Planning a stop in Providence, Rhode Island? Here’s where to eat, drink, and stay, and what to see.
Just a short drive down from Boston and a few hours north of the Big Apple, Providence, Rhode Island is a quaint New England capital that boasts a bevy of historic homes and one of the best food scenes in the northeast. The Providence River wends its way past downtown and College Hill, opening out onto picturesque Narragansett Bay. Those in the know go to Federal Hill for Italian eats, Waterplace Park to relax by the river, and Fox Point to explore a variety of antique stores and mom-and-pop shops.
If you’re visiting Providence, here are some highlights you won’t want to miss.
Where to Eat and Drink
For breakfast, choose from one of the many cafes scattered throughout the city. L’Artisan Cafe & Bakery in Wayland Square offers a wide variety of baked goods, sandwiches, and coffee drinks in addition to Lebanese pies, all of which can be enjoyed outdoors on the patio. Seven Stars Bakery has three locations around the city and specializes in artisan breads (the olive bread is a local favorite). For Parisian-inspired pastries served in a charming atmosphere, head downtown to Ellie’s, just north of the Jewelry District. If you’re looking for a hearty brunch, Julian’s in Federal Hill has plenty of eggy dishes, plus some vegan options.
For lunch, head to Tallulah’s Taqueria on Ives Street in Fox Point for brightly-flavored tacos, burritos, and tortas. On the same street, you can also enjoy the soothing spa-like atmosphere of Aleppo Sweets, which offers traditional mezze, kabobs, and the most heavenly handmade baklava outside the Middle East. Further down the street, make sure to stop in at PVDonuts to indulge in an over-the-top treat (the menu changes monthly and includes vegan and flourless options).
If you’re downtown, stop by Livi’s Pockets for Israeli food, like a falafel wrap, or a classic deli sandwich. If you’re on Main Street, don’t miss Plant City, the new vegan food hall from Matthew Kenney Cuisine that offers quick cafe bites, a small market, and three sit down restaurants that offer Mexican, Italian, or American comfort food.
For dinner, Al Forno—located right on the river—reigns as the local favorite, and for good reason; its pizzas and handmade dessert tarts are legendary. But since they only accept reservations for parties of six or more, there may be a long wait for a table.
You might have better luck at nearby Milk Money, which features a copper bar, rustic decor, and farm-to-table menu. The cocktails there are exceptionally good, too. If fresh seafood is what you’re after, head downtown to Oberlin, where items like raw bluefish dressed in olive oil and lemon and handmade picci pasta will perk up your tastebuds. Let the friendly staff select a wine or sake to go with your meal to enhance the experience.
End the night at one of the many local bars with character. Sip a tiki drink at Ogie’s Trailer Park, a kitschy bar and restaurant with outdoor seating in Federal Hill.
If you’re into art deco, hit up The Avery in Federal Hill, for its stunning decor and intimate atmosphere. Or, head to the cozy Courtland Club, a former men’s social club turned bakery turned bar that offers superb and inventive cocktails, a pop-up kitchen for midnight snacking, and live jazz on Sundays.
What to See and Do
Since the Providence River runs right through the center of the city, it provides the perfect vantage point for sightseeing. Book yourself an hour-long cruise with the Providence River Boat Company so you can sit back, relax, and let the captain regale you with entertaining tales about local history and the surrounding historic buildings. Tours run six days a week, from May to November, and book up quickly, so be sure to reserve tickets ahead of time.
From April through December, dozens of braziers set in the center of the river are set ablaze for WaterFire, a sculptural art event that draws visitors to the city from near and far. Pedestrians stroll along the waterfront walkways or grab a seat by the river’s edge to enjoy live music performances specially curated as a soundtrack to complement this magical experience.
Stretching along Main Street, The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) sits at the foot of College Hill. As you wander through the campus, you’ll pass a number of small shops and cafes, as well as the RISD Museum, which is well worth a visit. Featuring the work of famous artists and RISD alumni, from Impressionist paintings to modern sculptural furniture to centuries-old textiles and articles of clothing, you can view the entire impressive collection in as little as two hours.
In addition to Main Street, you’ll find plenty of places to shop and browse around the city. From eclectic book stores in the Jewelry District to funky clothing shops in Fox Point, there’s plenty to discover. On Sundays, the lively Providence Flea, held outdoors on the riverfront in summer and fall, is a great place to discover local artwork and vintage finds.
Where to Stay
The Dean Hotel
Just steps from the Rhode Island Convention Center, The Dean Hotel offers simple, modern comfort at a more economical price. Decorated with vintage furniture and unique artwork, it has a fun and funky vibe. The small lobby is dominated by Bolt Coffee, a quirky cafe worth visiting for artisanal beans and locally-made Knead doughnuts. The hotel also offers a farm-to-table restaurant, karaoke lounge, and swank cocktail bar.
Hotel Dolce Villa
Located on the lively De Pasquale Plaza in Federal Hill, the Hotel Dolce Villa is a comfortable and convenient option surrounded by some of the best Italian eateries on the east coast. The rooms are apartment-style and include many amenities, from a small but well-appointed kitchen to gas fireplaces in some rooms. While the decoration tends towards no-frills, the location and the price are hard to beat.
On my most recent visit, I was fortunate enough to stay at the Graduate Providence, a relatively new hotel in the former Biltmore located in the heart of downtown, courtesy of the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. The main lobby of the hotel features a grand staircase worthy of a celebrity entrance that curves around a glass elevator currently not in use. The rooms are spacious and charmingly decorated, with fun details like clam-themed wallpaper, shell-shaped chandeliers, and doughnut-themed artwork.
What’s your favorite place in Providence? Let us know in the comments!
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