Mystic Harbor/WBZ

(WBZ photo)

Mystic, Connecticut is nestled along the banks of the Mystic River in southeast Connecticut. Close to where Long Island Sound meets the open ocean, Mystic is not really a town at all, but a destination. The portion of Mystic that lies on the west side of the river is part of the town of Groton, and the portion on the east side is part of the town of Stonington.

Visitors who come for the two best-known attractions, the Mystic Seaport and Museum and the Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration, are treated to a surprising variety of interesting restaurants and shops and to pretty vistas and charming scenery at every turn. It is not unusual to see local artists working at their easels along the roadside, interpreting the scenes for posterity.

Getting There

Distance: 105 Miles
Travel time: About 2 hours

Mystic River/ WBZ

(WBZ photo)

The Mystic Seaport and Museum

The Mystic Seaport has such a commanding presence in Mystic that it may be enjoyed without ever passing through its gates. Stephan Spielberg filmed footage for his 1997 film, Amistad, partly from a scenic overlook on Interstate 95 between exits 89 and 90.

Most visitors prefer to take in the view of the magnificent tall whaling ships, the Charles W. Morgan, the L.A. Dutton, and the Joseph Conrad, while strolling, biking, or jogging along River Road, a scenic three-mile stretch of road between downtown Mystic and Old Mystic. If you come with children, bring along some crackers to feed the ducks and swans.

Depending on the time of year you visit, you may be treated to the sight of the local high school crew team propelling its eight-person sculls past the tall ships of the seaport and under the Mystic drawbridge toward the Mystic Harbor.

The museum itself lies on 17 acres containing some 46 exhibits including re-created homes, shops, and craftworks. Visitors are entertained with the sea chants of wandering chantymen and to demonstrations of 19th-century cooking, blacksmithing, rope-making and more by costumed and well-schooled docents.

Museum Admission: Adults: $24; Children 6-17: $15; Children 5 & under: Free

An art museum and gift shop on the grounds, which may be accessed without admission to the Seaport, features world-class nautical paintings and original prints as well as models and other arts and artifacts related to the sea.

There is ample free parking in two large lots across from the museum.
When planning your trip, check with your local New England public library to see whether they include Mystic attractions in their museum pass program. Many libraries across the region do, and as long as you have a library card, you may find you can borrow a pass entitling you to discount admission to both the Seaport and the nearby Mystic Aquarium.

Mystic Aquarium/WBZ

(WBZ photo)

Mystic Aquarium

Located on nearby Coogan Boulevard, minutes from the Mystic Seaport, you will find the Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration. Fans of the Boston Aquarium should hurry down to wade with trainers for the Beluga Encounter, take the Deep Sea 3-D Ride, check out Return to the Titanic, resident explorer Dr. Robert Ballard’s fascinating exhibit, or to visit any or all of the more than 20 additional exhibits that distinguish the Mystic Aquarium from others around the world.

Parking for the aquarium is also ample and free.

Mystic Dining and Shopping

After your visit to the aquarium, you need only cross the parking lot to come to the Old Mystic Village and the vibrant seafood restaurant Go Fish (860-536-2662) . If you get there between 4:30 P.M and 6:00 P.M., ask to see their popular Fore Menu, which features items from the raw bar as well as many from the bar menu at half the normal price. Try the blackened salmon ciabatta or a selection of fresh oysters.

Downtown you’ll find good late-afternoon deals at The Ancient Mariner (860-536-5200) and Azu (860-536-6336) to sustain you as you browse the many shops, or order an ice cream cone while you watch the historic Mystic drawbridge raised up to allow passage of a parade of waiting sailboats.

Many tourists are drawn to Mystic Pizza (56 West Main St., 860-536-3700), made famous by the 1988 Julia Roberts movie. If you choose to go for ‘a slice of heaven’, try to avoid regular meal times, as the wait can be very long.

Stonington Borough

A bit to the east of the Mystic section of Stonington is picturesque Stonington Borough, home to Connecticut’s small commercial fishing fleet. A visit to this tiny peninsula is well worth the time. It is the place to be for a sunset dinner and a short stroll past the shops and village houses to the point. Whether you choose the Water Street Cafe, Skippers Dock, Noah’s or the Dog Watch Cafe, you will find not only great food, but also warm shoreline ambience.

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