While Providence lays honorable claim to being one of our country’s founding colonies and most important hubs of resistance in the Revolutionary War, it’s got a lot more going for it than history. Make a point to experience this town of mouthwatering dining, world-class education, unbeatable fun, and inspired art – you won’t be disappointed. To wit, here are 7 memorable things to do in Providence, Rhode Island:
1: Take in some history via a self-guided walking tour.
Remember when you learned about the Revolutionary War back in grade school? That’s probably when Providence, Rhode Island first entered your consciousness. Few of us, however, have a chance to see the incredibly important impact the city had during its nascent years. Take the opportunity when you’re in town; schedule a self-guided walking tour to see the sites that mark the city’s great contribution to our nation’s history.
There are several itineraries available online, but you’ll have to pick your pleasure: you can tour by neighborhood (like downtown, where you’ll see markers of the industrial age and the city’s slide into Art Deco glam) or by theme, like Early Black History, chronicling the painfully slow transition from slavery to freedom.
2: Get your adrenaline pumping at Providence Roller Derby.
Looking for something a little more active? Come cheer on Providence’s proud roller derby teams as they jockey for victory. Energetic, loud, and an all-around good time, these events bring together the best of the community – a good way to see how this town celebrates its own. Pick your favorite team or cheer on both. Tickets are usually around $15, though be sure to check the website for current pricing. Even better: Many events have after-parties in town. Is there any better way to make some new friends?
Oh, and if you want to be a bit more involved, they do let little ‘uns participate in juniors events. Reach out via the website above if you have a tike who wants to roll with the best of them.
3: Mingle with wildlife and zipline above it all at the Roger Williams Park Zoo.
No one ever thinks of going to the Providence zoo, and that’s really a shame. Why? Well, they have everything from giant anteaters to camels in residence, with exhibits that explore a world of habitats – like wetlands and savannahs – as well as more off-beat, themed ones tying in history (e.g. Marco Polo’s Adventure Trek) and evolution (e.g. World of Adaptations). For an extra zing, go for the “Explore & Soar” tour where you can zipline 115 feet above the animals and get a bird’s eye view of life in the contained wild.
For the extra young’uns, amble to Carousel Village where the Hasbro Boundless Playground tempts kids eager for activity and adventure. Get them soaring in the bouncy house, take a “train” ride on the Carousel Express, or simply grab lunch at one of the onsite food trucks. There really is something for all ages here.
4: Catch the best of local musical talent at AS220.
If you’re a sucker for indie, local music, look no further than AS220 downtown. This artistic haven hosts the edgy, the adventurous, the envelope-pushing, and the downright weird – all genuine Providence talent. It’s best to check the website to see what exhibits and performances are upcoming. That said, recent showcases included multimedia pieces illustrating our inability to “listen” to one another (so timely), open-to-the-public poetry slams, cocktail-paired film screenings, and youth open mic nights. Come share, listen, watch, and enjoy; there’s a lot to appreciate, whatever art you come for. Ticket prices vary, so be sure to check the website for a current schedule and ticket information.
5: Relish continental dining – in the Northeast – at Rosmarin.
At some point during your stay in Providence, you’ll get hungry. And sure, there are plenty of great restaurants you can sample (here’s a good guide), but if you want to “do it up,” make a reservation for a meal at Rosmarin.
This touted great in the heart of Providence does European fare right. Be sure to hit every course, though; we recommend the Seared Duck starter with fig-ginger jam, followed by the Pork Tenderloin (unbelievably juicy) with a mushroom cream sauce, capped by a caramel-drizzled Chocolate Crémeux for dessert. Feeling adventurous? Throw your appetite to the wind and order the 12-course tasting menu for $125. Tack on wine pairings to make it absolutely indulgent – just make sure you have a sober ride home.
6: Visit the home of H.P. Lovecraft, author of “The Necronomicon.”
For those who like a little fright in their literature, H.P. Lovecraft delivers. He authored many a story vaguely categorized as horror, though each one has an element of supernatural weirdness. Famously, he wrote the “Necronomicon” trilogy, among many other works that influenced greats like J.R.R. Tolkien and Stephen King.
As it so happens, Lovecraft was born and died in Providence. The home in which he died (at 65 Prospect Street) was also the one in which he wrote his autobiography and which inspired his story, “The Haunter of the Dark.” While you can see the house any time of year, you’ll be in for a special treat if you come in August; every year in late summer, the NecronomiCon Conference gathers Lovecrafterites to celebrate the author’s work and the ideas he brought to life.
7: Get toasty at the annual WaterFire event.
If you want the most quintessential Providence experience, then schedule your trip for WaterFire – the May-through-November event that features a fire sculpture on the three rivers flowing through downtown. The “exhibit” – most impressive at night, of course – runs almost a mile along public land and includes 100 or more individual bonfires. To add to the drama, black-clad performers put on shows along the water, illuminated by the light cast from the fire sculpture. The event is completely free and open to the public. Even if you don’t make it for one of the performances, though, you can relish the spectacle from your hotel room window – a river of fire weaving through Providence.
BONUS: Take a ghost tour.
Confession: If there’s a ghost tour anywhere on our travels, we can’t leave without experiencing it. Lucky for us, Providence had just what we were looking for – a spooky walk around Brown University (where, purportedly, ghosts regularly terrify sleeping students) and the surrounding neighborhood. Bring solid walking shoes, a camera, and a lot of courage – some of these stories are downright bone-chilling. Tickets are $18 for a 1-1/2 hour tour.
For more ideas on things to do in Providence, visit the city’s tourism website.