(UPDATED APRIL 2022) I visited Rhode Island on my quest to visit all 50 states before I turn 50 (50 Before 50 Bucket List). Rhode Island, the Ocean State, is the quintessential New England state with gorgeous scenery, epic mansions, and high seafood standards.
Typically, I plan my trips in full before arriving at a new destination, but this time, I decided to play it by ear and go where the winds blew me. My travels took me to the capital city and I can’t wait to share a weekend guide for Providence, Rhode Island.
Arrive in the city after work or on a late flight into Providence. Uber or drive to the Hotel Providence, which will be your home for the next two nights. I stayed on the 6th floor and had a great view of the vibrant Providence theater district lit up at night.
Drop your bags in your room and head out. Walk the two blocks to The Malted Barley for a superb craft beer and the best pretzel you’ve ever had, or the best $6 you’ll ever spend. I chose the Asiago and Parmesan gourmet pretzel with apricot butter dipping sauce. Yum! Time to retire to bed now, we have a big day tomorrow.
Saturday Morning in Providence
Rise and shine! Lots to see and do today, all on foot or by Uber. Head to Small Point Cafe for a coffee or tea and slice of quiche for breakfast. This cozy little coffee shop is perfect for catching up on your social media or just people watching.
Walk over to the BankNewport City Center and take on the ice. Ice skating is a great way to get your blood pumping for the huge hills we will be climbing later. Be sure to snap some pictures of the Providence River and the cute little bridges while you are downtown.
Saturday Afternoon: Get Your Art On
Take an Uber to the RISD, Rhode Island School of Design. One of my favorite alumni, Dale Chihuly, graduated from RISD and a magnificent white glass chandelier he designed hangs in one of the halls.
The Museum features a treasure trove of gorgeous artwork, including many works from the students. Six floors are devoted to glassware, paintings, sculptures, clothing, and pure genius creations. Art ranges from ancient Greek and Roman to Modern and Contemporary, Egyptian, Asian, and 18th and 19th-Century American.
Time for a brisk walk. We head up the hills on our way to private Ivy League Brown University, detouring a bit to see the oldest First Baptist church in the country. It was founded by Roger Williams (more below) in 1658 and stood for freedom of religion and conscience. This pristine wooden historic structure is a great photo stop.
Arriving at Brown University’s 235 building campus, you will think somehow you stepped into England rather than the northeastern United States. I recommend walking the length of the iconic Van Wickle Gates, which are definitely to be admired.
Don’t miss Brown University’s team mascot, Bruno bear’s statue to the left of the campus, which you will pass on your way across campus. If photography is your hobby, you’ll love Brown’s Colonial-era buildings, some 17th and 18th-century architecture.
Fun Fact: Brown University has had eight Nobel Prize laureates and five National Humanities Medalists.
Ethnic Lunch in a College Setting
For lunch, try a commendable Indian dish such as Chicken Tikka Masala and Potato Pea Naan from Curry and Kabob, or a raved about pasta dish from Pastaio. Can’t have Indian food without a traditional Mango Lassi, which I ordered and found sensational here. After lunch, take a few minutes to browse the local shops in the Thayer Street area, a popular hangout for college students.
Start your descent down the hill as you walk by the historic homes on Bennett Street. This district has the largest concentration of Colonial homes in the country, many restored homes, churches, and museums.
Often the historic homes overlook the waterfront, while many are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I was in awe of how many Colonial buildings there were and wished it had not been freezing outside so I could have spent more time here.
Visit the Rhode Island State Capital
You’ll catch a glimpse of Rhode Island’s state capitol along your way, so head down the steep hill to make your way to see it up close and personal. The Roger Williams National Memorial is also on your route. The visitor center has an exhibit on the significance of his visionary thinker life and ideas as well as becoming the founder of Providence.
At the Rhode Island State House, the state’s formal neoclassical capitol building, you’ll have great views of Providence. The white Georgia marble and brick campus is pristine and massive!
After changing at your hotel or putting your feet up to relax a few, it is time to think about dinner. I recommend Gracie’s, one of the stars of Providence’s dining scene. It is only a short walk from the hotel and a hotspot in town.
The food at Gracie’s is local farm-to-table, with many of the herbs and veggies are grown nearby by the chef’s team. Recommended dishes are the Rigatoni or the Duck; both are rich and delicious. Save room for dessert because they are well worth it.
An alternative plan would be to indulge in some of Rhode Island’s delicious Italian Restaurants in the Federal Hill area. Over 100 restaurants are in this part of town. I heard lots of great things about Siena Restaurant and Joe Marzilli’s Old Canteen. Federal Hill is a fun part of Providence with lots of energy and history. Chef Mario Batali named Federal Hill as “One of the five best Little Italy’s in the United States”.
Saturday Evening Adventures
After dinner, consider going to Skyline at Waterplace, Providence’s premier event and wedding venue on the waterfront by the state capitol. Fridays are open to the public for dancing, music, and adult libations in a world-class, metropolitan setting.
During a few weekends in the summer, Waterplace Park (a four-acre urban park), the area around the Skyline, also known as the Gateway to the Renaissance City, is where WaterFire takes place. This free art installation offers nightly entertainment and a whole lot of fun. There are free summer concerts at this venue as well.
I cannot think of a better place to enjoy Sunday morning brunch (or any day of the week for that matter) than at The Duck and Bunny, a snuggery (comfortable place) that is fun, trendy, and hip all in one. Go for the special Benedicts or savory crepes such as the Mazzy Star, with portobello mushrooms, fontina, rosemary, and truffle oil.
The Duck and Bunny make delicious coffee and has an impressive offering of flavored teas and cocktails. I chose the Strawberry Sassafras white tea, which was so good that I ordered another. Gourmet cupcakes, pastries, pies, and cheesecakes are Instagram-worthy so if that tempts you in the least, don’t pass them up. Afternoon tea is available all day long.
You are on Wickenden Street, a popular spot in Providence, which also has cute local shops, cafes, and eateries. Fellini Pizzeria has delicious pizza with fresh ingredients and creative creations by the slice or whole pie.
Jaunt over to the nearby East Greenwich, a cute little town minutes from Providence. Walk down Main Street and browse the shops and enjoy a much different change of scenery.
If you are a pet lover, you’ll enjoy Bone Apetit for gourmet treats and such.
A coffee from Nook Coffee House is a must. I took full advantage of warming up from the cold by sipping on a Purple Rain, coffee with lavender syrup and bitters. It was fabulous. The staff was friendly and I loved the atmosphere of this adorable shop.
A Fabulous Weekend of Food, Facts, and Friends
I did a pretty good job of figuring out how to spend a weekend in Providence, Rhode Island and it proved to be a great place to visit. If you have time, be sure to drive South to see the most fantastic mansions in the country in Newport. They look straight out of the movies!
Providence is a beautiful city to start your Rhode Island adventures in and offers plenty to do. Enjoy your travels.
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