Just under an hour from Boston, the second-largest city in America with an openly gay mayor has long been a tolerant, erudite, and progressive community. Artsy, left-leaning colleges like Brown, Rhode Island School of Design, and Johnson & Wales bring in a steady stream of gay students and academics. Superb restaurants, a vibrant Little Italy, restored historic neighborhoods, and a moderate cost of living (by Northeastern standards) are further draws to Rhode Island's state capital.
It's also got an eclectic nightlife, including bars and clubs that pull in a diverse, mixed crowd.
Weatherwise, Providence is a great city to visit year-round, although summer tends to draw a few more tourists, and autumn and spring are quite pleasant for enjoying the city's abundant parks and green spaces, and also because the several colleges here have events and activities at this time.
Average high-low temps are 37F/20F in Jan., 58F/39F in Apr., 83F/64F in July, and 63F/43F in Oct. Snow and sleet are common in winter, as can be humid and sultry days in summer, making fall and spring better times to visit. Precipitation averages 3 to 4.5 inches/mo. year-round.
Set at the confluence of where the Moshassuck and Providence rivers empty into Narragansett Bay, hilly and leafy Providence is situated in roughly in the center of tiny Rhode Island, the nation's smallest state.
The major East Coast highway, I-95, cuts through the city center, as does a spur, I-195, which leads east into southeastern Massachusetts, offering access to Cape Cod.
Driving distances to Providence from prominent places and points of interest are:
- Montreal: 380 miles (5.5 to 6 hrs)
- Newport: 35 miles (45 min)
- New Haven, CT: 100 miles (1.5 hrs)
- New York City: 180 miles (3 hrs)
- Northampton, MA: 100 miles (1.5 hrs)
- Philadelphia, PA: 275 miles (4.5 to 5 hrs)
- Portland, ME: 160 miles (2.5 hrs)
- Provincetown, MA: 120 miles (2 to 3 hrs)
- Washington, DC: 400 miles (6 to 7 hrs)
Traveling to Providence
Providence is served by T.F. Green Airport, 10 miles south of downtown. Most major domestic and Canadian carriers fly here, including budget-oriented Southwest Airlines. It's a relatively compact and user-friendly facility, and it's easy to get into the city by taxi, hotel shuttle, RIPTA public bus. Alternatively, you can fly into Boston's busy Logan International, an hour north of Providence.
Providence is also easily reached via Amtrak train service and Peter Pan Bus Lines service from such major East Coast cities as Boston, New Haven, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.
Providence 2016-2017 Events Calendar
- Late Feb.: Rhode Island Spring Garden & Flower Show.
- Early to mid-June: Rhode Island Pride Festival (includes a variety of GLBT events, concerts, and parties over two weeks).
- Mar.-Nov. (3rd Thurs. each month): Gallery Night Providence (Free tour of the city's leading galleries).
- Early to mid-Aug.: Rhode Island International Film Festival (one of the festival's components is the Providence Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.
- Early September: Worcester Gay Pride (about 45 minutes north of Providence).
- Late September: Rhode Island AIDS Walk for Life.
- Late Sept.: Rhode Island Heritage Festival (a celebration of the city's many diverse ethnic groups)
- Late Oct.: Providence Fine Furnishings and Fine Crafts Show
Cool Neighborhoods in Providence
Providence is a regal, picturesque, and hilly city with several neighborhoods of special note, among them Federal Hill, a bustling "Little Italy" that's rife with cafes and gelaterias. Downtown is quite appealing, thanks to the beautifully landscaped WaterPlace Park along the city's riverfront. Several gay bars on the southern edge of downtown, or in the adjoining Jewelry District.
Check out the Providence Gay Nightlife Guide for more on where to play, drink, and eat in the city.
To the east, College Hill rises sharply to form almost a palisade, with Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) anchoring its slopes, along with many historic homes and great shopping and dining.
Top Providence Attractions and Museums
Fans of history and culture shouldn't miss College Hill, with several attractions near Brown University and RISD. These include the John Brown House, a classic 1786 Georgian mansion; and the world-class RISD Art Museum, with iconic artwork dating back thousands of years.
A bit farther afield, Roger Williams Park is a 430-acre oasis noted for its gardens, zoo, and museum of natural history; and the fascinating Culinary Archives and Museum, at Johnson & Wales University, is a must for any foodie. Just north of Providence in Pawtucket, check out Slater Mill Historic Site, which figured prominently in the Industrial Revolution.
Resources on the Providence Gay Scene
A handful of resources provide information on the city in general, and a few on the local gay scene. For visitor information, contact the Providence & Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. Rhode Island Pride organizes the city's top-notch Pride Celebration. The popular biweekly newspaper Bay Windows) covers all of New England and has frequent coverage on Providence. Also very helpful is The Providence Phoenix, the city's alternative newsweekly, as well as the terrific website of the city's main paper, The Providence Journal.
Getting to Know the Providence Gay Scene
One could probably make the case that Brown, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and Johnson & Wales have about as high a percentage of openly GLBT students as any three colleges in any city in the country. The alternative presence accounts for much of the continuously vibrant student buzz of many Providence neighborhoods, from Thayer Street to Wickenden Street to Wayland Square.
Providence is the capital of Rhode Island, which became the final state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2013. Gay and lesbian visitors to the city will encounter a consistently friendly and tolerant spirit and have no trouble finding restaurants, cafes, shops, and bars that have a strong queer following. It's not a complete stretch to say that Providence has as lively - if smaller - gay nightlife as Boston; in general you'll usually find a wild and fun crowd at most of the gay bars and clubs in town.
Providence is somewhat more popular with business travelers than vacationers, but the city nevertheless draws a number of leisure visitors, especially on weekends. There's a great deal to see and do here - and Newport, Block Island, and the South County beaches are all less than an hour south.
One big draw here is the outstanding restaurants. Providence had terrific dining options well before Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck began revolutionizing the way chefs approached cooking. The city has long harbored many ethnic groups with rich culinary traditions, from Italians to Portuguese to Latin Americans to Asians. Providence's own Little Italy, on Federal Hill, ranks among the best in the world (well, outside Big Italy).
The city also has a number of distinctive, gay-friendly lodgings, including the elegant Renaissance Providence, the boutique Hotel Providence, the stylish and hipster-favored Dean Hotel, Federal Hill's intimate and hip Dolce Villa, and the snazzy and historic Providence Biltmore - the city's true grande dame.