Newport, Rhode Island. Editorial credit: Cavan-Images /

2024's 6 Most Beautiful Small Towns In Rhode Island

Despite being the smallest state in the country, Rhode Island sure has a lot of great reasons to be included in everyone’s 2024 summer vacation plans. From wandering its rugged coastlines to exploring that attractive New England countryside, many of the best things to do in Rhode Island can be experienced by spending time in some of the state’s most beautiful smaller communities.

Rhode Island’s small towns are particularly inviting during the summer months. A blend of scenic landscapes, historic architecture, and warm, welcoming New England hospitality - these charming destinations are ideal jumping-off points to get out there and explore one of the most attractive corners of the Northeastern United States. For ideas and inspiration, here are six of the most beautiful small towns in Rhode Island to consider for an ideal summer vacation in 2024.


Narragansett Town Beach, Narragansett, Rhode Island
Narragansett Town Beach, Narragansett, Rhode Island. Image credit: Paul Broderick via

Located on the Atlantic coast just 40 minutes drive south of the state capital of Providence, Narragansett is the epitome of the quaint New England coastal town. Summer vacationers come here to spend time on Narragansett Town Beach, the perfect spot for sunbathing and relaxing, building sandcastles, splashing about and swimming, as well as surfing. Stretching for a mile along the coast and covering an area of 19 acres, there’s plenty of space to spread out here, even in the busier summer months.

From here, you can stroll to the Towers, remnants of the historic Narragansett Pier Casino built in the 1880s and now included on the National Register of Historic Places. Other ruins, this time of an old stone farmhouse, can be seen by following the two-mile-long Black Point Trail, a fun coastal walk with plenty of birdlife. No visit to Narragansett is complete without sampling fresh seafood, with local favorites like Aunt Carrie's Restaurant, Ice Cream and Gift Shoppe, along with Monahan's Clam Shack topping many lists of must-try eateries.


Scenic view of Mt. Hope Bay in Bristol, Rhode Island
Scenic view of Mt. Hope Bay in Bristol, Rhode Island.

Bristol is situated overlooking Narragansett Bay, just a short distance from Providence, and is steeped in history. Those planning a summer vacation here would do well to time it to coincide with Bristol’s famous Fourth of July celebrations. The country’s oldest continuous Independence Day event, it has been hosted here since 1785 and features parades, family activities, and one of the state’s best fireworks displays.

The town’s waterfront is always fun to explore. Highlights include scenic Bristol Harbor and Colt State Park, a 484-acre green space with walking trails, picnic areas, and great views of Narragansett Bay. It’s also the scene of the annual Bristol Harbor Festival and Blessing of the Fleet in August, a fun celebration of the town’s maritime culture with boat parades, seafood, and live music that also draws crowds. Also fun is hopping aboard a ferry for the short trip to Prudence Island, the state’s third largest island and a popular spot for hikers and sightseers.


The picturesque town of Westerly, Rhode Island
The picturesque town of Westerly, Rhode Island.

Handily located just off the I-95 connecting Providence to New Haven on the state’s southwestern shoreline, Westerly is a good choice of vacation destination for those wanting an authentic Rhode Island experience. There’s plenty of fun to be had on the coastline here, with a special shout-out to the town’s many fine beaches. Two of the best, Misquamicut State Beach and Watch Hill Beach, are equally fun for those wanting to relax in the sun as they are for adventurers, with surfing in particular being a big draw. Nature lovers should explore the Napatree Point Conservation Area, a long, sandy spit with walking trails and birdwatching opportunities (and, of course, beach areas).

In-town fun includes a visit to the Westerly Armory, a historic building that houses exhibits relating to the town’s history; and the Babcock-Smith House Museum, built in 1734 by a colleague of Benjamin Franklin and providing a look into life during the early years of New England settlement. Other highlights worth including on a 2024 Westerly travel itinerary are the historic Watch Hill Lighthouse and the charming Flying Horse Carousel, built in 1876 and one of the oldest still-operating merry-go-rounds in the country.


The charming harbor in Newport, Rhode Island
The charming harbor in Newport, Rhode Island.

Newport, famous for its grand mansions and sailing heritage, boasts a charming small-town atmosphere, particularly in its quieter neighborhoods. The town’s top summertime stroll is along Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile-long scenic path along the coast with superb views of the ocean and the opulent Gilded Age mansions that were once summer homes of the country’s wealthiest citizens. Part of the Newport Mansions attraction, the opulent Breakers and Marble House, once owned by the Vanderbilts, can (and should!) be toured.

A 2024 summer vacation here should also include spending time exploring the Newport Historic District. Covering a whopping 250 acres, it’s home to numerous well-preserved colonial buildings dating from the early and mid-18th century, including many that now serve as quaint inns and B&Bs. For a fun bonus, time a holiday to coincide with events like the Newport Folk Festival (July) and the Newport Jazz Festival (August), held at Fort Adams State Park, or the Newport International Boat Show (September), with its exhibits focusing on the latest in boating and yachting.


Beach in Jamestown, Rhode Island
Beach in Jamestown, Rhode Island.

Situated on Conanicut Island in Narragansett Bay, Jamestown offers summer vacationers a variety of unique historic sites and outdoor activities to indulge in. It also provides easy access to Beavertail State Park. Located at the southern tip of the island and just a 10-minute drive from downtown Jamestown, the park’s popular for its stunning coastal scenery, hiking trails, camping, and historic lighthouse. The Jamestown Windmill, built in 1787, and Conanicut Battery National Historic Park are also worth exploring, and each provides a fascinating glimpse into the town’s history.

Popular summer events in Jamestown include the always-fun Fools' Rules Regatta, a quirky boat-building competition that’s now in its 45th year, and the Jamestown Art Center’s outdoor art festival featuring works by local artists. Weekly farmers markets provide fresh produce and local goods, further enhancing the town’s summer appeal.


Entrance of Wickford Harbor in the Narragansett Bay
Entrance of Wickford Harbor in the Narragansett Bay.

Mid-way between Jamestown and Providence, the small town of Wickford is well-known for its preserved colonial and Federal-period homes and makes for a somewhat idyllic summer vacation spot. Boasting a quaint New England village appeal, it’s a delightful place to explore on foot. Highlights of a walkabout include exploring Wickford Cove, which is easily accessible from Main Street and a focal point for boating, scenic cruises, fishing charters, and waterfront dining. It’s especially lovely during the monthly Wickford Harbor Lights celebration, when the harbor is illuminated by festive lights, adding some magic to an already idyllic setting.

Wickford’s history is celebrated at Smith’s Castle, a historic house museum that offers insights into the early colonial period. Have a hankering for a little art? The Wickford Art Association has a great gallery featuring the work of local and regional artists, while the annual Wickford Art Festival, held every July since 1962, continues to attract artists and visitors from far and wide.

The Final Word

For those seeking a memorable summer vacation in 2024, Rhode Island’s small towns deliver a perfect blend of natural beauty, historic charm, and family-friendly community events. From the coastal splendor of Narragansett and Westerly to the historic allure of places like Bristol and Wickford, each of these towns offers unique attractions and experiences that truly capture the essence of New England. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or cultural enrichment (or perhaps even a little of each), Rhode Island’s small towns have something for everyone.

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