The capital city of Rhode Island, located at the northernmost point of Narragansett Bay, is incredibly small, diversified, and peculiar. The oddities may be explained by its lengthy history, which spans from its establishment by dissidents fleeing Puritan Massachusetts to its vibrant modern politics. Providence is a fun place to visit because of this as well as the abundance of historic sites (entire neighborhoods are designated historic districts).
The ancient center of Providence, sometimes referred to as Downcity, is replete with priceless examples of period architecture, making it a haven for tourists who enjoy architecture. Buildings constructed in the Art Deco and Beaux-Arts styles as well as late Victorian terra-cotta facades were spared from the effects of urban redevelopment and nevertheless feature stunning and remarkably well-preserved ornamental elements.
America’s first commercial mall, The Arcade, a granite landmark in Downcity, was constructed in 1828. It’s still popular for shopping and is full of independently owned stores and galleries.
Best Places to Visit in Providence, RI
Read our list of the top attractions in Providence, Rhode Island, for additional suggestions on what to do and see.
1. Zoo at Roger Williams Park
In addition to being one of the oldest in the nation, the 40-acre Roger Williams Park Zoo is a model of contemporary zoo ideas and designs. You may encounter a snow leopard, giraffe, elephant, zebra, wildebeest, alligator, kangaroo, and red panda at this family-friendly location that is primarily cage-free. Small children can even climb into the treehouse or take a camel ride.
This is the zoo for you if you don’t like the idea of caged animals and prefer to learn about them and their surroundings rather than simply walk past them. It’s even more enjoyable for kids during seasonal events like the October “Spooky Zoo” and Pumpkin Spectacular.
Between mid-May and late November, braziers in the center of the river are stocked with bonfires that illuminate Downcity Providence at least twice a month. In “Full WaterFire,” there are almost 80 fires burning simultaneously from Waterplace Park to Memorial/South Main Street Park. Smaller events called “Basin Fire WaterFire” involve lighting 22 braziers in the Waterplace Park Basin and five more in the direction of Providence Place Mall.
- Explore the Enchanting 10 Best Places to Visit in Tallahassee, FL, USA!
- The Most Remarkable 10 Best Places to Visit Near Jacksonville, FL, USA!
- The Top 10 Best Family-Friendly Places to Visit in Georgia, USA!
Young and old alike may enjoy their city’s rebirth and cultural energy as the four-acre Waterplace Park and Riverwalk transform into a festival of arts and music during WaterFire. One of the best free things to do in Rhode Island is to attend this event and others.
3. RISD Art Museum
You’ll find enough to keep you content in the richness and breadth of this museum’s holdings, whether your artistic passion is for French Impressionists or Japanese prints, or your design inclinations run to ancient Egyptian, early American, or cutting-edge contemporary.
One of America’s finest art schools, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), reflects its own broad spectrum of expertise in the items chosen for its museum.
Numerous collections include needlework and linens, sculpture from the prehistoric age to Rodin, Asian art, movies, furnished rooms from the Federal era, and galleries of rare paintings. There are so many exceptional pieces in this collection that each of its individual collections would be sufficient to create a separate museum.
4. State Capitol of Rhode Island
The white marble, a landmark in Providence With the fourth-largest self-supported dome in the world, the Rhode Island State Capitol dominates the city. The McKim, Mead & White architectural team created the neoclassical structure, which was finished in 1904. You can take a free guided tour or explore the building on your own.
Inside the dome, there is a James Allen King painting titled “The Four Freedoms” as well as a George Washington portrait by Gilbert Stuart. The Liberty Bell replica and a rifle from the Gettysburg Conflict are also present.
5. Federal Hill
Federal Hill, the hill rising to the west of Downcity, is crowned by Atwells Avenue, the pulsating center of Providence’s sizable Italian-American community.
However, the concentration of eateries, cafés, and stores offering Italian food along Atwells Avenue and its neighboring streets and squares dates back to the time when immigrants congregated there among others who spoke the same language and practiced the same customs. Today, the same community is dispersed throughout the city.
On Columbus Day, you can participate in a loud street carnival or linger over a cappuccino or a bowl of gelato at a sidewalk café in DePasquale Plaza.
6. Relax In Waterplace Park
The names of the two little rivers that flow through Providence, the Woonasquatucket and the Moshassuck, are still difficult to say, but at least people can now recognize them. This wasn’t always the case, though, since they were possibly the biggest bridge in the world for decades before being rediscovered in the 1990s.
A riverside corridor known as WaterPlace Park and Riverwalk was created by uncovering the rivers and lining their banks with pathways, seats, gardens, and trees. The rivers are now crossed by beautiful bridges modeled after those in Venice, as opposed to a substantial bridge of motorways and clogged traffic.
7. Providence Performing Arts Center
The Providence Performing Arts Center is housed in the former Loew’s Movie Palace and has been a significant fixture on bustling Weybosset Street for nearly a century. George and C.W. Rapp of Chicago, who also designed many of the lavish theaters of the day, created the magnificent Beaux Arts theater.
- Explore the 10 Best Attractive Places to Visit in Central Florida, USA!
- Top 10 Best Exciting Places to Visit in the Hamptons, USA!
The lavish interior still has marble columns, intricate plasterwork, a beautifully adorned ceiling, and crystal chandeliers, just as it was when it first opened in 1928. Its amenities have been periodically updated without losing their sumptuous interior.
8. Travel the “Mile of History” on Benefit Street
You can observe Providence’s architectural history on this mile-long roadway that winds through the rocky hillside that climbs from the river to the campus of Brown University.
As you continue further, you’ll see stately homes set back on their lawns, later Victorian homes, and even homes in the Arts and Crafts style. At one end are the restrained and exquisite Federal period homes, carefully maintained with their doorways in a tight row near the street.
They include a number of the city’s tourist hotspots, such as the John Brown House, the Athenaeum, and the Governor Stephen Hopkins House with its terraced garden. An outstanding Benefit Street walking tour guidebook from the Providence Preservation Society contains information on the various buildings.
9. Brown College
Since 1770, Brown University’s campus has been atop College Hill. Its oldest structure, University Hall, which was used as a hospital and barracks during the Revolution, is still at the heart of the campus. Only twice a year, during the May commencement procession and the first day of classes, do the majestic Van Wickle Gates open.
The John Hay Library houses the whole collection of US postal stamps, while the John Carter Brown Library houses a collection of rare early maps. Stamp aficionados should visit both libraries. Excellent revolving displays of historic and modern art are available at the free David Winton Bell Gallery. Visit the Corliss-Brackett House for campus tours guided by students.
10. The home of Stephen Hopkins
Stephen Hopkins, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the colony’s governor, purchased this 1707 house on the corner of Benefit Street in 1743. The original structure was left as an ell, and he erected the two-story home in the front.
The eight-room house has original artifacts and family heirlooms, and it is furnished in a manner that is true to Hopkin’s time.
Visitors can also see the family’s slave quarters and the bedroom where George Washington stayed during his visits to Providence in addition to the house’s abundance of antiques. Fine examples of embroidered samplers from the 18th century are on show at a gallery.
The capital of Rhode Island is a remarkable fusion of college culture and history, hidden away on the northern Atlantic Coast. Those who fled Puritan Massachusetts established Providence, setting the foundation for what has since developed into an eccentric metropolis.
When Brown University first opened its doors in 1764, it became one of the top educational institutions in the nation, putting it on the proverbial map. As the student population increased, Providence developed into a lively and diversified city, best exemplified by its theater and art scenes.