Located between New York City and Boston, Providence, Rhode Island often gets overlooked as a great destination to visit. As the capital of the smallest state, Providence often gets stereotyped as a small, boring city. When in fact, it is anything but small and boring. Providence is packed with many amazing activities and things to do and, in the last few decades, has reestablished itself as an important New England city.
As with Boston and New York City, Providence is bathed in historical significance. Founded early in America’s history, Providence played an important role building the foundation of the USA. Many locations in the city have played key roles in important historical events or have an attachment to famous, historical Americans.
Many prestigious universities are located in Providence as well, which helps infuse art and education into the local life. This can be seen throughout the city’s many art studios, libraries and fine dining restaurants. The young energetic lifeblood from the students have also created a thrilling atmosphere for nightlife.
Whether your interests include history, art, food, shopping or nightlife, Providence has something for you.
Walk around the East Side
The East Side of Providence features many prominent, historic houses that overlook the skyscrapers of the city. Benefit Street runs north to south through this colonial-era district and walking this street will put you, literally, at the doorsteps of these stately homes. The houses feature plaques displaying both the year it was built and any famous historic owners.
One of my favorite activities is to venture up to Prospect Terrace Park and get fantastic views of the city. Prospect Terrace Park is a green space on the East Side that features a monument to Roger Williams and gives clear views of Downtown Providence. Here is a list of more of my favorite things to do in Providence RI.
Eat on Federal Hill
Federal Hill, located near the heart of the city, is renowned as the culinary hub of Providence. It contains the largest Italian-American population in New England outside of Massachusetts and the stereotype of the Italian passion for food rings true in this neighborhood.
Atwells Avenue is the main drag that stretches through Federal Hill and contains over 20 restaurants in just 1/4 mile! It’s walk-able and safe, so park that car and explore the strip.
Be sure to check out DePasquale Square. This open air square is surrounded by authentic Italian restaurants, delis, pastry shops and coffee bars. Request outdoor seating for great views of the fountain and to people watch. I like to grab a cannoli and sit by the beautiful fountain.
Celebrate at WaterFire
WaterFire is the biggest annual event in Providence. If you ask any Rhode Islander, they will tell you that WaterFire is one of the best things to do in Rhode Island. It is a celebration of arts and music and brings the community together in a relaxed atmosphere.
Big bonfires are lit on the rivers that run through the city. Live music fills the air while the smell of food vendors seduces your stomach. Artists and local businesses set up booths and bring the art to you. It’s an exciting time to be in the city.
WaterFire runs from May to October every other Saturday and is free.
Shop at Providence Place Mall
The Providence Place Mall is an enormous shopping plaza that features top-notch restaurants, varied boutiques and exciting entertainment. It’s open 7 days a week and features over 3 floors of shopping.Providence Place Mall has shopping venues for all tastes, ages and styles. Tucked away on the top floor is the food court offering a wide selection of quick and easy food. If you’re looking for a dine-in experience, Providence Place offers great upscale dining. When you’re ready for some fun, head to the top floor to catch a 3D movie in their IMAX theater or go across the way to some adult arcade fun at Dave & Buster’s. The Providence Place Mall has something for everyone.
The Artistic Side of Providence, RI
Providence has some great universities located within the city. Some of these schools, such as Brown and RISD, have a strong art department. This brings a constant stream of creative people into the city.
The Providence Art Festival
The Providence Art Festival is an annual event in downtown Providence. They close down much of Westminster Street and line the road with art stands and vendors. This is a great opportunity to experience just how creative Providence artists are. The Providence Art Festival is held on the first Saturday in June and it’s one of the best free things to do in Providence!
One of the more notable art establishments in Providence is AS220. This company runs an art shop, a restaurant, an art studio and hosts art shows in various galleries around the town. Their most famous art show is the bi-annual AS220 Print Lottery. This show features over 100 screen prints displayed salon style across the walls of their gallery. You can purchase tickets for the lottery and every ticket randomly wins one of the screen prints.
The Providence Children’s Museum is dedicated to creating interesting exhibits that encourage hands-on interaction. Whether your kids enjoy building, creating or climbing, PCM will keep them entertained.
Roger Williams Park Zoo is a great activity for the whole family. They feature over 100 different types of animals. I really enjoy the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular when they illuminate thousands of pumpkins and position them around the park. This event only happens around Halloween.
Finish off the day with a trip to the Botanical Center in Roger Williams Park. Take a seat and enjoy the smells of these aromatic flowers or, better yet, grab a camera and take some pictures of your children using these indoor gardens as a beautiful backdrop.