Situated a mile upriver from downtown, Mystic Seaport now has a collection of more than 500 vessels contained in a miniature city (Rte. 27, exit 90 off I-95, 860/572-5315, www.mysticseaport.org , 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily Apr.–Oct.; 10 a.m.–4 p.m. daily Nov.–Mar.; $24 adults, $22 seniors and students, $15 children 6–17, free children under 5) drawn up to look and feel like a bustling 19th-century seaport. Educational exhibits are seamlessly integrated into pubs, outfitters, and dry-goods stores.
By far the most engaging attractions, however, are the village folk and old salts, who regale visitors with tales of the sea. On the water, the prime attraction is the Charles W. Morgan, America’s last surviving whale ship, which was launched in New Bedford  in 1841. Interpreters detail how the tryworks dissembled all that whale blubber, and also lead parties in hoisting sails, complete with authentic sea shanties.
Mystic Seaport’s newest exhibit, the Amistad is a fully-functioning re-creation of the famous 1830s slave ship with exhibits onboard tracing the roots of the uprising. Taken together, the seaport is a little too much to take on in a single day; strategize carefully or buy a multi-day pass to make a weekend of it.