WHY VISIT RHODE ISLAND
Rhode Island travel guide
About Rhode Island
It may take just 45 minutes to drive from one end of Rhode Island to the other, but this tiny state dishes up broad sandy beaches, green parks, a vibrant city, and a wealth of historic attractions.
You can delve into the state’s industrial roots, tour sprawling colonial homes, potter around historic villages, or explore lighthouses and beaches along 640km (400 miles) of coastline.
Rhode Island’s capital city, Providence, is a sophisticated hub of stellar museums, historic architecture, sizzling dining, and buzzing student life (Brown University, an Ivy League college, is based here). Come in the summer and you can also enjoy stunning pyrotechnic shows, which illuminate the city’s waterways and feature a flotilla of performers.
Pedaling around Rhode Island is a cinch, thanks to a terrific 160km (100-mile) bike network. You can wheel past woodlands and farmland, swamps and shoreline, historic mills, and villages.
And if you’re more inclined to aquatic exploration, Rhode Island is laced with navigable waterways (or ‘blueways’). Launch your kayak and paddle the tiny coves and islands of Narragansett Bay or spy hooded warblers and red-shouldered hawks from your canoe in the Great Swamp. For ocean-bound adventure, charter a yacht in Newport, the epicenter of Rhode Island’s sailing scene.
Rhode Island also caters to beach bums. Narragansett Town Beach lures surfers by the boatload, especially when tropical depressions shift north from the Caribbean in summer. And then there’s Crescent Beach, a gorgeous sweep of white sand on Bock Island, were flopping in the sun and flicking through a novel are about as strenuous as life gets.
WHAT TO SEE IN RHODE ISLAND
- Newport: Newport has been a preferred hangout for America’s rich and powerful since the 1800s, and boasts plenty of mansions (or summer cottages as they are called) to prove it. Yachting is the main activity in this well-heeled town, and has been since America’s Cup race was born here in 1851. Besides the historic mansions, the old town core is filled with charming Colonial, Federal, and Victorian buildings turned into shops, restaurants, and bars. Newport’s beaches are also very nice, and this town is a great place to party in the summer. Thankfully, you don’t have to be a millionaire to enjoy Newport anymore, as amenities are reasonably priced.
- Block Island: for a quiet natural beach vacation, head to Block Island. Development has been kept at bay here, giving visitors a wonderfully serene and beautiful place to play in the sand and relax. Old Harbor is the only town of note on the island, where ferries dock and businesses serve the small population and a smattering of travelers. Old Harbor is where most people stay, soaking up the preserved Victorian ambiance between jaunts around this small island.
- Narragansett: many consider the beaches around Narragansett to be the prettiest in New England. It’s hard to argue against that point, especially since this stretch of coast along the southernmost end of the state enjoys warmer waters and longer summers than Newport. The historic town makes the perfect base for day trips to the dozen state beaches and landmarks like the 1856 Watch Hill Lighthouse. A smattering of tiny coastal villages adds quaintness to the region around Watch Hill and Galilee.
- Providence: Rhode Island’s capital is also its largest city and the closest thing to an urban atmosphere you’ll find here. This Providence is very up-and-coming these days, giving credence to its nickname ‘Renaissance City’. Decaying Victorian-era buildings are being restored, and the downtown is being revitalized with a slick, artsy, and culinary scene. Wander around the historic neighborhoods that fan out from the downtown core, or stroll along the impressive Waterplace Park & Riverfront that runs next to the river and tidal basin. There’s also a great nightlife scene in this compact historic city, which is easily worth a few days of your time.
- Newport’s Cottages: the people who formally frequented Newport were so rich that they called the summer mansions they built along Newport’s coast “cottages.” The town peaked during America’s Gilded Age in the 19th century when people like Vanderbilt and Astor spent their summers here. Six of the Rhode Island mansions are managed by the Preservation Society of Newport, which sells a combination ticket that allows access to five of the properties. A day touring mansions like Marble House, Rosecliff, and The Breakers is a highlight of any visit to Newport.
- Fort Adams State Park: this beautiful and engaging park rewards visitors with both natural beauty and cool history. The 1820s fort, which sits on a towering seaside bluff, is huge, and restoration work is an ongoing process. Visitors can take a guided tour of the fort with park rangers, or just enjoy the scenic grounds. Sailing, fishing, and swimming in the sea are all activities on offer during the warmer months of May to October. Also on site is the Museum of Yachting, and frequent summer music festivals and war reenactments add to the fun.
- Cliff Walk: nearly every visitor to Rhode Island plans to spend some of their trip in Newport. There is a lot to see and do here, but the Cliff Walk is one activity not to be missed. This three-mile walking path runs right along the edge of the cliff where the Gilded Age mansions were built. On one side of the path, you get the absolute best views of the mansions without having to pay to actually enter the properties. On the other side sits the endless blue Atlantic and the ruggedly handsome coastline. While there are no facilities along the path, it’s easy enough for most people to manage and only takes about two hours to walk.
WHEN TO GO TO RHODE ISLAND
The best period to visit Rhode Island is from June to September.
Rhode Island’s climate is milder than that of the other New England states. Winters are relatively cold with temperatures ranging from -6.1 to 2.2°C (21 to 36°F) and summer temperatures averaging between 17.2 and 27.2°C (63 to 81°F). Precipitation is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year.
Cotton and linens for the summer months and heavyweights with extra bundling for the winter months.
WHAT TO DO IN RHODE ISLAND
Tour the mansions of Newport
Before there was Palm Beach, there was Newport, the seaside summertime escape for the Gilded Age elite that’s still home to some of the most impressive mansions in America. The Breakers, an opulent Italian Renaissance mansion built for Cornelius Vanderbilt, is the most jaw-dropping in both its residents and its grounds. Another must-hit is Rosecliff, a 1902 white baroque palace that’s appeared in countless movies and is home to the annual Newport Flower Show. Even if you don’t stop in for a tour, strolling down Bellevue Avenue is a testament to what American old money can create.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of Rhode Island.
- Newport Folk Fest: for the past 50 years, the Newport Folk Fest has been giving musical talents like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez a venue to shine. This amazing music festival is as strong, diverse, and engaging as ever, hosting a wonderful line up every July in Newport’s scenic Fort Adams State Park. Visitors can enjoy great food and buy crafts to support the musicians.
- Newport Jazz Festival: Newport hosts a lot of well-known summer festivals, but few are as popular as its jazz event. Every August, the Fort Adams State Park is transformed into an oasis of jazz as some of the best names in the business come to Rhode Island to perform outdoors. With more than 50 years of experience behind it, you can always expect a top-flight lineup from the Newport Jazz Festival.
- Newport International Boat Show: one of September’s highlights in Newport is its annual boat show. The Rhode Island town has a long tradition of yachting, and the boating industry puts a lot of effort into creating a really impressive show. See the latest sailing and motorized boats on the market, as well as loads of products from all the big names in the industry. The huge event spreads out all along the waterfront area, with special water taxis providing quick transport from wharf to wharf.
- Newport Waterfront Irish Festival: no town is complete without its very own Irish festival, and Newport goes all out to create a fun-filled three-day event every September at the Newport Yachting Center. This lovely waterfront spot hosts five stages with the national and international talent of all kinds. This festival is great for both families with kids and adults looking for a weekend party.
- FirstWorks Festival: one of the big events of the year in the Rhode Island capital brings all forms of art and theater to the city for a two-week stream of performances. Each night alternates between dance and theater, with a distinct leaning towards alternative, cutting-edge performances that span the genres. This event typically takes place at the end of September and into early October.
- First Night Newport: first Night Newport provides a great reason to visit this town for the New Year celebrations. The full New Year’s Eve day, from sunrise to midnight, is filled with wonderful events, such as museum tours, family activities, and live cultural performances. The festival culminates with a massive fireworks show over the Newport Harbor.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH RHODE ISLAND
Visitors who plan to stay put in one Rhode Island destination may not need a rental car. Newport, Providence, and Narragansett are all compact enough to walk around most places and there are taxis to take care of longer trips.
Having a rental car can be very useful if you are keen to see more of the beautiful Rhode Island coast or even venture inland to its countryside towns. There is no easy public transport between cities, so a car is really the only convenient way to get around this state. There is plenty to see outside of the main tourist towns, and most major rental car firms have offices both at the airport and in the state’s main towns. Weekly rental rates, when booked in advance, can be surprisingly affordable.
The Amtrak train runs through the eastern side of Rhode Island, offering travelers with time to spare a comfortable scenic ride into the state from other major cities along the eastern seaboard. Amtrak’s Acela Express stops every day at Providence, Kingston (for access to the South Coast towns like Narragansett), and Westerly (for access to towns in western Rhode Island).
Long-distance buses provide even more transport options, both for getting into and around the state. Greyhound is the biggest company, with a network that spans the entire country. Their fares are certainly cheap, but the buses are not particularly comfortable for long journeys. Regional bus service is also available on Bonanza Bus Lines, and the MegaBus runs from cities like Boston and New York. Those getting around the state by bus usually use the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority (RIPTA). Their buses go to all but one of the state’s towns from the base in downtown Providence.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON RHODE ISLAND
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-5 (-4)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN RHODE ISLAND
Typical food in Rhode Island
Souvenirs from Rhode Island