New London’s waterfront | What to Do in New London, Connecticut.Photo Credit : Connecticut Office of Tourism
The sea has always played a defining role for New London, Connecticut. Situated on the banks of the Thames River, the New London of the mid-1800s was the second-largest whaling port in the world. In the 21st century, it’s home to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and visitors have access to popular attractions such as Ocean Beach Park and a variety of day cruises that leave the city’s docks.
Ready for a visit? Then read on to discover what to do in New London, Connecticut.
Water lovers have long flocked to this beach-and-boardwalk attraction. A stunning white-sand beach is the entry point to the Atlantic, while a nearby Olympic-size freshwater pool offers a different kind of sun-soaked getaway. Water slides, a spray park, carousel rides, and an 18-hole mini golf course add to the fun.
From the sundeck, the bow, or the climate-controlled cabins of the fast-gliding SeaJet catamaran, you’ll spy eight architecturally distinctive lighthouses and hear knowledgeable narrator Ted Webb’s tales of pirates, ghosts, and historical events. Bonus sights during these two-hour Long Island Sound voyages frequently include sunbathing gray seals and the world’s largest population of nesting common terns. Named a 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Coastal Cruise.”
Telling a story of 400 years of maritime activity, Connecticut’s first state park without boundaries encompasses Fort Trumbull, Fort Griswold, and more than a dozen smaller historic attractions along the Thames River, all linked by a seasonal water taxi. Named a 2017 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Historical Experience.”
New England’s only service academy fills a shipshape exhibit with paintings, models, figureheads, cannon, uniforms, medals, ceremonial swords, and rescue equipment that chronicle its origins. There’s lighthouse history, too.
This 1852 fortification was once a major line of defense on the eastern seaboard. Opened as a state park in 2000, the property now invites visitors to explore the grounds for an up-close view of the artillery and cannon displays. In addition, the park features restored 19th-century living quarters and a replica of the fort’s retired research and development lab.
Just up the road in Mystic, you can not only see belugas, seals, sea lions, and penguins, but also reach into a touch tank and dig for sea fossils. Next door is shopping galore at Olde Mistick Village; a mile away is Mystic Seaport.
Don’t sweat the line at this waterside, open-air, BYOB seafood-feasting spot. The wait gives you time to build your dream order: steamers and butter-splashed lobster roll, whole bellies, and flaky fried fish. Named a 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Seafood Shack.” (You’ll also find it on our list of Best New England Fish & Chips Spots).
Located in the heart of downtown New London, this popular eatery features an assortment of baked goods, hearty breakfast sandwiches, and its famous “Love Salad,” which consists of lettuce, tomatoes, salami, sliced provolone, grated Parmesan, and enough garlic to last you a week.
This family-owned restaurant offers fine views of the Thames and offers a menu on which seafood apps, fish tacos, and a New York strip all play starring roles.
New London offers a range of chain hotels for lodging options. But for those visitors looking for something a little more intimate, it’s worth considering nearby Mystic. Here are two of our favorite places to stay nearby when visiting New London.
Reopened under new ownership in 2023, the thoroughly renovated former Spicer Mansion is now a sister hotel to the nearby Steamboat Inn. Here you’ll find all the charm of a historic inn, all the conveniences of a boutique hotel, and the loftiest views in all of Mystic.
Book a room at this luxury B&B — the only waterfront digs in a historic town surrounded by water — and find shops, restaurants, and Mystic’s iconic drawbridge on your doorstep. Every one of the 11 guest rooms and suites comes with a tastefully decorated interior, and many have a working fireplace, whirlpool tub, and windows that frame views of boats gliding to and from Long Island Sound on the Mystic River. Named a 2017 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Inn with a View.”
What are your favorite things to do in New London, Connecticut? Let us know below!
This post was first published in 2019 and has been updated.