Despite Rhode Island’s miniscule size – it is after all, the smallest of the fifty states, there is no shortage of fun experiences to have. All throughout the state, you’ll find incredible lighthouse viewpoints, beaches, wineries, luxury retreats, waterways, shops, and restaurants.
Since the culture of Rhode Island is centered around the sea, there are also yacht trips to go on, sailing lessons to take, fish to catch, and islands to paddle to. The seafood is top notch nearly everywhere you go, and many small towns have museums dedicated to the state’s interesting maritime history.
Many travelers who visit Rhode Island only go to Providence under the false assumption that the state’s capital is the only place worthy of a stop. However, branch out from the big city and you’ll soon discover that the small towns of Rhode Island are where its personality truly comes out. Think family owned bed and breakfast lodges, offbeat wineries, anything-goes live theaters, and other attractions that can only exist in a small community free of chain stores or mega franchises.
The best way to visit Rhode Island is on a road trip. You can easily see a lot of incredible sights in the state within a few weeks – a feat that’s not typically possible for its larger neighbors! Once you’ve made it to a small town, simply park and walk around – they’re usually small enough to uncover within a long walk.
Here are the 15 best small towns in Rhode Island:
1. New Shoreham
New Shoreham is a sweet coastal small town perfect for beach lovers and family travelers. You could easily spend your time lounging and swimming at Mansion Beach or Ballard’s Beach – or, for a bit of seclusion, visit Crescent Beach.
When you do feel like finally getting out of your lounge chair, you can climb to the top of Mohegan Bluffs and watch the sea sparkle beneath you. Walk along the Clayhead Nature Trail or Rodman’s Hollow Trail to see all types of birds and other wildlife. The nearby Great Salt Pond is also a must-visit for outdoorsy people.
And for a classic New England experience, head to the Southeast Lighthouse or the North Lighthouse to take pictures and learn about local maritime history.
Rhode Island has some of the east coast’s best beaches, and many of them are found near the small town of Narragansett. Scarborough, Narragansett Beach, Roger W. Wheeler Beach, or Salty Brine are all clean and spacious. You can have a great time cruising the open sea with the Block Island Ferry. Or, for some inland adventure, go camping, fishing, hiking, or cycling around the Fishermen’s Memorial State Campground.
Take a tour of the fairytale-like architecture at The Towers, a resort built in the late 1800s for vacationers looking for a long-stay destination. The South Country Museum will also give you an interesting glimpse at the past through its exhibits and features of artifacts from all over the region.
3. Wickford Village
Wickford Village is the best small town in Rhode Island for travelers on the hunt for the perfect New England souvenir. If you stroll along the main street, you’ll be able to shop – both the window and wallet variety – at clothing boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, and dine at different types of restaurants and cafes.
Wickford Village has maintained its colonial style architecture and nearly every garden is well manicured. Nobody would blame you for feeling as though you’ve stepped back to the 18th century! Plan your visit during one of the many seasonal festival like the Wickford Art Festival in summer, Daffodil Days in spring, and the Festival of Lights in December.
Hopkinton is down-to-earth and welcoming, where travelers interested in a more casual vacation will feel right at home. Surrounding the small town, there are tons of parks and waterways for boating, canoeing, kayaking, and stand up paddleboarding. There is wildlife nearly everywhere you look – especially on the hiking trails in the Arcadia Land Management Area.
After a long day outside, grab a beer at Start Line Brewing – all beers have hydroponically grown hops and fresh honey from local bees. Then pair it with a hearty sandwich from FreshWater Farm.
With its classic New England charm and plenty of things to do, Jamestown is a small town you have to see in order to experience the best of Rhode Island. If you’re adventurous, rent a kayak and paddle to Dutch Island where you can meander through Fort Greble, a fort that was used from the Civil War all the way up to World War II. Today, it’s abandoned.
Spend half a day exploring the nearby Beavertown Lighthouse and park, then go for a walk around the Conanicut Island Sanctuary. Other picturesque sites include the Fort Wetherill State Park. Board the Jamestown Newport Ferry hop on and off to see Jamestown Village, Rose Island, Fort Adams, the Ann Street Pier, and Perotti Park. If you have a round-trip ticket, you can get off and on as often as you’d like.
6. Little Compton
This small town has the perfect mix of beach community and old-town village atmosphere. It’s cozy, inviting, and perfect for spending a week in pure relaxation mode. You can swim and search for seashells along South Shore Beach, splash in waves’ whitewash at Goosewing Beach Preserve, and talk a stroll through the tranquil Sakonnet Garden.
When you’re ready for some human interaction, head to the Little Compton Commons, the town square. Here, you’ll be able to see the town’s old graveyard, a church, and buy goods from Wilbur’s General Store – a shop selling all types of things that was originally built over one hundred years ago. It’s by far the best commons in the state.
There are over 120 miles of rivers and streams in Richmond, so if you’re a fisherman, swimmer, kayaker, or paddler, this is the perfect stop for you. All-year-round, Richmond is picturesque and uncrowded – the ideal place to get away from any semblance of big city life. Here, you can access hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain biking trails that are all easy to navigate.
For fresh produce and snacks to fuel your trip, you can get a real sense of community at the Richmond Farmers Market during the warmer months of the year.
If you’re a history buff and love small towns with an intriguing past, head to Foster. Foster is the site of the Foster Town House, the oldest government meeting house in the country that is still in use today. And for interesting historic architecture, walk across the Swamp Meadow Covered Bridge – a fun experience for those looking for novel places to go.
Foster also crosses paths with the North-South Rhode Island Trail, a 77-mile long trail that weaves from Charlestown, Massachusetts to Burrillville, Rhode Island. Many outdoor travelers who embark on the trail cite the area around Foster as being one of their favorites. Near the Foster section of the trail is also the top of Jerimoth Hill, the highest point in the state.
If you’re a traveler in love with the arts, you’ll enjoy spending time in Warren. Warren is a small town with a big creative community. There are many art studios, live theater performances, live music venues, and handmade jewelry shops throughout town. Maybe their inspiration comes from the setting? Even the George Hail Library looks more like a castle than a public building.
Outside, you’ll love spending time at Town Beach, Burrs Hill Park on the waterfront, and wandering through the Town Wharf. You can cycle along the shoreline and watch the boats sail in and out when it’s time to rest.
10. Watch Hill
Watch Hill is a luxury travel destination that is popular among affluent New Englanders and Americans hailing from all over the country. In fact, Taylor Swift even has a $17 million vacation home in Watch Hill. Here, you can go golfing, relax at a spa, and cruise around the harbor on a super yacht. Or, even take sailing lessons! There are tens of boutiques, farm-to-table style restaurants, and even a nostalgic carrousel ride to hop on called the Flying Horse.
If you’re a traveler looking to splash out in a small town that offers luxurious experiences without the pretentiousness, then Watch Hill is the perfect place for you.
Charlestown is a great mix of nature, typical small town charm, and quirkiness. When it comes to the outdoors, you’ll have a wonderful time soaking up some sunshine at the Town Beach or East Beach. The Burlingame State Park is also the perfect place to camp in town yet be surrounded by wilderness – like the Watchuaung Pond. The Frosty Drew Nature Center and Observatory and the National Wildlife Refuge are also great places to visit.
The town center has over ten buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of the well-preserved colonial style architecture.
The main funky attraction is the Fantastic Umbrella Factory that sells all types of plants, trees, and flowers with animals like goats, emus, and chickens roaming around the premises. It’s a menagerie of natural oddities with a fun souvenir and café to spend time at.
This small town has a lot of personality despite its small size. Many travelers come by just for the Purple Cat Winery. Not a typical winery – the grapes aren’t grown on site – the Purple Cat Winery is a funky place where you can enjoy wine without any of the wine snobbery or pressure to purchase. Purple lightbulbs create an interesting ambience, and there are purple cats in various forms all throughout the venue. You can even take yoga classes upstairs, shop at the onsite boutique, or grab a healthy lunch before you go.
Many visitors love staying at the White Rock Motel, a family owned 1950s style single story motel that has great customer service and cozy décor. Lakes, ponds, hiking trails and all types of outdoor sightseeing points surround the town as well.
Exeter has a few sites in Rhode Island that can’t be found anywhere else and is a hotspot for outdoor activities. It’s nearby Yawgoo Valley, a recreation dedicated to snow sports and is the only ski resort in the state. The Beach Pond is a great fishing site with many species of fish to cast a line for.
In town, there’s a lot to admire as well. Lawton’s Mill is an 18th century house and wood-frame mill that many people come to photograph. And when it comes to dining, you can’t go wrong ordering a warm pie or a fresh meal at Schartner Farms. The Tilted Barn Brewery is also a fun place for a cold beer after a long day, and is often packed with locals.
Exeter also has the Tomaquag Museum, the only Native American museum in Rhode Island. The museum offers insightful exhibitions that connect visitors to American history – all while fostering the community.
Love spooky sights? Visit Harrisville, the site where a horror movie, The Conjuring, was filmed. The really freaky thing is that the movie is based on a true story. In the 1970s, the Perron family moved into a Harrisville house with their five daughters. They were tormented by evil ghosts and spirits. A look into the past reveals that many people throughout history have been violently killed on the property. Though the house is private, you can view it from afar. Even when you walk through the town and away from the property, it’s common to feel a cold chill.
If you’re traveling through Rhode Island with public transportation, you’ll want to hop off the Amtrak train in Westerly. This small town is located on the beach and has tens of restaurants, shops, and outdoor activities to choose from. It’s also incredibly beautiful – with over ten buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Spend the day in the sun at Wilcox Park or Westerly Town Beach, a perfectly clean and undisturbed stretch of sand that anyone can access.