Providence, Rhode Island has so much more to claim for their fame beyond just their capital city designation. With nicknames that include The Renaissance City and the Creative Capital, this vibrant Ocean State city has developed its own brand of artistic industry and historical preservation that is well-reflected in both the cultural offerings and historical landmarks of this hip East Coast town; in short, there are many awesome things to do in Providence RI!
For the ultimate guide in tourist attractions Providence Rhode Island is most known for, check out this list of the best things to do in Providence RI!
Oh, and don’t forget to check out our weekend in Providence post if you’d like a 2 day itinerary of PVD fun.
When is the Best Time to Visit Providence RI?
Winter in Rhode Island has plenty to offer, but if you’d like a Providence RI vacation that positions you in the best possible way to see all the top Providence sights, you should probably shoot for spring through fall for your PVD getaway. Fall in Rhode Island is especially delightful!
PS if you’re looking for things to do in Providence RI this weekend or wondering what to do in Providence today, scope out this local events calendar for things happening in Providence while you’re visiting.
Explore Roger Williams Park
This sprawling, well-protected outdoor space has 435 acres of gorgeous scenery, activities, and attractions. You can take in the fantastic view by walking one of the many trails or by floating around the lakes and connected waterways on a jumbo swan paddleboat.
Then there’s the Botanical Center —New England’s largest public indoor display gardens—with indoor and outdoor gardens that include five greenhouses, a rose maze, and 150+ different types and varieties of plants.
Next, you can head on over to the Roger Williams Park Zoo, where over 160 animal species are waiting to say hello! An accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and American Humane Certified, this zoo takes good care of all of their animal friends.
The Carousel Village near the zoo is one of the top Providence things to do with kids, so be sure to swing by and take a ride if you’ve got kiddos in tow!
After you’ve had your fill oohing and ahhing over the flamingoes and the sloths, you can head over to the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium and explore the many exhibits and events available to the public. As you can see, Roger Williams Park offers plenty to do and see on your visit to Providence.
See a Show in Downtown PVD
Known locally as the “Jewel of Weybosset Street,” Providence Performing Arts Center is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and this gorgeous theater is a must-see in PVD. Of course, that’s not the only place to see a show in Providence Rhode Island, so be sure to check out the Providence Theater guide to see what’s onstage during your trip to Providence!
Take a Providence River Boat Company’s Vineyard Voyage
There is plenty to see in Providence, and what better way to see it than to enjoy a floating wine tasting from the downtown Providence waterways? Providence River Boat Company has partnered with Rhode Island-based Gooseneck Vineyards to offer a fun and informative 75-minute open-air voyage that showcases a selection of wines served with light refreshments.
The Captain of the boat will guide you through historical points of interest and a representative from Gooseneck Vineyards will be on hand to discuss the wines you are tasting. Non-wine drinkers, great news! Providence River Boat Company has no problem allowing you to BYOB on their Vineyard Voyages; add this to the list of fun things to do in Providence for adults!
Visit a PVD Brewery
There are some fantastic breweries in Providence, so if you’re a fan of New England craft beer, there are some great options for you in Rhode Island’s capital city! You have plenty of Providence breweries to choose from, but if you’re looking for a PVD brewery with great food, consider Trinity Brewhouse, one of the first brewpubs in New England. Their Scallop Po’ Boy is a popular menu item, and honestly, just typing that makes me want to try one!
Visit the Site of an Edgar Allen Poe romance
The Providence Athenaeum is not just a local treasure, but a revered spot for all literary lovers lucky enough to have made their way through its doors! This independent library is almost 200 years old and houses some incredible collections and rare editions from literary greats such as Louisa May Alcott, Walt Whitman, and Herman Melville, in addition to a robust selection of contemporary works.
A historic gathering place for writers and readers alike, Edgar Allen Poe had his engagement broken off by his fiancée within the walls of the Providence Athenaeum. With collections that include paintings, sculptures, maps, historical documents, and more, anyone even mildly interested in art, history, or books must add this beautifully maintained gem to their list of things to do while visiting Providence RI!
Take a Walk Down Thayer Street
This funky thoroughfare is a favorite Providence destination for both the college kids and the townies of Providence! With over 71 unique businesses that include everything from thrift shops to bookstores to ethnic cuisine, there is plenty to do on Thayer Street for Providence fun. There is a wide variety of food options that include Thai, Greek, Vegan, Middle Eastern, French, Indian, Korean, and more.
After you eat, take in a movie at the Avon Cinema, a Thayer Street favorite since 1938, or go get a henna tattoo at the metaphysical shop, Spectrum India. If you’re looking for things to do in Providence RI in September, you could check out the Thayer Street Arts Festival. A day spent wandering around on Thayer Street is a day well-spent!
Stop by the Stephen Hopkins House
Okay, this one is for the serious history buffs in PVD! Stephen Hopkins was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and governor of the colony of Rhode Island, and his home, built in 1707, has been expertly maintained over its lifetime and is well-appointed with historical furnishings, artifacts, and heirlooms. George Washington even visited this distinguished colonial home twice.
Check the website for details about tours, but if you love history, be sure to put the Stephen Hopkins House on the list of things to do while visiting Providence Rhode Island.
Enjoy Classical Music
The Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and Music School is a prestigious music school that attracts the best and brightest from all around the world, and you can hear them perform on Friday night open rehearsals. Incredible musicians and timeless music make this one of the best places to go in Providence RI for music lovers.
Take a Providence Walks Self-Guided Historic Walking Tour
The city of Providence is extremely walkable, which is why the Providence visitor’s bureau has created the Providence Walks series with multiple options for self-guided walking tours that offer local history and insight into Little Rhody’s capital city. These are some of the tours of Providece RI you can choose from: Downtown Historic Walking Tour, Early Black History Walking Tour, East Side Historic Walking Tour, Jewelry District Historic Walking Tour, and West Side Historic Walking Tour.
The best part about the Providence Walks series is that being self-guided, you choose the pace of the tour. Spend as much or as little time at each Providence tourist attraction as you’d like, you are the one calling the shots on this one! These are some of the best tours in Providence Rhode Island and are an excellent way to get to know a little bit more about PVD.
Check out America’s Oldest Indoor Mall
Did you know that The Arcade Providence, built in 1828, is a National Historic Landmark that has managed to reinvent itself to fit its city’s modern needs? This indoor mall still has retail and restaurant options open to the public (check out Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council and their “weird emporium” while you’re there!), but it also now has micro-lofts available for purchase on the upper floors! A part of the global micro-living trend that promotes and supports a more efficient, minimalist way of living, The Arcade Providence’s creation of micro-loft space demonstrates how this city earns its nickname “The Renaissance City” by creatively reinventing itself while still preserving its rich historical heritage.
Check out The Providence Flea
This isn’t your grandma’s flea market; Going to The Providence Flea is more like going to a street festival than going to a flea market. If you’re looking to really get the PVD vibe and check out some of the unique and inventive art and goods that their flourishing creative scene offers, The Providence Flea is the place to be. It’s open on Sunday afternoons outdoors in the summer and fall, but be sure to check ahead to see winter and spring dates and locations.
Stroll the grounds of Brown University
Founded in 1764 and situated in the historic College Hill neighborhood, the campus of Brown University is a cool Providence sight to see! One of the most prestigious research universities in the country, Brown has a lot to geek out about, and there are plenty of things to do near Brown University, too.
If you happen to be in to plant life, for example, not only is the campus beautifully landscaped, but Brown University is also home to the Brown University Herbarium, which houses around 100,000 plant specimens, dating back to the early 19th century. If you’re going to geek out about old plant specimens, Brown University is the place to do it!
If you’re looking for more than just plant specimens, there’s The Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Brown’s teaching and research museum. Whether you check out the herbarium, museum, or just the gorgeous grounds of this Ivy League campus, a tour of Brown University is one of the top things to do in Providence for anyone who appreciates historic architecture and academic prowess!
Discover Federal Hill
As you enter the historic neighborhood of Federal Hill, you will be greeted with a large bronze pine cone attached to a giant archway that guards Providence’s “Little Italy.” This gorgeous neighborhood is known for both its phenomenal selection of authentic, old-world style Italian eats and its bright and welcoming energy; a visit here is definitely a must do Providence RI activity!
The neighborhood often hosts live entertainment in Depasquale Square near its gorgeous fountain, and it isn’t uncommon to see the plaza filled with people simply relaxing back and enjoying the space. There are so many remarkable Providence restaurants to choose from in this historic neighborhood, but there are plenty of other things to do here as well! Shopping, art galleries, and more can be found in Providence’s “Little Italy.”
Visit the RISD Museum
Pronounced “Riz-Dee,” RISD is short for Rhode Island School of Design, and the RISD Museum is a fantastic Providence thing to do even if you’re not on one of the RISD college tours. With over 100,000 works of art and design in their collection, RISD has got to be a part of your visit to Providence. RISD even offers free admission days, so be sure to check the website and plan accordingly so you can see for yourself what puts RISD at the top of so many lists of best things to do in Providence RI!
PS if you’re looking for things to do at night in Providence, the 3rd Thursday of the month is Gallery Night at multiple art galleries around town where visitors can enjoy free tours!
Take a Venetian-Style Gondola Ride
La Gondola brings a little bit of Venice to you for the ultimate Renaissance City experience! Personalize your journey by choosing between packages that include a singing gondolier, a musician to play your choice of mandolin, guitar, or violin, and yummy treat packages that include handmade Italian wine biscuits and chocolate truffles.
Some packages are seasonal, like the Viaggio di Fantasme, or the “Trip of Ghosts,” that fills you in on all of the haunted local lore; definitely one of the fun things to do in Providence in October. There is even a Waterfire package that allows you to enjoy the fiery art installations from up close. La Gondola will provide glassware and a corkscrew, but it’s BYOB so bring your favorite bottle to enjoy on your Providence Gondola cruise.
Eat your Way around Town
If you’re looking for what to eat in Providence RI, there are many, many options! Providence has a bit of a reputation as a New England foodie paradise, so be sure to check out this guide to the best places to eat in Providence to learn the lay of the land and where the best restaurants in PVD are!
When looking for things to do in Providence Rhode Island, there will always be one major attraction that will top them all: Waterfire. As unique, artsy, and inventive as the town itself, Waterfire is an annual art installation event that includes scores of braziers that are lit at dusk along the three rivers downtown on select weekends throughout the year. Ethereal music accompanies the fire installations and performers, vendors, and musicians line the streets to add to the revelry of the experience.
Waterfire has been happening since 1994 and is now a regional favorite. Waterfire has even been referred to as the “crown jewel of the Providence renaissance,” which is an incredible compliment for Waterfire’s creator Barnaby Evans. When you’re planning your Providence trip, try to plan it for one of the Waterfire weekends. Rest assured, you will not be disappointed!
Read these next:
- 50 Things To Do In Rhode Island: Your RI Travel Guide
- 10 of the Best Hikes in Rhode Island
- 10+ Best Day Trips from Boston
- 10 Incredibly Romantic Getaways in Rhode Island
- 12 Free Things to do in Providence RI
- Where to Go for Breakfast in Providence RI
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Amy is the founder of New England with love. A proud Vermonter, she hopes to share her love of New England and help you find the best adventures in the region. Amy is also blogger/founder at Two Drifters, where she writes alongside her husband about romantic and couples travel, relationships, honeymoons, and more. When not working on websites, Amy is probably reading, cuddling with her husband, son, and cats, & drinking a maple latte.