118 miles NE of New York City; 100 miles SW of Boston

Dissidents fleeing the rigid religious dictates of the Massachusetts Bay Colony founded Hartford in 1636. Three years later, they drafted what were called the "Fundamental Orders," the basis of a subsequent claim that Connecticut was the first political entity on earth to have a written constitution, hence the nickname "Constitution State."

Unfortunately, Connecticut's capital and second-largest city endures a drooping uneasiness it hasn't been able to shake. Visitors can't help noticing the miles of distressed housing, weed-strewn lots, and hollow-eyed office structures that radiate out from the center.

Still, Hartford has always pointed gamely to its grand edifices -- the divinely overwrought gold-domed capitol, the High Victorian Mark Twain House, and the august Wadsworth Atheneum. Downtown has experienced a construction boomlet in recent years, with a new convention center at riverside among the results, and the gracious Old State House enjoyed a renovation in the mid-1990s. These efforts have encouraged the establishment of some cosmopolitan restaurants. Most of a day trip or overnight visit can be contained within only a few square blocks.