The Providence River partially separates the commercial district on the west side from the historic district on the eastern bank. A good place to begin a tour of the historic district is at the State Capitol, which stands on Smith Hill overlooking the downtown area. An impressive structure built of Georgian marble, the capitol is surmounted by what is believed to be the second largest self-supported dome in the world. A statue of the Independent Man atop the dome represents Rhode Islanders' independent spirit. The building contains historic relics, flags, cannons, and a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington. Nearby, the Roger Williams National Memorial contains a Visitor Center featuring exhibits and slides about Williams's life and the history of Providence. Historic buildings in the area include the Old State House, the First Baptist Church, where Brown University commencement ceremonies are held, and the Joseph Brown House. Benefit Street, laid out in the 1750s, preserves a mile-long stretch of historic houses in a variety of styles, including John Brown House, considered one of the finest eighteenth-century houses in the country and now the headquarters of the Rhode Island Historical Society. The College Green at Brown University is lined with Colonial and Greek Revival buildings. Market House in Market Square was the focal point of colonial Providence where townspeople gathered to buy produce and exchange news and gossip. The Governor Henry Lippitt House Museum, an impeccably preserved Renaissance Revival mansion, is available for tours on Fridays or by appointment.
West of the downtown area, the 430-acre Victorian-style Roger Williams Park contains a chain of 10 lakes; flower gardens; 9 miles of drives; and a zoo with an aviary, tropical greenhouses, and an African Savannah exhibit. The zoo is the third oldest zoo in the country, and works with the American Zoo and Aquarium Association to protect and breed endangered species, including red wolves and Madagascar lemurs. Juliett 484, a former Soviet cruise missile submarine, is open for tours at Collier Point Park.
Providence has been hosting concerts and dramatic performances since 1761. Continuing this tradition, the Providence Performing Arts Center and the Providence Civic Center offer Broadway shows, classical, rock, and pop music concerts, and dance performances throughout the year. The Rhode Island Philharmonic presents concerts throughout the year at Veteran Memorial Auditorium. The nationally acclaimed Trinity Repertory Company, the largest and oldest permanent ensemble in the country and recipient of a Tony award, presents classic and contemporary works at the restored Lederer Theater during a 12-production season. The Providence Performing Arts Center, a former Loews theater built in 1928, hosts touring Broadway productions, music, dance and film programs. Other performing groups include the Festival Ballet, Newgate Theater, the Sandra Gamm-Feinstein Theatre, and the Perishable Theatre, at the AS220 Arts Complex.
The history, architecture, and decorative arts of Rhode Island are interpreted through changing exhibits at the Museum of Rhode Island History, housed in an 1822 Federal mansion. The Museum of Art of the Rhode Island School of Design features a wide-ranging collection of works from ancient to modern times from cultures around the world. The Providence Children's Museum features hands-on exploration exhibits in a former textile factory in the Jewelry District. The Museum of Natural History and Planetarium Rhode Island Black Heritage Society holds periodic displays on local history and sponsors discovery tours of African American roots in the state. A small collection of American furniture, silverware, and paintings is on display at Pendleton House adjacent to the museum. The school also maintains Woods-Gerry Mansion as an example of nineteenth-century residential architecture; exhibit galleries are located on the ground floor. At Brown University, the David Winton Bell Gallery presents permanent and loan exhibits of historical and contemporary art.
Many of the local galleries and museums have banded together to create a monthly event called Gallery Night. A free art trolley loops throughout the city and stops at participating galleries, art shops, and museums for visitors to come and go as they please.
Gardeners eager for the planting season await the the Rhode Island Spring Flower and Garden Show at the Convention Center in February. Providence begins its festival season with Columbus Day on Federal Hill, celebrating the city's Italian community. June brings the Festival of Historic Houses, including candlelight house and garden tours, and Convergence X, a week-long celebration of the arts. Also in June is Festival del Sancocho, celebrating Latino culture, music and food. On select evenings throughout the spring and summer, the city's Waterfire exhibit features about 100 "singing bonfires" mounted along the newly revitalized riverfront in downtown Providence. Burning torches are accompanied by music designed specifically for the display. Volunteers move up and down the river on a small barge rekindling the torches as they burn during the course of an evening's performance. In August the juried Rhode Island International Film Festival is held in various venues in the area.
In late October or early November is the Great International Beer Competition, held at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Special holiday festivities are held throughout the month of December, culminating in First Night Providence on December 31, a city-wide, family-oriented welcome to the New Year featuring music, art, dance, parades, and fireworks.
The Providence Civic Center is home to the American Hockey League's Providence Bruins, playing in the Atlantic Division. It is also home to the Providence College Friars basketball team. Rhode Islanders enthusiastically follow the University of Rhode Island, Brown University, and Providence College intercollegiate football and basketball teams. Nearby Pawtucket is the home of the Pawtucket Red Sox Triple-A farm team of baseball's American League Boston Red Sox. The dogs run year-round at Lincoln Greyhound Park in nearby Lincoln. The Montfgolfier Day Balloon Regatta is held in November.
An abundance of fresh and salt water make Rhode Island and the Providence area a boating, swimming, fishing, and skin diving paradise. More than 60 percent of the state is woodlands and meadows, and Providence itself maintains 104 parks, offering opportunities for camping, picnicking, horseback riding, hiking, bicycling, tennis, and golf. Facilities for winter sports of all kinds are easily accessible from Providence. The Harvard Health Downtown 5-K run is held in October. The Fleet Skating Center, a rink twice the size of the one in New York's Rockefeller Center in the heart of downtown at Kennedy Plaza, is a 14,000-square-foot year-round outdoor facility which offers both ice-skating and roller-skating, as well as skating lessons.
America's first enclosed shopping mall, the Arcade, built in 1820, is located in downtown Providence. Cited by the Metropolitan Museum of Art as one of the finest commercial buildings in historic American architecture, the three-story Grecian structure offers 40 shops and restaurants. The Providence Place Mall features anchor stores Nordstrom's, Filene's, and Lord & Taylor, and houses a food court, a restaurant complex, a 16-screen movie complex, and a 400-seat IMAX theater.
Providence's Little Italy section is a friendly neighborhood of Italian shops and restaurants. The Davol Square Marketplace, formerly a rubber factory, has been restored and now houses upscale shops and restaurants. The area around the Rhode Island School of Design has grown into a thriving art community. Nearby towns Lincoln, Cranston, and Warwick contain large malls.
Providence's ethnic tradition is reflected in the wide variety of ethnic restaurants in the city, featuring Italian, Greek, Portuguese, and Chinese cuisines, among others. Because of the city's proximity to the Atlantic coast, seafood is a local specialty.
Visitor Information: Providence/Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1 Exchange Street, Providence, RI 02903; telephone (401)274-1636. Rhode Island Tourism Division, One West Exchange, Providence, RI 02903; telephone (401)222-2601; toll-free (800)556-2484