One of the best ways to figure out how to spend your time in a place is to ask a local about where they take their out-of-town guests. Here is where I take mine in this beautiful state that I have lived in for over 16 years. Rhode Island is the smallest of the United States, situated around Narragansett Bay. It has the longest name– State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Even though you can drive across it in less than 1 hour, it has 384 miles of coastline. Having a large Italian-American and Portuguese-American population lends to its unique flavors. Rhode Islanders are proud of their uniqueness, even having their own accents and foods.
One thing I love about living in Rhode Island is that it is ideally located in New England as a gateway to the rest of the area. We are only about an hour from Boston, 2 hours from New Hampshire, and four hours from New York City. My suggestions are based on a summer or spring visit because that is my favorite time here. However, there are great things to do here if you visit in the winter or fall as well. (Check out my Best New England Fall Activities.) You can also use this guide as a way to plan some fun Rhode Island day trips.
What to do in Rhode Island
Visit Newport, Rhode Island
You can read my guide for a whole day in Newport, Rhode Island. Newport is a quintessential, seaside New England town with natural beauty, shopping, great food, and plenty of historical colonial buildings. On your way into Newport, stop by Allie’s Donuts in North Kingstown for breakfast or Inside Scoop for ice cream.
I would begin our day with a tour of any of the Newport Mansions. They were summer “cottages” for the ultra-wealthy in the early 20th century and are set on the Cliff Walk of Newport. The grounds and interiors are open for touring. The opulence of the decor is stunning, and the audio tours will give you a useful and exciting dose of history. If you are visiting in December, Christmas at the mansions is a worthwhile excursion. Read more about that and lots of other Christmas in Rhode Island ideas. If you have extra time stop by historic Fort Adams, the East Coast’s largest fort.
Then head to lunch on the lawn at Castle Hill Inn. According to the New York Times, “this place has the best view in town,” and I couldn’t agree more. The property overlooks the entrance to Narragansett Bay from the Atlantic ocean, and the sweeping views are spectacular. It is hard to beat great food eaten under the sun while looking at the Newport Bridge, the town of Newport, and the boats sailing by. If you are in the mood for a splurge, it would be an incredible place to spend the night.
Grab a Del’s Lemonade on your way back into Newport to take a walk along the Cliff Walk, a scenic 3.5 mile, mainly paved walkway along the cliffs at the foot of the Newport mansions. Del’s Lemonade is an oh-so-good, refreshing, only-in-Rhode-Island frozen lemonade, but don’t expect a straw. Spoons and straws are for tourists.
Spend Your Evening in Our Capital of Providence, Rhode Island
Federal Hill (Little Italy)
Now it’s time to head into Providence for dinner at our Italian section, Federal Hill. You enter through the arch of La Pigna, or pine cone, which symbolizes welcome, abundance, and quality. You can’t go wrong with your choice of an Italian restaurant, and there is one for any taste. My 104-year-old great-grandmother grew up going to The Old Canteen. What I would recommend trying where ever you go, is broccoli rabe, a bitter green that I had never tried before moving to RI, but is ubiquitous here. Another quick thing to try is a pizza strip, a cheese-less red pizza snack, which is also specific to Rhode Island. After you eat, be sure to stroll around the quaint DePasquale Square, and people watch by the fountain.
After that, head into downtown Providence to enjoy our unique music and art installation along the city’s canals, WaterFire. This is one of my favorite experiences anywhere in the world. It engages all of your senses and is spectacular. Your ears will be filled with the sound of global jazz and classical music. The smells of carefully chosen firewoods fill the air, and the heat tickles your skin as you watch the boats gliding on the water, refilling the fire pits. It only occurs on certain nights, but I would recommend booking your visit around it- it’s that good! Be sure to walk along the basin as you will find street performers and chandeliers under bridges. For a real treat, book a gondola ride well ahead of time.
Are you tired yet? A full day, but super fun! If you are planning to spend a whole day in Providence, read my Guide to Providence, which includes a guide to WaterFire.
Visit Block Island
So, for day two, jump on the Point Judith Ferry and make your way to Block Island! The island’s Mohegan Bluffs is one of the most picturesque areas in New England. Bailey’s Beach Club is a convenient place to spend a beach day. Read A Day in Block Island for more detailed information.
Spend some time in Narragansett, Rhode Island
When you return to mainland Rhode Island, go around the corner from the ferry to Champlin’s for a low-key lobster and seafood feast and to watch the sunset and imagine the next time you will be lucky enough to return to this beautiful state. What do you think I missed? What are your favorite things to do in Rhode Island?
End Your Day with a Sunset
Find your ideal sunset spot with The Best Place to Catch a Sunset in Rhode Island.
Where to stay in Rhode Island
The beach is my favorite place to stay, but Providence is a much better location from which to explore the rest of New England. It is the perfect place to stay if you are going to take in a WaterFire or go out to dinner and dancing in this city.
The Providence Biltmore by Hilton is a landmark, built in 1920. It is walking distance from downtown and will give you a great view of the city.
Newport is my favorite part of Rhode Island and a place I would choose to stay. When I have stayed overnight, I choose the Newport Marriott. It has parking, beautiful rooms, is right on the water and walking distance to all the fun.
It is on my bucket list to stay at the elegant Castle Hill Inn. If you can’t swing that, at least go for lunch on the lawn. It will give you one of Newport’s best views.
Gurney’s Hotel and Spa is on Goat Island in Newport’s Harbor. It has a large lawn and pool overlooking the bridge. My kids love to go here to Pineapple’s for dinner and to play checkers on the lawn.
If you are more in the mood for a boutique hotel that is walking distance from the beach, The Break is the place for you.
If you choose to book through any of these links above, even if you end up with a different hotel, yours truly will get a little commission, at no cost to you. I hope you enjoy my beautiful little state.
There are so many more things to do in this gorgeous state. You could easily spend a week here. If you are into hiking, check out The Best Rhode Island Hikes or biking, The Best Rhode Island Bike Trails
or walking, One Week of Walks in Rhode Island.