Despite Rhode Island’s small size—it’s the smallest of the 50 states, after all—there’s no shortage of fun experiences. Throughout the state, you’ll find incredible lighthouse viewpoints, beaches, wineries, luxury resorts, waterways, shops and restaurants.
Since Rhode Island’s culture is centered on the ocean, yacht trips, sailing lessons, fishing, and boating are also available. Seafood is nearly top-notch wherever you go, and many small towns have museums dedicated to the state’s interesting maritime history.
Many travelers visiting Rhode Island simply head to Providence under the false assumption that the state’s capital is the only place worth stopping by. From the big city, however, you’ll soon discover that Rhode Island’s small town is where its personality really shines. Think family-owned B&Bs, alternative wineries, live theaters everywhere and other attractions that can only exist in small communities without chains or big franchises.
The best way to see Rhode Island is by road trip. You can easily see many incredible sights in the state in a matter of weeks – something that is often not possible with larger neighbors! Once you get to a small town, just park and walk around – they are usually small enough to be found within a long walk.
Here are the 15 best towns in Rhode Island:
1. New Shoreham
New Shoreham is a sweet coastal town perfect for beach lovers and family travelers. You can easily hang out and swim at Mansion Beach or Ballard’s Beach – or, for seclusion, enjoy Crescent Beach.
When you really want to get up from the deck chairs, you can climb to the top of the Golden God Cliff and watch the sea glisten beneath your feet. Take a stroll along the Clayhead Nature Trail or Rodman Hollow to see a variety of birds and other wildlife. The nearby Great Salt Pond is also a must-see for the outdoors.
For a classic New England experience, head to the Southeast Lighthouse or North Lighthouse for photos and local maritime history.
Rhode Island has some of the best beaches on the East Coast, many of which are located near the small town of Narragansett. Scarborough, Narragansett Beach, Roger W. Wheeler Beach or Saltwater are clean and spacious. You can have a great time sailing the high seas with the Block Island Ferry. Or, for some outback adventure, camp, fish, hike or bike around Fisherman’s Memorial State Campground.
Visit the fairytale buildings of The Towers, a holiday resort built in the late 1800s for holidaymakers looking for a longer-stay destination. The National Museum of the South will also give you an interesting glimpse into the past through its exhibits and features of artifacts from all over the region.
3. Wickford Village
Wakeford Village is the best town in Rhode Island to find the perfect New England souvenir. If you walk along the main street, you will be able to shop at clothing boutiques, antique stores, art galleries (both window and wallet types), and dine in different types of restaurants and cafes.
The Village of Wickford has retained its colonial architecture and nearly every garden is well manicured. No one will blame you for feeling like you are back in the 18th century! Plan your visit during one of many seasonal festivals, including the Wakeford Arts Festival in summer, the Daffodil Festival in spring, and the Festival of Lights in December.
Hopkinton is down-to-earth and hospitable, and travelers interested in a relaxing vacation will feel right at home. Around town, there are plenty of parks and waterways for boating, canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Wildlife is almost everywhere – especially on the hiking trails of the Arcadia Land Management Area.
After a long day outdoors, grab a beer at Start Line Brewing—all with hydroponic hops and fresh honey from local bees. Then pair it with a hearty sandwich from FreshWater Farm.
With classic New England charm and plenty to do, Jamestown is a town you must visit to experience the best of Rhode Island. If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a kayak and paddle to Holland Island, where you can wind your way through Grablesburg, a fortress from the Civil War all the way to World War II. Today, it is abandoned.
Spend half a day exploring the nearby Beavertown Lighthouse and Park, then take a walk around the Conicut Island Conservation Area. Other picturesque attractions include Fort Wetherill State Park. Board the Jamestown Newport Ferry and visit Jamestown Village, Rose Island, Fort Adams, Ann Street Pier and Perotti Park. If you have a round-trip ticket, you can get on and off as many times as you like.
6. Little Compton
The town is a perfect blend of beachy neighborhoods and the rustic vibe of the old town. It’s comfortable, inviting and perfect for a week in pure relaxation mode. Swim and shell-seek at South Shore Beach, frolic in the waves at Goosewing Beach Reserve, or stroll through the peaceful Sakonnet Gardens.
When you’re ready to network, head to Little Compton Commons, the town square. Here you can see the town’s old cemetery, church, and buy from Wilbur’s General Store – a store of all types that was originally built over a hundred years ago. This is by far the best commons in the state.
Richmond has over 120 miles of rivers and streams, so if you’re a fisherman, swimmer, kayaker or paddler, this is the perfect place for you. Year-round, Richmond is picturesque and sparsely populated, making it the perfect place to get away from big city life. Here, you can access hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain biking trails that are easy to navigate.
For fresh produce and snacks to fuel your trip, you can get a real sense of community at the Richmond Farmers Market during the warmer months of the year.
If you’re a history buff and love a town with a fascinating past, head to Forster. Foster is home to Foster Townhouse, the oldest government meeting room in the country still in use today. For interesting historic buildings, walk across the swamp meadow covered bridge – a fun experience for those looking for something new to do.
Foster also traverses the North-South Rhode Island Trail, a 77-mile trail that stretches from Charleston, Massachusetts, to Burrellville, Rhode Island. Many outdoor travelers who hit the trail list the area around Foster as one of their favorites. Near the Foster section of the trail is also the top of Mount Jeremos, the highest point in the state.
If you’re an art-loving traveler, you’ll love spending time in Warren. Warren is a small town with a large creative community. There are many art studios, live theatre performances, live music venues and handcrafted jewellery shops in town. Maybe they were inspired by the environment? Even the George Hale Library looks more like a castle than a public building.
Outdoors, you’ll love spending time at Town Beach, Waterfront Balls Hill Park, and strolling at Town Pier. You can cycle along the coastline and watch the boats come in and out when it’s time for a break.
10. Watch Mountain
Watch Hill is a luxury travel destination popular with wealthy New Englanders and Americans from all over the country. In fact, Taylor Swift even owns a $17 million vacation home in Watch Hill. Here, you can play golf, relax at the spa and cruise around the harbour on a superyacht. Or, even take sailing lessons! There are dozens of boutiques, farm-to-table restaurants, and even a nostalgic carousel called Pegasus.
If you’re a traveler looking for a small town that offers luxury without being pretentious, then Watch Hill is the place for you.
Charlestown is the perfect mix of nature, quintessential small-town charm and eccentricity. When it comes to the outdoors, you’ll enjoy some good time in the sun at Town Beach or East Beach. Burlingame State Park is also the perfect place to camp in town but surrounded by wilderness – like Watchuaung Pond. The Frosty Drew Nature Center and Observatory and the National Wildlife Refuge are also worth a visit.
More than a dozen buildings in the town center are listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to the well-preserved colonial-style architecture.
The main hipster attraction is the magical Umbrella Factory, which sells a variety of plants, trees and flowers, and animals such as goats, emus and chickens roam the store. It’s a zoo of natural wonders with interesting souvenirs and cafes to while away the time.
Although the town is small, it has a lot of character. Many travelers come just for the Purple Cat Winery. Not a typical winery – the grapes aren’t grown on-site – Purple Cat Winery is a hip place where you can enjoy wine without any wine snob or buying pressure. Purple light bulbs create a fun vibe, and there are purple cats in various forms throughout the venue. You can even take a yoga class upstairs, shop at the on-site boutique, or enjoy a healthy lunch before departure.
Many travelers enjoy staying at the White Rock Motel, a family-owned, 1950s-style single-story motel with first-rate customer service and comfortable decor. Lakes, ponds, hiking trails and various outdoor sightseeing spots also surround the town.
With locations in Rhode Island that you won’t find anywhere else, Exeter is an outdoor hotspot. It’s just off Yawgoo Valley, a recreation dedicated to snow sports and the state’s only ski resort. Beach Pond is a great fishing spot with many species of fish to catch.
In the city, there is also a lot to admire. Lawton’s Mill is an 18th century house and wood-frame mill, and many people come to take pictures. For meals, order a hot pie or a fresh meal at Schartner Farms. Tilted Barn Brewery is also a great place to grab a cold beer after a long day and is often packed with locals.
Exeter also has the Tomaquag Museum, Rhode Island’s only Native American museum. The museum offers insightful exhibits that connect visitors to American history—while fostering community development.
Love spooky sights? Visit Harrisville, where the horror movie The Conjuring was filmed. What’s really weird is that the movie is based on a true story. In the 1970s, the Perrons moved into the Harrisville house with their five daughters. They are tortured by evil ghosts. In retrospect, many people have been violently killed on the property throughout history. Although the house is private, you can see it from a distance. Even when you’re walking through town and leaving the hotel, it’s usually chilly.
15. West Wind
If you’re traveling through Rhode Island by public transportation, you’ll want to catch the Amtrak train under Westerly. Located on the beach, this town has dozens of restaurants, shops and outdoor activities to choose from. It’s also incredibly beautiful—more than a dozen buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Enjoy a day in the sun at Wilcox Park or Westerly Town Beach, a very clean and undisturbed stretch of sand that anyone can access.
Where to Stay: The Best Hotels in Rhode Island (RI)
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