By Steve Hoenisch
Note: This article appeared in Travel Smart in 1992; some of the information may be out of date.
At first glance Hartford seems like just another gritty New England industrial city, and not much different from New Haven at that, but a closer look reveals the historical sites, architecture, art, and literary history that set it apart.
Mark Twain lived and wrote in Hartford, leaving a Victorian mansion for travelers to admire. In downtown, the Old State House stands as the oldest such building in the country and was the site where the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut were adopted in 1639, often considered the first written constitution creating a government. Nearby, the Wadsworth Atheneum houses a first-rate collection of art that includes furniture and paintings reflecting early American history.
The Hartford area has more than enough attractions to make it a worthwhile stop for people traveling through the area as well as a destination for residents of nearby states. The fall, when foliage makes New England travel an eye-pleasing event, is the perfect time to visit.
Bradley International Airport, located 12 miles north of the city in Windsor Locks, serves the Hartford area with most major American airlines. CT Transit bus line "N" (as well as shuttle buses and taxis) runs between the city and the airport. Phone: 203-525-9181. For further information about the airport, call 203-292-2000.
Buses and Amtrak provide frequent service to One Union Place, the city's transportation center, located at the edge of downtown.
Because Hartford is at the intersection of I-84 and I-91, those traveling by car will find that it's easily accessible from nearly all directions.
Explore the excellent galleries of the Wadsworth Atheneum, 600 Main Street, the collections of which cover more than 5000 years of art history. The Atheneum ranks high among Hartford's attractions -- and its a great value, too. Phone: 203-278-2670.
The Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe Houses, 77 Forest Street, are interesting attractions. Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe had grand houses built next door to each other in a neighborhood west of downtown known as Nook Farm, and now the houses are open to the public as museums. Prices vary depending on tour. Senior citizens and children receive a discount. Phone: 203-525-9317.
Check out the display at the Connecticut Historical Society, 1 Elizabeth St. The permanent exhibition covers Barbour furniture and related Connecticut art from 1730 to 1830. Phone: 203-236-5621.
The Science Museum of Connecticut, 950 Trout Brook Dr., West Hartford, is a fun and educational place to take children. The museum's hands-on approach lets kids interact with many of the displays. Phone: 203-236-2961.
Children may also find interesting the hand-carved Carousel at Bushnell Park in downtown. Rides cost 50 cents. Call for times of operation, which are seasonal and subject to weather: 203-246-7739 or 203-249-2201.
While downtown, walk past the Old State House, 800 Main Street. Designed by architect Charles Bulfinch and completed in 1796, it's an example of Federal architecture. Free tourist information is available there. Phone: 203-522-6766.
Take a tour of the regal State Capitol, 210 Capitol Ave. Free. Phone: 203-240-0222.
If the neo-Gothic splendor of the Capitol elicits a yearning to see more of Hartford's diverse architecture -- such as I.M Pei's Bushnell Tower and Richard Meier's Hartford Seminary -- take a walking tour with the Greater Hartford Architectural Conservancy. The tours take place in late September and October and cover different themes and sections of the city. Phone: 203-525-0279.
After you've spent time visiting sights in Hartford, you may be ready to escape the bustle of city for the calm of the outdoors or the Connecticut River.
If the time of your visit coincides with the blooming season for roses, take a walk through Elizabeth Park and explore the rose gardens. Elizabeth Park -- also a great place for a picnic -- is west of downtown on the Hartford-West Hartford line.
The Metropolitan District Talcott Mountain Reservoir Area (1420 Farmington Ave., West Hartford), known locally as the reservoir, is a beautiful outdoor preserve with a hilly network of walking, hiking and bicycle trails, some paved, many not. The trails can lead you through some splendid colors in the fall. The reservior is a great place to mountain bike.
The reservoir connects with Penwood State Park and Talcott Mountain State Park to the north, where you can hike to the Heublein Tower for a mountain-top view. The tower's hours are limited and open seasonally; call for schedule: 203-242-1158.
Another relaxing option is a riverboat cruise. Deep River Navigation Co. offers several cruises that leave from Hartford's Charter Oak Landing. Phone: 203-526-4954.
The Hartford Whalers play other National Hockey League teams at the Hartford Civic Center during their regular season, early October through mid-April. Tickets may be bought at the ticket window inside the Civic Center or by calling 800-942-5377. You'll get better seats if you call than if you go to the box office.
Because Hartford is a city, most of the chain hotels have a place in the area. The Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau will provide a free list of places to stay. To make reservations or to obtain more information about lodging in Connecticut, call 800-365-6928. Here are a few places: (images/brownbal.gif" align="right" /> Chester Bulkley House Bed and Breakfast, 184 Main Street, Wethersfield. Located in the historic (and quaint) section of Old Wethersfield, it is a short drive south of Hartford. Near shops and vintage homes. Phone: 203-563-4236. (images/brownbal.gif" align="right" /> Avon Old Farms Hotel, at the intersection of routes 10 and 44 in Avon, west of the city. Phone: 203-677-1651. (images/brownbal.gif" align="right" /> Country Inn, 100 Weston St., Hartford, may be the most economical place to stay in the city, though it's nothing fancy. Phone: 800-367-2342.
There's certainly no shortage of good restaurants in Hartford, and the offerings are diverse: Italian restaurants in the city's South End, Portuguese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants along Park Street and a variety of restaurants downtown.
For good food at good prices, eat where many in-the-know locals do: the sleek Oasis Diner, 267 Farmington Ave. -- two blocks from the Mark Twain House. Phone: 203-241-8200.
Congress Rotisserie, 7 Maple Ave., also has good food, especially chicken, although the prices aren't as low as at the Oasis. Just down the street from the Wadsworth Atheneum. Phone: 203-560-1965. Congress Rotisserie also has a carry-out food store at 274 Farmington Ave. featuring the best sandwiches in the city. If you're planning a picnic in Elizabeth Park, stop here first. Phone: 203-278-7711.
Peppercorns Grill, 361 Main St., has fine Italian food. Phone: 203-547-1714.
A fun spot for music and drinks that often draws a diverse though younger crowd is the Municipal Cafe, 485 Main St. Phone: 203-527-5044. Beer drinkers might want to try the area's only brew pub, the Hartford Brewery, 35 Pearl Street. Phone: 203-246-BEER. An older, more sophisticated crowd gathers at Morgan's Piano Bar in the J.P. Morgan Hotel, One Haynes St., but it's probably not the cheapest place to languor. Phone: 203-246-7500.
There are many attractions within less than an hour's drive from Hartford, making it a good base for day trips to other locations in the region.
) The Mystic Seaport and the Mystic Marinelife Aquarium are definitely worth a visit, especially with children, though Mystic is interesting for adults, too. Call 203-536-3323 for the aquarium, 203-572-0711 for the seaport. Avoid the nearby Foxwood High Stakes Bingo and Casino in Ledyard -- unless, of course, you enjoy losing money. It's a tourist trap and a money trap.
Springfield, Mass., host to the Basketball Hall of Fame, and Northampton, Mass., a small college town with big appeal, are also both worthy of day trips. Phone number for the hall of fame: 413-781-6500.
Another fun daytrip is to explore the area around Haddam and East Haddam, where the Goodspeed Opera House, Gillette Castle State Park and several other parks and attractions are located.
The Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-446-7811 or 203-728-6789. To obtain a free Connecticut vacation guide, call 1-800-282-6863. See also the online edition of The Hartford Courant.