20 Best Things to Do in Rhode Island

Rhode Island may be the nation's smallest state, but it 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 20

Marvel at Mansions

Marble House Newport Mansion

Kim Knox Beckius

Address
44 Ochre Point Ave, Newport, RI 02840-6906, USA
Phone
+1 401-847-1000

Monuments of early 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. Favorites are 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. At Christmas, the mansions take on a festive air with holiday decorations and lights.

You can even spend a night in a Newport mansion: The Chanler at Cliff Walk has been transformed into a luxurious boutique hotel.

02 of 20

Catch a Wave at the Beaches

Watch Hill Beach RI

Kim Knox Beckius

Address
Misquamicut State Beach, Westerly, RI 02891, USA

Rhode Island is nicknamed the Ocean State for a reason. 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 20

Venture to Block Island

Block Island

 Kim Knox Beckius

Address
Mohegan Bluffs, New Shoreham, RI 02807, USA

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 past 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 20

Experience WaterFire

WaterFire Providence

 Kim Knox Beckius

Address
4 N Main St, Providence, RI 02903, USA
Phone
+1 401-273-1155
4.3

It's been called New England's best free event, New England's most romantic attraction, and Rhode Island's capital city's signature. However you think of WaterFire, don't overlook the chance to experience this art installation while you're in Providence, Rhode Island.

Held on select summer and fall evenings, you must experience WaterFire for yourself to truly understand its impact. The amazing attraction features multiple events. One year, almost 100 bonfires added to the fire and water effects.

The musical score changes each time the event is held, and no two WaterFire events are alike.

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05 of 20

Commune With the Animals

Roger Williams Park Zoo Elephants

Kim Knox Beckius

Address
1000 Elmwood Ave, Providence, RI 02907, USA
Phone
+1 401-785-3510

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 20

See a Most Unusual Garden

Green Animals Topiary Garden RI

Kim Knox Beckius

Address
380 Corys Ln, Portsmouth, RI 02871, USA
Phone
+1 401-683-1267

One of the most phenomenal of the Newport Mansions sustained by the Preservation Society of Newport County isn't in Newport, and the draw is not particularly the mansion, either.

Green Animals in nearby Portsmouth is notable for its manicured 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 20

Ride Historic Carousels

Watch Hill Carousel

Kim Knox Beckius

Address
151, 153 Bay St, Westerly, RI 02891, United States
Phone
+1 401-388-8136

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 ride, suitable for kids 12 and under, was built in 1883 and 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 20

Play Tennis on Historic Courts

International Tennis Hall of Fame Newport RI

L.L. Beckius

Address
194 Bellevue Ave, Newport, RI 02840, USA
Phone
+1 401-849-3990

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 20

Taste Some Rum

Newport Distilling Rum in RI

Kim Knox Beckius

Address
293 JT Connell Hwy, Newport, RI 02840, USA
Phone
+1 401-849-5232

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 20

Refresh With Del's Frozen Lemonade

Del's Lemonade Truck in Rhode Island

Kim Knox Beckius

Address
2628, 1260 Oaklawn Ave, Cranston, RI 02920-2628, USA
Phone
+1 401-463-6190

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 that it always tastes best when bought from Del's truck.

11 of 20

Appreciate the Art of the Car

Newport Car Museum on display

 Newport Car Museum

The Newport Car Museum in Portsmouth celebrates the art and design of cars and you'll find interactive features like a driving simulator. The private collection of some 50 automobiles covers six decades of modern industrial automotive design and considers cars as works of art. You'll see classics from the 1950s to the present. Featured are Ford Shelby Cars, Corvettes, World Cars, Fin Cars, and the Chrysler Mopar.

A complimentary coffee bar is also available.

12 of 20

Walk Benefit Street's Mile of History

Benefit Street's Mile of History

Visit Rhode Island

 

Benefit Street, in Providence, was the social and cultural center of the town in the colonial and early Federal periods. For visitors, it is the most famous street that you can visit in Rhode Island. The draw is the original Colonial homes overlooking the city's historic waterfront.

Walk the mile through the neighborhood and see the Colonial architecture as well as Victorian and 20th-century buildings. The varied architecture is intriguing and when you walk along the street you'll encounter secret gardens, an early graveyard, churches, and homes which are occupied today.

Self-guided walking tours and "A Guide to Providence Architecture" are available from the Providence Preservation Society.

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13 of 20

Appreciate Art at the School of Design

School of Design & Museum of Art, Providence


Richard Cummins/Getty Images

 

In Providence, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum has a large collection of paintings, photography, and sculptures. The museum has family and children's activities, evening events, and workshops for those who want to hone their artistic skills or learn a new medium. There is also a calendar of performances and screenings.

14 of 20

Enjoy America's Cup History

Boat at the Herreshoff Marine Museum

 Herreshoff Marine Museum

In Bristol, you can see scale models and restored sailing boats, including one that's considered the most beautiful hull form ever created. The museum is dedicated to the famous boat designing family, the Herreshoffs and their creations. The museum is also home to America's Cup Hall of Fame.

They are most famous for designing and building eight consecutive successful defenders of America's Cup, from 1893 to 1934.

15 of 20

Have a Tavern Meal

The White House Tavern

The White House Tavern 

Newport's White Horse Tavern, originally built in 1673, is one of the oldest taverns in the United States. The tavern is still in operation providing farm-to-table meals, including artisan cheese, fresh fish, and seafood. Dress code is in effect at this historic but upscale tavern.

16 of 20

Stroll Brown University

Brown University in Providence


kickstand/Getty Images

 

There's so much to see on the historic Brown University campus in Providence that you'll probably want to take a student-led campus tour. The University, founded in 1770, has as its center, the historic University Hall, which once served as a barracks and hospital during the Revolutionary War.

Campus libraries hold collections of rare stamps and maps and you'll find art exhibits at the David Winton Bell Gallery.

Tours and information sessions are available most weekdays and select Saturdays when college is in session beginning at the Stephen Robert '62 Campus Center at 75 Waterman St. in Providence. While tours are oriented toward prospective students, visitors will enjoy learning about the historic landmarks and campus buildings.

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17 of 20

Savor Italian Food on Federal Hill

torefronts along Atwells Avenue with a man walking on sidewalk in Federal Hill, a historic district famous for its Italian restaurants in Providence

 

aimintang/Getty Images

Federal Hill is the heart of Providence's large Italian American community. You'll find old-world Italian restaurants, cafés, and shops selling Italian foods especially on Atwells Avenue and the nearby streets. Come to the area, originally settled by Italian immigrants in the early 1900s, for a traditional Italian meal or a cup of cappuccino and peruse the Italian delis. They go all out on Columbus Day.

18 of 20

Cruise the Canals

Gondolas on Providence River in Rhode Island

Marc Dufresne/Getty Images

You can take a boat ride and even a gondola ride in the river-canals that go through Providence. The rivers, revealed during a major urban renovation, are now spanned by beautiful bridges reminiscent of those in Venice.

Cruise the waterways in the daytime or on a sunset cruise. Tours include the rivers and the upper parts of Narragansett Bay. They even have special tours during WaterFire.

19 of 20

Catch the Views From Fort Wetherill State Park

Fort Wetherill State Park

RI State Parks

 

Fort Wetherill State Park in Jamestown is known for expansive views of the Newport Harbor and the East Passage of Narragansett Bay and is a popular place to watch America's Cup races. The site, located on 100-foot high granite cliffs, is a former coastal defense battery and training camp. The park is a good place for picnicking, boating, fishing and hiking.

20 of 20

Spend the Night in a Lighthouse

Rose Island Light House

Kenneth C. Zirkel/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Rhode Island is home to a number of iconic New England lighthouses but the Rose Island Light, in Narragansett Bay between Newport and Jamestown, offers accommodations for overnight guests in the 1900s keeper’s house. Tours are given for day visitors.

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Best Things to Do in Rhode Island