"Most definitely not what you may be expecting...." Top 5 Page for this destination New Haven by leics

New Haven Travel Guide: 222 reviews and 432 photos

....certainly not 'a dump', as some VT-ers have suggested. Nor a violent and dangerous place, as another VT-er 'helpfully' told me.

New Haven is absolutely full of interest and history and I found it a fascinating and most enjoyable place to spend a week........yes, a whole week! I never felt unsafe, never felt bored, spend hours exploring the streets looking at the architecture, enjoyed the museums and churches and Yale buildings, rode the bus to Lighthouse Park and paddled in the sea, watched capoeira on the Green, chatted to people, ate good food, relaxed and had fun.

And before you think 'Well, she was just visiting family'...I actually spent very little time with my family on that first visit. For the majority of the time on all my visits I was by myself, including in the evening and in the early morning. And I wore blue. And I did not get mugged, abused, hassled or shot (didn't see that happening to anyone else either).

I've visited twice since then. both times for a long weekend. I felt safe, wandered around, enjoyed myself....just as I did on my first visit.

So......New Haven is *not* how it has been painted by some, and certainly makes an excellent base for exploring rural and coastal Connecticut by car (I've done a bit of that too).

New Haven, in some ways, *is* Yale. Certainly there were lots and lots of tour groups visiting the rather wonderful (if not terribly ancient) Yale buildings during my first stay...groups from abroad, summer camp groups, groups of prospective students with their accompanying, sightly trepidacious, parents, and I've noticed the same on subsequent visits. I visited the Yale Visitor Centre, watched their rather smug but nevertheless amusing video and took a tour with an existing student.

And, even though it was the summer break, I managed to capture the iconic scene of two Yalies playing frisbee (invented at Yale) as the sun set on the Green...can you spot the tiny white disc in the photo? :-)

But having said that NH *is* Yale...in that the place is central to downtown, not out on the edges, and that the downtown shops, services and eating places largely cater to the student population (much of which comes from wealthy backgrounds) ...it is also an historic place in its own right.

NH was first settled in 1638 (by English Puritans) and set out in a grid pattern of 9 squares, with a central (and very large) green area. This pattern of gridded streets, squares and green space still survives and makes the centre of NH a truly pleasant place to be.

One of the things for which NH is most famous is its links with the Amistad prisoners, who were tried (and eventually set free) in the city. The New Haven museum has an excellent display which taught me a great deal about the event.

Much of NH's wealth grew from the invention of one of its early residents (and a Yale graduate), Eli Whitney who invented the cotton gin (for cleaning cotton prior to spinning) and who also built a gun factory in which the Colt revolver was invented.

NH's fortunes continued to improve as these industries grew, with the American Civil War creating a boom in arms requirements. But after the Second World War the city slowly entered into a decline which led to increasing poverty and associated crime....it was listed as the 18th 'most dangerous' city in the US in 2010 and the 13th in 2012.

There is a great irony here: NH downtown and Yale are smooth and wealthy and comfortable and feel safe enough. But at the downtown edges.....into the 'hidden' areas....are the (very large) pockets of great deprivation, depression and sheer hopelessness which foster crime of all types. NH has more than one permanent soup kitchen: that in itself tells you something.

But as a visitor it's unlikely you'll see anything much of this, if anything at all. Yes, I saw streetpeople occasionally, begging, foraging in the bins, many asleep on the Green. NH has 6000+ homeless: you are going to see some of them. Yes, I saw a few who clearly had mental issues (caused by drugs or otherwise). Yes, from the bus I saw areas of very obvious deprivation and poverty. But I never felt at any risk whatsoever, and certainly was no more hassled for money than I was in NY.

So don't let that aspect put you off visiting.

So what is there to see? Well, a heck of a lot actually:

* Yale itself. It's faintly amusing that a newish US university should model itself so much on ancient UK universities like Oxford and Cambridge, but it actually works rather well. Even more recently-built structures are sub-Medieval in appearance, with vast amounts of stonework and embellished carvings to explore and enjoy.

There are regular campus tours year-round, but you can also just wander at will through much of the campus and both the Stirling Library (a Medieval 'cathedral'!) and the extremely modern-looking but really rather wonderful Beinecke Library are both open to the public (not all of the buildings, but enough).

* the Peabody Museum...huge dinosaurs, giant squid, rocks and crystals and meteorites, all sorts of interest.

* the New Haven Museum, housed in a lovely old building with an excellent display about the Amistad prisoners and many old photos and artefacts from NH, including an original Whitney cotton gin.

* the Yale Art Gallery and the Yale Centre for British Art.

* the three churches set on the Green: Trinity Episcopal, dating from 1752 and with some lovely Tiffany glass windows; Center Church on the Green, originally established in 1639 but the existing building dating from 1812; United church, dating from 1814.

* the many, many lovely buildings around downtown. The oldest (1767) now houses the Yale Visitor Centre.

* Grove Street cemetery, which contains not only many tombs of fascinating and important people (including Eli Whitney) but also the tombstones of those buried on the Green, for until the establishment of this cemetery that is where most NH residents were placed. They lie there still..it is only their tombstones which have been removed. Reading these (set in the north-west corner of the cemetery) is fascinating, with many dating back to the 1600s.

* Wooster Square, a pleasant little green area surrounded by many older and rather beautiful houses, including terraces (rowhouses).

* Lighthouse Point Park. down by the seashore, easily accessible by bus, green space to run around, to play, to have a picnic or a barbecue, lovely walks along the coastline, butterflies, birds, shells to collect... and a rather beautiful carousel dating from 1916.

* Sleeping Giant State Park...just a few miles from New Haven along route 10, with 30+ miles of walking trails, beautiful woodland and superb views.

And, of course, NH is very well-placed for exploring the rest of Connecticut by car, or for taking rail trips to nearby places (Mystic, for example, or Old Saybrook), to NYC and to Boston.

I'm not suggesting you need a week to explore New Haven...that would be too much just for the town itself. But I *am* suggesting that it deserves at least a couple of days' exploration if you are in the area and it makes a very good base for a longer visit.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Lots of history, interesting architecture, excellent museums.
  • Cons:Some parts are not safe to explore on foot.
  • In a nutshell:Much more than just Yale....
  • Last visit to New Haven: Jul 2013
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Comments (2)

  • ViajesdelMundo's Profile Photo
    Aug 11, 2011 at 12:51 PM

    weird that you had such negative info about the area, but so glad yr experience was opposite! YES, OMNI!! I stayd in one in Wash, D.C. last summer for a conference; those extras are due to singing up your preferences ahead.

  • pieter_jan_v's Profile Photo
    Aug 7, 2011 at 2:30 AM

    J, Is that a Anne Frank mural?? PJ


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