Planning a vacation to Providence? While there’s plenty to experience in Rhode Island’s capital city, don’t leave your holiday plans there. Explore destinations in Rhode Island and beyond on some of the most popular day trips from Providence, RI.
From quaint seaside escapes to historic port cities, plenty of road trip opportunities from Providence abound. Go whale-watching in coastal towns like Plymouth, beachcombing in vacation hotspots like Cape Cod, or whisk yourself back to the Gilded Age in Newport. Craving urban charms? Historic cities like Boston, MA, and Hartford, CT, are also within short driving distance of Rhode Island’s biggest city.
Ready to pad your Rhode Island holiday with some fun outings? This list of Providence side trips is all you’ll need to make your next New England vacation unforgettable.
Looking for more vacation ideas? Check out all our other day trip guides and our United States Travel Guide for more travel tips & ideas on where to go, when to visit & what to do on your vacation!
Top-rated Providence side trips
Want to explore another Rhode Island gem? Just 40 minutes south of Providence, Newport, RI, is famous for its sailing, beaches, shopping, and old-money feel.
One of the most popular things to do in Newport, RI, is to visit the Newport Mansions. This series of Gilded Age historic landmarks are maintained by the local preservation society, letting you wander the halls of some of America’s greatest colonial cottages.
You can tour all ten mansions, but if you have to choose just one, visit The Breakers. Dating back to 1895, The Breakers features extensive gardens, stables, a carriage house, and underground tunnel systems.
Newport is known for its craggy cliffs and wild oceanfront, and there are two main ways to explore it. If you’re okay with a 3.5-mile hike, choose the Cliff Walk. Besides the waterfront views, you’ll also enjoy wildflowers fields and some pelagic birdwatching opportunities.
Otherwise, you can road trip down Ocean Drive. The scenic route will connect you with several of Newport’s top attractions and scenic overlooks where you can pull over and take all it in.
Mystic, CT, is a destination oozing New England charm, with pastel cottages, historic saltbox homes, and iconic cedar-shaked storefronts. This easy Providence side trip takes just 55 minutes each way and promises a whole lot of fresh seafood upon arrival. With everything on offer, from fancy oyster bars to shacks offering ocean-to-table food without all the fuss, plan to arrive in Mystic with a big appetite.
Get a good look under the sea at Mystic Aquarium. With over 300 aquatic species, from belugas and penguins to seals and sharks—and everything in between—you might just come away with a new favorite animal. Want to boost your experience? Splurge on an animal encounter like painting with pinnipeds or petting moon jellies.
Back above water, the Mystic Seaport Museum is the largest maritime museum in the United States. In addition to nautical exhibits, a recreated seaport village, and retired schooners and whaleships, the museum offers some boat excursions for a first-hand experience of the sea.
A ride on the Liberty promises a knowledgeable captain who’ll point out local landmarks and educate you on the museum’s vessels. Alternatively, you can embark on a sailboat ride or rent a rowboat and explore on your own.
Block Island, RI
Teeming with beaches and lighthouses, Block Island is a must-see Rhode Island destination. At two hours and 12 minutes each way, this is the longest road trip on the list—but it’s well worth the trek. The fastest (and most popular) route involves taking the Block Island Ferry, so you’ll have a scenic boat ride included in your journey as well.
Block Island’s most iconic landmark is the Mohegan Bluffs. These 200-foot cliffs promise great views of the Atlantic Ocean, the Historic Southeast Lighthouse, waterfront walking trails, and a secluded beach below (which you can visit if you can handle the trip down 141 stairs and back up again). NOTE: A hidden section of the beach, to the right, is clothing optional; be sure to avoid it if you’re with kids or seek it out if you want to embrace your European side.
RELATED: Most Popular Tourist Attractions in Providence, RI
Speaking of beaches, here are some options if you want to go hopping along the shoreline:
- Mansion Beach: This quiet stretch of coastline is known for its powdered sand and crystal-clear water. You won’t find super-large crowds here, and with its more secluded feel, it’s a great choice for young families who want to go swimming and build sandcastles.
- Ballard’s Beach: On resort grounds, Ballard’s is a prime choice if you want a more party-focused experience. You can get cocktail service right to your towel in the sand, and there’s live entertainment all through the summer.
New Haven, CT
Did you know that one of the most famous Ivy League schools is within spitting distance of Rhode Island’s capital? Located in the heart of New Haven, CT, Yale University is one of the most popular side trips from Providence, promising college-town vibes, affordable activities, and academia-inspired museums.
Besides wandering around campus and admiring its architecture, there are a few college attractions you won’t want to miss. To start, you can get into the Yale University Art Gallery—for free! The museum features a permanent collection of 180,000 works and traveling exhibitions, making it a must for any art lover. The Peabody Museum of Natural History is also a wonderful choice, with everything from dinosaur bones and giant gemstones to Egyptian artifacts on show.
What is a bibliophile’s top attraction in New Haven? The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. This Yale-owned gem is sure to add a touch of whimsy to any book lover’s Rhode Island itinerary. Here, you can explore exhibits full of priceless literary artifacts and even sit down in the reading room to flip through the pages of these historic wonders yourself.
Cape Cod, MA
Cape Cod, MA, is a popular destination for guys/girls weekend trips and laidback bachelor parties and bachelorettes. But this Atlantic Coast peninsula offers so much more than that. Located about two hours from Providence, this seaside gem is picturesque and makes for the perfect beach escape. If you’ve got the time to build a whole weekend trip into your itinerary, do it; otherwise, spending a day in Cape Cod can put some of its highlights in your sights.
Aside from its lively towns and villages, Cape Cod offers plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors. The Shining Sea Bikeway is the obvious choice for avid cyclists, guiding you through meadows, marshes, woodlands, and beach dunes.
On the other hand, the Heritage Museums & Gardens offers 100 acres of lush blooms to discover, including iconic Cape Cod hydrangeas. One of the most popular places to visit in Cape Cod, the estate is also home to a massive vintage automobile collection and a 1908 Looff carousel, making it a top stop for travelers with kids.
Want to embrace the coastal setting? Cape Cod National Seashore has plenty of top-rated beaches full of dunes, swaying grasses, and shallow wading zones to explore.
Herring Cove is one of the most popular beaches on Cape Cod for collecting shells, reading in the sand, and watching the sunrise. On the flip side, Nauset Beach has larger waves, perfect for surfing or learning to Surfcast, a local’s favorite way to fish.
Plymouth, MA, is a pillar of American colonial history as the landing site of the Mayflower. As both an original settlement and a prominent port city, this Massachusetts destination is chalked full of historic attractions and nautical influence. It takes exactly one hour to get there from Providence, which means you’ll have more time to spend wandering around rather than cooped up in the car.
If you’ve ever dreamed of going whale watching, Plymouth is the place to do it. Join Captain John on a four-hour excursion towards Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagen Bank. This spot is a designated marine sanctuary and a popular feeding spot for multiple whale species, including humpbacks, finbacks, pilot, and minke whales. If you’re lucky, you might even spot an endangered right whale!
If you’d like to pair an afternoon out on the open ocean with some refreshments back on dry land, Plymouth has plenty of options. The tasting room at Plymouth Bay Winery and the beer garden at Mayflower Brewing Company are both quite relaxing, and the tap room at Dirty Water Distillery is tons of fun. With a dog-friendly atmosphere and a full stock of free games, you’ll be set for a whole evening of entertainment here.
Famous for its 1692 witch trials, Salem, MA, is a destination that’s most popularly visited in the fall, but it makes for one of the best day trips from Providence, RI, all year round. It’ll take around an hour and 20 minutes to get to Salem by car, and then you’ll be delighted by some historic architecture, quiet waterfronts, and of course, some witchy attractions.
For some witch-themed tourism, start your journey at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. This urban park is a nice place to walk around and have a quiet moment of reflection, with each of the 20 benches dedicated to someone who was executed during the trials.
Then, venture into the Salem Witch Museum. This live-action museum experience features stage set presentations reenacting the events of the witch hunt, in addition to exhibits on the international perception and interpretation of witches.
Tourism in Salem is not all about witchcraft and hauntings. Experience the lighter side of the city at The House of the Seven Gables. Also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, this house museum is a wonder of lush gardens, 17th-century decor, and architecture.
Fall River, MA
Another incredible Massachusetts destination is Fall River. This maritime city is located at the junction of Taunton River and Mount Hope Bay, just 22 minutes from Providence. Known for its historic textile industry, Fall River offers plenty of landmarks and museums, but you can also just wander around town for a while if you’re short on time.
Are you a fan of true crime documentaries? Step into the real crime scene of one of the country’s most famous unsolved murders: The Lizzie Borden House. House tours are conducted every day. If you’re feeling really brave, you can even stay overnight. You’ll learn a bit about Fall River’s general history but a whole lot more about this spooky mystery. Leaving with chills is practically a guarantee!
Battleship Cove is home to five National Historic Landmarks and Official Veteran Memorials, offering a unique glimpse into maritime involvement in the military. From exploring its naval artifacts to retired warships, you’re sure to leave with a new understanding of New England’s maritime heritage.
New Bedford, MA
Located on the Acushnet River, New Bedford, MA, represents an important piece of American history. It’s only 37 minutes away from Providence, and it’s full of educational (and fun!) things to do.
The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park is a must-see for any ocean lover. While it might seem like an uncomfortable part of history, this landmark now plays an important role in whale conservation and marine education.
The park spans over 34 acres, encompassing several original whaling port landmarks and The New Bedford Whaling Museum. Here, you’ll compare yourself to real whale skeletons and learn about the legacy of America’s whaling industry on arts, science, and economic development.
Whether you’re a passionate animal lover or you’re traveling with kids, a stop at the Buttonwood Park Zoo is a great choice. It’s actually one of the oldest zoos in the United States! The Buttonwood Park Zoo has all your favorite exotics, like sloths, toucans, monkeys, and elephants, plus some kiddie rides and a play area. You could stay here all day and never run out of new critters to see.
Want to mix things up a bit? Take a little break from your coastal escapades and take a Providence day trip into Hartford, CT. The journey to Hartford takes about one and a half hours, leaving you with plenty of time to tour around at your leisure.
The capital city of Connecticut, Hartford is all about the arts. The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is Hartford’s top attraction celebrating visual arts with over 50,000 works in their permanent gallery.
The Mark Twain House & Museum is also one of the most popular places to visit in Hartford, CT. Not only is this the house where several of the famous author’s books were penned, but it’s also an exquisite piece of Gothic architecture, with 25 rooms, a glass conservatory, a persona library, and a billiards room.
Prefer the performing arts? Catch a show at one of the city’s top theatres, Hartford Stage, or the Bushnell Center for Performing Arts. Productions range from music and dance to live plays, making it easy to find a show that excites you.
Boston, MA, is a coastal city with a rich history and an even richer tourism industry. Nicknamed Beantown after its famous baked beans, this top destination is just one hour from Providence. Besides chowing down on this staple dish (and its oh-so-delicious lobster rolls!), there are tons of historical landmarks, museums, and parks to explore in the capital city of Massachusetts.
Baseball lovers and Boston are a perfect match, so if your dreams are filled with swinging for the fences and sliding into home in the big leagues, a trip to Fenway Park is a must. Cheering on the Red Sox at “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark” is one of the best ways to experience Boston’s baseball culture, but you can also book a stadium tour. Ranging from a regular 60-minute guided tour to “Fenway in Fifteen” when you’re short on time, there’s a game-day memory to fit into every itinerary.
Many of the most popular tourist attractions in Boston appeal to history buffs as well. If you’ve only got a day in Boston, there’s no better start than to walk through Downtown Boston along the Freedom Trail to explore 16 important historical landmarks with historical interpretations.
If you’ve got extra time, head to the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum in the South Boston Waterfront District to view authentic artifacts and watch live reenactments of the tragic event.