Holidays on Main Street Last Updated 11/17

These eastern Connecticut downtowns embody small town USA right down to the independent shops and family-owned restaurants. Five of them (Putnam, Niantic, Mystic, New London and Willimantic) made the Connecticut still revolutionary Fan-Favorite Towns’ Top Ten, and all of them do their best to make the season merry and bright with lights, greens and special holiday festivities. Get ready to find your New England home away from home for the holidays.

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Mystic

Located along the Mystic River, Mystic is home to the tall ships of Mystic Seaport and New England’s only beluga whales at Mystic Aquarium. Head toward the landmark Bascule Bridge to visit the historic downtown area filled with nearly 75 shops and eateries.
 
Even Santa has Mystic on his must-see list. Every year St. Nick visits the small community, not by sleigh, but by tugboat. His arrival is followed by the annual Lighted Boat Parade (Nov. 25) down the Mystic River later that evening.

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Niantic

Connecticut's first Fan-Favorite Town of the Year, Niantic is the quintessential New England "seaside" village. From the local candy shop and boutiques to the independent movie theater (where Katharine Hepburn once frequented) and boardwalk, this is a village where you’ll want to go, because everyone will know your name. (Cue music.)
 
The Mayberry-esque village has a population of only 4,000, but what they lack in people, they make up in holiday cheer.  For the holidays, Niantic rolls out the charm by adorning their street lamps with holiday lights and greens and putting up a decorated tree on the Village Green, which gets officially turned on during the town’s annual Holiday Stroll (Nov. 25). To top it off, the village has a second large-scale holiday event with the popular Niantic Light Parade (Dec. 9).

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New London

Downtown New London is the hub of creative energy that gives the city its Top Ten rating among creative communities of its size in America. Art, music and design venues, one-of-a-kind boutiques and nearly 40 eateries populate this 26-block National Register Historic District. Nathan Hale, Benedict Arnold and Eugene O'Neill walked these streets.
 
The creative community decorates their street lamps with wreaths and lights just in time for the Celebration of Lights & Song (Nov. 28), the city’s annual tree lighting. During Chanukah, venture to Parade Plaza (across from the historic train station) to see an oversized Menorah next to the city’s signature Whale Tail Fountain.

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Norwich

Known as “The Rose of New England” and named one of the “Prettiest Painted Places” in America, Norwich’s downtown is rich with arts, theater and dining. Watch a live, original performance, bundle up and take a walk along the beautiful harbor where three rivers–the Yantic, the Shetucket and the Quinebaug–meet to form the Thames River. This is a city perfect for history (birthplace of Benedict Arnold and center for activity for the Sons of Liberty during the American Revolution) and architecture buffs.
 
The city shines for the holidays with its annual lighting of City Hall (Nov. 24) followed the next day by the Winterfest Parade (Nov. 25) which steps off at the city’s historic Chelsea Parade.
 

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Stonington

Just minutes from the historic Mystic drawbridge lies Stonington Borough, named “one of the most beautiful seaside villages in New England.” From here you can view three states–Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York.
 
A traditional New England borough right down to the historic lighthouse (now a museum), Stonington celebrates the holidays with its many stores and eateries draped in festive accoutrements. The borough also hosts an annual Holiday Stroll (Dec. 1) complete with a tree lighting at Wadawanuck Square, caroling, horse and carriage rides, hot chocolate and extended shop hours for those last minute gifts.
 

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Willimantic

So what’s with the frogs? Everything. Four giant copper frog statues (Willy, Manny, Windy and Swifty) welcome you to this town, once known for being home to one of the nation’s largest thread makers – The American Thread Company. This quirky greeting resonates the town’s spirit and affinity for the eclectic.
 
Nestled next to the Willimantic River, the town ushers in the holiday season with a santa and fire engine light parade (Nov. 24) every year and gives its oversize frog mascots large red winter scarves.

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Putnam

Named by Boston Magazine as “One of the Top 15 Small Towns to Visit,” Putnam is a cozy little community located along the Quinebaug River in the heart of northeastern Connecticut. Filled with antique shops, art galleries, boutiques, dining, and live theater, downtown Putnam shines with New England charm.
 
The town’s annual Holiday Dazzle Light Parade (Nov. 26) takes being merry and bright to a whole other level with families, businesses and organizations decorating everything from floats to goats with thousands of festive holiday lights.