Providence may seem like a sleepy city compared to its much larger nearby urban neighbor, Boston. But the city, just under an hour from Boston, has its own unique attractions, including the annual WaterFire extravaganza.

downtown Providence

Downtown Providence. Credit: Brown University

Providence, Rhode Island, is a small, walkable city, so you don’t have to spend any money on public transportation or parking in the city; you can leave your car at your hotel and walk to most family-friendly activities around the city. Here are five free things to do in Providence on your next family vacation.

1. Picnic at Roger Williams Park. Open year round at 1000 Elmwood Ave, the park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It includes a handicapped-accessible playground, specimen trees and outdoor public sculpture. The 472 acre park also is home to a zoo, the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, and the Botanical Center, all of which charge admission.

free in Providence

2.  Providence Children’s Museum. Free from 5 to 8pm on MetLife Family Friday. The museum is best for kids, ages 5 – 11. Open the third Friday of the month from September – May, then every Friday night during June, July and August.

3. RISD Museum. Free on the last Saturday of the month. A variety of hands-on workshops, performances, videos and special gallery quests throughout the day. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

4. Waterfire.  This annual extravaganza erupts every spring through early fall in downtown Providence. You can stroll around the city’s multi-sensory art installation, highlighted by a series of bonfires installed on the three rivers of downtown Providence. There is also live music accompanying the fires.

5. Gallery Night. The third Thursday of the month from March through November at galleries around town. A free bus loops throughout the city and stops at participating galleries, art shops and museums.

Have you been to Providence? What was your favorite free thing to do there?