Welcome to a little adventure through the quirkiest nooks and crannies of Rhode Island – the tiny state with a big personality! In this post, Laura Mendenhall from O Family, Where Art Thou has helped me uncover some of the most unusual things to do in Rhode Island.
While Rhode Island is famous for its stunning coastlines and historic landmarks, there are many lesser-known places that are worth experiencing, too.
Laura’s parents lived in the small town of Westerly, Rhode Island for almost five years, so she has the insider scoop on the best things to do in the state beyond the typical tourist attractions.
If you’re looking for unusual things to do in Rhode Island, read on to discover a side of the Ocean State that’s delightfully unconventional.
13 Unusual Things to Do in Rhode Island
Whether you’re a Rhode Island local looking for some unique weekend plans or a visitor in search of hidden gems, here’s a list of some of Rhode Island’s more unusual attractions!
1. 1661 Farm & Gardens
Did you know Rhode Island has a farm filled with exotic animals — on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?
New Englanders love taking the ferry to Block Island in the summer, an island that’s 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island.
While visitors spend much of their time exploring downtown Block Island, hiking, or relaxing on one of the gorgeous beaches, you could do something more unusual and visit 1661 Farm & Gardens instead.
The farm is home to a variety of animals you wouldn’t expect to see in New England, like camels, llamas, fainting goats, lemurs, and red kangaroos.
2. Providence WaterFire
Providence WaterFire is a one-of-a-kind attraction in Rhode Island that offers a mesmerizing blend of art and nature.
During special events, this installation transforms the city’s rivers into a magical spectacle, where you’ll see more than 80 glowing bonfires and torch-lit vessels traveling along the rivers.
WaterFire is a unique and unforgettable experience that showcases Providence’s artistic spirit and community vibrancy. Check the WaterFire website for the latest lighting schedule.
3. Big Blue Bug
While in Providence, take a moment to find the colossal termite mascot, Nibbles Woodaway, also known as the Big Blue Bug.
This oversized insect is perched on top of the Big Blue Bug Solutions building and is a beloved roadside attraction in Rhode Island.
4. International Tennis Hall of Fame Museum
The International Tennis Hall of Fame Museum finds its home in the scenic, coastal town of Newport.
Beyond showcasing legendary tennis players and their memorabilia, this museum offers a fascinating journey through the evolution of the sport, much like the Sports Hall of Fame in Waco, Texas.
The Tennis Hall of Fame is an unexpected gem in the state, offering you the chance to explore a lesser-known facet of Rhode Island’s heritage while appreciating the achievements of tennis legends.
5. Swamp Meadow Covered Bridge
You can find quaint covered bridges in many parts of New England, but Rhode Island only has one covered bridge on a public road: Swamp Meadow Covered Bridge.
The bridge is located in the small town of Foster and was built in 1994 as a replica of an early nineteenth-century bridge.
While you’re in Foster, you can also visit the tallest point in Rhode Island, Jerimoth Hill (811 feet), via an easy 0.3-mile out-and-back trail.
6. Green Animals Topiary Garden
In Portsmouth, take a walk through Green Animals Topiary Garden, a horticultural wonderland where sculpted plants take on whimsical shapes.
This is the oldest topiary garden in the U.S., with more than 80 topiary animals and other figures, geometric pathways, arbors, fruit trees, and more.
Green Animals is also one of only 28 official Daffodil Display Gardens in the U.S. (and one of only three in New England). In the spring, you will find more than 22,000 daffodils here!
This seven-acre garden offers beautiful views of Narragansett Bay and is open to the public from mid-April through October 1.
7. Museum of Work and Culture
The Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket provides an immersive journey into the lives of immigrant workers in Rhode Island. The museum is inside a beautifully restored mill in the historic Market Square.
Here you can explore Rhode Island’s industrial history and the many stories of immigrants who came to find a better life along the Blackstone River.
8. Rocky Point Amusement Park
Rocky Point Amusement Park was in operation from the 1840s until 1996 and was once one of Rhode Island’s biggest attractions. After the park closed, it was abandoned for 20 years before being converted into a state park.
When you visit, you’ll still be able to see remnants of the amusement park rides scattered across the park, including the support beam for the Circle Swings, the stairs that led to the Horror House, and wires and pulleys for the Skyliner gondolas.
While you won’t be able to go on rides here anymore, you can enjoy stunning views of Narragansett Bay from the pier and find signs with old photos all around the park that describe what Rocky Point was like in the past.
9. The Towers
The Towers in Narragansett are historic seaside structures that have been transformed into an event venue. They were once part of the Narragansett Pier Casino, which was famous for more than just gambling — it was a social center where people enjoyed tennis, billiards, bowling, and more.
Sadly, in 1900, the casino caught fire, and the flames destroyed the entire building except for the Towers. Now the Towers are part of the National Register of Historic Places.
While you likely won’t be able to step inside the Towers unless you have a special event, it’s still worth seeing the unique castle-like structures from the outside.
10. Custom House Coffee
Custom House Coffee in Middletown is a delightful coffee shop serving artisanal coffee and delicious pastries. It’s a perfect place for a pit stop if you’re visiting Newport, as the town is not far away.
Custom House has won several awards over the years, including Best of Newport, Mercury Love Awards, and Best New England Roaster, so stop by for a high-quality brew in a cozy space.
11. The Fantastic Umbrella Factory
The name Fantastic Umbrella Factory sounds quirky enough, but the place itself is even better.
Inside this 19th-century farmyard are several eclectic shops where you can find unique gifts and trinkets, including the Small Axe Productions gift shop, Rustic Gardens plant shop, and a General Store.
While in South County, you should also stop by Charlestown Rathskeller for a memorable dining experience. This former speakeasy has been around since 1933.
12. Modern Diner
Modern Diner is the first diner in the U.S. to be accepted to the National Register for Historic Places.
This beloved diner in Pawtucket is a factory-made “Sterling Streamliner,” a popular diner car style built in the 1930s and 1940s.
Be sure to try one of the diner’s most popular dishes: Custard French Toast.
13. RISD Nature Lab
The Rhode Island School of Design Museum, known as the RISD Museum, is a prominent cultural attraction in Providence that dates back to 1877.
A special part of the museum is the RISD Nature Lab, a haven for nature enthusiasts and artists. This interdisciplinary space gives you access to an extensive collection of specimens and natural objects to explore.
Part of the lab even includes microscopes where you can observe objects in fine detail.
Request access to visit the RISD Nature Lab here.
Where to stay in Rhode Island
If you’re looking for a unique place to stay in Rhode Island, here are a few excellent options:
📍Hotel Viking, Newport (Midrange)
This hotel is in the heart of historic Newport, with beautiful architecture, top-notch amenities, and close proximity to the town’s attractions.
📍The Wedding Cake House, Providence (Midrange)
Stay in this beautifully restored Victorian mansion with intricately decorated bedrooms and a cozy continental breakfast you can enjoy on the terrace.
📍Ocean House, Watch Hill (Luxury)
Tucked away on the bluffs of scenic Watch Hall is Rhode Island’s first and only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five-Star hotel.
Find Other Places To Stay In Rhode Island
Use the interactive map below to find other places to stay in Rhode Island that fit your desired location, budget, and amenities.
Here are answers to other frequently asked questions about Rhode Island:
How should you spend one day in Rhode Island?
I recommend spending a day in Rhode Island exploring Newport’s historic charm.
Start with breakfast at a local café, then stroll along the iconic Cliff Walk for scenic ocean views. Visit The Breakers mansion for a taste of Gilded Age opulence, and end your day with fresh seafood by the harbor.
What are unique things to do in Providence, Rhode Island?
- Explore WaterFire, an enchanting fire sculpture installation on the Providence River.
- Visit the RISD Museum, home to eclectic art collections.
- Savor delicious Italian cuisine in Federal Hill, the city’s culinary district.
- And don’t miss the historic Roger Williams Park Zoo, known for its diverse wildlife exhibits.
What is the famous island off Rhode Island?
Block Island, located approximately 12 miles off Rhode Island’s coast, is the state’s most famous island.
Known for its natural beauty, stunning beaches, and relaxed atmosphere, Block Island is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers, and those seeking a peaceful escape from the mainland.
What is the most visited place in Rhode Island?
The Breakers, a Vanderbilt mansion in Newport, is one of Rhode Island’s most visited places. The mansion showcases stunning architecture, art, and history.
Visitors flock here to immerse themselves in the grandeur of this iconic mansion and catch a glimpse into America’s past wealth and extravagance.
Other popular places in Rhode Island include Newport’s Cliff Walk, featuring stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, and Block Island, a scenic oasis about 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island.
What are cheap things to do in Rhode Island?
If you’re looking for ways to spend little to no money exploring Rhode Island, there are plenty of options to choose from:
- Explore scenic state parks like Lincoln Woods or Colt State Park.
- Newport’s famous Cliff Walk has no entrance fee and is one of the top things to do in Rhode Island.
- Enjoy a picnic on one of the state’s beautiful beaches, including Misquamicut State Beach, Easton’s Beach, and Narragansett Town Beach.
- Take a walking tour of Providence, including the historic district of Federal Hill — Rhode Island’s “Little Italy.”
What are the best things to do in Rhode Island for families?
Rhode Island offers numerous family-friendly activities:
- Providence is home to several attractions geared toward kids, including the well-known Roger Williams Park Zoo, the Providence Children’s Museum, the Museum of Natural History, and the Planetarium.
- A beach day is always a family favorite, and there are plenty of excellent beaches in Rhode Island. If you have any Taylor Swift fans in the family, they might enjoy visiting East Beach in Watch Hill, which is near her famous Rhode Island mansion.
Other great beaches include Easton’s Beach in Newport, Narragansett Town Beach in Narragansett, and Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly.
- Newport is another popular town for families. Kids are sure to love walking the Cliff Walk with its impressive ocean vistas the entire way, and older kids might be fascinated by a tour of one of the Gilded Age mansions. (The Breakers is the best one to visit.)
It’s also worth walking through downtown Newport and visiting the International Tennis Hall of Fame (one of the unique sites mentioned in this post!)
- Another popular day trip in Rhode Island is taking the ferry to Block Island. The island is filled with beaches and hiking trails to explore.
What are the best things to do in Rhode Island for couples?
Rhode Island is the perfect destination to plan a romantic getaway.
- Stroll along the scenic Cliff Walk in Newport, and explore historic mansions like The Breakers.
- Visit the charming Providence Waterfront Park, or take a gondola ride on the Providence River.
- Enjoy a seafood dinner in a cozy restaurant. (You’ll find them all over the state, but one of my favorites is The Red Parrot in Newport.)
Conclusion: Unusual Things to Do in Rhode Island
Rhode Island is full of fun and unusual things to do. From the enchanting Providence WaterFire to the meticulously sculpted wonders of Green Animals Topiary Garden, there are plenty of ways to enjoy a visit to the smallest U.S. state aside from the most popular tourist attractions.
The great thing about Rhode Island being so small is you can do most of the activities mentioned in the post during a single trip, especially if you plan to stay a few days.
Enjoy planning your adventure to the Ocean State!