Providence - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Providence


The historic city of Providence has recently been reborn - in the past few years the city fathers have been overseeing the re-routing of rivers, rebuilding of railways, upgrading of dilapidated neighbourhoods and the building of a modern convention centre, an upmarket shopping mall and a beautiful riverfront park. Most of the renovation has been undertaken in Italian style, with imported artisans and artists from Florence being responsible for most of the building work.

Despite the modernisation Providence remains known and loved for its abundance of historic and cultural attractions, and it's three and a half centuries of history remain alive and well on the streets in the form of scores of perfectly preserved colonial, Greek Revival and Victorian houses and public buildings. With 12 colleges and universities full of young people, the city's nightlife is constantly buzzing, and Providence is also renowned for its excellent restaurants - it has more restaurants per capita than any other major American city.

Providence was founded in 1635 by a dissident Puritan from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Roger Williams. Williams established the city as a refuge for freethinkers and religious dissenters, encouraging independence of spirit. The city still reflects this independent spirit today in its academic and cultural realms and with its recent renaissance seems set to keep on moving, countering trends in other New England cities.

Information & Facts


Providence has a humid continental climate, its characteristic extremes between summer and winter however moderated by the Atlantic Ocean. Although it is fairly wet, annual average rainfall being 45 inches (1,140mm), this is spread evenly throughout the year so it does not interfere too seriously with holidaymakers' enjoyment of the island's hot summers. In the summer there are occasional thunderstorms and a slight threat of hurricanes. Winters can be very cold and stormy, with snow (amounts each year vary greatly), and high winds.

English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.

One of America's most famous walks is down Providence's Benefit Street, lined with an impressive concentration of original Colonial homes. The 'mile of history' takes in all the well-restored buildings that were home to merchants and sea captains. The street, overlooking the city's waterfront, also features churches and museums. The area is cared for by the Providence Preservation Society, which provides information about the buildings and escorted tours from their office at 21 Meeting Street.

The three-storey mansion on Power Street, designed by Joseph Brown for his brother John, in 1786, was once described by John Quincy Adams as 'the most magnificent and elegant private mansion that I have ever seen on this continent'. Indeed the formal Georgian style mansion is breathtaking, with its elaborate woodwork, French wallpaper and 18th-century locally made furnishings. The house also features silver and decorative oriental objects d'art, gathered by John Brown who made his fortune trading with China, as well as the slave trade.

The small but comprehensive museum attached to the Rhode Island design college features many changing exhibitions, particularly relating to textiles. The museum's permanent collection includes the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller collection of Japanese prints, Chinese terracotta, Greek statuary and some French Impressionist paintings. Highlights are works by masters such as Monet, Cézanne, Rodin and Picasso. There is also an American section containing paintings by Gilbert Stuart, John Singleton Copley and John Singer Sargent.

Providence's zoo is situated in a beautiful 174-hectare (430-acre) Victorian park accessed from Elmwood Avenue on the south edge of the city. The Roger Williams Park also contains two other popular attractions, a museum of natural history and a planetarium, as well as offering a relaxing spot to picnic, feed the ducks, ride a pony or rent a paddleboat. The zoo is home to more than 900 animals from 156 different species, with display areas divided into different habitats, including Tropical America, the Plains of Africa and Australasia. Special features are a walk-through aviary and underwater viewing areas for polar bears and seals.

Rhode Island's magnificent white marble Georgian state house was inspired by London's St Paul's Cathedral and the US Capitol. It has the distinction of sporting one of only four self-supporting domes in the world, the others being St Peter's Basilica, the Taj Mahal, and the Minnesota State Capitol. The beautiful building in Smith Street houses the original Rhode Island Charter of 1663 and an historic portrait of George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart, a Rhode Island native. The Washington portrait is renowned for being the one used on the American dollar bill.

Providence's renovated downtown waterfront is known as Waterplace Park, a haven of romantic Venetian footbridges and cobblestone walkways that has won national and international design awards. The river walk was the centre of the shipping trade in the city's early years, sited at the junction of three rivers. Today it draws enthusiastic crowds to the popular Waterfire events, held several times a year. This multimedia festival involves nearly 100 blazing braziers that rise from the river, seemingly to dance atop the water to the tune of rhythmic music. Waterfire events are not held to schedule and visitors can find out from the visitor information centre in the clock tower (open daily from 10am to 4pm) when the next is to be held, or consult the Waterfire website www.waterfire.orgFree concerts and plays are also frequently held in the Waterplace Amphitheatre.

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