A couple of weeks ago, I finally took my three year old to the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford. It had been on my radar for a while but I was hesitant to take him since I was not sure just how into it he would be. The last time I had been there was with my niece and nephew, who at the time were 9 and 11. I thought maybe he was a little too young for it. Boy, I could not have been more wrong!
The Connecticut Science Center entered the scene in 2009. I still feel like it’s relatively new compared to most of the museums in this state; and it’s in great condition to make you think that too. I remember working in downtown Hartford while they were building that; and it feels like that was just yesterday!
The Connecticut Science Center is located on Columbus Boulevard; right near 91 and the Connecticut River. You’ll want to follow either your GPS for directions or check out Google maps. It can be tricky getting around Hartford.
Parking for the science center is located in garage below the building. Access is located directly across from the Marriott on Grove Street (just before the entrance to 91. The parking rates for the Connecticut Science Center are $3 for the first hour and $2 for every hour thereafter. Parking cannot be reduced or validated, so make sure you plan for the parking cost.
Once you enter the garage, there are several floors for parking. I tend to go close to the top because it’s less crowded. The garage is not huge but I have never had an issue finding parking.
No matter where you park in the garage, the elevators are close to walk to.
In the elevator lobby, you’ll see that the entrance for the Connecticut Science Center is on Lobby Level 1. Make sure you remember which floor you parked in the garage too!
When you come out of the elevators, you’ll be right at the main level. You’ll find the ticket counter; the gift shop; a few places with food; the theater and the exhibit entrance. The ticket counter is straight ahead on the left. We were visiting on weekday morning, so the line was not long at all.
Ticket prices for general admission to the Connecticut Science Center range from $16.95 for children 3 to 17 up to $23.95 for adults. Kids under 2 are always free. You have the option of adding on a movie for $5. The museum takes cash or credit card (as well as travelers checks). Memberships are also available which grants you and whoever else is a member free admission. You can also watch for special discount days, as well as coupons that pop up in different places. We actually had a free pass for my child that day; so we only paid for my admission. This is definitely a museum where if you know you will go a lot; it would be worth considering a membership!
If you are interested in checking out a movie, they have the schedule at the ticket counter. They also have another special exhibit, the butterfly encounter, which costs an additional $5 and can be added on to your admission ticket.
Once you pay for your admission, everyone in your party gets a hand stamp.
If you decide to check out a movie at the Connecticut Science Center, make sure you plan your time around that. The entrance to the theater is on the main level, opposite the ticket counter. Since my three year old is just starting to get better at sitting still for along period of time, I decided to skip this today.
Instead we headed into the main exhibit area. The entrance for the exhibits is right across from the ticket counter.
Right when you enter the exhibit area, you’ll see Kidspace which is a special area for little ones, ages 6 and under, or small groups of K-2 kids. You’ll notice the large water play exhibit in this area. Because of this, I decided we would check this out last so that his clothes did not get completely soaked. Unfortunately, we ran out of time before we finished all the exhibits (we had only three hours that day since we were meeting daddy for tours of the new preschool). I was pretty bummed! It looks like an awesome exhibit!
We decided instead to head to the upper levels and explore through those exhibits first. On the main level, you’ll see that there is actually a set of stairs that connect each floor. So if you are not pushing a stroller, this is a great and fast option (and a good workout!)
But since we had a stroller, we took the elevators. They actually come around really quickly and we never waited long at all between floors.
As a side note, the museum encourages the use of either smaller, umbrella strollers or babywearing since some exhibit areas can be tight. There really is no where to park the strollers. I actually brought in our regular stroller, not really thinking that through, and I will attest to the fact that it was challenging at times moving around with that clunky thing. I never think to put the umbrella stroller in my car since we really don’t use the stroller much anymore. But once in a while I am glad I have it because half way through the museum, he kept asking to sit in his stroller (he was tired).
You’ll spot directory for each floor of the Connecticut Science Center near the elevators. There are three floors of exhibits, as well as the main lobby level. You can also find a full list of exhibits online here.
Our first stop at the Connecticut Science Center was Level 4 which is home to the permanent exhibits: Forces in Motion, Sight and Sound Experiences and the Butterfly Encounter. It also has traveling exhibits, which change often. In fact, when we visited they had an exhibit called: Engineering Earth. A new exhibit will be opening on September 30, Alien Worlds and Androids.
When you first get off the elevator, you’ll want to make sure you check out the small exhibits on the walkway between the two main exhibit rooms. Every floor offers a few great activities and exhibits in this space between the exhibit halls. We had a fun time experimenting with this bottle launcher; as well as checking out the neat things suspended from the ceiling!
We headed into the exciting world of sights and sounds first. Here we had the chance to try out some hands-on noise makers! They also had a freeze frame experience that I couldn’t get this kid to stay still long enough to actually freeze him! The older kids will love this exhibit; my niece and nephew did when we visited years ago.
We moved on quickly from the first area because the world of motion caught his eye! The Forces in Motion exhibit hall is a really fun area packed with tons to do! We could have easily spent our whole time in just this room!
A few of the exhibits were a little advanced for his age; but he still had to check everything out (even if he didn’t understand what was going on).
I’ll confess, I was way more into making my flyer take off!
But there was still plenty that did keep him engaged! He was totally enraptured by how the ball stayed in the air. We spent a while watching this beach ball float in the sky!
The race track is always guaranteed to be a hit with the kids – in fact, there was always a small crowd of boys and girls racing the cars they built. My boy had a hard time getting his car to work, but he loved setting the cars off and then trying to catch his at the end!
But the big hit of this room were these blue and orange building blocks! You’ve seen these I’m sure at a lot of places; and they are always popular. Today, this was all he was interested in! Thankfully, they had some seats around this area for the parents because I was there for a while!
We spent a good chunk of our limited time in the Forces in Motion room; I quickly learned my lesson while we were in this room: we needed WAY more than 3 hours at this museum. I was actually shocked at that point because I was unsure how into this museum he would be given his age. I definitely underestimated his interest!
Before we moved on to the next exhibit room, I spotted a bathroom next to the building blocks area. You’ll find bathrooms all over the museum; and we got to check a few out since, potty training.
We moved across the hall to the Traveling Exhibit, Engineering Earth (which is actually no longer at the museum). He actually was not too into this exhibit, but again, he is on the younger side. We moved through here quickly, and since we did not pay ahead for the Butterfly Encounter, we headed upstairs after just a few minutes.
If you did pay ahead at the admissions desk for the Butterfly Encounter, you’ll want to head to the entrance line which is located along the back wall. You must have your tickets before you enter this line!
We went back to the elevators, and headed up to Level 5 of the Connecticut Science Center which is home to the permanent exhibits Exploring Space, Invention Dimension, Picture of Health and Sports Lab.
As with every floor, they had a fun exhibit in the hallway between the exhibit rooms. This robot was entertaining my child for a while!
We headed to Invention Dimension first and he had even more fun in this room than he had downstairs! This was probably his favorite exhibit area in the whole museum! The room had Legos and puzzles, a robotic challenge, Rube Goldberg-inspired chain reaction machines and so many more invention exhibits.
He had a great time trying his hand with the Legos. We don’t use the small Legos at home yet (we’re still in Duplo mode) but he liked working with these. He ended up making a friend even and the two of them raced their little Lego cars down the ramp for a while.
For the littlest inventors, they had a small play area with large blocks for building and playing. This area was for 5 and under; and while my boy could have played in it, he was much more fascinated by the small Legos.
Of course, my puzzle loving child had to take a crack at this puzzle. It’s a little harder than his 40 piece Thomas puzzles though!
The highlight of this room, and where we spent almost our whole time was at the Rube Goldberg-inspired chain reaction machines. He LOVED this! He had so much fun dropping the ball on the market spots and watching what happened. Over and over again. I’ll be honest, it was NOT pretty when I told him it was time to move on…
But we did have to move on, and he got over it fast since our next exhibit to check out was Exploring Space! This exhibit was geared for older kids but he still had fun investigating everything. We checked out the planets and the stars, sat back in one of the big chairs and watch a little outer space show. He even touched a piece of the moon! We did move through this exhibit quickly but he enjoyed it!
We headed across the way to the other Exhibit Hall which houses Picture of Health and the Sports Lab. He was not as into the Sports Lab as I expected; this was geared towards the older kids with lots of hands on experiments, sports equipment and exercise machines. I spotted a crowd of older boys having a grand old time watching just how well helmets protect the head, by slamming a mallet into a dummy. Many of the parents were involved in these exhibits, especially trying out the different sports equipment and exercise bikes. My child mostly ran around looking at things and then moved on. Maybe in a few years he’ll be into it more!
He did however really love the Picture of Health Exhibit, especially the ambulance! He spent a while climbing up on the stretcher and being the patient, as well as being the EMT with a group of kids that were playing in the ambulance at the same time. He also tried driving the ambulance too.
The rest of the Picture of Health Exhibit was geared towards older kids as well, and had lots of learning opportunities about health, wellness and diet.
After we explored this exhibit hall, and had another bathroom break, we headed to the upper level, Level 6. Level 6 of the Connecticut Science Center is interesting in that only half of the floor is a closed exhibit hall. The other half is an open rooftop terrace. In the exhibit hall, you’ll find the permanent exhibits: River of Life, Planet Earth and Energy City.
As with all the floors, they had some great activities in the hallway between the two exhibit areas. On the upper floor he had the chance to do a little fossil excavation.
Also from this floor you could see the Hubble Space Telescope display.
After a fun time digging around for bones, I led us outside to the Rooftop Garden.
What a gorgeous view from the top of the Connecticut Science Center !
The Rooftop Garden at the Connecticut Science Center is a seasonal exhibit, and is open from Earth Day through August. This is a beautiful space and it was a nice break from being inside running around between exhibits. It was nice to take a moment and just calm down.
After enjoying a little sunshine, we headed back to the final exhibit hall. The first thing that grabbed his attention was the River of Life exhibit. More specifically, the stream table.
Thankfully, there wasn’t a ton of water in that exhibit and we stayed mostly dry. He didn’t leave the stream table for a while; so I checked out the animals while he played in the water.
He did take a break from the water to check out the Critter Corner. This fun play area has little critters like bugs, cockroaches and other things that make a mom shutter… Thankfully, it’s for ages 7 and under only so I had good reason to decline his requests to “Come look mommy!”
He was not at all interested in being on camera but they have a great exhibit with Channel 3. They have a green screen for kids to practice their weather casting skills on, while watching themselves on the television!
And thanks to Nana, he’s still completely terrified of dinosaurs (read about our experience at the Boston Children’s Museum if you’re wondering what I mean by that…) Needless to say, we walked by the Planet Earth exhibit rather quickly!
The final exhibit on Level 6 of the Connecticut Science Center was Energy City. This had some great information that even I enjoyed learning about – especially since we are in the market for a new washer and dryer! It’s always good to be energy-efficient!
While I was learning my own things, this child was having a great time in the Energy Efficient playhouse and garden! This little exhibit was another one geared towards the smaller visitors, ages 5 and under. It was nice to have things like this for the little ones to enjoy, away from the big kids. It really makes the Connecticut Science Center great for all ages; and it made it extra fun for my son.
Of course, after all is said and done, you’ll want to make sure you visit the gift shop… or you’ll want to avoid it if you have a child like mine that needs everything he sees. Thankfully we were a little rushed at that point, so we breezed past it. I used to love gift shops; but now…
We had an awesome time at the Connecticut Science Center. So much fun that I really regretted having such a short time limit here. I honestly thought three hours would be more than enough time since he is so young, but we could have skipped nap and played here all day. Honestly, I was half-tempted to get come back after his school open house. Since our hands were stamped, we could have come back. Now I know, next time we visit, we will plan to stay a lot longer and we will make sure we leave time to check out the KidSpace exhibit!
I know a lot of parents are unsure if the Connecticut Science Center is worth the admission price with a little one, but I’ll be honest, it’s absolutely worth it. You could easily spend several hours here. There is so much to do for kids of all ages, and even the little kids (mine included) will have a blast. Consider a membership, or even find a discount coupon through your library (many libraries have discount tickets for the Connecticut Science Center). We have seen deals in the fundraiser coupon book, I think Groupon has them occasionally. If you do a little planning, you can usually find something to shave off a few bucks!
The Connecticut Science Center is something every kid in Connecticut should experience! And every parent!
This about sums it up…
250 Columbus Boulevard – Hartford, Connecticut
Make sure to check their website for hours as they may vary.
**Note: The calendar on their website starts on Monday (It’s a Monday to Sunday calendar; do not make the same mistake I did and show up on a Monday when they were closed…)
Youth (3 -17): $16.95
Children (Under 2 years): FREE
Additional packages and add-ons can be found on their website including movie tickets and the butterfly encounter.
- Parking is available in a garage below the Science Center. The cost is $3 for the first hour, and then $2 for every additional hour.
- Small strollers preferred, or babywear! Exhibits can be tight and hard to maneuver around.
- Elevator and stairs available
- No food or drink is allowed in the museum
- Food is available for sale at restaurants on lobby level (including Subway). You can also bring in lunch and eat at the tables in the lobby level – these are on a first come, first serve basis.
- Baby changing tables are available in the restrooms. Restrooms are located on every floor.
- Bring a change of clothes for your children, and consider carrying everything in a backpack or storing them in a locker. There are some wet exhibits!
- Wear comfortable shoes, there is a lot of walking!
- The museum accepts cash, American Express, Visa, Mastercard, Discover and Travelers Checks. The garage also takes credit card, but it may be worth having cash on hand. There is an ATM in the museum.