One of the best things about Rhode Island is that it has a little bit of everything, like beautiful beaches, historic landmarks, and charming towns. Speaking of, top things to do in Newport, Rhode Island include driving along Ocean Drive, walking along the Cliff Walk, and visiting its extravagant collection of oceanfront mansions. These “summer cottages” are definitely one of the most famous things from Rhode Island.
If you’re looking for things to do in Rhode Island in the fall, check out Providence’s WaterFire celebration and the RSID Museum. Keeping warm inside the museum is also one of the best things to do in Rhode Island in January. As for what to do in Rhode Island in April, why not visit the International Tennis Hall of Fame or see a show at the Providence Performing Arts Center? Continue on for more fun things to do in Rhode Island.
1. Roger Williams Park Zoo
Established in 1872, Roger Williams Park Zoo is one of the country’s oldest zoos. Today, it’s home to over 150 animals from around the world. The zoo’s daily animal encounters include Masai giraffe feedings, seal and armadillo encounters, and feeding the sheep and goats at the Alex and Ani Farmyard. Other attractions include Hasbro’s Our Big Backyard nature play and exploration area, a wetlands trail, and the Eagle Zip Ride, which is a chairlift/zip line that soars 115 feet above the zoo.
2. The Breakers
The Breakers is Newport’s grandest oceanfront home. Built as Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s summer residence in 1895, a team of international craftsmen and artisans created the 70-room Italian Renaissance-style mansion, which was inspired by 16th-century Italian palaces. More than 300,000 people visit The Breakers annually to see sights like the Great Hall’s 45-ft high ceilings and The Gold Room, which was built in Europe before being shipped to the United States. Named for the waves crashing on the cliff below, you can also view The Breakers from Newport’s famed Cliff Walk.
3. Fort Adams State Park, Newport, RI
Fort Adams State Park is a public recreation and historic area that preserves Fort Adams itself – the country’s largest coastal fortress. Located at the mouth of Newport Harbor, the former United States Army post was active from 1841 until the end of World War II. Today, there are guided tours of Fort Adams available that take you from the top of the fort’s walls to its underground tunnels. Fort Adams State Park is also home to the Eisenhower House and the Fort Adams Bay Walk.
Another one of Newport’s opulent “summer cottages”, Rosecliff was built at the turn of the 20th century for Nevada silver heiress, Theresa Fair Oelrichs. The mansion is modeled after the Palace of Versailles’ Grand Trianon garden retreat – complete with ionic columns and an extravagant ballroom. Built for entertaining, Mrs. Oelrichs was known for hosting lavish parties, which famed magician Harry Houdini once attended. Now a historic house museum open to visitors, you may recognize Rosecliff as it was featured in films like 27 Dresses and The Great Gatsby.
5. International Tennis Hall of Fame
Newport’s International Tennis Hall of Fame honors both players and significant contributors to the worldwide sport. Housed inside the former Newport Casino, the property is home to a museum, outdoor grass tennis courts, and an indoor tennis facility. With a collection of over 25,000 artifacts, there are approximately 2000 objects on display inside the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The museum also features family-friendly interactive exhibits like the Roger Federer Hologram and Call the Match, where visitors record themselves calling a pivotal moment.
6. Providence WaterFire
WaterFire is simultaneously an award-winning fire sculpture installation by local artist Barnaby Evens, and an internationally-renowned community arts festival. As a public artwork, WaterFire features a series of bonfires that blaze across the surface of the three rivers that wind through downtown Providence. As a festival, WaterFire is held twice a month on Saturday evenings from May to November. Accompanied by live music performances, experiencing the illuminating installation for yourself is one of the top things to do in Rhode Island every year.
7. Newport Cliffs
The Cliffwalk is one of Newport’s top tourist attractions. Bordering the shoreline, follow the 3.5-mile trail for a historic and scenic journey. Beginning at Easton’s Beach and ending at the tip of Ledge Road, top sights to see along the way include the 40 Steps down to the water’s edge, the beautiful buildings at Salve Regina University, Belmont Beach, and several of Newport’s historic mansions. This includes The Breakers, Rosecliff, Marble House, and Rough Point.
8. Rhode Island Bay Cruises
The family-owned Rhode Island Bay Cruises pioneered the high-speed ferry service to Martha’s Vineyard in 2003. But their signature 90-minute Rhode Island Bay Cruise takes visitors past 10 of the state’s most beautiful lighthouses in Narragansett Bay, including Poplar Point Lighthouse and Castle Hill Lighthouse. Covering 60 miles of coastline, you will also pass 10 islands on the cruise, as well as Fort Adams and prestigious properties like Ocean Cliff and Castle Hill Inn and Resort. Available from June to October, visit their website to make a booking.
9. The Elms
Another extravagant summer residence, The Elms was built in 1901 for coal baron Edward Berwind and family. Modeled after the 18th-century French Château d’Asnières, the mansion is surrounded by elaborate Classical Revival gardens that feature marble pavilions, a sunken garden, and terraces with bronze sculptures. The Elms stayed in the Berwind family until it was purchased by The Preservation Society of Newport County in 1962. Visit The Elms to see the Berwinds’ impressive collection of Renaissance ceramics and 18th-century paintings.
10. Mohegan Bluffs
Located on Block Island, the clay cliffs that constitute Mohegan Bluffs rise 200 feet above the Atlantic Ocean and stretch along the coast for close to three miles. Take the 141 steps down to the bottom of the bluffs and enjoy what many call the island’s most beautiful beach – a secluded spot perfect for swimming and surfing. From the top of Mohegan Bluffs, enjoy the most dramatic Atlantic Ocean views in the entire state. On a clear day, you can even see all the way to Montauk.
11. Ocean Drive
Stretching along Newport’s coastline, Ocean Drive is a designated National Historic Landmark District thanks to its distinctive landscape. Featuring 10 miles of historic landmarks and oceanfront views, driving or riding along Ocean Drive is one of the best things to do in Rhode Island. Some of the top attractions to admire along the way are Fort Adams State Park, Hammersmith Farm (where President Kennedy held his wedding reception), Castle Hill Inn and Resort, and Gooseberry Beach.
12. Colt State Park
Located in Bristol, Colt State Park’s is one of the state’s most photogenic parks, as its entire western border offers panoramic Narragansett Bay views. Colt State Park’s top features include four miles of oceanfront biking and walking trails, a skate park, a fishing pier with handicap-accessible fishing stations, several playgrounds, and a historical museum. It also has six picnic groves with over 400 picnic tables, so a seaside lunch is definitely one of the most popular things to do in Colt State Park.
13. Adventureland Family Fun Park
One of the most fun things to do in Rhode Island with kids this summer is to visit Adventureland Family Fun Park. Get set to enjoy a round on the nautical-themed mini-golf course, soak and bump into friends and family on the bumper boats, take a spin on the go-kart track, play a round of Bankshot™ Basketball, and jump up to 20 feet on the Extreme Big Air Jumper. A trip to Adventureland Family Fun Pack isn’t complete without trying one of the 14 ice-cream flavors at Burdick’s either.
14. Rhode Island School of Design
Located in Providence, the Rhode Island School of Design is a private art and design school established in 1877. Offering bachelor and master degrees across 19 majors, notable alum are James Franco, Dale Chihuly, and John Krasinski. The Rhode Island School of Design Museum is open to the public and its permanent galleries include 18th and 19th-Century American Art, Decorative Arts and Design, Modern and Contemporary Art, and Ancient Egyptian Art. Museum admission is free every Sunday.
15. Ballard’s Beach
Competing with Mohegan Bluffs for the best beach on Block Island award is Ballard’s Beach. With daily live music, beach volleyball, an oceanfront restaurant serving the best food in England, and tiki bars offering delicious cocktails, celebrating summer on Ballard’s Beach is a Block Island tradition. There are VIP cabanas and lounge chairs and umbrellas available to rent as well. Conveniently located downtown on Water Street, soak up the sun this summer from Ballard’s Beach soft white sand.
16. Providence Performing Arts Center
Formerly a 1920s movie theater, the Providence Performing Arts Center still features an iconic marquee outside and opulent chandeliers, detailed plasterwork, and marble columns inside. Today, the 3000-seat theater hosts a range of events, such as touring Broadway productions, local theater performances, film screenings, and music concerts. Catch Broadway musicals like Dear Evan Hansen, Les Miserables, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Oklahoma at Providence Performing Arts Center. Visit their website for upcoming events and to purchase tickets.
17. Touro Synagogue
Established in 1763, Newport’s Touro Synagogue is the country’s oldest synagogue and remains an active Orthodox synagogue. Facing east towards Jerusalem, the designated National Historic Site features 12 interior ionic columns, which each represent one of ancient Israel’s 12 tribes. Visitors are welcome to join a guided tour of the synagogue, which happen regularly throughout the day (except for Saturdays). Head to the onsite Loeb Visitor Center for more information and to purchase tour tickets.
18. The Swiss Village
The SVF (Swiss Village Farm) Foundation is the only nonprofit organization in the United States dedicated to preserving rare livestock breeds through a revolutionary technique called cryopreservation. Located in Newport and known as The Swiss Village to locals, the foundation’s facilities include 15 buildings across two historic properties. One of the city’s most interesting attractions, for biosecurity reasons people are only allowed to see inside the SVF Foundation’s operations on one day per year – the annual Visitor’s Day.
19. Crescent Park Looff Carousel
The hand-carved Crescent Park Looff Carousel was constructed by legendary carousel maker Charles I. D. Looff in 1895. Found in East Providence, the Rhode Island General Assembly named the neo-baroque carousel the State Symbol of American Folk Art. Housed in a building with Looff’s trademark onion dome, the finely-crafted carousel features 61 horses, a camel, and two double chariots. A ride on the iconic Crescent Park Looff Carousel is another one of the best things to do in Rhode Island with kids.
20. Brenton Point State Park
Brenton Point State Park is an attraction to visit as you drive along Newport’s iconic Ocean Drive. It occupies the former grounds of one of the town’s grandest estates and its servant quarters now serves as the park’s visitor center. Located on the southwestern tip of Aquidneck Island – where Narragansett Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean – Brenton Point State Park features unparalleled views. Popular activities in the park including hiking, fishing, picnicking and checking out the view from its observation tower.
21. Castle Hill Lighthouse
You will find Castle Hill Lighthouse at the end of Newport’s historic Ocean Drive on Narragansett Bay. Constructed in 1898, the granite lighthouse is still an active navigation aid for vessels entering the East Passage between Conanicut and Aquidneck Islands. Located adjacent to the famed Castle Hill Inn and Resort, although Castle Hill Lighthouse itself isn’t open to the public, its grounds are public property. An alternative way to see the lighthouse is by joining the Rhode Island Bay Cruise mentioned above.
22. Charlestown Town Beach
Located next to Charlestown Breachway is Charlestown Town Beach. The beach is characterized by its fine white sand, cool water temperature, and modest surf conditions. In summer, there’s usually a small concession stand at Charlestown Town Beach as well. Other beaches to check out in Charlestown include Blue Shutters Town Beach, Charlestown Breachway State Beach, and East State Beach. Heading to the beach is one of the best things to do in Rhode Island every summer.
23. Skydive Danielson
Skydive Danielson is the number one skydiving company in New England. The award-winning skydiving company operates out of Danielson, Connecticut, which is a convenient 35-minute drive west of Providence. Skydive Danielson is known for its impeccable safety record and for the fact their skydives are from 14,000 feet – the highest altitude possible – to maximize each passenger’s freefall time at 60 seconds. So if you’re seeking the ultimate thrill while visiting Rhode Island, check out Skydive Danielson.
24. Battleship Cove
Located on the waterfront in Fall River, Battleship Cove features the world’s largest collection of World War II naval vessels, including the highly-decorated USS Massachusetts. Other important things to see at Battleship Cove include its military aircraft collection, the eight different war memorials, the world’s largest collection of PT boat artifacts and memorabilia at the National PT Boat Museum, and the Fall River Carousel for children. Battleship Cove’s Maritime Museum is also well-known for housing one of the world’s largest Titanic exhibits.
25. Lizzie Borden House
Lizzie Borden was tried and acquitted of the ax murders of her father and stepmother in the 19th century. Causing widespread controversy, Borden has remained a topic in American pop culture mythology to this day. The Lizzie Borden House was where her family lived and it has now been transformed into the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum. Yes, brave guests can stay in the actual room where the gruesome events took place. Alternatively, visit in the daylight on a daily tour.
26. Misquamicut State Beach
One of the state’s largest beaches, Westerley’s Misquamicut State Beach offers soft white sand, clear Atlantic Ocean water, and good surf conditions. It also has great onsite facilities, including a large pavilion with warm showers and changing rooms, as well as a gift shop, shaded gazebos, a snack bar, and an ice cream stand. A fun fact is that just up the road from Misquamicut State Beach is the affluent Watch Hill neighborhood, where Taylor Swift has a summer home.