The Getaway
20 Ways to Get the Most Out of Providence

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 and 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.

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01 Roger Williams Park and Zoo

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.

02 Rhode Island School of Design

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.

03 Brown University

Open since 1770; Brown University is one of the most prestigious universities in the country. With its historic architecture and galleries open to the public, the university is a major cultural attraction for the city. When visiting Brown, check out its extraordinary conservatory—the David Winton Bell Gallery's modern art collection—and the John Carter Brown Library with its historical collection of maps. In addition, remember to check out the university's events calendar to learn about special exhibits, concerts, and theatre performances.

04 Check out historic Downcity

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 focusing 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.

05 Adventure to Pomham Rocks Light

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.

06 Enjoys the serenity at WaterPlace Park

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, some operators offer gondola rides during the warm months of the year. In addition, you can hop on a boat tour at the park that goes along Narragansett Bay and other historic stretches of the area.

07 First Baptist Church of America

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, concerts, commencement ceremonies, world-celebrated artists, and more.

08 Take in a performance at Providence Performing Arts Center

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 hosting notable acts, including Aerosmith and Fleetwood Mac.

09 Explore the Westminster Arcade

Erected 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.

10 Watch the yearly ritual at WaterFire

From May to November, WaterFire becomes a major downtown attraction on a couple of 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.

11 Sample the culinary scene in Providence

The experts agree—for a small city, Providence has a diverse and compelling foodie scene and a steady supply of passionate chefs. Whether you're in the mood for farm-to-table fare or seafood fresh from the Atlantic Ocean, the culinary creativity in this town is second to none. Bite into tacos at Tallulah's Taqueria, wolf down scallops at Matunuck's Oyster Bar, or admire the technique at Persimmon. Three-hour food tours are a great way to dip into some local standouts.

12 Envision the past via Benefit Street's Architecture

Providence's colonial history is apparent in the well-preserved homes along Benefit Street in the College Hill neighborhood. This area just east of downtown comprises more than the special residences, though. Look out for the Benefit Street Arsenal, a turreted historical armory, for example. You'll also find multiple restaurants and cultural highlights to while away hours, and you can do a self-guided walking tour with a virtual map.

13 Play and learn at Providence Children's Museum

Children aged 1 to 11 will be in heaven at this kid-centric museum, where sensory play facilitates skill-building. Little ones can take on various jobs and use their imagination while parents learn about early Rhode Island history. The water room is a firm favorite, so bring bathing suits for the water tables. Whatever your munchkin's interests, the activities are sure to pique their interest and put a smile on their face.

14 Discover the RISD Museum's Rotating Exhibitions

This Museum of Art was founded in 1877. Affiliated with the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, the museum's temporary exhibits and permanent collections entice the curious. Historical artifacts such as ancient Egyptian mummies live alongside modern art, and you can also see what the next generation of artists are up to with student features. Admission is free at certain times of the week.

15 Visit the Rhode Island State House

Rhode Island State House, with its American Renaissance architecture, took nine years to build and was finished in 1904. It reflects the state's considerable wealth at the end of the 19th century, and you can grasp what made it extraordinary then and now—it's often mentioned in the same breath as the Taj Mahal and St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City. The Independent Man, a symbol of hope and freedom of thought, tops the Ocean State's capitol building at 900 Smith Street.

16 Browse the aisles at Providence Athenaeum Library

This independent member-supported subscription library is a historic local institution that's been stimulating minds for over two centuries. If you want a moment of peace sandwiched between rows of books, old artwork, and quietly studious individuals, this is the place for you. You'll find three beautiful and cozy floors and a children's section to boot.

17 Explore the food, art, and culture of Federal Hill

Pasta and cannolis are part of the attraction of Federal Hill, so go to Little Italy hungry. Head to Atwells Avenue to start feasting. The area isn't restricted to Southern European cuisine—you can also dine on Lebanese, Cuban, and other food traditions. People watch at DePasquale Plaza, hear tales of the felonious characters that walked these streets, and look out for the gateway arch with its pineapple-like pine cone, an iconic landmark in these parts.

18 Walk through India Point Park with its waterfront activities

Providence's first port was established way back in 1680. Today, India Point Park in the Fox Point neighborhood is a must-see waterfront recreational area. You can do an easy 1.5-mile trail complete with birdwatching, take kids to the playground, or join the crowds at a summer concert or festival. Have a picnic and a ball.

19 Find mementos at the Providence Flea Market

You can pick up a bunch of gifts and souvenirs at this indoor artisanal market. Talented makers, vintage dealers, and food vendors make the Flea an all-rounder destination event. You'll find handmade jewelry, wellness products, spiritual goodies, and much more in an upscale setting, and two hours should be enough to look around and grab something to eat.

20 Experience the city's vibrant nightlife and entertainment

Providence is a hospitable East Coast college town, so its nightlife shouldn't disappoint. There's lots to see and do between theatre performances, stand-up comedy shows, and live music at the many clubs dotting the city. Warble off-key at a karaoke bar, or have dinner with a fantastic view.

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