Providence’s unique identity is perhaps best experienced strolling along Benefit Street. Running along a ridge looking down on the capitol, it’s one of the oldest streets in Providence. The Rhode Island Historical Society offers tours throughout the summer that explore some of the historic buildings dotting the hill, such as the John Brown House and the Providence Athenaeum. But alongside these antiquities is the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design, where you can see the works of both students and the masters who inspired them. It’s an exhilarating juxtaposition, as RISD’s faculty and alumni are on the cutting edge of design. The styles they pioneer in this quiet corner of Providence are mimicked around the world.
RISD-produced items — from home decor to jewelry — are also found in many of the local shops, adding an extra flare to an already-vibrant shopping scene. As the city continues to reinvent itself, it invites visitors to do the same. Thayer Street offers an assortment of unique, hip shops where you can spruce up your image. Try ZuZu’s Petals for some new clothes, or head downtown to Martina & Company for jewelry. If you’re looking to redo your house, Figments and Butterfields are good places to start, but make sure to stop by the always-surprising RISD Works as well.
Once you’re downtown, visit Waterplace Park, which runs along the city’s scenic canals. Exposing those canals (once paved over Providence’s rivers) has been the centerpiece of Providence’s renaissance, enticing thousands of visitors a year to enjoy this serene landmark. The spectacle is especially interesting during the city’s WaterFire event, when lighted braziers scattered across the canals lend the city a romantic ambience. For a unique date, contact La Gondola for a romantic boat tour for two.
When it’s time to eat, you’ll have plenty of options. Home to five colleges, Providence has plenty of cheap but tasty options that appeal to students and tourists alike. Spike’s Junkyard Dogs, for instance, elevates the humble hotdog to an affordable art form. But if you’re looking for an excuse to get dressed up, just head downtown. The neighborhoods surrounding the state house and on nearby Federal Hill are overflowing with swanky establishments. Venda Ravioli offers a taste of Providence’s Italian roots, while Gracie’s is an excellent choice for your obligatory fresh-fish dinner during your trip to the Ocean State.
Downtown is also home to the finest lodgings. The Providence Biltmore is a landmark in and of itself. Known as the “Grand Dame,” this historic hotel evokes the glamorous excesses of the Jazz Age while providing all the modern amenities. For something a little homier, try the Mowry-Nicholson House or the Christopher Dodge House, two renovated mansions run by State House Inns. Both are reasonably priced and offer the quaint experience of a country bed-and-breakfast in the heart of metropolitan Providence.
Yankee‘s picks for places in Providence. Click on any destination below for a map and more information.