Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the United States, but it boasts a plethora of tourist attractions and activities that rival those of its larger counterparts. This charming state is rich in history, culture, and natural beauty.
To help you plan the best trip to Rhode Island, we’ve examined the attractions, hidden gems, and cherished traditions that make it a destination like no other.
Table of Contents
Historical and Cultural Attractions
The Newport Mansions in Rhode Island are a collection of Gilded Age estates that offer a captivating glimpse into America’s past. These grand mansions, built along the picturesque coastline of Newport, are renowned for their architectural magnificence and historical significance.
The Gilded Age, spanning from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, was a period of immense wealth and extravagance among the American elite, and the Newport Mansions are symbols of this era.
Some of the most notable mansions include The Breakers, Marble House, and The Elms. The Breakers was the summer residence of the Vanderbilt family and is an architectural masterpiece inspired by the Italian Renaissance. Marble House, built for William K. Vanderbilt, is a testament to the family’s wealth and features stunning marble facades and intricate interiors.
The Elms, on the other hand, draws inspiration from the French Châteaux of the 18th century and is a masterpiece of Beaux-Arts architecture. These mansions not only showcase the extravagant lifestyles of America’s elite but also provide insights into the architectural trends and innovations of the time.
Visiting the Newport Mansions is an immersive experience that takes visitors back in time and explores the lavish lifestyles of the Gilded Age. Each mansion offers guided tours that provide in-depth historical and architectural insights.
Roger Williams Park and Zoo
Roger Williams Park and Zoo is a cherished oasis combining history, recreation, and wildlife conservation in Providence, Rhode Island. It’s named after Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island and a prominent advocate for religious freedom during colonial times.
Roger Williams Park was established in 1871, making it one of the oldest public parks in the United States. The park’s historical significance is tied to its namesake, Roger Williams, who founded the colony of Rhode Island in the 17th century.
Over time, the park’s landscape architecture evolved to encompass a wide array of features, including Victorian-era gardens, picturesque lakes, and elegant pathways. Its rich history is reflected in landmarks like the Casino, the Temple to Music, the Museum of Natural History, and the Planetarium.
Roger Williams Park and Zoo offer a diverse range of attractions and activities suitable for visitors of all ages. The zoo within the park is home to over 100 species of animals from around the world.
Families can explore exhibits featuring animals like elephants, giraffes, red pandas, and snow leopards. The zoo’s mission focuses on conservation, education, and recreation, making it an educational experience for children and adults alike.
Located near the zoo, Carousel Village offers family-friendly fun, including a fully restored 1910 carousel, pony rides, and playgrounds. It’s an ideal place for picnics and relaxing, surrounded by the park’s natural beauty.
Providence’s WaterFire is a mesmerising and unique cultural event that has become an iconic symbol of the city. It combines art, music, and fire in a spectacular display that transforms the city’s rivers into a captivating outdoor theatre.
WaterFire was created by artist Barnaby Evans in 1994 as a way to celebrate and revitalise downtown Providence. Evans created it to reconnect the city with its waterways, which had been historically covered by roadways and forgotten.
The event quickly gained significance as it not only reimagined the urban landscape but also served as a symbol of Providence’s renaissance and cultural vibrancy. Today, WaterFire is celebrated internationally for its artistic and communal value.
Attending WaterFire is a truly enchanting experience. The event typically takes place in the evenings throughout the warmer months, with multiple lighting installations along the Providence River.
WaterFire features over 80 small bonfires anchored in the river, creating a stunning interplay of light and shadow. The fires are set in specially designed braziers that seem to float on the water, casting a warm and ethereal glow.
Throughout the event, various artists and musicians perform along the riverbanks and on boats, providing a live soundtrack to the evening. The music varies from classical and world music to contemporary compositions, enhancing the sensory experience.
Visitors can take gondola rides or hop on one of the event’s signature fire-lit boats to get an up-close view of the installations and performances. These rides add an extra layer of excitement to the display and help leave a lasting impression on spectators.
Natural Beauty and Outdoor Activities
Rhode Island Beaches
Rhode Island is often referred to as the “Ocean State” due to its stunning coastline and numerous pristine beaches. The state’s warm sands and crashing waves draw locals and tourists during the warm spring and summer months.
Located in the charming seaside town of Narragansett, Narragansett Beach is one of Rhode Island’s most popular and picturesque coastal destinations. Its soft, golden sands stretch along the Atlantic Ocean, making it a perfect setting for sunbathing, swimming, and beachcombing.
The beach is well-equipped with amenities, including restrooms, picnic areas, and a vibrant boardwalk filled with restaurants and shops. It’s an ideal spot for families, surfers, and anyone looking to soak in the coastal beauty of Rhode Island.
Misquamicut State Beach
Misquamicut State Beach is a true gem along the Atlantic shoreline in the southwestern part of Rhode Island. Its expansive sandy shores make it a prime destination for beachgoers seeking relaxation and outdoor fun.
The beach boasts calm, clean waters, making it a favourite spot for swimming and boogie boarding. Nearby, the Misquamicut Beachfront Village offers amusements, mini-golf, and dining options, making it a great family-friendly destination.
Block Island’s Mohegan Bluffs
For a more secluded and rugged beach experience, Block Island’s Mohegan Bluffs are a must-visit. Accessible by a steep set of stairs from the top of the bluffs, this beach rewards visitors with breathtaking panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and towering clay cliffs.
The beach itself is preserved to embrace its natural beauty and offers solitude for those seeking a quieter escape. It’s also an excellent spot for beachcombing, birdwatching, and exploring the natural beauty of Block Island.
While Rhode Island may be small in size, it offers a plethora of outdoor recreational opportunities for nature enthusiasts and adventurers. If you’re looking for an escape from the city, the Ocean State is one of the best destinations in the USA.
Arcadia Management Area
Located in the western part of the state, the Arcadia Management Area is Rhode Island’s largest recreational area. The area covers over 14,000 acres of pristine woodlands. It’s a paradise for hikers, offering an extensive network of trails that wind through lush forests, past serene ponds, and babbling brooks.
The Ben Utter Trail and the Breakheart Pond Loop are popular choices for hikers and backpackers seeking scenic views and tranquillity. Birdwatchers, photographers, and wildlife enthusiasts also flock to Arcadia to spot deer, turkeys, and a variety of bird species.
The Cliff Walk
Newport, famous for its historic mansions, also offers a stunning coastal hiking experience known as the Cliff Walk. This 3.5-mile scenic trail runs along the rugged shoreline, providing amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the magnificent Gilded Age mansions on the other.
The trail features a mix of paved pathways and natural terrain, making it accessible to hikers of all levels. It’s a must-do activity for tourists looking to combine history and outdoor exploration.
Biking, Kayaking, and Fishing
Rhode Island’s diverse landscape offers a range of outdoor activities beyond hiking. Cyclists can explore the state’s picturesque countryside by taking advantage of dedicated bike paths like the East Bay Bike Path, which stretches along the scenic eastern shore of the state.
Additionally, Rhode Island’s many rivers, ponds, and coastline provide excellent opportunities for kayaking and fishing. The Pawcatuck River and the Sakonnet River are favourite kayaking destinations. Throughout the state, anglers can cast their lines for bass, bluefish, and trout in various freshwater and saltwater locations.
Colt State Park
Colt State Park is a natural gem nestled on the western shore of Narragansett Bay, near the town of Bristol. Covering approximately 464 acres, this coastal park offers a delightful blend of scenic beauty and recreational opportunities.
Colt State Park is renowned for its scenic views, making it a perfect destination for picnickers and nature lovers. The park boasts over four miles of beautifully maintained walking and biking paths that wind along the shoreline and through groves of towering trees.
Many scenic overlooks and picnic areas are strategically placed throughout the park, making it an ideal spot for families and friends to meet while enjoying the coastal breeze and stunning vistas.
Colt State Park is a haven for bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts. Its diverse habitats, including tidal salt marshes, woodlands, and open fields, attract a wide variety of wildlife.
Throughout the year, visitors can spot shorebirds, waterfowl, and songbirds. Additionally, the park is home to various mammals, including white-tailed deer and eastern cottontail rabbits, which are often seen roaming the park.
Rhode Island’s Seafood
Rhode Island’s rich maritime heritage and extensive coastline have gifted it with a plethora of fresh seafood that attracts food lovers from near and far. Rhode Island clam chowder is a local speciality that sets itself apart from New England’s creamy, tomato-based chowders.
Instead, it features a clear, savoury broth teeming with tender clams, diced potatoes, onions, and spices. Served hot and steaming, it’s a comforting and iconic dish. Clam cakes, on the other hand, are crispy, golden fritters filled with chopped clams. They are often enjoyed with clam chowder or on their own as an appetiser.
Rhode Island is no stranger to lobster, and one of the most beloved ways to enjoy this delicacy is by eating an iconic lobster roll. The classic Rhode Island lobster roll consists of succulent chunks of lobster meat, lightly dressed with mayonnaise and served in a buttered, toasted roll.
Seafood shacks dot the coastline, offering lobster rolls and other fresh seafood dishes, including fried clams, scallops, and fish and chips. These laid-back restaurants capture the essence of Rhode Island’s seafood culture, allowing visitors to savour the catch of the day in a relaxed and authentic setting.
Providence’s Culinary Scene
Providence, the capital city of Rhode Island, is known for its vibrant and diverse culinary landscape. The city boasts an impressive selection of restaurants that cater to various tastes, from Italian and French cuisine to Asian fusion and contemporary American fare.
Providence’s food festivals, such as the annual Rhode Island Seafood Festival and the Federal Hill Stroll, showcase the city’s culinary prowess. These events are opportunities to sample a wide range of dishes, including fresh seafood, artisanal cheeses, and delicious desserts.
Providence’s farm-to-table movement has gained significant traction recently, with many restaurants emphasising local ingredients and sustainable practices. Farm-to-table dining establishments are committed to showcasing the best of Rhode Island’s produce, meats, and seafood.
These restaurants create menus that change with the seasons, allowing diners to experience the freshest and most flavourful ingredients the region has to offer. These experiences celebrate the region’s agricultural richness and contribute to the sustainability of local farming and fishing communities.
Local Breweries and Wineries
Rhode Island is home to a lively craft beverage scene, including a thriving craft beer culture and a growing number of wineries. These local establishments offer residents and visitors the opportunity to enjoy the flavours of the state in a unique and delectable way.
Craft Beer Scene
Rhode Island’s craft beer scene features a multitude of breweries and brewpubs scattered throughout the state. These establishments have gained recognition for their innovative brews and dedication to quality.
The craft beer culture in Rhode Island is characterised by its creativity, with breweries experimenting with a wide range of styles, including IPAs, stouts, sours, and barrel-aged beers.
Visitors can partake in tours, tastings, and chats with the brewers themselves. The sense of community within the craft beer scene is excellent, making it a popular choice for locals and tourists.
Rhode Island may be small, but it boasts several charming wineries that produce various wines, from classic whites and reds to unique fruit wines. The wineries offer tours and tastings, often hosting events like grape stomping parties with live music.
Rhode Island’s wineries have embraced the farm-to-table ethos, with some offering on-site restaurants that pair their wines with locally sourced cuisine. This approach not only highlights the wines but also showcases the state’s commitment to sustainability and supporting local agriculture.
The Providence Children’s Museum
The Providence Children’s Museum is a dynamic and engaging educational institution located in Providence, Rhode Island. Designed to spark curiosity, creativity, and learning in children, the museum offers a variety of interactive exhibits and learning opportunities.
These exhibits are carefully designed to encourage hands-on exploration and foster a love of learning. The Water Ways exhibit allows children to manipulate water, observe its flow, and experiment with its properties, teaching them about physics and hydrodynamics.
The Coming to Rhode Island exhibit offers a historical perspective, allowing visitors to step into a time machine and explore the state’s rich history. Other exhibits cover topics such as art, engineering, and environmental science, providing children with diverse learning experiences that are entertaining and educational.
Exploration Center and Aquarium at Save The Bay
The Exploration Center and Aquarium, located in the picturesque town of Newport, Rhode Island, is an educational gem that provides visitors with a captivating journey into the world of marine life and coastal ecosystems.
The Exploration Center and Aquarium is home to a diverse range of marine life exhibits. Visitors can expect to encounter local marine species, including fish, crabs, molluscs, and invertebrates, in tanks that mimic their natural habitats.
The centre offers an array of interactive and hands-on activities, making it an ideal destination for families. From touch tanks that allow visitors to feel the textures of different marine creatures to informative displays that highlight the importance of global coastlines, the centre encourages curiosity and understanding of the marine world.
The Exploration Center and Aquarium also offer the unique opportunity to explore Rhode Island’s coastal waters through boat tours. Save The Bay’s narrated boat tours provide an immersive experience, allowing visitors to witness the stunning beauty of Narragansett Bay while learning about its ecosystem and the organisation’s conservation efforts.
Rhode Island, despite its small size, offers a picturesque autumn landscape that is perfect for nature enthusiasts, photographers and outdoor adventurers alike. The beauty of Rhode Island’s autumn foliage can be enjoyed throughout the state, but certain locations are particularly renowned for their vibrant fall colours.
The Blackstone Valley, along the Seekonk River, is a popular destination. Here, the lush forests burst into shades of red, orange, and gold. It is a fantastic place to stop and admire nature during a road trip through the state.
The Arcadia Management Area in Exeter and Richmond offers serene hiking trails and roads that wind through dense woodlands. It is an excellent spot for enjoying a scenic drive or backpacking adventure.
The Newport area, with its historic architecture and seaside charm, provides a unique backdrop full of colour-changing leaves, especially along Bellevue Avenue. For a coastal twist on autumn foliage, Block Island’s Mohegan Bluffs offer panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean framed by colourful foliage on the bluffs.
Rhode Island celebrates the autumn season with various festivals and events that highlight the region’s natural beauty. The Scituate Art Festival, held annually in North Scituate, showcases local artistry against a backdrop of vibrant fall foliage.
Pumpkins in the Park in Providence’s Roger Williams Park is a family-friendly event that features pumpkin carving, hayrides, and seasonal treats. The Autumnfest in Woonsocket is another beloved tradition, offering live music, food vendors, and a parade set amid the changing leaves.
Winter in Rhode Island
Rhode Island comes alive during the winter months with a host of holiday festivals and enchanting light displays. The Providence Festival of Trees at the Rhode Island Convention Center is a beloved tradition featuring elaborately decorated trees and wreaths that ignite the holiday spirit.
The Winter Lights Market in Providence showcases local artisans, food vendors, and holiday crafts in a picturesque outdoor setting. Roger Williams Park Zoo transforms into a Winter Wonderland, with illuminated displays of animals and holiday-themed exhibits. These festivals and light displays create a warm and festive atmosphere that captures the spirit of winter.
Ice skating and Winter Sports
Winter in Rhode Island also provides various ice skating rinks and opportunities for winter sports. The Alex and Ani City Center in downtown Providence features an outdoor ice skating rink where families and friends can glide across the ice beneath the city light.
Yawgoo Valley Ski Area and Water Park in Exeter offers skiing, snowboarding, and tubing during the snowy winters. The state’s natural landscapes provide cross-country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities, with many parks and trails welcoming winter adventurers.
Rhode Island blooms during warm months with a vibrant array of summer festivals. The Bristol Fourth of July Parade is a beloved and historic tradition that has been celebrated for over two centuries.
As the oldest continuous Independence Day celebration in the United States, it’s a spectacle that captures the essence of patriotism and community spirit. Held annually on July 4th, the parade features a colourful procession of marching bands, military units, civic organisations, and creatively decorated floats that wind their way through the streets of Bristol.
Thousands of spectators from near and far gather to witness this iconic event, finishing with a fireworks display over Bristol Harbor. The event is a testament to the enduring American spirit and is a cherished summer tradition in Rhode Island.
Shakespeare in the Park
Summer in Rhode Island also brings the annual tradition of Shakespeare in the Park. Outdoor venues across the state, including parks and historic sites, host Shakespearean productions.
The Rhode Island Shakespeare Theater (The Gamm Theatre) and other companies perform classic works, allowing audiences to experience the timeless tales of love, betrayal, and comedy surrounded by lush greenery and starry summer nights.
Rhode Island is a Scenic Destination
Rhode Island, the smallest state in the United States, has an impressive array of tourist attractions and activities within its borders. Rhode Island’s charm lies not only in its diverse attractions but also in its sense of community, its preservation of natural beauty, and its commitment to the arts.
Whether exploring the state’s history, indulging in culinary delights, or savouring the beauty of its landscapes, Rhode Island invites visitors to embrace its unique blend of tradition and innovation, making it a destination that leaves a lasting impression on all who explore it.
If you’re interested in visiting the East Coast of the United States, check out our blog on Massachusetts, USA: 12 Great Attractions in the Bay State.