15 Best Things to Do in Providence (RI)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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The city of Providence is also the capital of the state of Rhode Island and sits in the picturesque northern part of Narragansett Bay.

The area is known for its historical roots, and to that end there are a huge number of culturally and historically important sites here, and if you are in the mood for some gorgeous period architecture, then you won’t be disappointed in Providence.

Much of the city is located within a designated historical district, but this is not the only thing that Providence has going for it, and you can also enjoy more modern areas of the city as well.

These include parks and zoos, as well as a range of interesting museums to choose from, and the outdoor spaces in Providence mean that there are a number of playground areas and attractions for younger visitors such as trains and carousels.

Last but not least, Providence is also home to the peerless Brown University, and you can enjoy the relaxed student atmosphere in the city, as well as collegiate attractions such as the Rhode Island School of Design and Providence College.

1. Roger Williams Park

Roger Williams ParkSource: flickr
Roger Williams Park

Roger Williams Park spans an impressive 435 acres of land in Providence and is covered in beautiful gardens, lakes, and greenhouses, making this one of the nicest green spots in the city.

As well as the flora and fauna here, you will also find period buildings such as the original bandstand that dates from 1915 as well as the Betsy Williams Cottage that was built in 1773. For young children, the park has a carousel as well as train rides and playgrounds, so there is no chance of getting bored here.

The park is also the home of the Museum of Natural History and the Roger Williams Park Zoo.

2. WaterFire

WaterFireSource: flickr

If you are in Providence between May and November then you can’t miss its signature attraction called WaterFire.

If you make your way to the Downcity area of Providence, you can look out across the river which is lit with over 80 bonfires that sit on braziers in the middle of the water.

The fires stretch from Waterplace Park to South Main Street Park and there are also smaller events all over the city such as the area around the Providence Place Mall.

3. John Brown House

John Brown HouseSource: flickr
John Brown House

The John Brown House belonged to a former merchant and dates from 1786 when it was built.

It is known for being one of the most beautiful homes in Providence and sits on a gorgeous rolling hillside that is worth the trip alone just for the views.

The house offers visitors and amazing glimpse of life in Rhode Island in the 18th century and you can tour the home and enjoy the period decorations and antiques that are still on display here and that belonged to the Brown family.

4. Benefit Street ‘Mile of History’

Benefit Street ‘Mile of History’Source: flickr
Benefit Street ‘Mile of History’

As the name suggests, Benefit Street runs for a mile next to the campus at Brown University and is a great place to check out of you want to see some of the gorgeous period architecture for which Providence is famous.

Here you will find a range of styles such as Federal and Victorian homes, as well as quirky attractions like Art Deco and self-styled residences that add to the diversity of the neighborhood.

Some gems to look out for include the Governor Stephen Hopkins House as well as the Athenaeum which is closely associated with Edgar Allen Poe.

You can also find the John Brown House here, and the Providence Preservation Society has a walking tour booklet that you can pick up that will take you through a self-guided tour of all the classics here.

5. RISD Museum of Art

RISD Museum of ArtSource: wikiwand
RISD Museum of Art

Actually short for the Rhode Island School of Design, the RISD is known as an excellent spot for anyone interested in art in the Providence area.

The museum has a huge range of exhibits that run from anything from pieces by the French Impressionists, to Asian art, as well as collections from ancient Egypt.

Coming up to the present day, you will also find a huge array of contemporary art here across all mediums, including textiles, paintings, and sculptures.

There are even examples of vintage Federal rooms complete with antiques.

6. Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural HistorySource: flickr
Museum of Natural History

The Museum of Natural History is located in Roger Williams Park and is a key attraction if you are coming to the area.

The museum is a must-visit if you want to know more about the flora and fauna of Rhode Island, as well as the geology of Providence, and you will find fossils, minerals, and even insects here.

As well as a range of galleries, there is also a planetarium onsite, which is actually the only planetarium in the state of Rhode Island.

7. Brown University

Brown UniversitySource: brown
Brown University

Brown University sits on College Hill and dates back to 1770 when it was first established.

The university is obviously still a working university that sees thousands of students pass through its doors every year, but you can also visit this amazing institution and enjoy many of the areas and galleries that are open to the public.

These include the John Hay Library that is famous for its stamp collections, as well as the John Carter Brown Library which is known for its maps.

You can also enjoy the David Winton Bell Gallery which has exhibitions dedicated to works of art that run from historical to modern pieces, and you can even take a tour of the university run by one of the students who study here.

There is also a beautiful conservatory that is not to be missed if you want to find some serenity during your trip to Providence.

8. Governor Henry Lippitt House

Governor Henry Lippitt HouseSource: flickr
Governor Henry Lippitt House

Located in a historic part of Providence stands the Governor Henry Lippitt House which was built in 1865. The mansion spans an amazing 30 rooms and is built in the Renaissance Revival style with gorgeous Italian features like a palazzo, as well as impressive marble touches.

The home is known as one of the most ornate in Providence thanks to its wood carvings and other decorative touches, so if you like period design then this is not to be missed.

9. Roger Williams Park Zoo

Roger Williams Park ZooSource: flickr
Roger Williams Park Zoo

The Roger Williams Park Zoo sits, as the name suggests, in the wider Roger Williams Park.

The zoo is a powerhouse in the local area and stretches across 40 acres of land.

It is also known for being one of the oldest zoos in the United States, although thanks to constant renovations it is also one of the most modern with enclosures built to reflect the natural habitats of the animals that are resident here.

In the zoo you will find large open spaces that house wildlife such as giraffes, elephants, zebras, and snow leopards, and you will also find animals from all over the world like kangaroos and red pandas.

Much of the zoo is also interactive, and children can enjoy attractions like camel rides as well as playgrounds that include epic tree houses.

10. The Arcade

The ArcadeSource: flickr
The Arcade

The Arcade has reopened after it was closed for five years for refurbishment, and now it has been fully restored to its former glory.

The Arcade is famous for being the first shopping mall ever to have been built in America and dates from 1828. The building itself is made of granite and you may notice that there is a clash of styles here, as the owners of the building couldn’t decide what they wanted.

As a result, they hired two architects to design one end of the building each, leading to this quirky and unique structure.

11. Culinary Arts Museum

Culinary Arts MuseumSource: flickr
Culinary Arts Museum

For anyone interested in cooking or eating, a trip to this quirky and unusual museum is not to be missed.

As you would imagine, the Culinary Arts Museum is dedicated to all things food related and there are a huge number of exhibits here that include over 250,000 items related to food and cookery.

Just some of the amazing collections include replicas of famous foodie interiors such as diners, as well as memorabilia in the form of period cookbooks.

There is even a stagecoach tavern here that dates from 1833 and visitors can check out how people would have cooked and eaten in ancient Rome.

12. Downcity

DowncitySource: flickr

Downcity are known for being the downtown areas of Providence and also operate as the historical district of the city.

Many of the buildings here were preserved from the days of old and you will be able to get a glimpse of these firsthand if you choose to go on a walking tour of this area.

Just some of the sites that you will see here include gorgeous Art Deco structures as well as buildings built in the Beaux-Arts style.

There are also a huge number of late Victorian houses here that were preserved thanks to wooden façades that were erected over the fronts in the days of old which saved them from being torn down and replaced.

Places of note to look out for include the Beneficent Congressional Church which is the oldest building in the area and is known for its impressive dome and portico.

13. Federal Hill

Federal HillSource: flickr
Federal Hill

Many visitors to Providence may not know that there is a large and proud Italian American community here, and Federal Hill is the place to come if you want to experience this firsthand.

There are a huge number of delicious Italian restaurants here as well as relaxed cafes and shops that sell traditional Italian products and foodstuffs.

Just some of the treats for sale here include tasty cured meats, fresh mozzarella, pickled cherry peppers, and homemade pastries.

14. Pomham Rocks Light

Pomham Rocks LightSource: flickr
Pomham Rocks Light

Pomham Rocks Light is also known by the name Pomham Lighthouse and is located off the coast of East Providence in the languid Providence River.

The lighthouse dates from 1871, making this another of the areas period attractions, and is still a working lighthouse to this day, having been re-lighted in 2006 after a long hiatus.

15. First Baptist Church of America

First Baptist Church of AmericaSource: flickr
First Baptist Church of America

The First Baptist Church in America is also known as the First Baptist Church of Providence and is the oldest congregation in the entire United States, making this an amazing historical monument.

The church dates from 1638 and is also known for being a National Historic Landmark in the city.

Meetings were held in the church from as early as 1775, and you can come here to tour the building or to attend a service.

15 Best Things to Do in Providence (RI):

  • Roger Williams Park
  • WaterFire
  • John Brown House
  • Benefit Street ‘Mile of History’
  • RISD Museum of Art
  • Museum of Natural History
  • Brown University
  • Governor Henry Lippitt House
  • Roger Williams Park Zoo
  • The Arcade
  • Culinary Arts Museum
  • Downcity
  • Federal Hill
  • Pomham Rocks Light
  • First Baptist Church of America