It’s called the Creative Capital. And Renaissance City. And, it’s one of the oldest cities in New England — dating back to 1636.
So, it’s no wonder that our fair town of Providence is a hub of history with old-world flair. Yet, it’s also an eclectic, forward-thinking destination that makes no excuses for its quirkier ways.
There’s an aura of art, creativity, and culture that wafts through the city, comingling with the cool college town vibe thanks to Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, and Rhode Island School of Design.
It’s all a little bit surreal — especially these 25 places.
Where: RISD, Waterman Building, 13 Waterman St.
Where quirky eccentricity meets natural exploration, this lab is an assemblage of natural history, anatomy, and scientific specimens that was founded by Rhode Island School of Design faculty member Edna Lawrence in 1937. What started out as a 1,286-piece collection now boasts more than 80,000 specimens.
Where: Multiple access points
What’s most surreal about this path is the view. It follows the old railroad tracks along the water for 14.5 miles from India Point Park in Providence to Independence Park in Bristol and takes the notion of the open road to another level.
Where: 7 Thomas St.
Which one doesn’t belong? In the case of the Fleur de Lys, oddball status never looked so cool. Set apart from the uniform crowd of buildings that surrounds it, the eccentric, faux relief-adorned structure was built in 1885 and is seen by many historians as one of the first examples of arts and crafts architecture in the U.S. It’s used for artists’ studios, now, as part of the Providence Art Club.
Where: Brown University, 190 Thayer St.
Cute and cuddly — and kinda weird — this monumental sculpture from artist Urs Fischer references Brown University’s mascot, the Kodiak bear. It takes up its larger-than-life, 23-foot-tall residence on the Simmons Quad near the Ashamu Dance Studio.
Where: 251 Benefit St.
Where grand gestures of bookcases mingle with tucked-away corners of endless pages, this 19th century library is a bookworm’s paradise. Oh, and one of its most famous historical visitors happens to have been Edgar Allan Poe, when he traveled to Providence to meet and court the wealthy Rhode Island widow, Sarah Helen Whitman.
Where: South Main Street (in front of the Federal Courthouse)
Take yourself to the gun show with this 12-foot, 3,500-pound obelisk that was constructed in 2001 with 1,000 reclaimed guns from a firearm buyback program. Artist Boris Bally fossilized the disabled guns beneath concrete, and then chipped away bits of the pillar to expose the weapons.
Where: 82 Smith St.
Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the U.S., but you wouldn’t know it by the grandeur of the state house. The majestic domed building is radiantly clad in white Georgia marble and was built between 1895 and 1904. Illuminated by 109 lights, the building likewise glows at night.
Where: Benefit Street
With its impressive collection of original Colonial-style, wood-frame homes that overlook the historic waterfront, this thoroughfare is a pristine museum-quality mile. But, it’s also a living and breathing urban neighborhood that seems to still abide by its mid-18th century purpose — for the benefit of all.
Where: 111 Westminster St.
The Daily Planet vibes are strong. But, Superman or not, the Art Deco style and architecture of the state’s tallest skyscraper is breathtaking.
Where: 100 Dorrance St.
An escape haven within the city, this restaurant and lounge serves up unparalleled views (including that Superman Building) that don’t seem quite real, as you gaze out at the skyline from this cozy rooftop perch.
Where: 75 N. Main St.
Known for the funny messages on its main sign outside, The First Baptist Church in America really is the first Baptist church in America — despite the very modern snark of that sign. It was first established in downtown Providence in 1638.
Where: 11 Dorrance St.
Two words: Grand Staircase. That is all. The surreal splendor of this circa 1922 hotel begins at the gilded, gleaming staircase and permeates throughout the floor-to-ceiling grandeur of the entire property. Naturally, it’s a fairy-tale place to say “I do,” too.
Where: One Citizens Plaza
You’ll nearly think you’ve been transported to Italy with this classic Venetian gondola experience that floats along the Riverwalk.
Where: Waterplace Park to Memorial/South Main Street
Getting lit takes on all new meaning with WaterFire’s lightings that illuminate more than 80 braziers at scheduled evenings and events throughout the season. The basin lightings, including the circle of 22 braziers in the Waterplace Park Basin and the 12 braziers leading up to the Providence Place mall, are pretty impressive, too.
Where: 585 Blackstone Blvd.
Cemeteries seem to always have a surreal vibe; this one perhaps even more so because of its garden-esque grounds and storied history that dates back to 1846. It's also the final resting place of H.P. Lovecraft who is regarded as one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century.
Where: 219 W. Park St.
Sensory overload — and all the mod moments — are assured as this 10,000-square-foot ode to vintage, folk, and midcentury modern design. The throwback destination includes all the curiosities, relics, ephemera, and pop culture artifacts you could imagine — and many you couldn’t.
Where: Federal Hill
The bright Crayola-colored buildings surrounding the square and its quatrefoil fountain are what really set it apart. But, it’s the whole Federal Hill “Little Italy” neighborhood that has a near-impossible level of charm.
Where: 65 Weybosset St.
The bright, fresh atrium has echoes of its historic presence as the nation’s oldest indoor shopping mall, originally built in 1828. Now, it’s a shopping and dining experience like no other amidst distinguished Greek Revival columns, granite walls, and classic façades.
Where: 299 Broadway
The Victorian manse from 1875 is quite the looker — with a certain enigmatic flamboyance, from the copper-clad circular conservatory, to the grand four-story tower, carriage house, and the extravagant interiors.
Where: 144 Broadway
You never know what crazy things you might find at this vintage destination, where the shop windows tease of the retro-fabulous collection beyond.
Where: 210 Doyle Ave.
Speaking of Mars, the historic Ladd Observatory is an ideal place to scope out a constellation or two. The domed building itself looks pretty space-age, too. It’s part of Brown University, but open to the public on Tuesday evenings.
Where: Roger Williams Park, 1000 Elmwood Ave.
A majestic structure standing in the historic Roger Williams Park’s 435 acres, the temple is especially magical when it's occasionally illuminated in colors. It's also pretty cool if and when you choose to zen out with one of the yoga classes that are held amidst the columns.
Where: 161 O’Connell St.
Perched atop a pest control place, aptly named Big Blue Bug Solutions, the 58-foot-long, nine-feet-tall termite peers over the city from the rooftop. Apparently, the world-famous bug (named Nibbles Woodaway, if you care), is an exact replica of an eastern subterranean termite and weighs 4,000 pounds. Of course, you may also recognize this unofficial Providence mascot from movies and TV shows like Dumb and Dumber and Family Guy. Sometimes, Nibbles Woodaway is even wearing costumes — like reindeer antlers around the holidays.
Where: Legion Memorial Dr.
Funny name. Serious flora and fauna. Encompassing 88 acres, the hill features trees, fields, and wild flowers, all interspersed with valleys, ravines, glacial boulders, stone walls, fresh water springs, and brooks — along with small woodland animals. And, at 296 feet above sea level, it’s the highest point in the city, so the views of the skyline are on point.
Crook Point Bascule Bridge
Where: Gano Park, 87 Fremont St.
This drawbridge is frozen in time, having been left in the “up” position since being abandoned in 1976. It was originally built in 1908 as part of the East Side Railroad Tunnel project, to connect the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad line to Union Station. So, now the “stuck-up bridge” just sits with a certain mysterious beauty overlooking the Seekonk River.