Rhode Island may be the smallest state, but its charisma is huge. Where else can you drive from one end of the state to the other in just an hour, never be far from a coastal view and see New England charm at every turn? Rhode Island is called the Ocean State for a reason; with 400 miles of coastline to draw from, most towns are on the water or not far from the sea.
Because of its compact size, a long weekend can include the small-city attractions of Providence. But less than an hour away is upper-crust Newport, home of the Gilded Age mansions and yachts. (SB TIP: Consider keeping Providence as a home base, hotel-wise, and do day trips to ritzy Newport.) Rhode Island’s T.F. Green Airport in Providence is convenient and not as busy as others in the northeast, but with 200+ flights a day, it gets the job done.
After your flight arrives, make your first stop picturesque Newport, home to sailboats, folk festivals, and historic homes big and small. It’s an easy drive with a rental car or — if visiting during summer months — a 45-minute trip by ferry from downtown Providence. Check into the posh Gurney’s Resort, located on Goat Island, adjacent to the town of Newport. The grounds themselves are relaxing and fun to explore — and don’t miss the resident goats in their very own mini-mansion goat house, inspired by the bigger vacation homes elsewhere on the island.
Walk across the bridge to downtown Newport, where 18th-century houses and charming shops bring visitors year-round. Lunch at Bar Cino, a hip new restaurant made for grazing or more serious meals, will give you a relaxing spot to people-watch in historic Washington Square. Eat up, because you’ll need the energy for walking. A must see-and-do in Newport is the Cliff Walk: This 3.5-mile coastal path along the shore gives you a unique vantage point to view the summer homes of the rich and influential. These Gilded Age mansions were home to families like the Vanderbilts, and they still reflect a time of luxury and opulence. Make sure to tour inside one of the mansions, and note that Newport in December offers a chance to see holiday decorating and activities on a big scale. As an alternative activity, tennis lovers will enjoy the International Tennis Hall of Fame, where you can play on a grass court and interact with a hologram of Roger Federer, just for starters.
Head back for dinner at Scarpetta on the Gurney’s property, with relaxing views of the harbor and an Italian-influenced menu. They’re known for their simple — yet perfect — spaghetti, but excel at all sorts of seafood dishes, as well.
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Explore an area in between the two main cities. One option: drive to quaint Warren, Rhode Island to wander around the small coastal town. It’s a good opportunity to pop into Delekta Pharmacy to down a “Coffee Cabinet,” the official beverage of Rhode Island; this coffee milkshake has a wee bit of caffeine, but it’s light enough that children of all ages drink it growing up. Another choice: Bike through the historic and scenic Blackstone Valley, along the Blackstone River Bike Path, with bikes from Blackstone Bicycles. As an unusual but clever way to see the scenery, you can hop on a pedal-powered vehicle (sort of like a paddleboat on land), at Rail Explorers Tour, which traverses along a scenic stretch of railroad tracks outside of Newport.
Head to Providence, less than an hour away, and check into the stylish Graduate Hotel. It has all the history and grand architecture from its days as The Biltmore Hotel, and a little interior design pizazz befitting of the Graduate Hotel brand. (Hint: Oriental-style rugs have donuts in their design.) For lunch, head over to Plant City— a vegan restaurant near the new pedestrian bridge that’s all the rage. Spend the afternoon exploring one of the charm-filled neighborhoods in Providence, such as Benefit Street, filled with historic homes and buildings in the Brown University-Rhode Island School of Design area. Dinner at Nick’s on Westminster is a treat. The chef-owned restaurant is a perfect balance of fine dining and casual atmosphere. If you’re around on an evening from May through November, definitely don’t miss the spectacular WaterFire that turns downtown Providence into a magical, musical event with crackling fire and quite the light show; visitors travel to Rhode Island just to experience this one-of-a-kind show.
Before you head for home, wander down to Ellie’s for a hearty breakfast, with a bit of Parisian flair, in the heart of downtown. And if there’s time, stop in the renowned art museum at Rhode Island School of Design, a New England treasure that is sure to ignite the creative juices before your departure.
When you’re ready to start planning your visit to Rhode Island, check out visitrhodeisland.com.
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