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Rhode Island is the smallest of the US states, once reserved as the resort for the rich. Today it is a favourite east coast getaway, particularly for Bostonians and New Yorkers, and is only 71 miles (114km) and 167 miles (269km) respectively from those major cities.
Extravagant 19th-century mansions of America's wealthy families grace Newport, Rhode Island's southern city on the Atlantic Ocean. They now exist as relics of a golden age that serve as tourist attractions marvelled at by visitors.
It is easy to understand why the state became a popular pilgrimage for the idle rich in days gone by. There are more than 100 beaches on Rhode Island, boasting miles of packed shoreline jutting into the Atlantic Ocean and Narragansett Bay.
Woodland covers much of the state, with the lands carefully preserved in carefully managed parks. The state capital of Providence lies at the northern point of narrow Narragansett Bay, about 30 miles (48km) from the open ocean.
Interesting histories stem from the colonial periods of both Providence and southerly Newport, worth investing through various local attractions. The small island resort of Block is an unspoiled and well-preserved paradise, about an hour ferry's ride from the town of Point Judith.
Rhode Island is not strictly an island. Instead, it's a portion of coastline cleaved in two and bisected by Narragansett Bay. The name is a legacy of the early Puritan settlers who thought their new homeland resembled the island of Rhodes in the Aegean.
Newport prospered as an important port in the colonial era, with ships trading in slaves, molasses, and rum. After the Civil War, the trading post began to turn into a resort as new millionaires discovered the beautiful beaches and gentle climate around the city.
Although it is the smallest of the US states, there is plenty of attractions in Rhode Island to keep visitors entertained. A popular getaway on the east coast, this picturesque state offers visitors memorable sites and experience satisfying a varied number of interests.
Rhode Island is popular with those who have a love for the outdoors. 400 miles (644km) of shoreline and more than 100 beaches provide the perfect settings for relaxing and sunny vacation spent soaking up the sunshine.
For the more active, Rhode Island has plenty of lush woodland preserved in 53 state parks. This makes the state ideal for camping, hiking, and cycling. Nearby Block Island is only a ferry ride away and offers excellent bird watching and beachcombing prospects.
A favourite among visitors to Rhode Island are the lavish 19th-century mansions of America's wealthy families, slices of opulent history frozen in time. The National Museum of American Illustration is adored by art lovers, as is the Rhode Island School of Design Museum with its many textile and fine art exhibitions.
The cities of Providence and Newport are both worthy of a visit, offering insights into their previous colonial pasts via a number of fantastic museums. Both cities have beautiful sidewalks and atmospheric old neighbourhoods to explore, as well as excellent restaurants and bars.
Rhode Island's magnificent Georgian-marble state house was inspired by London's St Paul's Cathedral and the US Capitol. It has the distinction of sporting one of the largest self-supporting domes in the world. The beautiful building in Smith Street houses the original Rhode Island Charter of 1663 and an historic portrait of George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart, a Rhode Island native. The Washington portrait is renowned for being the one used on the American dollar bill.
Designed by Joseph Brown for his brother John in 1786, sixth president John Quincy Adams once described the three-storey mansion on Power Street as being the most incredible and elegant private mansion ever seen on the continent of North America. The Georgian architecture features elaborate woodwork, French wallpaper, and 18th-century locally made furnishings. John Brown House also contains silver and decorative oriental objet d'art, gathered by John Brown who made his fortuning trading with China.
Providence's renovated downtown waterfront is known as Waterplace Park, a haven of romantic Venetian footbridges and cobblestone walkways that has won national and international design awards. Sited at the junction of three rivers, the river walk was the centre of the shipping trade in the city's early years. Today it draws enthusiastic crowds to the popular WaterFire events, held several times a year. This multimedia festival involves nearly 100 blazing braziers that rise from the river, seemingly to dance atop the water to the tune of rhythmic music. WaterFire events are not held to schedule and visitors can find out from the visitor information centre in the clock tower (open daily from 10am to 4pm) when the next is to be held. Free concerts and plays are also frequently held in the Waterplace Amphitheatre.
The small but comprehensive museum attached to the Rhode Island School of Design features many changing exhibitions, particularly relating to textiles. The museum's permanent collection includes the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller collection of Japanese prints, Chinese terracotta, Greek statuary, and some French Impressionist paintings. Highlights are works by masters such as Monet, Cézanne, Rodin, and Picasso. There is also an American section containing paintings by Gilbert Stuart, John Singleton Copley, and John Singer Sargent. Please note that there are two entrances to the museum, the Museum's Benefit Street entrance and the Chace Center entrance at 20 North Main Street.
Providence's zoo is situated in 16 hectares (40 acres) of beautiful woodlands and is accessed from Elmwood Avenue on the south edge of the city. The Roger Williams Park Zoo focuses on conservation and also contains a museum of natural history and a planetarium, as well as offering a relaxing spot to picnic, feed the ducks, ride a pony, or rent a paddleboat.
The zoo is home to more than 900 animals from 156 different species, with display areas divided into different habitats, including Tropical America, the Plains of Africa, and Australasia. Animals on exhibit include cheetahs, elephants, snow leopards, red wolves, bison, and many more.
Special features include an exhibit focusing on survival and adaption, as well as separate environments illustrating the natural worlds of both Africa and North America. There is also a wetlands trail, a mini trek reproducing the journey of Marco Polo, and a rainforest exhibition.
Lined with an impressive concentration of original colonial-style homes, Benefit Street, Providence boasts one of the most extensive collections of 18th and 19th century urban architecture in America. The 'Mile of History' takes in all the well-restored buildings that were home to merchants and sea captains. The street overlooking the city's waterfront also features churches and museums. The Providence Preservation Society cares for the area, providing information about the buildings and escorted tours from their office at 21 Meeting Street.
The Bellevue Avenue Historical District in Newport, Rhode Island, is home to some of the grandest, most ostentatious mansions in the American architectural canon. Eleven in total, including Kingscote, Marble House, and The Breakers, these enormous residences are important milestones in tracing the development of America's social history and seven of the properties are now National Historic Landmarks.
Ranging in style and period, from Carpenter Gothic to Colonial, Victorian to Gilded Age, visitors to Rhode Island have the Preservation Society of Newport County to thank for their tireless work in preserving and protecting these cultural treasures.
The Society runs expert guided tours of the mansions, during which visitors are educated about each property's architecture, interior, landscape, and social history. Consistently voted as one of the Ocean State's must-see attractions, visitors to Newport should not pass up the opportunity to experience these majestic mansions first-hand.
The Tennis Hall of Fame Museum in Newport is an inspiration for fans of the sport. But even those who don't follow tennis will still enjoy visiting this historic establishment, which served as a premier gathering place of Newport society at the turn of the 20th century. Built around a large interior piazza for lawn games, turrets and verandas festoon the building commissioned by wealthy publisher James Gordon Bennett. Originally a private social and sports club, it became known as the Newport Casino. The venue now hosts professional tournaments, while also opening the courts to the public for play by reservation. The Hall of Fame museum presents an exciting timeline of the sport's history, from its beginnings to today's superstars. The collection contains more than 7,000 objects, including historic tennis equipment, period clothing, and a tennis library.
The oldest synagogue still standing in the United States, the Touro Street building was designed by Peter Harrison and dedicated in 1763. The synagogue has, in its time, also been used as a venue for town meetings. George Washington, who visited Newport in 1790, attended a meeting in the synagogue and afterwards sent a letter to the congregation, which has become regarded as a classical expression of religious liberty in America. A copy of the letter is displayed on the wall of the synagogue, which has been designated as a National Historical Site.
Visitors interested in history will find the Museum of Newport History an excellent place to begin a sojourn in the city. The museum offers a comprehensive overview, utilising decorative arts, artefacts of everyday life, graphics, old photographs, and audio-visual programmes to bring the past to life. The Newport Historical Society maintains the museum, which is housed in a restored 1772 building in Thames Street, off Touro Street. Highlights are an interactive computer tour of Newport's historic district and a video tour of historic Bellevue Avenue presented onboard a reproduction of an 1890s omnibus.
Block Island lies barely 12 miles (19km) from the shore of the modern east coast. A tiny treasure island, peaceful pleasure and laidback relaxation are favourite pastimes and it's virtually unspoiled by modern progress.
Time seems to have stopped on Block Island, settling comfortably into the Victorian era. This is particularly evident in its main urban concentration known as Old Harbor. Ferries from Rhode Island arrive several times a day.
Quaint architecture, spectacular views, and delicious native seafood abounds. Charming inns, beautiful beaches, and gorgeous bike trails make up the entire tourist infrastructure that lures holidaymakers in droves every summer. It's also perfect for long lazy days spent in the water beneath warm sunshine.
Winter brings some savage storms, making life fairly tough for the 1000-odd permanent residents. Much of their living depends on warmly welcoming the annual influx of summer visitors, as well as a strong sense of close community.
Named after a Dutch navigator who chartered the island in 1614, Block Island is only seven miles (11km) long and three miles (5km) wide. It has a unique array of flora and fauna, varied terrain of hills and freshwater ponds, and the spectacular southern Mohegan Bluffs rising 200 feet (61m) above the sea.
Established in 1998, the National Museum of American Illustration is devoted exclusively to American illustration artwork. The museum is housed in the beautiful mansion of Vernon Court, with its Gilded Age architectural style synonymous with the Golden Age of American illustration.
The museum's American Imagist Collection exhibits work by Normal Rockwell, James Montgomery Flagg, Maxfield Parrish, and more. The impact of these illustrators on subsequent American artists cannot be underestimated.
Working in the days before television, their art circulated in all major print publications. It was not only the primary medium through which members of the American public were exposed to images beyond their everyday lives, it also created a host of iconic characters.
These characters have formed an integral part of the American aesthetic ever since, such as the iconic Uncle Sam. Don't miss out on this opportunity to appreciate some of the art that was essential to the birth of modern American culture as we know it.
The Rhode Island climate tends to be unpredictable and changeable, though it is predominately humid with short summers and cold snowy winters. On average, monthly temperatures range from about 82°F (28°C) to 20°F (-7°C).
In comparison to the inland regions, the coastal areas of Rhode Island, including Narragansett Bay, are usually cooler in summer and warmer in winter. July and August tend to be the warmest times of year and temperatures reach 80-85°F (26-29°C), though inland is usually hotter.
January is normally the coldest month of the usually chilly winters, with temperatures on average dropping to about 30°F (-1°C). Storms and hurricanes do occur in Rhode Island, causing considerable damage.
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