16 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Rhode Island

Jul 22, 2021

Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, United States, was the original capital of the American colonies in 1636, and still retains a graceful, genteel atmosphere, full of Old World charm. Travelers come here to view the remarkable homes, many of which are centuries old, and to enjoy the pleasant parks and museums that dot the city.

The city's most famous attraction is the Rhode Island State House, whose vaulted ceiling has been described as "one of the most spectacular in the world," and one of the city's oldest churches, the Old South Meeting House, now serves as a museum. In warmer weather, tourists enjoy a dip in Providence's many beaches and boardwalks, which are located along the coast and have beautiful views of the Providence River.

When traveling to Rhode Island, visitors can experience the heritage and history of the state by visiting some of its top attractions, which include its well-preserved colonial architecture, and unique museums and historic homes. Plan your trip with our list of the best things to do in Rhode Island.

Point Judith Lighthouse

Photo of Point Judith, Rhode Island
Point Judith, Rhode Island: en.wikipedia.org

Located at the tip of Rhode Island, this lighthouse dates from the early 19th century. Begun as a privateer-style square-rigger in 1809, the original structure was destroyed by fire. The new lighthouse was opened in 1817, after which time it was the tallest man-made object in the world. The new lighthouse is accessed via a round staircase, and a well-equipped visitors' center is available, as well as parking and snack bar. A video room displays some of the thousands of visitors who have visited over the years. Tourists can view the 10-story-high lighthouse and its light from a walkway on the bluff above the ocean, and walk the stairs themselves.

Narragansett Bay

Photo of Narragansett Bay
Narragansett Bay: en.wikipedia.org

Home to some of the best surfing in the world, in Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay sits the renowned surfing town of Barrington. Also nearby is the small town of Warren, home of the Kent School, a small coed boarding school located in a stunning farm-to-table setting. Warren's Inn at Warren Farms offers four individually decorated rooms to fit your budget. Guests enjoy their stay by the big infinity pool, reading by the fire or in the deck or under the sun.

Providence

Photo of Providence, Rhode Island
Providence, Rhode Island: en.wikipedia.org

Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, is one of the most diverse and colorful places in the US. The city has the feel of a touristy New England town with narrow colonial-era cobblestone streets and clapboard houses, while also boasting an active arts community. The city's main tourist district is located along the Rhode Island Main Street and includes many examples of Victorian architecture. An almost continuous string of attractive and interesting attractions and cultural venues in the Upper Quarter (Uppercity) - in some cases within walking distance of one another - allows visitors to enjoy the city in a leisurely way, without too much car travel. Things to see in Providence include the New England Holocaust Memorial, a collection of 300 shrines representing the sites and events of the Holocaust in Europe; the Rhode Island School of Design, which has been ranked as one of the world's finest in architecture; and the Rhode Island Museum of Art, which has more than 11,000 works of art.

Old State House

Photo of Rhode Island State House
Rhode Island State House: en.wikipedia.org

Old State House, Rhode Island, was built in 1660 as the meeting place of the General Assembly and is the oldest legislative building in continuous use in the United States. It has served as the Governor's mansion and the home of the State of Rhode Island's first legislature. One of the 16 original buildings that make up the charming State House campus, Old State House was designed by John Calvin Harding and built by blacksmith Joseph Weld in 1660. Although the museum remains unchanged since the 19th century, the surrounding buildings, dating back to the 1700s, are more than 500 years old. The grounds include the impressive building known as "Old Statehouse."

Providence Athenaeum

Photo of Providence Athenaeum
Providence Athenaeum: en.wikipedia.org

A visit to the Providence Athenaeum is a privilege to explore the glorious works of art and architecture built by Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island. Williams, born in England in 1603, was a Puritan who founded the first Protestant city of New London, Connecticut in 1638. By 1654, Williams had made his way to Rhode Island where he founded a colony. Inspired by the simplicity of the English-American village churches, Williams believed that religion was a critical aspect of society. He planned for the colony to embrace a gospel-based Christian religion. His idea of a decentralized government is still a guiding principle of Rhode Island's system of government. The Athenaeum is the oldest library in the United States and is the birthplace of the library movement. Built in 1892, the Athenaeum is a classic of Gothic Revival architecture. The interiors are decorated with over 500,000 books. The ground floor is the library, accessible to the public; the second floor contains the historic reading room and space that has been furnished and maintained to mimic that of 1784. Finally, the third floor is devoted to the collection of European paintings and the museum of Greek and Roman art. Admission to the reading room and collection is by guided tour only.

Old Sturbridge Village

Photo of Old Sturbridge Village
Old Sturbridge Village: en.wikipedia.org

This is an extraordinary 19th century village that re-creates life in 19th-century America. Since its discovery in 1938, visitors have been taken to see rural life as it was before the industrial revolution. Among the highlights are free daily classes that explain life at the village and shows are run by costumed performers. In winter, an ice-skating rink is also set up and sleigh rides are offered. The latest innovation is a four-wheel-drive "emulation of an early stage in the development of the automobile" that actually tours the village in the hope of seducing visitors. If you would like to learn more about this fascinating place, try the "Winter Wildlife Project" or "Innovation & Technology," which present interactive demonstrations of how things worked in the past. There are also periodic performances by the excellent Museum of the American Revolution, which displays the American Revolution as it really happened. Open year round, admission to Old Sturbridge Village is US$30 for adults, $14.50 for children under 12.

Pawtuxet Village

Photo of Pawtuxet Village
Pawtuxet Village: en.wikipedia.org

Pawtuxet Village is a proud cultural landmark and one of the smallest towns in America. Lying on the flat shore of Narragansett Bay, Pawtuxet was founded in 1635, on the site of a Native American Indian village, by English colonists. The original settlement, now a National Historic District, consisted of a series of 60 thatched-roofed homes and smaller houses. The main street of the village, Center Street, is bordered by numerous gardens, some of which are open to the public. They house a variety of flowers, fruit trees and small statuary, including a collection of 27 cherub statues. Humble homes have remained since colonial times, with those in the Lower Village constructed of wood with interiors of red brick and those in the Upper Village with imported architecture. The homesteads and early neighborhoods also house historic home museums, galleries and antiques shops. The waterfront boat sheds are the setting for occasional boat, moorage and motorboat rentals, as well as live music. Transportation in Pawtuxet Village includes the Pawtuxet Valley Railroad, which travels on the original rail bed of the Rhode Island and Providence Plantations Railroad, built in 1834. A free trolley travels around the main streets and stops at the many restaurants, shops and museums.

Island Farm Park

Photo of Bristol, Rhode Island
Bristol, Rhode Island: en.wikipedia.org

Despite being one of America's smallest state parks, Island Farm Park is a fantastic spot. A working farm from 1890 to 1910 that produced citrus fruit, pears, beans and hay, the Island Farm Park was originally home to an artist and a hermit. Now the farm's collection of structures is open to the public. Guided tours of the house, barn and granary are available and the island's original cemetery contains some remarkable gravestones and sculptures, including a pair of lovebirds.

Memorial Bridge

Photo of Washington Bridge (Providence, Rhode Island)
Washington Bridge (Providence, Rhode Island): en.wikipedia.org

Memorial Bridge is a nine-lane highway crossing the Narragansett Bay, a short distance from Newport. It is often referred to as a "World's Greatest Drag", as the I-195 highway divides the state, with traffic traveling either east or west at all times. Crossing the bay takes less than three minutes and can be done without leaving the car in two lanes, although it is a fairly steep incline to the bridge. Although not the biggest bridge in the world, this has been said to be the world's first six-lane highway and holds the title of the longest floating bridge in the world as well as being a popular tourist attraction.

Block Island

Photo of Block Island
Block Island: en.wikipedia.org

Block Island is Rhode Island's smallest island. Its 13 miles of shoreline are dotted with quaint old fishing villages and family cottages and feature many good golf courses. To get to Block Island, take the Ferry from Boston and use Atlantic Avenue/High Street in Newport as your main route. For something very different, visit the Bermuda on the Road truck museum which documents the history of transport in the island. To experience the beauty of Block Island during a leisurely boat ride, visit Fisher's Lane Beach, which is a narrow sandy beach where you can only drive your car. To get out and experience the nature on Block Island, visit the Osprey Reserve and get to know the birds, the forest and the land. You can hike through the marshes and plant yourself in the center of the country, surrounded by nature.

Fort Adams State Park

Photo of Fort Adams State Park
Fort Adams State Park: en.wikipedia.org

Fort Adams State Park is the largest Civil War defensive fort in the United States, and one of the oldest in the country. Built in 1834 and occupied by the Union Army until the end of the Civil War, the fort had an original 30-man garrison and 2,200 guns. Today the fort remains a relic of American history, but visitors should be warned that a gun is fired daily at 2:20 PM. If you do want to visit, be sure to check when the fort is supposed to be open. The fort is best visited as a day trip from the nearby city of Newport.

Blithewold Mansion

Photo of Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum
Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum: en.wikipedia.org

The imposing Blithewold Mansion is the home of Rhode Island's largest private collection of fine and decorative arts. Built in 1854, it is the second home of Stephen Blithewold and his wife, Mary. Originally located in Norton, it was built by the best local architect of the day, James G. King. The ornately decorated Greek Revival house is filled with treasures including many exquisite paintings, sculptures, silver, and furnishings, as well as a sterling collection of ship models. On the grounds of the mansion are the Blithewold Gardens and the Artillery Garden, both well worth visiting. The gardens feature Greek and Italian styles, horticulture, and unique sculptures. As one of only three great historic homes in the United States to be open to the public, Blithewold Mansion is a charming place to spend the day. The property is open daily between 9 am and 4 pm.

Barrington

Photo of Barrington, Rhode Island
Barrington, Rhode Island: en.wikipedia.org

Barrington is a quiet town located near the picturesque capital of Providence, Rhode Island, in the state of Rhode Island, and with the New York Metropolitans, the area is home to its own soccer team. The small town of Barrington is a mix of independent shops and boutiques and restaurants, a fascinating mix of ordinary American town life.

Rose Bay

Photo of Rose Island (Rhode Island)
Rose Island (Rhode Island): en.wikipedia.org

Rose Bay is a neighborhood of the famous vacation resort of Newport, Rhode Island, USA. Although less visited than its famous neighbor, New Castle, it still holds its own appeal to the avid visitor with a taste for beachy-chic seaside charms. The neighborhood can be found along the picture-perfect beaches and along streets that gracefully lead visitors from the mansions and villas of historic Queen Anne mansions to the pedestrianized streets of Sea Street and Eastern Avenue. It's a pleasure to wander from one end to the other, wandering the bayside galleries, boutiques, and restaurants that occupy the scenic area.

Narragansett Pier

Photo of Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island
Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island: en.wikipedia.org

Narragansett Pier (R.I.) is one of America's most famous amusement piers. Located on the historic town of Narragansett Pier, R.I. on the southern tip of Rhode Island, it is a great day trip. This small seaport was originally constructed in 1899 as a fishing village, but grew into a vacation resort with construction of an amusement park and the building of the famous Hotel. While its entrance and access has been partially closed, tourists can enter the grounds of the hotel and enjoy a stroll on the picturesque pier. There is also the historic monument known as the Ira Allen House, built in 1832. Many Rhode Island attractions are within a 45-minute drive from Narragansett Pier, including Pawtucket, RI and Rhode Island State Aquarium. You can reach the Pier via car via Interstate 95. If you're traveling by train, you can take the South County Line from Providence.

Mount Hope Cemetery

Photo of Mount Hope Bridge
Mount Hope Bridge: en.wikipedia.org

The only surviving burial ground of the wealthy Americans of the late 19th century, Mount Hope is an extraordinary place of death and beauty with fine examples of Victorian cemetery sculpture. The cemetery is of great cultural interest and has been described as the American equivalent of the French Cemetery of the Grandpuits, due to its outstanding funerary art. The cemetery has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1992. The cemetery is divided into a number of themed areas, and most visitors go there in search of the interment of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but to visit the cemetery you need to buy a ticket which will open the gates and allow you to wander freely. Admission is $10.00 for the day, or $20.00 for a week. The cemetery is a mile south of the small town of North Providence and also contains the graves of famous Americans from the Colonial and Revolutionary periods.