|Providence RI Walking Tour|
|A pleasant morning's walk will show you the high points of downtown Providence.|
This 2-hour walk (not including stops) begins at Burnside Park in the center of Providence, and ends on College Hill at Prospect Terrace Park, with a fine view of the city (map).
The walk is best done on weekends when there is less traffic. Avoid walking during the morning and evening rush hours. While walking, look up frequently—Providence has a lot of interesting architecture.
1. Burnside Park & Kennedy Plaza
In the center of Providence, Burnside Park's shady trees and benches make the plaza an oasis in the middle of the city. An equestrian statue of General Ambrose Burnside, the Civil War officer whose long side whiskers were the first "sideburns," watches over the eastern end of the plaza.
The plaza is also a place for unemployed people to hang out, and has its share of panhandlers (beggars).
At the western end of Kennedy Plaza is:
At the southwestern end of Kennedy Plaza (25 Dorrance Street), Providence's municipal headquarters is an agreeable Second Empire building completed in 1878 (go inside to see a wall display of other entries in the competition for the city hall design). More...
This easily-visible Providence landmark across the street from City Hall and overlooking Kennedy Plaza, this grand old hotel boasts the city's prime lodging location. Built in 1922, its period lobby and other features have been well preserved, its guest rooms renovated with today's comforts and conveniences. More...
4. The Round Top Church
Officially known as the Beneficent Congregational Meetinghouse (UCC), this classic structure got its popular name from the dome, a departure from the usual New England Christopher Wren-style church spire. Finished in 1810, the Round Top Church was influenced by the classical revival then going on in Europe.
Enter the church by the door on the side, around to the right. The interior is as pleasant as the exterior: besides the gracious New England meetinghouse furnishings, the Round Top Church has a crystal chandelier consisting of almost 6,000 pieces.
5. The Arcade
At 130 Westminster Street (map), looks like an imaginative bit of urban renewal, but is in fact the creation of Russell Warren and James Bucklin, who designed the building in 1827. Taking their cue from the covered passages of Paris, they built a walk-through marketplace of shops topped by a glass roof.
The classical façades (look at both facades, on Westminster Street and on Weybosset Street, each done by one of the architects), the decorative cast-iron stairways and balustrades, the three three levels of shop) made such passages the first "shopping malls." Shoppers could visit several shops in one trip without long walks in between, and be protected from the weather. The passage between two busy city-center streets increased foot traffic, and thus the value of the location for shopkeepers.
Today The Arcade still has a number of shops and a café on the ground floor, but the upper floors have been converted to condominium residences.
Rhode Island State House
6. Providence Place Mall
As you walk toward the state house along the grassy mall north of Waterplace Park and the Providence Train Station (map), to the left (west) along Francis Street is Providence Place, the large urban shopping mall that was a key feature in Providence's commercial renaissance.
Rhode Island's state capitol, boasting one of the world's largest self-supporting domes, rises above the city center on its hill to the north.
Inside is the Rhode Island Charter Museum, featuring the Royal Charter (1663) for "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations," other historical documents and artifacts; the State Room with Gilbert Stuart's famous portrait of George Washington; and the Rotunda beneath that huge marble dome.
Cross the Providence River on College Street to College Hill (map), the prettiest and most historic section of the cit. Its streets are lined with 18th- and 19th-century houses, most of which have been well preserved or restored and many of which bear plaques, put up by the Providence Preservation Society, giving the builder's name and the date of construction.
The seventh-oldest university in the USA (1764), Brown University is a member of the Ivy League. Its campus and buildings spread over the slopes of College Hill. Free campus tours are available. More...
University Hall was used as a barracks for colonial and French soldiers during the American Revolution. To get to it, walk up the hill (east) on Waterman Street, cross Prospect Street, and turn into the gates on your right.
Home to the merchant, slave-trader and statesman who was instrumental in the founding of Brown University, John Brown House is now a museum admninstered by the Rhode Island Historical Society. More...
10. The Rhode Island School of Design
RISD, (known in Providence as "RIZZ-dee") is one of the country's best art, architecture, and design schools. Founded in 1877, it boasts the excellent RISD Museum of Art.
At the bottom of College Hill, on South Main Street between Thomas and Waterman streets, take a stroll past the:
Roger Williams founded the first Baptist congregation in the New World in 1638, but this building dates from 1775. The architect was Joseph Brown, and the steeple—designed from a plate in James Gibbs's Book of Architecture representing suggested steeples for St Martin-in-the-Fields in London—rises to a height of 185 feet (56 meters).
Between November and March the church is open daily, but guides are available only by appointment. The front door of the church will probably be locked, so go around to the right to the side (office) door.
To the north of theFirst Baptist Church at 7 Thomas Street is a fantastic old building with half-timbering and stucco bas-reliefs on its façade. Built by Providence artist Sidney Burleigh in 1885 (the date is in the stucco), it's a feature of Thomas Street's "Artists' Row," which includes the Providence Art Club, at no. 11. The club has changing shows exhibited in its galleries.
13. Prospect Terrace Park
From the Fleur-de-Lys Studios go to Cushing Street and turn left. From the Terrace, a small park, you can see downtown Providence and the State House, along with a famous but—pardon me—rather wooden statue of the founder, Roger Williams. His grave is here as well.
Trees have grown up below and block a bit of the perspective, but the view is still panoramic and impressive.
—by Tom Brosnahan