As the capital of the smallest state in the country, Providence is often overlooked in favor of the region’s larger cities like Boston.
This is such a mistake! Providence is a fabulous city for a day or weekend trip, with a fantastic food scene, beautiful city walks, and history, architecture, and museums galore.
Read on to hear about what makes this city worth a visit– whether you spend your time eating in one of Providence’s many top tier restaurants or admiring gorgeous art at RISD Museum, you cannot go wrong here!
Providence Top 5:
- Walk around Brown University for a taste of the quintessential New England university campus.
- Eat at one of the Italian restaurants on Federal Hill.
- Tour the Rhode Island State House, conveniently located right near the train station.
- Immerse yourself in literary culture at the stellar Providence Athenæum.
- Visit one of the best city parks in the country, the sprawling Roger Williams Park.
Bonus: If you visit in summer, don’t miss the awe-inspiring Water Fire Festival, where Providence’s 3 rivers are set ablaze by 86 braziers. Water Fire typically occurs once or twice a month, on Saturday evenings, from May to October.
One of the best parts about living in Boston is that Providence is a quick 45-minute ride away on public transportation! We visit often via the Providence/Stoughton commuter rail line, which leaves from Boston’s South Station and conveniently drops you off right in front of the Rhode Island State House– a short distance away from the downtown area.
Trains leave almost every hour or so on the weekends, and the journey takes less than an hour. As always, we recommend taking the train wholeheartedly– it is simple and stress-free, especially since we don’t have to worry about traffic or parking. Keep an eye out for commuter rail discounts, as they often have a $10 unlimited rides deal on the weekends that pays for itself after a round-trip.
Arriving by car to Providence is also quite easy, especially since the city is a major thoroughfare for Interstate 95 coming east from Connecticut and north up to Boston. Driving from Boston is a relatively quick journey and will only take about an hour, depending on traffic. However, we have found that leaving Providence on the weekends can take a while, as everyone who is going north is funnelled along the highway through Pawtucket and out of the state. We strongly recommend taking the train from Boston.
Lastly, there are also buses that take you from Boston and other cities to Providence. We have not taken the bus to Providence, but have had a good experience with the Peter Pan bus in the past traveling to nearby Newport, so the bus is likely a good option if the train schedule doesn’t work for you.
Providence Weekender Guide
While you can absolutely spend a day in Providence walking around and checking everything out, we feel that Providence is the perfect weekend trip. So many other sites and travel bloggers gloss over Providence, recommending a half-day on the way to Newport or skipping it entirely, and this makes us so sad! While perhaps not as glitzy as Newport, Providence is a lovely city in its own right and more than merits a visit. If you’re seeking a quiet weekend away in a quintessential New England town, definitely give Providence a try.
Start your day off with a delicious cup of coffee at one of the city’s cool cafes. We like Small Point Cafe or Ellie’s for their great muffins (and the fact that our kitty is also named Ellie is purely a coincidence!) After fueling up, it is time to walk around the downtown area and scope out all of the eclectic restaurants and shops here.
Providence is known for its creative scene, and this is apparent when walking around! A prime example of this is the Providence Performing Arts Center, which hosts tons of concerts and shows, so be sure to check it out if you are interested in seeing what is playing when you are in town. The downtown area is quite small, so you will find that you cover a lot of ground in no time at all. Some highlights that you shouldn’t miss while walking around: Providence City Hall, BankNewport City Center, and the Customs House (a lot smaller than the one in Boston, but worth checking out!)
Once you have a good feel for the downtown area, make your way up to the Rhode Island State House just across the river. The approach for this building highlights its impressive Neoclassical style and large dome. The exterior of the building is imposing and impressive, but we feel that the interior is even better, with towering ceilings decorated with beautiful paintings and bas reliefs. There are free tours offered here, so if you are interested in learning more about the building and Rhode Island government then this is the place to be! You can check out the tours here. Alternatively, if you take the train to Providence, you can check out the State House right away, as it is located right next to it.
There are several options for getting a delicious lunch in Providence. Our favorite place to eat lunch is Mokban Korean Bistro, which has the best Korean food we’ve had in the whole U.S.! You can try authentic Korean dishes like bulgogi or bibimbap, but they also have Japanese favorites like ramen, so you really can’t go wrong here. Some other places to recommend include: Yoleni’s, UMelt, and Providence Coal Fired Pizza. We were very surprised by the quantity and quality of dining options in Providence, and new places seem to be constantly popping up each time we visit– we definitely think the city deserves more attention for its culinary scene!
In the afternoon, check out the College Hill area of town. This neighborhood has a very old-school feeling to it– the architecture is very stately, and there are even a few historic houses to tour. This part of the city is of course named after its resident Ivy League institution of higher learning, Brown University, which has one of the nicest campuses we’ve seen. The big blue bear on campus is definitely worth a visit, as are the buildings and green spaces, which are all lovely and quintessentially collegiate.
After walking around Brown, you should stop into the Providence Athenæum for a unique library experience. This place definitely ranks in our top libraries, and all of our dear readers know how we feel about books! The shelves of books on two levels really adds to the magic feeling inside, you’ll feel like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Compared to the Boston Athenæum, where you cannot tour the inside of the building without being a member, the Providence Athenæum is so welcoming. We think that you will enjoy visiting this historic site, for its peaceful reading nooks, beautiful natural light, and cozy ambiance.
If you are interested in seeing some more culture, the nearby Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has an excellent art museum that should not be missed. The museum houses a variety of different types of art, ranging from intriguing to fun to a bit bewildering. Their European gallery was especially impressive, with many outstanding paintings, and we were pleasantly surprised by how varied the different parts of the museum were! Overall, this is an excellent museum, easily on par with museums we’ve seen worldwide. There is also a great on-site cafe at RISD if you’re in need of a pick-me-up.
For dinner in the evening, we would recommend that you check out one of the Italian restaurants in Federal Hill, or our favorite restaurant in all of New England, Los Andes. Los Andes is a Peruvian/Bolivian restaurant that has some of the largest portions of delectable, fresh seafood that we have ever seen (pictured above)! The plates here are so large that we usually get a whole second meal out of it. The prices are also quite reasonable, and their drink menu is delicious– especially the pisco sour. With the varied menu and consistently great quality food, you will find something that you enjoy! Be sure to check out the ceviches and fried seafood options.
If you are feeling up for a nightcap, Providence has many excellent bars to check out for a drink. Our absolute favorite is The Avery, a super hip speakeasy located in Federal Hill. With its classy interior and excellent cocktails you will feel like you are in a different era altogether! The I Love Lassi drink is definitely unique, and their cosmopolitan is excellent as well. If you are looking for a funky, retro-themed bar, Ogie’s Trailer Park (pictured above) has you covered. This place is absolutely delightful. Their Moscow Mules are delicious, and you can get beer and tater tots for cheap… what’s not to like about that?
Start out day #2 grabbing your morning coffee at Dave’s Coffee on South Main St. Their lattes are excellent and we really liked the interior space.
After you have filled up on breakfast, make your way south to Roger Williams Park. With ample space, 435 acres or so, and plenty to see, Roger Williams park is a delight! Walking along its many paths is very enjoyable and you can see why it is called “The People’s Park.” We spent over an hour walking around and exploring much of the park, but you could easily spend double that or perhaps bring a blanket for a picnic or snack. There is a zoo onsite as well if you want to see some animals! A few spots that you ought not to miss include: the botanical center, the Temple to Music, and the Carousel Village.
After you have spent some time taking in this excellent park, make your way back to Providence for some lunch. We recommend Julian’s or Nick’s on Broadway for some excellent food. If you have some more time and you are interested in bookstores, Riff Raff bookstore is a hip place to read and enjoy a cup of coffee.
While in Rhode Island, you really should visit Newport for its spectacular mansions and quintessential coastline views. You can see a lot of Newport in a day, but similar to Providence, we think that two days is perfect. Be sure to check out our guide to Newport to plan your trip and find all the best spots, from biking Ocean Drive to the Newport Folk Festival.
Have you been to Providence and Newport? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.
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