Aerial panorama of Providence skyline and Rhode Island capitol building

Things to do in  Rhode Island

New England goes miniature

The smallest US state is tiny but mighty, with its compact borders wrapping surf beaches, excellent museums, a stylish city, and a remarkable trove of historic architecture. Since all of Rhode Island is within day-tripping distance—you can drive across the entire state in under an hour—Little Rhody invites edge-to-edge exploring. For travelers, highlights include touring Newport’s Gilded Age mansions, browsing Providence’s museums and art galleries, and soaking the ample summer sunshine on the good-timing southern shoreline.

Top 15 attractions in Rhode Island

The Breakers

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The Breakers, the crown jewel of the Newport mansions and the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, is an architectural and social archetype of the Gilded Age. The 70-room, four-story structure was built in 1895 and designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, who modeled it after 16th-century Italian Renaissance palaces.More

Marble House

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The 50-room Marble House, one of the first Beaux-Arts structures in the US, was built between 1888 and 1892 as the Gilded Age summer cottage for William and Alva Vanderbilt. Inspired by the Petit Trianon in Versailles, the $11 million mansion made mostly of marble became a National Historic Landmark in 2006.More

Newport Cliff Walk

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Rhode Island’s Newport Cliff Walk traces the perimeter of the southern edge of Newport town, high above the crashing surf of the Atlantic Ocean. The 3.5-mile (5.6-kilometer) public walkway fronts many of Newport’s famous Gilded Age mansions, such as Astor’s Beechwood, Rosecliff, Marble House, the Breakers, Ochre Coure, and Rough Point.More

Ocean Drive

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The breathtaking Rhode Island shoreline unfolds along Ocean Drive, a 10-mile (16-kilometer) scenic road along Newport’s southern coast. Points of interest include the New York Yacht Club, Fort Adams State Park, Hammersmith Farm (where President Kennedy had his wedding reception in 1953), Brenton Point State Park, and Gooseberry Beach.More

Fort Adams State Park

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Set against the picturesque backdrop of Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay, Fort Adams State Park is a popular recreation area for swimming, sailing, fishing, and field games. The park also has a historic character thanks to sprawling Fort Adams, and is the home of major music festivals each summer.More

Rosecliff

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One of the most recognizable mansions on Newport’s ritzy Bellevue Avenue, Rosecliff perfectly preserves the Gilded Age. Built around 1900 for Theresa Fair Oelrichs, a Nevada silver heiress, it was constructed specifically for parties—think The Great Gatsby, which is fitting, considering the 2013 film adaptation was in part filmed here. Today, the Versailles-esque mansion welcomes the public to explore its interior and historic rose gardens.More

The Elms

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The Elms is about as close to a French chateau as the U.S. gets. Built in 1901 to emulate—but not copy—the Chateau d'Asnieres outside Paris, the exquisite “summer cottage” of the Berwind family sits on Newport’s famed Bellevue Avenue, sharing the spotlight with its fabulous Gilded Age peers. Today, it’s owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County and open to the public.More

International Tennis Hall of Fame

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The birthplace of American tournament tennis, the International Tennis Hall of Fame showcases a collection of more than 20,000 artifacts, including vintage photos, trophies, tennis equipment, tennis clothing, and video highlights of famous matches. The facility has 13 grass tennis courts and one clay court, all open to the public for play.More

Brenton Point State Park

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If Newport’s eastern coast is dedicated to ocean views for the Gilded Age wealthy, Brenton Point State Park—on Newport’s southern coast—is those same fabulous panoramic vistas for the public. The halfway point down the famed Ocean Drive, visitors flock here for hiking, birdwatching, picnicking, kite-flying, and watching Narragansett Bay flow into the Atlantic.More

Bellevue Avenue

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Leafy Bellevue Avenue and its surrounding streets are home to some of the most exclusive properties in New England. The affluent area is mostly residential, and encompasses many of the Gilded Age summer “cottages” built by such iconic names as Vanderbilt and Astor. These include the Isaac Bell House, The Elms, Marble House, and Kingscote.More

Touro Synagogue National Historic Site

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In 1658, more than a dozen Jewish families, mostly refugees from Spain and Portugal, founded a Sephardic community. A century later, British-Colonial architect and local resident Peter Harrison designed a two-story Palladian house of worship for this community, the Touro Synagogue. It continues to serve Newport’s Jewish community today.More

Chateau-sur-Mer

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While Chateau-sur-Mer is not Newport’s most lavish mansion, it is one of the resort town’s most important: It was the most palatial residence in its era, setting the bar for luxury—and establishing Newport as an ultra-wealthy getaway—40 years before the Vanderbilts would arrive. Today, it’s owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County and open to the public for tours.More

Rough Point

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The southernmost estate on the famed Bellevue Avenue, Rough Point belonged to 20th-century heiress Doris Duke, who inherited the property at age 12. The English-style manor faces the Cliff Walk Bridge, with stunning views of the crashing Atlantic below. Today, you can tour the home decorated just as Duke had it, from the plant-filled glass solarium and tapestry-rich Great Hall to the formal gardens.More

Isaac Bell House

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The Isaac Bell House should delight anyone fascinated by architecture. One of the country's best examples of shingle-style architecture, its designers sought to birth a new architectural movement that combined global influences to create something quintessentially American. The result was the Isaac Bell House, now maintained by the Preservation Society of Newport County and open to visitors.More

National Museum of American Illustration (NMAI)

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This fascinating museum specializes in the display of illustration artworks, as designed for books and other print media. Over 150 artists have featured works on its walls, including Norman Rockwell, NC Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, and Howard Pyle. In fact, it’s the largest collection of illustrated masterpieces in the world.The museum is housed in a former mansion, a stately American Renaissance building with architecture that is worth a visit alone. Vernon Court was designed in the style of a French chateau, and has a ballroom, marble hall, and other elegant rooms now filled with art. The illustrations offer lots of insight into American society at the time they were created, and often reflect social change, attitudes, and behaviors.The art that remains from this era captures a moment in time before electronics, when books and magazines were the main form of entertainment. The mansion even displays period furnishings and decorative arts to create an immersive experience that provides context and reflects the time of the art. Self-guided and guided tours are available.More

Top activities in Rhode Island

Newport Gilded Age Mansions Trolley Tour with Breakers Admission
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Newport Trolley Tour - Viking Scenic Overview
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Newport RI Mansions Scenic Trolley Tour (Ages 5+ only)
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Afternoon Grand Tour | Gansett Cruises in Newport, RI
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Newport Neighborhood Food Tour

Newport Neighborhood Food Tour

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$89.00
Narrated Boat Tours

Narrated Boat Tours

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$38.00
Olde Town Ghost Walk

Olde Town Ghost Walk

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$22.00
Scenic Newport, RI Self-Driving Audio Tour

Scenic Newport, RI Self-Driving Audio Tour

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$14.99
per group
Haunted Boat Tours

Haunted Boat Tours

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$49.00
Twilight River Cruises

Twilight River Cruises

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$52.00
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All about Rhode Island

When to visit

Warm weather from June through August fills Rhode Island beaches with crowds ready to surf, swim, and sunbathe their way through the busy summer months. Both the Newport Folk Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival are major draws this time of year, bringing big names to the small city’s famed stages. Fall means cooler temperatures and cozy activities, from apple picking to corn mazes and leaf peeping, making autumn a popular time to explore.

Getting around

Most travelers use a car to get around Rhode Island—it’s hard to reach the farthest-flung beaches and northern towns without one. If you’re sticking to the area between Providence and Newport, public transit comes in handy and can help avoid some serious summer traffic. A scenic, hour-long ferry ride links Providence and Newport, and Newport’s free hop-on hop-off bus service brings visitors to all the city’s top attractions.

Traveler tips

Keep your eye out for quirky Rhode Island foods you won’t find anywhere else, starting with fritter-like clam cakes popular at beachside seafood shacks. Specialty drinks include sweet, cold coffee milk and slushy treats made by local chain Del’s Frozen Lemonade. The most sought-after snack might be a hot wiener—order one of these sausages served “all the way,” and it will come topped with yellow mustard, celery salt, onions, and beef sauce.

Local Currency
US Dollar ($)
Time Zone
EDT (UTC -5)
Country Code
+1
Language(s)
English
Attractions
18
Tours
79
Reviews
8,354
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People Also Ask

What is the number 1 attraction in Rhode Island?

Newport’s Gilded Age mansions are a glimpse into the opulent lives of America’s wealthiest 19th-century elite, and they’re also the state’s top tourist attraction. The most famous of all is The Breakers, the Vanderbilt family’s 70-room, 5-story summer “cottage” renowned for over-the-top decor featuring marble, rare woods, and mosaics.

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Is there anything interesting in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island has more to offer than its small size suggests. There are beaches, museums, and historic architecture here, and the state’s famed Rhode Island School of Design has incubated a thriving arts scene. Each summer, the WaterFire festival fills Providence with flaming art installations on downtown’s three rivers.

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What is Rhode Island best known for?

Rhode Island is among America’s best places to go sailing. Each summer the waters off Newport and Block Island fill with yachts, schooners, and America’s Cup racing boats. September’s Newport International Boat Show is among the most prestigious boat shows in the United States, featuring yacht parades and boating courses.

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What is the prettiest place in Rhode Island?

You don’t need to pay to see Rhode Island’s prettiest place. Newport’s 3.5-mile (5.6-kilometer) Cliff Walk is a National Recreation Trail that winds between coastal cliffs and some of the historic Newport Mansions. It’s especially scenic first thing in the morning, when it has unobstructed sunrise views across Easton Bay.

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How should I spend a day in Rhode Island?

With one day in Rhode Island, visit the charismatic capital city of Providence. Top attractions include the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum of Art, Roger Williams Park Zoo, and Brown University’s elegant campus. The city’s most historic buildings are clustered along Benefit Street, including colonial-era homes, churches, and museums.

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Is Rhode Island worth visiting?

Yes, Rhode Island is worth visiting. It brings together signature New England charms—windswept beaches, historic architecture, and walkable cities—into a compact landscape that’s easy to explore on your own. Annual gatherings like WaterFire, Newport Jazz Festival, and Newport Folk Festival are among the region’s most beloved arts events.

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