Referred to as one of America’s favorite cities, we decided to explore what Providence had to offer as long as we were staying overnight on our way to other destinations on our New England Road trip. Providence was a convenience and economical place to spend the night and recharge before heading back on the road but it turned out to be a charming city worth visiting all in its own.
The city is clean, safe, and economical. We found two very comfortable hotels, the Wyndham Hilton Garden Inn [220 India Street, (401) 272-5572], located near the east end of Providence off 195, and the Omni Providence Hotel [1 Exchange Street, (401) 598-8000], located near downtown and off exit 22 on I-95, near the convention center. The Omni hotel is the pricier of the two, but we got a great discount last minute on a travel website and enjoyed the amenities of the largest hotel in Providence on a budget.
If staying at the Omni and exploring downtown, Providence has an emerging food, wine and brewery scene. It was late at night when we arrived, but one place we still found open was Faust, located in the Dean hotel [122 Fountain Street, (401) 455-DEAN] The food had a German twist to it naturally, as it is named after the classic German legend of Faust, a protagonist who is dissatisfied with his life and so makes a pact with the Devil at a crossroads, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. We sat in the dimly lit dining area, our heads leaning against the white subway tile that lines the walls and watched how it reflected the soft orange glow of their lights. I enjoyed a somewhat spicy take on chicken paprika served with buttery spaetzle and slowly sipped my large, ice cold beer. It was a great place to sit back and hang after our long drive. The next night, we enjoyed a lovely French bistro meal at Bravo Brasserie [123 Empire Street, (401) 490-5112]. I had a satisfying steak frites entrée off a typical French Bistro menu, at a table with dark burgundy banquette seating surrounded by moody string lighting. For more restaurants and recommendations, visit GoProvidence.com. You might discover a good night to go on an art gallery walk, or find live music playing the Union Station Brewery [36 Exchange Terrace, (401) 274-2739], Rhode Island’s first brewery pub (check out here).
During the day we took a walk to the Little Italy of Providence, in the Federal Hill neighborhood. It is an area circled roughly by Atwells Avenue and Spruce Street. For us it was a healthy walk from the downtown Omni hotel, across an overpass over I-95 and straight onto Atwells Avenue. Providence’s Little Italy is a great place for dining, shopping and festivals. It has a lovely square, centered with a pineapple fountain that is surrounded by outdoor dining. It was a hot, sunny day in August when we were there, but not too humid and great for strolling around. If you want a fine dining experience, one of the best restaurants in Rhode Island is located there, Siena [328 Atwells Avenue, (401) 521-3311]. For lunch, we chose a more affordable option, Andino’s [171 Atwells Avenue, (401) 453-3164], a favorite among Providence locals. While we ate lunch, there was a big circle table in the front surrounded by locals who were enjoying a special celebration meal and big plates of veal and pasta. I kept with a simple grilled chicken salad and a glass of Pellegrino, as it was too much for me to eat a heavy pasta meal midday in summer. However, the menu is full of all your Italian favorites to try out. For a map of all restaurants, shops and parks in the area, click here or visit federalhillprov.com.
In 1994 the downtown area was revitalized with a river walk which was built along the redirected Providence river, with venetian-inspired bridges, and several parks. The 2 mile walk runs along the Providence river through downtown approximately from the Point Street bridge, through Memorial Park to Waterplace Park, with plenty of walks that detours that sprout out alongside the main artery of the walk (map). It hosts festivals throughout the year, the best known being the WaterFire Installation which lights up the river on certain scheduled nights (see schedule). For a romantic evening, if you want to ride underneath the bridges in a gondola and feel like you might be in Venice, there is the famous La Gondala. If a boat tour of Providence is more what you are looking for, the Providence River Boat Co. offers narrated daily tours, twilight river cruises and more.
Staying next at the Wyndham hotel on the east side of Providence kept us close to two attractions, the India Point Park and Brown University, along with its historic neighborhood.
India Point Park
It was named after maritime activity connecting Providence with the East and West Indies. Its located where the Providence River meets the Seekonk River, and is part of the East Bay Bike Path. A great place to run or take a stroll, it has a pedestrian bridge over route 195 so that you can continue on to other points in Providence. The park hosts the annual 4th of July fireworks, many festivals, and also has an adjacent dock where you can take a ferry to Newport, RI.
Brown University and the College Hill Historic District
Founded in 1764, Brown University is one of the original colonial colleges founded before the American Revolution, and part of the prestigious Ivy League. A walk along or near its campus will immerse you in a little bit of student life, as will grabbing a quick coffee at a café, browsing the shops on Thayer Street, or dropping into the college bookstore on Benefit Street. When you’re finished reminiscing about (perhaps long-gone) college days, it is pleasant to take a walk through the College Hill Historic district, known for its mid-19th century revival architecture and quaint, historic homes. This area is the site of Providence’s original settlement dating from 1636 and is a charming place to explore. If you have energy left, this area is also home to the Rhode Island School of Design Museum (RISD Museum), at 20 N. Main Street, (401) 454-6500.
Unfortunately for us, time was short and we had to hit the road again, but we discovered there is still so much to do in Providence when we return.
Top 10 things to do in Providence, RI
- River Walk
- Water Fire Installation
- Brown University
- College Hill Historic District
- Little Italy
- Food and Beer Brewery Scene
- Art Walks
- India Point Park
- East Bay Bike Path
Date trip taken: September 2015