Providence’s Waterfire festivals offer evening of enchantment

The Nashua Telegraph, August 14th, 2011

Providence Waterfire Article

Providence 029

During the 1990s, the city of Providence and the state of Rhode Island teamed up to uncover the city’s rivers. The Providence River and its tributaries, the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck rivers, had been so completely covered over with paved roadways that many of the city’s residents didn’t even know where they were.

Now the rivers are open to the sky again, and they have become the heart of Providence’s renaissance. Waterplace Park and the Riverwalk give pedestrians access to the banks of the rivers, while graceful new bridges arch the waterways.

To celebrate the rebirth of the rivers and the renaissance of Rhode Island’s capital city, every spring through fall up to 100 bonfires are lit on several weekend nights as part of the Waterfire festival. Spend an enchanting summer evening in a revitalized city, enjoying arts, culture, fine dining, and the amazing sensory experience of Waterfire.

On the Way

Providence is about an hour and a half from Southern New Hampshire–perfect for a day trip. While you’re headed there, why not enjoy some attractions along the way?

Patriot Place and Gillette Stadium — If you have sports fans in your entourage, be sure to stop at Patriot Place on Route 1 in Foxboro, which can be accessed from either Interstate 95 or Interstate 495. Patriot Place offers more than one million square feet of shopping, dining and entertainment options, but your wide-eyed sports fans will zero in on two things: Gillette Stadium, and the Hall at Patriots Place, better known as the New England Patriots’ Hall of Fame.

Work your way around to the north end of the stadium and descend the stairs (an elevator is available in the adjacent Brigham and Women’s health clinic) and you can walk right up to the gates across the open end of the field. From here you’ll have a fantastic view of the interior of what is widely regarded as one of the finest sports stadiums in the country. Right next to this end of the stadium you will find the Hall at Patriots Place. For an admission of $10 for adults and $5 for children, you can view artifacts and exhibits from more than 50 years of New England’s beloved NFL franchise.

Patriot Place is open on Monday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM and Sundays from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. The Hall at Patriot Place is open on Sunday through Friday from 10 AM to 7 PM and Saturdays from 10 AM to 9 PM.

The Wrentham Village Premium Outlets — If you and your fellow travellers love a bargain, then head south on Interstate 495 and hop off at Exit 15 for fine outlet shopping, including designer names like Barneys New York, Burberry, Coach, and more. The Wrentham Village Premium Outlets offer more than 170 stores, plus several casual dining options if you’re passing through at lunch or dinnertime.

The Wrentham Village Premium Outlets are open on Monday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM and Sundays from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, with some extended seasonal hours. After leaving the outlets head south on Interstate 495 to the junction with Interstate 95 to resume your trip to Providence.

Arriving in Providence

One of the showpieces of Providence’s revitalized downtown is the Providence Place Mall, whose location right next to both Interstate 95 and the heart of the city makes it a convenient place to park for a day of exploring. Take Exit 22 toward Memorial Boulevard and downtown Providence, then turn left onto Francis Street (Route 1) or follow the signs to Providence Place. You can park at the mall until after closing hours, but if you do you’ll need a credit card to pay for your departure at a kiosk. During mall hours you can pay for your parking inside the mall with cash. Parking is affordable; approximately 5 hours cost our party only $7. Downtown Providence also offers plentiful on-street parking.

Exit the mall through the “Cityside” elevators to the lower level, and you’re on your way to the city’s riverside attractions. Take a right onto Francis Street and a left onto Memorial Boulevard, past the Ruth’s Chris Steak House, and you’ll see entrances to the Riverwalk. Or take a left out of the mall and a right onto Finance Way to get to the entrance to Waterplace Park. Either route will take you to where the Waterfire lighting ceremony begins.

Waterfire attracts between 20,000 and 100,000 visitors, so you may want to arrive earlier in the day to beat the crowds looking for parking. This will give you an opportunity to explore Providence’s remarkable architecture and visit cultural attractions while you wait for the lighting ceremony, which occurs at dusk.


If you and your fellow travellers are hungry after your trip, downtown Providence offers a wealth of dining options.

One of the most unique and fun dining options is right in the Providence Place Mall. Fire + Ice offers a unique take on Mongolian barbecue by extending it to many different cuisines, from Cajun to Italian. It’s all-you-can-eat, and your server will be happy to suggest possible combinations. Then you select your own ingredients from a buffet-style selection, and bring them up to the cooking area. Half the fun is watching multiple cooks handling different stages of cooking on the huge, round, Mongolian-style grill. The other half of the fun is eating, because Fire + Ice prepares delicious food which gives you plenty of energy for exploring a city on foot.

Walking around Providence will reveal dozens of other appealing dining options. For instance, the block between Memorial Boulevard and Exchange Terrace, just around the corner from Providence Place, features Ruth’s Chris Steak House, the Union Station Brewery, the Luxe Burger Bar, and Ri Ra Irish Pub and Restaurant. Next to Waterplace Park is the Waterplace Restaurant and Lounge. Free booklets handed out during Waterfire events contain several other dining suggestions.

Arts and Culture

Providence has the good fortune to host several world-class colleges and universities, so the city is blessed with an unusually high concentration of the arts. One excellent venue to experience the city’s art scene is the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design, located about one block from the Riverwalk at 224 Benefit Street.

This critically acclaimed museum occupies five buildings on the historic East Side of Providence and houses over 84,000 art objects from ancient times right up through today. Upcoming exhibitions include contemporary British art from the Richard Brown Baker Collection, 18th Century British paintings of Italy, and Japanese Buddhist priest robes from the Lucy T. Aldrich Collection.

The museum is open on Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, $3 for youths aged 5-18 and college students with a valid school ID, and free for children under age 5. After leaving the museum, be sure to stroll around and view the magnificent old architecture of Providence’s East Side, some of which dates to Colonial times.

When the Sun Goes Down

As sunset approaches, crowds begin to gather along the riverbanks. Some streets are closed down to make way for street performers and vendors. On a warm night, tens of thousands may mingle in the heart of Providence, waiting for the fires to be lit.

Music fills the air from speakers along the rivers. The music is selected by Barnaby Evans, the artist and graduate of Providence’s Brown University who founded Waterfire. It includes an eclectic selection of songs from around the world which produce an eerily beautiful effect as the tunes echo up and down the narrow confines of the Riverwalk. Gondolas make their stately way up and down the rivers as spectators relax along the banks or gather at Waterplace Park.

Braziers float at anchor along the river, loaded with reclaimed pine and cedar wood. At Waterplace Park, where the waters gather into a round pond called the Basin in the midst of the bowl-shaped park, boats begin to circle. These boats carry crews of black-clad fire tenders carrying torches.

As dusk deepens, the fire tenders set the torches to the braziers and the true magic begins. The flames flicker at first, and then slowly build up into crackling bonfires. The aromatic scent of burning cedar and pine fills the air as firelight dances across the faces of thousands of enchanted spectators.

To get the full effect of Waterfire, move around and view the fires from different vantage points. From the bridges over the rivers you can feel the heat and see long rows of bonfires stretching into the distance as the last flickers of daylight fade in the west. The fires stay lit and the music continues to play until after midnight, keeping the magic going well into the night. It’s a view of the center of a city as you’ve never seen it before, and the enchantment will linger with you for days.

Remaining Waterfire events for 2011 are scheduled on July 30, August 13, September 10, September 24, and October 8. To find out more about Waterfire, visit the Waterfire Providence web site at