Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the union, but it has an extensive shoreline of beaches and rock cliffs, dotted with moneyed towns where mansions and historic districts await. There are parks and gardens to explore as well as opportunities for hiking, boating, fishing, and more. Rhode Island has a lot of history and beautiful scenery that make it an essential stop for anyone traveling to New England.

01Newport

Coastal Home in Newport, Rhode Island DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

Newport, Rhode Island, is a famous seaside resort town with a rich sailing history. It was founded way back in 1639 and, today, many of the historic mansions are open to the public. These tours are always interesting, but visit during the holiday season for something extra special. There are plenty of outdoor activities in Newport, too, including sailing, sandy beaches, and the three-mile Cliff Walk where you can take in gorgeous views of the ocean and rocky beaches.

02Benefit Street

Townhouses on Benefit Street in Providence, Rhode Island

Known as the "Mile of History," Benefit Street on the East Side of Providence features gorgeous homes and buildings that transport you back to the Victorian and Colonial eras. If you're an Edgar Allen Poe fan, stop by the home of Sarah Whitman, whom the writer courted when he spent time in Providence. Head to the Athenaeum, the fourth oldest library in the country, for a glimpse at rare books, work by local artists, and a card catalog dating back to the 1800s. Guided and self-guided tours are available.

03Narragansett Bay Beaches

BreakWall on a Rhode Island Beach in Narragansett along Atlantic Ocean Chelsea Rose / Getty Images

One of the best things about Rhode Island is its shoreline, and there's no better way to experience it than visiting the Narragansett Bay beaches. Visit Narragansett Town Beach, or check out Watch Hill, a grand resort destination with beaches, a lighthouse, antique stores, and the oldest operating carousel in the country. If you're looking for something a little more laid back, check out Mantunuck Beach State park, Scarborough State Beach, or Roger W. Wheeler State Beach.

04Block Island

Mohegan Bluffs, Block Island
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Block Island sits 10 miles off the southern coast of Rhode Island and can be reached by ferry. Visit Mohegan Bluffs for amazing views of the ocean from 200 feet above. If you're feeling adventurous, climb down the 151 steps to the beach below. This is a great place for bird watching, too. More than 150 species stop here in the fall and there are miles of trails to explore when trying to spot them.

05Providence WaterFire

Crowds enjoy the glow of the WaterFire display
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WaterFire is both an art installation and a public festival complete with street performers and local vendors. The strike of a large gong officiates the start of the evening. Dozens of bonfires are lit in large iron pans sitting in the river while music from all over the world plays against the backdrop of the city. This family-friendly event is truly a feast for the senses.

06Fort Adams State Park

Fort Adams State Park
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Fort Adams State Park is located in Newport Harbor and was an active fort from 1799 until 1945. In addition to touring the fort, you can play soccer or rugby, take a dip in the water, and go fishing or boating. The 2.5-mile Fort Adams Bay Walk provides breathtaking sunset views and is a great place for photo ops worthy of social media. The fort is also home to the Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival.

07The Ocean Drive

Ocean Drive Living in Rhode Island jmoor17 / Getty Images

Most of this 10-mile drive follows the coastline, so it's a great way to see many key Rhode Island destinations, including Fort Adams State Park, Ocean Drive, and the Newport mansions. The Ocean Drive also takes you past long stretches of sandy beaches, inlets, and coves. Make sure you leave time to get out of the car and do some exploring.

08Neutaconkanut Hill Park

A beautiful beach after a steep cliff on Block Island at the Mohegan Bluffs nico_blue / Getty Images

Neutaconkanut Hill Park is an 88-acre urban park in Providence. The lower section of the park offers ball fields, a playground, a skateboard park, and rec center but it's the hill that is the big draw for outdoor enthusiasts. At its peak, it's 296 feet high and offers breathtaking views of downtown Providence and the Narragansett Bay. On the way up to the peak, you'll find freshwater springs, walking trails, ravine, boulders, and steep treks up to the peak.

09Purgatory Chasm

Sunrise along rock formations in Purgatory Chasm State Reservation Arthur Hamling / Getty Images

One of the coolest geographical features on the coast of Rhode Island is often overlooked. Located near Second Beach in Middleton, Purgatory Rock is a large fissure formed by glaciers thousands of years ago. The 10-foot wide gap was made even more foreboding as seawater slowly wore it away over millennia. It's an easy hike to get there. Once you do, take a look down the 150-foot chasm to the sea below for a spectacular view you won't find anywhere else.

10Green Animals Topiary Garden

A regal topiary lion surrounded by colorful annuals at Green Animals Topiary Gardens

Green Animals Topiary Garden has been around for more than 300 years and is the oldest of its kind in America. This seven-acre estate in Portsmouth sits above the Narragansett Bay and the grounds are full of whimsical topiary art. More than 60 sculpted trees guide you along the estate's paths, through the pristine gardens. Living sculptures include giraffes, elephants, camels, and unicorns. There's even a topiary of Don Quixote.