Best Things To Do in Providence
Providence's top to-dos fit right in with its collegiate culture. When you're not admiring the more than 91,000 works on display at the RISD Museum, marvel at the historic Colonial houses stationed along Benefit Street. Or, for an even more impressive architectural display, simply glance up at the dome of the State House, the fourth-largest self-supporting marble dome in the world. Traveling with kids? Rhode Island's capital has you covered there, too, thanks to the Roger Williams Park Zoo.
Updated September 15, 2016
- #1View all Photos#1 in Providence0.2 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.2 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
This hidden gem's five buildings are clustered on the south side of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) campus. Inside, more than 91,000 works of art are on display, including pieces by Monet, Degas and other impressionists, along with sizeable Medieval and Gothic collections.
Recent visitors were most impressed with the range of the museum's collection and the various mediums represented. Reviewers also praised its size, saying it was manageable and easy to explore within a few hours (though culture hounds will likely want to spend half a day, say travelers). Though most found the admission price to be reasonable, they also suggested scheduling your museum visit for Sunday when entrance fees are waived.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Providence3 miles to city centerZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND3 miles to city centerZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Located about 4 miles south of downtown Providence, Roger Williams Park Zoo is only 40 acres – not the largest zoo by far. But it still houses more than 100 species of animals including giraffes, moon bears and some adorable snow leopards. And you wouldn't know it by the freshly updated – and still updating – enclosures, but Roger Williams is one of the oldest zoos in the country, opening its gates to the public in 1872.
Recent visitors didn't seem to mind the zoo's small size; in fact, many felt it was easier to navigate than larger zoos, especially with young kids. Reviewers also appreciated that the facility's admission costs were reasonable (when compared to other zoos around the country). If you need a break from the zoo, you can always venture out into Roger Williams Park, which spans 435 acres and offers a plethora of other kid-friendly attractions, including a carousel and a playground.
- #3View all PhotosfreeFederal Hill#3 in Providence0.9 miles to city centerFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.9 miles to city centerFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
In the late 19th century, Federal Hill was the home of Rhode Island's Italian immigrant community, which is why the area is often referred to as Providence's Little Italy. Today, you'll still find an abundance of Italian restaurants and specialty food shops within the neighborhood, which sits a few blocks west of downtown Providence.
Though you can explore the area on your own, several recent visitors recommended tagging along on a walking tour. Because this neighborhood is defined in part by its food, many tours, such as those offered by Federal Hill Tours and Savoring Rhode Island, have a culinary focus. Tours offered by Experience Rhode Island also come recommended by reviewers.
- #4View all PhotosfreeState House#4 in Providence0.4 miles to city centerSightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.4 miles to city centerSightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The State House is the active seat of Rhode Island's government, but there's more than political bickering going on in these halls. The impressive building was designed by architectural firm McKim, Mead and White, the mastermind behind many of the Newport mansions. The State House dome is the world's fourth largest self-supported dome (the largest being St. Peter's Basilica in Rome). A painting by Rhode Island artist James Allen King (called "The Four Freedoms") is visible on the inside of the dome. Not much of an architecture buff? The building is full of American history, too. A gun from the battle of Gettysburg, a replica of Philadelphia's Liberty Bell and Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington can all be found here.
Recent visitors called this a Providence landmark, and a must-see while in Rhode Island. Though some reviewers enjoyed simply walking through the building on their own, others suggested signing up for a free guided tour. Guided tours, which last about 50 minutes, are offered on the hour beginning at 9 a.m. and ending at 2 p.m.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Providence0.4 miles to city centerEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.4 miles to city centerEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The Providence Perfuming Arts Center is a popular venue that not only earns praise for its events but also for its history. Originally the Loew's Movie Palace, it opened in 1928 and was later dubbed the "Jewel of Weybosset Street." True to movie houses of that era, it was designed by George and C.W. Rapp of Chicago, renowned theater architects who used elements like intricate plasterwork, columns of imported marble and impressive crystal chandeliers to create a palatial interior. Though it's been through several phases of modernization, its interiors are just as breathtaking as they were in 1928, according to recent visitors.
Travelers say the best way to experience this historic venue is by attending one of PPAC's shows, concerts or events. You'll also want to explore the surrounding neighborhood; according to reviewers it's home to several top-notch eateries.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Providence0.4 miles to city centerEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.4 miles to city centerEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Trinity Repertory Company (or Trinity Rep for short) is Providence's premier acting troupe. The resident company puts on an average of six productions a year – varying from contemporary pieces to classic theater with an edgy new spin. The Trinity Rep's annual "A Christmas Carol" production is one of Providence's most popular holiday traditions.
Recent audience members said the performances are always top-notch and highly recommended attending a show if there's one playing during your visit. Reviewers also suggested grabbing dinner and drinks before or after the show since the theater that the company performs in is surrounded by fun restaurants and bars.
- #7View all PhotosfreeBenefit Street#7 in Providence0.3 miles to city centerSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.3 miles to city centerSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
A lot of history is crammed into this mile-long cobblestone street on the east side of Providence. In fact, Benefit Street has one of the highest concentrations of Colonial buildings in the country; notable houses include the Nightingale-Brown House, once home to one of the founders of Brown University.
Past travelers said a stroll along Benefit Street felt like stepping back in time thanks to the well-preserved architecture. You can explore on your own, but you may want to consider signing up for a walking tour offered by the Rhode Island Historical Society (a recommendation from recent visitors). Reviewers also noted that some of the sidewalks can be uneven, meaning you should wear sturdy shoes.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Providence2.9 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2.9 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Everyone from culinary geniuses to PB&J novices can find something to suit their taste buds in this museum. Situated on the Johnson & Wales University campus occupying 25,000 square feet of space, the Culinary Arts Museum serves as a window into the gastronomic past. Exhibits cover a wide variety of culinary topics, showcasing everything from vintage cookbooks and ancient prep tools to curious kitchen gadgetry and even an homage to the chefs who served U.S. presidents.
Past visitors said the museum, though niche, was interesting and a great way to spend a few hours. Though some reviewers griped about the museum's location (about 3 miles south of downtown Providence), others enjoyed that the facility sits on the Johnson & Wales University campus.
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