12 Ways to Get into the Holiday Spirit NOW
The holiday season is arguably one of the most exciting times to experience our corner of New England. Each part of the state lights up with special festive events, unique opportunities for Santa Sightings and of course classic holiday sleigh rides to enjoy with loved ones.
There’s a boundless number of ways to enjoy the holiday season here in Connecticut, but to inspire your next getaway, we’ve compiled a list of 12 must-do Connecticut holiday activities that are not to be missed this season – see below and happy holidays!
#1: Check out Connecticut holiday lights and tree lightings
Make sure to see Connecticut’s spectacular holiday lights shows, starting with Lake Compounce – New England’s Family Theme Park – which features thousands of dancing lights set to holiday music. Plus, the whole amusement park transforms into a holiday extravaganza with the Train transforming into the North Pole Railway along with family-friendly activities like cookie decorating, gingerbread house making and more.
Holiday light shows and special tree lightings can be found all over the state – browse for more suggestions here.
#2: Celebrate the season with a classic holiday sleigh ride
There’s no better way to celebrate the holidays than going on a sleigh/hay ride (subject to weather of course). Whether it’s just you and your significant other snuggling while enjoying the romantic scenic views or you and a group of friends sipping hot cider against the backdrop of peaceful nature, this is a holiday tradition not to be missed. Check out options at Allegra Farm in East Haddam and Loon Meadow Farm in Norfolk.
#3: Head out to a town holiday festival - Bethlehem and more
One of the best things to do during the holiday season is visiting one of Connecticut’s quaint towns for their special holiday lights, caroling and overall holiday cheer. One of the most special holiday festivals happens in Bethlehem on Dec. 6 – 7, where you’ll be able to enjoy hay rides, strolling carolers, delicious food and more than 70 arts + crafts exhibitors.
Downtown Milford also knows how to throw a holiday festival! Lamplight Stroll happens Dec. 6 – 7 and features horse and carriage rides, yuletide carolers dressed in 19th-century costumes, performances all over Downtown by “The Lamplight Strollers” and great treats and deals at local shops.
#4: Take the kids to meet Santa
One of the best joys of the season is seeing children’s faces light up when they see Santa and experience the magic of the holidays. The Governor’s Residence in Hartford is hosting a fun and free Holiday Open House on Dec. 6 – 8, featuring appearances from Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus (live entertainment and gingerbread house displays to accompany)!
There are many more opportunities for Santa Sightings across the state – browse for more suggestions here.
#5: Experience Christmas – a la 1876
What was it like celebrating Christmas back in 1876? Mystic Seaport’s Lantern Light Tours are the place to be. You’ll meet the “residents” of the quaint village of Greenmanville, join in on a traditional tavern dance and enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride.
Next up, make a stop at the historic home of actor William Gillette in East Haddam – Gillette Castle is decked out in its best holiday finery (plus, Santa will be visiting every Sunday afternoon) and the castle will also feature special model trains as a tribute to Gillette’s fondness for trains.
Hartford is also host to several fantastic Victorian-style holiday events – get into the holiday spirit with a 19th century Christmas dinner at the Butler-McCook House & Garden on Dec. 12, followed by Victorian holiday celebrations on Dec. 14 at the Mark Twain House and Harriet Beecher Stowe House (you can get a combo ticket and visit both homes) featuring holiday musical performances, horse-drawn carriage rides, plus hot chocolate and cookies all day long!
Lastly, if you’re in the Fairfield area, definitely make a stop at the Greenwich Historical Society on Dec. 15 and enjoy their festive holiday decorations along with a special tour hosted by costumer interpreters.
#6: Take the kids on a holiday journey through storytelling and song
Get into the holiday spirit by bringing your family to the 1639 Henry Whitfield House in Guilford on Dec. 14 - 15 – you’ll cozy up around a huge fireplace and listen to the classic holiday tale, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.
The kids will also love walking into what feels like Dr. Suess’ Whoville! at the Imagine Nation Museum in Bristol on Dec. 6 – you’ll see special visitors like the Grinch and his dog Max, you’ll be able to join sing-alongs and also enjoy pizza and soda from an old fashioned soda machine.
#7: See a classic holiday show – A Christmas Carol and more
There’s nothing that marks the holidays more than going out to see a classic holiday performance – some of our favorites are A Christmas Carol at the Hartford Stage (open until Dec. 28) as well as Miracle on 34th Street – the Musical (runs Dec. 13 - 22) in Waterbury’s Seven Angels Theatre.
#8: Get a good laugh and cheer on some amazing runners
Have you heard of the Ugly Sweater Run? It is what it sounds like – thousands will be running or walking a 5k from Hartford’s Bushnell Park on Dec. 8, but they will be dressed in their ugliest sweaters! It’s a site to see! Another holiday run you should certainly catch is Santa’s 3.5 Mile Run on Dec. 8 in Glastonbury, where runners will be dressed in their wildest holiday costumes.
#9: Hit the slopes with friends and family
For all you ski-lovers out there, Connecticut offers many opportunities for ski getaways, including the newly opened Powder Ridge Mountain Park & Ski Resort in Middlefield, offering 20 feature-rich trails for all skill levels, complete with log-style rails, cascading jumps and the only full-size half pipe in Connecticut. Browse additional ideas for your upcoming ski trip here, filled with places to go snowboarding, tubing or snowshoeing.
#10: Find unique holiday gifts – and have fun while you’re at it
Connecticut’s quaint towns offer a great backdrop for holiday shopping – they’re beautiful, relaxed and most importantly you’re likely to find unique holiday gifts that will wow your loved ones.
Essex’s Main Street has some of the most charming antique shops galleries and cute mom-and-pop clothing and jewelry stores – plus, the Griswold Inn is offering a great pre-holiday deal Holiday Head Start: Shop, Spa & Stay. Other quaint towns to consider are Putnam (for its antiques) and Chester (for its art galleries and restaurants). For more, browse Connecticut’s Quaint New England Towns & Villages.
#11: Ensure some quality family time for the holidays and beyond
When shopping for your loved ones, consider buying experiences as opposed to items – the memories will last longer! Get a season’s pass to one, two, three or more of hundreds of top-notch Connecticut destinations and your gift will surely not be beat.
If you’re shopping for a ski lover, consider getting a season’s pass to the new Powder Ridge Mountain Park & Ski Resort in Middlefield. If you have science lovers you’re shopping for, consider season’s passes for the Connecticut Science Center, Mystic Aquarium, the Maritime Aquarium or the Stamford Museum & Nature Center.
#12: Roll into the holidays with a holiday train ride
It’s amazing how kids are completely fascinated by trains and they certainly love the Santa Special at Essex Steam Train. Your kids will board decorated and festive rail cars, will be greeted by Santa (along with Mrs. Claus, Rudolph and Christmas Penguin) and will even get a holiday gift from Santa’s elves.
Other train-related events the kids will love are the twelfth-annual Santa Express Trains at the Railroad Museum of New England in Thomaston, along with the Holiday Train Show at the Connecticut River Museum in Essex.
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