Providence, Rhode Island, has long been a tolerant, erudite, and progressive community, and with its location just under an hour from Boston and propensity for throwing big gay-friendly events, the city has become a popular destination in the northeastern United States for the LGBTQ community any time.
Artsy, left-leaning colleges like Brown, Rhode Island School of Design, and Johnson & Wales bring in a steady stream of gay students and academics. Meanwhile, superb restaurants, a vibrant Little Italy, restored historic neighborhoods, and a moderate cost of living (by Northeastern standards) further draw crowds to Rhode Island's state capital. It's also got an eclectic gay nightlife scene, with plenty of clubs and bars that pull in a diverse, mixed crowd.
A handful of resources provide information on the city in general, but only a few provide information about the local gay scene. For visitor information, contact the Providence & Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. Also very helpful is the terrific website of the city's main paper, The Providence Journal.
Providence Events Calendar
While the gay bars and clubs in Providence are open year-round, there are also plenty of special events throughout the year geared toward the LGBTQ community. Depending on what month (or season) you visit, you're sure to enjoy one of these gay-friendly events in Rhode Island:
- Early April: Rhode Island Home Garden & Flower Show
- Early to mid-June: Rhode Island Pride Festival (includes a variety of GLBT events, concerts, and parties over two weeks)
- March to November: Gallery Night Providence (Free tour of the city's leading galleries) every third Thursday of the month
- Early to mid-August: Rhode Island International Film Festival, which includes 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 September: Rhode Island Heritage Festival (a celebration of the city's many diverse ethnic groups)
- Late October: Providence Fine Furnishings and Fine Crafts Show
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 37 F to 20 F in January, 58 F to 39 F in April, 83 F 64 F in July, and 63 F to 43 F in October. Snow and sleet are common in winter, as can be humid and sultry days in summer, making fall and spring better times to visit.
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 was the last individual state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2013 (before it was federally legalized). 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 of a 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 to Providence 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.
Getting to Providence
Set at the confluence of where the Moshassuck and Providence rivers empty into Narragansett Bay, hilly and leafy Providence is situated in roughly the center of 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:
- Boston, MA: 50 miles (1 hour)
- Burlington, VT: 265 miles (4 hours)
- Montreal: 380 miles (5 to 6 hours)
- Newport: 35 miles (45 min)
- New Haven, CT: 100 miles (1.5 hours)
- New York City: 180 miles (3 hours)
- Northampton, MA: 100 miles (1.5 hours)
- Philadelphia, PA: 275 miles (4.5 to 5 hours)
- Portland, ME: 160 miles (2.5 hours)
- Provincetown, MA: 120 miles (2 to 3 hours)
- Washington, DC: 400 miles (6 to 7 hours)
Providence is served by T.F. Green Airport, which is 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, or RIPTA public bus. Alternatively, you can fly into Boston's busy Logan International, an hour north of Providence, and take the train, bus, or rental car down to Providence. You can also take either the Amtrak train service or Peter Pan Bus Lines service from such major East Coast cities as Boston, New Haven, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.
Other Great Neighborhoods and Attractions
Providence is a regal, picturesque, and hilly city with several neighborhoods of special note including 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, and there are also several gay bars on the southern edge of downtown and in the adjoining Jewelry District.
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, the neighborhood of College Hill is great for fans of both history and culture including 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.