Planning a visit to Providence, Rhode Island?
You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the beauty of this city and the variety of things to do!
Founded by Roger Williams, Providence was once a manufacturing hub and a busy port.
Now, Providence is among the most popular places to visit in New England and is bustling with restaurants, art galleries, and outdoor adventures.
Take a pick from a range of attractions spanning museums, gardens, colonial-era buildings, family friendly spots, and world renowned institutions.
Ready for your Providence RI adventure? Follow along!
Table of Contents
Things to do in Providence Rhode Island
Where to stay in Providence, RI
When is the best time to visit Providence, RI
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Best things to do in Providence RHODE ISLAND
visit the Roger Williams Zoo
A foolproof family friendly attraction in Providence, the Roger Williams Zoo is a large, well maintained zoo with a wide variety of animals.
Established in 1872, it is the third oldest zoo in the country.
Inside the zoo you can find over a 100 varieties of animals, and multiple exhibits.
In particular, elephants, Masai giraffes, Komodo dragons, red pandas, snow leopards, and sloths are some of the zoo’s biggest draws.
The zoo also has a nice food court and several benches across its 40 acre property.
Pack your walking shoes as there will be a bit of exploration! For the little ones, strollers and carriages are available for rent.
One of the best times to visit the Roger Williams Zoo is during the Asian Lantern Festival in the summer or the Jack-o-lantern festival in fall.
For a deeper experience, sign up for a group insider tour or a private animal encounters session (ages 5+).
If you have more time, you could also visit the nearby Roger Williams Carousel Village.
Here you can easily spend a couple of hours with a little one.
Head to the iconic indoor carousel. Follow it up with a train ride and then let them romp around in the playground!
The zoo is open from 9AM-4PM. Tickets started at $20 for adults and $14 for ages 2+
ADMIRE ART AT THE Rhode Island School of Design Museum
One of the hallmarks of Providence, the Rhode Island School of Design is the first art and design school in the US.
The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum was co-founded with the School in 1877.
Today, it is one of the most exceptional small museums in the country.
With more than 2,000 pieces available for display, visitors can get a taste of artwork, textiles, sculpture, decorative art from Europe, Egypt, Africa, the Americas and Asia.
A significant chunk of the museum’s 100,000+ collection can be accessed online.
Some of the famous artists whose works are represented in the museum include Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, Manet, Andy Warhol and Kara Walker.
According to web reviews, the Egyptian, Asian and Ancient Art sections are among the most popular sections in the museum.
The RISD Museum is also known to provide a diverse experience of visitors.
On one hand, you could look at mummies from ancient Egypt, and on the other hand, you could explore a contemporary exhibit tackling a social issue.
Plan to spend a couple of hours at least.
Tickets are priced at $17/adults. Entry is free on Thursday and Friday evenings, and on Sundays.
SEE THE WaterFire FESTIVAL
Undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Rhode Island, the WaterFire event is a mesmerizing display of music, artistry and fire in the heart of Providence.
Held in the summers, this outdoor public festival makes for an engaging family outing both for locals and out of town visitors.
Typically held 15 minutes after sunset on the Providence river, the exact schedule for the event varies nightly.
Since it is a public event, plan your time in advance to find a parking spot and a good vantage point to view the event from.
Being in the right spot makes all the difference and this tour that allows you to rent a boat is a great way to see the festivities up close.
To make an evening out of the event, head to one of several restaurants in the area.
Take a look at the WaterFire schedule to find an appropriate date for your visit.
While the event is free, the organizers welcome donations.
WALK AROUND AT THE Historic Federal Hill NEIGHBORHOOD
The vibrant Italian American neighborhood of Providence has all the elements for a fun night out.
Located in and around Atwells Avenue, Federal Hill is a neighborhood that juggles the past and the present.
Here, you will find a selection of restaurants, bakeries, stories, boutiques, pubs, a gallery and even a cooking school!
In the summers, there’s never a dull moment in this area.
DePasquale Plaza, the heart of the neighborhood, turns into a venue for live entertainment and one could spend hours watching people in the area.
Looking for a delicious meal? You’ll be spoilt for choice.
From the local favorite pizza shop Casserta, to the modern Italian restaurant Il Massimo, there are several eating establishments waiting to pamper your taste buds.
What’s more, the neighborhood also has a notable presence of other cuisines, including Japanese, Thai, Indian, Mexican, Cuban, Lebanese and so on.
Also, if you’re looking for gelato, bakeries, and traditional Italian marketplaces, you’re in the right place.
Like to eat your way through a city?
Check out this Providence food tour that will you to SIX tasting spots in Providence’s Arts District!
VISIT THE Rhode Island State House
The Rhode Island State House is a stupendous architectural marvel located in downtown Providence.
Visible from several parts of the city, the grand structure was designed by the noted architectural firm McKim, Mead and White who also designed the White House and the Boston Public Library.
Built of white Georgian marble, the stately building has the world’s fourth largest self supported marble domes in the world.
A statue of Rhode Island’s Independent Man, that stands for the spirit of freedom of thought and action, sits atop the dome.
What’s even better is that the State House is open to visitors for free.
Inside you will find original portraits of George Washington, a beautiful three storey library, a canon used in Gettysburg among other historical gems.
History and architecture buffs will enjoy taking one of the 45 minute docent led tours that are offered at 10AM and 1PM between Mondays through Fridays.
You could also take a self guided tour, though for an enriching overview, a guided tour is a great idea.
Admire the rich interiors of the State House and also devote some time to see the beautiful, well maintained gardens.
The State House is open Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
HOP ON A Sunset Cruise along Providence River
Fancy a romantic evening in the heart of Providence?
Take a sunset cruise down Providence River, accompanied with a glass of New England wine or prosecco and see architectural landmarks in a sublime setting.
A relaxing cruise is one of the most unique ways to experience the city.
Enjoy the stunning views of the Providence skyline – you will certainly return with a lasting impression of the city.
Whether you are planning a date night, an engagement proposal, a fun excursion or just a break from the norm, this activity is a memorable experience in itself.
Looking to stay longer in Rhode Island? Take a look at these 19 things to do in Newport RI.
SPEND THE DAY AT Roger Williams Park
If you’re looking for a mini paradise in the middle of Providence city, head to the expansive Roger Williams Park.
This 435 acre urban oasis includes outdoor sport spaces, gardens, walking trails, architecture, a museum, a botanical center, the Roger Williams zoo, a carousel village – enough activities to keep every age group thoroughly engaged.
Walking trails in Roger Williams Park
Nature and outdoor lovers will enjoy the several paved and unpaved trails inside Roger Williams Park.
Starting with the 3.2-mile long Roger Williams Big Lakes trail that encircles many of the water bodies, and is ideal for birdwatching, to the smaller .57 mile-long Roosevelt Lake trail which passes near the Japanese Gardens, there is a trail for every hiker!
Here’s a list of the main trails in the park:
- Big Lakes Trail (3.2 miles, difficult)
- Bluff-to-Bluff Trail (1 mile, slightly difficult)
- Hawthorne Trail (.75 miles, medium difficulty)
- Roosevelt Lake Trail (.57 miles, medium difficulty)
- Temple View Trail (.48 miles, easy)
Outdoor activities in Roger Williams Park
Sport lovers will be excited to know that Roger Williams Park has a bike park, softball field, baseball field, tennis courts and swan boats for boating enthusiasts!
The latest addition to the park is a pump track for advanced BMX and mountain bike riders
Flora, fauna and nature enthusiasts have a lot to see inside Roger Williams Park too.
The Roger Williams Park Botanical Center, the region’s largest glasshouse display garden, is a mesmerizing place at all times of the year.
You can particularly see several seasonal blooms in the spring and fall, and admire the calm and peace the place has to offer.
There is a $5 fee to enter the Botanical Center.
If you’re a tree-lover, Roger Williams Park has over 5,000 trees and some of them were planted in the 1800’s.
In addition, arts and architecture lovers will enjoy admiring the 28 pieces of artifacts sprinkled across the park, including the Temple to Music, a beautiful structure which has played host to concerts, events and is a hugely popular photo spot.
VISIT THE Japanese Garden
The tranquil Japanese Garden is a perfect spot to relax and reflect inside Roger Williams Park in Providence.
With beautifully landscaped grounds, walking trails and several quiet corners, it is hard to imagine that this scenic spot is located in the middle of the city.
The Garden is located on a piece of land that belonged to Roger Williams, and was eventually donated to the city by Betsey Williams, the last member of his family who owned it.
Entrance to the garden is free.
HEAD OVER TO THE Rose Garden
Located near the Roger Williams Zoo, the well maintained Victorian Rose Garden is another spot worthy of your visit in Providence, Rhode Island.
Originally built in 1889, the garden is maintained by volunteers and members of the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center.
The best time to visit the garden is during early summer when the roses are in bloom.
The garden is fairly small, so if you’re looking for a bit of respite after an active day in Roger Williams Park, then it is an ideal spot to sit and relax.
VISIT THE Museum of Natural History and Planetarium
The Roger Williams Natural History Museum and Planetarium is another family friendly attraction in Rhode Island.
This is Rhode Island’s state’s only planetarium.
The museum’s goal is to create an inspiring and educational experience for every age group, and they’re fulfilling this mission by offering an enriching array of programming.
Museum admission is $2 per person. Children under age 3 are free.
Planetarium show ticket (includes museum admission ) is $5 per person. Children over 4 are permitted to enter the planetarium.
ADMIRE COLONIAL ERA BUILDINGS AT Brown University
A leading Ivy league institute, Brown University attracts many visitors to its campus for its stately Colonial-era buildings constructed mainly between 1770 and 1926.
Located on College Hill, the campus consists of 235 buildings spread over 143 acres.
Start with a visit to the University Hall, a National Historic Landmark, and the oldest building in the Brown University campus
The University Hall, designed in late Georgian style, is located in the central parts of the campus.
While you’re here, don’t miss the iconic ornamental Van Wickle Gates located in front of the University Hall.
The center of the gate is opened only thrice a year, and there is a superstition that if a student passes through these doors twice, they will not graduate!
Another notable building in the Brown University campus includes the John Hay Library, the oldest library on campus which is home to rare books.
If you’re interested in seeing maps, books and manuscripts related to colonial era America, head to the John Carter Brown Library
Museum enthusiasts might enjoy making a pitstop at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, also on campus.
This small museum is free and features rotating exhibits focussing primarily on culture.
Finally, round off your visit with a stop at the Pembroke Campus, which is dominated by Georgian and Victorian style buildings.
To grab a nice lunch, go to Thayer Street, which is comparable to Cambridge’s Harvard Square and frequented by students!
SEE LOVELY GARDENS AT Swan Point Cemetery
The impeccably maintained Swan Point Cemetery is one of the most beautiful garden cemeteries in the United States.
Swan Point’s historic buildings, impressive monuments and sculptures, and elegantly landscaped 200-acre grounds make it well worth a visit in any season.
Walk around and you will not only notice the difference in the size, grandeur and detailing of the stone markers but also get a sense of how burial customs, and religious beliefs shifted over time.
In the cemetery, you will be able to see a range of monuments including, a brownstone Egyptian Revival tomb, an Italian marble fountain, a 50+ ton Megalith, believed to be the largest single stone erected in an American cemetery and more.
While you are here, take some time to admire the main building and historic chapel near the entrance.
In addition, you should also stop by at The Redwood Mausoleum, Chapel and Columbarium complex located at the southern end of the cemetery
Swan Point Cemetery is the resting site for some of Rhode Island’s notable personalities including:
- H.P. Lovecraft, a prominent horror writer of the 20th century
- Helen Adelia Rowe Metcalf, founder of the Rhode Island School of Design
Visits to the Cemetery are free, but visitors must adhere to guidelines while they are there.
Swan Point Cemetery is open daily between 8-5, and until 7 PM between April-September.
FROLIC AROUND AT THE Providence Children’s Museum
If you’re looking to spend quality time as a family and have loads of fun in the process, make your way to the Providence Children’s Museum.
This creative little spot is perfect for kids ten and under.
Located on South Street in Providence, the museum is open Wednesdays-Sundays.
Inside the museum, you will find different sections designed to engage young minds and help them explore to the fullest.
There is an innovation lab, a children’s garden, a makerspace, a dedicated area for kids 4 and under, a water play environment, a thinker space with puzzles and challenges, and a power play area.
Providence Children’s Museum is a great experience not just for kids, but for adults as well.
It’s also a perfect outing spot for groups with kids of multiple ages.
Admission is $14.00 for adults and children. There is no fee for kids under 1.
HIKE AT Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy
The historic Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy is the perfect urban hiking spot, located in the middle of the city.
There are trails that range across many levels of difficulties, making it an easy to explore outdoor spot for the entire family.
What’s also attractive is that the Conservancy offers stunning views of the city from its overlooks, and makes for a great fall activity in Providence.
If you enjoy biking, bird watching, discovering wild berries and flowers, or want to take your kids and pets out on a walk, this is an ideal spot too.
Trails are as short as .25 miles, to the longest one being 1.5 miles.
The Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy is open from dawn to dusk.
DISCOVER ART + BOOKS AT The Providence Athenaeum
A historic home built in Greek Revivalist style, and a 200-year old library – The Providence Athenaeum is a place for literary lovers and culture enthusiasts alike.
In the past, the library has been a meeting place for visionaries and curious thinkers to get together.
Today, it continues to attract heaps of readers, art enthusiasts and even children.
You could take a self guided tour, and also see their diverse collection of over 150 art objects.
The Athenaeum is open Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10am-6pm, and Sundays 11am-5pm.
A suggested donation of $5 needs to be paid at the entrance.
shop at the Providence Flea
The Providence Flea is not your average flea market! It is a modern artisan market with locally made, small batch and vintage items.
It supports the local community, and is operational every Sunday 11-3 for the most part of the year.
From food trucks, to bakers, makers, crafters, artists and even live musicians, Providence Flea brings a vibrant vibe to the city.
Seriously, what’s not to love?
If you’re the sorts who loves discovering little treasures, trinkets and creatively made products, then this is one of the coolest Providence attractions for you.
The market is held indoors mid-Fall to Winters and in early Spring at Farm Fresh RI Market Hall, 10 Sims Ave in Providence, RI. They are closed in January and May.
During the summers starting in June, the market moves outdoors at 275 South Water Street near the Pedestrian Bridge in downtown Providence, RI.
The best part? Parking is free!
The Best Places to Stay in Providence, RI
Hotels in Providence RI: Luxury
The Beatrice, located in the heart of Providence is a tastefully decorated boutique hotel with modern amenities and a luxurious vibe.
The restaurant offers king, superior king and queen rooms. If you’re looking for well equipped rooms, and an exceptionally comfortable setting, pick this hotel.
Hotels in Providence, Rhode Island: Mid-Range
The Dean is a modern hotel with a retro styled aesthetics within walking distance of key universities in Providence.
It features a restaurant, cocktail lounge and karaoke lounge and rooms in several categories. If you’re looking for a unique yet comfortable stay in a solid location, choose this hotel!
Hotels in Providence, Rhode Island: Budget
Built in 1858, the Christopher Dodge House B&B is an elegantly furnished New England style stay in a quaint, historic house.
Stay here if you’re looking for large rooms, a delicious complimentary breakfast and charming hospitality! The B&B is a five minute walk from Rhode Island State House.
The Best Time to Visit Providence
If you’re looking to visit Providence, and any other New England cities, anytime between spring-fall are your best bets.
Rhode Island is a coastal state and witnesses a glorious summer and a beautiful fall season.
Summer is a busy time when both outsiders and New Englanders flock to popular outdoorsy spots in the region.
In both spring and fall, temperatures are in the comfortable range of 60-70, making exploration a pleasant experience!
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