Looking for a way to spend the day? 20+ of the best free things to do in Rhode Island

As they say, the best things in life are free.

When it comes to free things to do in Rhode Island, there are a lot of great options. Whether you like nature, history, art or oddities, there's something out there for you that won't cost a dime.

In this story, we'll cover both things that are free all the time, and, at the bottom, activities that are occasionally free, such as visiting RISD Museum and Gallery Night Providence. That way, whether you're looking for some free things to do in Rhode Island today, or if you're looking for a discount, you're covered.

Walk along the ocean

It’s called the Ocean State for a reason. Our views of the water are unparalleled. If you’re looking for a place to take them in, consider Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge (great for birding), Beavertail State Park (check out the lighthouse), the Cliff Walk (don’t miss the mansions) or Napatree Point (sweeping views of the beach).

Napatree Point in Westerly.

Walking RI: 5 great hikes with ocean views

Tour the State House

The Rhode Island State House.

The Rhode Island State House is both the seat of the Rhode Island government — where you can pass any number of legislators walking around the hallways — and one of the most beautiful buildings in the state. If you want to learn more about either of those things, the State House offers free one-hour tours Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Self-guided tours also are available.

Bike across the state

Bikers get a view of Narragansett Bay at the Aaron Avenue intersection in Bristol along the East Bay Bike Path.

As bike trails have become more and more common, several beautiful ones have been constructed in the state. The East Bay Bike Path is a 14.5-mile stretch from Independence Park in Bristol to India Point Park in Providence, with many water views along the way. The bike path also hooks up to the Blackstone River Bikeway, which connects Providence to Worcester.

Do a loop of the Providence Independence Trail

You’ve likely heard of the Freedom Trail in Boston, but did you know that Providence has an Independence Trail? The green-painted line will take people on a 2.5-mile loop around the city that covers hundreds of years of Providence history and shows off some of the city’s most impressive architecture.

Walking RI: Retracing Thoreau's 1854 hike through Providence

Visit a working dairy farm

You’ll probably buy some milk or ice cream if you pick this option, but the visit and self-guided tour are free. Wright’s Dairy Farm, at 200 Woonsocket Hill Road, North Smithfield, is a 100-year-old farm that invites the public to see the behind-the-scenes of life of a dairy farm. From 3:30 p.m., visitors can watch the cows being milked. There’s also a self-guided audio tour.

Explore one of Rhode Island’s parks

There’s Roger Williams Park in Providence with a Japanese Garden, playgrounds and the Temple to Music. Or you could go with Colt State Park in Bristol, known for its spectacular shoreline. Or there’s Fort Adams State Park in Newport if you want to see an old fort (though there is a charge for tours of the fort). There’s Lincoln Woods State Park in Lincoln if you’d rather explore a forest. Either way, there are a lot of parks to choose from that won’t charge an entrance fee.

Swim at one of the state’s free beaches

Most of the state’s beaches have a parking or admission fee, but there are some free ones. Goddard Memorial State Park in Warwick has a nice saltwater beach and hiking, fishing and boating opportunities.  Camp Cronin in Narragansett is a quiet, dog-friendly beach that is also good for fishing. If you can make the trip out to Block Island, the beaches are free with free parking. For beach access points around the state, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council maintains a map.

Rhode Island Beach Guide Everything you need to know about the best beaches in the state

Check out a book at one of the libraries

The Providence Public Library, 150 Empire St., Providence, is such an impressive building that they offer tours at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays. But every day of the week they have a huge catalog of books and a considerable list of events. Don’t feel like going to Providence? Your local library also offers plenty of free entertainment.

Admire the public art in Providence

Murals, sculpture, landscape design — there’s a lot of public art to admire in Providence. To make it easier to take it all in, The Avenue Concept created a free, self-guided walking tour that lets people see the most art that they can in one day.

WaterFire Providence braziers burn in the basin at Waterplace Park.

WaterFire Providence

One of the most iconic events that happens in the city, WaterFire lightings are a must-experience-at-least-once kind of free event. Bonfires are lit in braziers set in three rivers in downtown Providence with an “ever-changing, eclectic music program.” For a schedule of lightings, go to waterfire.org.

Places that are free during select days and times 

RISD Museum

To give everyone a chance to appreciate art, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, at 20 N. Main St. in Providence, offers free admission on Thursdays and Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m. and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Brown University's Ladd Observatory

The oldest observatory in the state, Ladd has been a place to observe the stars for more than a century. It’s open to the public on Tuesday nights, weather permitting, and visitors need to get a free ticket from eventbrite. 210 Doyle Ave., Providence, (401) 863-2641.

Gallery Night Providence

On the third Thursday night of the month from March to November, Gallery Night Providence puts on free guided trolley tours stopping at participating galleries, art shops and museums that all offer free admission.  gallerynight.org, (401) 484-0726.

Do you know of a free activity that you think should be added to this list? Email klandeck@gannett.com with your idea. As always, thank you to our subscribers.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Free things to do in RI: 20+ ways to spend a day and not spend a dime