Checkout this Historic Rhode Island Seaport when Traveling to New England
1 — More Parking, Less Traffic
Bristol, Rhode Island is the charm of Newport without the crowds. Newport is infamously known for its huge crowds, narrow streets and lack of parking. The visitor parking lots are usually packed full during the summer, and the street parking is restricted to residents only. If you’re lucky enough to find metered parking, it’s limited to 2 hours. This means you’ll usually have to resort to a private lot in excess of $20/day to park in Newport.
Finding parking in Bristol is much easier. The town provides a lot of on-street parking that is open to visitors, and most of it is free. There are several public parking lots in the historic downtown area. However, Bristol is not a ghost town. Home to Roger Williams University, Bristol has just the right amount of bustle where you can park, dine and enjoy the local scene without waiting too long or spending too much.
2— More Lodging, Less Money
In peak season it’s getting near impossible to find a reasonable place to stay in Newport. Newport city ordinances restrict short-term rentals (Airbnb, VRBO, etc..) which means tourists are left with expensive lodging options that are often completely booked.
Finding a place to stay in Bristol is a much more pleasant experience with many lodging options like Bristol Harbor Inn or this charming cottage near the water, historic downtown and Roger Williams University.
3— Sailors Delight
Like Newport, Bristol has a rich maritime history that started over centuries ago. The international sailing community has great admiration for the accomplishments of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company founded in Bristol. The Hereshoff Museum is also home to the America’s Cup Hall of Fame that honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions to yachting’s most distinguished competition.
Bristol’s waterfront is decorated with yachts of all sizes. Catch a glimpse of the many Hereshoff, Shields, Sea Sprite, Cape Dory and other classic sailboats that fill the harbor. Stop by the Bristol Maritime Center to see the upcoming harbor expansion plans that were just approved in July 2020. The expansion includes construction of new transient slips for visiting boaters and the installation of a fuel dock to create a full-service facility. The proximity of the new slips and the Maritime Center to the heart of historic downtown Bristol make this an ideal location for visiting boaters.
4— Go Fish!
If saltwater fishing is your delight, there are plenty of options in Bristol. Try Bagwell’s River Rebel Charters for a great charter fishing experience. Smack-dab in the middle of the Narragansett Bay, Bristol is surrounded by oyster farms. Try some great local oysters and amazing seafood at Bristol Oyster Bar.
5— Gardens Galore
Blithewold is a stunning seaside estate on 33 acres featuring a mansion & expansive gardens (with rare plants) offers tours. This popular wedding venue also has seasonal events such as Christmas at Blithewold and Daffodil Days. You may also be interested in a garden tour of the Federal style mansion Linden Place.
6— Stuff for (History) Buffs & Patriots
It’s not surprising that the town with the oldest 4th of July celebration in the country also has a rich historical culture.
The well-preserved waterfront district contains the commercial enterprises, civic buildings, churches, mills, sailors’ shacks and slave-traders’ mansions that tell the history of Bristol’s development since its founding in 1680.
Originally laid out in 1680, the downtown grid pattern of 4 streets running north to south and 9 streets running eat to west, ending at Bristol Harbor, remains intact today.
The visually rich and varied streets of Bristol reflect its long and proud history of growth as a commercial, industrial, maritime and residential center. While the Federal and Greek Revival styles of architecture predominate, Bristol also has examples of Gothic Revival, Italianate, Romanesque, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival architecture. Check out events and walking tours offered at the Bristol Historical Society.
You may also be interest in a tour of the Federal style mansion Linden Place. It was built in 1810 by the seafaring slave trader, General George DeWolf and was designed by architect, Russell Warren.
Bristol’s reputation for exceptional and diverse dining experiences is known throughout New England and beyond. Many Bristol restaurants are committed to sourcing food from local farmers and cooking within the seasons to provide customers with the freshest, most palate pleasing cuisine possible.
Favorite Dining Options
Driving times indicated below are based on distance from my Bristol Vacation Cottage.
Bars with Good Food
Aiden’s Irish Pub
Judge Roy Bean
The Beach House
Trembley’s Island Park (5 min drive to Portsmouth)
Unique & New American Cuisine
Bristol Oyster Bar $$$
Statesman Tavern $$$
Bar 31 $$$
DeWolf Tavern $$$
Boathouse $$$ (10 min drive to Tiverton)
Localz $$ (5 min drive to Portsmouth)
Wharf Tavern (10 min drive to Warren)
Rivers & Rhodes (town)
Moulin Rouge (10 min drive to Tiverton)
Best Beer Selection
Aiden’s Irish Pub
Ragged Island Brewing (5 min drive to Portsmouth)
Quick, cheap eats & take-out
Bristol House of Pizza
Flo’s Clam Shack (5 min drive to Portsmouth)
Shultzy’s (5 min drive to Portsmouth)
Bristol Oyster Bar
Flo’s Clam Shack (5 min drive to Portsmouth)
As if there wasn’t enough great dining in Bristol, just over the border in Warren RI you’ll find a burgeoning food scene with many unique dining options in the Water St. area.
8— Shopper’s Delight
If shopping is your thing, the Bristol’s downtown area has many boutique shops that offer unique clothing, antiques, art and handmade goods from local artisans. You won’t find the typical tourist t-shirt shop in Bristol.
9— Halfway between Providence & Newport️
Bristol is perfectly situated about 12 miles from both Providence and Newport. The car ride is about 25 minutes to either city if you want an excursion from Bristol. No car, no problem. Ride-sharing drivers are abundant in the area, or check out the RIPTA schedule for public transportation.
10— You Won’t Be Bored
As home to the nation’s oldest 4th of July celebration, Bristol is a patriotic seaport with a busy summertime season.
Bristol is home to miles of pristine coastlines, bike paths, walking trails, beaches, and public parks. Bristol is a prominent boating community, and offers residents and visitors boat ramp access and moorings in its protected harbor.
Bristol, Rhode Island Visitor Resources
__Written in Bristol by Carol