Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Providence County, RI

  • Published 2023/06/11

Nestled along northern Rhode Island on Narragansett Bay, Providence County welcomes you with the charms of small towns and dynamic urban areas.

Providence, the county’s state capital is also the largest and the most densely populated city.

The county area also includes the main cities of Central Falls, Cranston, East Providence, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket, along with 10 towns, several census-designated places, and villages.

Now thriving with diverse neighborhoods, vibrant art scenes, premier hotels, and famous restaurants, you’ll have much to experience on your visit here.

My trip to Providence County was full of wonderful discoveries from remarkable historic sites, fascinating cultural attractions, and stunning nature spots.

Embark on an exciting journey with me and let’s unwrap some of the best things to do in Providence County, Rhode Island.

Meet the Amazing Animals at Roger Williams Park Zoo

People walking around the Roger Williams Park Zoo

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I first checked out some of the local attractions in the capital city and dropped by Roger Williams Park Zoo.

It’s easily accessible on Elmwood Avenue and for sure, it’s one of the best places to bring your family.

My first stop was the Alex & Ani Farmyard where domestic farm animals like sheep, goats, chickens, and alpacas, along with a barn owl greeted the zoo visitors; the exhibit represented the various farm settings around Rhode Island.

I had a small glimpse of the safari at the Fabric of Africa exhibit and was delighted to watch the Masai giraffes munching on leaves and elephants enjoying a swim, along with other lovely animals like cheetahs, zebras, river hogs, and an Aldabra Tortoise.

Giraffe at Roger Williams Park Zoo

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The Faces of the Rainforest exhibit features some of Amazon’s amazing birds like the scarlet ibis, Chilean Flamingo, Blue-Throated Piping Guan, and other species like large anaconda snakes and giant otters.

Likewise, you’ll also find the Australia Snake-Neck Turtle and Babirusa at the World of Adaptations exhibit and learn about how different animals adapt to survive in the wild.

There are also other interesting areas at the zoo like Marco Polo’s Adventure Trek, where red pandas, huge takins, and snow leopards roam the area, the North America exhibit featuring the elusive red wolf, grazing bison, and the speeding pronghorn, and other creatures native to the region.

Elephant at the Roger Williams Park Zoo

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I enjoyed a relaxing stroll around the Feinstein Junior Scholar Wetlands Trail, the zoo’s quarter-mile walking path, and spotted some blue herons and wood ducks along the way.

If you’re bringing your family, the zoo has several fun activities you can enjoy together at Hasbro’s Our Big Backyard; you can also take an exhilarating Soaring Eagle zip ride, come aboard the Woodlands Explorer train, and feel nostalgic at the iconic Carousel Village.

After seeing all the animal exhibits, I headed out to Nourish 401 at the Upper Zoo and had some tasty salad and sandwich, then made my last stop at Discover the Wild Gift Shop and found some cute stuffed animals to remember my trip.

I had an awesome fun learning experience at Roger Williams Park Zoo.

Zebras at the Roger Williams Park Zoo

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Spend a Day at Roger Williams Park

Fountain at the Roger Williams Park

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Connected with the zoo area isRoger Williams Park along Pine Hill Avenue.

It’s one of the public parks in downtown Providence that offers sports activities and a bit of local history.

I tried one of the swan boats and enjoyed a leisurely ride across Carousel Village, paddling my way along the waterways; but you can also launch kayaks and canoes from the boat ramp near the Temple to Music.

If you plan to go on an off-road bike adventure, the park has a pump track and trail, too.

Scenic view of the Japanese Garden at the Roger Williams Park

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Softball and the Tim O’Neil Baseball Fields are also available for ball games, while the 10 Har-True tennis courts are only open from late April up to late November; if you have kids, they can enjoy some playtime at the Hasbro Boundless Playground.

I roamed around the trails and just immersed myself in the lovely park scenery with thousands of trees which are mostly over a hundred years old.

I also found an interesting book at one of the free libraries just outside Dalrymple Boathouse, browsed through the art pieces and architectural structures, and went to see the historic Williams Family Cemetery which included a monument in honor of Roger Williams.

Swan shaped boats at Roger Williams Park

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The Roger Williams Park Botanical Center at the center of the park is also a must-see, with lovely outdoor garden displays, a rose maze, and a wonderful pollinator meadow area that’s really relaxing.

But what made my visit really enjoyable was seeing the admirable Mounted Command grazing around Roger Williams Park.

Temple to Music at the Roger Williams Park

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Savor Sumptuous Meals at Los Andes

I was looking for something unique for lunch and found Los Andesat a littlecorner in Chalkstone Avenue.

This vibrant restaurant offers authentic Peruvian and Bolivian cuisine serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner from Wednesday to Sunday.

And yes, the name was taken from the majestic South American mountain range.

To start my meal, I had the Conchitas Parmesana for my Aperitivo; I love the taste of these baked Peruvian bay scallops cooked with parmesan cheese and chimichurri butter, then finished with a flavorful truffle-huancaina.

For my entree, I ordered a mouthwatering Pollo Napolitano, chicken breast coated with seasoned flour and pan seared with pork prosciutto and queso blanco layers, served on top of mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus on the side and drizzled with mushroom Andina sauce.

I also liked the Salmon Aymara flavored with Andean spices and Peruvian espresso and served with veggie chaufa rice, grilled asparagus, and topped with béarnaise sauce.

I paired my meal with a glass of Peruvian Pink Sangria, which gave out a strong mix of rosé wine, pisco, guava, and pineapple juice, topped with sparkling brut.

When I go back, I’ll definitely try the grilled 16-ounce Black Angus Ribeye called Churrasco al Gaucho, try one of the Chef’s Specials like the Causa con Camarones, or maybe other specialties like Churrasco Anticuchero, Ceviche, or Pescado A Lo Macho.

I left room for dessert and capped off my unforgettable Los Andes dining experience with a Tres Leche.

Tour the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium

Museum of Natural History and Planetarium 2

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If you’re looking for a fun learning experience with the family, I’m sure you’ll have a great time at theMuseum of Natural History and Planetarium.

Right on Elmwood Avenue in Roger Williams Park, this museum features eye-catching displays of natural history and culture.

I went to see this museum on a weekend and got to catch a show at the Planetarium, too; the museum is open daily while the planetarium is available on Saturdays and Sundays only.

The Circle of the Sea: Re-Visited and Re-Imagined gave us a picture of the ancient periods of Oceania, with objects and artifacts depicting the people’s daily lives, along with amazing birds and marine species in the region, and geologic formations that shaped the Pacific.

Specimen at Museum of Natural History and Planetarium

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The Flight of the Dinosaurs: Origin of Birds presented the origin of birds from the dinosaur era while the Natural Selections: Museum’s Victorian Past to the Present exhibit highlights several important collections from the time the museum opened in 1896 along with remarkable displays of Rhode Island’s legacy.

You’ll discover more of the Earth’s formation with displays at the Seismic Shifts: Earth through Time and learn about urban habitats in Providence presented by the Urban Wildlife: Nature at Your Doorstep exhibit; likewise, there’s also an exhibit featuring the International Space Station, the largest space station ever built.

After touring the museum, I head out to the Cormack Planetarium, which I learned was named after the former museum director, Maribelle Cormack who made efforts to build the public planetarium.

I sat back and relaxed to enjoy the 30-minute Planetarium Show, Cosmic Collision, which gave us a thrilling ride through space, cosmic collision events, and the interesting nonstop evolution of the universe.

There are other shows for general and family audiences you can catch such as The Great Space Adventure, Journey to the Stars, Our Place in Space, and Sky Views; they also have several informative Fulldome Planetarium Shows you can also watch.

The Museum of Natural History and Planetarium is definitely one of the excellent attractions I enjoyed.

Star projector at Museum of Natural History and Planetarium

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Admire the Artifacts at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum

Exterior view of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum

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Strolling downtown Providence, I came across theRhode Island School of Design Museum on North Main Street.

The museum collection houses more than a hundred thousand art and design pieces dating back from ancient periods to the present with over 2,000 of these collections displayed onsite.

They also hold regular exhibits and events by various artists throughout the year.

I spent a few hours appreciating different artifacts and artworks, starting with the18th and 19th-Century American Galleries that included the Charles Pendleton House which featured decorative art, sculptures, and paintings, along with rare China pieces and classic antique furnishings.

Interior view of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum

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I also browsed through an interesting set of objects used in Egyptian households and rituals at the Ancient Egyptian Galleries.

There were also plenty of beautiful classic pieces from marble portraits, ceramics, and wall paintings in the Ancient Greek and Roman Galleries.

The Asian Art Galleries included 4,000-year-old sculptures from China, Tibet, India, Thailand, and Japan; the mortuary works from China, the M. Ripley “Rip” Hudner Buddha Gallery, and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Japanese Print Gallery all presented remarkable works of art.

Display at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum

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Likewise, the 11 exhibit areas at the European Galleries displayed an array of impressive 11th to 20th-century art pieces from legendary artists like Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, and others, along with artistic tapestries, prints, textiles, and art in various media.

My visit to the Rhode Island School of Design Museum was truly a captivating art experience.

Visitors admiring the paintings at Rhode Island School of Design Museum

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Learn About Rich Culture at the Cape Verdean Museum

I headed out to the Pawtucket area and dropped byCape Verdean MuseumonProspect Street.

This museum gives insights and allows visitors to discover the unique history of Cape Verde and its people.

Browsing through the galleries, I learned about these Atlantic Ocean islands and their rich history from the arrival of the European colonizers and the period of the slave trade to the country’s present culture and political state.

The exhibits also show an array of historic 16th to 17th-century maps and documents, rare artifacts, artworks, and creative pieces that all tell Cape Verde’s past.

I moved to the other exhibits to know about the migrant workers who started their lives in the US, the ship passengers who settled at Fox Point and New Bedford areas, and outstanding Cape Verdean Americans at the Hall of Fame exhibit.

The “Culture in the Afternoon” event or what they call the Tardi Kultural was my highlight during my visit to Cape Verdean Museum, where I got to hear some traditional music and poetry and view interesting art.

Discover Local History at the Old State House

Entrance to the Old State House

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Since Providence is a political center, I thought there was no better way to know more about its importance than to visit the Old State House.

I made my stop at this architectural landmark on Benefit Street and marveled at its colonial-era style design; this historic building has played a significant role in Rhode Island’s political developments.

It was also a place where several important legislations were signed and approved such as the Gradual Emancipation Act in 1784, and among the state legislatures that abolished the death penalty in 1852.

Council chamber at the Old State House

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I got to tour around the took snapshots of this Georgian-style building and also learned that it’s also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

As I stepped inside, I was in awe of the grand designs and well-preserved details of the large hall and huge courtroom on the first floor and the hallways adorned with classic decor.

The Old State House is truly one of a kind.

Explore the Beauty of Nature at Lincoln Woods State Park

Scenic view of the Lincoln Woods State Park

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I wanted to go on a nature trip so I went on a short drive to one of Lincoln’s famous nature spots.

Lincoln Woods State Park on Manchester Print Works Road is said to be one of Blackstone Valley’s natural treasures.

The warm weather set me off for a dip at the fresh-water beach while other park visitors were busy fishing for trout and boating.

Closeup of a mushroom at the Lincoln Woods State Park

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The park also has areas for playing ball and separate trails for horseback riding and biking.

It’s also a great place to jog and hike or just enjoy quiet moments under the tall shady trees.

Lincoln Woods State Park simply offers a wonderful nature escape.

View of the Lincoln Woods State Park

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Enjoy Wine Tasting at Verde Vineyards

I went over to Johnston and wanted to try some wine samples at Verde Vineyards.

They’re located at Hopkins Avenue, known for their traditional methods of wine-making, freshly picked grapes, and oak-barrel wine techniques similar to southern Rhone Valley.

During our wine tasting, I enjoyed the Surveyor’s light velvety texture which turned to a medium-bold flavor that lingered in my mouth.

I also enjoyed sips of their award-winning St. Croix, a medium-bodied wine, and the Cayuga White bursting with flavors of citrus, melon, and peach.

I had to bring home a bottle and thought it was perfect to pair with a grilled fish or slice of cheddar.

We brought lunch, enjoyed the views of the vineyards, and just had a great wine-tasting time at Verde Vineyards.

Step Back in Time at the Old Slater Mill

Outside view of the Old Slater Mill

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While in Pawtucket, I took the opportunity to drop bySlater MillonRoosevelt Avenue.

During the late 1700s, Moses Brown, a Providence merchant thought of building a water-powered machine that could spin cotton fibers to produce thread.

He hired Englishman Samuel Slater who worked with local mechanics to build the machines and the rest was history; the cotton mill operated until 1895.

Meachinery at the Old Slater Mill

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I went to the Visitor Information Station with other tourists and started our guided tour with an eight-minute video of the park’s history.

The Ranger took us around the mill and shared about the Industrial Revolution and lots of interesting facts about the country’s first cotton-spinning mill.

They also have special evening events at Old Slater Mill every first Friday of the month from June to October where guests can enjoy special tours, movie nights, and live concerts.

Interior view of the Old Slater Mill

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Know Historical Facts at the Roger Williams National Memorial

Pathway at Roger Williams National Memorial

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Right at the end of College Hill in Providence stands the Roger Williams National Memorial.

The 4.5-acre downtown greenspace was built to celebrate the life of Williams and his noteworthy contributions to freedom.

It was on this site that he championed the principle that religion should be a matter of personal choice and conscience.

Signage at the entrance of the Roger Williams National Memorial

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I dropped by the Visitor Center and watched a detailed short film about his life and work; there was also an exhibit area dedicated to the statesman, a cabin model representing the era, and some original copies of his writings on display.

You’ll also see some information panels and a statue of Williams on display.

I picked up some schedules for concerts and plays for the season to see if I could also check out the events while I’m in Providence.

And of course, I grabbed some souvenirs at the Roger Williams National Memorial Gift and Bookstore for some mementos.

Pretty pink flower at the Roger Williams National Memorial

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Embark on Nature Trip at the Wolf Hill Forest Preserve

One of the scenic areas I got to visit around the county was Wolf Hill Forest Preservelocated right in the middle of the town of Smithfield.

This preserve spanning more than 300 acres offers gentle rolling trails you can hike; if you’re an expert hiker, the south part of Mary Mowry Trail offers a more challenging route.

I joined a hike on the 6-mile trail and enjoyed the beautiful scenery from what used to be old farm roads now filled with oak and maple trees, pines, and hemlock; huckleberry and blueberry bushes are also plenty, along with vernal pools in different areas of the trails.

We came across the memorial built in honor of the three airmen who died in a plane crash at the site in 1943 and saw some deer, hawks, and songbirds along the way, too.

The end of the trail along Mercer Outlook greeted us with a view of the stunning skyline.

You can also take the trails on a bike or bring your dogs with you as long as you clean up after.

Aside from the trail, visitors can also fish at the docks located at the Conservation Center and have a picnic at the tables placed around the trailhead.

Enjoy Water Activities at Sabin Point Park

Vibrant sunset at the Sabin Point Park

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Right in the East Providence area,Sabin Point Park is a 7-acre urban park that offers visitors a sweeping view of the Providence River.

I took some time to relax at the sanded beach area, which is great for family picnics and sightseeing by the way.

From where I was standing, I could see other guests fishing at the pier as the area is well-known for abundant saltwater fish like Bluefish and Stripped Bass.

If you want to just spend an afternoon and unwind, there are plenty of benches to hang around, or you can bring kids to enjoy at the playground.

The park is also dog-friendly with poop bags provided around the area so you can pick up after your dog and enjoy walking them around the park.

Also, from Sabin Point Park, you can go on a boat ride and paddle up north to visit Ponham Rock’s charming lighthouse or go south and head to Bullocks Cove.

Have a Memorable Evening at the WaterFire Event

Fire pit at the WaterFire Event

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I was just in time to catch aWaterFire event during my visit to Providence.

With definite schedules throughout the year, these events aim to give visitors a uniquely unforgettable urban experience.

The event features Barnaby Evans’ award-winning sculptures installed along the three rivers of the capital city, with the First Fire created in 1994 celebrating the 10th First Night Providence.

View of the WaterFire Event

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I walked along Waterplace Park and was so delighted with my Renaissance experience, seeing over 80 sparkling bonfires and firelights at the arched bridges, smelling the fragrant wood smoke, and of course, the enchanting music setting the mood.

We booked a candlelit dinner reception with our food served by Cafe Nuovo, one of the famous restaurants by the riverside, and just enjoyed the view of firelights, and the city’s skyline.

I also took time to Light a Luminaria Lantern and dedicated a paper lantern to share my experience of WaterFire.

Shops set up during the WaterFire Event

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View Interesting Exhibits at the Museum of Work and Culture

TheMuseum of Work and Culture on Woonsocket’s South Main Street is another interesting attraction I had a chance to visit.

This museum is housed in a restored mill along Market Square Woonsocket and is open from Tuesday to Saturday.

I found out that this museum highlights the stories of immigrants who came to find greener pastures along Blackstone River’s mill towns.

Going around the nine immersive exhibits, I followed their journey and learned about their lives from the Quebecois farmhouse making their way to have a living in Woonsocket.

Mishpakha: Jewish History of Woonsocket gave me a glimpse of the Jewish culture, and history, and trying out some Jewish arts and crafts, interactive prompts, and browsing children’s books.

I went in to see a 1930s Triple Decker house that made me feel like I stepped back in time, took a seat at the parlor, and listened to that day’s radio program.

Then, I learned how the textile city evolved over the years with an interactive touchscreen table.

Lastly, I discovered the story behind the Merci Boxcar of Rhode Island, then shopped for some unique local items at the museum shop.

Displays at the Museum of Work and Culture caught my interest in history.

Final Thoughts

Providence County teems with plenty of historic places to visit and amusing attractions to enjoy.

The county’s nature parks and preserves are perfect for adventurers and nature enthusiasts as well.

Whether you’re in for a more laidback small-town experience or love the busy urban streets, this location has lots in store for you.

As much as I enjoyed the best things to do in Rhode Island’s Providence County, I’m pretty sure you’ll do, too.

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