At first glance, Manchester might not be an obvious destination for a quick Connecticut getaway. It's not a big city, it's not a touristy waterfront village, and it's not home to any major, famous attractions. But this centrally located town packs a surprising number of worthy sights into its 27 square miles, and there's truly something here to interest everyone.
It's up to you whether you spend half an hour or half the day at Wickham Park; either way, you'll find plenty to do. Stroll through the nine diverse gardens (Wetlands is wild, English is prim and proper, and the others all have their own personalities too), let kids roam the sweeping lawns or play on the playground, or visit the nature center and aviary. Don't miss the lovely, distant view of the Hartford skyline from the garden at the Cabin, built in 1927.
Manchester has four museums. The Fire Museum showcases historic fire-fighting equipment in a 1901 fire station. The Lutz Children's Museum, located in a former schoolhouse, offers frequently changing exhibits and programs for children ages 2-10. The Old Manchester Museum is run by the Manchester Historical Society and contains exhibits about the town's long and diverse history. The Cheney Homestead, dating to 1785, and adjacent Keeney Schoolhouse are also maintained by the Historical Society.
Cheney Brothers Historic District
In the Cheney Brothers National Historic Landmark District, the origin of Manchester's "Silk City" sobriquet really becomes clear. The district includes over 275 historic buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the Cheney Brothers Manufacturing Company dominated this town and made it a worldwide leader in silk manufacturing. Today, many of the remaining mill buildings have been restored, some as apartments. Also included in the 175-acre historic district are mansions, schools, churches, and housing associated with the Cheney family and the workers who labored in their mills.
The loftily named Shoppes at Buckland Hills is a standard mall, with a large Barnes & Noble and a roster of stores that will be particularly appealing to young teens. In the strip malls that surround it, you can find every big-box store you could want. For a more pleasant shopping experience, just over the border in South Windsor you can find the open air Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk, with slightly more upscale and adult-focused retailers and a selection of chain eateries perfect for grabbing a quick meal or snack.
And whether you like to shop, eat, or just stroll, don't miss Manchester's Main Street. With easy parking, historic storefronts, and periodic public events, this classic American downtown area is picturesque and often overlooked.
This old-school dairy bar and restaurant (it dates from 1948 and has kept up the retro vibe) has been written up in newspapers and magazines and featured on television shows. The dishes that get the most press are the cheeseburgers and ice cream. If you say you went to Manchester, this is the place you're most likely to be asked if you visited.
Shady Glen has no website, but the address is 840 Middle Turnpike East, and the phone number is 860-649-4245.
For more information and things to do in Manchester, visit townofmanchester.org.
Websites of attractions are linked above. Please check with individual businesses and sites before visiting regarding hours and pricing.