Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the USA, but ‘Little Rhody’ proves the saying that the best things come in small packages. Visitors return time and again to enjoy peaceful coastlines and countryside, as well as some of the USA’s best-preserved heritage and finest dining, and Newport, with its grand mansions.
Nowhere in the USA are mansions so grand, gardens so impressive and reminders of the Gilded Age so strong: think marble and chandeliers, vast ballrooms and magnificent art. Yet, in the late 19th-century, Newport’s oceanfront mansions were merely summer ‘cottages’ for America’s wealthiest socialite families, each trying to outdo the other for opulence in architecture and interior design. Now, anyone can enter 11 of these historic properties that stand on 80 acres (33ha) of gardens. The Breakers, the most imposing of them all, reflects the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial pre-eminence in turn-of-the-century America. Nearby, step into the life of modern-day heiress Doris Duke at her home, Rough Point.
One of New England’s great walks, Newport’s Cliff Walk was named one of “50 Places of a Lifetime” by National Geographic Traveler magazine. Following Newport’s spectacular Atlantic coastline, this 3.5-mile walk passes the grand Newport mansions, offering visitors unusual wildflowers, birds, and geology along the way. A National Recreation Trail in a National Historic District, the Cliff Walk is easy walking for most of its length, though the last third is a more challenging walk over the natural and rugged New England rocky shoreline. For a special lunch, stop at The Spiced Pear Restaurant at The Chanler at Cliff Walk, a beautiful hotel at the walk’s starting point.
To learn more: Cliff Walk Map
Welcome to the oldest grass tennis courts in the world: opened in 1881, Newport’s lawns have been in regular use even longer than Wimbledon’s! No wonder this is the home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, the world’s largest tennis museum, with the world’s largest collection of tennis memorabilia. Set in the historic Newport Casino, the galleries chronicle the rich history of the sport through lively interactive exhibits, dynamic videos, and popular mementos from famous champions of the past and superstars of today. In Enshrinee Hall, plaques commemorate the great players, coaches, administrators and writers that are inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame each July.
When it comes to developing young talent in the arts, RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) is one of America’s leading institutions, and the college’s Museum of Art is the state’s leading museum of fine and decorative art. Right in the city of Providence, see thousands of paintings and sculptures by famous American, European and Asian artists. Renowned for its collection of American Impressionist paintings, RISD (pronounced Riz-dee) is southeastern New England’s only comprehensive art museum and also stages regular exhibitions. (Closed in August).
The world’s tallest, heaviest and rarest land animals from all corners of the globe are represented in Roger Williams Park Zoo — well over 100 species in all. Go “on safari” and watch the African elephants and giraffes, zebras and wildebeests. In Tropical America, you can spy on free-roaming monkeys in Rhode Island’s only “rainforest” and see giant anteaters. Closer to home, the bald eagle and bison are part of American lore. An annual night time October attraction at the zoo is the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular where you can experience thousands of glowing pumpkins — many intricately carved to depict people, places and scenes from popular culture.
WaterFire is unique: there is nothing quite like this mix of music and bonfires anywhere else in the world. You have to be there to feel the magic: 100 bonfires on the three rivers that curve through downtown Providence; the fragrant scent of wood smoke; the flickering firelight on arched bridges; and torch-lit vessels traveling down the waterways. Binding it all together is music from around the world. Both a powerful work of art and a moving symbol of the renaissance of this historic American city, WaterFire creates memorable evenings in Providence, from June through October. And it is free to all.
The home of TF Greene Airport, Warwick is actually a series of historic villages, including Pawtuxet Village, one of New England’s oldest settlements, dating back to 1642. In South County, a real charmer is the 300-year-old waterside village of Wickford, with its art galleries and crafts shops. In July, visit the Wickford Art Festival, the USA’s oldest open-air art fair: featuring paintings, sculpture, and photography created by 250 artists from around the world. In nearby Saunderstown, visit the home of painter Gilbert Stuart, whose portrait of George Washington is on every U.S. one-dollar bill.
Whale watching is a must for every visitor to New England. In Galilee, an authentic fishing village, the Frances Fleet has four decades of experience, so the captain and crew know where to find finback whales, humpbacks, minke, pilot, false killer, and even the occasional Sei whale. From July through August, the ocean waters off Rhode Island’s coast boast warm water eddies that break off from the Gulf Stream. With mid-summer temperatures in the high 70s (21°C), the waters are a magnet for whales of all shapes and sizes. Galilee itself is still one of the largest fish and shellfish ports on the East Coast of the USA, so fishing trips are easy to arrange. Or just feast on “just-off-the-boat” seafood at local restaurants.
Twelve miles (20km) off the Rhode Island coast, Block Island is like going back in time. Think bicycles rather than cars, miles of free public beaches, sparkling clear waters, and dramatic bluffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The pace is slow, life seems less complicated — relaxation is guaranteed. Reach the island by ferry from Point Judith, R.I., New London, Conn. or Montauk, N.Y. It’s no wonder that the Nature Conservancy has designated Block Island “one of the 12 last great places in the Western Hemisphere.”
History was made in Pawtucket back in 1793, when Samuel Slater built the first water-powered cotton textile mill in North America. With energy provided by the Blackstone River, Slater Mill was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. Today, costumed interpreters guide you through the mill’s vintage textile machinery that is bathed in light streaming in through large windows. You can imagine the grueling lives of the workers — many of them children — who toiled here. A visit here takes you back to the time when the America of small farmers and craftsmen was ending and a new era, which would see the USA become the industrial leader of the world, was beginning.
For more travel adventures in Rhode Island: www.visitrhodeisland.com