The smallest state in the United States and one of its most historic, Rhode Island is a magical destination in New England with 400 miles (644 km) of blissful coastline. The state was first settled by outcasts from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636 and is nicknamed “The Ocean State” due to Rhode Island’s maritime roots and long coastline.
Despite its small geographical area, there are a surprising number of large cities and quaint coastal towns to discover throughout the nation’s 13th state. Cities in Rhode Island, such as Providence, Newport and Pawtucket, are some of New England’s legendary locations.
From the ritzy mansions in Newport to the small seaside hamlets where the ocean dictates much of the local culture and industry, Rhode Island is the place to discover cities and towns that define modern-day America.
- 20 Rhode Island Cities And Towns
- Cities In Rhode Island
- Towns In Rhode Island
20 Rhode Island Cities And Towns
Cities In Rhode Island
Providence, in Rhode Island’s northeast region, is The Ocean State’s official capital and its most populated city, making it an obvious first stop in Rhode Island.
Providence was founded by British-born Puritan Roger Williams in 1636, making it one of the oldest and most historic permanently inhabited settlements in the United States.
The city quickly developed into a bustling maritime hub along the shores of Narragansett Bay during the 17th and 18th centuries and is today the third most-populated city in New England after Boston and Worcester.
With stunning coastal views and historic landmarks, Providence treats visitors to an array of attractions, including the annual WaterFire festival, the RISD Museum and the Providence Performing Arts Center.
On the shores of Narragansett Bay, roughly 33 miles (53 km) from Providence, lays the city of Newport, a charming coastal destination that’s long been associated with sailing and American aristocracy.
Newport has long been a popular vacation destination and was the summertime destination of choice for John F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower during their presidential terms.
There are several preserved 19th-century summer mansions in modern-day Newport to gawk at.
The city was established in 1639 by several members of the initial Portsmouth settlement and is famous for hosting the first US Open Tennis Championship in 1881.
From the stunningly preserved 19th-century mansions along the Newport Cliff Walk to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, there’s much to take in throughout this iconic mid-sized Rhode Island city.
With a population of more than 75,000 people, enough to make it the fourth-largest city in Rhode Island, Pawtucket is dripping with history and is credited with being the birthplace of the United States Industrial Revolution.
Pawtucket was founded in 1671 by Joseph Jenckes Jr. when Jenckes purchased 60 acres (24 ha) of land in the region, with the city’s name derived from the native Algonquian word meaning “river fall”.
The city has shed much of its industrial past.
Today, It is a truly cosmopolitan city with many tourist attractions to explore, such as the Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark, the Lincoln Woods State Park and McCoy Stadium.
The third-largest city in The Ocean State in terms of population, Warwick, situated right in the geographic middle of Rhode Island, is a timeless destination with more than 39 miles (63 km) of uninterrupted coastline to explore.
Warwick was shoved firmly into the national spotlight when in 1772, the first conflict between the British and the Americans broke out just outside modern-day Warwick.
The Gaspee Affair conflict preceded the infamous Boston Tea Party events.
Both incredibly scenic and richly historic, Warwick dazzles visitors with attractions such as the Goddard Memorial State Park, the Warwick Center for the Arts and the Clouds Hill Museum.
Known throughout Rhode Island, thanks to its recognition as the northernmost city in the state, Woonsocket, with its population of roughly 43,000 inhabitants, is the ideal platform to explore The Ocean State and neighbouring Massachusetts in one visit.
Founded during the 1820s, the exact origin of Woonsocket’s name remains a mystery however, it’s generally believed that the name is derived from the native Nipmuc people who inhabited the area before the British arrived.
Woonsocket has many attractions, such as the Museum of Work & Culture and the St Ann Arts & Cultural Center, and is only 53 miles (85 km) from downtown Boston.
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Both a suburb of Providence and a fully-autonomous independent city, Cranston is the second-largest city in Rhode Island by population.
It’s home to excellent shopping, bars and restaurants ranging from casual to upscale dining.
Cranston regularly ranks among the best places to live in the United States, with this centrally located New England city a popular destination since it was first settled by European arrivals in 1754.
Formerly known as “Pawtuxet”, Cranston is today a cosmopolitan city on the doorstep of downtown Providence, treating visitors to attractions such as the Roger Williams Park Zoo, the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium and the Sprague Mansion.
7- Central Falls
Spread across an area of 1.29 square miles (3.34 square kilometers), with a population of around 22,000, Central Falls is the smallest and most densely populated city in Rhode Island.
Central Falls and the surrounding region were home to the Narragansett, Nipmuc and Wampanoag people before the city’s official settlement in 1675.
Modern-day Central Falls is recognised as a large Providence suburb.
Due to the city’s size and proximity to Rhode Island’s capital, there’s plenty to do in Central Falls, such as stopping by the Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark or touring the WaterFire Arts Center.
Towns In Rhode Island
One of the largest towns in Rhode Island, Bristol, situated in The Ocean State’s eastern region, is a busy shipbuilding and maritime hub renowned for its excellent selection of restaurants and waterfront vistas.
British immigrants officially settled the town during the early 17th century and it was initially part of Massachusetts before the Crown decided to hand it over to the newly formed Rhode Island Colony in 1747.
When it comes to attractions and landmarks to visit in Bristol, the town certainly packs a hefty punch, with the Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum, the Herreshoff Marine Museum and the Linden Place all great venues to explore in Bristol.
The town of Westerly in Rhode Island’s southwestern corner is a blissful coastal destination famous for its sandy beaches and charming downtown area.
Westerly boasts a permanent population of about 23,000 people but swells in size over the summer when vacationers flock from all across New England to enjoy the town’s great beaches, shops and attractions.
Watch Hill Lighthouse, the Granite Theatre and the Napatree Point Conservation Area are all worthwhile places to explore when stopping by Westerly.
Although officially recognised as a suburb of nearby Providence, Cumberland is the state’s largest independent town in terms of population, with more than 36,000 Rhode Islanders calling Cumberland home.
The town is next to some of the state’s most popular public parks and outdoor attractions and is an excellent destination to visit if you’re looking for a much-needed break from Rhode Island’s coastal towns or overcrowded cities.
With a history that dates back to 1635, Cumberland is among the oldest settlements in New England and serves up several top-notch attractions to visit, including the Metcalf–Franklin Farm, the Blackstone River Bikeway and the Diamond Hill Vineyards.
Home to several of the state’s most popular beaches, Narragansett, named after Narragansett Bay, is a mid-sized coastal town in southern Rhode Island that is among The Ocean state’s busiest vacation destinations during the summer months.
Founded during the mid-17th century, the British Royal Navy extensively used the town as a mooring point for its battleships during the Revolutionary War and is today a real cultural and historic hub of Rhode Island.
Narragansett’s laundry list of unique places includes The Towers, the Roger Wheeler State Beach, the Point Judith Fisherman’s Memorial and the Narragansett Town Beach, perfect for all your seaside vacation needs.
Part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony upon its founding in 1638 before being handed over to Rhode Island in 1746, the town of Jamestown is a quintessential New England coastal town, with charming restaurants, shops and landmarks to experience.
Jamestown is situated on Conanicut Island, roughly five miles (8 km) west of downtown Newport.
It is renowned for its plethora of interesting historic landmarks, including several military forts the British used during the American Revolutionary War.
From the Beavertail State Park and Beavertail Lighthouse Museum to the Windmill Hill Historic District and the Jamestown Historical Society, there’s plenty to see, do and experience in Jamestown.
The town of Barrington is a low-key, mostly residential suburb of Providence that was founded in 1717 when a group of British Congregationalists decided to split from the nearby settlement of Swansea because of religious differences.
Barrington is a historic destination in Rhode Island as arrivals aboard the Mayflower settled the town.
Today is mostly known for its stunning coastal views and opulent country estates.
The town is situated just 10 miles (16 km) from downtown Providence, making it a good alternative for travellers seeking a more low-key stay without sacrificing the creature comforts of the big city.
A popular destination thanks to its convenient location near Rhode Island’s most populated cities and towns, Barrington’s Haines Memorial State Park and Rhode Island Country Club prove there’s plenty for visitors to experience without needing to leave town.
Middletown is a modestly-sized town in Rhode Island’s southeast, surrounded by several of The Ocean State’s most popular beaches and nature preserves.
This outdoor-friendly town was first incorporated in 1743 and is neatly positioned in the centre of the state’s scenic Aquidneck Island, hence Middletown’s name.
Middletown shines as a travel destination, with Middletown’s Norman Bird Sanctuary, Whitehall Museum House and Prescott Farm all rated as some of Rhode Island’s top attractions.
The second-oldest municipality in Rhode Island, Portsmouth is as historic a destination as any in the New England region.
It is home to historical tales, landmarks and museums to discover.
Portsmouth is situated on Rhode Island’s Aquidneck Island and is just a short drive from nearby Middletown and Newport.
First settled in 1638 by a group from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the town features many must-see attractions, including the Green Animals Topiary Garden, the Portsmouth Art Guild and the Greenvale Vineyards.
Home to a permanent population of about 8,000 people, Charlestown is a charming seaside destination in southwest Rhode Island that treats travellers to a range of eclectic shops, art studios and restaurants.
The town was named after King Charles II.
It was initially part of Westerly before the area was formally divided along the Pawcatuck River, with Charlestown officially recognised as an independent city in 1738.
Despite the town’s modest size, Charlestown has quite an array of attractions, with the Burlingame State Park, the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge and the Kettle Pond Visitor Center all located in Charlestown.
17- Little Compton
Little Compton is a small town in Rhode Island’s southeast corner that’s a popular destination throughout New England thanks to its rolling farmland, award-winning vineyards and stunning coastal views.
The town and the surrounding area were formerly inhabited by the native Sakonnet people, with British settlers only arriving during the latter stages of the 1600s.
Little Compton offers travellers a wide breadth of attractions and landmarks to pick from despite the town’s small size, with the South Shore Beach, Wilbor House and Sakonnet Lighthouse just some of Little Compton’s most visited venues.
Home to a thriving population of more than 35,000 inhabitants, the town of Coventry in The Ocean State’s central region is among the largest towns in the state.
It is ideally suited for exploring western Rhode Island’s scenic farmsteads and forests.
Coventry was first established by British settlers in 1741 and underwent a rapid manufacturing boom when the Industrial Revolution arrived in Coventry during the 1800s.
Today, Coventry is a quiet Rhode Island town with attractions such as the historic General Nathanael Greene Homestead, the Paine House Museum and the Maxwell Mays Wildlife Refuge.
Situated in the northwest corner of Rhode Island, Burrillville is a charming and low-key rural destination just 61 miles (98 km) from downtown Hartford, Connecticut.
Burrillville was initially part of the nearby town of Glocester before being incorporated as an independent town in 1806, with the newly designated town named after then-Rhode Island Attorney General and former US Senator James Burrill, Jr.
Despite the town’s small size, there are several interesting attractions to visit in Burrillville, with the Conjuring House, Burrillville Spring Lake Beach and the Village Barn Country Store all top-notch destinations to stop at in Burrillville.
20- North Kingston
Best known as the birthplace of celebrated 18th-century American artist Gilbert Stuart, North Kingstown in the state’s southern region is a real cultural and historical treasure trove waiting to be discovered.
The town is a popular travel destination thanks to its preserved 18th-century architecture, shops and art galleries, with artists flocking to North Kingstown every July to attend the annual Wickford Art Festival.
North Kingstown also features several other popular attractions, including the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace & Museum, Smith’s Castle and the Audubon Davis Memorial Wildlife Refuge, making it a worthwhile town to visit when travelling through Rhode Island.
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