Divine Providence: Your Guide to New England’s Renaissance City
“Is Providence really the coolest city in the US?” asked The Boston Globe in 2016. Two years later, we’re here to answer with a resounding yes; Rhode Island’s capital is called “New England’s Renaissance City” for a reason. From the vibrant arts community (thanks to the famed Rhode Island School of Design) to the exploding culinary scene and active nightlife (the city is also home to Brown University and Providence College), Providence appeals to every type of weekend traveler.
Only a short train or bus ride from New York City and Boston, Providence is one of the most up-and-coming cities on the East Coast. The nearby beaches, charming colonial architecture, and unique cultural traditions (such as the legendary WaterFire festival) are not to be missed.
In this edition of our carless weekend destinations, we’re shining the spotlight on the capital of the Ocean State. Read on to find out why you should visit Rhode Island’s trendiest city.
Where to Stay
The oldest and most famous hotel in Providence, the Providence Biltmore, is perfect if you’re looking for a more upscale experience. Situated in the heart of downtown, the hotel has spectacular views of the city.
Located in a former Masonic temple and right across the street from the Rhode Island State House, the Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel was recently converted to a modern, swanky hotel. If you’re not going to book a room there, we highly recommend at least stopping by the bar downstairs.
Another great option is an old-fashioned (non-Air)BnB. Providence has countless historic bed and breakfasts that are not only affordable but also allow you to experience a slice of how life must have been in the Providence of the olden days. The Christopher G. Dodge House or The Old Court Bed and Breakfast are some of our favorites.
What to Do
Watch as the Providence River is set aflame during WaterFire, the most famous celebration in the city. This staple of Providence nightlife is an homage to the city’s strong Italian heritage (hence all the delicious Italian restaurants). Book a gondola ride down the Providence River to cruise past the floating fires, while local artists and food trucks gather as well as part of the festivities. The next full lighting is September 22; be sure to check the 2018 schedule before visiting.
Another unique experience is ice bumper skating at the Alex and Ani Skating Rink in Kennedy Plaza, located in downtown Providence. Ice bumper skating is just like driving a regular bumper car except you’re on an ice rink, which makes it all the more fun (and slippery). Or explore the walking trails and gorgeous vistas of the Roger Williams Park Zoo — the wildlife and serene surroundings will make you feel like you’re in a remote oasis far from a city.
Between the Brown and RISD campuses on College Hill, there’s no shortage of artistic talent in Providence. Art lovers should visit the RISD Museum for some fascinating exhibits from around the world.
An off-the-beaten path option is Olneyville New York System Restaurant, a regular feature on shows such as Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. This “hot wiener” spot is extremely popular and well worth the 10-minute trek outside the city. The New York-style hot dogs are only made one way — with mustard, meat sauce, onions, and celery salt — and are best when washed down with coffee milk (another Rhode Island original).
Want to see what else the Ocean State has to offer? The Providence Ferry can get you to Newport in under an hour, and you can enjoy scenic ocean views and cocktails along the way. Book a Seastreak ferry or make a reservation on RidetheBayRI.com (also a terrific resource for all Providence transportation).
If you’re in search of some retail therapy, head to Thayer Street. This main street between the city’s colleges and high schools is chock full of the latest and greatest in shops and restaurants. Or, pull a Clueless and visit the Providence Place shopping mall, a brick-and-mortar utopia that will remind you of the days before online shopping. For the upscale shopper, Wayland Square, located on the East Side of Providence, offers a variety of modern, high-end shops.
Where to Eat and Drink
Located in the heart of downtown Providence, The Dorrance, with its historic architecture and live music, is more reminiscent of a Gilded Age party in a Newport mansion than a city bar. And the low-key scene and fancy cocktails at The Eddy have made this bar a favorite amongst Providence hipsters — and an excellent spot for after-dinner drinks for the rest of us too.
Ready to bar hop? Go straight to the docks: Hot Club and The Whiskey Republic are side by side on the waterfront, offering two different kinds of lively nightlife. Hot Club is made for listening to the jukebox and kicking back on the dock with friends after a day of exploring. Whiskey Republic, on the other hand, is where you go when you want to get a little wild. We recommend starting at Hot Club first, then venturing next door for a late-night dance party.
The downtown hotel bar at the Providence GPub is rapidly becoming one of the city’s most popular party spots. One of Providence’s only rooftop bars, this place can be hard to get into on a weekend night when the weather is warm, so plan to arrive early. Speaking of tough doors, the University Club is so famously exclusive that notorious Providence mayor Buddy Cianci threatened to revoke the club’s liquor license until he was granted membership.
For a more relaxed atmosphere, try The Wild Colonial Tavern, named one of the 50 best bars in America by Esquire. A favorite among locals, it’s ideal for pool, darts, and cheap beer with friends. Another local fave is the Haven Brothers Diner. This stand-alone dining car is an absolute must for late-night dining — you haven’t visited Providence until you’ve eaten a chili cheese dog here at 1am.
Want the best slice in Providence? Go to Fellini Pizzeria, another hot spot for late-night eats. Their famous Thanksgiving Feast pizza is only available over (you guessed it) Thanksgiving and must be ordered months in advance.
Federal Hill offers even more dining options. The infamous neighborhood, once home to the Providence mafia, is now better known for its phenomenal restaurants. Camille’s, The Old Canteen, Venda Ravioli, and Providence Oyster Bar are a few neighborhood favorites. And don’t forget to stop at Pastiche bakery for dessert.
The best Italian restaurant outside of Federal Hill, Al Forno has a cult following for its unique pizza, which is a must-try. For the freshest seafood in the Ocean State, book a table at Oberlin; the highly regarded restaurant is owned by local chef Benjamin Sukle (who’s also responsible for the restaurant Birch). And Cafe Nuovo has long been regarded as the best restaurant in the city. The “American Chic” menu is out of this world, and the restaurant boasts beautiful views of the aforementioned WaterFire.
Nick’s on Broadway has arguably the best brunch in Providence, and it’s certainly the most popular. The modern and savory farm-to-table menu sources local ingredients and draws quite the crowd, so you’ll definitely want to get there early. Olga’s Cup & Saucer is a long-standing Rhode Island staple for a traditional breakfast, while PVDonuts also has a cult following on weekend and weekday mornings. Their creative, delicious specialty donuts are handmade; we recommend ordering the brioche yeasted or old-fashioned.
Between the divine food, rich history, and array of activities, it’s no wonder this beautiful New England city has become a go-to destination. One trip to the capital of the Ocean State will leave you wanting to come back for more, regardless of the season. Visit for the specialty donuts, stay for the WaterFire.
What are your favorite spots in Providence, Rhode Island? Let us know @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)