With five kids between us, Mandy and I know that finding fun activities for little ones can sometimes put a strain on the ol’ family budget, especially during school vacations.
But we believe that summer break doesn’t need to break the bank, so we’ve put together a list of FREE activities for kids in and around Connecticut.
And as always, we have tried out and blogged about EVERY SINGLE ONE. So you can get the firsthand skinny on more than 50 thrifty outing ideas. Yes, 50! That’s almost one for every day of summer vacation. You better get going. You’ve got a lot of free fun to have!
***As of the posting date, the activities detailed below are admission-free; however, you may want to call ahead or check websites as appropriate prior to your visit to confirm that dates/times/rates have not changed. Thanks!***
Libraries offer FREE fun every day of the week.
Libraries are our go-to resource for budget-friendly playtimes & playdates, and even great kids’ classes. Check out the library nearest you to find out what it has to offer, or explore some of our favorite options.
Some of our favorite library Play Areas:
- The Cora J. Belden Library in Rocky Hill has an expansive kids’ space with legos, train table, pretend kitchen, and plenty of seating for grown-ups.
- The Noah Webster Library in West Hartford includes a puppet theater, train tables, legos, doll house, and even a fully-enclosed babies-only area.
- The Avon Library has lots of pretend-play items, a train table, a lego table, puzzles, and a puppet theater.
- At the Simsbury Library you’ll find a play kitchen set, a train table, lots of puzzles, pretend play items, plus a separate room (with a door that closes!) where you can hang out with the two-and-under crowd.
- The South Windsor Library includes a train table, play house, separate toddler play area, puzzle table, and doll house.
- The Wethersfield Library has two separate play areas with lots to entertain the kiddos (and one is totally enclosed so you can let your little one explore worry-free).
Some of our favorite library Drop-In Programs:
- Russell Library in Middletown, CT offers Summertime Stories (similar to the First Saturdays Storytime & Craft event). Designed for ages 3-6 but all ages are welcome. Caregivers must attend with children. Drop in. No registration required. TUESDAY mornings, July 8, 15, 22, 29 & August 5, 12, 19, 26 (2014).
- South Windsor Library offers Family Stories with special summer hours. Recommended for ages 3 and up. Caregivers must attend with children. Drop in. No registration required. MONDAY evenings @ 6:30 p.m. from June 30-August 11 (2014).
- The Cora J. Belden Library in Rocky Hill offers Playtime Plus with a short session of stories and songs, plus playtime with lots and lots of toys. Designed for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers (and a great social event for parents too!). Caregivers must attend with children. Drop in. No registration required.WEDNESDAY mornings @ 10:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (ongoing throughout the year).
- The Windsor Library has an array of drop-in programs, plus a great play area.
Playgrounds are FREE go-to entertainment anytime.
You can browse the more than 30 playgrounds we’ve visited or try out some of our favorites first.
- Enjoy a relaxing playdate at the fully fenced-in Rainbow Playground in Southington, CT.
- Check out the whimsical plane-shaped playscape at Addison Park in Glastonbury, CT.
- Tame the sea serpent at Pierson Park in Cromwell, CT.
- Find something for everyone at Rotary Park in Simsbury, CT.
- Let the kids run free in the fully-fenced Buckingham Road Playground in Avon, CT.
- Explore the tree-house-inspired playscapes at Bodie’s Place Playground in Milford, CT.
Museums for FREE (or pretty much free).
You can avoid a hefty admission fee by visiting at special no-pay times.
- Kidcity Children’s Museum in Middletown, CT: FREE on the third Thursday of every month from 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm.
- Stepping Stones Children’s Museum in Norwalk, CT: FREE on the first Thursday of every month from 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm.
- Providence Children’s Museum in Providence, RI: FREE on the third Friday of every month from 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm.
- Boston Children’s Museum in Boston, MA: $1 per person every Friday from 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm.
- New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, CT: FREE admission on Saturday mornings from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. (Stroller-friendly galleries, a FREE kids art lab and play area, and for a nominal fee your little one can take a tot-friendly art class.)
- Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT: FREE for families on the second Saturday of the month if you arrive before 1:00 pm.
- Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford, CT: FREE on the first Saturday of the month.
FREE Music & More.
FREE summer music events are popular in our state! Here are a few of our favorite spots for frugal music.
- Enjoy a picnic dinner and a beautiful summer evening at the Elizabeth Park Concert Series in Elizabeth Park in Hartford, CT on Wednesday evenings throughout June, July & August (see the 2014 schedule/lineup here) from 6:30p.m. to 8:00p.m. or at the Glastonbury Riverfront Music Festival at the Community Center in Glastonbury, CT on Wednesday evenings from 7:00p.m. to 9:00p.m. in July (see the 2014 schedule/lineup here).
- Farmers’ Markets offer you a chance to support local farmers and artisans, but did you know they often have FREE music and entertainment for the kiddos too? Check out the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market in Coventry, CT (2014 schedule: Sundays from June to October, 11:00a.m. – 2:00p.m.) or the South Windsor Farmers’ Market in South Windsor, CT (2014 schedule: Saturdays 10:00a.m. to 1:00p.m. from June 21 to October 18). You can also find a comprehensive list of CT Farmers’ Markets listed by county here.
FREE destinations to explore nature and visit with animals.
Kids love animals! Good thing you can check out a variety of critters and creatures on the cheap.
- Visit with animals in the barn at Northwest Park in Windsor, CT.
- Hunt for frogs and snakes along the Dinosaur State Park Nature Trails in Rocky Hill, CT.
- Hang out with the friendly animals at the The Old Cider Mill’s Petting Zoo in Glastonbury, CT.
- Play with bunnies and talk to birds at the Eleanor Buck Wolf Nature Center in Wethersfield, CT.
- Check out the animals, both big and small, at Westmoor Park in West Hartford, CT.
- Track woodland wildlife on the Roaring Brook Nature Center trails in Canton, CT.
- Take a nature “hike” with your tot at Wintergreen Woods in Wethersfield, CT.
- Check out the resident pig, donkey, Emu and more at Robb’s Farm Ice Cream Stand’s Petting Zoo in Glastonbury, CT (and treat yourself to a scoop of their famous homemade ice cream while you’re there!).
- Enjoy the beauty of nature as you explore the Fisher Meadows trails in Avon, CT.
- Pick up some fresh milk (you know you always need milk!) and then take a self-guided tour of the barn at Fish Family Farm in Bolton, CT.
FREE places to cool down.
When summer heats up, you can get wet without the debt.
- Many local spray pads are FREE and as a bonus, they are often open in the morning (while many public pools charge a fee and don’t open until the afternoon). Try Fernridge Park Spray Pad or Wolcott Park Spray Pad in West Hartford, CT or the Rec Plex Spray Pad in Colchester, CT.
- Want to go for a swim? Stratton Brook State Park is a budget-friendly swimming hole that’s FREE on weekdays!
FREE places to take a scenic summer walk.
Check out these boredom-busting destinations that are stroller- and wallet-friendly.
- The West Hartford Reservoir has long and lovely trails for the serious walker.
- The Glastonbury Multi-Use Trail is short, sweet and entirely paved.
- The Nevers Park Walking Trails in South Windsor, CT pass right by a super Boundless Playground for a double freebie.
- The Airline State Park Trail is 50 miles of converted railway that cuts through the eastern part of the state with scenic views to enjoy and unique ecosystems to explore.
Check out (literally) FREE museum and state park library passes.
Visit our Library Pass Page for details and helpful links to many local libraries’ pass programs. Libraries offer passes for both FREE and discounted admission and the selection varies by library (OAAM tip: use the links on our Library Museum Pass Page to make it quick and easy to “shop” local libraries until you find the pass you are looking for). In most cases, any CT resident with a valid CT library card can check out a pass from any library! Here are just a few examples of places we have been where you can gain FREE admission using CT public library museum and state park passes.
- See real dino footprints at the Dinosaur State Park Exhibit Center in Rocky Hill, CT
- Explore a playground for the imagination at Kidcity in Middletown, CT
- Visit the old time Main Street at The Lutz Children’s Museum in Manchester, CT
- Come face to face with a tiger at Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, CT
- Tour the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT
- Ask about the family-friendly programs at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, CT
- Soak up some sun at Hammonasset State Park Beach in Madison, CT
- And many more!
More FREE fun.
- Time Machine Hobby in Manchester, CT has a FREE public viewing 0f New England’s largest model train layout (this thing is BIG) every first and third Sunday of the month from 1:00p.m. to 4:00p.m.
- Many Barnes & Noble Stores offer FREE storytimes for preschoolers. Check your local Barnes & Noble for times.
- The Shoppes at Buckland Hills in Manchester, CT has a FREE indoor play area for toddlers that’s always open (and air conditioned!) during mall hours.
- Stew Leonard’s in Newington, CT turns an ordinary trip to the grocery store into FREE entertainment for the kids with animated puppets (plus lots of free product tastings for you!).
- The Whole Foods in Glastonbury, CT has a cute and totally FREE kids’ play area in their food court. Get your shopping done and get some playtime for the little ones.
- Catch a FREE kids’ movie at Bowtie Cinemas in Hartford, CT every Tuesday & Wednesday @ 10:00a.m. from June 24th through August 20th (2014). You can see the schedule here.
- Many of our wonderful state parks (like Gillette Castle State Park) do not have a fee for parking or visiting the grounds. You can find a complete list of CT state parks here.
So that’s our roundup of FREE summer fun!
What are your favorite FREE or budget-friendly summer activities? Help us grow this list by leaving your cost-cutting tips in the comments section below!
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- 4D Vision Gym – A vision training center located in Cromwell, CT where Dr. Juanita Collier, MS, OD and her staff show members how to utilize Vision Therapy to correct visual issues and make learning and playing easier and more fun.
- The Independent Day School – Located on a rural campus in Middlefield, CT this private pre-school, elementary and middle school serves families from over 20 communities.
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