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Bristol, Rhode Island: Step back in time on this picturesque peninsula

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Bristol, Rhode Island

A visit to Bristol is like stepping back in time. The quiet, tree-lined streets have immaculately maintained Colonial-era homes and buildings housing residents, restaurants, inns, museums and boutiques. Located 30 minutes from Providence on a picturesque peninsula surrounded by Mount Hope and Narragansett bays, this vibrant village has 13 small parks sprinkled throughout its walkable streets; a historic waterfront overlooking 800 boat moorings in Bristol Harbor; a scenic 14½-mile bike path running through it, and the oldest, continuous July Fourth celebration in the country, earning Bristol the moniker as the “most patriotic town in America."

Great for:

Families, couples, lovers of the great outdoors, and history buffs.

What to do: 

Blithewold Mansion Gardens  Arboretum (Credit Rhode Island Commerce Corporation) (3).jpg

Blithewold Mansion Gardens Arboretum

Set on its own peninsula at the edge of town, Colt State Park is the former estate of wealthy industrialist and politician Samuel P. Colt. Its 464 acres are laden with sweeping lawns, 400 picnic tables, bike paths, fruit trees, flowering plants, nature trails, and commanding views of Narragansett Bay. The winds off the bay also make a perfect place for kite flying. 

For sailing enthusiasts and history buffs, check out the Herreshoff Marine Museum and its America’s Cup Hall of Fame. The site was once the home and shop of famed naval architect Nathanael Herreshoff, who in his heyday produced eight Cup defenders among other historically significant vessels. Visitors can arrange for private or self-guided tours of the family homestead, board some of their 60 onsite vessels, check out more than 500 models or the Hall of Fame.

The Blithewold Mansion, Garden & Arboretum was the summer residence of the Van Wickle family, who became acquainted with Bristol after acquiring a Herreshoff boat. The 33-acre estate has a 45-room mansion with antique furnishings and heirlooms inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement; and features floral gardens, rare plants and exotic trees representing one of the finest examples in the U.S. from the garden-loving Country Place Era. 

Where to eat:  The Lobster Pot has been serving sumptuous seafood dishes since 1929. Dine, drink or listen to live music on their outdoor deck overlooking Narragansett Bay.

For upscale dining, DeWolf Tavern offers American cuisine in an 1818 warehouse that was once the DeWolf Rum Distillery. Cocktails can be enjoyed on their expansive waterfront deck.

The Beach House is a family-friendly restaurant on Bristol Harbor with an outdoor patio, bar and large cocktail menu, serving New England classics.

Bristol Harbor Inn (Credit Discover Newport).jpg

Bristol Harbor Inn

Where to stay:

Located in the historic district, Bristol Guest Suites has three unique studio apartments in three different antique houses. All have great views and are within walking distance to the heart of downtown.

The Bristol Harbor Inn is steps away from the harbor with a waterfront deck and 52 well-appointed, contemporary guestrooms.

William’s Grant Inn has five cozy rooms in an 1808 Colonial Federal-style home. It’s off the beaten path on a quiet street but close to shops and restaurants.

Hidden gem:

Take the ferry from Bristol to nearby Prudence Island. It’s six miles long and one mile wide with only 100 year-round residents. It’s great for bird watching, nature walks and bicycling.

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Rail Explorers

On the way:

Stop in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, at Rail Explorers and travel along the train tracks in a pedal-powered rail vehicle. 

From Hartford: 1 hr, 50 min / 89 miles

From New Haven: 2 hrs / 117 miles

From New London: 1 hr, 10 min / 71 miles   

This article appears in the July 2021 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.