Providence is the capital city of the smallest state in the United States, Rhode Island. Known for its inclusion and diversity, art, and historical importance, Providence is a great city to visit no matter what your interest is. The city is home to less than 180,000 people and provides a cozy, hometown feel.
There are so many fun things to do in Providence RI! From family fun to entertainment and nightlife, Providence is a popular travel destination for city lovers.
Providence is a beautiful city all year long, but the best time to visit is between June and November, for amazing weather. Providence has the most coffee and donut shops per capita than any other city, and is known for its dining experiences.
Also known for its inclusivity, the city has been named one of the “Best Lesbian Places to Live,” and it has a 75% higher rate of gay and lesbian relationships than the rest of the country.
Ready to learn more about this amazing city? Here are 13 things to do in Providence RI that you can’t miss!
The Rhode Island School of Design Museum is open everyday, except Mondays. Permanent exhibits include 18th and 19th-Century American Galleries, Ancient Egyptian Galleries, Ancient Greek and Roman Galleries, Asian Art Galleries, Decorative Arts and Design Galleries, European Galleries, and Modern and Contemporary Galleries. The museum has 2,201 works of art and design, dating from ancient times up through today, on display for public viewing. However, they have a total of 100,000 works of art and design with 82,716 of them online.
It is recommended to buy tickets online to reserve your date and time. The museum offers on-site guided visits, on-site self-guided visits, and virtual experiences.
The RISD Museum was founded in 1877 and “believes that art, artists, and the institutions that support them play pivotal roles in promoting broad civic engagement and creating more open societies.”
ROGER WILLIAMS PARK
Roger Williams Park sits on 435 acres and includes a Botanical Garden, a zoo, a Rose Maze, and the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium.
The Botanical Garden is New England’s largest glasshouse display garden and includes 40′ tall palms, carnivorous plants, 10′ cacti, and succulents. Their Rose Maze is in bloom from June through September.
The Museum of Natural History and Planetarium is open Friday through Monday, with Planetarium shows on Saturdays and Sundays.
The Roger Williams Park Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the country. They are open daily, and tickets are available online. The zoo is home to dozens of animals, including snakes, turtles, various species of birds, wallabies, wildebeest, zebras, wolves, giant anteaters, moon bears, cheetahs, and much more.
Roger Williams Park also has a bike park, ball fields, and tennis courts, boating, walking paths and trails, and a kids’ playground.
Federal Hill in Providence is a vibrant neighborhood known for its restaurants, shopping, and services. Dedicated to Italian immigrants and Italian-Americans, it’s no surprise that the area is known for its Italian restaurants. There are dozens of places to eat, including other varieties of food like American, Asian, Caribbean, Mexican, and Middle Eastern. You can also find bakeries and coffee shops.
Federal Hill also has shopping and other services, including wholesale, retail, markets, and salon services.
DePasquale Plaza is known as The Heart of “Little Italy” and here you can find a large central fountain surrounded by outdoor seating and colorfully-painted buildings. The plaza is a great people-watching spot to sit down and eat, but beware of the seagulls always ready to steal your food.
The WaterFire Arts Center is a production complex and multi-purpose arts venue. They have rotating exhibitions, so you can visit several times and see something new each time you’re there.
There is also a WaterFire lighting installation at one of the parks. The installation covers eighty braziers from Waterplace Park to Memorial/South Main Street Park on certain evenings. Lighting occurs shortly after sunset and the fires will remain lit until midnight, typically.
The Providence Athenaeum is a beautiful Greek Revival-style library is an independent, member-supported library and cultural center that is nearing 200 years old.
The library acts as a museum as well, with busts, paintings, prints, sculptures, an Egyptian cabinet, and endless shelves of books, of course. The athenaeum is even dog friendly with dog cookies available at the circulation desk.
The main library, Children’s Library, and downstairs Reading Room are open to the public, and you can book private tours to The Philbrick Rare Book Room. There are thousands of books in the athenaeum and they are broken down into categories that members have an interest in. These categories and collections consist of The Archives Collection, Founders Collection, Literature and Children’s Literature, Natural History, Travel and Exploration, Private Library, and Book Arts.
Ralph Waldo Emmerson, Edgar Allen Poe, and Sarah Helen Whitman have been among some of Athenaeum’s most famous members.
This historic landmark now goes by the name Trinity Repertory Company. The theatre was founded in 1963 and they feature world premiere, contemporary, and classic works.
The theatre sees over 120,000 people each year. There are always shows being played that you can check their website for.
PROVIDENCE CHILDREN’S MUSEUM
The Providence Children’s Museum is a great place for kids to learn, and have fun doing it! Among the exhibits at the museum are WaterWays, Children’s Garden, Coming to Rhode Island, Think Space, Innovation Lab, Littlewoods, Maker Studio, and Play Power.
Waterways teaches kids all about water and the forms it can take. Kids are encouraged to splish and splash throughout the exhibit, build fountains, float boats, and much more. The Children’s Garden has different things to do for different ages, from playing in tunnels to digging in a dinosaur pit. Also in the garden, you can sit by the fountains and eat lunch or just enjoy watching the children play while they learn more about plants and animals. Coming to Rhode Island, for ages 4 and up is an interactive history lesson all about Rhode Island, including its culture and diversity.
Think Space is for children 4 through 10 and teaches kids about shapes, spaces, puzzles, and other fun challenges. The Innovation Lab allows kids to play with real tools. Kids are encouraged to play and create in age-appropriate ways with things like hot glue guns, sewing machines, lasers, 3D printers, hammers, and nails.
Littlewoods is for infants up to 4 years old and includes a treehouse, slide, bear cave, and a fun magical forest theme. The Maker Studio changes weekly, but allows kids to experience science and nature and art experimentation. Play Power has kids playing with air tubes and constructing magnetic mazes.
PROVIDENCE RIVER BOAT COMPANY
Providence River Boat Company offers over 10 tour options to cruise the river and take in the stunning views of the city skyline. Tours include Narrated Daily Tours, Mother’s Day Mimosa Tours, Twilight River Cruises, Father’s Day Boat Tours, Gooseneck Vineyards Open-air Voyage, Providence Architecture Tour, Tour of Green Jacket Shoal, Haunted Boat Tours, WaterFire Providence, Partial WaterFire Boat Tours, and Private Tours.
Tours vary in length and location. There are so many tour options that there is surely something to satisfy everyone!
Located in downtown Providence at the base of the State Capitol Hill, Waterplace Park and Riverwalk offer a serene but vibrant hideaway from the city with gorgeous views of the water.
On sunny days, you can find street artists sketching the river, along with live music. There are art installations and other points of interest along the river.
You can find bakeries and restaurants located in the vicinity, where you can grab a takeaway and sit watching the calm water as you eat. The park also holds lots of festivals and other outdoor activities throughout the entire year.
From the park, you can also take a gondola ride through the canals which are very reminiscent of Venice, Italy.
BENEFIT STREET, “MILE OF HISTORY”
If you love history, you have to visit Benefit Street. The street, known as The Mile of History, is known for Colonial and Early Federal buildings, as well as later 19th- and 20th-century buildings.
Along Benefit Street, you can find the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University, The RISD Museum, John Brown House, Stephen Hopkins House, Providence Athenæum, and the Barker Playhouse, several churches, and hundreds of single-family, multi-family homes, condominiums, and apartment buildings. The College Hill Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Providence Preservation Society’s self-guided walking tour is always available. A visit here is one of the best things to do in Providence RI.
Brown University was founded in 1764 and is a private Ivy League research university. Composed of The College, the Graduate School, Alpert Medical School, the School of Engineering, the School of Public Health, and the School of Professional Studies, it is one of the hardest schools in the country to get into.
Brown University is the seventh-oldest institution of higher education in the United States, and one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution. The main campus sits on College Hill, and is open for the public to walk around campus, as well as take guided tours.
Also open to the public is the Brown University Herbarium, which was founded in 1869. The Herbarium is home to more than 100,000 plant specimens, including specimens from all 50 U.S. states, western and southern North American plants, Cuban plants, plants from Mexico, and Carex.
Thayer Street is a popular spot for the college crowd as well as tourists. Here you can find shops, vintage clothing shops, bookstores, music shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, festivals, live music, and even outdoor films.
One of the most popular restaurants to dine at is East Side Pockets. East Side Pockets is a famous Middle Eastern restaurant that serves the very best Falafel gyros, wraps, baklava, grape leaves, salads, hummus, and tzatziki. Other popular places to eat are Den Den’s Korean Fried Chicken, Andrea’s, and Kung Fu Tea.
Built in 1828, The Arcade is known as America’s first shopping mall. Located in the center of downtown Providence, the mall has been updated and features 48 micro-loft apartments on the top two floors. On the first floor, you can find small retail businesses, local restaurants, a coffee shop/whiskey bar, casual dining, and several boutique retail shops.
Dining options include New Harvest Coffee & Spirits, Rogue Island Local Kitchen & Bar, Livi’s Pockets & Livi’s Burritos, And A Pizza History. Shopping options include Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council and salon services include Impulse Hair Designs And Archangels Threading Spa.
RHODE ISLAND STATE HOUSE
Built between 1895 and 1904, the Rhode Island State House is a great place to visit. The building itself is made of Georgian marble, and it features one of the largest, self-supported marble domes in the United States.
Free and open to the public, you can take a self-guided tour on any weekday. During your self-guided tour, you can use the QR codes posted throughout the building to access the audio tour. They also have brochures available in the visitor center.
Docent-led guided tours are also available.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO RHODE ISLAND
- YOUR RHODE ISLAND VACATION
- NEWPORT: 13 Things To Do In Newport RI Everyone Will Love
- RI BEACHES: 16 Rhode Island Beaches Your Family Will Adore
WHERE TO STAY IN PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
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