New Haven boasts Colonial charm, a rich history, and a sophisticated, eclectic mix of arts and entertainment, cultural attractions and gastronomical delights. For a city of its size, New Haven offers some of the most interesting experiences in Connecticut, if not New England.
Downtown and Yale
The first thing most people associate with New Haven is Yale, one of the world's great universities. It has a great presence in the city, and the city of New Haven grew up around the heart of the campus, which is a commanding display of classic colonial and modern Gothic architecture. Several world-renowned museums and theaters are located on or near campus, such as the
New Haven was the first planned city in the country, and the
The Long Wharf area, on New Haven harbor, is disconnected from the rest of downtown, but nonetheless an integral part of New Haven. There is an industrial area, and a commercial harbor. The
The East Shore neighborhood is probably best known for
Fair Haven is another neighborhood on the Sound, and its earliest history is connected to oystering. The first European settlers took up oystering from the native Quinnipiac Indians. Today, because of pollution, oysters harvested here are moved to cleaner waters for several weeks before being served in local restaurants—where they are considered quite safe to eat. Other Fair Haven highlights include the
City Point/Oyster Point
Howard Avenue, along the water in Oyster Point, also known as City Point, reminds you of a small fishing village. Many grandiose homes built in the 1880s have been restored to their original beauty. Although there was a period of decay after the neighborhood was cut off from the rest of the city by Interstate 95, this quiet sea-side neighborhood has become one of the more pleasing areas to visit in New Haven.
Wooster Square (Little Italy)
Wooster Square was named after the New Haven Revolutionary War hero, David Wooster. It was once a neighborhood of elegant brownstones surrounding the square, but many of the houses were razed for factories and tenements for Irish workers in the mid 19th Century. In the late 1800s, Italian immigrants replaced the Irish, creating the "Little Italy" we know today, commonly referred to simply as
For a scenic drive and quick escape from the city, take Interstate 95 or even Boston Post Road north towards Providence. The small towns that dot the shoreline are full of delightful historic sights, beaches, eateries, shopping and hotels. The 17th-18th century homes in these towns are products of reconstruction after numerous hurricanes and raids by Native Americans and the British that often left the entire towns in ruins. Branford, the largest of these towns, is home to Stony Point (due to its rocky shore) and boats that go out to the nearby
Some 400 years ago, a small tribe of Native Americans, the Quinnipiacks, lived in the area of present day New Haven. They lived along Long Island Sound, catching seafood and local game and growing corn, the staple of their diet.
On April 24, 1638, 500 settlers arrived from England. They were led by Theophilus Eaton, a wealthy merchant, and his boyhood friend, the Rev. John Davenport, a British cleric who had left his pulpit and his country to more freely pursue his Puritanism. The settlers had two dreams: to create a Christian utopia and to establish a thriving commercial center. They thought they had found both when they sailed into New Haven's natural harbor, and found a tribe of native American's willing to sell their land in exchange for protection from raiding bands of Mohawks and Pequots.
The new colony was named Quinnipiac; Eaton became its first governor and Davenport its first pastor. In 1640, they changed the name to New Haven and laid out a town plan with a central green and nine squares, making New Haven the first planned community in the American colonies. By 1641, the growing town had 800 residents.
Boston and New Amsterdam (New York) proved stiff competitors in the contest to be the dominant port on the Atlantic seaboard. In 1646, in a dramatic attempt to build the image of the fledgling port, a large ship filled with local produce set sail from New Haven for England. The crew and vessel were never heard from again, and the disaster ended the dream of seafaring dominance.
One of New Haven's most famous landmarks is Judge's Cave in West Rock Ridge State Park. Here, in 1661, Davenport hid three of the signers of the death warrant that had led to the beheading of King Charles I of England. Edward Whalley, William Goffe and John Dixwell fled England and the vengeance of King Charles II. Not only did the three survive royal bounty hunters, they live on in the names of three New Haven streets.
Another of Davenport and Eaton's dreams died in 1664, when New Haven relinquished its independence and became part of the Connecticut Colony. But if New Haven took several blows to its ego, other things were happening in these early years that would lead to later glory. One was the relocation of the Collegiate School from Old Saybrook to New Haven in 1716; it would be renamed Yale two years later in exchange for a donation of books, a portrait of King George I, and assorted goods from wealthy London merchant Elihu Yale. The other portent of grander things to come was the fledgling growth of small workshops as craftsmen took advantage of the area's abundant water power.
By the time the Revolutionary War began, New Haven had a population of around 3500. The town was raided and sacked by the British on July 5, 1779, but recovered quickly enough to incorporate as a city in 1784. Its first mayor was Roger Sherman, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. In the 19th Century, New Haven's small workshops developed into centers of entrepreneurial and technological innovation. This star of this movement was Eli Whitney — a graduate of Yale, the city's other major claim to fame. Whitney is best-remembered as the inventor of the cotton gin, a machine that revolutionized the cotton industry, but he also built the country's first factory - The Whitney Arms Company - based on principles of mass production. The factory would eventually become the Winchester Arms Company. Winchester and rival Colt would make New Haven one of the world's centers of small arms manufacture. Other local developments included vulcanized rubber, sulfur matches, and, not to be sniffed at, model trains and erector sets. By the Civil War, New Haven, with a population of 40,000 had become a center for the manufacture of carriages, rubber goods, clocks, beer, pianos and, of course, weapons.
One of the most famous episodes in the city's history actually began thousands of miles to the south, in Cuba. On June 28, 1839, the Spanish ship Amistad left Havana with 53 Africans who had been kidnapped from their homeland. They were being sent to another part of the island, destined for a lifetime of slavery. Before the Amistad reached its new destination, the Africans, led by Sengbe Pieh (also known as Joseph Cinque), seized control of the ship and demanded that the surviving crew set sail for Africa, using the sun as their guide. But, at night, the navigator would sail northward, hoping to reach a Southern port where slavery was legal. Instead, the ship entered Long Island Sound and was taken into custody by the United States Navy.
The Africans were incarcerated in New Haven, but their cause was taken up by the nation's abolitionist movement. At trials in Hartford and New Haven, and eventually before the U.S. Supreme Court, former U.S. president John Quincy Adams argued that the Africans should be set free rather than returned to Cuba. The Africans were finally granted their freedom in February, 1841 and, in March, were sent to live in Farmington, Connecticut, while funds were raised by private benefactors to send them back to Africa. In November, the 37 surviving freed slaves set sail, arriving in what is now Sierra Leone in January, 1842. The Amistad Memorial, dedicated in 1992, stands at the site in downtown New Haven of the jail in which the slave were held. A reconstruction of the Amistad was produced by Mystic Seaport, about an hour outside the city, and can often be seen docked there when not touring the country.
By the end of the 19th Century, New Haven's population of 108,000 was 28% foreign born. The many thousands of immigrants drawn by the city's burgeoning industries would leave their mark in many significant ways, not the least of which include such landmark eateries as Pepe's, which introduced New Haven-style pizza to America, and Louis' Lunch, home of the country's first hamburger. After World War I, with the passage of restrictive immigration laws, most newcomers were African-Americans from Southern states and Hispanics from Puerto Rico.
After World War II, New Haven's economy began a long, slow decline, thanks to automobiles and superhighways. Shops and factories followed the mass movement of the middle class to the suburbs. Deprived of their economic base, once thriving neighborhoods turned into slums. In 1957, under eight-term mayor Richard Lee, New Haven launched one of the country's first attempts at urban renewal, but the forces working against it were too great. The Shubert Theatre was shut down and renovated, major chains like Macy's and Malley's shut their downtown flagships, and several hotels closed, leaving the core of the city barren and depressed.
Revitalization has come slowly. Wooster Square, formerly a slum, is now home to a thriving Little Italy, based primarily on Wooster Street, where hoards of patrons wait in long lines to sample the neighborhood's world-famous pizza. Restaurants and shopping have returned to many other parts of the city. Areas like Science Park, the East Shore, the Harborfront and Upper State Street are being rejuvenated. New Haven now calls itself the "Livable City," and is taking the initiative to restore historic neighborhoods and buildings. The beautiful Shubert continues to wow audiences with Broadway tours and famed solo artists, there is a new Audubon Arts Center downtown, a new American Hockey League franchise, and a restored Union Station. And, of course, a city could ask for few better anchors than Yale University.
New Haven proper is a small city just making its comeback from a long period of economic decline, but it is also home to Yale University, one of the world's great centers of learning. Thus, while there is not a great quantity of lodging options inside the city limits—virtually the entire list gets a capsule description here—there is at least one of each, from deluxe to inexpensive, chains and independents, with a scattering of inns and bed & breakfasts in between.
Also, New Haven is located at the junction of two major interstate highways: 95, which runs northeast and southwest along Long Island Sound, and 91, which originates here and heads north. Traffic can be infamously bad on Interstate 95, but there are numerous hotels clustered around nearby exits on both highways. Also, many visitors to New Haven choose to stay in one of the small, upscale towns that lie to the east and west of New Haven along Long Island Sound.
Downtown & Yale
Five hotels in this area offer the full range of accommodations. The Omni is a first class, full service, four-star hotel within walking distance of Yale University, museums, restaurants and shopping. The elegant Galileo's restaurant, on the hotel's 19th Floor, offers a stunning view of the city and the Sound. Still first class but less extravagant, the Colony offers the same proximity to Yale and downtown's cultural and gastronomic fare, as does the New Haven Hotel, an outstanding independent. The Hotel Duncan in the heart of downtown is a New Haven landmark: it is reasonable and clean, but without the fitness center and Internet portals. Finally, there is the Holiday Inn at Yale, a favorite of visiting parents.
Wooster Street (Little Italy)
If you don't feel like staying in a hotel and want something more intimate or with a bit of character, try one of the bed and breakfast inns located in and around the Yale campus and downtown area. Three Chimneys Inn is an elegant 1870s mansion that offers a first class feel but within a more intimate setting. The Historic Mansion Inn is a little further away from the hub, but still within walking distance of Yale and downtown, around the corner from Wooster Street and its famous Italian restaurants, and across the street from Wooster Square.
City Point/Oyster Point
The Inn at Oyster Point is a few minutes drive from the green, but offers a more homey atmosphere in the historic harbor district. The nearby Swan Cove Bed & Breakfast Inn is located in a lovely 1890s Queen Anne house filled with antiques and charm.
Westville and Long Wharf
In Westville, just a few minutes drive from Yale, is the more-casual and moderately priced Regal Inn, on Whalley Avenue. The Quality Inn and Conference Center, with extensive meeting facilities, is on the west side of New Haven. The all-suites Residence Inn by Marriott is in the Long Wharf area, just off Interstate 95, as is the newly refurbished Fairfield Inn (formerly the Grand Chalet Inn and Suites). The Fairfield is adjacent to Long Wharf Theatre and New Haven Harbor.
There are numerous small, family-run hotels along the Shoreline, catering to families or just those seeking a break from the big city. In Madison, the Dolly Madison Inn provides its guests with traditional New England charm and even offers weekly rates for guests who want to take advantage of the sun and sand. A little further down Interstate 95 in Westbrook is Water's Edge Resort & Spa, a complete gateway locale where you can indulge in some of the best restaurants, beaches and spa treatment in the area. Towards the Connecticut River, in the hamlet of Essex, is The Griswold Inn. It is the oldest continuously operated inn in the country where you can enjoy a pleasant night's stay, a fantastic meal and a scenic stroll through the colonial streets of Essex.
One of the best-kept secrets about the New Haven area is the abundance and variety of its restaurants. And one of the best things about the restaurants in the compact downtown area is that most are within walking distance of one another, so you can stroll along checking out menus and decide at a leisurely pace what you are pining for. Even better, you can fill your entire evening with samples from various establishments, and make the rounds like a true New Haven native.
Start with drinks at Hot Tomato's, pop over to The Anchor, and then grab an après-dîner beer at Brü Rm. at Bar. If you are still hungry, go across the street to Louis' Lunch, where the hamburger was invented. Louis' is open until 2a Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and is a cultural institution not to be missed. There is ethnic fusion at the chic Zinc, and traditional American at the classic turn-of-the-century Richter's Tap Room, New Haven's oldest bar. There is a piano playing at Scoozi's, too, which serves its fine Italian food outdoors in good weather.
You can get excellent sushi at Akasaka's, while Sono Bana Japanese Restaurant is just a few minutes north of downtown, and serves some of the best lunch specials in the area. In the mood for Thai? The award-winning Bangkok Gardens, near the Yale campus, can sate your appetite while you people-watch in the dining atrium. If it's Mexican you crave, then look no further than hot and sunny Villa del Sol, serving authentic south-of-the-border cuisine.
When in the Long Wharf area and in search of some fine seafood, head to The Rusty Scupper, which is, despite its unusual name, a classy choice for an evening out. When in search of something more casual, head to Brazi's for fresh pizza family fun. Across the bridge, on the east side of the harbor, you can get all the seafood you desire at Regatta Bar & Grill. For a taste of India, head to Darbar India for their weekend buffet.
Wooster Square (Little Italy)
Wooster Square's "Little Italy" is famous for its dueling pizza shops: Frank Pepe's Pizzeria and Sally's Apizza, each vying for the title of best pizza in the world. But Wooster Street is also chock-full of Italian restaurants exploding with traditional and local specialties. Try Consiglio's, Abate's or Tre Scalini, then satisfy your sweet tooth at one of the neighborhood's fine bakeries, like Lucibello's or ice cream shops.
There are some excellent restaurants in the upscale shoreline towns within a short drive of downtown. Heading east, the sizzling Esteva American Cafe on the Guilford Green is a new hot spot with a New York City bistro-style atmosphere. Over in Madison, you can get hearty all-American fare at the Dolly Madison Inn or try the Cafe Allegre that serves fine Italian cuisine and other delicious delectables, and if you can't bear to leave, they have rooms for overnight guests at their Inn at Lafayette. A favorite locale in Old Saybrook is Pat's Kountry Kitchen, serving fantastic country cooking with a strong New England flair.
Of course, one of the best reasons for coming to the Shoreline is the seafood, especially fresh lobster, clam chowder and scrod (a type of young cod found only in New England). Plenty of small, family-run restaurants dot Route 1 from Branford to Old Saybrook. If on the go or looking for a more formal, sit-down meal there are the Lenny & Joe's Fish Tale restaurants in Madison and Westbrook where you can get a hot buttered lobster roll, fish and chips, onion rings, five-pound (or larger!) lobsters and more. Just down the road in Old Saybrook, their seafood icon is the famous drive-in Johnny Ad's where clam strips reign supreme and foot-long Hummel hot dogs are everyone's favorite.