As summer begins to heat up, so does Providence – particularly the Providence River. Every Rhode Islander is well familiar with the phenomenon of WaterFire. If you’re not, here’s the quick and dirty breakdown. On most Saturdays beginning in mid May until the first week of October, local business in Providence come together and host the lighting of over eighty floating braziers from Waterplace Park to Memorial/South Main Street Park right at sunset. Foreigners flock, avid instagramers snap furiously and locals and tourists alike rush to the walls and bridges over the water to watch the sun set in downtown Providence and enjoy a multitude of floating bonfires. This beautiful demonstration exemplifies the quirky individuality that makes Providence the city we’ve learned to love in the past year of adventure here. It just so happened to be one of our first larger events we went to when we first moved to Rhode Island. I come from San Diego, a big shiny city (quite literally due to the amount of sunshine we get) where large monopoly businesses are king and small businesses duke it out to try to get the attention of consumers. One of the things I noticed of when we first moved here was the comradery of small business owners and that Rhode Island thrives off of it’s entrepreneurial spirit. The fact that these small businesses were coming together to create a free event for the people of the city amazed me. So did big, pretty, floating bonfires.
All mushy feelings aside about this beloved city, it also makes for a free and fun date night! We arrived fairly early as we had no idea what to expect and parking in the College Hill area can get a little dicey due to limited places to park and residential areas packed tightly against the busy Down City area. We grabbed some sandwiches to go at the quirky and always entertaining Geoff’s Sandwiches. If you’re not from around these woods and want to get a feel for what the Providence attitude is, walk into Geoff’s, make sure to read their cunningly named sandwiches and ask for no pickles. Kidding! Don’t ask for no pickles as you’ll get heckled by the staff.
Packing away the sandwiches, we walked up and down the river trying to scope out the best seating and getting the lay of this new land. After taking a cue from some locals, we walked around some rose bushes and sat on the river wall with our feet dangling a few feet from its dark surface (don’t fall in, that’s a sure way to kill the mood). As atmospheric music played in the background, we enjoyed our dinner by the river and watched gondolas with couples that weren’t on our same tight budget drift under the bridges.
Soon the sun started to set and the music grew louder. After the intro announcement was made, a small boat with volunteers drifted down the river lighting each brazier. As the sun made its final bow for the night, new light from the blazing, floating bonfires danced on the rivers surface and lit up the newly darkened city. Once we had our fill of taking in the summer night, we perused the local vendors with options for more snacks, desserts and local art before going home.
WaterFire is the perfect activity for night out together if you’re on a budget, looking for an outside summer activity or if you’re looking for something outside the institutional dinner and a movie. What’s more romantic than strolling in a beautiful city, bonfires and a front row view of the river on a warm night? When we think of something, we’ll write about it and share it with you.