Planning to visit New England this year? Here are some of the most fun, scenic, and unique things to do in Rhode Island. These sites, events and attractions will make your vacation unforgettable.
Known for its exquisite seafood, Rhode Island is one of the original 13 colonies, and therefore boasts a vibrant historical heritage. However, what really makes the State of the Oceans an essential addition to any vacation… New England Travel Itinerary is its affinity for adventure. There are countless activities that thrill-seeking visitors can take part in.
From Providence to Narragansett Bay, from Newport Cliff Walks at the breathtaking Marble House, there’s no shortage of things to do and places to see in Rhode Island. There is something for every taste. It is therefore all the more important that you know which places are best suited to your particular interests. To help you out, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite Rhode Island attractions. Check it out!
Best Places to Visit in Rhode Island: Fun Adventures in the Ocean State
We hope you find the list below helpful in deciding which things to do in Rhode Island are your highest priorities. As stated above, there is something for everyone at this wonderful vacation spot, so think carefully and consider the type of trip you want to take.
Are you looking for fun and adventures? Or do you prefer a quiet, peaceful and secluded getaway? Whatever your plans, Rhode Island can meet your needs.
1. The Breakers, Newport
Newport has earned the nickname “sailing capital of the world” thanks to its many beautiful shorelines. Indeed, for those who like to have fun in the sun and outdoors, Newport is a real thunderbolt. That said, there’s still plenty to explore if you’re not a keen sailor, including a number of historic and grand mansions to visit.
Among the many, many and opulent 19th and 20th century located in Newport, The Breakers is by far the most popular. As a Rhode Island tourist attraction, it attracts approximately 300,000 visitors each year.
The Renaissance-style architecture of this mansion is inspired by the royal palaces of northern Italy. Italian marble surfaces, elaborate gilded ceilings, and antique French furnishings, as well as ornate diamonds, rubies, and other precious stones, add to the splendor of this summer estate.
The Breakers was commissioned in 1893 by railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt II. The mansion has a total of 70 rooms, spread over five floors. Facing the ocean, this grandiose, fireproof mansion is among the most visited house museums in all of the United States. Whether you are a history buff or simply have a taste for luxury, The Breakers is definitely worth a visit.
2. Roger Williams Park Zoo, Providence
Providence is the capital of Rhode Island and also its largest city. Founded in 1636, it is one of the oldest cities in all of the United States. Some of Rhode Island’s best tourist attractions are located here, including the Providence River, THE First Baptist Church in Americaand the ‘Big Blue Bug‘ which is essentially the world’s largest termite turned into a tourist attraction.
If you can only visit one place in Providence, I recommend you go to the following address Roger Williams ParkRoger Williams Park is kind of a one stop shop. In this gigantic 427-acre park, you will find a lush botanical center, a fascinating Natural History Museum, To Planetariumand, best of all, the famous Roger Williams Park Zoo.
Covering an area of 40 acres, the zoo is one of the oldest of its kind in the United States. Its vast collection of animals includes red pandas, snow leopards, kangaroos, zebras, elephants, alligators, giraffes, wildebeest, and many other native and exotic creatures. Children and adults will certainly be delighted to see these rare species.
Interestingly, the Roger Williams Park Zoo leads the way in ethical enclosure design. Mostly cage-free, the zoo strives hard to provide the animals with environments that closely mimic their natural habitats. The zoo is designed to keep tangible barriers between visitors and animals to a minimum.
Bristol has much to offer both lovers of scenic landscapes and water adventurers. Widely considered one of the best places to visit in Rhode Island for foodies, Bristol is a deep-water seaport that features many splendid waterfront restaurants. Besides tantalizing your taste buds, there are several other things you can do in Bristol.
Try windsurfing or kayaking in the well-secured harbour. You can also try biking, walking or rollerblading on the spectacularly charming 14.5-mile trail that hugs the coast. Visit one of the many tourist attractions, including fascinating museums with historical architecture, such as the Linden Place Museum. It is considered the first museum in this beautiful neighborhood.
Another strong point is Mount Hope Farm. It includes Governor Bradford’s house from 1745, a year-round farmer’s market and 127 acres of protected open area which consists of several scenic hiking trails.
Bristol is also responsible for organizing the country’s most prestigious Independence Day parades, and the city hosts the Bristol Oyster Festivalwhich is a tradition that dates back to 1885.
4. Cliff Walk, Newport
Looking for a way to enjoy both the natural beauty and historic architecture of Rhode Island, while staying active? public access CliffWalk along the eastern shores of Newport offers it all along a 3.5-mile-long loop trail perfect for jogging, biking, vigorous hikes, or even just a leisurely stroll.
Step back into Newport’s “Golden Age” as you walk the rocky shoreline and take in sweeping views of The Breakers. You will also have the opportunity to contemplate the phenomenal gardens of the centuries-old mansions of the region. Keep an eye out for the dazzling wildflowers and multiple species of birds that call the area home.
The Cliff Walk extends to the end of Bellevue Avenue. The northern part of the trail is easier to walk, but the southern part is quite rocky and can be a challenge for inexperienced hikers.
Whether you’re looking to break a sweat or just want to relax and enjoy the view, there’s no doubt about it. The Newport Cliff Walk is one of the top things to do in Rhode Island.
Another Newport attraction, the awe-inspiring estate known as the The Elms is one of many opulent and beautiful summer cottages scattered throughout Rhode Island. A testament to the grandeur of a bygone era, The Elms has an elegant yet tranquil charm that sets it apart from other mansions in the area.
Commissioned by the Berwind family, The Elms was built in 1898. It’s not the extravagant interiors of this $1.4 million mansion that draw visitors the most, however. Instead, it’s the neo-classical style gardens that catch the eye, with marble and bronze sculptures placed on terraces, marble pavilions and marvelous garden fountains.
Considering that it took nearly seven years to design and build them, it’s no wonder the gardens have become such a marvel. And while “ordinary people” in the 1800s could only have enjoyed these views from afar, today The Elms is open to the public and ranks among Rhode Island’s most popular things to do.
Even tourists as spoiled for choice as those who visit New England must admit that Block Island is something really special. Offering visitors 17 miles of stunning coastline, there are limitless choices as to how to spend your time. This tiny island offers big thrills, as well as an idyllic environment and a slew of scenic hiking trails.
Take a long walk among scenic hiking trails. Hop on a sightseeing cruise or try kayaking. You can also go surfing, skimboarding, diving, snorkeling, and more. If you prefer to ride, you can rent a moped or a bicycle.
Admire the works of local artists by visiting one of the many local galleries. If you are there on a Wednesday or Saturday, be sure to go to Block Island Farmers Market to browse the various wares, which include fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade baked goods, and charming arts and crafts.
From the outside, Block Island may seem “too small” to offer much excitement, but it’s actually one of Rhode Island’s richest and most varied attractions. If you’re feeling really adventurous, consider exploring it on foot. You never know, you might end up encountering one of the hundreds of hidden coves and islets that make Block Island so unique.
7. RISD Art Museum, Providence
Looking for things to do in Rhode Island of a more cerebral or culturally enriching nature? The Ocean State is more than sunny beaches and opulent old mansions. It is also the home of the Rhode Island School of Designone of the most prestigious and progressive art schools in the country.
Don’t want to register? That’s okay, you can experience the best of it by spending a day at RISD. RISD Art Museum in Providence. The museum, which is one of Rhode Island’s top tourist attractions, features exhibits themed around American art from the 18se and 19th centuries.
Besides, you can also gaze at lovingly preserved works of art from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and Europe. Museums change their exhibits frequently, so even if you’ve been there before, you’ll always have something new to discover.
The RISD Museum of Art is well worth a visit, regardless of your knowledge (or not) of the arts. Not only is its collection impressive, but so is its breadth and diversity.
8. Narragansett Bay Beaches
We don’t call Rhode Island the ocean state for nothing! With over 400 miles of tidal Atlantic Ocean coastline, the entire region is a marine tourist’s paradise, with over 100 beaches in total.
For those looking for things to do in Rhode Island related to the water, like swimming or boating, there’s no better destination than Narragansett Bay. The bay spans over 147 square miles, forming the largest estuary in all of New England. Additionally, Narragansett Bay is home to more than 30 small islands and three distinct water bodies: the Sakonnet River, Mount Hope Bayand the Taunton River.
On Salty Brine Beachyou can observe the fishing boats coming and going throughout the day, while the sea water is always present. Scarborough State Park Scarborough Beach offers visitors the opportunity to swim in cool, invigorating waters, while admiring a stunning Victorian-era entertainment complex.
Although sparsely populated for most of the year, summer sees a huge influx of people to the beaches of Narragansett Bay. Once you see them for yourself, it’s not hard to see why.
9. Marble House
While walking in the famous marble house in Newport, it’s hard not to feel like a king or queen. From the pillars of the White House-inspired portico to the red and pink marble of the gold-accented dining room, everything about this mansion looks like it’s straight out of a storybook. But this is not a fairy tale; it’s real.
The Marble House cost $11 million to build in the 1800s (over $330 million today). It was given as a gift by legendary American businessman Kenneth Vanderbilt to his wife on her 30th birthday. Inspired by the architecture of the Petit Trianon in Versailles, the construction of the Marble House took five years. Today it is listed as a National Historic Landmark.
The ambition and boldness of the Marble House alone are more than enough to make it a must-see Rhode Island attraction. It’s true when people say “they don’t make them like that anymore”. In fact, they hardly made them like that anymore at the time. The Marble House is one of a kind.
10. Beaver Tail Lighthouse
With so many miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline along Narragansett Bay, it’s no surprise that the Rhode Island landscape is dotted with charming old lighthouses. Among the oldest and best-loved is the 64-foot-tall lighthouse. Beaver Tail Lighthouse on the tip of Conanicut Island.
More than just a lighthouse, this majestic 150-year-old structure is an impressive relic of a bygone era. Although it wasn’t officially built until 1856, the roots of the Beavertail Lighthouse can be traced back to the 1700s. In fact, it was one of the first of its kind in the founding American colonies.
The illumination of the Beavertail Lighthouse has helped sailors navigate the eastern passage of Narragansett Bay for centuries. Today, it continues to do the same, with the lighthouse itself now fully automated. In the meantime, its interior has been converted into a museum that will amaze you. This offers tourists one of the most unique things to do in Rhode Island.
Like Block Island, the small beach town of Westerly may seem inconspicuous at first glance. However, it’s secretly one of the best, funniest, and most beautiful places to visit in Rhode Island. I’d even go so far as to say it’s the crown jewel of New England’s beach communities.
Located on the southwest coast of Rhode Island, this tiny seaside town borders the Pawcatuck River and the state of Connecticut. During the summer, tourists flock to Westerly. This is due to its warm climate and the wealth of its sandy beaches, such as Misquamicut State Beach And Atlantic Beach Park.
Visitors can indulge in boating, fishing, sailing and surfing, but also camping, hiking and even golf. But what really sets Westerly apart is its welcoming, small-town personality. The locals are incredibly friendly. They are more than eager to share a pint of beer at one of the acclaimed craft breweries. These include The Malted Barley And Gray Sail Brewing. Just be sure to bring a big thirst.
12. WaterFire Providence
By far the most publicized tourist attraction in Rhode Island is the annual Providence Fire. WaterFire Providence festival. WaterFire takes place along (and on!) three rivers that meander through the heart of downtown Providence (the Woonasquatucket, MoshasuckAnd Rivers of Providence). You really have to see it to believe it.
Originally conceived as a unique art installation in 1994, WaterFire has since become a much-anticipated annual tradition. An average of 40,000 visitors gather in the city center. Meanwhile, at the start of the hundred roaring fires are lit in floating braziers on the surface of the water itself. Performers dressed in black tend to the fire throughout the night, and romantic boat rides wind their way between the flickering flames.
Live music, performance art, craft vendors, and food stalls are common sights among the pathways and stone walkways that line the river. Even better, the event takes place every other Saturday, from May to November. So you have plenty of opportunities to experience the joy and wonder of WaterFire Providence firsthand.
New England is a vacation mecca like nowhere else
The beautiful, exciting, interesting and unique Rhode Island tourist attractions listed above are just a small sample of the myriad delights the New England region has to offer. Countless adventures await, not only in the Ocean State, but also in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, and more.
Check out more of my favorite travel destinations in the blog posts below!