Providence is Rhode Island’s capital city and the most populous city in the state. This compact city, situated at the head of the Narragansett Bay, is the third largest city in the New England area. Founded in 1636 by Roger Williams – one of the original thirteen colonies – the city was named after “God’s merciful Providence” in honor of the haven it provided to Williams and his followers.
Providence’s many restaurants, educational institutions, and historical traditions add to the charm of this quirky city. Although small and compact, Providence is characterized by geography with very steep hills, which makes walking a challenge and biking only for the hardiest visitors. This architecturally diverse and vibrant American city is a must-visit destination for history buffs wanting to add to their list of travel adventures. Here are some of the best stops for visitors to Providence.
Downtown Providence & Providence River
Head downtown for a taste of old Providence concentrated in the modern finance district. The streets wind erratically around the compact downtown area, cutting past many noteworthy 19th century buildings with their Federal and Victorian architecture. Historic downtown houses the tallest buildings in Providence, including the art-deco-style Bank of America building. The adjacent and newer Capitol Center area contains the Providence Place Mall, hotels such as the Westin and Biltmore, and luxury condominiums.
The Providence River, flowing from the Narragansett Bay, divides the downtown area from the east side located atop the hill. Take an evening stroll down Waterpark Place along the river and perhaps you will see a WaterFire. “WaterFire” is an art installation that floats on the river: one hundred bonfires are lit just above the water’s surface.
Providence Place Mall
Located near the interchange of I-95, I-195, and U.S. 6, the Providence Place Mall is home to multiple floors of shopping and dining. In fact, the mall contains fifteen floors in total, many designated for underground parking. The mall opened in 1999 becoming the largest shopping mall inRhode Islandand one of the largest in all of southernNew England. For shopping, the mall offers a Bed, Bath, & Beyond, clothing stores such as H&M and Francesca’s, and various home goods shops. On the center of the third floor is a large food court and just above on the fourth floor are a Dave and Buster’s and IMAX theater and cinema. Streetside restaurants offer a variety from The Cheescake Factory to P.F. Chang’s China Bistro.
Just south of downtown, the neighborhood of Federal Hill is best known for its abundance of restaurants – often staffed by students of the local Johnson and Wales culinary arts program. This centrally located area is also home to a large Italian American community and whispered rumors of Mafia ties. The gateway arch overAtwells Avenue welcomes resident and visitor a like to the street. The La Pigna sculpture atop the arch is an Italian symbol of welcome, abundance, and quality. Dotting both sides of the street are a host of restaurants and cafés with intermittent small parks and streetside cafes. At Federal Hill you’re in the best hands possible for all of your dining desires.
RISD Art Museum
Often overlooked, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum is the 20th largest art museum in the United States. The museum contains works from all over the world as well as by local artists. Bet you didn’t know that the museum features prominent international artists such as Picasso, Monet, Manet, Paul Revere and Andy Warhol. With over 86,000 pieces of art, the RISD Museum takes quite a bit of time to traverse. The layout is winding and intriguing at every step. New exhibitions are added almost monthly so be sure to check the website for a list of current and forthcoming exhibits. Be sure to visit while the Pendleton House exhibit is still ongoing – the 18th and 19th century furniture is truly remarkable.
No visit to Providenceis complete without a trip to Thayer Streetlocated atop College Hill and snuggled in between theBrownUniversitycampuses. This street is frequented by students, staff, faculty and locals making it the place to indulge in some great people watching. The street boasts with an array of multi-ethnic cafés, coffee shops, restaurants, the Brown bookstore, vintage and Etsy-type clothing stores, and a variety of memorabilia shops. As the spot-to-be for college kids, this street has something for everyone to enjoy packed in just a few blocks.
This Ivy League university is located on the East Side of Providence atop what is affectionately called “College Hill.” Brown University is the 7th oldest institution of higher education in theUnited States, with history to match. The open campus is welcoming to both visitors and locals, providing lush green spaces for everyone to enjoy. Tour buses with international visitors are a common site at all times of the year. In warm months the campus is littered with students laying on the greens, playing Frisbee, or just strolling through soaking up the beautiful scene. Brown’s campus offers a look at American colonial era architecture in the Georgian style. Stop by the Van Wickle Gates which open only twice a year to admit new freshman and to send graduating seniors into the world. Photo ops are greatly appreciated by Brown’s mascot Bruno the bear, a statue standing on the Main Green.
The Duck & Bunny
If you have some extra time and want to enjoy a taste of one of the favorite local spots in Providencethen head just south of BrownUniversityto Wickenden Street. Here there are more cafés and restaurants, with everything from Ethiopian to Asian cuisines and a strong “health food” vibe. One of the most beloved is The Duck and Bunny, a “snuggery,” or warm and cozy little restaurant. You’re welcomed by a sign of a duck and bunny hanging above a flight of stairs leading to the tiny restaurant inside a Victorian home. The walls and floors are decadently adorable with classic paintings artistically altered to portray the two mascots. The décor is just the beginning of the cuteness. Try the famous cupcakes, with flavors changing daily. The Duck and Bunny also serves coffee milk, the official state drink of Rhode Island. One sip and you’ll be traveling back to Providence just for your coffee milk fix.
There is a reason why Providence is Rhode Island’s capital and most populous city. Ask any local and you’ll hear a resounding decree why Providence is one of the most loveable cities in the New England area. Small on space but big on charm, this city will leave you wanting more.
Guest post written by Samantha Rose, who studies Comparative Literature at Brown University and writes on travel, lifestyle and fashion for a variety of sites, including Brown’s fashion magazine “Unhemmed” and Catalogs.com.