Love it or hate it, Connecticut’s long winter can leave even the most hearty ready to break free from the trappings of frigid temperatures and piles of snow. Think there’s nothing to be done about it? Wrong. We’ve gathered 50 activities — indoors and out — to help you survive until spring arrives.
1. Winter Wine Trails
While not every Connecticut winery stays open through the cold months, several year-round operations welcome visitors with attractions like mulled wine and cozy fireplaces. Two “winter wine trails” encourage guests to explore the state’s wine regions from January to April, with the Litchfield Hills program encompassing participating wineries in western Connecticut, and the CT Coast & Country promotion featuring select wineries in Guilford and Wallingford. Visit the wineries along each trail by a designated date, have your passport card stamped at each location and enter to win prizes. ctwine.com/events/winter-wine-trail.
2. CT Spirits Trail
Experience Connecticut's booze at the source by visiting a local distillery. Tour the facilities and sample vodkas, gins, bourbons and liqueurs at stops like Hartford Flavor Company in Hartford, Waypoint Distillers in Bloomfield, Onyx Moonshine in East Hartford and Litchfield Distillery in Litchfield. Some tasting rooms also offer small cocktails to best highlight their spirits. Ambitious tasters will want to check out the CT Spirits Trail, featuring a “passport” to participating distilleries and chances to win prizes as incentive to visit every location. ctspiritstrail.com.
3. Get Your Blood Racing
Generate some heat in one of the 45 electric-powered vehicles go that go up to 40 miles per hour at Naskart Indoor Kart Racing & Trampoline Park in Montville, The 10,000-square-foot family-funderland — only 14 miles from Mohegan Sun — has two multilevel, quarter-mile tracks, an 8,000-square-foot trampoline park, food and a full bar. Hours and pricing at naskartracing.com.
4. Deals On Wheels
Ice skating is for people who like the cold. The roller rink is for the rest of us. Roll on into Ron-A-Roll, 85 South Frontage Road, in Vernon: There’s a Cheap Skate (with admission and rental at $10) on Thursday nights, adults-only skate night on Tuesdays, and open skate sessions for all ages most days of the week ranging from $10 to $15. ronaroll.com.
5. Cue Up
A friendly game of billiards is a fun way to spend a cozy afternoon or evening with friends or family, so we’ve gathered six spots in the Greater Hartford area where you can eat, drink and cue up. Check them out at courant.com/playpool.
6. No Powder Necessary
The turf you can ski on year round is even better in the winter. Powder Ridge’s synthetic snow is a ski-able, 525-foot plastic carpet that makes hitting the slopes possible in any amount of snow. Because falling on plastic is not ideal, experts recommend wearing thicker clothing, so cold weather is a comfortable time to sharpen those skills. Details at courant.com/ski365.
For those who prefer the wet stuff, information on Connecticut’s five ski slopes can be found at skicentral.com/connecticut.
7. Blades Of Glory
Channel your inner winter Olympian at West Hartford’s Veterans Memorial Ice Skating Rink, 50 South Main St. Public skates at various times daily, with special slots for adults and toddlers, too. Winter admission fees range from $6 to $8, plus $4 skate rentals. Check skatevmsr.com for schedules.
8. Sing Away The Winter Blues
Karaoke Heroes, 212 Crown St., in New Haven is a comic-book superhero-themed destination for some of New Haven's most passionate performers. The song list is a binder full of thousands of songs, and the staff can search online for the karaoke version of almost any song you want to sing. Hours are Wednesdays and Thursdays 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.; and Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. $3 per song, or one song with each cocktail purchased. karaokeheroesnh.com.
6. Do You Dare?
Jordan's Furniture, 40 Sargent Drive, just up the street from IKEA in New Haven, features a 150,000-square-foot retail showroom. But the main attraction is the 20,000-square-foot black box area housing the enormous IT Adventure Ropes Course, a computerized light and water display, a pizza restaurant and an ice cream shop with more than 50 flavors.
The climbing attraction includes 60-foot-tall ropes courses, zig zag swinging beams, climbing walls, 200-foot-long ziplines, a 50-foot free fall jump, a double catwalk and more. Prices $8 to $25 jordans.com/attractions/it
7. No Trivial Pursuit
Who says drinking muddles the brain? Test that theory at area bars and brewery trivia nights. McLadden's, 37 Lasalle Road, West Hartford, hosts trivia night Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Play at Arch Street Tavern, 85 Arch St., Hartford on Tuesdays starting at 7 p.m.
Craft drafts are $4 during BaR Rated Trivia at Thomas Hooker Brewery at Colt in Hartford on Monday nights from 6 to 9 p.m. The brewery also hosts Crokinole board game meetups and games like Cards Against Humanity and Jenga for play during regular hours. Hooker at Colt also offers wine, spirits and craft cocktails.
8. Twang Thursdays
Last year, Hartford Americana band Wise Old Moon and Parkville hops purveyor Hog River Brewing Co. devised a weekly happening to bring together music and beer lovers. Twang Thursday, a happy hour-style tasting event, pairs some of the best roots music around with Hog River’s numerous, tasty tap offerings. 7 p.m., no cover. Hog River Brewing Co., 1429 Park St., Hartford. 860-206-2119, hogriverbrewing.com.
9. Board Room For The Bored
Sure, you could play games at home, but sometimes you just need to get out of the house and play a friendly board-game competition with friends, or even strangers. The Board Room Cafe, 514 Main St., Middletown, is open Tuesday through Friday from 3 to 11 p.m.; Saturday noon to midnight; and Sundays noon to 8 p.m. Game fee is $5 a day. Events this week include MGT Friday-Might Magic, Go Club, Try a Game Tuesday, Dungeons and Dragons, and more. Event info at boardroomct.com.
10. Vacation In A Glass
Maybe that all-inclusive Cancun resort vacation is out of your budget, but you can still enjoy a tropical cocktail and pretend you’re on the beach. Imagine sunnier days with a frozen strawberry rum-based Pink Monkey at Chango Rosa in downtown Hartford, a fresh-lime margarita at Bartaco in West Hartford or a caipirinha at 50 Elm of Pulasaki Circle in Hartford.
11. Indoor Farmers Markets
You’ll have to wait a while for Connecticut-grown strawberries, corn and tomatoes, but you can still find local produce, meats, dairy and baked goods at indoor farmers’ markets across the state. Coventry’s winter market runs Sunday mornings through mid-March at Coventry High School; others pop up for the cold months in Ellington, Litchfield, New Haven, Niantic, Shelton, Stonington and Storrs (ct.gov/doag)
Plot “fun” and “free” along an X-Y axis: you’ll find Boo-Yah! Free Funk Wednesdays at Arch Street Tavern, 85 Arch St., in Hartford way up there in the northeast quadrant. Anchored by members of Connecticut’s West End Blend, and usually featuring whatever great musician happens to be passing through (Tim Palmieri, Tang Sauce), Boo-Yah nights celebrate musical themes: ‘80s Prom Night, the James Brown Get-Down, Ladies Night, and so on. Pace yourself — the band usually doesn’t go on until 10 p.m. — and add some bills when they pass the hat around. Free admission. archstreettavern.com.
13. Rock Climbing
No need to be a pro to scale a wall. Every Saturday and Sunday, Central Rock Gym, 259 Eastern Blvd, in Glastonbury offers first-come, first-serve introductory climbs between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. for $20. Climbs are $20 per individual. After that first climb, a standard day pass is $20, with gear rental available. centralrockgym.com/glastonbury.
In Manchester, Stone Age Rock Gym: 195 Adams St. has climbing hours Monday through Friday, from noon to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Day passes are $12 to $17. “Family Night” is Wednesday nights after 5 p.m.: $40 for a family of three, plus $10.50 each additional person. Gear rental extra. stoneagerockgym.com.
14. Trampoline Parks
If you or the kids are bouncing off the walls, take it to Launch, a 10,000 square-foot trampoline park at 91 Brainard Hartford that features an open-bounce court, a foam pit, two basketball hoops, a separate bouncing court for small children, a large game arcade, and two dodgeball courts, one that is flat and an "Xtreme" court with peaks and sliders. Launch is open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 3:30 to 8 p.m.; Friday from 3:30. to 9 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. Cost: $8 for 30 minutes; $14 per hour, each additional hour is $10. LaunchCT.com.
Flight Trampoline Park, 140 Productions Court, New Britain, is 13,000 square feet with more than 50 trampolines, launching decks of varying heights, basketball hoops, foam pits and dodgeball courts. Prices for 7 and up are $15 for hour; kids 6 and under $10 an hour. Hours and more information at flighttrampolinepark.com.
15. Jammin’ At Black-Eyed Sally's
The first half of the work week is generally reserved for taking care of business, but that doesn’t mean you have to go home after punching out. At Black-Eyed Sally’s in Hartford, trumpeter Haneef N. Nelson hosts Monday Night Jazz Jams, where top-shelf local and regional musicians cut loose in a relaxed, informal setting. Michael Palin’s 18-piece Other Orchestra holds court at Sally’s with funk, soul and R&B on Tuesdays, and every Wednesday a different musician (Gene Donaldson, Ed Bradley, Tommy Whalen) shows up to run a Community Blues Jam. Exactly zero dollars gets you in the door (on most nights), but you should probably order a drink or two. 8 p.m., free admission. 350 Asylum St. blackeyedsallys.com.
16. Buzz Matinees
Sunday afternoons are great for food shopping or … drinking beer and listening to music. Most Sundays at 4 p.m., the folks from Connecticut’s own Cygnus Radio broadcast from Cafe Nine, 250 State St., in New Haven, where you might hear a lineup of singer-songwriters, guitar slingers or indie rock bands. Food shopping can wait. Check for ticket prices. cafenine.com.
17. Spark Virtual Reality
Visit another world at the Hartford area’s only virtual-reality arcade on Route 83 in Vernon. Games — in “interactive roomscale,” giving players a wide area to indulge their VR dreams — include space pirate, parkour, bow-and-arrow, basketball, dungeon escape, nature trek, explosive slingshot, underwater, zombie hunting, wizard spells and others. Gamers can reserve a time online or just walk in. $40 per gaming room. Open Thursday to Sunday. sparkvirtualreality.com.
18. A Lively Library
Winter wonderments at the main Hartford Public Library, 500 Main St., Hartford, include the top-flight weekly Baby Grand Jazz concert series (Jan. 7 through April 29), Wednesday Open Mic events, art exhibits (including works by mutimedia artist Robert Charles Hudson, photographer Robert Pawlowski and a slew of Hartford-based poster artists and printmakers) and — in a new outreach program that began just last month — opportunities to check out free tickets to shows at Hartford Stage. All this, plus books! Information: hplct.org.
19. Browse For A Book
Beach novels notwithstanding, winter is the best time to catch up on your reading. Barnes and Noble in The Shoppes at Buckland Hills, 270 Buckland Hills Dr., Manchester has weekly 11 a.m. Saturday story hours for kids, and is a great winter hangout for all ages, open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Information: stores.barnesandnoble.com.
In the used-book realm, nothing compares to Niantic Book Barn: the main location at 41 West Main St., has multiple buildings full of all kinds of books. There are also cats and goats to pet. The vast Book Barn literary empire extends to several other locations, all within a mile of the main complex, that specialize in mysteries, romance novels, play scripts, cookbooks and more. The Book Barn helps you sustain your browsing with free coffee and snacks. Information: bookbarnniantic.com.
20. The Laughs Don’t Let Up
The Sea Tea Improv Comedy Theater, 15 Asylum St., Hartford, barrels through as many as 10 shows a week. This mecca of mirth, which opened in August of 2016, offers a weekly stand-up comedy open mic on Mondays, multiple improvs troupes gathered on weekends, and special events in between. Most tickets are in the $10 range; that’s just pennies per laugh. Information: seateaimprov.com.
21. Chocolate Cures All
The chilly air activates thoughts of hot cocoa and other treats. Fascia’s Chocolates, 44 Chase River Road, Waterbury, holds regular “Chocolate Experience” tours, generally on Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. These gourmet chocolatiers also offer a “chocolate of the month” club. Information: fasciaschocolates.com.
22. Late-Night Theater
For active theatergoers in wintertime, a safe, calm drive to and from the theater can be a singular pleasure. That’s one of the advantages of late-night performances, which start hours after traffic has wound down in most cities, and end well before the dance clubs and bars close. Comedy clubs fit this bill, and so does the Yale Cabaret, 217 Park St., New Haven. The Cabaret is a professionally managed performance space, with drinks and excellent food, staffed by students at the Yale School of Drama. A different play is performed every weekend during the school year. Each show gets half a dozen performances, including 11 p.m. late shows on Friday and Saturday. The Cabaret is small and warm, and plays can be intense, so it’s nice to have some quiet time to ruminate on a cool drive home. For those on the Yale campus, the Cabaret is particularly valuable in winter: since its staff is so close at hand, shows are seldom if ever canceled. Information: cab50.org.
23. Pez Visitor Center
This fun place in Orange houses one of the world’s largest collections of Pez dispensers. See hundreds of cute little Pezes of Disney, “Simpsons,” “Star Wars” and Peanuts characters, superheroes, Garfield, Chuck E. Cheese, Hello Kitty, Jack Sparrow, the Flintstones, Kiss, Strawberry Shortcake, Hot Wheels, U.S. presidents and so many more. The center is also home to the factory that makes all the Pez candies sold in the United States and Canada, so it smells like sugar and fruit. There are indoor picnic tables. Bring lunch! Mention that you read about the PEZ Visitor Center in The Courant and receive $1 off regular admission. us.pez.com/pages/hours-and-location.
25. New England Carousel Museum
Just say neigh to this collection of vintage carousel horses, carousel art and a real working carousel. For kids obsessed with firefighters, there are also fire-fighting and fire house artifacts on view in this Bristol museum. Sometimes the museum hosts concerts, too. thecarouselmuseum.org.
26. CT Science Center
This Hartford museum is the state’s destination for science-based learning and fun. See exhibits on space travel, sight and sound, motion, inventions, health, sports. The theater shows 3D movies about science topics. Don’t forget to check out the Butterfly Encounter, where many varieties of tropical butterflies live. It’s so warm in there you may never want to leave. ctsciencecenter.org.
27. Barker Character, Comic & Cartoon Museum
This jam-packed space in Cheshire has 80,000 classic toys and games on exhibit. Any character you can think of is in there: Huckleberry Hound, Daniel Boone, Lassie, Mr. Bill, Alfred E. Neuman, Garbage Pail Kids, Pee-wee Herman, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Pac Man, Maxwell Smart, Austin Powers, Popeye, the Lone Ranger, and on and on. Go and drown in nostalgia. barkermuseum.com.
28. CT Bike & Skate Park
Skateboards, rollerblades, in-line skates, scooters and BMX bikes are all welcome at the world’s oldest indoor skate park, at 80 South Road, Bristol. The hours are longer during cold-weather months than warm-weather months, when it’s not easy to skateboard outside. Winter hours are Thursdays and Fridays 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays noon to 5 p.m. $10 sessions. ctbike.com/skatepark.htm.
29. Ballard Institute Museum Of Puppetry
This museum, an extension of UConn’s acclaimed puppet arts program, shows vintage and contemporary puppet art and has a steady schedule of puppet shows the whole family can enjoy. After checking out the puppets, grab a meal at the Dog Lane Café, Geno’s Grille, Husky Pizza or one of the other nice restaurants in Storrs Center. bimp.uconn.edu.
30. Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
The hall of dinosaur skeletons is irresistible for families, but there are also halls about mammal evolution (a mastodon!), bugs, birds, gemstones, ancient Egypt and human evolution. If you’re still in a museum mood, the Peabody is a short walk down the street from the New Haven Museum, dedicated to the history of that city. peabody.yale.edu.
31. Sea And Land Animals
Connecticut boasts two major aquariums. At the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, you can see sharks, otters, jellies and sea turtles from Long Island Sound, watch a seal-training demo, take a boat ride for an open ocean feeding, or catch a movie on the giant IMAX screen (maritimeaquarium.org/). Up the coast at Mystic Aquarium, there are Beluga whales, African penguins, 30 species of frogs and more. (mysticaquarium.org).
32. Art Lovers Trail
Start checking museums off your bucket list: For only $25, the Art Lover's Connecticut Art Trail Passport grants access to 21 museums and historic sites around the state, a $95 value. You’ll find a list of sites and can purchase the pass at ctarttrail.org.
33. New England Air Museum
This is the largest aviation museum in the northeastern United States, with 80 aircraft featured in three display buildings, changing exhibits and frequent activities for families. Open every day but Monday, and admission is $15 for adults, $10 for kids 4 to 14. Discounts for seniors and veterans. neam.org.
34. Cooking Classes
If you’re hibernating and making comfort food this winter anyway, why not sharpen your kitchen skills or learn something new? Sur La Table at the Shoppes at Farmington Valley in Canton offers a full schedule of culinary classes, from pasta-making to vegetarian specialties to intricate baking workshops (think croissants and macarons.) Information: surlatable.com.
35. Basketball Hall of Fame
Located in the city where basketball was invented, and bearing the name of the sport’s creator, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, 1000 Hall Fame Ave., in Springfield is a quick day-trip destination. The hall is home to nearly 300 inductees and more than 40,000 square feet of basketball history. Hundreds of interactive exhibits share the spotlight with skills challenges, live clinics and shooting contests. hoophall.com.
36. Out To Sea
“A snow-hill in the air” is how Herman Melville describes a vision of the titular whale in “Moby Dick.” Snow and seafaring are a luminous combination. The winter hours at Mystic Seaport, the self-proclaimed “Museum of America and the Sea” at 75 Greenmanville Ave., Mystic, are Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. Regular activities include “Songs of Whales and Whaling,” “Winter Stars and the Mariner” and “Polar Night, Arctic Light.” Admission is $15, $10 for youth aged 4 to 14, and free for children under 3. Information: mysticseaport.org.
For those diehard winter enthusiasts who like to strap on a pair of snowshoes and explore the great outdoors in the dead of winter — no matter the temperature or the depth of the white stuff — you’ll find half a dozen or so paths, from easy to hard at courant.com/snowshoeing.
38. Ice Fishing
There are hundreds of places to ice fish in Connecticut, but there are some that are especially popular, usually because the fishing is excellent. Among the hot spots are Mohawk Pond in Cornwall and Goshen, West Side Pond in Goshen, Mashapaug Lake in Union, Crystal Lake in Ellington, Keeney Cove on the Connecticut River in East Hartford and Glastonbury, Crow Point Cove in Wethersfield and Wethersfield Cove. The coves on the Connecticut are popular with anglers trying to catch northern pike, a powerful species that can weight 10 pounds or more.
Standard fishing regulations apply with ice fishing regarding size limits and number of fish that may be taken. Anglers over 16 must have a fishing license, available at town halls and many bait and tackle shops throughout the state. Considerable information on fishing regulations, licensing and events are available through the DEEP website.
39. Eagle Watching
Bald eagles winter in several locations in Connecticut and the Shepaug Dam, 2150 River Road in Southbury is one of them. The observation area is open from the middle of December through the middle of March on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. for bald eagle observation. There are also bird of prey shows on certain dates. There's no cost for visiting, but reservations are required. Information and reservations at shepaugeagles.info.
The Audubon Shop, 907 Boston Post Road, Madison, also offers eagle watching on the Connecticut River in February. The land-based guided tours are followed by a soup and sandwich lunch at Oliver's Tavern in Essex. The $25 cost includes lunch; pre-registration required. Information: theaudubonshop.com.
Connecticut River Expeditions offers eagle cruises throughout February into March. Participants board the RiverQuest at Eagle Landing State Park in Haddam for a two-hour naturalist-guided trip in search of eagles and other wintering birds and wildlife. The trip is open to adults and children 10 and older. Cost is $42 per passenger; reservations required. Information: 860-662-0577 and ctriverquest.org.
Woodbury Ski Area, one of the largest snow tubing destinations in the state at 785 Washington Road in Woodbury, has 14 snow tubing runs open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in 2- and 3-hour sessions. woodburyskiarea.com. At Powder Ridge Park in Middlefield, reservations are recommended for the 2-hour tubing sessions on 3 runs, from easy to extreme. powderridgepark.com. More information on Connecticut’s five ski slopes and their activities can be found at skicentral.com/connecticut.
41. Walk These Woods
A Recreation Permit from the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority lets you hike miles of land owned by the RWA. The gorgeous, easily traversed trails can be found around Lake Saltonstall in Branford, Pine Hill in Seymour, Lake Chamberlain in Bethany and half a dozen other designated RWA recreational areas. A one-year one-person permit costs $25, but a two-year family permit is just $50. rwater.com/recreation.
42. Maple Sugaring
Connecticut's traditional maple-sugaring season starts in mid-February and runs through late March, and a visit to a sugarhouse to watch maple syrup being made is a great freebie outing. Find a list of sugar houses open to the public at ctmaple.org.
43. Winding Trails
Winding Trails, 50 Winding Trails Drive, in Farmington features miles of groomed trails and areas for sledding, ice skating and snowshoeing. The center offers a full calendar of winter programs for adults and kids, including ice fishing, nature walks and live animal demos. Some of the activities have fees, but there are plenty of free programs as well. windingtrails.org.
44. Holcomb Farm
The Holcomb Farm in West Granby is a working, historic farm with 10 miles of marked, looped trails open throughout the year for hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and bird watching. The farm closes at sunset in the winter. Admission is free. Information and trail maps at holcombfarm.org/trails.
45. UConn Barns And Ice Cream
Barns are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, (including weekends and holidays), at the University of Connecticut's Storrs campus, where visitors can watch dairy cows being milked and see the animals. And it's never too cold for ice cream: After a self-guided tour, stop by the UConn Dairy Bar to watch ice cream being made and purchase a cone, milkshake, float or other treat. Information at animalscience.uconn.edu. (click on “plan a visit.”)
46. Westmoor Park
Westmoor Park in West Hartford features a demonstration farm with animals and trails for hiking, snow shoeing and cross country skiing. The park also offers nature programs for kids of all ages and adults. There are fees for most programs, but it's free to visit the farm or use the trails, which are open from 7 a.m. to dusk. Information: westmoorpark.org.
47. Old Sturbridge Villiage
Not in Connecticut, but close by in Massachusetts is Old Sturbridge Village, which celebrates the cold weather season with outdoor activities like sledding on vintage 1830s sleds, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and its “Midwinter Mischief” program, which runs January and February. Admission is $28 for adults, $26 for seniors over 55, and $14 for children ages 4 to 17. Information: osv.org and 800-733-1830.
48. Brisk Winter Walk Series
Since its inception, the Great Meadows Conservation Trust’s “Brisk Winter Walks” series has taken place in a variety of conditions from warm, muddy, cold, snowy and just about everything in between. In 2018, the trust celebrates its 50th anniversary and has again scheduled a variety of walks in East Hartford, Glastonbury, Rocky Hill and Wethersfield from January to the middle of February. You’ll find a schedule and more information here.
49. Gillette Castle, Ice Castle
Winter hiking isn't for everyone, but Gillette's Castle, on top of the southernmost Seven Sisters hills in East Haddam and Hadlyme, has a great system of well-plowed roads to hike on, and the grounds crew does an amazing job of clearing the road and paths to the castle. Some of the more popular trails on the grounds have been well-hiked, so the paths are easily navigable. With no summer crowds to contend with, solitary winter visitors have the place to themselves as they ascend the staircase to the overlook and gaze for miles down the frozen river. On snowy, cold days, the castle and its fieldstone walls can be dusted with snow, with icicles hanging from some of the overhangs. The castle itself is closed in winter. Information here.
Searching out Connecticut’s waterfalls and watching their freezing transformation has become a yearly winter mission and obsession for Courant staff outdoor writer Peter Marteka. Read about his finds here.
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