9 Cool Things to do in Rhode Island
Tiny Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the US, but it’s crammed with cool things to see and do.
Nicknamed the “Ocean State” due to its 645km of coastline, Rhode Island is a laid-back destination that's perfect for a relaxing break. Fly to Providence to discover Rhode Island's delicious seafood, great craft beers, and fine wines – along with some of the best stretches of sand in the USA.
1) Ride the Flying Horse carousel in Westerly
Rhode Island is home to one of the oldest continuously operating carousels in the United States. Built around 1876, this National Historic Landmark is made up of 20 multi-coloured horses suspended from chains that cruise around to music. Sorry grown-ups, the Flying Horse carousel is only suitable for children, but the town of Westerly – where Taylor Swift has a summer house – has plenty more to offer. Catch a movie on East Beach or grab a drink at luxe Ocean House, one of the most lavish hotels in the state. (Photo by |vv@ldzen| licensed under CC BY 2.0)
2) Shuck oysters at Matunuck Oyster Bar
Miles of coastline make Rhode Island a pilgrimage destination for seafood lovers, and at Matunuck Oyster Bar you’ll sample some of the best oysters on the East Coast in a relaxed outdoor setting. There’s plenty more on the menu, too, from seafood chowder to farm-to-table dishes using Rhode Island’s grass-fed beef. Want to know more about the region’s food? Take Matunuck’s free oyster-farm tour and you’ll have the chance to visit a seven-acre shellfish farm in Potter’s Pond, learning how shellfish are cultivated and the important role these filter-feeding organisms play in marine ecology.
3) Visit Block Island
Rhode Island is full of glorious beaches, but for something extra special, take the ferry over to nearby Block Island. This beautiful isle – think cliffs leading down to rustic beaches with gorgeous Atlantic views – is a throwback to the mid-1800s, and a trip here will have you exploring antique-crammed Victorian houses and some of the best hiking routes in the northeast of the US. If you’re visiting in summer, spend your day at Mansion Beach, at the north end of Crescent Beach, where snow-white sand meets frothy waves. Leave time to visit Block Island Southeast Lighthouse – the US National Historic Landmark is praised for being one of the most architecturally impressive lighthouses built in the US in the 19th century.
4) Take a Mansion Tour
A trip to Newport is essential for anyone keen to get their architectural fix – the town is filled with immaculately preserved Colonial-era buildings. Don’t just wander along the streets, though – take a tour. They’re a brilliant way to explore the elaborate rooms and gardens of 11 of Newport’s grandest properties, including Colonial, Victorian and Gilded Age houses. You can take self-guided or guided tours, and also opt in to behind-the-scenes tours, such as exploring servant life at The Elms, a wide-fronted chateau-style mansion with a limestone facade.
5) Wine and dine at Newport Vineyards
While Napa Valley, California, is one of America’s most famous wine-producing regions, Newport is its East Coast equivalent. Check out Newport Vineyards, which was originally planted in 1977 on a hill overlooking Rhode Island Sound. The area has a microclimate that produces a long, cool growing season, which helps build complex wine flavours. See it, and taste it, for yourself on a Newport Vineyards tour: the 30-minute session will give you a fascinating look at the winemaking process, from the vineyards to the all-important tasting room, where you’ll get to sample the region’s best Chardonnay. Keen to stay longer? Two on-site restaurants are the perfect place to fuel up.
6) Discover Providence’s foodie renaissance
Rhode Island’s capital may have made its name as a prominent textile city, but nowadays Providence is the go-to destination for East Coast foodies looking to sample dishes by America’s up-and-coming chefs. From Benjamin Sukle’s tiny restaurant Birch, to Derek Wagner’s brunch-to-dinner restaurant Nicks On Broadway, via Peruvian cuisine at Los Andes, there’s inventive, farm-to-table cuisine at every turn. And it’s not all smart dining: Bucktown has racked up awards as one of the best fried-chicken joints in the US, while PVDonuts sells colourful creations to big queues of loyal locals.
7) Ride the East Bay Bike Path
Forget gym sessions – the best way to burn off the food and drink you’ve devoured in Rhode Island is a spin along the 14-mile-long East Bay Bike Path. Part of the East Coast Greenway – a 3,000-mile trail linking Maine to Key West – the East Bay path is a lovely paved stretch that skirts along the Narragansett Bay from Providence to Bristol. There are detours, too – the Crescent Park trail will lead you to the colourful Looff carousel, made up of 62 intricately carved horses, camels, coaches and chariots.
8) Take the Rhode Island Brew Bus
Along with an epic food and wine scene, Rhode Island does something else very well: beer. Ditch the car and instead take a ride in the bright-turquoise Rhode Island Brew Bus, which stops off at some of the best breweries in the state. There are several tours to choose from, including the “Beereakfast” tour, which takes in the Long Live Beerworks, Buttonwoods Brewery and the Isle Brewers Guild. Get a sneak peak of the brewery process and enjoy a tasting session.
9) Sightsee by sailboat
You’ve walked, cycled and toured around Rhode Island – now it’s time to take to the water and see the coastline from the sea. With Sailing Excursions, you can hop on an Old World-style yacht and see Newport’s stately bayside mansions, a 19th-century fort and historic lighthouses, or just kick back on the pristine deck and take in the azure ocean. For something special, try a sunset cruise aboard Sloop Eleanor. If you think Rhode Island looks good from land, a dusty-pink sky looks even better from the water.