Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the U.S., but it technically has the longest name- State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Situated around the Narragansett Bay, you can drive from one end of the state to the other in less than an hour.
Don’t let Rhode Island’s small size fool you, its towns and cities are full of enough activities to guarantee a great weekend getaway.
I’ve visited Rhode Island in every season, but would recommend late spring/early summer or late summer/early fall. There are less tourists at these times of the year, so travel costs will be lower, and seaside towns like Newport won’t be as crowded as they would if you visit in the peak of summer.
Usually when I visit Rhode Island, I stay in Bristol or Newport, so my recommendations are built around those two towns. I haven’t spent much time in Providence, but hear it’s a charming city.
DesignSponge has great recommendations for what to do during a weekend in Providence. If you visit Providence in the fall, try to plan your visit around Waterfire, a unique music and art installation along the canals. On a crisp fall night, few things beat walking along a canal lit by torches, listening to jazz and taking in the smell of burning wood.
Bristol is everything people love about New England, and more. Located halfway between Providence and Newport, it’s known as America’s most patriotic town. Look no further than their roads for evidence of this- they’re painted with red, white and blue stripes down the center!
Bristol is home to the oldest continuous Fourth of July celebration in the country. A few summers ago, I visited Bristol for the celebration, and have to say- the display of patriotism is pretty amazing.
Colt State Park: With tons of different trails and roads with equally stunning views, this is the perfect place to spend an afternoon hiking or biking
Downtown Bristol: Spend a few hours walking around the quaint downtown area, there are shops, restaurants and cafes you can pop in and out of
Where to Eat & Drink
- Beehive Cafe: This is one of my favorite places to have brunch, period. In all of the cities I’ve visited and all of the places I’ve brunched at, the Beehive’s menu sticks with me. It’s delicious, creative and locally sourced with a plethora of gluten-free and vegetarian options
- DeWolf Tavern: One of the nicest restaurants in Bristol, the tavern is an 1818 warehouse built by maritime merchants for trading. Highly recommend ordering the lobster popover
- Bristol Bagel Works: New York bagels in New England. Head across the street to Dunkin Donuts for iced coffee to go with your bagel breakfast
- Sip ‘n Dip: Solid coffee and good doughnuts
- Daily Scoop: Awesome, homemade ice cream. I like to come here for a post-bike or hike treat after spending a morning at Colt State Park
- Thames Waterside Bar & Grill: Great for sunset drinks over the water
- Judge Roy Bean Saloon: Good food, drinks and late night dancing
- Aidan’s Pub: Local hangout for drinks at night, love the patio space in the summer and early fall
Newport’s beauty is undeniable, it’s a quintessential New England town. Aside from its obvious charms, there’s also great food and shopping to be enjoyed.
Newport Mansions: In the early 20th century, these homes were summer “cottages” largely used for parties by the wealthy. Set on the cliffs of Newport, the grandeur of these mansions is stunning.
- Cliff Walk: Taking you past some of the beautiful Newport mansions, the Cliff Walk is free and public access. Ideal for a morning walk or relaxing evening stroll, the walk is 3.5 miles in total, but you can turn back at any point. I’d recommend wearing sneakers for this walk since some parts of the path are unpaved and rocky.
- Tour a Mansion: Many of the mansions are open for touring. Crowd favorites include The Breakers (belonging to the Vanderbilt family), The Elms, Marble House and Rosecliff. I’ve only toured The Elms, but would recommend spending a rainy afternoon or early morning exploring one of the mansions
Newport Vineyards: Operating for over 20 years, the vineyards are the perfect place to come for a Saturday afternoon wine tasting or to pick up a bottle of local wine for your weekend. Tastings are affordable too at $12 for five pours
Greenvale Vineyards: Technically in Portsmouth, these vineyards are right outside Newport. Newly refurbished, the tasting bar offers a few local red and white varieties- there’s also live jazz on Saturday afternoons!
Thames Street & The Downtown Area: There are a number of adorable shops you can pop in and out of as you explore this part of Newport. Make sure you stroll through the area near the marina- a lot of popular stores are in this part of town. A few of my favorites:
- Newport Sea Foam Trading Co.: Handmade natural soaps and candals
- Amory Antique Marketplace: A wide range of antiques from over 70 dealers
- Sequin: Fun and colorful jewelry store
Polo Games: I never expected to attend my first polo match in Newport, but having been to a few games, believe me when I say it’s a good time. Pack a picnic and spend an afternoon lounging in the sun, watching polo. Depending on what time of the year you visit, the polo games be even be held on the beach!
Sweet Berry Farm: A picture-perfect place to pick your own berries. On one of my trips, we came here to pick fresh strawberries, and later used them in strawberry margaritas. If you’re visiting in the fall, come here to pick-your-own apples. Another great pick-your-own strawberry place: Quonset View farm
Jamestown: Summer parking can be hard to come by in Newport. If you’re visiting in the summer and staying in another part of Rhode Island, but want to visit Newport, consider taking the Jamestown ferry.
- Jamestown is also a wonderful place to spend a few hours, the downtown village is walking distance from the Ferry landing
- Bonus tip: Stop at The Shack, near the ferry in Jamestown, for tacos- they’re some of the best I’ve had outside of Texas, so good
Where to Eat & Drink
- Ocean Coffee Roasters: Delicious chai latte
- Castle Hill Inn: The sweeping bay views here are spectacular. I’ve heard the food is good as well, but I can only attest to the loveliness of sitting on the lawn in an Adirondack chair, sipping cocktails while the sun sets and boats sail by
- It’s easy to spend a few hours at Castle Hill, not just admiring the view, but also exploring some of resort’s trails
- Diego’s: Amazing fish tacos and margaritas
- Flo’s Clam Shack: Famous for their fresh, fried seafood. Get a basket of fried shrimp or oysters and savor it at a table overlooking the ocean
- Brick Alley Pub: Triple shot martinis are a must-drink during an evening in Newport. If you’re visiting in the fall, stop by for a pumpkin mudslide
- Lobster Bar: Come here for a lobster roll and indulgent mudslide
- White Horse Tavern: The oldest bar in Rhode Island is a cozy place to stop for a drink or lobster bisque if you’re in Newport
- The Landing: Delicious lobster roll
- Fluke-Wine, Bar & Kitchen: Great speciality cocktails
- Fifth Element: Martinis & fantastic hummus
- Willy’s Burger Bar: Espresso martini is crazy good
- O’Brien’s Pub: Perfect place for enjoying a frozen mudslide outside
- Caleb & Broad: American fusion, great for a quick bite or drink
- The Red Parrot: Mudslides are required drinking when you’re in Rhode Island- Red Parrot has Oreo ones, yum!
- Midtown Oyster Bars: Solid happy hour spot for oysters and cocktails
- Crazy Dough Pizza: Need a slice after a night out? This is your place
- Newport Blues Cafe: All the makings for a fun night out with live music and dancing
- Del’s Lemonade (aka frozen lemonade) is practically a Rhode Island institution. Make sure you try it when you visit, there are a number of places that sell it throughout the state
Getting Around Rhode Island
- Rhode Island has a public transportation system, but the buses only run a few times every hour connecting cities like Providence to Bristol. If you’re getting to Rhode Island via train, plane or bus, I’d recommend renting a car to get around- you’ll be able to see and do more things.
Also, kudos for my friend, Caitlin are due. Caitlin has lived in Rhode Island for a few years and always graciously hosts me when I visit, and has the best recommendations for fun activities 🙂