A tiny state in New England, Rhode Island is the smallest state in the whole of the USA. It covers a mere 1,214 square miles. That certainly doesn’t mean it’s lacking when it comes to top-class attractions and activities, though. Beaches, places of natural interest, historic sites from colonial times, lively cities, cool museums, and more combine to make this one happening place to be.
Don’t come here expecting to live the island life all the time; Rhode Island is a mainland state, albeit one with a long coastline and a number of islands. The state shares land borders with Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Although Rhode Island is the smallest state in terms of land area, it has the longest official name of all the USA’s 50 states: the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Its nickname of the Ocean State is definitely less of a mouthful to say!
When it comes to firsts, Rhode Island has been leading the way for a long time. It was the first of the original Thirteen Colonies to reject British rule. The first armed rebellion against Britain in America took place in Rhode Island. It was also, inspiringly, the first state to have completely abolished slavery.
The state saw the first strike that included women. The first NFL game at night was hosted in the state, as was the country’s first polo match. The USA’s first circus took place here too. Rhode Island was the birthplace of America’s industrial revolution. It really is a trail-blazer of a state!
Adding to its rather rebellious nature, Rhode Island was one of just two states that never signed the laws putting prohibition in place. It’s perhaps, therefore, no great surprise that the state is home to the oldest-operating inn in the nation! The White Horse Tavern dates back to the 1670s and punters can still get a drink here today.
Today, Rhode Island is one of the most LGBT-friendly states in the country. It is also a fabulous destination for foodies, with unique RI specialties including snail salad, johnnycakes, clam cakes, and hot wieners.
A captivating and energetic state that’s full of life and zest, here are some of the best hidden gems in Rhode Island:
1. The Gun Totem, Providence
Almost hidden in plain view, the gun totem is easy to miss unless you know of its existence. Standing close to the Federal Courthouse, the unusual monument soars 12 feet into the sky. It may look normal from a distance, but take a closer look and you’ll see that it is embedded with a huge number of guns.
Have you ever seen a totem pole made from thick concrete, gleaming steel, and used firearms before? It certainly adds new meaning to when people talk about getting guns off the streets!
Created in2001, it made use of weapons handed in as part of a buy-back program. All the guns have been rendered safe—there’s certainly no fear of anyone being able to snatch one and actually use it. Besides, the guns were embedded so deeply it would be almost impossible to remove one; parts of the concrete were chipped away to allow passers-by to be able to see the once-lethal weapons.
2. Umbrella Factory, Westerly
A small farm close to the coast, the building of the Fantastic Umbrella Factory has been in use since 1760. It has seen various operations during its time, including a small petting zoo, a plant shop, and a gift store.
Today, several old barns house a veritable treasure trove of delights. Don’t worry—you can buy more than just umbrellas here! A great place for shopaholics and anybody in need of a little retail therapy, goods at the Umbrella Factory include locally grown organic foodstuffs, fancy dress outfits, baskets, ornaments, hand-crafted items, and, of course, the odd umbrella! Oh, and emus strut through the grounds quite proudly.
It’s especially loved by people who are into DIY, crafts, and home improvements. Laid-back and eclectic, pop in and see what goodies catch your eye. It’s quite easy to miss if you don’t know where it is. Look for the brick yard over the road from the retail area to stop you from driving right on past.
3. Fort Wetherill, Jamestown
Located close to Narragansett Bay, Fort Wetherill was originally called Dumpling Rock. Later renamed in honour of a local military captain who was killed in battle, it was a hive of activity during the Revolutionary War.
Although visitors are not supposed to go inside the imposing protective walls and peek inside the fortress, holes in the fence allow those with a daring nature to break the rules and explore the abandoned fortress.
Neglected, overgrown, and covered with graffiti, the tunnels are eerie. The high walls were once lined with cannons and other artillery, ready to fight off attackers. Peer through the holes in the walls and have the same vantage point as soldiers did in the past.
If you don’t want to trespass, the surrounding area is a pleasant public park. There are several walking trails that lead along the coastline and the area is a great spot for exploring the underwater world too with scuba diving adventures.
4. Touro Synagogue, Newport
If you’re interested in religious sites you shouldn’t miss Touro Synagogue in Newport. Constructed in the 1760s and today a National Historic Site, it is the oldest remaining synagogue in North America. Additionally, it’s the only Jewish place of worship in the USA that dates back to the colonial period.
The attractive building was the work of a British architect called Peter Harrison. The building has grand columns carved from trees and balconies that together represent the twelve ancient Israeli tribes. The interior walls have a large mural that shows the Ten Commandments in the Hebrew language.
Facing towards the holy city of Jerusalem, the synagogue houses the oldest Torah (sacred Jewish text) in the USA. In the mid-2000s there was a large restoration project to preserve and repair more than a hundred historic metal items inside the synagogue.
It is still an active place of worship and an important meeting place for the local Jewish community.
5. John Hay Library, Providence
Part of Brown University in Providence, anyone can access the John Hay Library during the daytimes during the week upon showing their personal photo ID card. Evenings and weekends are reserved for those studying or working at Brown University.
What makes a library so interesting when on vacation? Any book-lover and literary historian will appreciate the large collection and rare items.
Some of the most interesting works include intimate letters and the once-private manuscripts of H.P. Lovecraft, a famous horror and sci-fi writer. You can also see the personal book collection and documents of a former secretary of state who once also served as Abraham Lincoln’s secretary.
If that’s not enough to tempt you, how about books that are bound in skin? And we don’t mean animal skin—human skin!
The library has three bizarre books on anatomy that have been bound together using human remains. Don’t worry, though; this was on the request of the deceased people, such was their love their reading. It wasn’t a ritual from some strange book fetish cult!
6. Grave of Mercy Brown, Exeter
From grisly books that contain human skin to ghostly graveyards, Rhode Island has a few hidden gems that will appeal to fans of the strange, unusual, and macabre.
The grave of Mercy Brown in Exeter lies undisturbed today, protected with a heavy metal band that is wrapped round a sturdy post. This wasn’t always the case, however …
Travel back in your mind to the late 1800s, to 1892 to be precise, and imagine the grief of George Brown, a local farmer, upon watching his wife and two daughters die from unknown causes.
Having already lost his wife, Mary, and daughters, Mary and Mercy, Mr. Brown was desperate not to lose any more family members to the strange symptoms. It may seem only natural that when his son, Edwin, became ill, Mr. Brown sought every possible cure. This went way beyond the norm, however, and led to the digging up of his deceased family members to find out if they were vampires!
Superstitions and fear of the unnatural ran deep in the past, and death has a way of making people do strange things. And, what could be stranger than thinking your dead relatives could be vampires?!
The two Marys were found to be mainly bones. Mercy, on the other hand, was said to have been fairly well preserved. This resulted in her heart being gouged out and burnt. They then made the ailing Edwin drink the ashes of his sister’s heart in an attempt to save him. He died anyway.
Visit Mercy’s grave and remember the young girl whose life not only ended suddenly, but who was also not allowed to rest in peace after her demise. It’s sure to send a shiver down your spine.
7. Delekta’s Pharmacy and Malt Shop, Warren
Travel back in time and feel a sense of nostalgia at the quaint Delekta’s Pharmacy and Malt Shop in Warren. Be sure to try one of their delectable drinks, too.
The insides look as they would have done back in the 1800s and the establishment oozes an olde-worlde vibe. The pharmacy still dispenses drugs and makes up prescriptions and there’s an array of quirky items for sale. Jars of candy add pops of colour to the countertops and entice anyone with a sweet tooth. The biggest draw is, arguably, the traditional drinks served here.
Using an old and well-protected secret recipe, the store offers a range of coffee cabinets. For the uninitiated, that’s not a piece of furniture! It’s the name given to a beverage similar to a coffee milkshake. A Rhode Island favourite, the drink dates back to the WWII period. Made using milk, coffee syrup, and ice cream, it offers a creamy and cool caffeine hit.
Delekta’s Pharmacy and Malt Shop has been pleasing locals and visitors alike since before the Second World War. They still have an old-school soda fountain too.
8. Neutaconkanut Hill Park, Providence
A lovely city park, the under-visited Neutaconkanut Hill Park sprawls out across 88 acres. Wild and rugged, the park has several walking and jogging trails, most of which offer terrific views of the city below. Trails are of varying difficulty levels, making it perfect for people of all fitness and enthusiasm levels.
A great place to relax and enjoy nature, the park features beautiful woodland that is filled with flora and fauna, freshwater springs that trickle through the landscapes, rolling verdant meadows, and huge boulders that were formed thousands of years ago by glacial activity. Bridges cross patches of wetlands.
The park is located at the city’s highest point, standing at almost 300 feet above sea level. It once marked the boundary between Rhode Island’s territory and that of the neighbouring Narragansett Indians.
Family-owned property for many years, you can see a monument to the King Family in the park.
9. Prudence Island, Portsmouth
Sitting in Narrangansett Bay, Prudence Island is one of the most off-the-beaten-track and remote places in all of Rhode Island. Part of the Portsmouth administrative area, the island covers around five and a half square miles and is home to a small community of fewer than 100 people.
Once known by native groups as Chibachuweset, Prudence Island was sold to two settlers. A wall was built across the island, remains of which can still be seen today. Used during the colonial era for farming, it later became a fairly popular summer retreat. Remnants can be seen of the island’s times as a navy storage area as well.
There are several grand buildings on the island, constructed in various architectural styles and created to be pleasant and peaceful summer homes at the heart of nature and away from the city’s hustle and bustle. Prudence Park has fine Victorian-style buildings while Bristol Colony’s dwellings have a more modern appearance. There’s an old lighthouse at Sandy Point.
Hop across on one of the regular ferries to enjoy the vistas and follow one of the hiking trails.
10. Enchanted Forest, Hopkinton
The small town of Hopkinton is home to a rather forlorn and sorrowful site—the abandoned and derelict amusement park of Enchanted Forest. There’s so much irony in that name today, with the crumbling and rusting remains far from being enchanted!
The shrieks and squeals of delight and joy no longer fill the air. The rides no longer work. Food and drinks sellers no longer work hard to keep the crowds happy, and the forest is, unfortunately, no longer enchanted. The park closed in 2005 due to cash-flow problems.
Located on private land, it is best to view the old park from the perimeter to avoid the risk of being prosecuted. The ghosts of fairground past still hang heavy in the air at the edges too, though.
A large pirate ship, old bumper cars, a giant boot, a ruined go-kart track, rails, towers, and broken carriages are all part of the once-happy park. Now overgrown and left to succumb to the forces of nature, it’s hauntingly eerie, and a sad reminder of the changes that occur with the passage of time.
11. Sakonnet Garden, Little Compton
The privately run Sakonnet Garden can be found in the small tome of Little Compton. Charming and rather enchanting—unlike the previous entry on the list!—several quaint pathways lead through row upon row of plants, flowers, and trees.
Established in the 1970s, the garden was created as a sanctuary in a small clearing that was surrounded by dense native trees. Having grown and spread, the garden is now more than an acre large. Paths blend in with the original growth, with minimal disruption to the natural surroundings.
A tranquil hideaway in a costal fields setting, the myriad flowers add beautiful colours and fragrances to the area. The creators have also had fun playing around with the lighting too, further adding to the garden’s captivating appeal. Intimate and exciting, it’s a great place for exploration.
Furthermore, the garden is a great spot for keen gardeners. See which plants thrive and flourish in a coastal environment, and which aren’t tough enough to survive in this kind of terrain. The owners are constantly experimenting with growing new plants.
12. Wickenden Street, Providence
Take a stroll down the tucked-away Wickenden Street in the state capital of Providence and you’ll find an indie shopping dream.
There are many locally owned establishments, ranging from intimate cafes with semi-secluded niches, stores filled with vintage clothing gems, shops brimming with attractive and interesting antiques, and plentiful arts and crafts.
If you’re still into vinyl, you’ll be delighted to find a well-stocked record shop. Dreaming of some fun-filled sexy times? Head to the erotica shop! There are several restaurants too where you can refuel and revitalize with a filling feed.
Leave the crowds to shop at the more well-known spots and go offbeat with a foray along Wickenden Street.
13. On the Docks, Newport
Looking for a hidden dining gem in Newport? Check out On the Docks, a cool hidden spot that’s tucked away from prying eyes and located right on the water at Waites Wharf.
With a lack of advertising, promotion, and social media presence, the establishment relies on word of mouth recommendations, loyal clientele, and being spotlighted in lists like this to drum up business. But, that means that the masses stay away and only a few that are in the know make it here.
The seafood restaurant provides great views out over the harbour and you can choose to sit either inside or outdoors. Sink your teeth into classic American fare, like steaks, sandwiches, and burgers, or enjoy a fresh haul of bounties from the ocean.
An extensive selection of drinks is available to complement your meal. If you want to chillax even more, settle down with a hookah pipe and truly take it easy.
14. Warwick City Park, Warwick
One of the state’s best-kept secrets when it comes to fun in the park, Warwick City Park can be found in the area of Buttonwoods Beach. Scenic and well-equipped, it’s ideal for families, groups of friends, couples, and solo wanderers.
There’s no need for your canine friends to miss out either, as the park has a large dog-friendly area where your furry friends can run and play.
If you’re feeling sporty you can make full use of the baseball fields, tennis courts, cycling path, and jogging tracks. Alternatively feel fresh with a swim in the salty sea. There are also hiking trails with scenic views aplenty, and a dedicated trail for bird spotting.
If, on the other hand, you just want to take it easy and relax, head to the sandy beach and bask in the sunshine, dig into a picnic, or get some shade in the covered shelters.
Free to enter, Warwick City Park is accessible to all and has full wheelchair access.
15. The Bells, Newport
The decrepit Bells was previously one of the most splendid estates in the entire city. Now a shadow of its former self, it stands in a not-so-graceful state of disrepair in Brenton Point State Park.
The estate dates back to the 1870s. Originally called The Reefs, it was built by a local lawyer, Theodore M. Davis. Constructed to fulfill the criteria of his dream home, he stuffed his sanctuary with numerous artefacts and interesting objects that he had amassed when travelling. After his death, the large and impressive property was snapped up by the Budong Family.
The land was later used for military purposes during the Second World War. Although it was subsequently returned to the family after the war’s conclusion, they had little interest in rebuilding a life here. Instead, they left the mansion to decay and the grounds to become wild and overgrown.
The main mansion was eventually demolished, leaving only ruined stables and a carriage house. Daubed with graffiti, the ruins are a woeful reminder of how popularity and splendour can quickly turn around.
16. Block Island National Wildlife Refuge
Take a day trip to Block Island National Wildlife Refuge, located just 12 miles from the coast, and find yourself in a pristine natural heaven. Filled with all manner of creepy crawlies, birds, and small creatures, it’s the perfect place for anyone who loves nature spotting in a peaceful place.
Covering 127 acres, the refuge as founded in 1973. Today’s visitors can see, and hear, more than 70 species of songbird, their twittering and trillings filling the air with joyful sounds. Rare beetles also call the island home.
There are remote beaches to wander along; take a good book and relax and don’t forget your camera to preserve your memories. Activities on the quiet island include fishing, picnicking, hunting, and taking part in informative and educational guide-led wildlife walks. The island is connected to the mainland by regular ferry services, so there’s no excuse for missing out on this little slice of natural heaven.
17. Musee Patamecanique, Bristol
What could be more secret than a museum where the exact location is a mystery? Welcome to Musee Patamecanique in Rhode Island’s Bristol.
Prospective visitors must contact in advance to arrange a tour, and only then will the museum’s whereabouts be revealed. A small collection, the obscurity of the items makes it well worth a visit when in the area.
Established in 2006, Musee Patamecanique is a cross between a curiosity cabinet and a theatre of automatons.
Tours begin in Bristol’s historical area, leading through a variety of indoor and outdoor locations. Starting at sunset, the routes vary, encompassing parks, coffee shops, eateries, stores, streets, and waterfront locations. Rather like a magical mystery tour, visitors are given an audio guide to follow while the guide vanishes.
People should eventually find themselves at the actual museum, which contains a bizarre collection of miscellany. An old animation machine, known as the Time Machine, a weird clock, a gathering of singing mechanical chipmunks, and an ornamental chandelier with singing mechanical birds are just a few of the strange whimsies in the museum.
If you’ve ever wondered what bees dream about, this is the place to come! And there’s no need to worry that you’re tripping when you see the Earolin—it really is a large violin-playing holograph that looks like an ear!
Perhaps the grossest item on display is the Undigestulator, a contraption that is said to be able to make already digested food edible again. Anyone care for seconds?!
18. Swan Point Cemetery, Providence
A cemetery may be an unlikely listing for a hidden gem (unless, of course, it contains the remains of those thought to be vampires, per listing number six), but Providence’s Swan Point Cemetery is well worth a visit.
Pretty, peaceful, and picturesque, the large cemetery contains around 40,000 graves. It stretches across 60 acres and dates back to the mid-1800s.
Don’t expect rows of drab headstones and a depressing vibe. The cemetery is instead well-spaced, well-ordered, and beautifully landscaped. A place to celebrate life rather than to mourn death, it has the graves of many influential locals from times gone by.
Offering lovely views of the river and countryside, the cemetery has many beautiful flowers and trees. Large lawns and forested pathways are ideal for exploring. Walking, cycling, and nature spotting are all possible in the expansive park-like area.
Famous graves include those of politicians, military officers, prominent artists and authors, sports personalities, inventors, and business leaders. People can still be buried here today, and the cemetery is open to people from all races, religions, and walks of life.
19. Purgatory Chasm, Middletown
From a graveyard straight to the afterlife, the only deathly thing about Purgatory Chasm today is its name.
Steeped in local lore, the area is not, however, without its woeful tales. Local legend tells of a frivolous young lady who was greatly loved by a man. Although she felt fondly of him, her mischievous nature was strong. As he begged her to show that his feelings were reciprocated, she told him that she would marry him if he would jump across the yawning chasm.
Perhaps blinded by foolish love and adoration, the man instantly jumped. He made it safely to the other side but perhaps realised that he didn’t want a life filled with challenges. It is said that he raised his hat to the lady, spoke again of her beauty, but also told her what he thought about her impish ways. He left, and she never saw him again. Stories say that she spent the rest of her days mourning his departure.
Irrespective of the tales, Purgatory Chasm is a beautiful place to enjoy when in Middletown. The gaping chasm reaches into the earth’s belly for about 50 feet, and is ten feet wide at the top. Created by glacial activity many thousands of years ago, the area provides spectacular views and a peaceful ambience. Take a deep breath, stand on the bridge, and peer down into the deep abyss, if you dare!
20. The New England Wireless and Steam Museum, East Greenwich
While The New England Wireless and Steam Museum may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a real jewel for fans of locomotive and transportation history and people who love seeing vintage vehicles. Great for people who love learning more about technological inventions and developments, it’s also a popular museum with kids.
Located in East Greenwich, the museum focuses on engineering developments. It contains several still-working steam engines and an old wireless station.
The wireless station was moved here from another part of the state in order to ensure its survival. It is the oldest still working wireless station in existence across the globe.
There’s also an onsite library that houses old engineering texts and manuals, as well as an 1822 meeting house that was also moved from a different part of the state in order to prevent it from being demolished.
If you’re keen to pay a visit, do note that you will need to contact in advance to arrange a suitable viewing time.
21. Peaceable Market, Newport
Calling all sandwich aficionados! If you’re looking for the best place in Rhode Island to sink your teeth into the perfect sandwich, Peaceable Market will be just what you are looking for.
Keeping customers satisfied and full with made-to-order sandwiches, no order is too obscure (providing, of course, they have the ingredients—let’s not get too wacky!).
You can grab a sandwich to go or sit down and savour your treat as you watch people passing by. Prices are reasonable and you’re sure to get a filling and tasty breakfast or lunch here. Don’t plan on a sandwich for dinner, however, as it’s closed come evening time.
Casual and relaxed, you can also order salads and a selection of drinks, cookies, and other sweets to go with your sandwich. Service is quick, meaning that you can eat and move on without delay to discover more of Rhode Island’s hidden gems.
22. Spring Lake Arcade, Burrillville
Great for gaming enthusiasts, especially those who love old-fashioned machines with an air of nostalgia, Spring Lake Arcade can be found on Spring Lake Beach in the town of Burrillville. Spring Lake Beach has long been a popular summer destination, but the arcade is a real gem when in the area.
First set up in the early 1930s, the arcade takes visitors back in time to when it was first opened. You’ll also find more modern additions too. There are amusement machines that date back as far as the 1920s, right up to those made in the present day.
A trip here won’t break the bank—many of the older gaming machines still take pennies, nickels, and dimes! Fill your pockets with coins before coming.
Operated as a family enterprise from its inception up to the 1960s, it was bought by an avid arcade enthusiast who works hard to maintain the ambience of a traditional arcade.
Food and drink is available from the concession stands so you could play all day if you so desired! The machines really are that addictive and offer so much good old-fashioned fun for the whole family.
23. Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, Pawtucket
One of the quirkiest and most giggle-raising offbeat attractions in Rhode Island, the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health is an absolute must-see if in Pawtucket.
An informative centre that deals with, as the name suggests, anything and everything related to sexual activity, you’ll find a huge collection of sex toys, sexy outfits, manuals, and books. You might learn a few new tricks for the bedroom, and there’s sure to be at least a few items that even the most sexually experienced visitors will raise an eyebrow at.
It’s also a vital space for education related to sexual health, teaching people how to avoid diseases and stay safe while getting down and dirty. Locals originally, however, thought the centre was going to be used as a den of inequity! When all misunderstandings were ironed out, the centre finally opened.
Whether you want to learn more ways to spice up your sex life, have a question related to sexual well-being, want advice, or are simply curious, it’s an interesting place that also provides valuable services. Plus, you’ll find the largest vulva-shaped doorway in the whole of the USA here! We suppose there’s not that many around, though.
24. Great Swamp Fight Monument, South Kingstown
Who remembers the Great Swamp Fight? Anybody? An almost forgotten event in Rhode Islands’ history, the Great Swamp Fight took place in December 1675. Native American groups and colonial troops came to blows following building tensions that eventually bubbled over.
War was already raging in other areas and several historical events culminated in the Great Swamp Fight. Tribal groups attacked a garrison, killing at least 15 people and destroying the buildings. In retaliation, colonial soldiers marched for many miles and led an attack on the native groups.
The bloody massacre that ensued resulted in around 600 native people being killed, with men, women, and children among the many victims. Of those who weren’t killed, many more perished after fleeing into the cold swamp.
The colonial forces did not escape unscathed, with around 150 soldiers dying either during the battle or on the challenging march home after the enormous skirmish.
A monument in South Kingstown remembers those who lost their lives from both sides during the historic battle in harsh terrain. Today a pleasant area for a hike, it’s quite difficult to imagine that the site once saw such tremendous and brutal bloodshed.
25. Jerimoth Hill, Foster
The highest point in Rhode Island, the 812-foot-high Jerimoth Hill was once a force to be reckoned with. It might not seem all that high, because, in actuality, it isn’t, but for many years it was a tough spot for climbers to tackle.
Inaccessible for many years, it was made off-limits by a high fence, no-trespassing signs, and a grumpy owner who did not want people trampling through his back yard. Henry Richardson really did not want people climbing Jerimoth Hill!
The cranky owner eventually sold the land to people who were more amenable to hikers and walkers. There was no longer any fear of being yelled at, or even worse, shot at, for trying to take a walk. It later became state land, making it accessible to anyone that wants to visit.
Whether you want to tick another state high point from your list or visit somewhere a bit different with an interesting back story, Jerimoth Hill is a nice place now with walking trails and nice views. The flat-rock summit is surrounded by greenery.
26. Point Judith, Narragansett
A creepy old lighthouse stands on the rugged shore in Narragansett, lighting an area that has earned itself the unfortunate nickname of the Graveyard of the Atlantic.
Point Judith was perilous for vessels, with numerous wrecks happening off the rocky coast. Thick fog and large numbers of ships passing on the waves contributed to the disproportionately high number of disasters here. Despite the efforts of the lighthouse, many ships were ruined within sight of the landmark.
At the end of the Second World War, several German submarines remained in the waters, not having received news of Germany’s surrender. One submarine took down a US coal ship in a blast, becoming the final WWII act of aggression in the Atlantic Ocean.
As well as the tragic naval history of the area, Point Judith’s lighthouse is a photogenic sight on the dramatic coastline. The original building from the early 1800s was destroyed, with the present lighthouse dating back to the mid-1800s.
Rhode Island is full of interesting hidden gems, from places laden with history to remote natural areas and from quiet eateries to obscure museums. Discover your favourites as you explore the Ocean State.