History begins to whisper when you pull into the city of Providence, Rhode Island. Founded in 1636 by religious exile, Roger Williams, the Ocean State’s capital is not only one of the oldest cities in New England, but perhaps also one of the quirkiest. Home to Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, and Johnson & Wales University, its vibrant art, cultural, and culinary scenes collide, casting an eclectic mix of contrast and creativity.
I was in Renaissance City—also referred to as the Creative Capital—recently to meet my guide for the day, Elizabeth Duvivier, founder of Squam Art Workshopsand Provy Love, for a whirlwind tour that would showcase some of Elizabeth’s favorite places. Though we would be sticking primarily to the east side, the small slice of Providence she revealed would paint a picture of the diversity that fuels the culture of the city.
When I arrived at her office, Elizabeth sprang some exciting news on me—I would be tagging along as she and her assistant, Kaitlyn, filmed video for the top-secret Squam in the City workshop. (Don’t worry; I didn’t just let the cat out of the bag. She announced the gathering earlier this week.)
As we wound our way through the grid of streets, and past an abundance of blossoms—wisteria vines draped over garden gates, lilac bushes pushed against fence posts, and fruit trees dripping with flowers lined up along the city’s sidewalks—we decided to make our first stop at Tea in Sahara for some jasmin tea to fuel us through the day ahead. Tucked away in a residential section of Governor Street, this tiny café exudes a relaxing atmosphere that’s infused with the spirit of the Sahara.
You can’t visit Providence without stopping at Prospect Terrace Park on College Hill, where a statue of Roger Williams looms over the city. After all, who can resist getting a close-up peek at Providence’s founder?
Step inside the Providence Athenaeum, and it’s easy to understand how it has become entrenched in the hearts of city residents and visitors alike. Billed as “a library, culture center, and more,” this independent, member-supported institution has been a vibrant part of the community since 1836.
In stark contrast to the uber-traditional Athenaeum, The Deanin downtown Providence is reimagining how a building with a somewhat dubious past can function today. Once home to a brothel, and more recently, a strip club, The Dean is now a cosmopolitan 52-room boutique hotel that whole-heartedly embraces the local movement.
Providence prides itself on being a dog-friendly destination, and water bowls set out for those furry four-legged friends can be spotted at many establishments. In Wayland Square—a mecca of eateries, funky boutiques and places to gather—colorful umbrellas were popped up and restaurant walls were thrown open, blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor spaces, inviting restaurant patrons to mingle with passers-by.
The Ladd Observatory, Brown University’s astronomical observatory, opens to the public on Tuesday nights at no cost, weather permitting, of course. This is definitely something to put on the itinerary if you’re visiting the area on a Tuesday.
Having spent several hours crisscrossing the city in search of footage and photographs, we headed back to break Elizabeth’s dogs, Daisy and Ollie, out for a trip to Blackstone Park. This 45-acre wood is strewn with walking trails that snake down toward the river.
With the sunlight waning and the dogs fully exercised, it was time to grab a bite to eat before heading back to New Hampshire. We stopped in at the Garden Grille —a vegetarian café in neighboring Pawtucket—for a butternut squash quesadilla. Yum!
There’s such an array of fun and exciting things unfolding in Providence, Rhode Island, right now that a mere day spent there just can’t do it justice. It will definitely require another trip to explore this small, lively city further.
In the meantime, for a more traditional tour of the city, read the Yankee article: Walking Providence.This post was first published in 2014 and has been updated.