15 Best Things to Do in Essex, CT

Essex, CT
Albert Pego / shutterstock.com

The town of Essex is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Connecticut.

In addition to its breathtaking landscapes, scenic harbors, and archival inns, Essex has quite a fascinating history.

Dubbed as the "Pearl Harbor" of the War of 1812, Essex comprises three chronicled villages: Essex Village, Centerbrook, and Ivoryton.

All of them sit six miles north of Long Island Sound alongside the Connecticut River (also well-known for being the longest river in the New England region).

Marvel in the town's natural environments, see a host of museums and art galleries, or ride in one of its famous steam trains.

Surely, you won't run out of things to do or see in this dazzling New England town.

Here are the best things to do in Essex, Connecticut:

Dive into Local History at the Connecticut River Museum

View of Connecticut River Museum
North woodsman / Shutterstock.com

It would be fascinating if you could visit the Connecticut River Museum on Steamboat Dock at the foot of Main Street.

The three-story museum has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1975, the museum opened to the public but was caught in a fire in 2010.

Front View of Connecticut River Museum
Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

After finishing its repairs in 2011, the museum again started offering exhibits, workshops, tours, and events.

The museum features the maritime heritage of the Connecticut River Valley, including "The Turtle," which is a working replica of the first submarine.

If you need an extra dose of tranquility, you can try out the museum's river excursions available during the day.

Replica of the first submarine in Connecticut River Museum
JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Get a Glimpse of the Pratt House Museum

Dating back to 1732, the Pratt House Museum is a 290-year-old house that has become a vintage landmark in the town of Essex.

It is surrounded by a nostalgic flush of greeneries and is located on West Avenue.

Historically, it was home to the descendants of the late Lt. William Pratt, who is said to be one of Essex's first settlers.

Now a museum, this establishment has been maintained by the Essex Historical Society since 1985.

Visit and appreciate the architecture and the historic furnishings at this museum.

Located on Main Street, Cooper & Smith Gallery spans an exhibition space of 5,000 square feet.

Equipped with the best lighting, the gallery features a wide array of art belonging to different genres and styles.

If you are an artist looking for an ample art space to house your artistic treasures, then the Cooper & Smith Gallery is a must-visit for you.

Drop by the gallery and converse with like-minded individuals if you are a collector looking for good pieces of contemporary or modern art.

If you're someone who wants to appreciate art, exploring the curation of art pieces in this gallery will be a soul-enriching experience for you.

Reconnect with Nature at Falls River Preserve

A trip to the famous Falls River Preserve is a must-do on your Essex vacation.

When roaming the grounds, you can choose simpler paths around the peninsula into the pond or try out more demanding trails along the ledges.

You can marvel at the well-preserved biodiversity of the preserve and the undisturbed ecosystem of flora and fauna.

Staying true to its name, management is firm in its "Leave no trace" preservation policy.

This means visitors would need to clean as they go, so be sure to tidy up before moving on to your next destination.

Take a Ride on the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat

Daytime view of Essex Steam Train
Miro Vrlik Photography / Shutterstock.com

There is just something extraordinary about taking a ride on the old and historic Essex Steam Train & Riverboat.

The rhythmic swaying of the train and the scenic view of the Connecticut River Valley make for a soothing experience you'll never forget.

At the end of the train ride, visitors can then get on a riverboat for a fun cruising adventure.

All in all, the trip is an enjoyable 2.5-hour round trip with beautiful scenery.

You can order meals on the train if you'd like.

If you're lucky, you might be able to take a photo of baby eagles peeking out of their huge nests.

Go Shopping at Toys Ahoy!

This village toy store sitting proudly on Main Street can look a bit small at first.

In reality, the store is jam-packed and filled to the brim with the best toy selections covering all genres, sure to tickle any child with cheerfulness and excitement.

Toys Ahoy! offers an assortment of pocketbooks, toys, and games adults and children will surely enjoy.

If you are looking to incorporate lesser screen time in your child's daily routine and you won't replace phones with something less "electronic," this store is a must-visit for you.

You can also bring the young ones with you so they can choose something of their own liking.

Pick Flowers at Scotts' Farm & Greenhouses

Located along Plains Road in the town of Essex, Scotts' Farm and Greenhouses offers a plethora of flowers and vegetables to serve your kitchen and gardening needs.

If you are looking to start your own garden, you'll be pleased to know that the farm sells thousands of fine-looking hanging baskets.

You can purchase the greenhouse's farm-to-market produce of crop vegetables, herbs, tomatoes, pumpkins, and melons picked daily, depending on the season.

Stroll down the flower gardens of Scotts' Farm & Greenhouses before trimming your own flowers, which they sell by the pound at the cutting garden.

You can brush up on your flower arrangement skills as the garden offers make-your-own or DIY flower bouquets.

Dress Up and Watch a Play at the Ivoryton Playhouse

Exterior of Ivoryton Playhouse
John Phelan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the heart of Ivoryton in the town of Essex, you'll find the Ivoryton Playhouse.

This unique theater has a rich cultural history that springs back to the time it was built in 1911.

Through the years, it became the first self-supporting summer theater in the United States.

During the World War II outbreak, the Ivoryton Playhouse had difficulties operating as it became impossible for its spectators to get there.

Milton Stiefel was considered one of the greatest directors of American theater.

When the war finally ended, he decided to reopen the Ivoryton Playhouse, where he supported and debuted a promenade of talented stars, including Ethel Waters, Gloria Swanson, Marlon Brando, and many others.

Now, it continues to operate in prestige, giving decadence to the town's most talented actors and actresses.

Stroll down the corner of Main Street and Summit Street to see Ivoryton Playhouse's amusing musicals, comedies, dramas, and many special events.

Visit Essex Veterans Memorial Hall

The people of Essex have an extra special way of regarding their veterans.

They established Essex Veterans Memorial Hall (originally named Centerbrook Schoolhouse) on a space near Westbrook Road in 1946.

Also dubbed "Essex Vets Hall," it was established with an inherent responsibility to financially or otherwise assist veterans, their families, and the community.

You can strike a conversation with a veteran if you see one and join in any of their activities being held throughout the year.

Essex Veterans Memorial Hall has a bar and sports equipment facility so clubs can enjoy their social gatherings whenever they like.

Play Golf Virtually at Essex Indoor Golf Center

Play a round of virtual golf at over 70 renowned courses from all over the world.

Essex Indoor Golf Center is a year-round virtual golf entertainment and training facility along Saybrook Road.

It is equipped with six state-of-the-art aboutGolf simulators so players of all ages can learn, practice, or play.

If you are looking for new grips, the golf center offers them at reasonable prices, and they also provide re-gripping services to fit your needs.

If you try playing with the center's stimulators, you will find that it is very similar to playing outdoors.

What is more interesting is the center's 3D fantasy mini-golf courses played virtually underwater or in space.

Relax and Meditate at Essex Wellness Center

If you are looking for a place to help you destress or meditate, then Essex Wellness Center is a must for you.

The center offers a strategically developed range of health services in one location.

Some of the services being offered include naturopathic and Chinese medicine, acupuncture, massage, facials, therapy, life coaching, reiki, yoga, and  Tai Chi.

Similarly, you can take advantage of their mindfulness meditation lessons, which are offered to everyone without charge.

Stay at the Rustic Griswold Inn

Exterior of Griswold Inn
Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Since its establishment in 1776, the Griswold Inn has become Essex's go-to accommodation, especially for those who have a deep love for historic hotels.

Captured during the War of 1812, the inn was used as a base of operations by British troops, which explains the wartime rifles now being hung as decorations on the walls.

The inn's interiors display paintings of old ships and artifacts that hold tales of ancient times.

Signage of Griswold Inn
James Kirkikis / Shutterstock.com

One major consideration why the Griswold Inn remains a favorite to its customers is its central location.

If you decide to stay in this historic inn, you can easily walk to and fro other attractions like the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat, the Mystic Seaport, or the Gilette Castle and State Park.

Interior of Griswold Inn
Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Get Your Fix at Chocolate Geeks

Are you fond of all things chocolate?

If so, dropping by Chocolate Geeks (formerly Truffle Shots) is something you cannot afford to miss.

Located at The Barn at Griswold Square, this rustic chocolate house is a favorite to those with a sweet tooth and has quickly become a must-see for almost every tourist visiting Essex.

Opened by a mother and daughter in 2012, Chocolate Geeks worked its way up to create the best things that chocolate has to offer.

It won international awards in recognition of its fantastic lineup of premium chocolate products, which continue to win the hearts of locals and tourists alike.

You can enjoy a glass of non-alcoholic Truffle Shots at Chocolate Geeks before checking out some of their rich chocolate chip cookies and wrapping up a few bean-to-bar chocolates as a coming-home present for your loved ones.

Grab a Pack of Sweets from Olive Oyl's

Are you looking for hearty food items to bring home as gifts?

Worry not because Olive Oyl's has got you covered.

Established in the center of Essex in 1991, Olive Oyl's is one of Essex's top-rated carry-out restaurants.

You can choose from their vast array of creative and seasonally prepared food offerings such as meals, house-made pastries, soups, salads, gourmet sandwiches, and many more.

Warmly nestled only a few steps away from the scenic and breathtaking Connecticut River, Olive Oyl's is a dazzling place to drop by and pick up the savory culinary masterpieces its owners have been creating for over two decades.

Fill up your basket with the shop's famous croissants, bagels, and muffins—or better yet, try their Classic Mini Junior's Cheesecake.

Don't forget to check the store's daily specials to see if you can try to grab some New England crab cakes.

Go Shopping on Main Street

Shops along Main Street essex
John Phelan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you are someone who wants to pick up some souvenirs but can't seem to decide which one to get, try to explore the stores lined up on Main Street.

Check out the novelty items offered by specialty boutiques like the "You, Me and the Sea" and find sea-themed clothes and jewelry.

Other stores also craft their own products, so take your time strolling down Main Street.

Sidewalk of Main Street essex
Jeff Holcombe / Shutterstock.com

You can also go window-shopping if you've already maxed out your budget.

Looking through the handcrafted items will surely stir your creativity and give you inspiration, which you can bring with you before you cap off your vacation to Essex.

Final Thoughts

Like it came fresh out of a movie, Essex is brimming with history and scenic attractions sure to please your travel appetite.

It is one of the best small towns to visit, offering a wide variety of things to enjoy and places to visit.

As Essex boasts everything from old steam trains, tranquil river quests, and historical museums to vineyards, art galleries, and decadent restaurants and bakeries, it sure will be a bit difficult to leave this friendly town.

Visit Essex and unravel its stories and beautiful attractions.

Start planning your Essex adventure today!

Spotted a mistake, have some feedback, or just want to chat with our editorial team? Click here to get in touch.
Find out more about Travel Lens and read our editorial guidelines here.