15 Best Things to Do in Waterford, CT

Waterford, CT
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New London County's charming town of Waterford is a sister to its namesake in the Republic of Ireland.

Its location along the shores of Long Island Sound makes it an idyllic vacation destination for those coming from the Northeast.

Historically, Waterford's founding dates back to 1801, and it grew into a township thriving on agriculture, trade, and fishing.

Today, the town is a unique travel destination that combines leisure, history, and outdoor recreation.

It boasts pristine beaches, historical attractions, and lots of outdoor activities you and your loved ones would surely enjoy.

Take some time to read about the best things to do in Waterford, Connecticut:

Travel Back to the Olden Days at Harkness Memorial State Park

Garden at Harkness Memorial State Park
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Harkness Memorial State Park is probably the most famous attraction in Waterford.

You can find this historical attraction along Great Neck Road.

Well-known philanthropists Mary and Edward Harkness constructed this gorgeous mansion they called "Eolia" in 1907 with a beautiful waterfront view.

The mansion is a famous tourist spot after being converted into a state park in 1950.

Thousands of visitors drop by yearly to check out its well-preserved structure and furnishings.

Hallway at Harkness Memorial State Park mansion
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It mainly features gorgeous Renaissance Revival architecture with a whopping 42 rooms and over 230 acres of lot area, which you can explore.

In addition, it has lovely gardens and greenhouses taken care of by Beatrix Farrand in the early 1910s to 1920s.

It's a special place to visit upon arriving in Waterford, especially if you're keen to learn about the town's rich history.

Some of the best ways to enjoy visiting Harkness Memorial State Park are to join a tour inside the mansion.

Also, don't forget to explore its gardens and take photos of its gorgeous furnishings and architecture.

Aerial view of the beautiful Harkness Memorial State Park
I, PostMan1107, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Roam Waterford on a Scooter

Touring through Waterford can't be easier when you rent a scooter.

Head to Shoreline Scooter Rentals along Great Neck Road to rent a scooter and hop from one attraction to another without a sweat.

Unless you're bringing a car during your visit to Waterford, renting a scooter is best if you plan to visit all of the town's attractions.

Most visitors rent a scooter, especially during summer, to see various attractions such as Waterford Beach Park, Harkness Memorial State Park, and nearby Niantic and Ocean Beach Parks.

Depending on your requirements, you can choose various types of scooters at Shoreline Scooter Rentals, from two to four wheels.

Build Your Sand Castle at Pleasure Beach

You'll never get enough of the beaches in Waterford, so don't forget to include Pleasure Beach in your itinerary.

This sandy beach area nestled on the Bridgeport portion stretches 2.5 miles on the western shores of Waterford.

It boasts a long stretch of pristine white sand beach, while it is a charming neighborhood from a distance.

True to its name, Pleasure Beach is an excellent place for relaxation and swimming.

At the same time, you can enjoy a lovely picnic with your loved ones, while kids or even you can build magnificent sand castles.

Achieve Your Tan Lines at Waterford Beach Park

Sunset at Waterford Beach Park
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Waterford Beach Park is a famous outdoor attraction featuring the pristine beaches and outstanding sceneries of Long Island Sound.

You can find this beach along Great Neck Road.

This beach is famous for its unspoiled natural beauty, where many locals and visitors flock to swim, bathe under the sun, and explore its extensive tidal marsh area.

The entire beach stretches over 0.25 miles, providing everyone with enough space to lay down their towels and picnic basket for a terrific beach day.

Don't forget to pack your sunblock, sunglasses, and flip-flops because you'll likely find yourself basking under the sun at Waterford Beach Park.

Calm Your Senses at Mago Point

There's no better way to calm your senses than breathing the fresh sea breeze and enjoying the majestic view of the Long Island Sound.

To experience this, you must visit Mago Point along First Street.

It has a spacious marina with a cozy maritime environment where the Long Island Sound and Niantic River meet.

It's one of the best places in Waterford to breathe the fresh sea breeze, especially if you're yearning for a peaceful afternoon.

You can bring your loved ones to Mago Point, watch boats passing by, or enjoy the gorgeous sunset.

After passing the time, you can head straight to one of its seafood restaurants or watering holes to wrap up your day in town.

Experience World-Class Performances at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center

Exterior of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center
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The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center is a multi-awarded theater institution producing top-caliber live performances since 1964.

Founded by George C. White, this theater company has won numerous awards, including the Tony Awards and the Regional Theater Award for its theater titles.

This theater, named after Nobel Prize recipient Eugene O'Neill is home to numerous pioneering concepts in play developments and musicals.

More than a thousand artists have already experienced it, while a thousand more new works have already launched at its stage.

With all that in mind, the Eugene O'Neill Theater is a special place for performing arts you need to visit when you're in town.

You can catch some spectacular shows at one of its indoor or outdoor performance theaters.

As an audience, you'll be captivated to watch great performances from various artists at one of its scheduled shows.

Feel the Rush at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl

Waterford might be known for its laid-back and peaceful ambiance.

However, it's also home to an action-packed motorsports venue called the New London-Waterford Speedbowl.

You can find this 3/8 mile asphalt oval race track along Hartford Turnpike.

This place has been providing top-notch racing entertainment to everyone in New London County since 1951, making it a must-visit place.

Moreover, it has produced numerous NASCAR drivers such as Keith Rocco, Ken Cassidy Jr., Dave Garbo Jr., and Matt Pappa.

Today, it regularly hosts local and major races featuring modified stock cars and other racing vehicles.

The New London-Waterford Speedbowl is an exciting place to visit, especially if you're a racing fan who wants to witness how New London's daredevils outrace each other.

Spend Your Leisure Time at Crystal Mall

Exterior of Crystal Mall
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Crystal Mall is a famous shopping center in Southeast Connecticut.

This mall along Hartford Turnpike opened in 1984 and remains operational today, housing dozens of mainstream and local brands.

Crystal Mall remains a favorite shopping and leisure destination in New London County, despite numerous shopping centers in New London and other towns.

So, whether you're bored or want to shop for new stuff, this mall has everything you want to buy.

Interior of Crystal Mall
JJBers, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can choose from over 80 stores, including Victoria's Secret, Forever 21, Talbot's, Bath & Body Works, J. Jill, etc.

After shopping, you can treat yourself or your loved ones to one of the many restaurants available inside.

You can choose from Longhorn Steakhouse, Buffalo Wild Wings, or Olive Garden, to name a few.

You can spend your entire day at Crystal Mall, especially if you're not in the mood to go out and explore Waterford's outdoor attractions.

Macy's in Crystal Mall
JJBers, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sail through the Vast Seas with Southbound Charters

Book open-sea fishing charters with Southbound Charters if you're yearning for a fishing trip on the Long Island Sound.

You can find their office along First Street.

Not many have known, but Waterford is home to numerous open-sea fishing charters, making fishing trips one of the most recommended activities in town.

Harry Angier and Gerry Beers, veterans of open sea fishing charters, will take care of you and your fellow anglers aboard one of their custom sportfisher boats on the Long Island Sound.

During the fishing trip, you'll enjoy catching various fish species such as tuna, Mahi, shark, black sea bass, and the smaller blackfish, flounder, and striped bass.

Besides fishing trips, you can also book them for whale watching trips or family cruises.

Relive the Past at the 1740 Jordan Schoolhouse

1740 Jordan Schoolhouse at the photograph's right corner
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After some worthwhile leisure and outdoor recreation, you can resume visiting historical attractions in Waterford.

Your next stop should be the 1740 Jordan Schoolhouse, the town's oldest surviving public school building, constructed way back in 1740.

Widow Eliza Gallup and her children converted the schoolhouse into their home in the middle of the 1800s; hence, you'll find numerous plastered walls and modern features inside the building.

At the same time, its original gambrel roof, fireplaces, and two classrooms remain intact despite their age.

Visiting this historical attraction lets you delve deeper into Waterford's rich history.

Tour the 1740 Jordan Schoolhouse and see the original furnishings and numerous artifacts dating back to the 1700s.

Have a Date Night at Regal Waterford

Those who don't want to go outside can head to Regal Waterford for some excellent movies.

You can find this theater complex along Cross Road Street.

It's an excellent place for a date night or quality time with family.

It has multiple cinemas, cozy reclining seats, popcorn, sodas, and candies, which you can enjoy while watching the latest Hollywood flicks.

Visit Regal Waterford for a movie date, family bonding, or simple relaxation, and of course, don't forget to buy popcorn.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Waterford's neighboring towns and cities also boast fascinating attractions.

When you're done roaming through Waterford, check out these highly recommended spots.

Uncover the Past at Fort Trumbull State Park

Daytime view of Fort Trumbull State Park
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Fort Trumbull State Park meanders through the historic Thames River.

It features over 16 acres of an area teeming with fascinating history, making it a worthwhile historical attraction.

This state park is 12 minutes east of Waterford in New London.

Historically, it served as a coastal defense fort in the 1850s.

It became the Naval Underwater Systems Center or "Sound Lab" in the late 20th century.

In addition, it became the home of numerous military branches of the nation, such as the Coast Guard Academy, Revenue Cutter Service School, and the Maritime Service Officers School.

Exterior of Fort Trumbull State Park
Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com

Today, it serves as one of New London's top historical attractions.

You can visit the old fort and its visitor's center.

At the same time, you can check out its other significant areas to learn about its rich history.

Tour Fort Trumbull State Park and uncover its rich backstory.

You can also enjoy the state park's various outdoor activities, such as hiking, fishing, and picnicking.

The waters surrounding Fort Trumbull State Park
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Wander inside the Lyman Allyn Art Museum

Exterior of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum
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The Lyman Allyn Art Museum is home to a vast collection of American fine art and decorative arts dating back centuries.

It's a 10-minute drive northeast of Waterford in New London.

This museum, famous for its gorgeous Neoclassical architecture, opened in 1932.

It houses more than 17,000 artworks from North America, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

You'll undoubtedly geek out with its massive collection if you're an avid art fan.

One of the most sought-after collections inside this museum is the artwork of Poussin, Charles LeBrun, Ingres, and Francois Boucher.

In addition, you can also find other exhibits such as the Louis Comfort Tiffany and the American Perspective exhibit displaying Colonial American art.

Visiting the Lyman Allyn Art Museum lets you explore rare and terrific artworks you won't find anywhere else.

Connect with Nature at the Connecticut College Arboretum

Beautiful trees at Connecticut College Arboretum
Romiana Lee / Shutterstock.com

Ten minutes from Waterford, the Connecticut College Arboretum in New London provides a welcoming connection with nature.

It features various opportunities for those who want to research, conserve, or enjoy nature-related recreational activities.

This attraction is primarily for plant enthusiasts and nature lovers.

It has hiking trails that feature various sections of the greenhouse.

Grass trail at Connecticut College Arboretum
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At the same time, you can immerse yourself in its pristine beauty.

Explore its featured sections, such as the Caroline Black Garden, Native Plant Collection, and the nearby Connecticut College Campus.

Of course, more activities await you at the Connecticut College Arboretum, making it a recommended attraction to list in your itinerary near Waterford.

Visit the New London Harbor Lighthouse

Scenic view of New London Harbor Lighthouse
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Make a stop at the New London Harbor Lighthouse, just 10 minutes outside Waterford.

This magnificent historic lighthouse is among the numerous lighthouses you'll find throughout New London.

Also known by locals as Pequot Avenue Lighthouse, the New London Harbor Lighthouse is the oldest and tallest of its kind.

It provides a fascinating architectural design compared to its newer counterpart, the New London Ledge Lighthouse.

Close view of the New London Harbor Lighthouse
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In addition, this lighthouse is also a stark reminder for locals of its glory days, wherein every seafarer and whalers relied on back in the 1700s.

While visiting, you can explore its 64-foot stone tower with a wooden lantern on its top.

The best way to enjoy your visit to this New London lighthouse is to join guided tours, take photos, and enjoy the panoramic view above the viewing deck.

Final Thoughts

Waterford is a few hours away from New York, Springfield, and Providence, making it an ideal weekend getaway destination.

Your visit will be worthwhile, as the town boasts historical attractions, natural charm, and excellent leisure activities.

Bookmark this list of the best things to do in Waterford, Connecticut, and put together the perfect itinerary for a memorable trip.

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