Rhode Island is most famous for its abundant shoreline, state parks, and production of jewelry and silverware, as well as its New England charm. Part of the Northeast region of the United States, it’s the seventh-least populous and smallest state by area with a total size of 1,214 square miles.
Although given its size, it’s also the second-most densely populated state behind New Jersey, home to a population of 1.1 million as of 2020, Most of the residents live in the capital city of Providence. However, there are many additional urban, suburban, and rural areas where people live too.
The majority of Rhode Island is considered to be urban with small pockets of rural areas. Filled with coastal lowlands, the state is famous for its beaches and bays in the east. To the west, dense forests harbor hills, ponds, and lakes.
Often considered to be a hidden gem on the East Coast, this small state is packed with things to see, activities to do, and places to explore. From the stunning views of natural habitats to the busy urban streets, Rhode Island has plenty to offer to its visitors.
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History of “The Ocean State”
During pre-colonization times in Rhode Island, the land was occupied by Native Americans who lived in tribes throughout the state. The first English settler to be granted land was Roger Williams in 1636. Just two years later, more settlers would join Roger Williams to form the Portsmouth settlement.
By 1663, four of the early settlements merged to become one colony. Sometimes called “Rogue’s Island”, the settlement was nicknamed “the sewer of New England” because many people in the local population arrived after being banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The name “Rhode Island” was first documented in 1637. Since then, various names including “Isle of Rodes” and “Red Island” have also been used.
One of the original Thirteen Colonies, Rhode Island played an important role in the American Revolution. In 1776, it became the first colony to renounce the British Crown. However, it was the last colony to ratify the US Constitution.
On May 4th, 1776, Rhode Island became the 13th US state. By the 1860s when the American Civil War started, the state was loyal to the Union with 25,236 Rhode Islanders fighting for the Union Army.
Starting in 1790, the state has been famous for its industrial revolution, which included the production of textiles, machine tools, silverware, and costume jewelry. Lasting through the Civil War, Rhode Island’s industrial economy boomed for nearly 50 years after the end of the war. Industrial prosperity still continues to this day.
Capital City of Providence
Home to 190,934 people as of 2020, Providence is the capital and largest city in Rhode Island. First founded in 1636, it’s one of the New England region’s oldest cities and it was one of the first in the United States to be industrialized. Famous industries in Providence include textiles, jewelry, and silverware. The city is located near both Narragansett Bay and the Providence River.
There are 25 official neighborhoods in the capital with most of the tourism directed to Downtown Providence (also called DownCity), College Hill, Mount Hope, Fox Point, Blackstone, and Federal Hill. A compact city, each neighborhood is unique and Providence is often described as eccentric. Architecture enthusiasts will love seeing the Victorian facades, Art Deco, and Beaux-Arts buildings.
Some of the busiest attractions in Providence are the Roger Williams Park Zoo, RISD Museum of Art, the State Capitol Building, Brown University, and Waterplace Park. The waterfront areas along the Providence River and Narragansett Bay are very popular destinations for tourists. Along the water, there are dozens of shops, restaurants, and accommodations.
Boat tours are one of the best ways to experience Providence and its waterways. With daytime and sunset cruise options, many travelers will board a boat to spend a fun day out on the water.
Visitors can also take the Seastreak Ferry to travel between Providence and Newport. For those that don’t want to head out onto the water, Providence also has self-guided historic walking tours where you can learn more about the city’s past and present.
Newport, “City by the Sea”
On Aquidneck Island and on the seaside is Newport, which is 33 miles to the southeast of the capital city. Well known for its historic mansions and stunning beach landscapes, the city has become a popular summer resort and one of the state’s top beach towns to live and visit.
As of 2020, there were 25,163 permanent residents in Newport. However, during the summer tourist season, the population can swell to over 100,000.
Two of the most famous area attractions are Ocean Drive and mansion tours. Stretching for 10 miles, Ocean Drive takes visitors to various jaw-dropping seaside views. Summer is the busiest time to take the drive, but some people brave the cold weather to see the coast in the snow too.
Throughout the area, there are dozens of historic mansions that have long catered to the wealthy elite. Some of the most famous include The Breakers, The Elms, Rosecliff, and Marble House.
Additional activities in the area include the 3.5-mile-long Cliff Walk, trolley tours, downtown, wineries, breweries, and local eateries. There are also plenty of beaches near Newport where visitors can walk, swim, and lounge. Easton, Second, Third, and Gooseberry are all beautiful beaches that are friendly to all travelers.
Warwick, “Crossroads of Rhode Island”
Another small city that is 12 miles to the south of Providence is Warwick, which had a population of 82,823 as of 2020. Originally founded in 1642, the city is historically significant with ties to both the Revolutionary and Civil War. Currently, it is also home to the T.F. Green Airport, which serves both Providence and Boston, Massachusetts.
Ideal for a weekend getaway, Warwick is filled with romantic and historic attractions. Of the many things to do in the city, some of the most popular attractions are the Warwick Lighthouse, Rocky Point State Park, Oakland Beach, Clouds Hill Victorian House Museum, and the Apponaug Village. Many visitors with families also love touring the Rocky Point Blueberry Farm and the Warwick Museum of Art.
Situated close to the water, there are also plenty of seaside activities including marinas, beaches, and walking paths. Conimicut Point is excellent for kayaking, while Warwick City Park has a mix of beaches, bicycle paths, ball fields, hiking, and dog areas. Marinas like the Apponaug Harbor or Bay Marina have modern amenities and facilities with full services.
Cranston, aka Pawtuxet
Once called Pawtuxet, Cranston supports a population of 82,934 people, which makes it the second-largest city in the state after Providence. Technically a part of the greater Providence metropolitan area, this city is considered to be one of the best places to live in the US in recent years.
A small community, Cranston is known for its coffee shops, restaurants, and boutique souvenir shops. The city’s layout is also very pedestrian-friendly, so visitors can easily walk between destinations. Popular destinations in the area include the coastal beaches, marina, and local parks.
About 9 miles off the coast of mainland Rhode Island is Block Island, which is a part of the greater strait called the Block Island Sound. Most famous for its hiking, biking, fishing, sailing, and sandy beaches, it’s a major summer destination for tourists visiting the state. Many will head to the island for a day, after taking the ferry from Newport.
The small size of the island makes it easy to tour in a single day. In addition to the outdoor recreational activities, visitors should see the historic lighthouses that are on the north and southeastern sides of the island. For those that spend more time at Block Island, additional excursions include horseback riding, touring the historical society, and visiting the Abrams Animal Farm.
Rhode Island Beaches
Despite its small size, Rhode Island has an extensive coastline and there are many beaches that have become popular tourist destinations. Sprinkled throughout the state, visitors of all ages head to the sand to enjoy walking, lounging, swimming, dining, and shopping.
Near Westerly, Misquamicut State Beach is well-known for its gentle drop-off and calm surf that is perfect for families with young children. During the summer months, there are lifeguards and all visitors will have access to changing rooms, toilets, and picnic facilities.
Outside of Newport, Easton’s Beach is famous for its Cliff Walk, which goes along the coast. Also called First Beach, families love visiting the Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium, as well as lounging at the beachside picnic facilities. For more comfort, there are beach chair, umbrella, and boogie board rentals available.
Surfers will love Narragansett Town Beach, which has a designated surfing area to ensure that you aren’t interrupted by swimmers. Further along the beach, visitors can enjoy food vendors and picnic facilities. During the summer, crowds can swell to 10,000 people, so you should plan your trip accordingly.
Fort Adams State Park
By Newport Harbor, the Fort Adams State Park is the best place to go for panoramic views of both the aforementioned harbor and the East Passage of Narragansett Bay. A historic area, this state park used to be owned by the military before being turned into a public space. In addition to the fort, visitors can enjoy swimming, walking, picnicking, and boating.
During the summer, there are also music concerts and festivals. Some of the busiest times to visit the fort are during the Jazz Festival, and Folk Festival, as well as the summer and fall months when tours of the park are conducted. Visitors can also arrange to take a sailing or boat tour of the area.
Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park
Often called the “Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution”, the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park is shared between Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Preserving the state’s industrial history, the valley was once the site of the earliest textile mills in the US. Throughout the area, visitors can tour the local sites, which include natural and historic landmarks.
Some of the most famous sites to see include the Ashton Historic District, Slater Mill National Historic Landmark District, Whitinsville Historic District, and the Hopedale Village Historic District. The Blackstone River is another popular spot where tourists can view the Blackstone Canal and various tributaries.
Roger Williams National Memorial
Dedicated to the founder of the state, the Roger Williams National Memorial is a 4.5-acre park that sits just north of Downtown Providence at the base of College Hill. Featuring beautiful landscaping, the memorial is lined with green trees and it has plenty of green grass. In the northeast corner, visitors can learn more about Roger Williams at the Antram-Gray House, which acts as a Visitor’s Center.
Originally founded in 1709 by fishermen and traders, Wickford Village in North Kingstown is one of the top historic sites to view in Rhode Island. A mere 20 minutes from Newport by car, visitors can easily take a day trip to view the 18th-century architecture and the natural harbors.
With modern amenities, Wickford also has plenty of shops, restaurants, and parks for visitors to explore. Popular activities in the area include kayaking and hiking.
Whether you’re touring the whole of New England or heading directly to Rhode Island, “Little Rhody” is a stunning spot for those wanting to explore more of the Atlantic Seaboard. Among the many destinations, people love the coastal beaches and inland forests. This seaside delight will charm you with its nautical themes, historic landmarks, fantastic foods, and diverse attractions.
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