How to Visit New Haven like a Gilmore Girl

The best things to do in New Haven for Gilmore Girls fans (and everyone else too!)

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Year visited: 2023

Time of year: October

My first trip (and my second) to Connecticut as a Gilmore Girls fan was just to visit the small towns that inspired Stars Hollow. But on my third trip to the state, I realized there was so much more to see, so I planned a Gilmore Girls road trip across the state!

One necessary stop on the Gilmore Girls Connecticut road trip is New Haven, home of the illustrious Yale University (which is also a great stop for Harry Potter fans!). So here are all the best things to do in New Haven, where to stay and what to eat for Gilmore Girls fans (or anybody) who wants to visit Yale and New Haven.

About New Haven, Connecticut

New Haven is the third largest city in Connecticut, with a population of just over 135,000. It was first established as a city in 1638, and is the first “planned” city in America, having been designed around the central town green.

New Haven is located on the Long Island Sound, and is not far from New York City, about a 2 1/2 hour drive to downtown.

It is also the home of Ivy League Yale University, founded in 1701 as the “Collegiate School” in Branford, Connecticut. The school, founded to train ministers, moved to Saybrook in 1703, before eventually moving to New Haven in 1716, and soon after being renamed after a rich donor, Elihu Yale.

The Best Time of Year to Visit New Haven

The best time of year to visit New Haven is late October. The trees will be at peak foliage around this time, and the campus of Yale will be alive with Halloween activities.

Other good times to visit are September, October, April and early May. Remember that if you want to tour Yale, you will have to visit during the school year.

Where to Park in New Haven

Because Yale does not have a “closed campus,” in other words, because the city was built up around the university, they don’t have their own specific parking lots for visitors.

The best place to park to visit Yale is the paid parking lot at the Shops at Yale. This will put you in a good spot for exploring downtown New Haven, and is right next to the Yale Bookstore, which, coincidentally, is right where the tour of Yale will end (#exitthroughthegiftshop).

There are a lot of other paid parking lots and garages around the city, as well as paid street parking, if this lot is full. Or, if you are staying at a hotel downtown or an airbnb within walking distance (like I did), you can park there and just walk around downtown New Haven.

Map of things to do in New Haven:

Things to Do at Yale University

The most important of the things to do in New Haven (and the reason Gilmore Girls fans will visit) is to explore the campus of Yale University.

There are so many things to do at Yale. First, let’s start with a tour of campus.

Take a Free Tour of Campus

The first thing to do at Yale is to take a free tour of the campus. Public tours depart from the Yale Visitor Center at 1 pm daily, Mon-Sat. Tours are free, but you have to register online before the tour.

  • Note that tours are student led, and only take place when school is in session.

The tour will last approximately 1 hour, and take you through the highlights of the Yale campus. You will be able to see things on the tour that the general public does not have access to, but you will not go inside any buildings.

The tour stops at:

  • Old Campus

  • The statue of Theodore Dwight Woolsey (with his lucky toe!)

  • Outside of Sterling Memorial Library

  • Outside of Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

You will learn a lot of fun facts about Yale on the tour, and will come to the conclusion that Yale is literally Hogwarts in disguise.

The Yale Visitor Center, where your free public tour of campus will start.

Touch the Toe

One of the most iconic things to do at Yale is to “touch the toe” of the Dwight Woolsey Statue, which Rory and Richard reference in the episode where Rory shows a Chilton girl around campus.

The story goes that every time Woolsey pushed off the Yale crew team with his lucky foot, they won the race (maybe because he gave them a little extra shove…?). So his toe has forever been immortalized as “lucky,” and has been rubbed bare by visitors and students hoping to share a bit of his luck.

  • Good to Know: You can only visit this statue on a campus tour of Yale.

Visit the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Also mentioned in said episode of Gilmore Girls is the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. This is definitely a place for Rory (and Harry Potter fans) to geek out over.

Thousands of old books are housed in the central pillar of the library. And when I say old… I mean these are first hand copies written by people hundreds of years ago. Important people. It will definitely give you Harry Potter vibes to search through the old books housed in this library (in the name of research… obviously).

Visitors cannot access the books, but the library is open to the public to see the amazing display of books, as well as other special displays, like an original Gutenberg Bible.

Visit Sterling Memorial Library

Another library at Yale that is open to the public is Sterling Memorial Library. This is one of the best things to do in New Haven!

If it reminds you of Oxford, that’s because its stunning Gothic architecture was modeled after Oxford, even though the library itself is less than 100 years old.

Architect James Gamble Rogers believed that the crowning achievement of any architect was to design a cathedral, but since Yale had no religious affiliation at the time, they would not allow him to design a cathedral. So instead, he modeled the library to be his “cathedral.”

Many parts of the gorgeous library are open to the public. You can wander under the vaulted ceilings, sit out in the courtyard, visit the Gilmore Music Library, or just snuggle up with a good book in one of the many reading rooms.

Find a “Study Tree”

The beautiful courtyard in front of Sterling Library is open to the public, and is a great place to find a “study tree” like Rory. Curl up with a book, enjoy the beautiful campus, or just watch the busy students rush by.

Go to a Show

There are many theaters around Yale University, with a variety of shows you can attend. Take in a play at the Yale Repertory Theater, check out a student produced show or film on campus, or snag tickets to the incredibly popular Yale Symphony Orchestra Halloween show.

You have so many options for entertainment in New Haven. Just don’t publish a mean review about any of them in the Yale Daily News…

Visit a Museum or Gallery

Yale has no end of museums and galleries to visit. From the Peabody Museum to the Center for British Art, to student galleries. Bring a date and perfect the “frown, step back, wrinkle, and sigh” routine. Or maybe you’ll meet some cool new best friends!

Attend a Football Game

Pack up the fig newtons and get your ticket to attend a Yale football game (fun fact: the Yale Bowl was the first bowl shaped stadium in the country)!

Be sure to stock up on Yale gear in the bookstore first, so you don’t accidentally show up in red…

Which leads me to…

Buy Yale Merch at the Bookstore

As mentioned above, the campus tour will conveniently end at the Yale Bookstore, so you can stock up on all sorts of Yale merch, which will be perfect for a Gilmore Girls road trip photo shoot!

Other Things to Do in New Haven

There are a lot more things to do in New Haven besides just visit Yale University! Here are some more things for Gilmore Girls fans to do in the city.

Get Coffee

This should really be at the top of the list for Lorelai Gilmore. One of the first things to do in New Haven is to start the day off with coffee coffee coffee!

There are no end to coffee shops available in the college town, but here are a couple good suggestions to get you started:

  • Poindexter Coffee is a beautiful coffee shop located in the Graduate Hotel in downtown New Haven. Even if you can’t afford to stay at the fancy hotel (#rorybudget), you can hang out in the schnazzy coffee shop and enjoy the atmosphere.

  • Pistachio Cafe is not right in downtown New Haven, but it is an absolutely adorable place for coffee, brunch, or dessert! It’s about a 10 minute drive from campus.

Visit a Bookstore

I swear I have never seen a classics section as well stocked as at Greymatter Books in New Haven! Having an Ivy-League university around the corner really ups the bookstore game.

I personally have never had a desire to read Proust, but not only did I find several copies of his work, I also found critiques of his work, if you really want to impress people with your bookshelves.

But they also have lots of other books, that I actually do want to buy! So take some time like Rory to peruse the shelves and pick out a book to read at the coffee shop. Or by the study tree. Or in the library. There are so many places to read!

Get Coffee IN a Bookstore!

Not only are there great coffee shops and bookstores adorning the streets of New Haven, they also have, not one, but TWO bookstore cafes! I love bookstore cafes!

I visited both, and my personal pick (if for some reason you don’t want to visit both…) is for Book Trader Cafe.

  • Atticus Bookstore Cafe is a little coffee shop surrounded by a nice new bookstore with lots of other little gifty things like bookmarks and cards.

  • Book Trader Cafe is my choice of where to hang out. A stuffed to the brim used bookstore, with a glass enclosed room for drinking tea and coffee while surrounded by more books!

The Shops at Yale

Lorelai and Rory love shopping, and one of the things to do in New Haven on your Gilmore Girls adventure is to explore ALL the Shops at Yale (and there are a lot)!

You’ll find local shops and name brand stores of every type and sort along the surrounding streets.

The main parking lot for the Shops at Yale is right by the campus bookstore, and is a great place to park for the day.

The PEZ Visitor Center

One of the funky and unique things to do in New Haven is to stop by the PEZ Visitor Center, in nearby Orange, CT.

This small museum definitely seems like something Lorelai would appreciate. You can see hundreds of old PEZ dispensers, learn the history of the candy, and take a picture with your head as the top of the dispenser!

Plan to spend around half an hour exploring the visitor center and browsing the store.

Places to Eat in New Haven

Gilmore Girls know how important good food is, and New Haven has some really good food. There are so many places to eat in New Haven, but here are just a few that are especially Gilmore approved!

Frank Pepe Pizza

This type of coal-fired pizza is unique to the New Haven area, and Frank Pepe is one of the original makers! Try the famous white clam pizza, or get any toppings you want on your “apizza.”

Louis’ Lunch

Home of the original burger! And Gilmore Girls love burgers! Although this might be a little different than a Luke’s burger; Louis puts only cheese, onion and tomato on their burgers (don’t dare ask for ketchup!), and they put it on toast (like the original).

This place is tiny, and will likely have a line out the door when they open at noon. There are tables (and bathrooms) inside, but there is not a lot of room, so you have a better bet taking your burger to a spot on campus to eat. Or try to visit at an odd time in the afternoon to avoid a crowd.

Food Trucks

There are food trucks all over New Haven; apparently it’s a big thing there. I went to the Mexican food trucks on Long Wharf in search of tacos. Because Lorelai and Rory love tacos.

There is a parking lot on Long Wharf where you can park to get your tacos, and either enjoy the beautiful view of the water, or take your food back to your hotel with you. Just search for the Food Truck Paradise parking lot.

Sherkaan Indian Street Food

Sherkaan Indiana Street Food is one of the best places to eat in New Haven, and is conveniently located right behind the Yale Bookstore. I’m sure that Rory would frequent this place often during her time at Yale.

Donut Crazy

And we can’t forget the donuts! Whether it’s breakfast, an afternoon snack, or a late night pick me up, there are plenty of fun, sugary donut flavors to try at Donut Crazy in downtown New Haven.

Yale Commons Dining Hall

The dining hall in the Yale Commons (near Beinecke Plaza) is open to the public, and it’s the one that looks like the Great Hall in Harry Potter!

Unfortunately, our tour guide thought it was open till 4, and when I showed up at 3:30… I discovered they close at 3. So don’t be like me, and check the opening times for the dining hall. Then you can embrace your inner Rory (or Hermione) and dine where the Yalies dine!

Where to Stay in New Haven

The Study at Yale

The Study at Yale is a great place to stay in New Haven! It’s right downtown, which means easy walking distance to everywhere, and it’s library themed! It’s a little expensive, but I think it is worth the splurge.

Graduate New Haven

The Graduate is a cute, boutique hotel (with a cute coffee shop!) right next to The Study. It is one of the best places to stay in New Haven, with an ideal location, and a great atmosphere, though a bit pricy.

New Haven Hotel

Another good spot to stay in downtown New Haven, and possibly a little bit cheaper, is the New Haven Hotel. It is close enough to be able to walk everywhere from your hotel, although not quite as centrally located as the first two.

Omni New Haven

The Omni New Haven hotel has been been a staple of the downtown area for years, with views from its windows overlooking the the New Haven Green. This is also a hotel from which you could easily walk to the main things to do in New Haven.

New Haven Village Suites

The New Haven Village Suites are located near Long Wharf (close to the food trucks), and about a 15 minute drive into downtown New Haven. You will have to park downtown if you stay here, but they have really nice suites available if you’re looking for a little more space, or a kitchen to cook in.


If you’re on the #rorybudget, check out Airbnb for some more affordable places to stay that are still centrally located. Be sure to check all the hidden fees, and research the neighborhood where you are staying to make sure it is the best fit for you.

I stayed in a studio apartment that I rented from Airbnb, and had about a 15 minute walk to get to the center of New Haven and Yale University.

Other Things to Do in Connecticut

After you’re done doing all the things to do in New Haven, explore the rest of the state further. There are so many unique things to do in Connecticut!

Here are a few ideas of other things to do on your trip:

Visit the Small Towns that Inspired Stars Hollow

White steeple church & town green in Washington Depot, CT.

Litchfield County is not far from New Haven, and is home to many small towns that inspired Stars Hollow in the show Gilmore Girls, including the one where Amy Sherman-Palladino was staying when she developed the concept.

I’ve visited all the towns in the area and written all about it in my article about real life Gilmore Girls towns in Connecticut.

Explore Mystic, Connecticut

Mystic, Connecticut is famous for its pizza, but is also well-known because of the gigantic Mystic Seaport Museum! This is a perfect destination to bring families, or to stop on a Gilmore Girls road trip through Connecticut. There are tons of great shops and cafes in the downtown area and Olde Mystick Villlage, including a fantastic bookstore, and my favorite donut shop!

It’s only an hour drive from New Haven to Mystic.

Visit Hartford, Connecticut

Hartford is under an hour from New Haven, and is well worth a visit as the capital city of Connecticut. There are so many great things to do here; you can visit the Mark Twain House (where Amy Sherman-Palladino was visiting when she came to Connecticut), tour the capitol building, cruise on the river, explore the award-winning parks, or stroll through Main Street in Old Wethersfield, another Stars Hollow-esque town.

Gilmore Girls Road Trip Itinerary

If you want more ideas to plan the perfect Gilmore Girls road trip through Connecticut, here is an itinerary for you:

Day 1

Fly into Hartford’s Bradley International Airport. Pick up a rental car at the airport and drive 1 hr. to New Haven (or if you are close enough to drive, just drive straight to New Haven).

Have dinner at Frank Pepe Pizza. If you want, check out a show at one of the many theaters in New Haven.

Day 2

Get coffee in downtown New Haven, either at Poindexter, Donut Crazy or one of the bookstore cafes. Explore Sterling Memorial Library and the Beinecke Rare Book Library.

At 1, take a one hour tour of the campus. Have lunch (before or after) at Louis’ Lunch or a local food truck. Spend the afternoon exploring the Shops at Yale or more sites on campus. If you have time (and a desire) pop over to the PEZ Visitor Center.

Eat dinner at one of the many restaurants you haven’t had a chance to try yet!

Day 3

After breakfast in New Haven, drive 1 hr. to New Milford, one of the small “Stars Hollow” towns in Litchfield County.

Explore downtown New Milford with its town green and gazebo and have lunch at Theo’s Downtown Diner.

Then drive 20 minutes to Kent, another picturesque small town. Visit the bookstore, the chocolate shop, and hike nearby Kent Falls State Park. Have dinner at The Villager Restaurant in Kent, then head back to spend the night in New Milford. Check out a movie at the Bank Street Theater in New Milford.

Day 4

Head 20 minutes over to the Mayflower Inn (inspiration for the Independence Inn) in Washington Depot for breakfast. Then mosey on through little Washington Depot, the actual town Amy Sherman-Palladino was in when she developed the ideas for Gilmore Girls. Visit the little shops and the local grocery store, where you can buy some snacks for lunch.

Stop at the Henry David Thoreau Footbridge and hike along the trails for a while before driving 20 minutes to the last small town, Litchfield. Have a picnic lunch on the town green and then explore the Revolutionary War town of Litchfield.

Have dinner at The Village restaurant in Litchfield.

Day 5

Stop at Luke’s Donut Shop in Avon, CT on your way to Hartford. Visit the neighborhood of Old Wethersfield, another Stars Hollow look alike, and have lunch at one of the many adorable restaurants on Main Street.

In the afternoon, take a guided tour of the Mark Twain House (I highly suggest the costumed actor tour!). This is an attraction that Rory would love, and also happens to be the reason Amy Sherman-Palladino was visiting Connecticut in the first place!

Have dinner just down the street at one of the international restaurants in Hartford.

Day 6

Fly home (or drive home) from Hartford.

For more detailed guides, check out my Gilmore Girls Road Trips article.

Plan a Gilmore Girls themed Connecticut road trip:

Any more questions?

If you have any more questions about things to do in New Haven or visiting Yale University, don’t hesitate to email me or comment below!

Planning a Gilmore Girls road trip?

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