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Rhode Island Travel Guide

The Ocean State is noted for its miles of fine beach, but there's lots more to see and do in the country's smallest state.

Watch Hill Beach, Watch Hill, Rhode Islan
Watch Hill Beach, Watch Hill RI.

A Bit of History

In the 1600s, when New England was being colonized by Europeans, the best solution to a community conflict was for the weaker of the conflicting parties to shove off into the wilderness and found their own community.

To save his skin and freely express his beliefs, Roger Williams left Puritan Salem (MA) in 1636 and came to Narragansett Bay, followed soon afterward by others who shared his views, or at least knew they would be allowed to disagree.

Williams was ahead of the times in his political, religious, and ethical thinking, and his contribution to the American democratic tradition is very important: in his new community of Providence, citizens could think and say what they liked.

In the years that followed the founding of Providence, Williams persuaded Parliament to include the settlements of Portsmouth and Newport on Rhode Island with his own Providence Plantation under the same charter—these towns had also been founded by dissenters who desired freedom of thought and speech—thus securing to the colony as a whole the right of absolute liberty in matters of belief.

Today Rhode Island is a manufacturing center, a maritime state, with a lot of rich agricultural land and several important industries.

But the summer vacationers who come to Rhode Island—beginning with the enormously wealthy socialites who started the custom in the 19th century—are also an important part of the economy, and the state government does a lot to see that "Little Rhodie" retains the lure it had for those discriminating types who built palatial mansions in Newport, Watch Hill, and other coastal towns.

May is officially celebrated as Heritage Month in Rhode Island, commemorating that Rhode Island was the first colony to declare independence from British rule (May 4, 1776).

On May 1, or thereabouts, May Day Breakfasts are held by all sorts of church, civic, and fraternal organizations across the state, and the public is invited to most of them. These can be pretty lavish affairs, and you're sure to get your money's worth.

Providence, Newport, Block Island, and the South County beaches are highlights:


Rhode Island's capital is noted for its white marble state house (capitol), its world-renowned universities such as Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, its restaurant scene, and a crazy, wonderful city-wide art form known as Waterfire. More...

Rhode Island State House, Providence RI
Rhode Island State House (capitol), Providence RI.


Newport's wonderful summer seaside climate brought city millionaires here during the 19th century. They built huge, palatial mansions for their vacations and moored their luxury yachts in Newport's fine harbor. That set the tone for this upscale resort, still favored by the wealthy, but also by normal folk and music lovers who flock to the Newport Jazz Festival and other performance events. More...

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island
The Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt's palatial
"summer cottage" in Newport, Rhode Island.

South County & Beaches

Rhode Island isn't called the Ocean State for naught: it has 384 miles of salt-water shore, much of it in beaches of powdery-fine light-colored sand backed by dunes. The 15 public beaches along the coast of South County offer some of New England's most enjoyable summer sun, sand and sea fun. More...

Misquamicut Beach, South County, Rhode Island
Late afternoon lingerers on Misquamicut Beach, South County RI.

Block Island

Rhode Island's delightful three-season getaway island is 13 miles (21 km) south offshore from Point Judith, halfway to the eastern tip of New York's Long Island (map).

Smaller than Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard—easily, and delightfully, bicyclable—this pretty island off the Rhode Island coast retains its Victorian-era architecture and charm. It's perfect for a day-trip or an overnight or two.

Car ferries connect Block Island with the mainland at Galilee year round. In summer, passenger ferries operate to Block Island from Providence and Newport, RI, and New London CT, as well as from Galilee. More...

Block Island, Rhode Island
Lots to do on Block Island, such as...relax.

Rhode Island Highlights

Rhode Island's small size makes it easy to travel around to its many attractions.


Block Island, Narragansett Bay and South County are known for their broad swaths of sand.


Rhode Island's harmonious State House (capitol) in Providence is made of white marble. The center of Providence is a delightful mix of civil, public and ecclesiastical architecture from the John Brown House (1786), the Round-Top Church (1810) and The Arcade (1827) through many 19th-century Federal and Victorian mercantile buildings to modernist and post-modern structures.

Newport is particularly rich in colonial buildings, especially religious ones. The Quaker Meeting House (1699) is the oldest house of worship in Rhode Island; Trinity Church (1726); and Touro Synangogue, designed by Peter Harrison, built in 1763, the oldest extant synagogue building in the USA.

asino Arch, Narragansett, Rhode Island
McKim, Mead & White's Casino Arch (1886), Narragansett RI.

Events & Festivals

"May breakfasts" in that month celebrate Rhode Island's patriotic heritage.

Waterfire on summer nights in Providence is a center-city happening you've got to see.

The Newport Music Festival brings well-known artists to the resort each July to perform in the great mansions.

Block Island Race Week, in late June, features boat races and parties.

Newport Folk Festival & Jazz Festival draw thousands of music-lovers to Newport in August.

For Kids

The 1883 Carousel in Watch Hill is one of the oldest merry-go-rounds in the nation.

Waterfire in Providence is a gala spectacle for the entire family.

Block Island: boat rides, biking, beaches...bravo!

Houses & Gardens

The palatial mansions of Newport with their expansive estates and gardens bring to life the resort's turn-of-the-century opulence. More...


The Rhode Island School of Design's Museum of Art, in Providence, holds more than 80,000 objects: paintings by European and American masters, furniture, costumes, and modern works of art. More...

Newport is the home of the Newport Art Museum, the Museum of Newport History, National Museum of American Illustration, and International Tennis Hall of Fame and Tennis Museum. More...

Rhode Island Itineraries

Rhode Island is half land and half water. You can enjoy both on a drive all around Narragansett Bay.

The Breakers mansion, Newport RI
The Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt's mansion in Newport RI.

Interstate 95 connects Rhode Island to the Connecticut shoreline, Southeastern Massachusetts, the Massachusetts South Shore, and Boston (map).

From Cape Cod, take I-195 via New Bedford to Fall River (where you turn south for Newport), or to Providence.

Rhode Island Loop

Narragansett Bay, the watery center of the state, helps to validate Rhode Island's nickname, the "Ocean State."

To tour Rhode Island is to circumnavigate Narragansett Bay, driving all (or most of) the way around it to see most everything the state has to offer.

Starting in Providence, go east and south along RI Route 114 via Barrington and Bristol, then onto the island of Rhode Island itself, and south to Newport. This 31-mile (50-km) scenic drive gives you a good sense of the beauty of Rhode Island, and takes about one hour.

For orientation purposes, remember that the island has three main towns: Portsmouth in the north, Newport at the southern end, and Middletown in between.

From Newport, RI 138 takes you west across Jamestown island to the mainland, where you join US Route 1, heading south, for Narragansett and, farther along, South County and its beaches.

Detour south along RI 108 to Galilee for more natural beauty, a historic lighthouse at Point Judith, and Port Galilee, the dock for ferryboats to Block Island.

Back on US 1 heading west and south, continue all the way to Westerly and you can go further west to Stonington CT and the Connecticut Shoreline, or northeast on Interstate 95 back to Providence and on to the Massachusetts South Shore or Cape Cod.


The statewide room tax varies from only a few percent in Providence to a whopping 11% in Block Island and Watch Hill. The tax will be added to your hotel bill. The state sales tax, also added to your bill, is 6%. So with these two taxes, your "$150 hotel room" will cost $175.50.