When traveling up the east coast, don’t overlook Stamford, Connecticut, a big city with a small town feel and enough free attractions to make it a favorite budget-friendly, family fun stop in New England. Check out our list of free things to do in Stamford, CT.
BEST FREE THINGS TO DO IN STAMFORD CT
- The Connecticut Welcome Center
- Mill River Park
- Mianus River Park
- Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens
- Fort Stamford
- UNCONN Stamford Art Gallery
- Stamford Art Association and Townhouse Gallery
- Stamford History Center
- Whitney Museum at Champion
- First Presbyterian Church
- Shakespeare on the Green
- People’s Court Taping
- Kids Free Sunday at Stamford Symphony
Although we live in New Jersey, my husband is from Massachusetts, so the trip north up the east coast is a familiar one for us. Along the way, we have been able to take breaks and explore many of the wonderful hidden gems of Connecticut. Being a family on a budget, we try to keep spending to a minimum, especially when we’re still on route to our destination.
That’s why we love Stamford, Ct. Although it’s a big city (the third largest in the state, behind New Haven and Bridgeport) it has the welcoming feel of a small town. And there’s so much to do for free! While the sandy beaches along the Long Island Sound will cost you (either in day stickers or parking passes), the city offers a variety of activities, natural settings, and historic sites to make a stop in Connecticut one we look forward to each time!
Here are our favorite free things to do in Stamford CT:
FREE TO START…
1. The Connecticut Welcome Center
It may sound crazy, but I’m going to suggest that one of the best things to do for free in Stamford isn’t even in Stamford. Actually, you should start your day at the Connecticut Welcome Center, which is five miles away in Darien, CT. It’s a basic but very clean rest stop, highly recommended if you need to freshen up or change a diaper. Make sure to grab a map and any Stamford information you may need here (free, of course) so you can make informed decisions about your agenda and learn of any special events happening while you visit.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
There’s no better setting for family fun in Stamford, Connecticut, than the great outdoors. You can enjoy the beauty of nature without taking a beating in the budget. Check out these top free things to do in Stamford CT – outdoors!
2. Mill River Park
For a place to relax, run around and blow off steam, you can’t find a more welcoming green space than Mill River Park in Greater Stamford. The playground was built completely by community volunteers and is currently being renovated to add a splash pad and picnic area. Relax by the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Fountain featuring dancing streams of illuminated water. In winter, the fountain is magically converted into an ice skating center (there’s a charge to skate, but bring a thermos of hot chocolate and you can watch the skaters free of charge!).
TravelingMom Tip: Splurge for a ride on the carousel (currently $2 a ride). Here you’ll find the expected painted ponies, as well as some unusual choices. Anyone want to ride a frog or a mallard?
3. Mianus River Park
Right on the Greenwich – Stamford border, the Mianus River Park is a 391-acre nature reserve. The area is actually made up of three distinct parks – Mianus River and Natural Park, Mianus River Park and Mianus River State Park (also known as Treetops). I’ll be honest – though each has its own entrance, I’m never sure where one ends and the next begins. It’s all lush, woodsy and full of wildlife – the perfect place to stretch your legs and breath in the Connecticut air.
TravelingMom Tip –trout fishing is permitted in the Mianus River. From September until April, it’s catch and release. The rest of the year, there’s a daily limit of two trout.
4. Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens
The beauty of a New England day is on full display at Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens, a gorgeous 93 acres of hiking trails, lush gardens and pristine wetlands. You can’t find a more beautiful site to burn some energy (or some calories) while the kids catch frogs or follow butterflies through pink and purple blossoms. Extra bonus – the grounds are dog-friendly, so the entire family can enjoy exploring together. Open dawn to dusk every day. 203-322-6971
TravelingMom Tip: Many of the special events at Bartlett Arboretum are free, though some require a small donation. My family favorites include the Vegetable Garden tours, natural history talks and the Yappy Hours, a canine happy hour. Check the event calendar on site for this year’s offerings.
5. Fort Stamford
When you have kids, so much goes in one ear and out the other. But with my boys, if I talk about American history, they soak it up like a sponge. That’s why they were keen on visiting Fort Stamford, the remains of a small fort built in 1781 during the Revolutionary War. After General George Washington and his troops moved south from New York, General David Waterbury’s brigade built this fort to protect residents against raids by the British.
Today, earthen mounds, stone markers, and a Revolutionary-era tree mark the spots where soldiers fought to create our country. The fort is surrounded by the daffodils, peonies, and hydrangea of Goodbody Garden.
TravelingMom Tip: Fort Stamford isn’t the choice for those who are looking to run around and burn off energy. Instead, these grounds are a place of peaceful reflection, where you can stroll, enjoy the fragrant flowers, and pay homage to those who gave their lives in the American Revolution.
READ MORE: Four Springtime Activities to Do with Kids in Connecticut
ART ATTACKS IN STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT
The city of Stamford is full of artistic creations, from traditional paintings to sculptures to murals. Want to see world-class work on a penny pincher budget? Here are our favorite places to sample the work of established and emerging artists – for free!
6. UCONN Stamford Art Gallery
College campus are great places to explore when you’re looking for free things to do. In downtown Stamford, check out the campus of the University of Connecticut for its large, inviting Art Gallery. Here, established and emerging artists can display their creations. The exhibits are always changing, so that means the gallery is different every time you visit! The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 203-251-8400
TravelingMom Tip: The gallery is closed on Saturdays during the summer months.
7. Stamford Art Association and Townhouse Gallery
Painters, sculptors and multimedia artists find a home for their work at the Stamford Art Association and Townhouse Gallery, a small gallery which showcases artwork and hosts juried events on a regular basis. A highlight is the annual High School Student Show, which features works by students in Fairfield County. Inspire the artist in you – or your little one! Open Thursday through Sunday. 203-325-1139
MUSEUMS AND MORE
Sure, there are bigger museums nearby in Boston or Hartford, but of course, they will cost you. While in Stamford, enjoy these museums without the crowds or the costs of the big cities.
8. Stamford History Center
My kids are crazy about United States history (one even has a degree in the subject). So we always look for a city’s historical center or society when we visit someplace new. Stamford’s history is deep and rich – the first known “town charter” was signed in 1640 – and you can find the story fully told at the Stamford History Center. Some family favorites include the How to Say Goodbye exhibit, which detailed mortuary practices, and the Bell Family Bible, which can be traced back to the 17th century. Many of the exhibits are “traveling,” so you’ll always find something new. Open Thursday through Saturday 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. 203-329-1183
TravelingMom Tip: For a small fee (currently $5), you can also have a guided tour of the Hoyt-Barnum House, the oldest authentic residence in Stamford, which is near the History Center.
9. Whitney Museum at Champion
Here’s a chance to see world-class art exhibits free of charge. The Whitney Museum in New York has partnered with Champion International Corporation in Stamford to make its art exhibits easily accessible to those living or visiting Connecticut. The art gallery rotates a variety of featured exhibits, including some from the Whitney Museum’s collection or other traveling exhibits of American art. Open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
10. First Presbyterian Church
The congregation gathers to worship at 10 a.m. each Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church of Stamford. But you don’t have to wait for the church bells to come to appreciate the architecture of this unique church. Visitors come from all over to appreciate the church’s unique shape, which has been likened to the early Christian symbol of a fish. A huge wood-faced cross from England’s Canterbury Cathedral towers over the Chancel.
Another attraction: the amazing, colorful stained glass windows, with Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection depicted in over 20,000 pieces of faceted glass. 203-324-9522
ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE
Lights, camera, action…..my kids love the performing arts, in all senses of the term. And in Stamford, you can find almost everything….from Shakespeare to Springer (Jerry, that is). And they’re all free things to do in Stamford! Check out these performances while visiting the area:
11. Shakespeare On The Green
All the world’s a stage – or at least the Curtain Call theatre company acts as it is. If you’re in Stamford in July, check out Curtain Call’s annual performance of a Shakespeare play under the pines at Sterling Farms. The 2019 production will be Much Ado About Nothing and will run from July 11 to July 21. Bring your beach chairs or blankets, or – for best seating – call to reserve a spot. Performances are free, though donations are encouraged. 203-461-6358 x10
12. The People’s Court Taping
Does your family enjoy the drama of a totally different sort? Then plan a day watching a taping of The People’s Court, one of TV’s longest-running (over three decades) court reality shows. Taping is restricted to those 16 and older and, even though they’d never admit it, my teens loved watching Judge Marilyn Milian banging down the gavel and rendering her verdict. (I think the possibility of being on TV was a major attraction!) Shows tape on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Call for free tickets. 1-888-780-8587
13. Kids Free Sunday at the Stamford Symphony
Yes, you have to time your visit to include a Sunday, but if you do, your children (18 and under) can enjoy an afternoon as the guests of the Stamford Symphony at the Palace Theatre. You’ll have to pay for your ticket, but your kids will also be treated to a pre-show interactive program called Musikids as sort of a warm-up for the big event. 203-325-4466
TravelingMom Tip: Kids come FREE tickets cannot be purchased online. To snag yours, stop by the Palace box office or call ahead.
Did I miss any? What are your favorite free things to do in Stamford, CT?
Heading to New England? Don’t break the budget. Check out these free things to do in the New England states.