With more than 400 miles of coastline, Rhode Island is dubbed the Ocean State for good reason. This tiny state is a must-see on any trip to New England. Luckily, if you’re looking to visit on a budget, there are many free things to do in Rhode Island year-round, ranging from walks along the coast in Newport to visiting art museums in Providence.
If you’re looking for things to do in Rhode Island for free and you could use some fresh air, pay a visit to Colt State Park. Set along the edge of Narragansett Bay, this stunning state park is home to 464 acres of extended lawns, 4 miles of paved pathways and a large pier jutting into the bay.
The park’s amenities, including the East Bay Bike Path running through the property, make it popular for warm-weather activities like kite flying and picnicking as well as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.
Colt State Park is located next to Bristol Town Beach, which you can visit for a fee. It also neighbors Coggeshall Farm Museum, which you can also enter for a fee. It features costumed historical interpreters who educate visitors on farm life in the late 1700s,
Head to Bristol during the summer to attend the Bristol Fourth of July parade, billed among the oldest in the country.
The Cliff Walk is a 3 1/2 mile path along the coast of Newport featuring the crashing ocean on one side and sprawling lawns and the famous Gilded Age mansions on the other.
It is believed that the path was originally carved out by deer and indigenous people; however, it was the wealthy of Newport who made the path accessible in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Cliff Walk is indeed located on a cliff and some spots along the path are set against 70-foot drops. There are multiple sections, including paved areas for strolling and rugged terrain where you have to climb over rocks. There are several entrances and parking areas for your convenience, so you can choose the part of the trail that’s right for you.
The Cliff Walk is one of the most popular things to do for free in Rhode Island year-round, though you’ll have to bundle up to endure the New England cold in winter.
Every Friday night throughout the year, the Frosty Drew Observatory opens its doors to the public for a free night of stargazing.
The quality of such stargazing is, of course, best during nice weather when visitors can peer through one or more of the observatory’s seven telescopes. In foul weather, visitors can still attend presentations with astronomers and see exhibits in the science center. Remember, you will be outside, so be sure to dress warmly in the colder months.
The main telescope at the observatory is a Meade Schmidt Cassegrain LX200 16 inch, which the organization claims can “keep pace with almost every other object in the sky,” making it perfect for viewing the moon, planets and meteor showers.
The Frosty Drew Observatory is in lovely Ninigret Park, home to many recreational opportunities including a playground, bike course, swimming and sports fields.
Those interested in history, politics or architecture should pay a visit to the Rhode Island State House, the hub of government happenings in the state.
The building was erected between 1895 and 1904 and has one of the largest Georgian marble domes in the world, featuring a mural depicting different points in state history painted on the inside.
Visitors can engage in self-guided, docent-led or virtual tours. Rooms to explore include the house and senate chambers; the state room, often used for news conferences; the Charter Museum, which holds Rhode Island’s first charter signed by King Charles II himself; and the legislative library, containing over 30,000 books, including a set from the 1770s on Rhode Island law, which the public can peruse.
Check out the statehouse’s collection of YouTube videos about the different areas of the building before visiting.
Off the beaten trail on a back road in the northern part of Rhode Island, you’ll find Wright’s Dairy Farm. Stop by to see the resident Holstein cows milked every day of the year from 3 to 4:30 p.m. While you’re there, pay a visit to the baby cows or take a self-guided audio tour of the farm, which has been selling milk directly to the public since 1914. All milk is pasteurized on site, so you have “cow-to-bottle” fresh milk in just one day.
Wright’s Dairy Farm’s renowned bakery has been making creative specialty cakes and classic pastries with milk and cream from the farm’s cows, since the 1970s. There’s also The Wright Scoop, the farm’s “cow-to-cone” ice cream shop, where ice cream is served from a Streamline trailer set on the grounds. Classic flavors include black raspberry, mint chip and cookie dough.
The famed Rhode Island School of Design’s museum, in operation since 1877, has free admission on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursdays and Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m.
Its collection contains over 100,000 pieces – 2,000 of which are in the museum – including artwork from around the world spanning thousands of years, from paintings and sculptures to clothing and furniture.
Among the exhibits are Ancient Greek and Roman galleries, metalwork and jewelry displays and featured costumes of the Gilded Age.
There’s a treasure hunt on Block Island! Hand-blown orbs are hidden across the island on beaches and 30 miles of greenway trails.
The orbs are handmade and placed by artisan Eben Horton, owner of The Glass Station Studio and Gallery in South Kingstown, on the Rhode Island mainland. The tradition began in 2012 with 150 floats. In 2023, there are 550. Most are clear, although 23 are colored in honor of the year.
While the orbs are hidden primarily in June every year, you can embark on your exploring adventure any time. If you’re lucky enough to find an orb, be sure to register it on the project’s website, which requests that seekers only keep one per year.
While the glass float hunt is free, you will have to pay for a ferry ride to the island. The cheapest option is the traditional ferry from Point Judith in Narragansett, R.I.
It’s still one of several great free things to do in Rhode Island.
For more money-saving tips and inexpensive things to do in the Northeast, check out Budget-Wise.
What are some of your favorite free things to do in Rhode Island? Share them in the comments below.