Must-See Rhode Island Attractions

Rhode Island may be the nation's smallest state, but tiny RI offers a wondrous number of things to see and do. Founded in 1636 by religious dissenter Roger Williams, who preached religious tolerance and advocated for the separation of church and state, Rhode Island belongs on your must-see list if you are a fan of history, architecture or the arts. It's also a beach lover's heaven, a foodie's delight and, with its proliferation of B&Bs, the perfect place to spend a romantic night.

  • 01 of 10

    Newport Mansions

    Marble House Newport Mansion
    ••• Marble House was the opulent summer "cottage" William K. Vanderbilt and his wife built in Newport, Rhode Island. © 2010 Kim Knox Beckius

    Monuments to turn-of-the-20th-century excess, the spectacular seaside mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, provide a glimpse of the unimaginable wealth enjoyed by Captains of Industry with names like Morgan, Astor, and Vanderbilt. Remarkably, these architectural gems were occupied only for a brief summer stint each year. You'll have trouble choosing which palatial homes to tour. Our favorites? The incomparable Breakers and Rough Point, inherited by Million-Dollar Baby Doris Duke. Be sure to stroll the Cliff Walk and appreciate the mansion owners' view. You can even spend a night in a Newport mansion: The Chanler at Cliff Walk has been transformed into a luxurious boutique hotel.

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    Watch Hill Beach RI
    ••• Rhode Island's Watch Hill Beach is a classic place to spend a summer beach day. © 2006 Kim Knox Beckius

    Rhode Island isn't nicknamed the Ocean State for nothing. With more than 40 public beaches, the compact state is the perfect place to catch a wave, and there are freshwater beaches to laze on, too. Choose a lively beach like Misquamicut or a quiet patch of sand like East Beach on Ninigret Pond. Surfers like Narragansett Town Beach and Watch Hill Beach is a family favorite.

  • 03 of 10
    Block Island
    ••• Pristine and enchanting Block Island should be on your bucket list. © 2007 Kim Knox Beckius

    Rhode Island's offshore isle was christened one of the "Last Great Places on Earth" by the Nature Conservancy. It's a laid-back hideaway mired in its Victorian heyday with oodles of quirky charms. Whether you venture to Block Island for a day or make it your home for a week, be sure to see the iconic Mohegan Bluffs and Southeast Light.

  • 04 of 10
    WaterFire Providence
    ••• WaterFire in Providence is an event during which 80 bonfires are lit along the city's rivers. © 2010 Kim Knox Beckius

    It's been called New England's best free event, New England's most romantic attraction, Rhode Island's capital city's signature. However you think of WaterFire, don't overlook the chance to experience this art installation for the first time or again while you're in Providence, Rhode Island. Held on select summer and fall evenings, WaterFire is an attraction you must experience for yourself to truly understand its impact. The musical score changes each time the event is held, and no two WaterFires are alike.

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  • 05 of 10
    Roger Williams Park Zoo Elephants
    ••• Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, RI, is a year-round attraction. © 2005 Kim Knox Beckius

    America's third oldest zoo is one of New England's finest places to observe and learn about the diverse life on our planet. The acclaimed and always evolving zoo has been a family favorite since 1872! After dark in the fall, Roger Williams Park Zoo is also the place to see the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular, one of Rhode Island's best Halloween attractions.

  • 06 of 10
    Green Animals Topiary Garden RI
    ••• Green Animals in Portsmouth, RI, is one of America's most famous topiary gardens. © 2001 Kim Knox Beckius

    One of the most phenomenal of the Newport Mansions sustained by the Preservation Society of Newport County isn't in Newport, and it's not known for its mansion, either. Green Animals in nearby Portsmouth is notable for its shrubbery! The topiary garden features a menagerie of animals and geometric figures that have been carefully tended for nearly 140 years. While kids may be wowed by the sheer size and opulence of the other mansions, Green Animals is a place that will enchant them.

  • 07 of 10

    Historic Carousels

    Watch Hill Carousel
    ••• The suspended horses seem to fly on the historic carousel that is one of the treasures of Watch Hill, Rhode Island. © 2006 Kim Knox Beckius

    There are three historic carousels to ride in Rhode Island, and if you visit only one, make it Watch Hill's Flying Horse Carousel. This 12-and-under-only ride, built in 1883, was abandoned on the Rhode Island shore by gypsies. It is America's oldest surviving merry-go-round, and young riders can still reach for a brass ring and earn a free ride. While you're in RI, also seek out the 1895 Crescent Park Carousel in East Providence and the 1894 carousel in Pawtucket's Slater Memorial Park: the first ride hand-carved by Charles I.D. Looff.

  • 08 of 10
    International Tennis Hall of Fame Newport RI
    ••• Relive great moments in tennis history and play a match on historic courts at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport. © 2014 L.L. Beckius

    The greats of the game are honored at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, but there's an even better reason to visit the world's largest tennis museum, housed inside the historic Newport Casino. The attraction's 13 grass tennis courts are the only competition grass courts in the U.S. that are open for public play. Make a reservation, and you can show off your game on the legendary courts where the first U.S. National Lawn Tennis Championships were held in 1881.

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  • 09 of 10

    Newport Storm Brewery and Thomas Tew Distillery

    Newport Distilling Rum in RI
    ••• Rum is once again being distilled in Rhode Island at Newport Distilling, which is also home to Newport Storm Brewery. © 2011 Kim Knox Beckius

    During the colonial period, Newport's chief export was rum. But rum-making was extinct in the state of Rhode Island for more than 150 years until the four guys who founded the popular Newport Storm Brewery built a distillery and began producing Thomas Tew rum. Now, you'll have a tough decision when you arrive at their Visitors Center in Newport: Taste beer, spirits or both?!

  • 10 of 10
    Del's Lemonade Truck in Rhode Island
    ••• Frozen refreshment is readily available in Rhode Island. Just keep your eyes peeled for a Del's location, stand or truck. © 2014 Kim Knox Beckius

    You can't say you've been to Rhode Island unless you've sampled a cold, juicy Del's Frozen Lemonade. This frozen concoction was brought to the state in 1840 by Italian immigrant Franco DeLucia. There are 20 Del's locations in RI, but locals will tell you: It always tastes best when bought from a Del's truck.