Being the smallest state in the Union by area, but still containing over a million people due to its location within the heart of New England’s urban complex, Rhode Island surprises many with its combination of urban highlights and coastal attractions, making this postage stamp sized territory the second most densely populated place in the United States.
Despite this fact, rolling farmland, and coastal bliss is still easily found along its 400 miles of coast, with the best of these stretches often found on the scattering of islands off its modest mainland territory. One of these isles contains the famed Blueblood stronghold of Newport, where the power elite of the olden days of America made their summer home to escape the mucky heat of the city centers of Boston and Providence, Rhode Island’s capital.
This tiny state, founded due to the closed-minded nature of the original rulers of the Massachusetts Bay colony, as they didn’t tolerate any diversions from their strict brand of Puritanism, served as the inspiration for the 1st amendment of the constitution protecting freedom of speech and religion.
Let this aspect of its origins, along with the charms it contains within, persuade you not to skip this easy-to-tour state on a mad dash for places like New York City. Slow down and enjoy the slow pace of life embraced by many here.
What To Do – Culture & History
After departing Boston on I-95, your arrival in Providence will occur quicker than you realize, as the heart of this vastly improved New England city lies only 50 miles south of Beantown, making it less than an hour’s drive in good traffic. Here, you can find excellent architecture in the capital’s historic downtown core, making your exploration of its theaters, restaurants, cafes and museums a truly pleasurable experience.
One of America’s vaunted Ivy League schools, Brown University can be found here, but the one sight you should spend quality time within during your time in Providence should be the Roger Williams National Memorial. So named for the Puritan that dared to disagree with the religious establishment in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, this museum honors the man that stuck to his opposing views in the face of fierce opposition of his peers, a stance that had him expelled from the colony.
He founded the new colony of Rhode Island with assistance from the British Crown in 1636, and permitted all that wished to move there freedom of religious belief, and the start of a government that separated the affairs of the church from the civil affairs of the state. He also went on to found the Baptist church, a congregation that can be found throughout the USA, but particularly in the South.
Movies, panels, and an immaculately-kept garden all honor Mr. William’s achievements, which makes for a worthwhile use of a couple hours before moving on to other attractions in the state.
Many of those attractions can be accessed by taking a ferry from Providence to Aquidneck Island. Here, much of your sightseeing will be centered around the mansions of Newport, a small city where industrialists, moneymen, socialites and the political elite all came to in the heat of sweltering east coast summers to seek relief from the weather and pressures of cities like Boston, New York City and nearby Providence.
Homes owned by names like Vanderbilt, Belmont and Astor all can be viewed by members of the general public. This allows you to soak in the grandeur of estates like The Breakers, which covers an entire acre on its 13 acre property, the French architecture and sunken gardens of The Elms, and the striking contrast of the Chinese Tea House on the property of the Marble House, all without having the hounds released on you!
The multi-generation presence of the uber-rich that also granted Newport with attractions and museums honoring their favored hobbies. A well provisioned Museum of Yachting costs only $5 to tour and allows you to learn about its history, in addition to getting a glimpse at historic reconstructions of these racing boats at its waterfront mooring, while the International Tennis Hall of Fame, located in the Newport Casino, contains one of the largest collections of tennis memorabilia in the world.
Those looking to bag another fort by in Rhode Island won’t go away disappointed, as Fort Adams has protected this colony and state from its early days straight through to the end of the Second World War. Also situated in Newport, this fort hosted the United States Naval Academy during the Civil War due to concerns about the security of the main facility in Maryland. Its ramparts serve as a great way to get back into the area’s past if the ancestry of the rich is not a topic that floats your boat.
Rhode Island, being a bastion of religious tolerance amidst the spiritual purity required by their neighbors in Massachusetts, played host of a pair of firsts in the United States in the area of religion. The first ever Baptist church in the world was built in Providence in 1638, after reluctantly seeing the need for a meeting place as initially shirking the vanity of building a church to appease God.
Being attracted by the openness espoused by Roger Williams, the oldest surviving place of worship for Judaism in the USA, The Touro Synagogue, was founded in 1736 in Newport. This place of worship, despite being named a national historic site, is still actively used for services, allowing those of Jewish faith to worship among the age-old interior of this beautiful building.
What To Do – Natural Attractions
Being a low-lying state where most points lie a short distance from the ocean, most natural attractions here revolve around the sea. The most dramatic of these is likely the Newport Cliff Walk, a trail that takes participants along the rugged cliffs that mark much of the coastline in the Newport area.
Along with views of some of the Blueblood mansions that we mentioned earlier, this walk along the wild and scenic Atlantic coast will help to restore some balance to your day if the peak summer crowds have gotten you down.
If you’d like to take a dip in the Atlantic, one of the best places to do so is at Misquamicut State Beach, which combines a lengthy strip of sand with boardwalk attractions that are commonplace along popular beaches on the Eastern Seaboard. Amusement parks and nightclubs after dark will placate those that can’t completely unplug from civilization, while long areas without development allow those looking to commune with nature a chance to escape the crowds by taking a stroll down the shore.
Sometimes getting away from it all takes a bit more effort than going to a popular state beach. Block Island, located 30 miles off the south coast of Rhode Island and the eastern tip of Long Island, achieved the goal of being harder to reach than all the other islands in the state, requiring a long ferry ride to reach. On this isolated isle, hiking its bluffs, admiring its lighthouses and of course, bathing on its beaches all rank highly as the favorite activities of long time repeat visitors.