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Rhode Island – The Ocean State

With over 400 miles of coastline, and despite being the smallest of the New England states, Rhode Island bears the mantle of the “Ocean State” among its US counterparts. Sandy beaches shelter windsurfers and water-skiers from the impulsive moods of the Atlantic Ocean, while the cliffs and rolling hills of Block Island jealously guard Victorian summer homes, now converted to hotels.

Providence, with a population of just 175,000, is the State’s much-loved capital city, entertaining with year-round jazz, folk and classical music festivals. Others prefer to relive the “Gilded Age” among the Newport Mansions, looking across Rhode Island Sound at the bottom of the State. The morbid aspect of Rhode Island can be appreciated in the writings of authors including Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, who allowed their inner darkness to be inspired by the State’s climatic and cultural extremes. A fascinating part of New England, with something for a diverse range of tastes.

The name Rhode Island is said to be a derivative of Dutch trader and navigator Adriaen Block’s allusion to the red clay that lined the sure, “Roodt Eylandt”. In colonial times, tension between New Englanders and Native Americans resulted in substantial bloodshed on both sides, and King Philip’s War – so called for the name by which the Native American leader was known to the English – proved, proportionally, to be one of the bloodiest and costliest in the history of the nation.

In 1776, Rhode Island was the first of the thirteen original American colonies to declare independence from British rule, and in 1790 was the last to ratify the US constitution. This defiance has been a hallmark of Rhode Island politics throughout the State’s history. Estimates of the proportion of the American trade in African slaves controlled by Rhode Island merchants in the years following the American Revolution range from 60 % to 90 %, yet the State enacted the first law prohibiting slavery in North America in 1852. Politically, Rhode Island has been a bastion of Democratic sustenance since the Great Depression.

Geography & Climate

The smallest of the fifty states, mainland Rhode Island is relatively flat, with a highest elevation (Jerimoth Hill) of just 812 ft. Narragansett Bay, which takes its name from its original Native American inhabitants, is home to more than thirty islands, the largest of which are Aquidneck Island, Conanicut and Prudence.

Rhode Island is pervaded by a humid continental climate, which results in hot, rainy summers, and cold, snowy winters. Such climates are renowned for variable weather patterns and a large seasonal temperature variance, and Rhode Island is no exception: A record high of above 100 degrees contrasts starkly with the record low of negative 24 degrees, while monthly average temperatures range between the high 20s in January, and low 70s in July.


A fascinating polyglot of culture, history and architecture, Rhode Island’s capital Providence underwent a public works renaissance at the end of last century that uncovered downtown rivers, revived city parks and now provides the backdrop to a startling array of summer music and arts festivals.

The various visual and performing arts colleges, as well as Brown University, mean that the visitor will not want for shows and exhibitions while in Providence, and any admirer of architecture will love the walk along North Main Street, Benefit Street and Wickenden Street for its blend of Colonial, Federal, Neo-classic and Victorian construction. A compact city, having been developed prior to widespread use of the car, Providence is one of those cities in which a mere stroll inspires.


Home to the unbelievably elaborate Newport Mansions, a relic of the opulently self-indulgent “Gilded Age” which swept through New England in the latter part of the 19th century, Newport was also the permanent residence of the America’s Cup for 53 years, until it was rudely wrested away by a team from Australia in 1983. With cliff walks, natural seaside beauty and a year-round variety of festivals, Newport is as diverse a destination as it is lavish.

Block Island

Block Island, a short ferry trip from mainland Rhode Island, offers fantastic hiking and mountain-biking…and boating, and surfing, and bird watching, and pretty much any outdoor activity you would care to imagine. Its hills, bluffs and 365 freshwater ponds (that gives you a free day each leap year!) provide a spectacular backdrop for pastimes as divergent as parasailing and second-hand book-browsing, while culinary lovers will delight in the dilemma of choosing between fresh local seafood and imported specialties, naturally combined with breathtaking views and accommodating locals.

Seventeen miles of pristine beaches greet passengers of more than ten daily ferries, with the balance of visitors arriving by air or under their own – nautical – steam. The “Bermuda of the North” also gratifies the relaxed tourist with plenty of winding paths among the rolling hills and spectacular bluffs to be explored by rented moped or private car.

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