaplin Map

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5. Chester

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Set on the hilly banks of the Connecticut River, the town of Chester is the perfect destination for anyone longing for a taste of rural New England.

It was first settled in 1692, and although it has a rich and interesting history, it offers plenty of 21st-century comforts as well; its rambling Main Street is lined with handsome 19th-century buildings that house boutique shops, fine dining restaurants, and impressive art galleries.

On the way out of town, consider stopping to visit the animals at Chakana Sky Alpacas, take a ride on the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry, and tour the medieval-style fortress in Gillette Castle State Park. More places to visit in Connecticut

6. Dinosaur State Park

Dinosaur State Park
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Created to protect one of the biggest dinosaur track sites on the continent, Dinosaur State Park is an impressive natural history preserve located in the town of Rocky Hill.

The highlight of the park is its 55,000-square-foot geodesic dome, where visitors can see hundreds of fossilized Jurassic dinosaur tracks that date back more than 200 million years.

The dome also houses a collection of dinosaur exhibits and interactive rooms where visitors can dig for fossils and examine rocks. Outside, two miles of trails wind through the park's Arboretum, which grows an impressive collection of plants from the time of the dinosaurs. More things to do in Connecticut

Dinosaur State Park, 400 West St, Rocky Hill, CT 06067, Phone: 860-529-8423

7. East Haddam

East Haddam
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East Haddam is another charming town on the banks of the Connecticut River, and like other towns in the area, it offers a wealth of picture-perfect views, historic homes, and quaint museums.

The biggest attractions in East Haddam include the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse, the scenic Staehly Tree Farm & Winery, and the Goodspeed Opera House, where summer visitors might be lucky enough to catch the weekly Music on the River event.

If you want to spend some time in nature before you go, take a walk in Brainard Homestead State Park or check out the waterfalls in Devil’s Hopyard State Park. More East Coast weekend getaways

8. Essex

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Encompassing ten square miles on the bank of the Connecticut River, Essex is comprised of three distinct villages, each of which is well worth a visit.

The tiny Essex Village is full of colonial-era homes and surrounded by the river on three sides, while the artsy Ivoryton is best known for being home to a turn-of-the-century playhouse and a wonderful collection of local art galleries.

If you'd like to travel even further afield, the bustling village of Centerbrook has a steam train running through it, which visitors can ride up to Deep River or Haddam. Essex Map

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9. Griswold

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Sitting at the junction of the Pachaug River and the Quinebaug River, the town of Griswold is famed for its natural beauty.

Visitors can drive up to the tops of the neighboring hills to get stunning views of the town and the surrounding countryside, and if you have a boat, you can get out on the water at the town's surprisingly large Pachaug Pond.

Try to make time to stop at Buttonwood Farm as well; they're known for their delicious homemade ice cream, and in the summer, the fields bloom with more than 300,000 sunflowers. Griswold Map

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10. Groton Long Point

Groton Long Point
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A sleepy residential community on Fishers Island Sound, Groton Long Point is the perfect destination for a day trip with your kids.

The town has less than 1,000 full-time residents, but the population swells dramatically during the summer months, when summer vacationers flood in from the surrounding cities.

There are several public beaches for visitors to enjoy, and there's a playground you can visit if your children tire of the water.

Parking can be tricky during the peak season, but if you bring your bikes, you can park at the nearby Esker Point Beach and easily cycle along the length of the point.

More ideas: Lakes in Connecticut

11. Haddam

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Sprawling across both sides of the Connecticut River, the town of Haddam is a historical agricultural town surrounded by rolling farmland dotted with 19th-century mills.

The downtown streets are lined with stately Colonial homes that make for a scenic afternoon stroll, but if you'd like to get a bit more exercise, you can explore the many miles of hiking trails along Route 154.

The town is also a bit of a transportation hub, and visitors can take a cruise down the river to admire the scenery or hop aboard the Essex Steam Train for a ride down to Essex. Haddam Map

More ideas: Connecticut Hotels & Resorts

12. Kent, Connecticut

Kent, Connecticut
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Nestled up against the border between New York and Connecticut, Kent is a delightful small town that seamlessly blends the old and the new.

The streets feature quaint antique shops set next to owner-operated boutique stores selling eclectic goods sourced from around the world, and there are more than half a dozen art galleries displaying both contemporary and classic works.

Many of the restaurants specialize in food made with locally sourced ingredients, and the town is also located conveniently close to the beautiful Kent Falls State Park, where visitors can hike, fish for trout, and picnic beside the water. Kent map

13. Lake Compounce

Lake Compounce
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Established in 1846, Lake Compounce is the country's oldest continuously operating amusement park.

It's home to one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the world, but it also has plenty of more modern attractions, including a swinging pirate themed ride designed for younger children, a thrilling coaster that reaches speeds of up to 62 mph, and a dinosaur themed play area with a fossil dig and Jurassic-themed pathways.

The admission fee also includes access to the park's private beach and Crocodile Cove, a family-friendly water park with a wave pool, a lazy river, and several waterslides.

Lake Compounce, 185 Enterprise Dr, Bristol, CT 06010

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14. Lime Rock Park

Lime Rock Park
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One of the oldest road racing tracks in the world, Lime Rock Park has remained completely unchanged since it was opened in 1957.

The 1.5-mile track is surrounded by lush green spectator fields instead grandstands, and it has hosted many of America's most significant races over the years, including the famous 1959 Formula Libre event.

It still hosts many races and events today, including televised spectator races, vintage car shows, and private track days.

The track also offers autocross courses for drivers of almost every skill level, and cars are available for rent if needed.

Lime Rock Park , 60 White Hollow Rd, Lakeville, CT 06039, Phone: 860-435-5000

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15. Litchfield Hills

Litchfield Hills
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Occupying the northeast corner of Connecticut, the Litchfield Hills are exactly what you picture when you think of inland New England: rolling fields of green dotted with covered bridges, fruit stands, and quaint little towns.

The town of Litchfield is full of fine dining restaurants, historic homes, and high-end boutiques, but if you're hunting for antiques or collectibles, the town of Woodbury is the place to be.

There are also plenty of excellent hiking trails in the area, and although they're beautiful year-round, the scenery is particularly spectacular in the fall when the leaves change color. Litchfield Hills Map

16. Mansion at Bald Hill

Mansion at Bald Hill
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Formerly the home of wealthy heiress Roxanna Wentworth Bowe, the Mansion at Bald Hill is an iconic Connecticut landmark that has been transformed into a refined bed and breakfast with an upscale restaurant.

Many visitors who come here choose to stay the night, but there's no need to do so if you're short on time; the elegant restaurant is the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion or cap off a day of sightseeing.

The menu features seasonal dishes made with local ingredients, although it's typically open only for dinner, an indulgent brunch menu is available on Sunday mornings.

Mansion at Bald Hill , 29 Plaine Hill Rd, Woodstock, CT 06281, Phone: 860-974-3456

17. Mystic

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Founded in 1654, Mystic is a picturesque waterfront village spread across both sides of the Mystic River.

It's best known for being the home of two of the state's biggest attractions: The Mystic Aquarium, which is home to the only beluga whales in New England, and the Mystic Seaport, the biggest maritime museum in the country.

These two things alone could easily take up your entire day, but if you're looking for something else to do, you can stop by the Mystic River Basule Bridge downtown or visit the shops in the Olde Mistick Village, a replica of an 18th-century New England community. Mystic Map

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18. Pachaug State Forest

Pachaug State Forest
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Consisting of more than 26,000 acres of unspoiled coastal woodland, Pachaug State Forest is the largest piece of land in the state forest system.

The main attraction here is the incredible hiking; one of the most popular trails leads up to the top of Mt. Misery Overlook, but miles and miles of trails weave their way through the forest, offering the chance to spot some of the wildlife that calls the park home.

There are also plenty of ponds, which are well-populated with a wide variety of fish for visitors who happen to bring their fishing rods.

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19. Old Saybrook, Connecticut

Old Saybrook, Connecticut
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Situated at the convergence of the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound, Old Saybrook was settled in 1635, making it one of the oldest towns in the state.

The town is known for its welcoming small-town feel, but the well-maintained downtown streets are surprisingly cosmopolitan, and they offer all sorts of fantastic dining and shopping opportunities as well as a luxurious spa overlooking the water.

If you're more the outdoors type, you can canoe or kayak on the river, take a walk along the causeway, or go swimming or boating at the beautiful Harvey's Beach. Old Saybrook Map

20. Steep Rock Preserve, Connecticut

Steep Rock Preserve, Connecticut
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Encompassing almost 1,000 acres along the Shepaug River, Steep Rock Preserve boasts some of the most spectacular hikes in Connecticut.

There are more than 40 miles of trails for hikers to explore, with options ranging from easy to difficult.

Anyone looking for a leisurely afternoon stroll can follow the gentle path along the banks of the river, but if you're hoping for more of a challenge, you can take the rigorous path up to Steep Rock Summit.

Visitors are also welcome to launch their non-motorized boats in the river and fish for trout when in season.

Steep Rock Preserve, 2 Tunnel Rd, Washington Depot, CT 06794, Phone: 860-868-9131

21. The New England Carousel Museum

The New England Carousel Museum
© The New England Carousel Museum

Carousels hold a certain nostalgic appeal for many of us, and the New England Carousel Museum is the perfect place to experience a little bit of childlike wonder.

The collection includes hundreds of elaborately adorned carousel animals, including horses, farm animals, and a dragon, and exhibits provide information about some of the country's most famous carousels.

There is also a working carousel for visitors to enjoy; the first ride is included in the price of admission, but visitors are welcome to take additional rides for a small fee. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, and guided tours are available if arranged in advance.

The New England Carousel Museum, 95 Riverside Ave, Bristol, CT 06010, Phone: 860-585-5411

22. Thomaston Railroad Museum of New England

Thomaston Railroad Museum of New England
© Thomaston Railroad Museum of New England

Operating out of the historic Thomaston Station, the Thomaston Railroad Museum of New England offers the exciting opportunity to take a 20-mile ride in a vintage train car. The standard route takes approximately an hour and a half, and it runs along the Naugatuck River and through a stunning state forest before crossing over the incredible Thomaston Dam. Trains run between the end of March and December, and special train rides are held on a seasonal basis, including the Easter Bunny Express in April and an October train ride that stops at a pumpkin patch.

Thomaston Railroad Museum of New England, 242 E Main St, Thomaston, CT 06787, Phone: 860-283-7245

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23. Walnut Beach

Walnut Beach
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Located in the town of Milford, Walnut Beach is a welcoming stretch of sand that invites visitors to swim and sunbathe to their hearts' content. Charles Island can be seen from the beach, and low tide often forms a sand bar that allows visitors to walk over and explore the island.

However, if you'd rather stay on the shore, there is also a long boardwalk that crosses almost the entire beach. Visitors can also fish off the fishing pier, relax in the shade of the Devon Rotary Pavilion, and enjoy a snack or a drink from the concession.

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24. Woodstock, Connecticut

Woodstock, Connecticut
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Spanning approximately 62 square miles, Woodstock is the second largest town in Connecticut, but it has a relatively small population and a surprisingly tranquil atmosphere. This is largely due to its agricultural background, which has blessed the area with an abundance of shops selling local produce, honey, flowers, and wine. The town is also home to more dairy farms than any other town in the state, and visitors who are interested in learning about the dairy industry can take a tour of a working farm. Other notable attractions include Roseland Cottage, the Palmer Arboretum, and the Quasset School. Woodstock Map

25. Yantic Falls

Yantic Falls
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Also known as Uncas Leap, Yantic Falls is a breathtaking 40-foot waterfall found along the Yantic River. The site has held great historical significance for the Mohegan Tribe since 1643, when it was the site of an important battle against a rival tribe, but it's also a place of natural beauty that beckons visitors to explore. There is a mile-long loop trail that leads around the site, which features information about the site's history as well as spectacular views of the falls. Visitors looking for a little more exercise can also take the Heritage Trail, which leads into downtown Norwich.

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