Providence is an attractive city situated on Narragansett Bay’s northern tip. Noted for its quirkiness and foodie-friendly haunts, the capital of Rhode Island is an important New England center for the arts, history, and maritime adventures. It’s also home to major colleges and universities as well as family-friendly venues like its zoo and parks. From its theatres and galleries to its sports arenas and vibrant nightlife, Providence is an exciting city to explore.
Situated on 435 acres, Roger Williams Park and Zoo is a popular Providence attraction for all ages. The zoo is one of the oldest in the nation and also among the most revered due to its cage-free exhibits. Some of the animals on display include Komodo dragons, snow leopards, and kangaroos. There’s a petting zoo on-site and a zip-line attraction for more adventurous visits. In addition, the park is home to a spectacular carousel, train rides, gardens, greenhouses, an amphitheater, and a bandstand that dates to 1915. Visitors can also check out the Museum of Natural History and the planetarium located in the park.
The Rhode Island School of Design, also known as RISD, features a major New England art museum. A must for art enthusiasts, this museum displays both ancient and contemporary art ranging from ancient Egyptian artifacts and French Impressionist paintings to Early American antiques, modern paintings, and sculptures. The museum was established in 1877 and has been collecting global and American art since its founding.
Open since 1770, Brown University is one of the most prestigious universities in the country. With its historic architecture and galleries that are open to the public, the university is a major cultural attraction for the city. When visiting Brown, be sure to check out its extraordinary conservatory—the David Winton Bell Gallery’s modern art collection—and the John Carter Brown Library with its historic collection of maps. In addition, remember to check out the university’s events calendar to find out about special exhibits, concerts, and theatre performances.
Downcity refers to Providence’s historic downtown areas. This tourist-friendly part of the city is home to landmark buildings like the Beneficent Congregational Church. If you’re interested in the city’s history, be sure to catch one of the many tours that operate there. On the other hand, if you don’t fancy a history lesson, consider taking one of the popular foodie tours that focus on Downcity’s most popular eateries and taverns. There are more than 30 bars in the area as well as a multitude of boutiques and restaurants, many of which are situated in Victorian and Art Deco buildings.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Pomham Rocks Light dates to 1871 and is situated on the Providence River. Of all the river’s lights, this is the only one that remains in operation. Because the light is still used, it’s both a modern and historic attraction rolled into one. The light sits atop a two-story wood-framed lightkeeper’s residence. If you’re visiting the waterfront or planning a sailing excursion, be sure to keep this picturesque site in mind.
If you’re drawn to the water like so many of Providence’s visitors, set aside time to enjoy a boat ride at WaterPlace Park. The rivers that flow gently through the park are spanned by extraordinary Venice-inspired bridges. In fact, during the warm months of the year, some operators offer gondola rides. In addition, you can hop on a boat tour at the park that goes along Narragansett Bay and other historic stretches of the area.
As the home of the oldest congregation in the country, the First Baptist Church is one of Providence’s most famous historic sites and a National Historic Landmark. The congregation, founded by Roger Williams, first met in 1638, while the church was completed in 1775. The church hosts worship services as well as concerts, commencement ceremonies, world-celebrated artists, and more.
Grab tickets to the Providence Performing Arts Center to catch a traveling Broadway show or a world-class music performance. The center features everything from ballet performances to concert events. During the day, it often features children-friendly plays and musicals. Though constructed as a movie palace in 1928, the historic building has since been converted to a live-performance venue that has hosted celebrated acts that include Aerosmith and Fleetwood Mac.
Built in 1828, the Westminster Arcade has long been integral to the city’s commerce and trade sector. Though closed for many years, the arcade has recently been refurbished. While it contains some residential micro-lofts, it also features commercial businesses, including retail stores, a coffee shop, a whiskey bar, and restaurants. Visitors enjoy shopping in the Greek Revival architectural ambiance of the indoor mall.
From May to November, WaterFire becomes a major downtown attraction on a couple Saturdays each month. The annual ritual involves the lighting of more than 80 burning braziers that are anchored in place on the Providence, Moshassuck, and Woonasquatucket Rivers. The display attracts as many as 40,000 visitors to the rivers’ banks with its flickering ambiance and fragrant wood smoke. Wander to the waterfront after enjoying a meal or drinks in one of the area’s popular restaurants and pubs.