Fun and Free Things to Do in Stamford Connecticut

Judy Antell Avatar

free things to do in Stamford CT

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, like Greenwich and Norwalk. Being a family on a budget, we try to keep spending to a minimum, especially when we’re still en 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 are so many free things to do in Stamford!

Here are our favorites:

Pick up your Stamford map at the welcome center in Darien
Be sure to pick up your free map at the Connecticut Welcome Center in nearby Darien, CT. It will point you in the right direction! Photo courtesy Pixabay

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.

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!).

SheBuysTravel 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?

not a free thing to do in stamford - but definitely worth the $2 splurge
Miller River Park is a great green hangout, perfect for relaxation or running around. And we definitely splurged on a ride on the carousel. Best $2 ever! Photo credit: Scott Lebeau

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 breathe in the Connecticut air.

SheBuysTravel 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.

The Gardens bring beauty, and are budget friendly too.
The Gardens at Bartlett Arboretum. Photo courtesy Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens.

4. Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens

The beauty of a New England day is on full display at Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens, 93 acres of gorgeous 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. Plus, the grounds are dog-friendly, so the entire family can enjoy exploring together.

SheBuysTravel 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 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.

SheBuysTravel 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

6. UCONN Stamford Art Gallery

College campuses 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.

SheBuysTravel 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 that 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.

Even the outside murals are fun at the art association.
The Townhouse Gallery is one of our favorite things to do in Stamford. It’s fun inside and out! Photo courtesy Stamford Art Association

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.

9. 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 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.

The architecture of the First Presbyterian Church makes it a treasure - and free!
The First Presbyterian Church is breathtaking inside and out. Can you see why it’s known as the Fish Church? Photo courtesy of the First Presbyterian Church Stamford

10. 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. Bring your beach chairs or blankets, or – for the best seating – call to reserve a spot. Performances are free, though donations are encouraged.

11. 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. Email for free tickets.

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.

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16 Incredibly Fun Free Things to Do in Boston

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