Providence, R.I., also known as the Renaissance City, is the third-largest city in New England, behind only Boston and Worcester. With elite universities, a vibrant art community, fantastic restaurants and brilliantly preserved architecture, the capital of the Ocean State has it all. These are our top 10 favorite things to do in Providence.
Experience WaterFire. No list of things to do in Providence is complete without WaterFire, the annual installation piece that takes over Providence’s rivers every April through November. WaterFire, by artist Barnaby Evans, consists of over 80 bonfires burning in braziers that snake through the rivers of downtown Providence. During full fire events, when all the braziers are lit, you can explore the WaterFire Arts Festival Plaza, an outdoor fair for artists and artisans. If you want to get up close and personal with the fire, try La Gondola Providence, a Venice-style gondola service that sails around the installation.
Take a trip to the past on Benefit Street. This city street in Providence has one of the highest concentrations of Colonial buildings in the entire country. It is a favorite spot for a walk or a little historic exploration, but if you’d rather not explore on your own, the Rhode Island Historical Society offers guided walking tours of the area from May through October. One of the most famous buildings on Benefit Street, the Nightingale-Brown House, was once home to the founders of Brown University. Nearby, you’ll find the John Brown House Museum and a house that inspired an H.P. Lovecraft story.
Also on Benefit Street is the Providence Athenaeum, which first opened in 1838. Both Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft spent a considerable amount of time in the independent library. The Athenaeum is supported by the library’s members, and has always been open to the public. Many readings and events are held in the Athenaeum, which prides itself on being a haven for Providence creatives.
Get some authentic cuisine in Federal Hill. This historically Italian neighborhood sits in the very heart of Providence. The main street in Federal Hill, Atwells Avenue, is home to some of the best restaurants in the city. Try Enoteca Umberto, Siena and The Avery for starters. The neighborhood is immensely walkable, with cobblestone paths and strings of restaurants, bars and boutiques.
See a show! The Trinity Repertory Company, known fondly as Trinity Rep, is a Tony Award-winning theater company located in downcity Providence. Trinity Rep was founded in 1963 and has since been named the state theater of Rhode Island. Trinity Rep produces shows with their resident acting company and also offers a plethora of different educational experiences, such as Project Discovery, which introduces theater to young children.
Shop until you drop. In the middle of Downcity, the Providence version of “downtown,” sits the Arcade, the first indoor shopping mall in America. The Arcade was built in 1828, and its three floors were originally filled with shops. Now the first floor is the only shopping area, filled with boutiques and cafes, while the second and third floors are filled with stylish micro-apartments. From the Greek revival architecture to the rich mahogany woodwork, it is a beautiful ode to old Providence.
See some amazing art. The Rhode Island School of Design is one of the best art schools in the country, and it’s also home to the RISD Museum, a sprawling art history resource for students and the public alike. The museum’s collection consists of over 100,000 paintings, photographs, sculptures, prints, drawings and more. On a tour of the RISD Museum, you can see works from artists like Monet, Picasso and Andy Warhol, as well as works by local Rhode Island artists.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, you can head on over to the Hope Street Farmers Market for some of the freshest ingredients out there. Every Saturday and Wednesday from May through October, the Hope Street Farmers Market takes over Lippitt Park. While you shop for fresh, locally sourced meat and produce, you can enjoy live music from some local musicians. If you’re still in the mood for fresh finds once winter arrives, head indoors to the Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers Market, just over the Providence line. The market runs from November through April.
Whether you have Ivy League dreams or not, a visit to Brown University is a must. Providence is, after all, a college town. Brown offers self-guided tours of its historic College Hill campus, as well as student-guided tours for those who might hope to attend one day. On your visit to Brown, you can see the John Hay and John Carter Brown Libraries, the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology and the famous Van Wickle Gates. Don’t forget to visit Thayer Street, a playground for locals and students filled with tons of indie and ethnic restaurants, an art house cinema, the Brown Bookstore, vintage stores and more.
Experience all Roger Williams Park has to offer. Named after the founder of Providence, Roger Williams Park’s sprawling 427 acres contain a zoo, a botanical center, a museum of natural history, a planetarium, Japanese and Victorian rose gardens, a boathouse, a “carousel village” and more. One of the most delightful parts of the park is the Roger Williams Park Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in America. The zoo is home to over 100 animal species, from chickens to cheetahs. You could spend a whole day or even a whole week in this incredible park. AAA members gets $10 off select zoo memberships.
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