A mere 48 miles long by 37 miles wide, RHODE ISLAND is the smallest state in the Union, yet it had a disproportionately large influence on national life: in 1652 it enacted the first law against slavery in North America, and just over ten years later it was the first to guarantee religious freedom – in the eighteenth century it also saw the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in America. Today, Rhode Island is a prime tourist destination, boasting nearly four dozen National Historic Landmarks and four hundred miles of spectacular coastline.
More than thirty tiny islands make up the state, including Hope, Despair and the bay’s largest, Rhode Island (also known by its Native American name “Aquidneck”), which gives the state its name. Narragansett Bay has long been a determining factor in Rhode Island’s economic development and strategic military importance, as the Ocean State developed through sea trade, whaling and smuggling before shifting to manufacturing in the nineteenth century. Today, the state’s principal destinations are its two original ports: the colonial college town of Providence, and well-heeled Newport, home to extravagant mansions that once belonged to America’s most prominent families, and still a major yachting centre.Read More
With its gorgeous location on Aquidneck Island, fleets of polished yachts, rose-coloured sunsets and long-standing association with America’s fine and fabulous, NEWPORT is straight out of a fairy tale. The Kennedys were married here (Jackie was a local girl); and though F. Scott Fitzgerald set his novel The Great Gatsby in Long Island, it’s no surprise that the iconic 1974 movie version was filmed in Newport. Indeed, many of the town’s opulent fin-de-siècle mansions – former summer homes of the likes of the Astors and Vanderbilts – are still owned by America’s current crop of mega-wealthy.
Stroll beyond the extravagant facades, though, and you’ll find much more. The streets are laden with history, and sights commemorate everything from the town’s pioneering role in religious freedom in America to the landing of French forces during the Revolutionary War. Newport’s prime seaside location also means that the views are often, if not always, free – a short drive and you’re greeted by unrivalled shores, with rugged seascapes and long swaths of sand.
Throughout the summer months, Providence’s spectacular event known as WaterFire (select Sat evenings May–Oct; free; waterfire.org) enthralls visitors and locals alike with one hundred bonfires set at sunset along the centre of the Providence River. Tended by gondoliers and accompanied by suitably inspiring music, the fires burn until just past midnight, while entertainers and food vendors keep the crowds happy.