Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, is a delightful city to visit. With a population of under 200000, unique history, impressive architecture, and scenic location, it offers calming old-world charm. The best thing to do there is to take a stroll along the historic Benefit Street or in Roger Williams Park. Another way to see the city is to take a gondola ride on the Providence and Woonasquatucket rivers. When you are ready to take a break, try the city’s fantastic food scene heavily influenced by graduates of the College of Culinary Arts. As a matter of fact, the young generation has a significant impact on the area’s art, science, and culture. Students from Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and Providence College contribute to the city’s vibrancy. Sounds interesting? Here are the best things to do in Providence, RI.
Despite my admiration for the New England States, I have to admit, Providence was not on my list of places to visit. That is until I developed the HotCiti detailed report on Providence. When I realized that the drive to the city would take only 40 minutes, I decided to give it a try. Beautiful October weather certainly added to the appeal of the city. The irresistible charm of the area made a lasting impression on me.
HISTORY OF PROVIDENCE, RI
Providence was founded in 1636 by renegade preacher Roger Williams, who was forced to flee Massachusetts because of religious persecution. Williams purchased land from the Narragansett Indians and started a new settlement with a religious and political freedom policy. He named his new home “Providence”- thanks to God.
THE FLEUR DE LYS BUILDING
Built in 1885, the building was designed by Sydney Richmond Burleigh with Providence architect Edmund R. Willson. Through its Norman, half-timbered facade, the structure lends a 16th-century atmosphere to Thomas Street. In 1992, the building joined the National Register of Historic Places.
OTHER HISTORIC HOUSES ON THOMAS STREET
FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH IN AMERICA
The First Baptist Church in America is the oldest Baptist church congregation in the United States, founded in 1638 by Roger Williams. From that beginning, the Baptist church focuses on soul liberty and the civic rights of religious liberty and separation of church and state.
Just a few steps from Thomas Street, you will find Benefit Street. This most inviting street in Providence is rich in the Colonial and Victorian eras’ residential, institutional, and religious architecture.
Stretching 1.2 miles on Providence’s East Side, it functions as an outdoor museum comprising grand buildings and simple houses. Benefit Street is an architectural marvel with well-preserved homes from the 1700s and 1800s along the cobblestone road.
As you stroll past these old houses, it feels like you travel back in time. The Rhode Island Historical Society offers tours of this section of Providence.
THE NIGHTINGALE-BROWN HOUSE
Built in 1792 by merchant Joseph Nightingale, The Nightingale-Brown House is a must-see on the block. In 1814, Nicholas Brown, after whom the famous university is named, purchased the home from Nightingale’s heirs, becoming the first of five successive generations of the Brown family to live there.
Make sure to stroll the Brown University campus while exploring Benetif Street. This private Ivy League research university was founded in 1764. It is the seventh-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution. Brown was the first college in the U.S. to accept students regardless of their religious affiliation.
Initially located in Warren, Rhode Island, and called the College of Rhode Island, in 1770, it moved to its current spot on College Hill overlooking Providence. In 1804 in recognition of a $5,000 gift from Nicholas Brown, a prominent Providence businessman, and alumnus, it was named Brown University.
RHODE ISLAND STATE HOUSE
One of the grandest statehouses in the U.S belongs to the USA’s smallest state, Rhode Island. Designed by McKim, Mead, and White’s renowned architectural firm, this majestic domed building clad in white Georgia marble was built (1895-1904) during Rhode Island’s industrial prosperity. Learn more about Rhode Island State House.
Inside, a new museum showcases the Colonial Charter granted in 1663 by King Charles II of England. The Charter was first signed by a monarch to guarantee religious liberty. Atop the State House dome stands a statue of Rhode Island’s Independent Man, representing the spirit of freedom of thought and action. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
LA GONDOLA PROVIDENCE
If you are looking for something out of the ordinary, get a unique perspective of the city from a different vantage point – on board an authentic Venetian gondola. A gondola ride with La Gondola is a fantastic way to see and experience Providence, from a romantic river cruise for two to a fun-filled family adventure.
WATERFIRE PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
Another unique festivity in Providence is Waterfire. Inspired by artist Barnaby Evans, who created the first fire sculpture in 1994 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the First Night Providence, it grew to become a recurring celebration.
WaterFire is a non-profit arts organization that celebrates Providence by bringing people together to light torch bonfires along the river. Check the events here.
ROGER WILLIAMS PARK
The park, established in 1871, was created as “the people’s pleasure ground.” Today, it showcases 435 beautiful acres and offers a range of recreational and educational opportunities. Each year, it receives over 1.5 million visitors who come to enjoy the same scenery and activities the past generations did.
Today the park consists of expansive manicured grounds, recreational ponds, public gardens, tennis courts, ball fields, playgrounds, public art, and the Roger Williams Park Zoo. It maintains several historical buildings used by the public, including the Bandstand, Museum of Natural History, Botanical Center, Temple to Music, and the casino.
FEDERAL HILL NEIGHBORHOOD
Looking for old-charm, great shopping, and good food? Providence’s historic Federal Hill Providence got you covered. Settled mainly by Italian-American immigrants in the early 1900s, Federal Hill effuses a sense of warmth and community that embraces visitors and locals alike.
RESTAURANTS IN PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
Providence has a vibrant dining scene thanks to the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University, which has been training chefs since 1973. Passionate new culinary arts graduates help Providence to become a mecca for food lovers.
HOTELS IN PROVIDENCE, RI
Omni Providence – Located in the downtown area, this hotel offers modern decor and incredible views.
Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel-This hotel is ideally located in the city’s Capitol District, only minutes from many popular sites, including the Roger Williams Park and Zoo and historic government buildings. Initially built in 1929, the Renaissance Providence Hotel has various modern conveniences in a historic atmosphere.
Hotel Providence – Located in downtown Providence’s arts and entertainment district, this 4-star boutique hotel offers bright, modern rooms, a restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining, and a bar.
Bristol Harbor Inn – This hotel located in Briston, RI, 12 miles from Providence, impresses with its harbor location and the views. Guests can enjoy fine dining at the waterfront restaurant and pub.