Can’t wait to plan your Rhode Island excursion? Discover the best things to do in Providence, RI, for the ultimate New England holiday. Stop by Rhode Island’s capital city for neighborhoods with character, rich history, unbeatable shopping, and stunning sights along the river banks.
Immerse yourself in American history at multiple living history museums, then take your youngsters to frolic and learn at the Providence Children’s Museum. Stroll through Waterplace Park and stay until sundown for the mesmerizing WaterFire show. Take a boat tour of the Providence River, then indulge in authentic Italian cuisine in Federal Hill.
Need help nailing down what to do? Use this handy guide to map out all the best places to visit in Providence, Rhode Island.
Must-see places to visit in Providence, RI
Roger Williams Park Zoo
Discover Providence’s wild side at Roger Williams Park Zoo. Roam the flourishing 40 acres of land and observe over 100 species of animals. Roger Williams Park Zoo is a fun and fascinating stop for animal lovers, young and old.
In Fabric of Africa, say hello to exotic elephants, prowling cheetahs, and grazing giraffes. Make a trek through Faces of the Rainforest and watch the Titi monkeys swinging branch to branch, hear the boom of the Howler Monkey, and check out the mighty anaconda slithering in its habitat. Take a peaceful walk around the wetland trails of Roger Williams Park Zoo to encounter local species like snapping turtles, herons, and bald eagles.
Feeling adventurous? Visit Explore and Soar. Fly through the woodlands on a zipline, and take a train ride through the green landscape. Venture into Carousel Village for kid-centric carnival games and the iconic vintage carousel.
Art aficionados will feel right at home at the RISD Museum, otherwise known as the Rhode Island School of Design Art Museum. With over 100,000 ancient and contemporary works ranging from sculptures to paintings and textiles, the RISD Museum has exhibits to interest everyone.
Appreciate decorative art pieces like 18th-century glass doorknobs, detailed with impossibly tiny floral images inside. In the RISD Museum’s Asian Art Gallery, travel to 100 CE as you inspect a beautifully preserved Chinese incense burner and an Indian sculpture of Vishnu as Rama from 1100. Carry on to the Ancient Greek and Roman section to study antiquities like the Portrait of Hadrian from 130 CE.
Attend an artsy event like Gallery Night Providence to dive into the city’s thriving creative atmosphere at one of Providence’s most popular museums. Then, dine at Hemenway’s seafood restaurant for lobster, juicy scallops, and fresh Rhode Island oysters with views of Memorial Park and the Woonasquatucket River.
Stroll around Waterplace Park to experience Providence’s restored downtown area. Visiting this lively gathering space, you’d never guess it was completely covered by the “world’s widest bridge” until 1994. Now that the river has been revealed and revamped, it’s a beautiful place for the Providence, RI, community to come together.
Walk or bike along the Woonasquatucket River to get a taste of the city’s art scene. Pass by intriguing sculptures, artists hard at work painting the scenery, and local musicians jamming out. Take a gondola ride and pass under Venice-inspired bridges. At night, you’ll be mesmerized by the burning torches along the waterway during WaterFire.
Swing by Coffee Connection for acai bowls, breakfast sandwiches, and creative coffee flavors. In the evening, stop at Cafe Nuovo for upscale waterside dining with contemporary international cuisine ranging from escargots to Korean barbecue and Duck Pappardelle.
Nestled in the aptly named College Hill, you’ll find Brown University. Just about a 15-minute walk from downtown Providence, RI, its sloping hills and sprawling historic grounds are worth a visit. This Ivy League is ideal for admiring the impressive 18th-century brick architecture in a classic New England university atmosphere.
Mosey up College Street, taking in the scenery and watching the college students making their way to and from classes. Behold the ornate wrought-iron Van Wickle Gates before Brown’s first building, University Hall. Spy the famous green-faced clock of Carrie Tower rising above the campus and gaze at the late 19th century pale stone Romanesque-style of Sayles Hall.
After your relaxing campus tour, head to Flatbread Pizza Company for a scrumptious, family-friendly dining atmosphere. For dessert, munch on delectable cookie flavors like Salted Caramel, Berries ‘n Cream, and Deluxe D’mores from the cult classic Insomnia Cookies, just down Thayer Street.
Mangia, mangia! Gastronomes will find Nirvana in Federal Hill. Once a bustling neighborhood of Italian immigrants, this area has now become Providence’s Little Italy. Discover a world of culture down the quaint streets as you browse a variety of restaurants and charming shops riddled with Italian flare.
Pass under La Pigna or “the pinecone,” the archway above Atwells Avenue, for Italian restaurants as far as the eye can see. Marvel at the Italianate architecture dating back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, conjuring images of the robust immigrant neighborhood’s history as a business and commercial hub.
Down the cobblestone paths of DePasquale Plaza, take in the lovely pastel yellow, blue, and pink buildings lining the square. Dine alfresco at Tavolo Wine Bar & Tuscan Grille in the romantic ambiance of live music and the bubbling pine-cone-adorned fountain.
Providence Performing Arts Center
The Providence Performing Arts Center is Rhode Island’s top destination to catch broadway productions, comedy acts, concerts, and an array of high-level shows. Whether you’re looking for something more family-geared or a performance to suit your date night, The Providence Performing Arts Center will surely have just what you’re looking for.
Fans of Broadway will be excited to score tickets to the upcoming Tina Turner Musical or Mean Girls, and families traveling with kiddos will have a blast with the Disney Junior Live series. Before the show, let your eyes wander around the stunningly ornate and elaborate art deco interior of the theater. Golden details and accents will remind you of this theater’s rich history as an entertainment venue since 1928.
Once the show is over, grab a nosh at The Malted Barley, a brewery that specializes in gourmet pretzels. Or, head down Weybosset Street to Circe if you’re craving Mediterranean infusion dishes.
WaterFire is a Providence staple and the favorite exhibit of many who visit the city. Created by Barnaby Evans to represent the downtown area’s new life, WaterFire consists of 80 firepits floating along the river as well as acts from stunning performers. It’s a one-of-a-kind art installment that will dazzle your whole family.
As darkness falls, claim your spot along the banks of Waterplace Park. Excitement grows as the bells begin to chime and the rhythmic drums speed up while fire tenders light the flames.
The sensory experience of WaterFire grows as the heat and warm scents of burning embers reach you. Once the rings and rows of fire are ablaze, the show is in full swing with fire dancers and performers floating along, tossing glow sticks to the crowd.
Dedicate an evening of your Rhode Island holiday to witnessing the mysterious ambiance and beauty of the flames dancing along the river during WaterFire.
Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul
The Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul is a tranquil haven from Providence’s busy downtown. Music fans can bask in glorious organ music during Sunday mass, while architecture enthusiasts admire the Gothic, stately architecture of the cathedral.
Entering the Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul, you’ll immediately notice the colors cast from the various stained glass windows. Your eyes will be drawn to the massive and particularly striking circular depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion above the altar. Stepping further in, appreciate the 1873 Romanesque design, complete with grand columns and high archways lining the church’s interior.
Lovers of organ music will enjoy the Catherdral Organ, the largest organ in North America with 6,616 pipes. Its sonorous melodies float around you as you meditate, worship, or simply enjoy the atmosphere of the beautiful Cathedral.
Providence Children’s Museum
Traveling to Providence with little ones? A stop by the Providence Children’s Museum may just be the highlight of their trip as they learn through a variety of interactive exhibits. You’ll have a blast playing alongside your children and watching them exercise their creativity and problem-solving skills.
In the Water Ways area of the Providence Children’s Museum, your youngster will suit up in a smock before splashing and investigating water in all its forms, from ice to mist, vortex swirls, and dams. In Play Power, connect tubes and direct airflow to send scarves and balls flying through the air. Design a masterpiece on the light wall, and compose a melody on the music pipes.
Most of the activities in the Providence Children’s Museum are geared toward kids ages five to eleven. But in Little Woods, the youngest visitors will have a chance to explore a world of caves, ladders, slides, and more in a nature-themed room.
The John Brown House Museum
At The John Brown House Museum, dive deep into Colonial and Revolutionary history and daily life during the 18th century. The beautifully maintained property hosts a variety of exhibits and artifacts. Centrally located off Benefit Street, this mansion is a historical gem.
Walking up the driveway towards the impressive building, you’ll notice classic Georgian architecture with a red brick exterior and sprawling terrace. Admire John Brown’s carriage, fully restored to its former glory.
Inside The John Brown House Museum, the dining room table is set for dinner with delicate china and silver candleholders, and the bedroom’s magnificent four-poster bed is made with luxurious patterned blankets.
Follow a docent for an in-depth tour of The John Brown House Museum. Learn about the Brown family’s relationship to Brown University, John Brown’s role in the Revolution, and the family’s involvement in the Atlantic slave trade, a detail of the period that can’t afford to be overlooked.
India Point Park
Looking for a nature fix? Visit India Point Park on the Seekonk River for trails, a playground, and popular events in a forested yet nautical atmosphere. From the diversity of activities at this park to the dazzling views to the south, a day at India Point Park is a great option for a laid-back day.
Amble down shady paths, read historical trail markers, and rest on one of the benches to watch boats pass by. On the west side of the park, rent kayaks or canoes at the Community Boating Center or sign up for sailing lessons. Get a taste of Rhode Island at one of the cultural events like The Seafood Festival.
To the east of the park sits a true New England classic, Narragansett Beer. Sip on a crisp lager, or try a bold flavor like the Dragonfruit Sour, kick back, and relax in the outdoor beer garden.
Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy
Discover 88 acres of wooded wonderland at Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy. You’ll feel a world away from the busy streets of downtown, despite being a ten-minute drive from the city center. Galavant through hickory and oak forests and meadows of colorful wildflowers and discover seasonal activities for all on one of the most popular day trips from Providence, RI.
Tackle the mile-and-a-half-long Pinnacle Trail, looping your way around the grounds. Pass by ancient rock walls and by babbling brooks. Listen to the birdsong around you, and if you’re very still, you may just meet a wild deer or rabbit. Take the Shortcut Trail, accurately named for its fast access to the top of the hill, and look out at the city skyline beyond the foliage.
If you’re visiting during a chilly Rhode Island winter, take your family sledding down the side of the hill or snowshoeing through the trails. In the warmer months, visit the swimming pool or water park to cool down.
Providence River Boat Company
After exploring Providence on foot, get a new perspective of the city with the Providence River Boat Company. Climb aboard an open-air boat and cruise along the Providence River as the captain divulges tales of past and present history and local legends.
Voyage through Waterplace Park and Providence Harbor as your captain points out important buildings and locations on the Narrated Daily Tour. Looking for something a bit spookier? Take the Haunted Boat Rides tour to meet some of the local haunts and ghouls along the waterway.
Possibly one of the most exciting boat tours is the WaterFire tour. You’ll be right in the action of the WaterFire show, floating alongside the blazing bonfires and performers.
On the Wine Cruise, sample local Gooseneck Vineyard wines paired with light fare and engage in conversation about the beautiful views and fascinating culture of Providence, RI.
The Arcade lives in the heart of downtown Providence, RI, situated on Weybosset Street. Dating back to 1828, it’s the oldest shopping mall in the nation. The top floors are reserved for residents of the apartments, while the lower tiers offer boutiques, salons, quirky gift shops, and artisanal eateries.
The glorious Greek Revival architecture—with imposing columns and white granite walls—is meticulously maintained. Step inside The Arcade and peer into the quaint storefronts. The halls glow with natural soft light as the sun streams through windowed ceilings.
Bookworms will love Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council, a unique bookstore dedicated to sci-fi, fiction, fantasy, and horror novels. Fashionistas can browse vintage t-shirts and exclusive streetwear at The Cured Collection.
Stop by in the daytime for a locally roasted brew from New Harvest Coffee and Spirits or sample whisky at night. For Middle Eastern food handmade with fresh ingredients, stop by family-owned Livi’s Pockets.
The Stephen Hopkins House
Get a glimpse into the early 18th century at The Stephen Hopkins House. This marvelously well-preserved 1707 home is the oldest home in all of Rhode Island, just between Benefit Street and The Riverwalk. The Stephen Hopkins House offers a peek into daily life in the 1700s.
Step inside Stephen Hopkins’ home, ten times Rhode Island governor and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Let a tour guide lead you through the house as you peruse his family’s genuine possessions like paintings, cabinets, beds, and desks with letters and pens scattered on top. Take a look around the slave chambers and remember the sobering reality of the slave trade during this time.
Walk the paths of the parterre outdoor garden and take in the beautiful scenery of lush flower beds and greenery. If you’re feeling hungry, Parkside Rotisserie & Bar just down Hopkins Street serves up spectacular seafood and out-of-this-world craft cocktails.
Providence Place Mall
Whether you’re a shopaholic or looking for a rainy day activity, you’re bound to love the Providence Place Mall. You’ll find 150 retailers from designer boutiques to mid-range and affordable shops, restaurants, and more. Every type of shopper will find something to love at the Providence Place Mall.
As Rhode Island’s biggest mall, you’ll surely discover just what you’re looking for. Browse the latest fashion at stores like Free People, Lucky Brand, Aldo, and Banana Republic or department stores like Macy’s.
In the market for soaps or lotions? Lush or Bath and Body Works have got you covered. Shop a variety of other brands like Apple or Newbury Comics and specialty shops like Spectrum-India.
When you’ve shopped up an appetite, grab dinner at The Cheesecake Factory or Dave & Buster’s for arcade games and American cuisine. As your excursion comes to a close, enjoy a 4D or IMAX theater experience at Showcase Cinemas.
Rhode Island State House
Set aside time for a stop at the Rhode Island State House. Architecture buffs will marvel at the State House’s Neoclassical appearance that fuses together elements of Victorian and Italian Renaissance styles. Meanwhile, history fanatics will revel in the exhibits of Rhode Island’s rich history.
Before you arrive at the Rhode Island State House, you’ll see the white dome shining atop the building, one of the largest in the world of its kind. The opulent white Georgian marble walls of the State House are striking against the blue sky and grassy knoll.
Inside, the grand staircases sweep toward the east and west wings, but your eyes will quickly be drawn to the magnificent mural under the dome.
Swing by the Charter Museum to see the USS Rhode Island Bell and the 1663 Royal Charter, the document that allowed Rhode Island settlers to self-govern in the new world.