Submarine Force Museum and HS Nautilus, Groton Connecticut

When I mention I live in Connecticut, many people will exclaim “Oh you must know a lot of maritime and submarine history having the sub base nearby."  I've driven by Groton for the past 38 years and yet, until recently, I had not visited the area, known as the “Submarine Capital of the World.” On a spring break trip to nearby Mystic, Connecticut we stopped for the morning in Groton to finally explore the Submarine Force Museum, and tour the HS Nautilus.  While the actual Naval Submarine Base in New London is closed to the public, keep driving past the base until you hit the waterfront: On the left is the library, museum, and gift shop; straight ahead is the HS Nautilus; and to the right is the parking lot and various memorials.

Traveling with Kids:

  • The complex is closed on Tuesdays. I would plan on about 90 minutes to two hours to explore (30 hour inside the Nautilus, one hour inside the museum, and some time to explore the outside exhibits).
  • Admission is free, although donations are gladly accepted.
  • The museum is two floors and does have an elevator. Strollers are allowed in the museum, and restrooms are located near the entrance.
  • Access to the HS Nautilus is through the museum, and you exit the complex through a gift shop.
  • The exhibits inside the museum are fun for even younger children. Aside from the open staircase, children should be safe exploring freely, with several hands on exhibits. Make sure children pick up a scavenger hunt from the docent desk.
  • The library is closed to the public because it still has classified information. There is a 80 person auditorium which shows a 50 minute film on a loop.
  • The HS Nautilus is not as (younger) child or handicap friendly as the museum. Strollers are not allowed, there is no handicap accessibility, and it’s tight down below- after all, it is a submarine. Visitors need to be able to climb VERY steep staircases; climb up, in, and through tight openings; and be comfortable with hallways that can only fit one person at a time and are no more than six feet tall.
  • There are picnic areas outside; no food or large backpacks are allowed inside the museum or on the Nautilus.

My Family's Five Favorite Parts of the Base:

1. The outdoor exhibits, including the “42 for Freedom” which lists the first group of ballistic nuclear submarines, and the NR41 aka "The Little Sub that Could”, the smallest nuclear powered submarine ever built, which was in service from 1969 until 2008. Be sure to look up as you walk under the Ohio (the largest class of submarine) hull ring and the Holland (the first submarine class) hull ring.

2. Inside the museum, log onto the app which will narrate 12 spots through the museum. Each exhibit has a 90 second audio clip that explains the history behind the content.

3. Children will love the control rooms where they can pretend to steer the submarines and periscopes.

4. Check out the replica of Bushnell’s Turtle, the first submarine built, which was used in the Revolutionary War.

5. The HS (Historic Ship) Nautilus, the first nuclear powered submarine that was in service from 1854 until 1980. It was home to 105 crew members and 13 officers. As I mentioned above, it’s hard to navigate around, but definitely gives you the best perspective of what life is like on a submarine. The self guided tour takes about 30 minutes, and you receive a hand held device that automatically narrates when you reach a variety of spaces on the submarine. It’s fairly well climate controlled via the ventilation systems attached to the main buildings, so it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  You’ll travel through about half of the sub and see everything from the galley to control rooms to the attack center.

If you're in the area and looking for other family fun, check out Mystic Seaport and the Mystic Aquarium.