Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Pawtucket, RI

  • Published 2023/01/29

Pawtucket is one of the famous art-friendly cities not only in Rhode Island but also throughout the whole country.

Its vast variety of art galleries, museums, and festivals is outstanding.

When it comes to nature exploration, this city also has many attractions to offer to outdoor enthusiasts.

But historically, Pawtucket is more than its thriving arts scene, and it’s showcased in the city’s most notable attraction: the Old Slater Mill.

Founded in 1671, Pawtucket within Providence County became the earliest textile manufacturing city.

More particularly, the place saw success in various industries, including textile, jewelry, and silverware.

Several years later, this city has grown into a travel destination that’s serene, historic, and budget-friendly.

To prove this, here are 15 free things to do in Pawtucket, Rhode Island:

Discover More about the City’s Industrial Revolution at Slater Mill

Exterior of Slater Mill

scott conner /

To learn about Pawtucket’s history, head to Slater Mill on Roosevelt Avenue.

This historical site, built in 1793, is one of the first recognized American water-powered textile mills.

Merchant Moses Brown, with the help of English immigrant Samuel Slater, started what history has known as the beginning of America’s Industrial Revolution.

Though it stopped being a working cotton spinning mill in 1895, the restored mill still holds the charm and allure of its 1835 version.

Interior of Slater Mill

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This is because of the continuous efforts of the Old Slater Mill Association since 1921.

Now, you have plenty of opportunities to discover how life was in the late 18th century through guided and interpretive tours of Slater Mill.

Equipment displayed in Slater Mill

Nichola Shklanko /

Watch an Orchestra Concert at Pawtucket Arts Fest

One of Pawtucket’s most popular festivals is the annual Pawtucket Arts Fest.

This month-long celebration takes place throughout September.

It comprises several separate arts events happening all over the public spaces in the city and Blackstone River Valley, although the venue for most programs is Slater Memorial Park.

The focus of these programs is diverse art expressions, including music, dance, theater, film, and more.

Some classic event favorites include Slater Park Fall Festival and Songwriters Fest.

Check out art presentations and displays, learn new art-centered hobbies, and play with the whole family during the event.

Pawtucket Arts Fest welcomes everyone of all ages!

Learn about Pawtucket History at Blackstone Valley Visitor Center

Pawtucket is a city of many firsts, and Blackstone Valley Visitor Center is one of them.

This heritage center was the first one of its kind to open to the public during the height of the Industrial Revolution.

It aims to shed light on the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, especially the Valley’s mill history.

It serves as both an information center and an exhibition space.

For a more immersive tour of the past, watch a 20-minute film at the center’s theater.

Blackstone Valley Visitor Center is on Main Street.

Admire the “Liberty Arming the Patriot” Monument at Wilkinson Park

Daytime view of Liberty Arming the Patriot monument

Kenneth C. Zirkel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wilkinson Park is both a recreation site and a memorial tribute.

This park showcases the “Liberty Arming the Patriot” Monument—or Civil War Memorial to some—which serves as the site’s centerpiece.

The statue depicts a mill worker and Lady Liberty brandishing a sword.

Surrounding this monumental art piece is a large expanse of grass that extends to almost one acre.

If you prefer an idle way to spend your vacation, stop by this park and check out the details of the statue, as well as the engravings carved at its base.

You can find this park at the intersection of Park Place and Main Street.

Wilkinson Park is also within walking distance of Slater Mill, so it’s easier for you to continue your educational journey to the past.

Ride Your Bike along the Trails at Slater Memorial Park

Along Newport Avenue, Slater Memorial Park is one of Pawtucket’s famous public parks.

Spanning 200 acres, this park has a ton of recreational amenities.

Among its astounding facilities is a Looff Carousel, a popular attraction for kids since 1895.

While general admission to the park is free, you may have to pay a couple of cents for a ride at this historic—and oldest in the world—carousel.

There are also multiple sports courts, fields, and picnic areas for your absolute fun and enjoyment.

You can also traverse the three-mile hiking trails.

Be on the lookout for art sculptures while at Slater Memorial Park, too!

Browse the Art Collections at Pawtucket Arts Collaborative

Have time to satisfy your art cravings while at Pawtucket?

Then add Pawtucket Arts Collaborative to your itinerary.

This non-profit organization features a range of exhibits open to the public.

Established in 2001, it welcomes artists from all over the city and showcases art in different forms and styles.

Take your time exploring the temporary exhibits on display.

At the back of Pawtucket Arts Collaborative is a sculpture garden you shouldn’t miss.

Head to Mineral Spring Avenue to embark on your art adventure at this unique Pawtucket gallery.

Discover Rolling Terrain while Passing the Ten Mile River Preservation Trail

The Ten Mile River Preservation Trail is a nature preserve and greenway.

Its three-mile route spans around the northeast section of Pawtucket and connects a collection of public spaces and recreational sites.

Surprisingly, this trail is only one of the few bike trails within the state that does not run across a former railroad.

Instead, it follows the slopes and leans of nature, offering a scenic course and a clear view of the banks of James Turner Reservoir.

Get your bike gear and helmet ready and head to Ten Mile River Preservation Trailhead on Daggett Avenue.

Sign Up for a Guided Tour around Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park

A building at Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park

EWY Media /

Labeled the Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park offers you more than a classic historical journey.

This site, which is home to Slater Mill, is large enough to cover parts of Worcester in Massachusetts to Providence in Rhode Island.

After the kick-start success of Slater Mill in the past, several mills have also sprung up within the area, which you can still see today.

The grounds of Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park

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Some free activities you can do at this park include biking around the trails, canoeing at the river canals, and going on walking tours of the historic sites.

You can find the entrance of Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park on Roosevelt Avenue.

Mill house at Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park

EWY Media /

Let Your Furry Companions Have Fun at Pawtucket Dog Park

Traveling with your furry companion?

Let them have fun at Pawtucket Dog Park.

Established in 2011, this off-leash dog park features fenced areas for your big and small friendly canines, adequate fresh water, and covered benches.

It also hosts events and festivals like Paws & Claus and Dogapalooza Family Festival.

Whether you come by during winter or summer, you and your pet can always have something to look forward to at this park, including the play structures and relaxing scenery.

This dog park is a part of Slater Memorial Park on Armistice Boulevard.

More specifically, it sits behind the Looff Carousel.

Spot Public Art Pieces along Pawtucket’s Streets

Strolling the streets of Pawtucket provides a glimpse into the city’s creative side through its numerous public art pieces.

Through the leadership of the Pawtucket Arts Festival from 2011 to 2017, the acquisition of public art installations in the city started.

One of the oldest public sculptures includes Bill Martin’s Conocular on High Street.

This industrial-mechanical-inspired piece resembles power lines and speakers or megaphones.

The 2007 Fanny the Elephant sculpture is another worthy stop within Slater Memorial Park.

On Summer Street, Deborah Cook Sayles Public Library boasts six bas-reliefs of the Beaux-Arts Classicism style.

Don’t forget to drive by The Beswick Peacock mural on Exchange Street and the Berger Recycling Mural on Blackstone Avenue.

More art awaits you within the corners of Pawtucket, so keep your eyes peeled!

Other Things to Do Nearby

The adventure doesn’t stop at Pawtucket!

If you still have the energy to explore nearby cities, here are other free activities you can try:

Go on a Guided Tour of the Rhode Island State House

Exterior of Rhode Island State House

Stephen B. Goodwin /

In Providence, there’s a lot of architecture to admire, and one of these is the Rhode Island State House.

Free to the public, this tourist attraction is the masterpiece of the McKim, Mead & White architecture firm.

Built from 1895 to 1904, the mansion-like site features Georgian marble and marble domes.

Interior of Rhode Island State House

Nagel Photography /

A statue of the state’s golden Independent Man stands at the top of the dome, bearing a spear.

It’s home to a museum showcasing the 1663 Colonial Charter and other important artifacts.

Rhode Island State House on Smith Street also offers free guided tours.

This site is about seven minutes away from downtown Pawtucket.

A library in Rhode Island State House

Nagel Photography /

Attend the WaterFire Providence Event

Night scene at WaterFire Providence Event

James Kirkikis /

When it comes to Rhode Island festivals, WaterFire Providence is one of the most unique ones.

This public event, hosted by a non-profit of the same name, is a celebration of art.

It features the signature lighting of various fire sculptures and bonfires around three rivers crossing the downtown area of Providence.

Part of its program includes live music and performances and boat rides.

People at WaterFire Providence Event

Scott F Smith /

The blazing fire in the dark waters and streets is a sight you might not see anywhere else, so be sure to attend this event!

The WaterFire Season is from April to December, so you have plenty of time to explore its many public programs.

Downtown WaterFire Providence is only about eight minutes away from Pawtucket.

Explore the Antique Collection at Stephen Hopkins House

Exteiror of Stephen Hopkins House

Jeffrey M. Frank /

Providence and Rhode Island’s governor Stephen Hopkins is one of the notable personalities in the state.

His home, Stephen Hopkins House, is a tourist attraction you shouldn’t miss on your trip.

Featuring eight rooms, this home is a sanctuary of heirlooms and antiques that would be of interest not only to history buffs but also artists and casual visitors.

Its gallery contains 18th-century samplers.

History plaque of Stephen Hopkins House

Elliotte Rusty Harold /

Learn about the Hopkins’ lifestyle as well as the living conditions of their slaves.

Stephen Hopkins House is the oldest surviving home in Providence, which is about 10 minutes away from Pawtucket.

Facade of Stephen Hopkins House

Zack Frank /

Browse through the Exhibits at Roger Williams National Memorial

Welcome sign of Roger Williams National Memorial

Carrie A Hanrahan /

Established in 1965, Roger Williams National Memorial serves as a tribute site and a recreational center in Providence.

The man the park got its name from was Rhode Island’s founder, who fought for religious freedom.

His dedication to helping his fellowmen enabled him to make a colony that served as a prayer and worship refuge for many people of his time.

Trail at Roger Williams National Memorial

EWY Media /

This 4.5-acre green space also has a freshwater spring and a visitor center that everyone can visit.

The park’s visitor center offers exhibits, as well as a short film, about Williams and his works.

Roger Williams National Memorial is on North Main Street in Providence, a nine-minute drive from Pawtucket.

The grounds of Roger Williams National Memorial

EWY Media /

Admire the Greek Sculptures at Memorial Park

World war memorial at Memorial Park

Felix Lipov /

Located about 10 minutes from Pawtucket on South Main Street in Providence, Memorial Park takes you on an art excursion.

This park, created in 2015, has four major sections: the Path, the Life Stone, the Entrance Gate, and Memorial Columns.

Each of these sections tells the story of fallen soldiers and heroes in various eras of history.

But what makes Memorial Park stand out is its Greek sculptures, including memorial frieze columns and engine-engraved illustrations on a plinth.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to history, arts, and culture, Pawtucket is one of the most promising Rhode Island cities.

From public parks and art sculptures to historical sites and nature trails, this city has everything a traveler can ask for and more!

Have fun in the city with these free things to do in Pawtucket, Rhode Island!

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