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Providence, Rhode Island: ‘America’s Coolest City’

Providence, Rhode Island at a Glance

Location: East-central Rhode Island

Access: Interstate 95; Amtrak, including Acela Express high-speed train; Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter trains; Green International Airport (Warwick); Logan International Airport (Boston)

Major Meeting Spaces: Rhode Island Convention Center, Graduate Providence, Crowne Plaza Providence Warwick, Omni Providence

Hotel Rooms: 5,500

Off-Site Venues: Squantum Association; Botanical Gardens; The Guild; Herreshoff Marine Museum; Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum; Aldrich Mansion

Contact Info:

Providence Warwick Visitors and Convention Bureau


Founded by Puritan minister Roger Williams, Rhode Island is an eclectic mix of cultures, a fact apparent in its art, food and way of life, especially in Providence.

This state capital’s combination of a quaint New England town personality and surprisingly cosmopolitan amenities has earned it such kudos as “America’s Coolest City” by GQ and “America’s Favorite City” by Travel + Leisure.

“For a city of its size, it’s pretty impressive,” said Tom Riel, vice president of sales and service for the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Providence comprises 15 vibrant neighborhoods with scores of immaculately preserved Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian homes and buildings. Visitors can get to know them on walking tours. The Downtown neighborhood, for instance, is home to commercial and retail establishments, the Rhode Island Convention Center (RICC) and the attached Dunkin’ Donuts Arena. Nine colleges and universities call Providence home, most within five miles of the RICC, including Brown University; Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), with its impressive museum; and Johnson and Wales University, the world’s largest culinary educator.

Situated at the mouth of the Providence River at the head of Narragansett Bay, this city of 178,000 is rife with outdoor spaces, including a 427-acre botanical garden with seven lakes, the city zoo and the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium.

Water abounds in this nautical destination. In addition to the bay, where sailing is at its best, three rivers — the Providence, the Wood and the Woonasquatucket — flow through the city, offering opportunities for sightseeing cruises and kayaking adventures.

Easy to reach for meetings, the capital city is on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, is bisected by Interstate 95 and is but a 50-minute drive from Boston and three hours from New York City.

Exciting news for planners is that the RICC will soon add a studio, complete with a mobile component that will move around the center to create content, perhaps through a pop-up studio at an exhibit area booth or an attendee interview.

“We’ve always been able to stream content from the stage to send across the globe,” Riel said. “Now we’re creating a studio within the center where specialized content can streamed for the at-home audience.”

Convention Center

In the heart of Providence off I-95, the RICC anchors quite a complex. Via skybridge, it connects to 14,000-seat Dunkin’ Donuts Center Arena — home to the AHL’s Providence Bruins — and to the 564-room Omni Providence.

“The convention center has 137,000 square feet of leasable space,” said John McGinn, director of marketing and booking. “Exhibition space totals 100,000. The ballroom is 20,000 and 17,000 [square feet] of meeting space.”

Also attached to the Providence Place Mall, the Omni has 22,877 square feet of meeting space for 800 attendees and offers amenities such as 24-hour dining and a fitness center with a view of the Capitol.

 Off-Site Venues

Most gathering spots in Providence have historic significance, and many sit on the waterfront. One is the Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame, filled with vintage yachts and family history of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, a grand boatbuilding works from 1878 to 1945.

In nearby Riverside, the Squantum Association has graced the shores of Narragansett Bay since 1872. Known for clambakes and immaculate service, this private club hosts corporate gatherings. Blithewold Mansion, one of the most fully developed, intact examples of the Country Place Era in the nation, does too. Its gardens and arboretum include a 10-acre lawn for outdoor events.

 Creative Capital

Creativity is an integral part of Providence and can be found in its museums, its galleries and restaurants, even on its buildings. Opportunities to observe and participate in the creative arts abound.

Groups can wander via glass bridges through the galleries of the internationally renowned RISD Museum, or explore AS220, a nonprofit community arts center with studios, a stage, a bar and a restaurant. Gather Glass Blowing Studio offers one-hour classes to make your own drinking glass, ornament, paperweight or bowl.

Specializing in culinary creativity, the Forbes 5-Star Ocean House, with 49 guest rooms, 20 suites and cottages, a spa and 15,000 square feet of event space, offers hands-on cooking and wine classes.

 Meeting Add-ons

Sparked by a mid-’90s art installation, WaterFire is a magnificent array of 80-plus mini bonfires that illuminate Providence’s three rivers every weekend, accompanied by piped-in classical music. Groups can volunteer to set up the fires, then enjoy them on evening strolls.

Attendees can take to the water on an authentic Italian gondola complete with a history-telling, singing gondolier. There are year-round team-building activities available at BankNewport City Center/Providence Rink, including ice skating and bumper cars.