If Boston Common and Central Park got together and had a baby, it would probably look a lot like Roger Williams Park in Providence. A 435 acre urban oasis with ponds, hills, and lots of history, Roger Williams Park (RWP) has the beauty of the Public Garden combined with the kinds of attractions you would find in Central Park. The park is home to a zoo, natural history museum and planetarium, botanical center, year round carousel, fully accessible playground, and Temple to Music. During the warmer months, you could easily spend a full day in the park and still not see everything. If you visit in the winter, complete your day with playtime at the Providence Children's Museum or a culinary adventure at the Culinary Arts Museum.
No matter the season or weather, there are lots of things to do with kids in Roger Williams Park. Here are 25 ideas for outdoor and indoor family fun:
1. Become a conductor of energy at the Museum of Natural History + Planetarium.
2. Stroll through the park during the fall months for spectacular leaf peeping.
3. Travel the world in an afternoon at the Roger Williams Park Zoo, where you’ll encounter red pandas, penguins, moon bears, camels, anteaters, and other animals from all over the globe.
4. While you’re at the zoo, learn all about the elephants during their daily baths (around 10:30 am) and stick around to see the giraffes up close.
5. Ride the carousel, a pony or the Roger Williams Express at Carousel Village (weekends only November – mid-April, daily during the warmer months).
6. After a spin on the carousel, fill up on your favorite junk food at the Depot Café (seasonal).
7. Shake hands with a giant Mr. Potato Head at the fully accessible Hasbro Boundless Playground in the Carousel Village.
8. Catch a glimpse of the Colonial Revival architectural style of the late nineteenth century as you pass by the Casino, a Rhode Island landmark.
9. Come face to face with carnivorous plants or explore fairy houses in April at the Botanical Center.
10. Play creatively with nature’s toys in Our Big Backyard at the Roger Williams Park Zoo.
11. Join the revelers during one of the many festivals at the Temple to Music.
12. Enjoy a quiet stroll through the Japanese Garden and imagine yourself on the other side of the world.
13. Try geocaching – the park is home to several beginner caches. (Hint: start in the Japanese Garden)
14. Find cheap thrills in the wintertime as you sled down the hills near the Temple to Music.
15. Pack a picnic lunch and spread out your blanket in the small forest across from the Museum of Natural History + Planetarium, complete with a pond view.
16. Experience the Rhode Island frozen lemonade craze for yourself at one of the New England Frozen Lemonade trucks peppered throughout the park (finding one near the Carousel Village is a safe bet).
17. Rent a boat and race your friends around the lake.
18. Put on your most dazzling smile and (at least pretend to) display family harmony for a photo opp at one of the park's prime picture spots: the Casino Bandstand, the bridge across from the Carousel Village, or the Japanese Garden.
19. Visit the horses grazing in the headquarters of the Providence Police Department’s Mounted Command. If you’re lucky, you’ll see one patrolling the park and might even get to pet its muzzle.
20. Hike through the park, starting at the Betsey Williams Cottage and Memorial. There you’ll find a huge old (over 100 years) London Plane tree – just the first of many interesting nature discoveries you can make in the park during your hike.
21. Explore the park by land and water aboard the "Miss Betsey", Roger Williams Park's Amphibious Duck Boat.
22. Be dazzled by thousands of intricately carved pumpkins at the RWP Zoo during the Jack o' Lantern Spectacular (September – early November). Consider adding a meal to your evening adventure for full bellies and VIP admission, or even better, register for a Family Overnight.
A few bonus tips:
1. When you get to RWP, go to the Carousel Village to park your car and take a look at the park map. It’s a central location with the carousel, café, playground, and trackless train. The Japanese Garden is very close by, and the Museum or Natural History + Planetarium is just across the street, along with the dock where you can rent swan boats.
2. If you are going to the zoo, go there first thing in the morning (there’s plenty of parking at the zoo) and head to Our Big Backyard before it becomes overrun with little people seeking adventure.
3. Geocaching in RWP can be rewarding for beginners, but be aware that there are also a number of missing caches.
4. Bring your own food. The dining options are limited.
5. The most comfortable bathrooms are at the zoo, botanical center, and natural history museum. I recommend insisting on a bathroom break for the whole family before you leave any of those places.
Roger Williams Park, 1000 Elmwood Avenue, Providence, RI 02907