The 9 Types of Travelers You’ll Meet in Providence
It took two trips — one in the winter, one in the summer — to sell me on the charms of Providence. Then, GQ’s “Coolest City” superlative sealed the deal.
Cobblestone sidewalks with room to breathe, you say? Move over, Boston.
A 5-star restaurant that actually has available reservations on a Friday night? See ya later, Manhattan.
With its history, culinary prowess, proximity to a major airport and small size, Providence, like its bigger (and more crowded) siblings, Boston and New York, is the ideal city for a “weekend whenever” trip — no matter your locale.
Here are the travelers you’ll meet when you visit:
1. The Foodie
Having Johnson & Wales, a culinary powerhouse, as part of its higher-ed core makes Providence one mighty city when it comes to good eats.
North, a small restaurant in the West End, woos regulars and tourists alike with an ever-changing menu (check @FoodbyNorth on Twitter for the most up-to-date version) of mouthwatering eats like grilled lamb and coriander sausage with red pepper, pickled shallots and greens. Unfortunately, the 30ish-seater North doesn’t accept reservations for its remarkable small-plate dining, but you’re in luck if you need to kill some time, because the Avery slings epic cocktails steps from North’s front door.
Persimmon, another small-plate eatery on Providence’s East Side, earns the title of my favorite restaurant. The laid-back yet elegant ambiance sets the stage for a scintillating meal. Insider tip: Leave room for dessert. The chocolate semi-freddo is the stuff dreams are made of. Gracie’s, birch restaurant, and Rosalina are other standouts in the finer dining realm.
Folks looking for an Italian-inspired dining experience can find ample options on Federal Hill, which is lined with home-style, classic-filled menus at restaurants like Joe Marzilli’s Old Canteen Italian Restaurant and Camille’s. More contemporary options include Trattoria Zooma and Massimo.
Other notables for a more casual experience include the brand new Durk’s BBQ on Thayer Street (chicken legs are a staple in my weekly lunches) and its sister restaurant, Tallulah’s Taqueria (I eat a rice bowl at least once a week), Den Den’s Cafe Asiana and Korean Fried Chicken, Bucktown Fried Chicken (although the fish fry items are my favorite) and PVDonuts (it has more than 38,000 followers on Instagram for a reason).
2. The Cocktail Connoisseur
Coinciding with the burgeoning restaurant scene is Providence’s bar scene. The city is home to everything from the contemporary and refined stylings of downtown’s the Eddy, to the vintage-styled West End’s Ogie’s Trailer Park.
The Eddy, owned by the same folks who opened Durk’s BBQ, features a rotating cocktail menu that includes a daily iteration of its house punch, a guest favorite.
At Ogie’s, which is one part Tiki bar, one part throwback dive bar, one part outdoor trailer park, (complete with Granny Boo’s walk-up food window), you’ll find a 1970s vibe and drinks of yesteryear, like a Tequila Sunrise or Mai Tai.
Other bars to try include The Dorrance, a full-service restaurant with a killer bar, housed in what used to be a bank — complete with a vault-turned-lounge for your drinking pleasure, and Circe, which features a cocktail menu chock-full of classics that have been given a contemporary spin.
3. The Artist
Like Johnson & Wales but in the art realm, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), draws students from around the world.
Its museum, the RISD Museum, follows suit, featuring impressive exhibits on topics like ancient Egypt, Asian art and decorative arts and design. It’s also home to an outpost of Bolt Coffee, one of the city’s best finds for caffeine lovers. Hot tip: Bolt sells Knead Donuts — one of the best sweet treats in all of Providence.
If the up-and-coming art scene is more your speed, check out pieces on display through the Avenue Concept, Providence’s first public art program (i.e. free entry). Its INFLUX, a public art festival, serves as a platform for public art projects throughout Rhode Island.
New Urban Arts, an organization that supports youth as artists and leaders, frequently hosts gallery shows and exhibitions throughout the city.
Want to mingle while you admire art? Gallery Night, which takes place on the third Thursday of every month, is a March-November art series where 21 of the city’s galleries offer up later hours during which people can explore and admire.
Theater lovers will revel in the majesty of the Providence Performing Arts Center, which opened as Loew’s Movie Palace in 1928. PPAC (which will host “Hamilton” next year) was constructed using stunning columns of marble and is adorned with huge crystal chandeliers. Other theaters for the stage fan to visit include Trinity Repertory Company, known as Rhode Island’s state theater; The VETS, a memorial auditorium which regularly hosts musicians, comedians and stage productions; and the Columbus Theatre, home to the Columbus Cooperative.
4. The Historian
Like Boston, Providence is packed with history. Its proximity to water made it a major New World seaport after it was founded in 1636 by renegade preacher Roger Williams. The name of the city, the land of which was purchased by Williams from the Narragansett tribe, was chosen in thanks to God for watching over him after his exile from Massachusetts.
The Rhode Island Historical Society offers walking tours to get an up close and personal look at the history that shaped Providence, with themes such as Dining with History, exploring the culinary evolution of the city, and H.P. Lovecraft: A Literary Life, honoring the Providence pioneer of weird fiction.
If you’d rather explore on your own, consider visiting historic areas such as the East Side’s College Hill, home to Brown University, or Fox Point, a cobblestone-street neighborhood featuring historic homes and some stellar food (Persimmon included). GoProvidence has a slew of self-guided walking tours to help you learn while you explore, including ones on the West Side, East Side and downtown.
5. The Soon-To-Be Empty-Nester
The campuses of Providence, Brown, Johnson & Wales, RISD, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island give Providence a college-town vibe — even when school’s out for summer. Stroll through the leafy quads past red-brick academic buildings to relive your own college days.
In addition to all of the college kids, there are plenty of college parents and prospective collegians on tour. If you’re a parent, you’ll find plenty of things to occupy your time while the kids attend class or hang with friends during your visit.
The Providence Flea, which runs year-round in different spaces, has featured more than 400 vendors since it launched more than four years ago. Vendors fill booths with items that will please treasure hunters — think all things vintage, upcycled and handmade. In the summer (June 4 — Sept. 10), you can find the Flea at the Providence River Greenway on Sundays from 10 a.m. — 4 p.m.
If you’d rather see a film to pass your time, consider Cable Car Cinema or the art deco Avon Cinema, both of which show a rotating selection of independent films on Providence’s East Side and are walking distance from Brown and RISD.
Providence is home to the Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival (RIIFF). The 2017 RIIFF program, taking place Aug. 8-13, includes film premieres, an international film showcase and shorts from more than 50 countries.
Pro tip: If you visit Cable Car, stop by neighboring wine cellar Bin 312 for a tasting.
6. The Nature Lover
Providence is home to tons of parks and outdoor activities where you can spend time enjoying the scenic New England landscape, including the riverfront India Point Park, the skyline-view Prospect Terrace Park and the historic, sprawling Roger Williams Park.
If you’d like to get on the water rather than admire it from land, you can book kayak rentals through Providence Kayak Company and sightseeing tours with Providence River Boat Company.
Feeling romantic? Make a reservation with La Gondola, which earns 5 stars on TripAdvisor, for a Venetian-inspired river cruise experience.
7. The Indie Shopper
Some travelers will find themselves traversing four levels of shopping and entertainment at the legendary Providence Place Mall, but if you’re more of an indie-shop enthusiast, there are tons of locally owned and operated shops with Rhode Island-made goods to fill your suitcase.
Looking for a Providence tea towel to take home? Or a print created by a local artist? Westminster Street’s Craftland and Homestyle are your spots.
Looking for a new wardrobe staple? Head over to the Arcade, the nation’s oldest indoor shopping mall (and now home to micro-loft-style apartments), and pop into vintage shop Carmen and Ginger, or Nude, which features pieces made by New England designers.
Visiting the shops in Hope Village on Hope Street, which runs through Providence’s East Side, or in Wayland Square (also on the East Side), can make up a memorable afternoon. Make sure to stop by the whimsical Frog & Toad, with locally made goods like children’s books and toys, greeting cards and laugh-inducing T-shirts. Across the street is Stock, one of the best sources for culinary goods in Providence, which regularly hosts pop-ups from local eateries.
Indie bookseller Books on the Square is a great place to pick up a book or pass the time.
8. The Individualist
Rhode Island has always marched to the beat of its own drum — going back to its founding as a haven for religious freedom.
If you’re looking for things that are uniquely Providence, line up a day that includes a hot dog at 1920s-founded restaurant Olneyville New York System, which serves a menu packed with simple yet delicious hot dogs, burgers, wraps and sandwiches.
Then visit Federal Hill to learn about Providence’s Italian-American history and listen to local stories of the neighborhood while you munch on a cannoli at any bakery.
The Ocean State hosts a slate of festivals year-round, including the music-, dance-, art- and food-filled PVD Fest, which is held each summer.
The pièce de résistance of the city’s unique elements is WaterFire — a can’t-miss outdoor event that takes place 13 times this year.
It features 80 bonfires that dot the three major rivers flowing through downtown Providence and has attracted more than 10 million visitors since it was founded in 1994.
Visitors to WaterFire can enjoy music from all over the world, shop booths and tables from local vendors, taste bites from Providence restaurants and experience the revitalization of Providence first-hand as they walk along the rivers and Waterplace Park.
9. The Young Family
The little ones will love Providence just as much as their parents with experiences to be had at Roger Williams Park Zoo, which has a beautiful carousel village a short walk from the zoo, complete with bouncy house and pony rides. Roger Williams is cheap on the zoo-ticket spectrum, with adult tickets that are $14.95 and kids tickets (ages 2-12) at $9.95.
The Providence Children’s Museum with Rhode Island-themed exhibits is another cheap way to spend a day with the family. Admission for children and adults is just $9 (babies under 12 months are free) and includes access to interactive activities like the Brick Building Challenge, where kids learn all about the process of making and laying bricks like the ones you’ll find lining the streets of Providence.
Slowing down the pace is an option at the Children’s Library, tucked away in a corner at the Providence Athenaeum. The historic library, which dates back to the early 1800s and offers memberships, hosts story times for the kiddies in a technology-free setting.
Providence is an easy drive from most cities in the Northeast, including Boston, Portland, Hartford and New York. Also, Amtrak is a short trip from Boston and New York, with Providence Station located in the heart of downtown. Once you get here, you can walk to most popular hotels, restaurants and attractions.
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