Surprisingly, the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence is considered to be the best zoo in the Greater Boston region. Even though Boston is the bigger city with the bigger amenities, Providence’s zoo gets most of the attention. Providence is an overlooked small city, most well-known for being home to Ivy League Brown University and the State Capitol building.

Besides the zoo, there are plenty of historical attractions, beautiful parks, a number of theaters and museums, the state’s largest mall, and the historic Federal Hill neighborhood which is loaded with authentic Italian restaurants. Providence has most of the amenities you find in the big cities, minus the extreme congestion and traffic. The city is very compact and easy to get around. The city has been nicknamed “the Creative Capital” due to its’ strong arts presence and ongoing cultural events. Check out my 3 days in Providence post for a full guide to activities.

The Providence skyline seen from the East Bay bike path

The Roger Williams Park Zoo

This zoo is the must-do when visiting Providence. An afternoon strolling around this small zoo followed by lunch at a great local Italian restaurant like Andino’s is the perfect day out in this charming city.

The Roger Williams Park Zoo was founded way back in 1872. This makes it one of the oldest zoos in the country. While the zoo is quite small at just 40 acres, the lay out is nice, plus there is plenty of shade. It’s also home to a diverse variety of animals despite the smallish size. The grounds are clean and maintained and the animals enjoy plenty of space and appear to be well taken care of. The zoo is easier to get to and offers a much nicer ambiance than the Franklin Park Zoo near Boston.

Over 160 speices call the zoo home including several endangered species like the Red Wolf and the Snow Leopard. There are also a number of interesting exhibits here including a beautiful quarter mile long Wetlands trail. Most notably, a new rainforest exhibit opened in 2018. The path around the zoo is just a mile long, so about 1-2 hours or so is the max time you need here to see and do everything.

A brief photo tour of some of the animals which call the Providence Zoo home

Red panda at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, RI
the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, RI
Wolf at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, RI
Giraffe at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, RI
Flamingos at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, RI
Cats at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, RI
Elephant at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, RI
Adorable group of cats at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, RI
Bald eagle at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island

Summer is a perfect time to visit the zoo as the temps never really get too unbearably hot in the Providence area, plus there is plenty of shade due to the natural woodsy setting.

Autumn Leaf Peeping

Fall is also a nice time to visit as the weather is milder/less humid. And of course, New England easily wins the award for best fall foliage. If you have the extra time, adjacent Roger Williams Park, a large 400+ acre park with lots of ponds and leafy trees, offers amazing leaf peeping opportunities this time of year.

Gorgeous red foliage at Roger Williams Park in Providence, RI

Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular

The best time of all to visit is during the incredible Jack O’Lantern Spectacular. Each Halloween season, the zoo hosts one of the most festive pumpkin events you will find anywhere in the country. Over 5000 intricately carved pumpkins(in a changing theme each year) are on display via a special illuminated trail. After the regular zoo closes, hundreds line up to see this enchanting display which frequently makes headlines as one of the country’ top Halloween events (I fully agree with this honor!).

Back to the Future Jack O'Lantern at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, RI
A really cool Back to the Future inspired Jack O’Lantern at the 2017 event.
Look at this detail in this traditional New England scene from the 2014 event.
1000s of jack o'lanterns at the Jack O'Lantern Spectacular in Providence, RI
A Halloween masterpiece like no other

No matter when your Providence visit falls, there is plenty to do. Be sure to add a stroll around the Roger Williams Park Zoo to your Providence to-do list. A refreshing walk around this quaint zoo is the perfect place to spend an afternoon in a great city.

Additional Info

Roger Williams Park Zoo is located at: 1000 Elmwood Ave

Admission: $20 adults, $15 (ages 2-12), $17 (seniors)

Zoo hours vary based on season. Check the RWZ website for details