In many ways New Haven has long been thought of as the cultural capital of Connecticut. The museums at the center of the city can be enjoyed on so many levels that it would actually take several day trips to take them all in. Two in particular, the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art, are a day trip in themselves. After some centuries of gathering art and artifacts from around the world, Yale’s largesse allows us all through the doors to see the collection, for free.
Located on Chapel Street, on the block between High and York streets, the two buildings were both designed by world-renowned architect Louis Kahn. The Art Gallery on the north side of Chapel Street is actually composed of three separate buildings. Street Hall, on the northeast corner of High and Chapel, dates to 1866 and is a classic example of Yale’s signature neo-Gothic architecture. Street Hall is connected by a bridge over High Street to the Old Yale Art Gallery Building, a recently restored 1928 Egerton Swartwout masterpiece. The building looks as though it might be at home in an Italian piazza, such is the grandness of its marble forms. It makes sense, too, as the building houses some of the gallery’s most spectacular items: 2,500-year-old Grecian urns, ancient Roman mosaics and statues. The third and most recent building is Kahn’s, built in 1953 and hailed as one of the architect’s first masterpieces.
The highlights of the collection are too many to enumerate, but the permanent collection of African art is a must-see, as is the contemporary collection, which has pieces from heavy hitters such as Mondrian, Picasso, Rothko and Lichtenstein. No need to go to New York or Boston to see some of the most famous visual artists on earth.
After you check out the Art Gallery, cross the street and hit Atticus bookstore. This New Haven institution has been selling books since 1976, and has a delightful cafe for lunch.
Next door to Atticus is the Yale Center for British Art. Housed in another Kahn building — the beneficiary of a nearly decade-long restoration project — the Center for British Art is the largest collection of British art outside of the United Kingdom. Among the many improvements of the project, which concluded last year, include the reconfiguration of galleries such as the fourth-floor Long Gallery, a lovely space with floor-to-ceiling artwork, and a newly organized permanent collection, Britain in the World.
And as we mentioned, both museums are free admission.
More trippin’: Can’t get enough museums? On the other side of downtown on Whitney Avenue is the New Haven Museum and Historical Society. It has an excellent collection of local artifacts. And don’t forget Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, one of the most influential research institutions in the world, just down the street on Whitney. Having celebrated its 150th anniversary last fall, the Peabody is filled with ground-shaking historical artifacts, including a Connecticut meteorite that helped change our understanding of the heavens, an imposing Brontosaurus skeleton that inhabits the museum’s Great Hall, and the stunning, 110-foot Age of Reptiles mural.
If you go: The University Art Gallery is open every day except Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Center for British Art is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Sunday when it is open from noon to 5 p.m., and Monday when it is closed. The New Haven Museum and Historical Society (adults $4, seniors $3, students $2, and free for children under 12) is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and every first Sunday of the month from 1-4 p.m. free of charge. Peabody Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. it is closed most Mondays except for some holidays. Admission to Peabody is $13 for adults, $9 for seniors over 65, $6 for children ages 3-18 and college students with ID. The museum is free for children under the age of 3, Peabody Museum members and individuals with a Yale ID.
Eating and drinking: Where to begin? The first-in-the-world burger at Louie’s Lunch (261 Crown St.), the mashed-potato pizza at BAR (254 Crown St.), cocktails at Ordinary (990 Chapel St.), or high-class French dining at the Union League Cafe (1032 Chapel St.) will give you a taste of New Haven at any price point.