25 Best Things to Do in Rhode Island

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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The first of the thirteen colonies to declare its independence from Great Britain in 1776, Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the United States but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in character, culture and clams. Home to over 400 miles of coastline, several grand mansions and some unusual culinary treats, Rhode Island should be firmly rooted on any travelers “to visit” list. Here are 25 reasons why:

1. Witness the “WaterFire Providence”

Providence WaterFireSource: Scott F Smith / shutterstock
Providence WaterFire

Billed as one of the “top 20 events in North America” by National Geographic Magazine, the Providence WaterFire is a modern art installation found in downtown Providence during May and October. This unique multi-sensory attraction consists of volunteer fire tenders sailing down the river and lighting more than 80 floating bonfires along their way. The waterborne display is accompanied by new-age music to further perplex the gathering crowds.

2. Visit the International Tennis Hall of Fame

International Tennis Hall of FameSource: Joy Brown / shutterstock
International Tennis Hall Of Fame

If you are a fan of Tennis, or even if you are not, this is a must visit attraction. Home to a large collection of rackets, balls and a display of the evolution of tennis style through the years, the museum also has grounds containing 13 full size tennis courts which can still be used today.

3. Take a trip to the Roger Williams Park Zoo

Roger Williams Park ZooSource: Dlabajdesign / shutterstock
Roger Williams Park Zoo

Drawing over 500,000 visitors every year, it is fair to say that the Roger Williams Park Zoo is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Rhode Island. The zoo, which can easily keep you entertained for a full day, has more than 100 species from around the globe. The Roger Williams Park is also home to a museum of natural history and the largest indoor botanical garden in New England.

4. Walk the Newport Cliffs

Newport CliffsSource: Joseph Sohm / shutterstock
Newport Cliffs

This world famous path along the eastern shore of Newport is a great way to experience the grand architecture and natural beauty of the seaside city. The cliff walk is the first National Recreational Trail in New England and is around 3.5 miles in length. The walk requires a certain degree of physical fitness but is well worth the effort. Many of the grand mansions are visible from the walk although to do them justice, you should certainly attend a guided tour of their interiors.

Suggested tour: Newport Cliff Walk Self-Guided Walking Tour

5. Head to the Beach

Easton's Beach, Rhode IslandSource: KYPhua / shutterstock
Easton’s Beach, Rhode Island

The state of Rhode Island has an impressive 400 miles of coastline and over 100 beaches. Travelers looking for a calm and relaxing beach should head to Third Beach in Middletown. Thrill seekers should make a trip to Easton’s beach in Newport, a surf beach just under a mile long with an excellent snack bar.

6. Place your bets in a Casino

Poker ChipsSource: Studio_3321 / shutterstock
Poker Chips

The large casinos in Newport and Lincoln are very popular destinations with locals and state visitors alike. Thousands of table games and slot machines are available and are accompanied nicely by live entertainment and a variety of food and drink choices.

7. Admire the Newport Mansions

The Breakers Mansion, NewportSource: jiawangkun / shutterstock
The Breakers Mansion, Newport

The nine homes available to view in Newport will certainly impress you. Previously used as holiday homes for the affluent, the mansions are now maintained by the Preservation Society of Newport County. The most impressive of the mansions is arguably The Breakers; a 70 room, renaissance style house. Admission to the mansion includes an audio tour and the property is fully wheelchair accessible. Other notable buildings include The Elms, former residence of Mr and Mrs Edward Julius Berwind and Marble House which earns its name from the 500,000 cubic feet of marble within.

Tour from Boston: Newport Mansions Full-Day Trip

8. Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum

Rhode Island School of DesignSource: Jose L Vilchez / shutterstock
Rhode Island School Of Design Library

Providence is home to an impressive art scene and one of the most reputable art schools in the country. The RISD Museum is home to a large collection of paintings, sculptures, photography and various other media produced by artists past and present.

9. Indulge in the Rhode Island Clam Trio

Clam CakesSource: Fanfo / shutterstock
Clam Cakes

With its varied and abundant coastline, Rhode Island is renowned for its fresh tasty seafood. For an authentic culinary experience, head to a Rhode Island clam shack. Start with clam cakes, small pieces of chopped clam fried in dough, then order clam chowder which is thinner and clearer in color than its New England counterpart. Finally, fill yourself up with a stuffed quahog, aka a stuffie, which is a shell filled with chopped clam, onion, Tabasco sauce and breadcrumbs.

10. Fort Adams State Park

Fort Adams State ParkSource: tomtsya / shutterstock
Fort Adams State Park

Fort Adams served as a US army and naval base for over a century before becoming part of Rhode Island State in 1965. Nowadays, the park is a great location for activities such as fishing, sailing or a tranquil picnic. It is located at the mouth of the Newport harbor and offers an incredible view of Newport harbor and Narragansett Bay.

11. Catch a show at the Providence Performing Arts Centre

Providence Performing Arts CentreSource: ESB Professional / shutterstock
Providence Performing Arts Centre

A multi-use theater first opened in 1928, the Providence Performing Arts Centre is a popular venue for tourists and locals to enjoy musicals, theater and concerts as well as free local events. The reputation of the venue has grown in recent years and it has been chosen to host the opening of a number of national tours.

12. Beavertail Lighthouse Museum

Beavertail Lighthouse MuseumSource: Stephen B. Goodwin / shutterstock
Beavertail Lighthouse Museum

Located on the tip of Jamestown, this lighthouse is home to museum packed with information, history and facts about the USA’s third oldest lighthouse. The actual building containing the museum was built in 1898 to house a lighthouse assistant. The surrounding Beavertail State Park is well worth spending some time in also.

13. Varied Nightlife in Newport

Newport NightlifeSource: James Kirkikis / shutterstock
Newport Nightlife

Newport’s nightlife has something to offer almost anyone. Start your night in an Irish pub with a plate of Shepherd’s pie and a pint of Guinness and round your evening off by checking out some live music in Newport Blues Café. The many pubs in Newport offer a wide variety of hearty home-cooked grub.

14. Naval War College Museum

Naval War College MuseumSource: U.S. Naval War College / Flickr | CC BY
Naval War College Museum

This museum offers you the chance to learn about Newport’s naval and military past. The collection of exhibits is housed in the Founders building on the war college campus and admission is free.

15. Drive the ten mile Ocean Drive

Ocean Drive, Rhode IslandSource: Jpecks19 / shutterstock
Ocean Drive

The Ocean Drive, also known as the Ten Mile Drive by locals, navigates the south coast of Aquidneck Island. As well as some stunning views, the road offers vantage of a number of points of interest including King Park, New York Yacht Club and the US Coast Guard station. There are also some great spots along the route for sunbathing and swimming in isolation.

16. Touro Synagogue

Touro SynagogueSource: LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / shutterstock
Touro Synagogue

The Touro Synagogue was built in 1763 by Isaac Touro and is the oldest Synagogue in the USA. Famous architect Peter Harrison, who designed Kings Chapel in Boston was responsible for designing the building. The synagogue played host to a town meeting in the 18th century when George Washington visited the town.

17. Redwood Library and Athenaeum

Redwood Library and AthenaeumSource: Wangkun Jia / shutterstock
Redwood Library and Athenaeum

Redwood Library is the oldest lending library in the USA and was founded in 1747 by Abraham Redwood. The site was used as a British officers club during the Revolutionary War. Thankfully, the building survived this period of history and is open to the public. Guided tours are available.

18. The Swiss Village

Swiss VillageSource: Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952, photographer / Wikimedia
Swiss Village

The Swiss Village is a remarkable attraction but is only open for one day of the year. Situated on 35 acres of Arthur Curtis James’ former estate, it was patterned and designed based on Swiss villages. 15 buildings make up the village and include an infirmary, workshop and large conference room. When planning your trip to Rhode Island be sure to check if you are lucky enough to be visiting when the Swiss Village is hosting its open day.

19. The Mohegan Bluffs

Mohegan BluffsSource: ARENA Creative / shutterstock
Mohegan Bluffs

Located on Block Island, the Mohegan Bluffs are large cliffs made of clay standing at around 150 feet high. The cliffs get their name from the battle between the Niantic and the Mohegans for control of the island in the 16th century. From atop the cliffs, visitors can see for miles out into the Atlantic Ocean or enjoy one of the beaches at the base of the cliffs.

20. Pizza Strips

Pizza StripsSource: Mark Bonica / Flickr
Pizza Strips

Another Rhode Island culinary experience is the infamous pizza strip. Unsurprisingly, this snack resembles a long, narrow slice of pizza although the thick dough is usually topped with a viscous tomato sauce and no cheese. The strips are served at room temperature and are available at bakeries or guaranteed at any Rhode Island party.

21. The McCoy Stadium

McCoy StadiumSource: Joy Brown / shutterstock
McCoy Stadium

Although a move of the stadium is currently visited, a trip to this stadium to watch a minor league baseball clash is highly recommended by many. Home to the Pawtucket Red Sox, the stadium offers a great introduction to baseball for travelers and a night of family entertainment.

22. Ride the Crescent Park Looff Carousel

Crescent Park Looff CarouselSource: Daniel Case / Wikimedia
Crescent Park Looff Carousel

Built in 1895 by Charles Looff, the grandfather of carousel design, the Crescent Park Carousel was originally built to showcase Looff’s skills to perspective buyers and is therefore his most elaborate work. The ride is open and operating from Wednesday to Sunday in the months of July and August.

23. Pick (and eat) your own Fruit

ApplesSource: Brett Godfrey / shutterstock

Rhode Island is well known for its agriculture and one of the best ways to experience this first hand is to visit one of the many parks in the state that offer the opportunity to pick your own fruit. Simply, arrange a visit when your favorite fruits are in season, fill your basket and enjoy the fruits of your labour.

24. Newport Folk Festival

Newport Folk FestivalSource: Carl Beust / shutterstock
Newport Folk Festival

The Newport Folk Festival happens every summer in the Fort Adams Park on Newport Harbor. The festival usually lasts for three days and features four stages of live music along with a selection of food and crafts. The festival was founded in 1959 and today honors traditional folk music along with artists from the present day scene.

25. Go Rock pooling

Rock PoolingSource: Phil Sunkel / shutterstock
Rock Pooling

If you love seafood but have a tight budget, searching the rock pools around Jamestown and Newport is a great way to spend your day and you may well be rewarded with some edible sea critters. Grab a net, a sturdy pair of shoes and head to the beach when the tides are out.


25 Best Things to Do in Rhode Island:

  • Witness the “WaterFire Providence”
  • Visit the International Tennis Hall of Fame
  • Take a trip to the Roger Williams Park Zoo
  • Walk the Newport Cliffs
  • Head to the Beach
  • Place your bets in a Casino
  • Admire the Newport Mansions
  • Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum
  • Indulge in the Rhode Island Clam Trio
  • Fort Adams State Park
  • Catch a show at the Providence Performing Arts Centre
  • Beavertail Lighthouse Museum
  • Varied Nightlife in Newport
  • Naval War College Museum
  • Drive the ten mile Ocean Drive
  • Touro Synagogue
  • Redwood Library and Athenaeum
  • The Swiss Village
  • The Mohegan Bluffs
  • Pizza Strips
  • The McCoy Stadium
  • Ride the Crescent Park Looff Carousel
  • Pick (and eat) your own Fruit
  • Newport Folk Festival
  • Go Rock pooling