Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Hartford, CT

  • Published 2022/10/13

Hartford is one of the oldest and most historic cities in the United States.

It provides 17 distinct neighborhoods that offer housing opportunities for individuals and families.

Likewise, the city is the heart of the Capitol Regions’ art and entertainment, hosting more than a hundred events yearly.

It is also a haven of dozens of restaurants, clubs, museums, bars, parks, and more.

Visit the city and discover many free things to do in Hartford, Connecticut that you and the whole family can enjoy.

Enjoy the Fresh Air at Bushnell Park

The waters of Bushnell Park

Jon Bilous /

Located on Jewell Street, Bushnell Park is the oldest funded park in the US.

In 1854, Reverend Horace Bushnell envisioned the place during the period when open public spaces were beginning to get recognition.

Swedish landscape architect Jacob Weidenmann designed the park and included elegant paths and groups of trees.

The vast grounds of Bushnell Park

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The 37-acre serene park offers sculpture, artwork, and play areas for kids.

You can walk, run, ride a bike, or simply rest or watch people around.

The whole family will enjoy going to Bushnell Park to watch public events, snap photos of the historic carousel, and see art exhibitions at the Pump House Gallery.

Carousel at Bushnell Park

Katherine Jeans /

Visit the Historic Hartford Public Library

Building sign of the Hartford Public Library

Wangkun Jia /

Hartford Public Library provides various programs and services for different age groups that focus on various needs and interests.

The Library Company used to be a subscription company, opening with some 700 books, and later on, switched its name to Hartford Public Library in 1799.

This is a wonderful approach to experiencing the city and checking out the historical library.

Exterior of the Hartford Public Library

John Phelan, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Free resources will motivate everyone to read, guide learning, and motivate individual exploration.

Hartford Public Library is a venue for people to learn and explore their ambitions, and seek an abundant collection of resources that supply a full life.

You’ll find the main branch on Main Street.

Take the Kids to Pope Park

Do you or your kids love playing ball games?

If your answer is yes, go straight to Pope Park, where you and your kids can play baseball, soccer, basketball, or softball.

Located on Pope Park Drive in the Frog Hollow community, kids of all ages will love playing in the playscape and spray pool.

Pope Park also offers indoor and outdoor pools, allowing you to swim anytime, and free Boot Camp Fitness, Afro-Latino Dance, and Zumba classes.

The Olmsted Brothers originally landscaped Pope Park, and in 1895, Colonel Albert Augustus Pope donated it to the city for his employees’ use and city residents.

Dig into the History of Connecticut at the Museum of Connecticut History

Exterior of Museum of Connecticut History

Wangkun Jia /

Knowing the history of other places can enrich your knowledge and understanding of a particular place.

If you want to know the history of beautiful Connecticut, you can go to the Museum of Connecticut History.

You’ll find it accommodated in the Supreme Court and Connecticut State Library building, located on Capitol Avenue.

Established in 1825, the museum offers collaborative, educational exhibits, special events, and family and youth agendas.

It also features an exceptional library and a research center to promote and discover a passion for history.

At the same time, the Museum of Connecticut History emphasizes the city’s government, military, and industrial history.

You’ll also find various collections, including Colt firearms, pictures of Connecticut’s governors, Connecticut’s 1662 Royal Charter, changing exhibits, and many more.

Behold the Beauty of Flowers at Elizabeth Park

Gazebo surrounded with flowers at Elizabeth Park

Jennifer Yakey-Ault /

Feast your eyes on numerous gardens of countless roses of various colors, sizes, and shapes at Elizabeth Park.

Located along Asylum Avenue near the Hartford-West Hartford line, the park offers picnic areas, formal gardens, recreational facilities, and green spaces.

Moreover, it hosts special events, tours, outdoor concerts, lectures, and garden workshops.

Vibrant flowers at Elizabeth Park

Shanshan0312 /

Elizabeth Park houses America’s oldest public rose garden, established in 1904.

What a delight to see 15,000 rose bushes with 800 different varieties, especially if they all bloom all at once.

Rose arches at Elizabeth Park

Jennifer Yakey-Ault /

Enjoy Family-Friendly Activities at Keney Park

Situated on Tower Avenue, Keney Park is the biggest park in the Hartford city system, encompassing 110 acres in Windsor and a 694-acre park in Hartford.

It doesn’t only provide the neighborhood with recreation in a historically designed landscape but also ecologically rich habitats.

Several activities await families and individuals for a walk at one of the numerous fitness and walking trails.

Likewise, you can play ball games with family and friends, such as baseball, cricket, softball, basketball, tennis, disc golf, and more.

Devereux Emmet designed Keney Park’s 18-hole golf course, which opened for play in 1927.

Go Boating at Riverfront Recapture

The waters of Riverfront Recapture

Richard Cavalleri /

Located on Columbus Boulevard, Riverfront Recapture is a private, non-profit organization.

Its goal is to rejoin metropolitan Hartford with the Connecticut River and simultaneously provide community entry to the waterfront via four gorgeous parks in Hartford and East Hartford.

You can stroll miles long of trails and pathways or go fishing, rowing, or boating.

Show your team’s strength on the challenge course while you enjoy the yearly Riverfest celebration, amazing fireworks, and free concerts.

Other parks within the premises include Riverside Park, Mortensen Riverfront Plaza, Great River Park in East Hartford, and Charter Oak Landing in Hartford.

There’s always something that will keep you and the family busy at Riverfront Recapture.

Visit the Tombs of Famous People at Cedar Hill Cemetery

A beautiful japanese tree at Cedar Hill Cemetery

Msact at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cedar Hill Cemetery consists of 270 acres of landscaped woodlands, memorial grounds, and waterways.

It is located on Fairfield Avenue and serves as a refuge for Connecticut’s history, pristine beauty, and noble funerary art.

John Piermont Morgan memorial at Cedar Hill Cemetery

Dwkaminski, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Currently, there are over 35,000 people laid to rest at Cedar Hill, including financier and philanthropist John Pierpont Morgan and actress Katharine Hepburn.

The Cedar Hill Cemetery Foundation, established in 1999, worked with the cemetery itself to keep the historic cemetery’s history, art, and natural resources to last for generations to come.

Headstone at Cedar Hill Cemetery

Marty Aligata, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cross the Lincoln Financial Sculpture Walk

Within Great River Park and Riverside Park lies the Lincoln Financial Sculpture Walk.

It’s not a museum but a sculpture garden with informational signage and historical importance.

In 2005, Lincoln Financial granted Greater Hartford Arts Council a $500,000 fund, in partnership with Riverfront Recapture, to create a Sculpture Walk across the Connecticut River in Hartford and East Hartford.

Each year, the park draws 860,000 visitors that integrate leisure and recreation while appreciating one or more of the 16 remarkable works.

The association of art, community, and nature helps gather people to the Connecticut River and, at the same time, entertains, demonstrates, and educates locals and visitors.

Cross the Lincoln Financial Sculpture Walk and feel the priceless sculpture contemplating the life and heritage of Abraham Lincoln.

Pay Homage to the Unsung Heroes of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch

Daytime view of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch

Mihai_Andritoiu /

Inscribed on September 17, 1886 and located on Trinity Street, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch is possibly the first inherent triumphal arch constructed in the US.

What sets it apart from other war memorials is that it doesn’t cite the names of people who served or died in the war.

Instead, the engraved dedication values over 4,000 Hartford men who bore arms in the national cause, almost 400 of whom perished in services.

Albert Entress, a German-born sculptor, conceived the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch’s six eight-foot-tall statues.

Close view of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch

f11photo /

You won’t be able to help but notice the magnificent bronze statues on each conical roof: Gabriel (playing the trumpet) and Raphael (the one with the cymbals).

Those statues were originally made of terra cotta but required replacement when lightning struck one of the angels.

This is one historical structure you shouldn’t miss, and taking a picture of it is a good idea for a lifetime souvenir.

History plaque of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch

singh_lens /

Explore Amazing Collections at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Exterior of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Wangkun Jia /

Located on Main Street, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art was established in 1842.

You’ll find a collection of almost 50,000 artworks, extending 5,000 years and incorporating European art from the golden years to the modern day, including American art from the 1600s up to today.

The collections include Baroque and Surrealist paintings, African American art and artifact, and the Morgan collection of Greek and Roman antiquities and European decorative art, to name a few.

Interior of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

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Originally planning to build a “Gallery of Fine Arts,” Wadsworth changed his mind and created an atheneum instead.

The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is the oldest continuously-running public art museum in the US and opened its doors to the public in 1844.

This cultural institution consists of a library, works of art, and artifacts dedicated to learning science, literature, history, and art.

An art piece in Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Shanshan0312 /

Hear Some Wonderful Music from the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz

Are you a music lover and have a penchant for jazz music?

If so, don’t forget to visit Hartford to attend the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz, which has been free for the public to attend since 1991.

This awesome festival is always celebrated at Bushnell Park, which opens during the summer from Friday through Sunday.

If you want to attend the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz, remember to bring blankets, chairs, and picnic baskets with food to better enjoy the performances.

In case you forget to bring food, there are food vendors nearby.

Pay Your Respects at the Center Church and Ancient Burying Ground

Daytime view of the Center Church and Ancient Burying Ground

Staib, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Constructed in 1807, the Center Church and Ancient Burying Ground on Gold Street serve as the catacombs for several Hartford founders and early settlers.

Also known as the First Church of Christ and the Ancient Burying Ground, they were founded by Thomas Hooker in 1636.

The church got its features from St. Martin-In-The-Fields in London and emphasizes stained glass windows by Louis Tiffany.

If you want to picture Hartford as a 17th-century New England Town, you can visit the Center Church and Ancient Burying Ground.

Go Jogging at Mortensen Riverfront Plaza

View of Mortensen Riverfront Plaza at night

Richard Cavalleri /

Mortensen Riverfront Plaza offers many activities you can do without spending money.

Located on Columbus Boulevard, the plaza is the essence of the Riverfront Recapture park system.

On the river’s edge is a stage and seating that can accommodate up to 2,500 people on a grassy terrace.

There are paved and lighted walkways where you can jog, stroll, or bike, and a drinking fountain when you go thirsty after doing your activities.

Mortensen Riverfront Plaza hosts different exciting events, so plan your visit well so as not to miss them.

Explore the Historic Trinity College Campus

Chapel at Trinity College Campus

dashikin /

One of the nicest things you can do in Hartford is explore the historic Trinity College campus.

This school is one of the oldest colleges you can find in Connecticut and opened back in 1823 as Washington College.

You can stroll around public places and be mesmerized by the campus’ beauty.

Clocktower at Trinity College Campus

Paul Keleher – user on, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The structures are ancient and typically New England, making them unmistakably beautiful.

Located on Summit Street, Trinity College is the second-oldest college and offers courses with 41 majors and 28 interdisciplinary minors.

Admissions building at Trinity College Campus

Kenneth C. Zirkel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Final Thoughts

Hartford is one of the great places to visit in Connecticut for its historic and impressive structures and exceptional places.

Exploring different places allows you to learn about the past and appreciate them without spending money.

Come and discover the free things to do in Hartford, Connecticut.

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