Rhode Island, the smallest of the US states, isn't actually an island. Although it only takes about an hour to traverse, this little wonder packs in more than 400 miles of coastline with wonderful, white-sand swimming beaches and some of the country's finest historic architecture, galleries and museums. What's more, Rhode Islanders are about as friendly as folks come.
Hugging the rugged shoreline before heading inland, seaside resorts, quaint Colonial villages and extravagant country homes give way to lush fields of berry farms, vineyards and horse studs. Rhode Island's main cities – Providence, with working-class roots, and Newport, born of old money the likes of which most cannot conceive – are among New England's finest.
With year-round cultural attractions, festivals, events, top-notch restaurants and seriously cool bars, it's no wonder the nouveau riche continue to flock here for summer shenanigans. While visiting Rhode Island ain't cheap, it's worth every penny.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Rhode Island.
While the peerless position and splendor of the grounds alone are worth the price of admission, this faux-English manor house also contains heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke’s impressive art holdings, including medieval tapestries, furniture owned by French emperors, Ming dynasty ceramics, and paintings by Renoir and Van Dyck.
A 70-room Italian Renaissance megapalace inspired by 16th-century Genoese palazzi, the Breakers is the most magnificent of Newport's grandiose mansions. At the behest of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, Richard Morris Hunt did most of the design (though craftspeople from around the world perfected the decorative program). The building was completed in 1895 and sits at Ochre Point, on a grand oceanside site. The furnishings, most made expressly for the Breakers, are all original. Don't miss the Children's Cottage on the grounds.
Designed by Horace Trumbauer in 1901, the Elms is a replica of Château d'Asnières, built near Paris in 1750. Here you can take a 'behind-the-scenes' tour that will have you snaking through the servants' quarters and up onto the roof. Along the way you'll learn about the activities of the army of servants and the architectural devices that kept them hidden from the view of those drinking port in the formal rooms.
Designed by McKim, Mead and White in 1904, the Rhode Island State House rises above the Providence skyline, easily visible from miles around. Modeled in part on St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, it has the world's fourth-largest self-supporting marble dome and houses one of Gilbert Stuart's portraits of George Washington, which you might want to compare to a dollar bill from your wallet.
Fort Adams is America's largest coastal fortification and the centerpiece of this gorgeous state park, which juts out into Narragansett Bay. It's the venue for the Newport jazz and folk festivals and numerous special events. A beach, picnic and fishing areas, and a boat ramp are open daily.
One of the most prominent buildings on Benefit St, the Greek Revival Providence Athenaeum was designed by William Strickland and completed in 1838. This is a library of the old school with plaster busts and oil paintings filling in spaces not occupied by books. Edgar Allen Poe used to court ladies here. Pick up a brochure for a self-guided Raven Tour of the building's artwork and architecture.
A 5-mile drive southwest of Westerly town center, you'll come to the cloistered community known as Watch Hill, where New York's rich and/or famous have lavish and beautiful cliff-top mansions overlooking the wild Atlantic Ocean. Parking here is tricky, but the best thing to do is find a spot for your chariot, then stroll the hilly streets and lanes, respectfully taking a peek at how the other half live: a good place to start is around the Ocean House hotel.
Built for Mrs Hermann Oelrichs, an heiress of the Comstock Lode silver treasure, Rosecliff was designed by Stanford White to look like the Grand Trianon at Versailles, and its palatial ballroom (Newport's largest) and landscaped grounds quickly became the setting for some truly enormous parties. Houdini entertained at one. Today it's managed by the Preservation Society of Newport County, which offers discounted tickets for visits to other mansions in its custodianship.
This acclaimed museum features an impressive collection of 'the most American of American Art' including Maxfield Parrish's impossibly luminous works in color, NC Wyeth prints, Norman Rockwell's nostalgia and the illustrations of other American graphic heavyweights. If you can, take the free guided tour on Friday (3pm; available year-round), which sheds light on the stories behind the images and how they molded American culture through the decades.