What Is Rhode Island Known For?

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Steeped in history with a storied background, Rhode Island has a unique charm. Its capital, Providence, was founded in 1636 and its 400-year anniversary is fast approaching. While Rhode Island’s history is important it continues to adapt and shift with the changing times, finding the right balance in the modern world, while at the same time preserving traditions, ethics and entire reason for existing in the first place. Rhode Island holds true to its values as a place that is free of persecution and oppression. So what is Rhode Island famous for?

What Is Rhode Island Known For?

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1- It’s The Smallest State

map of usa with Rhode Island highlighted in yellow
Rhode Island is famous for being the smallest state in the USA.

Small is an understatement as it is only around 1500 square miles (4,000 square km) and is called “Little Rhody” due to that fact.

Yet don’t let it’s small stature fool you as this state has a significant history, being one of the original 13 colonies of the United States and a key state that contributed to the foundation and growth of the nation.

It is also quite interesting how it ended up being founded, because it has deep roots related to freedom of religion and other dissenters.

The small area has been home to many significant points of history, the birthplace of many things and a huge maritime tradition that continues on until today.

2- Newport’s Mansions

External of Marble mansion
Rhode Island is known for mansions such as Marble House.

During an era know as the “Gilded Age” towards the end of the 19th century, American industrialists and tycoons who helped build the nation, from Astor to Vanderbilt, set up their playground in Newport.


This led to the construction of some of the most opulent mansions in the country.

The homes themselves were about showing off who simply could be the most extravagant, almost leading towards social battles between these powerhouses.

The most famous were Breaker House, Marble House and The Elms.

The Breakers – Built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, The Breakers is one of the grandest. The 70-room grand Italian Renaissance mansion by the sea designed by Richard Morris Hunt.

Marble House – Designed by the same architect who designed The Breakers, Marble House also showcases the grandeur of the Italian Renaissance era. It has lavish marble interiors and was owned by William K. Vanderbilt (the brother of Cornelius Vanderbilt II).

The Elms – The Elms has a lovely sunken garden and the house itself showcases Classical Revival architecture inspired by an 18th-century French chateau.

The Newport Mansions Preservation Society manages these mansions as well as Rosecliff, Chateau-sur-Mer, Kingscote, Isaac Bell House, Hunter House, Chepstow.

Newport’s reputation as a place for the rich and famous has attracted modern-day celebrities, such as Taylor Swift who spent $17,750,000 on a house known as High Watch in 2013, which was originally the Harkness House.

The popstar shares excerpts of her lavish and fun parties she holds there, especially her annual Independence Day party, online.

Book a Newport Mansions Ticket for 1, 2 or 3 mansions.

3- Sailing And Maritime Heritage

sailing boats in Newport
Rhode Island is known for sailing.

Since its formation in the 17th century, Rhode Island has been one of the major players in the region when it comes to its maritime activities.

What is now known as the capital of Rhode Island, Providence, was once a settlement that was on the Narragansett Bay.

It grew to host a major ship building industry for the nation as well as a key port for trade.

This was only helped as the state itself had an abundance of timber for the ship building as well as lucky enough to have the right amount of skilled labor.

This continued on through the centuries and it was a major port connected to Europe, The Caribbean and even Asia.

The legacy continues today as it hosts the Newport Bermuda Race, which is also one of the oldest ocean races in the world and held every two years.

Even the state flag currently has an Anchor on it to represent its seafaring ways.

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4- Seafood

While there’s plenty of variety when it comes to the seafood options alone, Rhode Island is best known for it’s Quahogs and Clams.

Quahogs are a hard shell clam known as “littlenecks” and come with a generous amount of meat that explode with flavour when you bite into it.

It is a common ingredient found in the local clam chowder as well.

Their clams are legendary and they have options for the seasons.

You can have cherrystone clams that are decently sized with a nice chew to them, or grab the small soft shell steamers that are like the butter of the sea.

It’s also important to note that the quahog shell itself was the Narragansett tribe’s form of currency or wampum back in the day.

This is also more about just the tastiness of the food but both clamming and quahogging are traditions that are passed down with each generation, with families gathered together to grab them.

Recommended tour: Newport: Local Foodies Walking Tour

5- Providence

aerial view of providence at dusk
What city is Rhode Island known for? Providence is the capital.

The capital city of this great yet small state is steeped in history, that all started with Roger Williams and his efforts to form the colony in the first place.

It was a place to be free of any type of persecution and its motto of “Hope” is still relevant today.

This freedom has helped develop the city’s spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, which allowed for it to be an economic success.

This openness has also provided a fertile ground for a huge art scene to develop with notable institutions such as the Rhode Island School of Design.

It is also home to prestigious Brown University, as well as the fourth oldest library in the United States, the Providence Athenaeum.

It also is home to one of the nation’s oldest theatres which is the Providence Performing Arts Center, created back in 1928.

Recommended tour: From Providence: Day Trip around Rhode Island

6- Beaches

Even though Rhode Island is the smallest US state, it has around 400 miles (644 km) of coastline, with beaches that are as diverse and historic as Rhode Island itself.

You can see some luxurious beaches from the 19th-century Gilded Age mansions dotted in parts of Newport and feel the history of the wealthy echoing through these parts.

Or you can head to the Narragansett Pier which is the birthplace of East Coast surfing that started back at the turn of the 20th century.

The surf attracted legends such as George Greenough and a community of surfers grew.

Galilee and Point Judith are home to families who have been expertly fishing the waters for generations and continuing this industry for generations to come.

7- Charming Coastal Towns

newport rhode island
Newport, Rhode Island.

Because of how it’s shaped, most of the key towns in the area have direct beach and ocean access creating a blend of history and seafaring culture.

Little Compton is known for secluded beaches and a chilled-out atmosphere with rolling farmlands.

Narragansett Pier is home to an iconic carousel and thriving surfer community.

Even Newport deserves to be this list as its where you can see how the rich and famous lived and continue to live, showing the Gilded Age, and the transition to modern-day wealth.

Watch Hill offers the charm of a picturesque village with delightful pastel cottages on the harbour while the Watch Hill Lighthouse is a historic landmark itself.

8- Block Island

block island rhode island
Rhode Island is known for Block Island.

13 miles (21 km) south of the mainland in the Atlantic Ocean, Block Island has the historical mixture of a vivid colonial past with its roots tied back to Native American origins.

The Narragansett Tribe named it Manisses and eventually it was named after the explorer who discovered it for the Dutch in the 17th century.

During the 19th century, whaling was a major industry in the United States, particularly in New England.

Towns and islands with deep, accessible harbors became centers for whaling ships to dock, resupply and offload their catch.

The lack of such a harbour on Block Island limited its ability to directly participate in the whaling boom that other areas in New England experienced.

Step back in time in the Old Town Historic District with buildings that have been revitalised, as well as gaze at the Southeast Lighthouse which started its operation back in 1874, helping to be a guiding light for ships coming in.

It was meant to protect those ships from the soaring Mohegan Bluffs.

Nowadays this place is the center of constant events throughout the year, all depending on what the current seasons and holidays are.

9- Unusual Food And Drinks

Rhode Island has its own culinary style that’s part of the nature and freedom it exudes.

It’s official state drink is known as Coffee Milk, which uses coffee syrup instead of brewed coffee blended with milk to produce this nostalgic treat.

There are also sweet options such as cabinets (a milkshake drink made with milk, flavored syrup and ice cream) and doughboys (a deepfried dough treat dusted with powdered sugar to add extra sweetness).

If you’re looking to fill yourself up, enjoy some Johnnycakes during breakfast time which are flatbreads made out of cornmeal. Or have one of their famous grinders which are oversized sub sandwiches with plenty of the good stuff in the middle.

Feel free to add more seafood options with stuffies, which are stuffed clams that come with everything from meats to breadcrumbs, making each bit packed with flavor.

10- A True Piece Of History With The Old State House

Rhode Island and USA flag
What is Rhode Island known for?

Built over 260 years ago in 1762, this is one of the remaining state houses that has survived from the colonial era.

There are only a total of six that currently in existence throughout the United States.

It’s an important building as it signifies the proper transformation of the Rhode Island Colony into a proper state of the Union.

It’s meant to be a pure symbol of freedom.

In fact over a week before the Declaration of Independence was signed, Rhode Island already renounced their allegiance to the British Empire, and actually were the first to do so.

This made them the first colony to declare their independence.

While today it is the proper headquarters of the Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission of Rhode Island, it has been many things throughout the storied history of Rhode Island.

It was the seat of the government, a place for legal battles to be endured and even an armory during America’s more contentious periods.

Recommended tours:

11- Founder – Roger Williams And His Memorial

memorial rhode island is known for
The famous Rhode Island memorial for history buffs.

The National Memorial is an iconic landmark not to be missed.

It’s a free park that’s open throughout the year with the right blend of trails, views and exhibits.

You can learn the complete history of the formation and reasoning behind the colony itself.

Of course this goes all the way back to 1636 where Rhode Island was founded as a place for religious tolerance.

It was the foundation of separating religion between politics on the American front.

The memorial itself is at the primary area for the first settlement Roger Williams made.

This is inclusive of the freshwater spring that was the lifeline for the early colony to survive and grow from.

It’s an excellent location to begin for anyone that’s an American History buff.

While much has changed in the nearly 400 years, may can still get sense and feel for what it was like early in America’s history.

12- Brown University

Right in the heart of Providence is one of the oldest universities in the country, founded in 1764.

It was also the first university to accept students from any religion, which comes from the ethos that shapes Rhode Island from the very beginning.

It soon became a place for social justice and a haven for abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, as well as a place for the women’s suffrage movement to grow and gain traction.

Brown is an Ivy League University with an open curriculum, which allows for a more refined and aligned path of education for the students.

It’s also an architect’s dream with it’s Gothic structures embedded with fresh and modern designs such as the Brown University Library which was designed by Gordon Bunshaft.

13- The Cliff Walk

what is rhode island known for walks
Rhode island is known for its cliff walk.

This 3.5 mile (5.6km) path that follows along the coast combines natural beauty and history.

While it’s going to take your breath away when you stare out into the vastness of the ocean itself, there’s plenty of history woven into it as well.

It was originally designed for the wealthy residents of Newport and inspired by similar coastal paths and walkways that exist in Europe until this day.

They wanted that cultural experience back at home, and has been well maintained since its creation in the 19th century.

There are vantage points to see and revel in the Gilded Age mansions that still remain on the coast line till this day.

Notable owners of these luxurious estates were industry titans such as the Vanderbilts and Astors simply enjoying their relaxation as they plan their next stage of economic dominance.

It also pays homage to some of the more local residents of Newport and their extravagant wealth such as the Marble House itself.

It’s also popular in modern media, again being in not only The Great Gatsby, but other shows about the wealthy such as Gossip Girl.

Download the Newport: Cliff Walk Self-Guided Walking Tour.

14- Slater Mill

Slater Mill is a significant milestone in the modernisation of the United States.

In 1790, Samuel Slater arrived in Pawtucket with a mission and the plans for a revolutionary way to spin cotton.

This led to textile production being mechanised and easier to handle, becoming the first successful water-powered cotton spinning mill in the United States.

The water from the Blackstone River powered its machinery and paved the way for a shift from manual small-scale textile production to larger-scale manufacturing.

Handlooms became a thing of the past and America became a major global textile producer as other areas started to mechanise and modernise.

If that wasn’t enough, it also was the spark that lead to labor laws as well, because of the toil that occurred with children workers back in the day.

Due to it’s historical significance, it has become a National Historic Landmark.

As a historical site, it’s an excellent destination to walk back through time and see how empowering innovation was back then, to inspire us today.

Slater Mill is at 67 Roosevelt Ave, Pawtucket, RI 02860, United States.

15- Touro Synagogue

what is rhode island known for synagogue
Rhode island’s famous Touro synagogue.

The oldest surviving synagogue in the USA was built in 1763 as a testament to the religious tolerance the state was all about.

It was built in a traditional colonial style and may not appear as a typical synagogue.

It was founded by Sephardic Jews who were escaping the persecution they faced in Europe, and found a haven and peace in a new nation.

Many famous visitors, such as George Washington, have stepped foot in this synagogue.

It is a place for everyone, whether as a place for the Jewish community to practice their faith or for others to explore the museum inside and learn more about the history.

Touro Synagogue is at 85 Touro St, Newport, RI 02840, USA. Reserve your entry tickets here.

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Roger Szlatiner
Born and raised in New York City, Roger has always had the desire to see what the world had to offer. After building out his career in the corporate world and obtaining his Master of Science in Technology, Roger felt that his true passion came from writing and sharing his experiences with others. He is currently working on publishing his first book which is a mixture of his travels and working within different industries and cultures, and the crazy that comes with that. He’s spent the past couple of years writing content and poetry as well. When asked where his favourite travel locations are, he’ll immediately reply ‘anywhere in Southeast Asia’. Everything from the controlled chaos to the variety of places to see and food to eat kept him in the region often. When he’s not on his next trip, you can find him living between Indonesia and Vietnam.