Sign Up for Our Monthly Family Getaways Newsletter
Providence, R.I., is a college town, with six college and university campuses in the city. That means there are many young locals — and many cool things for families to do.
“Providence provides a lot of opportunities for parents to educate and entertain their kids,” said Kristen Adamo, president and CEO of Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Adamo recommends a visit to the museum at the world-renowned Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). RISD Museum offers programming specifically designed for children. And for pure fun, she says, families should check out Alex and Ani City Center, a rink in the heart of the city that boasts ice bumper cars in winter and bumper cars on wheels in summer.
Here’s what else families can do, see and eat in Providence.
What to DoAdamo notes that Providence is a living monument to American history, so she suggests that families take a self-guided walking tour to learn what makes the city great. Visitors can pick up maps for the four tours — each designed to explore a different area — at any GoProvidence visitor center, or access them through the GoProvidence website. Another fun way to engage kids is through the Rhode Tour, a free mobile app that tells stories by and about Rhode Islanders through mapping technology, sound, images and videos.
American history buffs visit The John Brown House Museum, the first mansion built in Providence in 1788, and the home of one of the most influential people in the colonies (and later, the U.S.). Because Brown was also an instigator and participant in "The Gaspee Affair" — a significant event leading up to the American Revolution — his home was visited by prominent figures of the time, including George Washington and Abigail Adams.
Additionally, Roger Williams Park Zoo & Carousel Village recently opened the "Faces of the Rainforest" exhibit, which highlights the importance of sustainable practices. Clients visiting Providence in the fall can check out the zoo’s annual Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular, with thousands of intricately carved pumpkins lit by LED lights. The event takes place Oct. 3 to Nov. 3.
What to EatMy first stop in Providence is always PVDonuts. It’s known for brioche doughnuts, but the specialty doughnut shop also makes amazing old-fashioned, cake, cruller and even vegan doughnuts, all made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
PVDonuts is Rhode Island's first specialty doughnut shop, according to owners Paul and Lori Kettelle, who serve more than 30 kinds of doughnuts, made fresh daily.
The monthly rotating menu means there’s always something new to try. But my sons are loyal to the S'mores and Chocolate Frosted brioche treats. My go-to is the Borealis Coffee Milk brioche doughnut, which is made with coffee from a small-batch, artisanal coffee roaster in Riverside, R.I.
Pro tip: There is often a line of doughnut lovers stretching down the block, but clients can preorder online to skip the queue.
Another great spot is Haven Brothers Diner. This family-owned retro lunch wagon (and Providence landmark) has served burgers and other kid-friendly favorites — including an impressively long shake menu — on the corner of Dorrance and Westminster streets since 1893. The mobile diner is also the perfect place to grab a quick bite or late-night snack before or after a spin around the rink at Alex and Ani City Center across the street.
havenbrothersmobile.comwww.pvdonuts.comWhere to StayThe newly renovated Graduate Providence (formally Providence Biltmore) hotel is close to all the action. Plus, kids will love the Willy Wonka-esque glass and brass elevator. The property’s decor pays tribute to students (which my sons appreciated), and some rooms have two king beds, which is perfect for families.
Pro tip: If clients have a room facing Hasbro Children’s Hospital, they can participate in the local nightly tradition of flashing their lights to say goodnight to the kids.
"For the perfect blend of ideal location, thoughtful design and warm, welcoming accommodations, Graduate Providence can't be beat," said general manager Scott Williams. “During the hotel's recent redesign, tremendous care was taken to blend the old with the new. Our guests enjoy the lobby's iconic, ornate ceilings and statement-making grand staircase, as well as the collection of art from RISD students."
Hartford, Conn.About a 90-minute drive from Providence, R.I., is Hartford, Conn. Here, clients can visit The Mark Twain House & Museum for a personal look at the writer’s life. They can even see the desk where he wrote “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Our tour guide, Matthew, explained that Twain was actually an invented character and the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. He also noted that Clemens wasn't well-known when he moved into the neighborhood in 1874, but by the 1880s, he was the most famous American author — and most famous American. Meanwhile, the most famous American author of 1874 — Harriet Beecher Stowe, an abolitionist and author of “Uncle Tom's Cabin," — lived in the same neighborhood as Twain, right next door. Tours of Stowe’s house, run through Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, are intended to be interactive, and they encourage families to participate in discussions about social injustices throughout history. There are also Family Tours, with content specifically designed for kids ages 5 to 12. While in Hartford, families can also ride the 105-year-old Bushnell Park Carousel.www.harrietbeecherstowecenter.orgmarktwainhouse.orgThe Patriots Hall of Fame, Foxborough, Mass.The Patriots Hall of Fame is located about 20 miles from Providence at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The Hall of Fame traces the history of the six-time Super Bowl champs through photos and artifacts, including all six of the teams’ Super Bowl trophies. There are also fun and challenging interactive exhibits, such as an opportunity to re-create Patriots' placekicker Adam Vinatieri's snowy, 45-yard, game-tying field goal — considered the greatest kick in NFL history.www.patriotshalloffame.com
The DetailsProvidence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureauwww.goprovidence.com