Rhode Island may be America’s smallest state, but it’s got more than enough outstanding attractions to keep visitors entertained and entranced all year long. From Newport’s gorgeous Gilded Age mansions to world-class art, there’s always something new to explore in this idyllic New England destination.
The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), one of the first dedicated art schools in the United States, was founded in 1877. Its museum features more than 100,000 objects, from ancient art dating back to the 5th century B.C. to contemporary paintings and sculptures. Don’t miss the gift shop — it’s packed with creative pieces from past and present-day students.
This annual Providence festival, which generally runs on weekends from April through November, is an unusual art installation where 100 bonfires are lit in the waters of the city’s three rivers at night. Along with transforming the waterfront into a magical scene, live music, dancers and other performers entertain the crowds who flock to the free event.
While Cape Cod gets lots of attention for its scenic stretches of sand, Rhode Island’s beaches shouldn’t be overlooked. Tiny Block Island has stunning — and often uncrowded — beaches to enjoy, while Newport’s oceanfront is a fun place to see and be seen. Other options include Narragansett, a popular spot with surfers due to its reliable waves, and Watch Hill Beach, home to Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Ocean House and one of the oldest carousels in the country, making it a favorite for vacationing families.
Newport’s famous 19th-century Gilded Age summer “cottages” served as the vacation homes of the wealthy at the turn of the century. These mansions are now museums that offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. The most famous of them of all is The Breakers, a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo commissioned by the Vanderbilt family.
Newport’s 3.5-mile Cliff Walk, which overlooks the ocean on one side and the famous Gilded Age mansions on the other, is a must for any visitor to the area. While you don’t have to walk the whole trail, the views are simply amazing and worth taking the time.
Often called the “Sailing Capital of the World,” Newport has hosted some of the biggest international boating events worldwide, including the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race. Getting on the water is one of the best ways to experience the local culture — several companies offer the chance to sail aboard historic America’s Cup 12 Meter Class yachts for a taste of the excitement.
Take a trip to Venice by way of Providence with this unique Rhode Island experience. Aboard authentic Venetian gondolas, you’ll be serenaded by gondoliers along the Providence and Woonasquatucket rivers. Feel free to bring along your favorite beverage (we suggest a nice bottle of champagne), which pairs nicely with the complimentary Italian wine cookies that are provided.
Roger Williams Park Zoo
Founded in 1872, the third-oldest zoo in the country boasts more than 160 animals on its 40 acres. Highlights include African elephants, Masai giraffes, red pandas, snow leopards and moon bears. In October, the immensely popular Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular transforms the zoo into a Halloween wonderland.
Founded in 1694, this coastal Rhode Island town is the definition of quaint, with one-of-a-kind shops, boutiques, art galleries and restaurants galore. Much of the action centers around its charming, historic Four Corners district.
Just 13 miles off the coast, Block Island offers up a little slice of the past, with a classic main street, gorgeous unspoiled beaches and plenty of trails to bike or walk. The tiny island is just seven miles long and three miles wide, making it easy to get around without a car.