Beavertail Light House, Winter Solstice, Jamestown, RI.

12 Unforgettable Small Towns to Visit in Rhode Island

Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the US, but it packs a proper punch when it comes to charm. Beyond the capital city of Providence, hidden gems await to be enjoyed in the state's small towns. Filled with beautiful views, historic landmarks, and one-of-a-kind tourist attractions, Rhode Island delivers and then some when it comes to charm! Some of the state's towns sit along the Atlantic coastline, while others are nestled in the countryside, offering visitors diverse experiences during their trip. No matter what type of traveler visitors may be, these 12 unforgettable small towns in Rhode Island should be on any list of places to visit!

Little Compton

An aerial view of the beachfront campground in Little Compton, Rhode Island
An aerial view of the beachfront campground in Little Compton, Rhode Island.

Located in the tiny southeastern corner of Rhode Island, Little Compton is a charming coastal town known for its farmland and stunning shoreline. This small town has a population of just over 3,500 residents and dates back to the late 1700s when the Sakonnet and Awashonks tribes inhabited the land. English settlers made their way to the area in the late 1600s and renamed the town Little Compton in 1682. The town’s rich history includes several 17th-century properties, such as the Wilbor House and Peabody House, with the former now running as a museum of the Wilbor family home. 

Another must-see location when visiting Little Compton is the South Shore Beach and Goosewing Beach Preserve. This beach differs from others in the area as The Nature Conservancy manages it. It offers a more secluded environment for bird watching or taking in the waves where the coastal pond meets and feeds into the ocean. Goosewing Preserve is also home to the state’s largest natural salt pond, Quicksand Pond. Before a day of soaking in the salty air, stop into The Barn for the town’s best breakfast and brunch dishes. 


 The Swamp Meadow Bridge in Foster, Rhode Island.
 The Swamp Meadow Bridge in Foster, Rhode Island.

Another excellent vacation destination in Rhode Island is Foster, a small rural town with approximately 4,600 residents. Foster is situated in the northwest corner of the state, bordering Connecticut and Massachusetts. The town's location makes it a great spot for anyone looking to escape the stress of city life and reconnect with some of the most beautiful nature attractions in the state. A vast amount of history is also packed into this tiny town, dating back to the early 1600s. One of Foster's most iconic historical landmarks is the Foster Town House, a former meeting place for local town officials that remains the oldest government meeting house in the United States. Today, guests can visit the building still used for town meetings and home to the Foster Preservation Society.

Another building owned and refurbished by the Foster Preservation Society is the Mt. Hygeia School House. This historic property dates back to 1840 and was once a one-room schoolhouse, though the town’s deed records show activity in the area back in 1755. While visitors cannot enter the schoolhouse as it is under renovation, they can stop and view the outside of the building, which is clearly marked and located conveniently on Hartford Pike. Another historical landmark in this town is the Swamp Meadow Covered Bridge. The bridge was built in 1994 and is one of the few remaining covered bridges in Rhode Island. It's a popular spot for photographs and has roots tied to the town, as it was built by Foster residents with locally sourced materials.


Sand Sculpture of lobster at the Seafood Festival in Ninigret Park, Charlestown, RI.
Sand Sculpture at the Seafood Festival in Ninigret Park, Charlestown, RI. Image credit TongRoRo via Shutterstock.

Located in Washington County, Charlestown is a coastal town with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Pawcatuck River on the other. This town has a population of around 8,000 residents and is known as the Narragansett Indian Tribe's official headquarters in the state. One of the most unforgettable aspects of Charlestown is the town’s dedication to putting on yearly events for residents and visitors. Undoubtedly, the Charlestown Seafood Festival attracts the most tourists from across the country, as it’s been a staple in the town for nearly 40 years. The event has won several awards and is now one of the most significant events in the late summer months. 

Another well-known historic attraction in Charlestown is the Babcock House, which sits on Main Street in the Quonochontaug village of the town. The property is sometimes called Whistling Chimneys and was constructed in 1685. Visitors can tour the home or admire its architecture from the outside. Charlestown also has a stunning shoreline, with East Beach and Charlestown Beach being top destinations for those looking to soak up some sun or go for a swim. For an all-you-can-eat experience, The Nordic is a nationally recognized buffet serving seafood, steak, and prime rib.


Sunset over Olney Pond at Lincoln State Park in Providence County, Rhode Island,
Sunset over Olney Pond at Lincoln State Park in Providence County, Rhode Island.

Lincoln, Rhode Island, is a small town in Providence County that blends the peacefulness of rural living with easy access to city amenities. Although it's one of the larger towns in the state, with a population of around 20,000 residents, Lincoln still maintains its small-town charm. So, if you want to learn more about this town’s history, planning a trip to the Eleazer Arnold House is a must. This historic property was built in 1693 by Mr. Eleazer Arnold, who obtained a license to operate the home as a public house. Today, the Arnold House is a National Historic Landmark that provides guided tours on Sundays from June through October. The town is also home to the Hearthside House, a property built in 1810 that features ten fireplaces within the once home now museum.

However, one of the most unique attractions in Lincoln is the Bally's Twin River Casino, a popular destination for gambling and fine dining. The casino has many gaming tables, a hotel with several amenities, and restaurants like Fred & Steve's Steakhouse. Many visitors also stop by Lincoln Woods State Park, which has hiking trails, 600 acres of land, and the beautiful Olney Pond. Another relaxing location is the Saltitude Himalayan Salt Cave, a wellness center focused on mind and body healing.


Drone aerial view of townscape of Warren, Rhode Island
Drone aerial view of the townscape of Warren, Rhode Island.

Warren is another picturesque town on the list, an ideal destination along the Kickemuit River in Bristol County. This small town has a population of just under 11,000 residents and has deep roots in shipbuilding, fishing, and textile manufacturing. Today, visitors can explore several historical landmarks while enjoying the local shops and restaurants that line Main Street. One of the top attractions in the town is the Warren Waterfront Historic District, which includes streets lined with classic buildings boasting the incredible architecture and building designs from the 1800s. Walking on a self-guided tour, visitors to Warren can see the iconic Federal Blues R.I.M Building from 1860. This former horse barn for the Baker-Merchant-Dewolf House is now owned by the Revolutionary War reenactors called Federal Blues.

Those wanting to take in more of Warren's quiet nature spots should check out the Audubon Touisset Marsh Wildlife Refuge. This refuge has stunning views of salt marshes and walking trails that are easy for all ages and skill levels. Audubon Touisset Marsh Wildlife Refuge is a prime spot for bird watching and seeing animals like foxes, deer, and harbor seals. History enthusiasts will also enjoy looking at the classic architecture of buildings like Marble Blacksmith Shop & Hall, a former meeting hall for seamen to drink when home from life at sea.


Richmond Historical Society, Bell School, Richmond Rhode Island
Richmond Historical Society, Bell School, Richmond, Rhode Island.

With just over 8,000 residents, Richmond is a town in Washington County known for its charm and beauty. This town offers visitors an escape from busy city life and a chance to immerse themselves in Rhode Island's serene landscape. An excellent spot for those visiting the state in Richmond is the Carolina Management Area, known for boasting over 2,000 acres dedicated to outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, and hiking. There is also the free to visit Beaver River Park, which is best for those with some hiking experience. The trail is only 1.5 miles long but has rugged terrain filled with stumps, rocks, and small hills. It is best enjoyed at a slow pace where folks can stop to enjoy some relaxing sights and sounds.

Richmond is a history lover’s paradise for its proximity to the Great Swamp Battle Monument in nearby West Kingston. This historical landmark commemorates the Great Swamp Fight, which took place during King Philip's War in 1675. This vital monument has an inscription detailing the fight against the Narragansett Indians on a snowy winter day nearly 350 years ago. Guests visiting Richmond during August can enjoy a fun-filled day at the Washington County Fair. This annual fair has been an essential part of the town since its development in 1967 and has a perfect blend of carnival rides, games, agriculture exhibits, and live performances.


The view of Sakonnet River and a small residential neighborhood in Tiverton, Rhode Island
Sakonnet River and a small Tiverton, Rhode Island residential neighborhood.

While there are numerous coastal towns in Rhode Island, Tiverton, which sits on the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay in Newport County, is a true gem. Tiverton first became a town in 1747 and was mainly a hub for fishing and boating repairs. Still, it has since become a popular tourist destination, especially with its proximity to Fall River, Newport, Providence, and Boston. Today, Tiverton has approximately 16,000 residents and is divided into two sections: Tiverton and North Tiverton. The area has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Tiverton Historic Four Corners, consisting of fifty acres of land filled with 18th and 19th-century homes. Tiverton also has natural attractions that visitors and locals enjoy, including Fogland Beach and Grinnell's Beach, each offering scenic bay views. 

Those looking to enjoy the beautiful summer temperatures in Tiverton, Fort Barton, and Ft. Barton Woods, both popular spots for hiking and birdwatching, are a must-add to the itinerary. The area has three miles of trails where guests can explore a historic observation tower and is open year-round, though visitors during winter and spring should ensure adequate footwear. Animal lovers can stop at the nearby Ruecker Wildlife Refuge to take in the 48 acres of nature beaming with herons and osprey in the salt marshes. 


View of the Hope Dam in Scituate, Rhode Island
View of the Hope Dam in Scituate, Rhode Island.

Scituate is a small rural town dating back to 1710 when settlers from Scituate, Massachusetts inhabited it. The town’s original name, “Satuit,” was derived from Native American influences and loosely translates to “cold brook.” This name is an excellent fit for Scituate, as it is home to several brooks and rivers tucked into the thick woods, including Wilbur Hollow Brook, Boyd Brook, Rush Brook, Cork Brook, and Quanopaug Brook. One of the best times to visit Scituate is when apple and pumpkin picking is at its best in the fall. The town’s Sunset Orchard is the number one spot for apple picking in the fall, peach picking in the summer, and other activities, such as seasonal hayrides and corn mazes.

Another must-visit location is the Lawton Farm Conservation Area. This outdoor land trust property borders Cranston and features artwork of birds from local students, a series of trails that wind through the woods and muddy areas, and a quaint bridge that crosses Cranberry Creek. For those interested in seeing one of the state’s best waterfalls, driving to Ponaganset Falls is a good option. Visiting Ponaganset Falls requires no hiking, as it is fully visible from the roadside. The waterfall is just a few roads over from a park and memorial area called Grover C. Walker Memorial, a great place to spend the afternoon outdoors.


A horizontal image of a red wooden boat house overlooking a freshwater pond.
A horizontal image of a red wooden boat house overlooking a freshwater pond. Image credit Carol Ann Mossa via Shutterstock.

Exeter is a Rhode Island town in Washington County with just over 6,500 residents. The town’s history dates back to the mid-1700s when it was considered a part of the neighboring North Kingstown. Exeter became its own entity in 1742-1743, where it grew to be an area focused on agriculture and textile manufacturing. The town’s unique natural landscape of streams and rivers helped power the many mills operating in the 1800s. Modern-day Exeter still focuses on keeping a rural feel to the town and has several outdoor areas where people can take in the peaceful atmosphere. The Fisherville Brook Wildlife Refuge is a destination with five miles of hiking trails that range from easy to moderate difficulty levels. Along the way, visitors will see different wildlife species, small ponds, and a charming waterfall with a bridge. The refuge is free to visit and open from sunrise to sunset seven days per week.

One of the more high-thrill tourist destinations in Exeter is the Yawgoo Valley Ski Area & Water Park. This ski resort is the only operating facility in the entire state of Rhode Island and has been a prime spot for winter sports enthusiasts in the area since 1965. Yawgoo Valley has skiing and snow tubing during the winter months and a water park in the summer with two slides, a large pool, and a kid-friendly pool area. After a day of family-friendly fun, stop into The Middle of Nowhere Diner for the best comfort food in the area.


Hopkinton business district on a grey day
Hopkinton business district on a grey day.

Hopkinton is a beautiful small town just 20 miles from Exeter in Washington County. The Industrial Revolution influenced the town’s history, as it saw shifts from agriculture to different types of mills built along the river that fueled the town’s economy during the late 1800s. However, the 1900s brought a significant shift to the dairy industry before Hopkinton settled its roots as a charming residential community with plenty of activities for the whole family. The Festival Farm is a popular fall destination offering apple and pumpkin picking, along with a petting zoo with over five different types of animals travelers can meet and spend time with. 

Travelers looking to get out into nature and see historical stone foundations on their walk should plan to visit the Canonchet Preserves. The hiking trails at the Canonchet Preserves are best for those with some experience and should only be traveled with proper footwear. The trail terrain has steep hills, rocks, and swampy sections, totaling around five miles of well-marked paths. It’s also important to note that hunting is allowed during the dedicated season, meaning guests must wear a fluorescent vest for safety when hiking. If you work up an appetite during your walk, stop at the nearby Main Street Pizza in Ashaway for a great pie.


Beavertail Light House, Winter Solstice, Jamestown, RI.
Beavertail Light House, Winter Solstice, Jamestown, RI.

Jamestown is an island town in Newport County, with just under 5,500 people. The city is a part of Conanicut Island and is only accessible by bridge or ferry. Jamestown has a long history of 12,000 years, making it an excellent vacation destination for those who love history and seeing historical landmarks. For those planning on heading to Jamestown, be sure to add Beavertail Lighthouse Museum to the itinerary. This historic lighthouse was constructed in 1856, and today, visitors can explore the museum and climb up to the top of the lighthouse for panoramic ocean views. Climbing the tower during open hours is free, but donating to the organization is encouraged.

Another location worth scheduling a day trip to is Fort Wetherill State Park, a former military fort that now serves as a popular spot for walking along the ocean, using the boat ramp, and exploring the overgrown forts. This state park has incredible views of Newport Harbor from the 100-foot-tall granite cliff line and has over 60 acres of pet-friendly open land to enjoy with a picnic or saltwater fishing. After an afternoon at the park, you can take a short drive to the historic Jamestown Windmill, a smock mill built in 1787 open to the public for informative tours.


Black point ruins at Scarborough Beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island
Black Point ruins at Scarborough Beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island.

Narragansett may be one of the larger coastal towns in this small state, but that does not detract from its charm. This town is known for its beautiful beaches with calm waves and lively atmosphere, making it an ideal place for tourists and locals to unwind and enjoy the ocean. The most popular beaches in Narragansett include Salty Brine State Beach and Narragansett Town Beach, which have lifeguard towers, bathrooms, and food options during the summer. These beaches also allow saltwater fishing and picnicking on the shore, perfect for your day trip activities.

For a unique experience, head to the Point Judith Lighthouse, a landmark known for its iconic red and white colors. Visitors can explore the lighthouse grounds and experience the mighty ocean waves created by the heavy boat traffic traveling from Narragansett Bay to the Block Island Sound. Another location option just a short drive from the lighthouse is The Narragansett Towers. This property is a former casino from the late 1800s turned event center that offers impressive ocean views.

From the coastal towns of Little Compton and Narragansett to the rural charm of Foster and Hopkinton, Rhode Island offers a variety of small towns for visitors to explore. Each town has its own one-of-a-kind character and attractions, whether it be historical landmarks, natural landscapes, or coastal dining experiences. Plan a trip to Rhode Island and discover the beauty of these unforgettable towns first-hand!

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