As a kid, I remember taking frequent, random trips to different cities for my sister’s gymnastics meets. Those short trips are actually what inspired me to plan, experience, and write about traveling in the first place. I’m always delighted to have a free day in a new city, and that new city just happens to be nine states away… welcome to Providence, Rhode Island!
Lucky for us, we’re staying at the Hampton Inn downtown, which just so happens to be within walking distance of most of Providence’s main attractions. Because of Covid, none of the indoor attractions are open, and so we’ve decided to embark on a self-guided outdoor sightseeing tour of Providence.
Providence is a fantastically easy city to explore! The Providence river runs right through the center of town, and walkways on either side of the river make navigating the busy streets of downtown easier. The only difficulty I experienced was trudging up the steep slope of College Hill to get to Benefit Street. So if you’re looking for a way to hit all of Providence’s best sights, this itinerary will take you around in a nice, convenient loop.
Crossing over the river on one of the pedestrian bridges onto a long but narrow strip of green space, we arrived at our first stop of the tour, Memorial Park.
Crossing the bridge into Memorial Park
Like most major cities in America, Providence has a park containing monuments dedicated to its residents who fought in America’s various wars. There’s a rotunda dedicated to World War 2, a Holocaust memorial, and a statue of a hooded soldier to commemorate veterans of the Korean War. The most notable monument is a huge stone pillar rising towards the city skyline with a human statue representing peace on top, commemorating World War 1.
Providence’s WWI memorial
Stephen Hopkins House
Our next stop involved a trek up College Hill to the Stephen Hopkins house. Stephen Hopkins was a prominent American figure with a remarkable resume, which is detailed on a plaque outside of the house. Since you can’t go inside right now, the house itself was not an incredibly impressive sight, but it was neat to read about the cool guy who lived there.
This is all we could see of the Stephen Hopkins house. He was a cool dude though
Old State House
Similar to the Hopkins house, the Old Sate House is probably much more interesting from the inside than it was on the outside. It’s been converted to a bed and breakfast, so I’d bet that would be a cool way to spend the night with ghosts from the 1800s.
Basking in the glory of the Old State House’s exterior
Also located on college hill, Benefit Street’s claim to fame is that nearly every building on the street is on the national historic registry!
All you have to do is take a look at the plaques affixed to each old home to learn about its colorful history. And some of these buildings are seriously old. For example, this is THE very first Baptist church to have been established in the U.S.
The first Baptist Church in the United States, very cool and very old
Funnily enough, our cousin lives on Benefit street but their house is not on the registry because the landlord repaired the siding a few years ago, which apparently disqualifies it. Talk about strict regulations!
This stop was listed as “optional” on my itinerary because it’s a steep walk up Providence’s College Hill. Thankfully, my family was willing to make the trek up there with me. I stupidly wore my very cute wedged booties and so although it was a slightly painful journey upwards, we eventually made our way to Prospect terrace, our glutes sore but all the stronger for it.
Prospect terrace is both a monument and viewpoint offering unrivaled views of the Providence skyline. Most of the major landmarks are visible from here.
Enjoying views of downtown Providence from Prospect Terrace., feat. Roger
The monument includes a structure covering a statue of Rhode Island’s founder, Roger Williams. It’s a perfectly fine statue as far as statues go, but my sisters joked that there were two different sculptors for the head and body, because the body is a bit too big for the head.
Roger Williams National Monument
Our next stop on the Providence walking tour led us back down College Hill into a small green park by the river. It took a minute, but eventually we found the Rodger Williams monument at the bottom of a concrete staircase. It’s a stone well that was built in place of the first spring water well that the settlers dug when settling into the area.
Checking out Roger Williams National Monument: the spring that started it all
It’s tough to imagine it being a hillside plain now that it’s been replaced by a concrete jungle. There’s also a National Park Board cottage that probably has more information inside, but like everything else, it’s closed for the time being.
Rhode Island State House
The Rhode Island State House is the name for Rhode Island’s capitol building. Because it is my life’s goal to visit every US capitol, I practically skipped towards the massive capitol in my impractical shoes.
This officially marks my 6th U.S. capitol visited!
While the Rhode Island state capitol is not the biggest, it is still bigger than most. As is the most common style for capitols, it’s a huge marble dome but is surrounded by 4 smaller domes. We approached it from the back, where the alternating brick and marble walkway gives the impression of a Spanish plaza.
The walkway extends all the way around the capitol, and so we made our way around to the front before abruptly stopping because the Rhode Island state governor was giving a speech right there on the front steps! It was about the recent events at the White House. There was a small crowd gathered there along with the press, and so we kept quiet and listened to her statement.
Eventually, we retired for a lunch/dinner.
There were still a few more places left to visit on the tour, but I figured we could hit them the following day.
One of my favorite parts of Providence is that the Providence river runs right through the city’s center. Eventually, the river runs through a wide section called Waterplace park. It’s a stunning urban waterfront park, and with cafes surrounding it and an amphitheater right at the waters edge, I can imagine how fun and alive this place gets. It was a little sad to see Waterplace as a ghost of what I’m sure it is in the non-pandemic summertime, but we also had the park practically to ourselves, and were able to just take a rest and enjoy the city center.
Waterplace park on a sunny winter morn
Following our exploration of Waterplace park, we didn’t really have any planned destination, and just took to wandering around the downtown area. Spotting a statue in the distance, we made our way to a small park with a playground, stage, and a statue of what looks like Teddy Roosevelt on a horse.
There’s also a shack that says Shel Silverstein the poet did something here, and as someone who used to rely on his poems for acting class, I found it a stand out moment.
A very casual stroll through Burnside park
Beyond Burnside park is yet another memorial, and so we made to check it out.
This memorial is a marble pillar with bronze statues, all wielding bronze rifles.
Colonial buildings surround the monument (quite typical for New England), some of which include the City Hall and Federal Building. Not much to do here besides look, and so we left to walk along the river some more.
The monument and (I’m like 90% sure) City Hall in Kennedy Plaza
Exploring Providence by foot was fun, and a great way to spend a day and a half. I do think it would’ve been much more interesting if we’d gotten to go into the historic buildings and maybe even visited some museums in the meantime (and I totally understand why that cannot happen right now), but if the national historic registry has anything to say about it, these places are not going anywhere, and so I look forward to coming back again in the post-Covid era. 🙂