In 1636, Roger Williams, a Baptist theologian and religious exile stumbled upon a haven that he named “God’s merciful Providence”. Today Providence is the capital city of Rhode Island, one of the oldest cities in the United States. From its center, the Providence river stretches towards the mouth of the peaceful Narragansett Bay.
The industrial age reached the city early on as can widely be seen when walking along with its compact, picturesque streets. The city developed before the age of the automobile which explains its density. Providence with its population of 178 thousand has over a thousand streets, which by city standards is a lot. Manhattan, with its 1.6 million residents only has 214 streets!
Roger Williams Park is the beating heart of the city where you can find visitors as well as locals. A great day for families is to visit the immensely popular Zoo, then go to Federal Hill and sample the legendary Italian-American restaurant scene. As you walk back in time on the irregular streets you will feel inspired to visit the RISD Museum for your daily dose of art and culture or see the city from the river on an authentic Venetian Gondola!
Providence is the third-most populous city in New England and attracts millions of visitors every year. The summers are hot, and the winters are cold with high humidity all year round. This former capital of the “New World” is a friendly place to visit and upholds the spirit of its founder, Roger Williams who is often remembered for kindness and as a champion of abolitionism.
Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Providence (RI)
1. Roger Williams Park Zoo
The Zoo was first opened in 1872, with only a few animals on display. Today the Roger Williams Park Zoo has over 150 animals from around the world in their natural habitat. African elephants, Red pandas, snow Leopards, and the Komodo dragon are only a few of the many species which live in the Zoo, which is located in a large woodland area. Kids can help feed some animals like the seals or climb up some stairs to feed the giraffes. The Zoo takes great pride in taking care of endangered species like the red wolf, the white-cheeked gibbon, and the radiated tortoise! It is advised to book tickets online in advance as the Park zoo is immensely popular!
2. Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art
Also known as the RISD is an art museum that is affiliated with the Rhode Island School of Design. Like almost everything in Providence, it goes way back to 1877 and houses more than 80.000 works of art. RISD is an international museum that even has its own 800-year-old Japanese Buddha statue as well as mesmerizing art by French impressionists. There is also quite the collection of work on display by recent alumni. This large and impressive museum, with over 6.000 sq feet of galleries, is well situated by the river. Guided tours are available daily.
May through November attracts quite the numbers of visitors because of the Waterfire! The name only tells half the story. On Saturday evenings, sometimes once, sometimes twice per month, 86 anchored braziers with approx.33 pieces of burning wood float down the river. The spectacle starts upstream and then flows through Waterplace Park and downtown Providence.
People follow the braziers down the riverfront as they enjoy the beauty of the flickering lights that reflect the water as the braziers float just above the surface. The burning wood releases the fragrant aroma of the wood as thousands follow the Waterfire. Usual attendance is at 40.000 but can on big weekends go up to 100.000 attendees.
4. Benefit Street
For those that look up museums of history, one of the things which are usually not on display tend to be historical houses, mainly as they are a bit too big for most museums! Benefit Street is like an outdoor museum dedicated to historic buildings. For those looking for old landmarks, look no further! There you can find the John Brown House (1788), The Old state house (1762), The Barker Playhouse, and yes you guessed it, one of the oldest running theatres in the U.S (1909) and the Athenaeum, 4th oldest library in the U.S! Truly beneficial for the history buff but we highly doubt that there are many that won’t enjoy their beauty and their little details. The french windows, the exact brickmanship, and their charming colors.
5. Rhode Island Statehouse
The Rhode Island Statehouse has been home to the offices of the governor since 1904. Bearing some well-deserved resemblance to Capitol hill, this neoclassical building is on the Register of Historic places. Inside there are impressive chambers for visitors to see adorned with famous paintings, including one of George Washington.
Its dome is the fourth-largest self-supporting marble dome in the world, the largest being the Taj Mahal! And required over 1100 tons of iron beams for support. In total, around 15 million bricks and over 327.000 cubic feet of Georgia marble were needed to complete its construction between 1895-1904.
6. Providence Performing Arts Center
Originally known as the Loew’s Theatre building, the Performing Arts Center opened its doors in 1928. The amazing building, built as a movie palace, has gone through many different eras and faced both triumph and challenge. Every year the performing center has a variety of shows. New exciting theatre, the classics, and ambitious musicals that easily fill up the 3 thousand seats available in this visually striking theatre. Through the decades, the building has been renovated regularly. In 2002 a new chandelier, a reminder of the theatres hey during the ‘roaring twenties,’ was commissioned, of course, to one of the professors at the RISD.
7. Waterplace Park
The park lies along the Woonasquatucket River in downtown Providence. Waterplace Park and is always a big part of the Waterfire spectacle. During the daytime, this amazing park, which is connected to a network of cobble-stone paved pedestrian walkways which lead along the waterfront. Usually known as the Riverwalk, it crosses pedestrian bridges, which might make visitors from Venice think they never left home. As Gondolas pass under bridges, they suddenly seem Venetian. especially when street artists showcase their work as people stroll by, many agree that this park represents the restoration of downtown Providence with style and grace.
8. Historic Federal Hill
Historic Federal Hill, also known as Little Italy, is a neighborhood known mainly for one thing: food. The starting point is an arched gateway, which a bronzed pinecone, a sculpture called La Pigna dangles from. Expect a lot of strong espressos, pizzas, or find your favorite Italian dish. The street is lined with outdoor cafés and bars, which are often at full capacity, especially during festivals and big weekends.
9. Los Andes
One of the most highly sought places for a gourmet meal in one of the oldest cities of North-America is not Italian, but surely American. This Peruvian-Bolivian restaurant is known for many great things, from Ceviche to margaritas and also familiar dishes like a hamburger, but with a flair of the Andes. Los Andes is very welcoming and takes good care of its guests and offers indoor and outdoor areas with an exciting tropical setting.
10. Museum of Natural History and Planetarium
For well over a century, the Museum of Natural history and Planetarium has been a center for science, learning, and culture in Providence. Known as the “People’s University”, coming for a visit is a great way for families to explore the many exciting exhibits and, of course, the planetarium. Do check their website in advance for tickets and guided tours for the Planetarium.
11. Slater Memorial Park
The oldest park in nearby Pawtucket, Rhode Island this is a great place to spend a beautiful day out in the open. It’s a great place for kids as it has the Slater Park playground, jungle gyms, and even an original Loof Carousel. It opened in 1907 and has ever since been an important park to the local community. The park is named after Samuel Slater, a well-known industrialist back in the day.
12. Seastreak Ferry
Providence is a major city connected with many links, but none are as pleasant as the ferry. Skip the traffic or the airport queues, sit down, enjoy a nice drink, and relax on open waters and then arrive in style at the docks. Seastreak ferry provides comfortable, plush seating, and full service. Many that opt for the ferry agree that the sights on the route are well worth it with ferry stops in Newport and Bristol. There is so much to see, but many agree that you cant do the majesty of Narragansett Bay justice unless from the open waters.
13. La Gondola
For those that are not big fans of large sea vessels, La Gondola is the perfect compromise. How it came to be that these Venetian boats became a thing in Providence we are not sure of. But if any city in the U.S can pull it off, it’s Providence. With all its beautiful pedestrian bridges and clean river. Relaxing in the Gondola as you pass the bustling Riverfront is a superb experience and a great way to conserve energy while seeing the city.
14. Lincoln Woods State Park
Named in honor of President Abraham Lincoln, this park offers everything from picnics to a freshwater beach and even some hidden mountain biking trails! Just North of Providence, the park is huge and has a natural boulder, which is popular for climbing for those that are willing to work for a view of the park. At the water, visitors can rent kayaks and canoes as well as great spots for fishing.
15. Roger Williams National Memorial
The park that brings us all back to the founder of Providence, yours truly Roger Williams. Why this place, many ask? When Roger founded the city, he did so because of a promising freshwater spring he found. Across from it, he built his own house and lived there until he died. Through time the spring was lost until in the early 20th century it was found and identified and later enshrined. This urban park has great walking paths, open lawns, and a visitor center that all commemorate Williams’s ideal of liberty.
16. Providence Children’s Museum
The children’s museum in Providence celebrates every little great thing about being a child. The museum’s many activities are tailored to curiosity, playfulness, and belonging. The museum has provided open-ended play opportunities for families for over 40 years. It’s a great place for all children, toddlers, and kids alike. With many activities to choose from, the water room is always a big hit. There are also creative rooms that teach kids problem-solving and creative thinking.
The Children’s Museum is located in the Providence Jewelry district and is enjoyable and stress-free for all families.
17. Rhode Island Red Food Tours
Often when visiting new cities, it can be tricky to decide on where to eat. With all the apps and guides available to hungry visitors! They become stressed that they might miss out on something. So opting for a guided Food tour like the Rhode Island Red food tour is a clever way to alleviate that menu stress. The tour visits at least 6 food tasting locations in the Downcity Arts District area. As you travel from one bite or sip to the next tasting experience, you will learn about the culinary landscape. With each bite, visitors start connecting the dots when they realize how seemingly everything in providence connects with history and art as you discover hidden murals and epicurean favorites.
18. The Providence Athenaeum
On the historic Benefit street, you can find the Athenaeum library, which has, for over 200 years, welcomed readers, writers, and thinkers. The library is free and open to the public, with a vast wealth of literature on display. This space encourages curiosity, debate, and spirit. Even if you are not much of a reader, just come by and appreciate the history.
19. First Baptist Church in America
The title says it all. Many would probably be disappointed to find the First Baptist Church in America somewhere else! Originally known as the First Baptist meeting house, the church itself was later built in 1774. The church is a place of peace, and its sacred ground was founded by Roger Williams. Another famous resident of Providence, a certain Mr. H.P Lovecraft, frequented visiting this hallow grounds.
20. Sky Zone Trampoline Park
Sometimes the kids just need to jump, and as most parents know, kids love repetition! The Sky Zone Trampoline Park in East Providence is a perfect venue for activities. It’s also a great place for large gatherings and birthday parties. All facilities are great and modern, and there is nothing that dates before the civil war, except maybe for the Pommel horse!
21. The John Brown House Museum
This is the first mansion ever built in Providence and designed by Joseph Brown, who also designed the First Baptist Church. It was built for his brother John Brown in 1786, and it is known that George Washington once stopped by for tea. Today it’s a historic house and museum and has many interesting things and items from the 18th century on display. John Quincy Adams once said he thought it “the most magnificent and elegant private mansion around”. Go by and find out if you agree.
22. Old Slater Mill
The Slater mill, named after the industrialist Samuel Slater is a National Historic Landmark. Today it is a living history museum and educational center. This former mill was designed as a textile mill on the banks of the Blackstone River. The mill was inspired by English spinning mills and was the first water-powered cotton spinning mill in North America. A must-visit for those interested in industrial history but also notorious for paranormal activity!
23. Roger Williams Park Botanical Center
Inside of the park complex dedicated to Roger Williams, you can visit the parks’ newest addition. The Botanical Center. There you have two connected greenhouses, each, its own biodome. One is called the Conservatory and the other, The Mediterranean Room. There is also a fish pond and a small waterfall. With over 150 different species on display, the Botanical center always manages to delight and surprise. Green fingers or not!
24. The Stephen Hopkins House
Built-in 1707, this impressive house belonged to Stephen Hopkins, a former governor of Rhode Island, one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. This historical Hopkins house and museum have an 18th-century atmosphere written all over it. Antiques, heirlooms, and wealth of history! Once visited by George Washington. This is the city’s oldest house and has currently been forced to relocate, not once, but twice! Today it lives on Benefit street close to the First Baptist church.
25. Pastiche Fine Desserts
With all those delicious Italian meals and American food all around, the Pastice fine desserts is a great respite from the realms of savory and salty, to the haven of sugar and sweets. Dutch Apple pies? Raspberry tarts! This exquisite fine dessert place has you covered! With so many different flavors and cakes on offer, explain to the friendly staff what your palate yearns for, and we are quite certain they will find the right tart or cake for you!