New Haven is pizza heaven

Passionate about US travel, oddball and overlooked destinations, and secret societies, Lonely Planet Senior Director of Content Laura Motta hopped on the train from NYC to New Haven, Connecticut, for a weekend of not-quite academic adventure.

I am always on the hunt for a weekend getaway from New York City, and New Haven, Connecticut, has been on my list for years. Spurred by dreamy ideas of Rory Gilmore wandering around campus (holding a book, of course) with the sound of crackling autumn leaves underfoot. I wanted to fully experience this quintessential Ivy League town without having to move into a dorm. Or do homework. Plus, who doesn’t love taking a train?

I visited New Haven and the Yale campus in the fall, when those colorful leaves were at their brightest, the area abuzz with current and prospective students. I wore a backpack and, in hopes of looking smarter, my glasses. Here’s how it all went down.

Check out some of the best rail journeys in the USA

The train to New Haven departs from  Grand Central Terminal in NYC. ©Guillaume Gaudet/Lonely Planet

How did you get there?

New Haven is an easy two-hour train ride from New York City via the unglamorous-but-useful Metro-North Railroad that runs from Grand Central Terminal to points Northeast into Connecticut. If you’re like me, you will probably want to arrive a few minutes before your train departs so you can gaze up at Grand Central’s towering windows and its famous turquoise-hued ceiling.

Train tickets cost $19-$25 each way, depending on whether you’re traveling during peak (top commuting hours) or off-peak (mostly evenings and weekends) periods.

Amtrak trains also service New Haven, arriving at State Street Station, which is a quick walk from the Yale campus. Metro-North trains arrive farther away at New Haven Union Station. A rideshare will easily get you to campus from there. I walked to all of the sights described below.

Collage of a bedroom and bathroom in The Study Hotel in New Haven, CT
The Marcel leans into its Midcentury roots © Laura Motta

Where did you stay? What was the vibe?

There are entire hotel chains setting up shop exclusively in college towns these days, and New Haven is home to two of them: The Study and the Graduate. I stayed at The Study, where the nods to academia are not subtle: blonde wood, leather furniture that’s supposed to evoke dorm furniture (but much, much less crappy), and book-stuffed bookshelves galore. The rooms with views over New Haven’s church spires and Yale’s gothic towers are especially charming, as is the comfort-food-focused menu at Heirloom, the hotel’s restaurant. I ordered a dressed-up, perfectly oozy bacon, egg and cheese on a roll for breakfast and had no regrets.

If you’re choosing between these two academia-themed hotels, the main difference is vibe: The Graduate conveys a cheeky sense of maximalism while The Study embraces an airier, more minimalist aesthetic. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the new hotel star in town: the Hotel Marcel New Haven, Tapestry Collection by Hilton. Designed by Marcel Breuer and opened in the late 1960s as the headquarters of a tire company, it stood vacant for years before its transformation into a hotel in 2022. The hotel’s stark, topsy-turvy design is a delight for architecture lovers, even amateur admirers like me. But travelers concerned with their carbon footprint will find plenty to love here as well. The hotel is LEED Platinum certified, 100% fossil fuel-free, and aims to be a Net Zero structure by the end of 2025. The Hotel Marcel is also part of the Hilton family of hotels, so you can earn and use your points.  

Collage of pizzas from restaurants in New Haven, CT
From left: Pasta Eataliana; Frank Pepe’s clam pizza © Laura Motta

Best thing you ate?

Obviously, it’s pizza.

New Haven pizza, or apizza, as the city’s Italian immigrants and my Sicilian grandparents called it, is having a moment. With splashy features in The New Yorker and The New York Times, and a shoutout from Yale alum Paul Giamatti on late-night TV, this humble dough-and-sauce creation has become a reason to visit all by itself. It’s easy to understand why. With a thin crust and an emphasis on non-cheese toppings, the crispy dough and tangy sauce have room to shine.

So, which pies did I try? I took (and endorse) a pizza tour with Taste of New Haven. This guided four-hour walk through New Haven’s Little Italy neighborhood makes stops at the most famous pizzerias, Sally’s and Frank Pepe’s, as well as a few newer and more off-the-beaten-path restaurants. It also includes ten (ten!) slices of pizza, about two at each restaurant, along with a dose of neighborhood history delivered by a local guide. My favorite slice? The tomato sauce pie at Sally’s, which cannot be beat for big flavor and utter simplicity. Tours cost $95 per person and include beer and wine.

Collage of Gothic architecture around Yale Univeristy
Cosplaying Rory Gilmore on a free walking tour of Yale © Laura Motta

Who did you meet?

You will not set foot anywhere in New Haven without encountering its sizable student population, but most of Yale’s interior spaces are off-limits to the public. Even Old Campus, where students rub the bronze toe of former university president Theodore Dwight Woolsey for luck before exams, is only accessible via a campus tour. Sign up for one online or at the Mead Visitor’s Center, where an undergrad will take you behind the iron gates and tell you about life at Yale. My guide shared stories about recording an a capella album in an on-campus recording studio, and the many complexities of attending Yale through the pandemic. Tours are free and last an hour. Wear your best Rory Gilmore cosplay.

Locked gates be damned, I did get another glimpse at on-campus life. Gryphon’s Pub is open only to Yale’s graduate students and their guests – I was definitely the latter, thanks to a friend-of-a-friend who hooked me up – and offers $5 beers and parties on most nights. And yes, it looks… exactly how you think it would. To enter, you pass through a heavy wooden door with an iron handle, then descend down a flight of stone steps. The bar has wood paneling and a fireplace. I chatted with bar director, Thomas, who showed me the labyrinthine space, which includes outdoor seating and multiple levels for smaller parties. When I asked him if the bar was actually a “secret,” he politely disagreed.

Collage of two art galleries in New Haven, CT
From left: Yale University Art Gallery; the ever-changing gallery at NXTHVN © Laura Motta

Piece of artwork or exhibit you enjoyed?

You would expect a city built around academic pursuits to have a good art museum, and New Haven’s offering is the splendid Yale University Art Gallery. From antiquities to modern and contemporary art, the museum’s offerings are broad, but the exhibits are manageable in size and scope. You can see the highlights and then some in a focused hour or two. If you love encountering new art and artists, visit NXTHVN in New Haven’s Dixwell neighborhood to see what’s on view. This gallery and education center is dedicated to developing new generations of artists through its programming and fellowships.

Any books you read to prepare for the trip?

Not that a fantasy novel can prepare you for travel, exactly, but I loved Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House, which re-imagines Yale’s notorious secret societies as gateways to other worlds. Read it for the gothic atmosphere, and, as a friend said, for “the Yale of it all.”

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top