Providence, Rhode Island is a fascinating city full of history and culture. If you’re going there, you’ll be glad to know that there are lots of things to do in Providence, RI. Whether you’re here for a short vacation, work or are relocating and on the hunt for a new home for you and your family, Providence is a fascinating place to be.
Founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, Providence is one of the United States’ oldest cities. Named by Williams as a way to commemorate “God’s merciful Providence” for leading him and his followers to a place where they could freely express their faith at the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the state capital is located in the northern section of Narragansett Bay.
Up for a pleasant walk around the city? You can do yourself a big favor and take a self-guided walking tour around the East Side, West Side or Downtown – or do them all if you have the time. For this, you’ll definitely find the free Rhode Tour mobile app pretty useful, so download it the moment you arrive in Providence!
But if you’re one of those people who wants a personalized itinerary that’s ready for implementation the moment you get to Providence, this post is for you.
Read on to learn about the top 6 things to do in Providence, RI.
1. Embark on a heritage tour
Whether you are a history buff or someone who’s casually curious about how early Americans lived, you’ll find plenty to do in Providence. First off, you can drop by the various museums in the city. Key places to visit include the:
- John Brown House Museum: Here you can enjoy stunning views and appreciate the antiques and period decorations on display.
- Providence Children’s Museum: The museum features an interactive time travel adventure showing people who migrated to Rhode Island.
- Henry Lippitt House Museum: This is a well-preserved Victorian house showcasing exceptional American craftsmanship.
- Brown University: One of the premier Ivy League schools, Brown was founded in 1764.
- Nightingale Brown House: Built in 1791 for a merchant named Colonel Joseph Nightingale, this impressive structure is the biggest wood frame house in the city built in the Federal-style.
- Roger Williams National Memorial: Built to commemorate the life of Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island. You may visit the Antram-Gray House where you can see exhibits, watch videos, and browse through their bookstore.
- Providence Athenæum: Located on Providence’s historic Benefit Street, this independent library is solely member-supported. It has been around for almost 200 years and is free and open to the reading public.
- Benefit Street ‘Mile of History’: Running for a mile, right next to Brown University, you’ll see some of the best examples of period architecture (such as Federal and Victorian homes) that Providence is known for.
Other noteworthy historic sites to visit include Custom House, The Stephen Hopkins House, First Baptist Church in America, Slater Mill Museum, and Governor Sprague Mansion. There are others, of course, but these are must-visit places for people who are into cultural heritage and visiting historic sites.
2. Take a stroll and explore Providence’s various parks
If you love nature walks or visiting parks, Providence has plenty to offer in this regard. Be sure to include the following in your Providence park bucket list:
- Water Place Park: You can enjoy a leisurely stroll by the river over Venice-inspired bridges and witness fascinating street artists sketching in this beautiful park, which is also considered the heart of the city’s downtown area restoration.
- Roger Williams Park: Named after the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams Park houses well-tended botanical gardens, walking paths, the excellent Roger Williams Park Zoo, the Park Carousel Village, and other points of interest.
- Roger Williams Park Botanical Center: Part of the Roger Williams Park, this botanical center features two large greenhouses covering about 12,000 square feet. It houses a wide array of flora and several water features.
- Prospect Terrace: It offers a sweeping view of the city and features an impressive statue of Roger Williams.
- India Point Park: Featuring walking and biking paths, this picturesque park is located on the shore of the Seekonk River and Narragansett Bay.
- Burnside Park: This small park is named after a general in the American Civil War named Ambrose Burnside. It is located downtown, close to Kennedy Plaza.
- Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy: This park is actually a wildlife habitat featuring a forest, a skate park and a pool, as well as fields and meadows where you can go on a quiet hike while still being close to the city.
The list of parks where you can take relaxing strolls, or simply sit back and have a picnic does not end here, so don’t be afraid to explore some more if you have time.
3. Enjoy a bit of entertainment
In Providence, there’s certainly no shortage of events and shows to partake in if you’re into theater, concerts and other types of performances. Don’t forget to look up what’s showing in the following places:
- Avon Cinema: Located near Brown University on the East Side, this historic cinema founded in 1938 is an independent movie theater that primarily screens independent, art house, and foreign films.
- The Wilbury Theatre Group: Known as a home to groundbreaking artists and a place for adventurous audiences, this establishment promises to engage and pique your interest with its production offerings.
- Trinity Repertory Company: A professional theater and a Tony Award-winning theater company, it has been around to entertain three generations of audiences with new plays, classics, and musicals.
- The Vets: The Veterans Memorial Auditorium, or the Vets, is a beautiful theater that regularly offers delightful and inspiring musical performances.
- Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra: Bonafide music buffs can have their fill of musical days and nights by attending any of the orchestra’s impressive performances.
- Providence Performing Arts Center: This 3000-seater multi-use theater regularly hosts concerts, plays, Broadway shows on tour, and films.
With these art and entertainment venues, there’ll never be a dull moment when you take a tour of Providence, Rhode Island.
4. Appreciate the city’s urban art-scape
Providence also has a budding art scene as embodied in the The Avenue Concept art initiative. The city features several interesting large-scale murals that are inspiring, impressive and easy on the eyes. These include:
- Misty Blue (Friendship Street) by Cambodian artist Andrew Hem
- Still Here (Custom House Street) by Gaia
- She Never Came (Mathewson Street) by Bezt
- The Host (Lockwood Street) by Evoca1
- Nightflight (A Street) by LOLO
- Battlecat (A Street) by Nychos
- William D’Abate Elementary Mural (Kossuth Street) by Matt Dean
Make time to find these murals and take a piece of Providence art with you by snapping great photos of these works of art.
5. Partake of the city’s gustatory delights
There are literally hundreds of great restaurants you must try while in Providence. The following list features a few of them:
- Hudson Street Deli: Like any great deli, this home-grown restaurant offers yummy sandwiches and grinders that need to be part of your gastronomic adventure in Providence.
- Al Forno: One of the classy, upscale Italian restaurants in the city, this place is famous for its excellent pastas and pizzas.
- East Side Pockets: Drop by for tasty Middle Eastern and vegetarian food like gyros, falafels, kebabs and more.
- Waterman Grille: With the Seekonk River providing diners stunning views, this place is known as the perfect spot for evenings spent with family or friends.
- Bagel Gourmet: Aside from serving a diverse array of breakfast sandwiches, they also make mouthwatering tacos, quesadillas and breakfast burritos.
- Los Andes: Featuring the best of Bolivian and Peruvian cuisine, this is the perfect place for adventurous diners who want something unique and exotic.
- Olneyville New York System: If you’re into hot wieners, this place should be on the top of your must-eat list.
- Kabob and Curry: Famous for their garlic naan and chicken tikka masala combo, this Indian restaurant is sure to satisfy your cravings.
- Caserta Pizzeria: This place is well-known for its tasty traditional pizza served their delicious homemade sauce.
- Haven Bros. Diner: Considered one of the oldest restaurants on wheels in America (founded in 1893), their menu features all-American favorites: traditional burgers, hot dogs, and subs at affordable prices.
The above list of restaurants barely scratches the surface, so be sure to make time for more gastronomic explorations here at Providence.
6. Shop to your heart’s content in the city
Although shopping is usually not on top of people’s bucket lists when planning for travel to Providence, there are places in the city that can readily cater to your shopping fancies.
- Hope Street: A haven for small home-grown businesses on the East Side, this is the place where you can shop for cute and unique shirts, shiny new kitchen tools, chic apparel, and organic personal hygiene products. Of course, it’s also lined with great restaurants, cafes and bakeshops, as well as salons where you can get your pampering fix.
- Wickenden Street: Located next to Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Wickenden Street is naturally popular among students. Here, you’ll find a host of trendy and one-of-a-kind establishments catering to various interests and wants. Aside from clothing and home décor, it’s a place where you can find collectibles and vintage wares, as well as hand-painted ceramics and music records. Once you’re done shopping, you’ll surely want to stop by one of the many restaurants located in this space.
- Westminster Street: Located in the heart of Providence, this brick-lined street is picture-perfect with its lush trees and strung lights. It is home to the famous Arcade — the country’s oldest indoor shopping mall. There are several shops catering to various whims in this historic part of the city, as well as numerous restaurants.
Aside from the Arcade, one other mall of interest is Providence Place, which is located in the heart of the city.
When to visit Providence
Always consider the weather when deciding on the best time to visit Providence, although summer is usually part of the peak season, with high hotel rates and lots of people visiting the city. The times between June and August and from September to November are usually best, but as mentioned, rates are usually on the higher end. So, it’s best to book your accommodation early.
Going for a fall visit means you’ll have the opportunity to witness the gorgeous foliage of the region’s autumn trees. But if you don’t mind exploring the city with nippy winter weather, you can come during this time when you can enjoy more affordable hotel rates.
Where to stay in Providence
Finding the right accommodation is crucial to making your visit to Providence a pleasant and memorable one. The best option is to find a place downtown – somewhere within easy walking distance to key areas in the city, as well as to the train station.
If you need a place to start your search, consider the following:
Centrally located near the city’s famous theaters, Hotel Providence lives up to the area’s theatrical spirit by offering pre-theater menus, as well as dinner and a show packages at its restaurant, the Backstage Kitchen + Bar. You can also enjoy other cuisines and unwind in dozens of other restaurants and cocktail bars located within a few blocks of the hotel.
This 52-room boutique hotel presents a chic retro-modern twist. Once serving as a mission, and then as a strip club, this fascinating place is not your typical hotel. Likened to a Wes Anderson movie set, The Dean also houses four dining and entertainment options: North, The Dean Bar, Bolt Coffee and The Boombox.
The Graduate Providence
Built in 1922, and known as The Biltmore up until early 2019, this hotel is on the National Registry of Historic Places and National Registry of Historic Hotels. This is precisely the reason why The Biltmore’s iconic sign, which has been part of the Providence skyline for almost a century, has been retained. It features a rooftop lounge area and overlooks Kennedy Plaza – the city’s public transportation hub. From the same vantage point, you’ll also see Burnside Park, and the Alex and Ani City Center.
The Omni Providence
As the tallest building in Providence, The Omni is hard to miss. It overlooks Waterplace Park, which is home to WaterFire – the city’s acclaimed award-winning sculpture by Barnaby Evans – and the rest of the city. The Omni has two fine dining restaurants: Centro and Fleming’s Steakhouse. They have an indoor pool and a fitness center for guests. It’s also connected via sky bridges to the Rhode Island Convention Center, which is a well-known venue for large scale events, as well as Providence Place.
Providence, Rhode Island is not just an ideal weekend getaway but also a great place to get yourself established. So if you end up wanting to stay here and need to find a new home, please get in touch with RI Home Store.
We’ll help you find your perfect Rhode Island home.