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The town that Mark Twain once described as "the best built and handsomest… I have ever seen" is today hardly recognizable as such. Rather, the modern capital of Connecticut, Hartford, is best known as the insurance center of the United States. Though the city has fallen on rather hard times, the old architecture scattered around town continues to tell many a history.

Hartford's pride and joy is the Greek Revival Wadsworth Atheneum, at 600 Main St (Wed– Fri 11am–5pm, Sat & Sun 10am–5pm; $10; Tel:860/278-2670, Web: ), founded by Daniel Wadsworth in 1842 and the nation's oldest continuously operating public art museum. The world-class collection, spanning over five thousand years, includes a distinguished collection of American paintings and sculpture, Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces, and a significant contemporary collection.

A mile west of downtown, the hilltop community known as Nook Farm was home in the 1880s to next-door neighbours Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Their Victorian homes, furnished much as they were then, are both open for tours. Twain lived at 351 Farmington Ave from 1874 until 1891, writing many of his classic works in this ornate house (April– Dec Mon– Sat 9.30am–5.30pm, Sun noon–5.30pm; rest of year closed Tues; $14; Tel:860/247-0998, Web: ).

Next door, the much less flamboyant Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, 77 Forest St (May– Oct Mon– Sat 9.30am–4.30pm, Sun noon–4.30pm; rest of year same hours but closed Mon; $8; Tel:860/522-9258, Web: ), celebrates one of America' most important female activists.