It might be the smallest state in the United States, but Rhode Island still has a lot to offer for a weekend getaway. Although, unlike some of the other states featured in this series on New England, we will admit that Rhode Island — with its numerous beaches and coastal cities — probably fares better in warmer months. Here’s everything you need to know for planning your next (or first) Rhode Island getaway.
The capital of Rhode Island, Providence is home to Ivy League school Brown University as well as the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and is by all means just as much of a college town as its neighbor to the north, Boston. Like most of New England, history abounds in this small capital, where 18th and 19th century homes line the streets of the East Side of Providence.
During the summer months, waterfires are lit on certain dates in downtown’s Waterplace Park, and there are usually food vendors and things to do in the park as well during those times. Speaking of food, make sure to check out the Federal Hill neighborhood for lots of fine Italian dining.
If you need something to do with the kiddos, check out Roger Williams Park Zoo — located on 40 acres and opened in 1872, it’s the third oldest Zoo in the United States.
Downtown Newport is a walkable city with tons of cultural and historical sites from Colonial Newport around every turn. Millions of visitors flock to Newport every year and as a result, the summer months can feel very crowded, especially when large cruise ships are docked in the city. We suggest visiting in the shoulder season to enjoy a more relaxing atmosphere — when the weather isn’t quite frigid yet but you can actually walk on the sidewalks without getting swept away in a horde of people.
Outside of downtown, tourists love to check out the Newport Mansions and the Cliff Walk. The Cliff Walk stretches 3.5 miles along Newport’s rocky shore line. During your walk you will pass Newport’s famous Mansions from the Gilded Age. Depending on how much time you have (and your interest level), several of the Mansions can be toured by the public.
The northern portion of the Cliff Walk, which starts near Easton’s Beach, is the easier part of the walk, with mostly paved roads and gentle, sloping hills. The souther portion is more exposed, and there are several parts of the walk that require a little skill and some dexterity as you leave the paved paths to hop from boulder to boulder. Parking is very limited — your best option is to try and find a metered spot near the Cliff Walk entrance sign near Easton’s Beach, or else you can park in the beach parking lot (for a fee). Because of the rockiness of the southern part of the walk, we don’t recommend hiking this path with small children.
If you’re interested in learning a little history, you can check out Fort Adams. First opened on July 4th 1799 and named for the nation’s second president, John Adams, Fort Adams has protected Newport harbor and the American Navy since the early days of the United States and throughout World War II. The third and current edition of the Fort is open for public tours. Offered daily, the tours take visitors into the original underground tunnels of the Fort from 1825. From the Forts strategic location you can enjoy breathtaking views of Newport Harbor & Narragansett Bay. Fort Adams and its surrounding park are also the site of the Newport’s annual summer jazz and folk festivals, which attract thousands of visitors.
When it comes to beaches, you have your pick in the Newport Area. Our favorite is Easton’s Beach (First Beach), Newport’s largest beach and the closest to downtown. The beach sits at the northern end of Newport’s Cliff Walk. First Beach is a 3/4 mile long surf beach with a boardwalk, restrooms and shower facilities that are open during the summer. In addition, there is a Carousel that dates back to 1958 on the second level of the Rotunda Complex that is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The beach has paid parking, so we advise you to arrive early during the summer months as parking spots fill up quickly.
Newport Vineyards (technically located in Middletown, not Newport) is a cute location that has really blown up over the past few years. What started as a small tasting room is now a giant facility with wine tasting, two great restaurants, and a small taproom with craft beer. When the weather’s nice, there’s also outdoor seating with lawn games and occasional live entertainment. If you go on the weekend (peak season or not) there will likely be a waiting list for wine tasting, so plan to spend some time walking around or go on a weekday if you can.
Block Island, a small island off the coast of Rhode Island, can be reached by different ferries — but the only year around ferry service leaves from Point Judith, RI. The traditional ferry takes 55 minutes to reach the island, while the High-Speed ferry will get you there in 30 minutes. The island is fairly small and is great for taking a scenic bike ride. You can bring your own bikes over to the island or can rent bikes once you get off the ferry. The island is home to a couple of lighthouses including the Southeast Lighthouse.
Northeastern Rhode Island
If you find yourself north of Providence in the Lincoln or Cumberland area, there are a couple of places we recommend checking out.
Blackstone River Valley National Historic Park is a place where you can visit old mills such as Slater Mill from the beginning of the American Industrial Revolution or enjoy 20 miles of bike path along the Blackstone River.
Along the way and throughout the towns in the area you can also visit mansions from that time period such as the Hearthside House in Lincoln, RI.
Diamond Hill Vineyards is a cute little family-owned vineyard in Cumberland that specializes in fruit wines. They also have a delicious Pinot Noir. Check the website for opening times, as they tend to change throughout the year. The vineyard has a nice outdoor area with porch seating, and you can also take a short walk around the grounds. They offer free wine tastings, and you can either bring your own food to enjoy with your wine or buy cheese, crackers, and other small snack foods at the vineyard.
What are your favorite cities to visit in Rhode Island? Let us know! Be sure to check back often as we plan to update this blog over time.
This post is part of a series of blogs about New England weekend getaways. To view the other posts in this series, click the links below: