Everyone seems to know Rhode Island is the nation’s smallest state. But Providence, Little Rhody’s capital, is bursting with things for groups to see and do.
Steeped in history and dubbed the “Creative Capital” as a nod to its thriving art community fostered by its Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Providence boasts stimulating attractions, distinctive neighborhoods and shopping galore.
Toss in Providence’s burgeoning culinary scene — primed by Johnson and Wales University’s culinary arts program — and Providence has the makings of a dream destination. In fact, Zagat named Providence one of the “Hottest Food Cities.”
“One of the great things about Providence is we’re (in) one of the original 13 colonies so there’s lots of history,” said Kristen Adamo, president and CEO of Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have great walking tours and great museums. People are surprised — it’s the capital city of the smallest state but there certainly is plenty to do.
“We are very proud of our history, so we have various self-guided walking tours,” Adamo said. The tours cover neighborhoods and themes such as historic architecture. “People really enjoy those,” she said.
The ‘mile of history’
Benefit Street, one of the city’s oldest streets, is a must-see. “We call it the ‘mile of history’ because you can really just walk that one street and learn the story not only of Rhode Island but of the United States,” Adamo said.
There, historic buildings dating to the 18th and 19th century line cobblestone streets, and visitors will find the RISD Museum, the historic Athenaeum, churches and exquisitely restored homes. Among them: the John Brown House, home to five generations of the Nicholas Brown family, namesake of Brown University. Built in 1792, it was visited by Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams.
Providence is home to America’s original Baptist congregation started by Roger Williams in 1638. Within view of Benefit Street, visitors can see the first Baptist Church in America, the largest surviving wooden structure dating from Colonial America.
Waterfire, Providence’s annual signature event, is a free public art phenomenon/urban festival that stretches from May through November.
“It’s a series of about 100 bonfires that sort of nestle in the three rivers of Providence,” Adamo said. Visitors can enjoy gondola rides, dance performances and other entertainment such as fire eaters.
Providence is situated on three rivers — the Providence, the Moshassuck and the Woonasquatucket — so riverboats offer tours on the waterways.
“That’s a fun way to see the city,” Adamo said. “You can kind of glide through the downtown and learn a little bit, which is really fun for groups.”
Accommodating for groups
Many of Providence’s attractions offer guided and self-guided tours for groups. There’s Roger Williams Park Zoo with its “Faces of the Rainforest” exhibit, which features a 40-foot-high glass atrium where monkeys and tropical birds can mix with zoo patrons. And don’t forget RISD Museum with both permanent and changing art exhibits.
“One of the really fun things to do with groups is bring a bus to Federal Hill, which is our Little Italy with dozens of restaurants along a one-mile stretch,” Adamo said. “It’s a fun way to do a progressive dinner. Have a drink or appetizer in one place, get an entree somewhere else and then poke around for dessert. People really seem to enjoy that.”
Satellite parking is available when downtown hotels lack motorcoach parking, said Thomas Riel, vice president of sales and service at the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The CVB can customize tours for groups and provide step-on guides for city tours. Experience Rhode Island, which offers its own tours, also can provide step-on guides. The CVB also works with other regions in the state to customize tours outside Providence.
“We can pull everybody together and almost just bridge you from one region to the next,” Riel said. “It’s a benefit of being small.”
For more information, call Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau at 401-456-0229 or visit goprovidence.com/group-tour.
Feature by Kathie Sutin