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While Rhode Island may be the tiniest state in the country, it’s capital city of Providence still offers plenty to do for curious travelers. This is a great city to visit if you love arts and culture, spending time in outdoor parks, and finding family-friendly activities that don’t break your budget. Foodies love exploring the culinary scene in Providence, and this is a great place to catch a live performance too. So, on your next road trip through the Northeast, plan to stop in Providence for a day or two to check out these eight things.
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The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is a world-renowned institution and you can experience a bit of it when you visit the RISD Museum. Here you’ll over 100,000 artistic works on display from Impressionists, from Medieval times, and representing a wide variety of mediums. The museum was established in 1877 and aims to educate and inspire artists and the general public still today. This isn’t an overly large museum, so you can easily check it out in a couple hours. The museum is open on Tuesdays through Sundays from 10am to 5pm and with extended hours until 9pm on the third Thursday of each month. The regular adult admission price is $15, but you can visit the museum for free on Sundays and on Thursday evenings from 5pm to 9pm.
During the summer months, downtown Providence becomes especially festive and fun. A centerpiece of this energy is an art installation called WaterFire, which Barnaby Evans created in 1994. The installation involves dozens of bonfires set ablaze on the river, illuminating the riverwalk and bringing the whole area to life. WaterFire stretches from Waterplace Park to South Pain Street Park, and there’s just something magical about taking a stroll over the bridge and looking down at the flaming water.
This is a 435-acre city park in Providence that was created way back in 1870. It’s locally known as the People’s Park and popular with running groups, picnics, and for weddings. During your time in the park, also consider making a stop at the Roger Williams Park Zoo, which is small compared to some other big-city zoos but a great stop if you have kids. At the park, you’ll also find tennis courts, sport fields, historic buildings, the Botanical Center, the Bandstand, and the Museum of Natural History. Events, such as fairy garden days and docent-led guided tours of the botanical gardens, take place here regularly.
The city of Providence is a wonderful place to see a show, especially at the Providence Performing Arts Center. This building was originally a movie theater in 1928 and was designed with marble, plasterwork, columns, crystal, and other materials to give it a palatial look. Today the 3,100-seat venue hosts music concerts, ballet performances, comedy shows, and other events. It’s fun to explore the neighborhood around the theater as well to grab a bite to eat at restaurants such as Backstage Kitchen & Bar, Blake’s Tavern, Circe Restaurant & Bar, and Davenport’s.
Rhode Island’s seat of government is known as the State House, which was designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White that worked on many of the mansions in Newport as well. There’s a large dome here, lots of historical artifacts, and historical paintings too. This is an essential landmark stop when you visit Providence, and free guided tours are offered to help you take in every detail. Tours are offered on weekdays from 8:30am to 4:30pm and last about 50 minutes. Alternatively, you can do a self-guided tour and pick up a brochure at the visitor’s center to guide you.
Lots of great American cities have a riverwalk that serves as a center for festivals, events, and commerce. Providence has its own riverfront area as well, which is centered on Waterplace Park in the heart of downtown. This is a four-acre park that has an amphitheater, footbridges a summer concert series, gondola rides, and festivals. This is also where the WaterFire installation is located, with landscape riverwalks to enjoy a peaceful stroll in the daytime or evening. The riverwalk here is wheelchair accessible and a popular place to hang out on warm, sunny days. The park’s history dates back to 1994 and is locally known as the place to come for free events, public art, biking, jogging, and for always something interesting going on.
Another great place to catch a show in town is the Trinity Repertory Company. This is the premier acting troupe in Providence that puts on six or more productions each year. Here you can watch everything from classical theater to contemporary pieces and edgy works you won’t see anywhere else. There are lots of excellent restaurants and bars near the theater to grab a bite to eat or a drink before and after the show, including Malted Barley, Birch, and Biergarten. Check the venue’s website before your trip to see what’s playing while you’ll be in town. Parking is available in the Civic Center Garage next door and also by metered street parking nearby. The box office hours are Tuesdays through Sundays from noon to 8pm.
Like most U.S. cities, Providence is also home to some awesome breweries, so it’s fun to take some time to explore the local craft brewery scene. One hot spot is Trinity Brewhouse, which was established in 1995 as one of the very first brewpub restaurants in all of New England. It’s in downtown Providence and near the Trinity Repertory Theatre. You’ll normally find around nine or so beers on tap, as well as dinner specials like Trinity gumbo, bison Bolognese, and grilled duck salad. The brewery is open Mondays through Thursdays from 11:30 am to 1 am, Fridays from 11:30 am to 2 pm, Saturdays from noon to 2 am, and Sundays from noon to 1 am. Other breweries worth visiting in town include Foolproof Brewing, Long Live Beerworks, Union Station Brewing, Revival Brewing, and Tilted Barn Brewery.