Providence is the capital and most populous city in Rhode Island. Founded in 1636, it is one of the oldest cities in the United States. Today, it is a compact, thriving American capital city that boasts stunning wide, sandy beaches and architecture that goes back to Colonial times and neatly cross-stitches the fabric of New England history with a vibrant dining palate and an edgy art, music and cultural scene. To help you decide what to do first, below is listed the top ten things to do in Providence.
10. Athenaeum Library
With roots dating back to 1753, this private library is the fourth oldest in the country, and is one of the great places to visit in Providence. Rich in resources, the Athenaeum has welcomed many illustrious visitors over the years, including Edgar Allan Poe and Sarah Helen Whitman, HP Lovecraft, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and more. The interior feels like going into a different century with a bust of Greek goddess Athena, an atrium, a wrought-iron railing that circles the upper floor and bookshelves, fronted by pillars and topped with busts of writers, giving the impression of holding up the ceiling. It offers a wide range of experiences by providing and conserving extraordinary collections, offering innovative and compelling programs, promoting and collaborating with the community vibrant cultural sector, and highlighting and preserving its historic building.
9. Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art
The prestigious Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) houses the state’s leading museum of fine and decorative art, including some pieces by Monet, Degas and other Impressionists, and sizeable Medieval and Gothic collections. It also houses about 100,000 objects ranging from ancient art to new work by contemporary artists from across the globe. Highlights include Impressionist paintings, Gorham silver, Newport furniture, an ancient Egyptian mummy, and a 12th-century Buddha, which is the largest historic Japanese wooden sculpture in the United States. You’ll find the RISD’s Museum of Art on Benefit Street and hours of operation are Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00am to 5:00pm, with extended hours every Thursday until 9:00pm.
8. Gaspee Days
The Gaspee Affair happened in 1772 when colonists from Rhode Island attacked and burned the British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, an act that ultimately set off the American Revolutionary War. The first recorded celebration of the Gaspee Affair was in 1774 near Williamsburg, Virginia. Today, it is a multi-week festival centered on reenacting the original burning celebrated in Providence, Rhode Island and has been a continuous, annual event since 1966. Popular features of this celebratory event include the Colonial Encampment at Pawtuxet Park, live music, an arts and crafts festival that is considered to be an event in its own right, a 5k road race, fireworks extravaganza, the annual Gaspee Days Parade, with fife, drum & bugle corps, and a military fashion show. It’s a great time for family and friends to unite and make lifelong memories.
7. Trinity Repertory Company
A magnificent old theater in a circa-1916 building complete with an elaborate stained-glass ceiling is home to the Trinity Repertory Company (or Trinity Rep for short) which is Providence’s premier acting troupe. Featuring the last longstanding Resident Acting Company in the U.S., Trinity Rep presents a balance of world premiere, contemporary, and classic works, including an annual production of A Christmas Carol, for an estimated annual audience of 120,000. It mounts about seven shows a year in its two theaters varying from contemporary pieces to classic theater with an edgy new spin.
6. Benefits Street
Known as the Mile of History, Benefit Street stretches just over a mile in length and can be found on the historic East Side, where the city’s wealthiest families lived during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Nestled between downtown to the west and Brown University to the east, here you will find an impressive array of beautifully restored colonial and Victorian homes, churches, museums and other buildings. Both guided and self-guided tours can be enjoyed and the Rhode Island Historical Society conducts 90-minute tours that cost $14 and depart from the John Brown House Museum at 11 am Tuesday to Saturday between mid-June and mid-October. Walking tour booklets for Benefit Street and other neighborhoods are available for $3.00 each from the Providence Preservation Society.
5. Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park
Sky Zone is one of the best places to go to literally bounce off the walls. The main jumping areas are interconnected webs of many trampolines that form one giant, 15,000 foot surface, including angled trampolines at the perimeters which mean that you and your kids can bounce, dip, dodge, duck and dive. There is the large main trampoline court, two ultimate trampoline dodge ball courts, a kid’s court, a foam pit for big air and a soft landing, and a sky slam basketball dunk court for visitors to pick from. Everyone must sign a liability waiver and get a briefing on the rules. The admission price ranges from $8 to $20 depending on how long you want to have fun.
4. Federal Hill
Federal Hill has a long history, but became the city’s informal Little Italy because of heavy Italian-American immigration during the early 20th Century. Its shops and restaurants reflect the area’s background and soul and often characterized by its culinary reputation with over twenty restaurants within a quarter mile section on Atwells Avenue. It hosts many events throughout the year like the Italian Festival, and parades around the holidays. Live music is also held on DePasquale Square on the weekends. The hill also has three green spaces along Atwells Avenue including Garibaldi Square, which is a half-acre square featuring a monumental bust of Giuseppe Garibaldi, DePasquale Plaza used for outdoor dining, and John’s Park which is a small park at the former location of St John’s Church. It’s a great area during the day, but really shines at night.
This simple concept, lighting bonfires in the rivers of downtown Providence, has become a wildly successful public art project. Each time the award-winning fire sculpture by Barnaby Evans is presented it draws tens of thousands of people. This event is simultaneously a free public art installation, a performance work, an urban festival, a civic ritual, and a spiritual, communal ceremony, well known nationally and internationally as a community arts event. It runs more than a dozen nights a year, and on some night stages are set up that feature free live music or dancing.
2. Roger Williams Park Zoo
This zoo was founded in 1872 with a collection of small animal exhibits throughout Providence’s newly formed Roger Williams Park. Today, it has been rated as one of the top tourist attractions in Providence. Located about four miles south of downtown, the zoo is only about 40 acres, but is home to well over 100 species of rare and fascinating animals from all over the world. Located within the park, the zoo contains many non-indigenous species, including Chilean flamingoes, Eastern kangaroos, and African penguins and elephants. Admission for adults is $14.95 and children age 3 and older is $9.95.
1. Roger Williams Park
This is an elaborately landscaped 427-acre romantic Providence’s favorite retreat with seven lakes and many attractions. It is gently sloping parkland in the center of the city featuring scenic Waterscapes, lakes, bridges, a carousel, and even a gazebo-like bandstand on the water favored by ducks, and swans. Included attractions are the Park Zoo, the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, the Park Botanical Center, the Japanese Gardens, and the Victorian Rose Gardens. Other places to go within the park include the Dalrymple Boathouse and boat rentals, historical tours, and a Carousel Village for kids that contain the Hasbro Boundless Playground.
From Benefit Street’s Mile of History on the East Side to festive Federal Hill, Rhode Island’s own Little Italy, the capital city of Providence is known and loved for its abundance of historic and cultural attractions. Summer in Providence is one of the city’s busiest times of the year, with visitors coming not only for regular nightly events like WaterFire and the Providence Roller Derby but also daytime exploration of Narragansett Bay by kayak or sailboat. The cool autumn weekend brings leaf-peepers in droves, and with schools and universities back in full force. Providence’s social calendar is packed with athletic and cultural events.