There’s a mixture of things in Providence, and while I would recommend it as more of a day trip than a weekend visit, areas like College Hill are beautiful, and visiting on a WaterFire weekend will show you some of the life in the city. If you are planning on visiting Providence, I suggest also heading down to Newport if you’ve never been to the mansions, or to some of the beaches in South County.
Providence is a city of neighborhoods. Federal Hill (FH) is the popular Italian neighborhood, though not all of the restaurants are great. DownCity (DC) has trendy shops like Symposium Books, Craftland, and Small Point Cafe. College Hill (CH) near Brown and RISD is a more historic neighborhood with a classic New England vibe. Wickenden Street is dotted with good coffee shops
1.) Small Point Cafe–Providence has a number of coffee shops (like all the great ones along Wickenden Street), but I’d say that Small Point is my favorite. This DownCity shop is in a growing neighborhood and serves great drinks and bagels in a funky space with chalkboard walls and Gumby adorning the counter. Visit for a while to enjoy the coffee and people watching. Plus, DownCity is a good neighborhood, though small, with other shops like Craftland and Symposium Books which are worth poking around. 230 Westminster Street, $
2.) RISD Museum–Located in Providence’s historic College Hill neighborhood, the RISD Museum is a day trip in and of itself. This museum houses extensive collections of modern art, and I recommend picking a couple of exhibits to focus on during your visit. In the past, I’ve enjoyed the modern exhibits as well as the Japanese woodblock prints, Egyptian, and Asian art collections. Bring your student ID for a discount. 224 Benefit Street, Free-$$
After visiting the museum, it’s worth spending some time exploring College Hill. The Providence Athenaeum is one of the oldest libraries in the country and is a booklover’s paradise inside. The Providence Art Club is another beautiful building in the area that showcases local artists’ work.
3.) WaterFire–Anyone can tell you to go to WaterFire if you visit Providence, and they’re not wrong in doing so. This public art installation breathes a lot of life into the city and encourages people to go out for the night, get a bite to eat or a drink, and then enjoy the show. On select summer nights, WaterFire ignites a series of fires along the rivers through Providence. A gondola rides through to represent the city’s Italian heritage, and different music symbolizes the city’s history. Waterplace Park, Free
4.) Providence Flea–Lesser known than WaterFire, the Providence Flea market is another good reason to get into the city on summer weekends. Down the road from College Hill, this flea market hosts vendors who sell antiques and a number of upcycled products, like skateboard pens. It’s fun to take a walk around and see what they offer. At the very least, it’s a good way to start a Sunday visit into the city before heading to the RISD Museum, which is free Sundays. Make sure to haggle! 345 South Water Street, Free
5.) Pane e Vino or Al Forno–For many, Providence is synonymous with Italian food. Its Federal Hill neighborhood touts a number of Italian markets and restaurants, and I’ve tried a couple so far. Camille’s is good, though pricy, but Pane e Vino has been my favorite on the Hill. They do a good job serving Italian classics with a slight local flair, and the environment is warm and open while still part of the hokey (which I mean in a good way) Federal Hill aesthetic. 365 Atwells Avenue, $$
Al Forno is another popular restaurant, though not on the Hill, that doesn’t need travel bloggers writing about it to draw in the crowds. Though in an out of the way location, Al Forno is decidedly more modern in both its ambience and its take on Italian dishes. My Italian grandmother was quick to complain that the pasta was “too” al dente for her, but I think the dishes deliver with regards to flavor. 577 South Water Street, $$$$
Here are some of my other picks:
- Camille’s (FH)–good Italian food right in Federal Hill. Though it’s pricy, it’s worth it.
- Pane e Vino (FH)–some of the best Italian food in the city and a quieter atmosphere.
- Al Forno–not in Federal Hill serves more modern fare. It’s pricy and located in a weird spot, but everything tasted really great.
- Cafe Zog (W)–cheap cappuccinos and cookies and is pretty quiet inside, so the people who were working had a good environment to think in.
- Coffee Exchange (W)–another Wickenden St. coffee shop with lots of space inside and a nice porch outside to sit. It’s a little pricier, and the barista who served me wasn’t particularly friendly.
- Duck and Bunny (W)–good coffee, tasty looking baked goods
- College Hill–a great area to walk around near Brown and RISD
- Symposium Books (DC)–a nice, cluttered bookstore. Their selection is slightly limited, but it’s a very interesting, independent bookstore worth checking out.
- Providence Athenaeum (CH)–a very cool library, free and open to visitors
- Dunkin Donuts Center–catch a Providence College Friars game
- Providence Art Club (CH)–a great, free gallery near the RISD Museum and College Hill. They have some very cool, old-time clubhouse type rooms as well.
- Roger Williams Zoo–I wouldn’t rate this as your highest priority if you’re in Providence, but if you have time to kill and you like animals, this zoo is pretty good. My favorite is the Red Panda.
- Providence Place Mall–if you’re going to the mall or it’s a rainy day, this mall is huge and pretty nice inside (plus they have a Dairy Queen!)
- Craftland (DC)–Providence’s requisite hipster/offbeat gift store, lots of Rhody things (Downcity)
- Foolproof Brewery–Great beer tasting, though a bit out of the way. Rain Cloud Porter is really good