Recently named by USA Today as one of the best places to live in America, Danbury is a small city near the south bank of upscale Lake Candlewood, just 50 miles northeast of New York City.
Here, you’ll be in the southernmost foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, whose peaks rise 300 meters under a forest of hardwoods and softwoods.
There are entire parks and protected natural spaces in and around Danbury where you can go hiking, horseback riding, fishing and boating, or soak up the summer sun.
Danbury also has a professional ice hockey team, somewhere you can pick your own apples and pumpkins in the fall, and one of the top upscale malls in New England.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Danbury:
1. Tarrywile Park & Mansion
More than just a typical city park, Tarrywile Park & Mansion features 722 acres of rolling greenery in what was once a farm and orchard.
Where Tarrywile Park really stands out is the lovely historic sites within its boundaries.
The best is the tile-style Tarryville Building, built in 1897 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This elegant building can be visited by appointment or rented out for weddings and special events.
Another building in the park is the Gothic Revival Hearthstone Castle, which dates back to 1899 and is awaiting restoration.
In spring and summer, you can take a stroll in the gardens, while picnic areas are located in idyllic orchards.
The Children’s Garden has a pond, koi and bullfrogs in the reeds, and there is yoga in the park every Sunday morning from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
2. Danbury Railway Museum
At Old Union Station on the Danbury branch of the Metro-North Railroad, there is a museum that tells the story of the railroads of southern New England and neighboring New York.
The station dates back to 1903 and closed in 1993 when a new station was built on the other side of the block.
This is a beautiful Richardsonian Romanesque building with a fine colonial revival touch.
Both the station and the 6-acre rail yard are a paradise for train lovers, with more than 70 pieces of historical equipment and artifacts.
There are beautiful old rolling stock including Boston and Maine 1455 steam engines and detailed model trainsets.
Train rides are available on weekends from April to November, and there is a calendar of special events throughout the year.
3. Danbury Museum and Historical Society
For a sense of place, head to this museum on Main Street, which preserves an ensemble of five historic buildings.
In addition to Huntington Hall, which was built in 1963 and houses an office, gift shop and library, these buildings include the John Knights House (1785), the John Dodd Hat Shop (1790), the Little Red Schoolhouse (18 late century) and the studio of Marian Anderson.
The latter was used by the world-famous alto Marian Anderson (1897-1993), who lived in Danbury for over half a century.
You can visit these historic buildings on Saturday afternoons in spring, summer and autumn, while the exhibition halls are open every day from Tuesday to Saturday.
The main exhibition for summer 2019 is “Driving Danbury”, which explores how cars and other modern forms of transportation are changing everyday life in the city.
The museum is also a community center for many local societies and hosts a popular cursive camp for children and parents in July.
4. Ives Concert Park
Adjacent to the Western Connecticut State University campus west of Danbury, this gorgeous pondside park is named after the city-born modernist composer Charles Ives (1874-1954).
Ives Music Park pays homage to this cultural connection with an extensive program of concerts and theatrical performances in the amphitheater on summer weekends.
The series drew more than 60,000 people and was the only stage in the region dedicated to live entertainment.
As of this writing in July 2019, the show includes the production of Much Ado About Nothing, ballet, live comedy, a reggae festival and a Jefferson Starship concert, among many other events.
Of course, you can visit the 40-acre park during the week, admire the gardens and stroll the public hiking trails.
Sunset yoga classes are held every few weeks during the summer, and details are posted on the park’s website.
5. Candlewood Lake
Formed in the 1920s by a hydroelectric dam at the junction of the Housatonic and Rocky Rivers, Candlewood Lake covers more than 5,400 acres and is Connecticut’s largest lake.
This majestic stretch of water, which borders Danbury to the north, is understandable with its vast natural beauty and some of the most expensive real estate in the state on its shores.
Along 60 miles of coastline, there are several small tourist attractions including golf courses, beaches and marinas.
On the lake’s southernmost shore, just a few miles from downtown Danbury, is the 11-acre Candlewood Town Park, with beaches, picnic areas, playgrounds and a boat dock, all in this picturesque setting.
6. Blue Jay Orchard
At this 140-acre orchard and market, you can spend an idyllic late summer or fall day picking your own apples and taking an old-fashioned hay wagon to the pumpkin patch.
Over the course of a few weeks, from the beginning of September to the end of October, all kinds of apples will be ready for picking, whether it’s the juicy and sweet Galas at the beginning of the season, later the crunchy and sweet Braeburns, or the sour at the end Granny Smith.
Blue Jay Orchards grows 15 different varieties and you can schedule your visit by checking the website.
When you come, you have to take a detour to the farmers market, which has jams, jellies, pastries, pies, and cookies.
People travel long distances for cider and cider doughnuts!
7. Danbury Mall
Danbury has the second largest mall in Connecticut and the fifth largest in New England.
You’ll find it off I-84, across from Danbury Municipal Airport.
Danbury Fair has less than 200 stores and services, most of which are mid-range and high-end retailers such as Banana Republic, Macy’s, LL Bean, Gap, H&M, Michael Kors and Abercrombie & Fitch.
There’s also a huge branch of Primark, a fast-fashion store above the Sears store.
The mall was built on a historic open-air market and has rekindled the vibe with SummerStage, an outdoor concert, arts and crafts and foundation program for children during July and August.
8. Bear Mountain Reserve
Just north of downtown, in the suburban community on the lake’s west shore, there’s another place to enjoy Candlewood Lake.
Bear Mountain Reservation is set on rocky terrain with stunning lake views, and winding trails lead you into deep forest and then to magnificent open meadows.
There are ten color-coded trails, the longest of which is the red trail at 1.7 miles.
9. Collis P. Huntington State Park
Named after 19th-century railroad tycoon Collis Potter Huntington, the 1,000-acre state park is located on land donated by his heirs in the 1970s.
Decades ago, at the turn of the 20th century, the park was landscaped with five man-made ponds, a trail system, and a small stone lighthouse that still stands on the pond island.
Upon arrival, you’ll see naturalistic bear and wolf sculptures by Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973), whose studio is here.
In winter you can go hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, horse riding and cross-country skiing.
Fall and early winter are bow hunting season, so it’s important not to stray off the trails at this time.
10. Hemlock Hill
In the beautiful hilly setting next to Danbury Mall, there is a series of connected natural spaces, starting at Hemlock Hill in the west and running east through Pine Hill, Bennett Pond State Park and Worcester Hill State Park Scenic Reserve.
With peaks more than 300 meters high, this wooded landscape is located in the southern foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, starting in western Connecticut and crossing Massachusetts into Vermont.
The parks are connected by a system of walking trails, such as the Yellow and Red Trails, both of which connect Hemlock Mountain to Pine Mountain.
Both trails are steep but family friendly, and both take you to a beautiful vantage point.
The Red Trail also intersects with the Blue Trail, taking you to Bennett’s Pond, a 56-acre pond surrounded by unspoiled forest ideal for fishing and mountain biking off its shores.
11. Ives Trail and Greenway
Venture away from Danbury on this 20-mile trail that takes you through the rough terrain south of the city.
Best for more experienced walkers, the Ives Trail & Greenway starts at Bennett’s Pond in Ridgefield, then winds its way through protected spaces in the rugged southern part of Danbury, into Bethel, and finally to Redding.
Near the start of Ridgefield, you’ll travel through spectacular glacial instability, boulders deposited at the end of the last ice age.
Most memorable is the well-preserved cottage overlooking Charles Ives, close to the top of the hill, with views of the shimmering forest in the distance.
12. Richter Park Golf Course
Known as the best in the tri-state area, Danbury’s excellent public course sits on the west shore of the Westlake Reservoir.
For non-residents, green fees range from $50 to $83 (Friday to Sunday) and include a free cart and a small bag of balls for the new driving range.
The course is a tricky 18-hole par 71 designed by Edward Ryder with undulating fairways.
Notably, 14 of the 18 holes have water hazards and the greens are guarded by 49 newly renovated bunkers.
13. Danbury Ice Arena
The Danbury Rink is open weekly and hosts open games, adult open hockey and freestyle open games on its two rinks from 07:00 to 24:00. The facility dates back to 1999 and underwent a major expansion in 2004. There are weekly special classes to help you improve your ice skating or puck handling skills, as well as kids youth leagues.
A range of professional teams have taken up residence at this 3,000-person venue for the past 20 years.
The Danbury Whalers were members of the NHL when they were based in Hartford, where they played five seasons until 2015. The current tenants are Danbury Hattricks, who take their name from the city’s hat-making tradition and play against other Eastern-based franchises in the Federal Hockey League.
14. Squantz Pond State Park
This attraction is located less than ten miles north of Danbury, near the western shore of Candlewood Lake.
Squantz Pond is a summer treat where you can swim, boat and fish on the 270 acres of water that was built when the reservoir was filled in the 1920s.
The park also has a nature center, picnic areas and a place to rent canoes and kayaks.
On the west side, the trail leads to the highlands of the Putatuck State Forest.
Climb up the blue trail for a scenic overlook and set your sights on the pond and Candlewood Lake in the distance.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Danbury, CT
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