Providence is one of the most underrated cities in America. Big claim, I know, but if you haven’t been to Providence then you need to take a look for yourself.
Rhode Island is the smallest state in the US, and even though tourism is the state’s 4th biggest industry, it doesn’t really seem to be on anyone’s road trip itineraries. It definitely should be! If you’ll be in the New England area anytime soon, here’s the 10 best things to do in Providence!
1. RELAX ON THE RIVER
The river that winds through the city center is the pride and joy of Providence, and believe me when I tell you that spending an afternoon on the water will be the most relaxing way to see the city.
A Gondola ride from La Gondola will have you slowly drifting along with the sounds of beautifully sung Italian songs in your ears. The guys that run it actually have the first American-made Venetian gondola, and two gondolas that were constructed in Venice – one of which was used to rescue people in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
You can also take a River Boat Cruise during the day or at sunset, and Captain Tom will give you a narrative of the historical and architectural points of interest while you cruise along.
2. DINE OUTDOORS IN FEDERAL HILL
If you’re into Al Fresco dining, you love Federal Hill. The large Italian community in Providence has ensured that you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to dining outdoors. This is also a great spot to stop for coffee – Vanuatu Coffee Roasters was my fave.
If you’re in Providence in June, you can also check out the Federal Hill Stroll – perfect for foodies who want to taste a little of everything the area has to offer.Where to stay: Hilton Providence
3. WANDER AROUND DOWNTOWN
Once you’re standing in the city center, your can walk to basically anywhere of interest in less than 20 minutes. Walking the city will also allow you to see a ton of beautiful buildings, walk over bridges that cross the pretty river, and stop to enter the vintage stores and boutique shops scattered about the streets.Where to stay: Hotel Providence
4. EAT & DRINK
Providence actually has a great foodie scene. You can find some great places to eat in the downtown area. The Rosendale was one of my favorite hangouts, and their slightly fancy version of pub grub was totally on point. Also, they do whiskey infused with banana, or apple and cinnamon. It might sound kind of weird, but it’s like a delicious boozy dessert.
Rooftop at the ProvidenceG immediately made me think that I was back in NYC, and their wood-fired pizzas looked fabulous. I had the pesto gnocchi. It was phenomenal.
If you’re a brunch person (and really, who isn’t) then head to Circe Restaurant. I thought that the pancakes I make at home were pretty good, but they are nothing compared to the mind-blowing buttermilk pancakes I had at Circe.
One last place to check out in Providence is Local 121, which serves fresh food harvested locally. It’s also got a gorgeous art-deco interior, a beautiful bar with mahogany panels and stained glass windows, and an old-fashioned speakeasy downstairs!
5. ATTEND PVDFEST
This arts and culture festival is only in it’s second year, but it seems that everyone in Rhode Island came into town to get festive. I didn’t expect to love PVDfest as much as I did. Street festivals are always good, but this one was just so much fun. The parade was so energetic, and the streets were filled with smiles.
6. EXPERIENCE WATERFIRE
Another notable Providence event is Waterfire, where rows of small bonfires are lit in the river to bring people into the downtown area. It’s honestly all anyone in Providence talks about, so it must be good!
8. VISIT THE STATE HOUSE
This iconic State House is perched on a hill next to downtown and stands well above every other building in the city. The dome is actually the fourth largest self supporting marble dome in the world, after St Peter’s Basilica, Taj Mahal, and the Minnesota State Capitol.Where to stay: Renaissance Providence Downtown
7. FIND ALL THE PUBLIC ART
I had no idea that Providence would provide a ton of amazing street art. The Avenue Concept is an urban art group who have commissioned a bunch of murals in the downtown area, all of which are awesomely impressive. Find them in and around the Washington Street parking lot.
While you’re wandering around downtown, you’ll no doubt spot some of the public sculptures and installation art scattered about the city. Keep your eyes peeled!
9. CHECK OUT BENEFIT STREET
Visit Rhode Island has dubbed Benefit Street as ‘The most impressive concentration of original Colonial homes in America’. The 1.2 mile stretch of historic buildings is an outdoor museum of small and grand old houses – a great place to spend a sunny afternoon.
10. HIT UP SOME MUSEUMS & GALLERIES
The RISD Museum is a part of the Rhode Island School of Design. At the time of my visit, the museum had a Todd Oldham fashion exhibition on, which was surprisingly good. There are plenty of things to see in the museum, ranging from ancient fabrics to modern art.
The John Brown house is another notable museum. This historic house, built in 1788, sits on the hill overlooking Providence and is a great place to learn about the city’s history.Where to stay: The Dean Hotel