Arriving by Water — Connecticut’s Port Towns Last Updated: April 2023

Over 300 miles of Connecticut’s coastline hugs the shore of Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. So it’s no surprise that so many of the region’s early European settlers arrived by sea. Working seaports were among the first industries here as well, and today these coastal towns and cities still maintain their maritime character while welcoming travelers with classic New England charm. As many visitors still like to arrive in Connecticut by private boat or public ferry, we’re suggesting a few port towns that make it easy to visit for a day or even longer.

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With beautiful beaches and memorable sunsets just 45 minutes from New York City, Norwalk and South Norwalk offer a variety of art galleries, shopping, restaurants and nightlife. The Maritime Aquarium offers cruises to view the Sheffield Island Lighthouse, which guards the marina where many visitors dock their boats. And local yacht clubs like the South Norwalk Boat Club, Ischoda Yacht Club and Rex Boating Club all have reciprocal relationships with other local clubs. Visit the Norwalk Cove Marina website for everything you need to visit by boat—you can even get a shuttle to South Norwalk from there. Or, make a reservation at Rex Marine for a shorter walk to take in the SoNo scene, especially during the annual Arts Festival, Oyster Festival and Boat Shows. 

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The pretty village of Niantic is part of the larger town of East Lyme. There is a scenic boardwalk that runs from Main Street to Hole in the Wall Beach, where boaters can anchor and swim to shore. The Niantic River goes beneath the railroad lift bridge to marinas and other waterfront sights a short walk from Main Street, where you can grab a meal at Niantic Bay Shellfish Market or Skipper’s for year-round seafood. Find out more about the full-service marina at Port Niantic, here.

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A quintessentially colonial town along the Connecticut River, Essex is home to the Connecticut River Museum, as well as the Griswold Inn—a popular stop for locals and travelers passing through since 1776.  Arriving by boat from Long Island Sound, you will come up the river and head for Essex Island Marina, the perfect spot to launch your exploration of all that downtown Essex has to offer. 


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Perhaps no other port town in Connecticut is quite as iconic as Mystic. Home to Mystic Seaport Museum and Mystic Aquarium, Mystic attracts visitors all year round, with its combination of history, family fun, shops and dining. Once you’re here, you could even take a kayak tour to see the local sights. And don’t forget to try a slice of heaven at Mystic Pizza! Docking is available at Mystic Seaport MarinaMystic River Marina and Mystic Point Marina.

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Not far up the coast from the city of New Haven, the inviting town of Guilford offers lots of opportunities for exploring history, nature and some great dining spots. While you’re visiting, you can do a scavenger hunt around town or even a Segway tour of historic downtown Guilford. Or just watch the sunset from your table at Guilford Mooring. Head for the Guilford Town Marina for easy access.

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New London

More of a coastal city than a town, New London’s historic waterfront district still retains the seaside appeal that attracted sailors, merchants and even military personnel from the nearby bases at Groton and New London. Today, it’s home to a vibrant scene that includes art galleries, restaurants, shops and entertainment venues. You can arrive at Fort Trumbull Marina or Thamesport Marina on the Thames River, which recently added transient docks that can host vessels exceeding 100 feet or more. Don’t have your own boat? Catch a ferry here to/from New London and Montauk, Block Island or Orient Point. Or even take a lighthouse tour out of this busy harbor!

Connect with more information about boating and sailing in Connecticut, including marinas and charters, here.