Bonfires on the river, three-cent candy shops, and ritzy movie palaces are just some of the quirky things you’ll find in Providence. It’s a city that takes pride in its independence—even its name reflects that!
Stroll down the historic Benefit Street and admire the gorgeous architecture that unveils the city’s past. Pick up a booklet for a self-guided tour of this charming neighborhood.
Since 1994, WaterFire has been an awe-inducing spectacle involving dozens of bonfires lit in braziers atop Providence’s restored rivers. This sculpture by Barnaby Evans is presented at night, giving the city a spectacular new dimension with flickering firelight and enchanting music. The whole experience is free of charge and is among the most unique things to do in Providence.
For a different kind of sensory experience, hop aboard one of the many riverboat tours. These guided trips give you a different perspective on the city’s most scenic and historic sites. They also provide a fully narrated tour, making them great for groups of all sizes and interests. Choose from day and evening trips, private dinner cruises, or even a WaterFire trip!
A visit to Providence isn’t complete without a stroll around the beautiful Roger Williams Park Zoo. This zoological park is one of the oldest in the US and houses hundreds of animals from all over the globe. It has everything from Flemish giant rabbits to Amazonian poison dart frogs, and the best part is that they are all living freely in their natural habitats, unlike most zoos where the animals are kept in cages.
Another great way to get a different perspective on the city is by visiting Providence Performing Arts Center. This old-fashioned theater is as gorgeous on the inside as it is on the outside, with marble columns, crystal chandeliers, and plush red seats.
2. John Brown House
The John Brown House is a mansion in Providence that was the home of a prominent family that made many contributions to the city and country (although their role in the slave trade tarnished the name). Today, the house is a museum where guests can learn more about Rhode Island’s rich history.
The capital city of Rhode Island, Providence has been voted the “quirkiest” and “best small city for foodies.” Known for its renowned restaurant scene and friendly residents, this quirky and vibrant destination is one that’s truly worth visiting. With a huge variety of restaurants and hotels, there’s always something new to see and do in this beautiful state capital.
Downtown Providence is a bustling area that features gorgeous Art Deco, Beaux-Arts, and late Victorian buildings. It’s also home to numerous shops, bars, and malls that line the sidewalks along its retail and business plazas.
Visit the Providence Athenaeum (251 Benefit Street) for a book lover’s dream come true. This member-funded library has an enormous collection of books, maps, films, and U.S. postage stamps, and hosts four or five exhibitions a year.
Head to the East Side to encounter Providence’s Colonial past. This neighborhood features grand 18th- and 19th-century homes and cobblestone streets. You can even visit the Providence Athenaeum, which was designed by the architectural firm McKim, Mead and White and houses a massive collection of American art and silver.
3. Roger Williams Park
Rhode Island’s capital city is a compact, colorful, and eccentric place. Its diverse history is reflected in its many historic sights and artistic highlights. The capital of New England is a fun and easy to navigate city, perfect for families, couples, and solo travelers alike. From the ritzy Providence Performing Arts Center to the grand Westminster Arcade, Providence has a little bit of everything for everyone.
If you’re an animal lover, head to Roger Williams Park to experience one of the oldest zoos in America. The zoo has walking trails, the Botanical Gardens, and many other things to see. It also hosts a number of special events including food truck days and Asian lantern festivals.
For the history buff, a trip to the Providence Athenaeum is a must. The impressive neoclassical building houses many books and aspires to the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. It’s also home to the famous Independent Man statue, a nod to Rhode Island’s Colonial past.
If you’re looking for something more whimsical, a visit to Candy4pennies is a must. The shop sells candy in every shape and size, and it’s a fun way to take in the sights of Providence. You can even purchase a souvenir to bring home for your friends and family.
4. Providence Children’s Museum
With jars and jugs of every color, stuffed animals propped up on countertops, and vintage neon signage, you’ll feel like a kid again at Candy4pennies, one of the most unique things to do in Providence. Whether you’re stretching your budget or you want to stock up on treats, this local candy shop will satisfy any sweet tooth.
You’ll have a blast playing with the kids in your life at Providence Children’s Museum, an interactive and hands-on museum that follows the principles of learning through play. With exhibits such as Water Ways (where you can suit up in a smock and splash into ice, mist, vortex swirls, and dams), the awesome power of air, and a marionette theater, it’s a trip your kids will never forget.
Instead of stocking up on fridge magnets, bottle openers, and mugs as souvenirs, take your vacation to the next level at the Rhode Island School of Design Art Museum (or RISD Museum). It’s home to thousands of ancient and contemporary works that’ll fascinate even adults. Study decorative art pieces such as 18th-century glass doorknobs with impossibly tiny floral images and Asian art from 100 CE. Or, travel back in time as you inspect a portrait of Roman Emperor Hadrian from 130 CE.