Few memories evoke the true essence of Christmas like the ones I have in the charming coastal town of Essex, Connecticut. Tucked away on the Connecticut River, this sleepy, but idyllic village is steeped in rich history and New England charm. While practically perfect in every season, to me there is no better time to visit than during the holidays. A recent jaunt up to Essex brought back the same fond memories from my childhood, and I’m thrilled to be sharing them here in the hopes that others will also visit and take part in the very same traditions that I hold near and dear to my heart.
No trip to Essex would be complete without a meal at the Griswold Inn, located right on Main Street. “The Gris,” as it is commonly known, is the oldest continuously operating inn in the country, having first opened its doors in 1776. Stepping inside is like taking a step back in time; stately fireplaces in almost every room, signs and paintings of ships adorn the wooden walls, and traditional Christmas trees and garland add a festive finishing touch. And, if you time it right, you just might have a group of carolers visit your table to serenade you (and in full Victorian garb to boot).
After lunch at the Gris, I love taking a stroll down Main Street for some shopping and admiring the stunning historic Colonial homes decked out for Christmas. The town even has a Holiday House Tour on the day of their annual Holiday Stroll, where you can visit a handful of beautiful homes – perfect for getting some decorating inspiration. Or, if you don’t feel like doing much walking, enjoy the view from up high by taking a ride with Santa in a horse-drawn carriage!
Another highlight in town that is worth checking out is the Connecticut River Museum, where you can learn about Essex’s origins as a major shipbuilding village. The museum does different exhibitions throughout the year, so there is always something different to see when you come. Just a few minutes down the road is the Essex Steam Train, or the North Pole Express as it is known during Christmastime. Passengers can take a 90-minute train ride along the picturesque Connecticut River, where they can join in sing-a-longs, enjoy hot chocolate and sugar cookies, and even meet Santa and Mrs. Claus.
After many family Christmas card photos taken in front of the Gris over the years, as well as many steps trekked up and down Main Street and in and out of the shops in town, this wonderful little town continues to hold a special place in my heart. Though leaving always feels a bit sad, I always remember that Essex and its Christmas magic will be there for me to return to year after year.