Like bicycle spokes, the highways that radiate out of the Northeast’s biggest cities stretch far, carrying urbanites to coastal towns like Newport or Provincetown, often bypassing one of the area’s hidden gems: Providence. Travelers may give it a glance and a wave as they drive by, but probably not much of a second thought. However, Providence is more than just a stop through. It’s a worthy destination in its own right.
Situated on Narragansett Bay, Providence is apt to take advantage of the same cultural and natural landmarks that its nearby cities boast, but with the small, college town friendliness (home to no less than 8 colleges and universities) and charm that you're more likely to find in the Midwest rather than the East coast.
Providence’s ambiance is certainly unique; some of the oldest buildings in the nation house modern amenities, and the whole city shows signs of a pervasive art scene. Banks became restaurants, mill houses are now shops and many of the buildings lining the river hold the renowned Rhode Island School of Design ("RIS-D"). Walking through downtown, tucked down allies, you might pass a building whose once sad-looking facade takes on new life thanks to The Avenue Concept, where artists from around the world paint murals that catch one’s eye from every corner of the city. Waterfire, a spectacular art display on the Providence River that occurs approximately 14 times a year, is certainly worth standing amongst crowds to watch.
Like many cities, Providence is its neighborhoods, each sporting a unique personality, distinct architecture and food scene. It’s hard to choose where to start, but, from the city center, each neighborhood is walkable, and also, according to more than one local, extremely safe. Great news, and if you’re like me, nothing works up an appetite like a good walk, and Providence provides plenty of options, for every taste, budget and craving.
To start your day, head into Yoleni’s for a healthy treat. This eatery/grocery has the tastiest Greek yogurt (in a multitude of flavors!) outside of Greece, fitting since this restaurant’s only other location is in Greece! If you need more of a sugar rush to get you through the morning, duck into Knead for any one of their amazing donuts, or Sydney for their sweet ricotta toast. Or, if you’ve got time to unwind for a few hours on a weekend morning, Rogue Island is your ticket for brunch: local ingredients spun into the most delicious breakfast options you never knew you always wanted, and the perfect thing to fuel your day’s walk.
Longing for those college feels? Take a hike on the east side up College Hill, home of Brown University and the kitschy vibe that student life affords. If your timing’s right, a pile of leaves just might be waiting to be tossed about. Continue down Thayer, grab a coffee (and do some good!) from Blue State, and prepare for an aromatic assault, with smells of tacos, curry, Korean chicken and waffle cones all melding together to create the most heavenly smells!
Continue down Benefit towards Wickenden, where you’ll find enough shopping and snacks to occupy an afternoon. The Coffee Exchange will have a line out the door, but whether the season calls for iced or hot, you won’t be disappointed (they have four different flavors of whipped cream!). If you need more sustenance, The Ducky & Bunny will set you straight.
While the Financial District quiets on the weekends, the nearby Convention Center prevents it from being a total food desert, meaning that you'll find plenty of places to pop in to grab a sweet, a pile of fries, a glass of wine, or a full out gut-busting dinner. Friskie Fries is, in my opinion, the best place to grab an afternoon pick me up, and you might just find yourself back there for a late night snack.
Just across the highway from Downtown is Federal Hill, also known as Providence’s Little Italy. A plethora of restaurants and bakeries are waiting to lure you inside and feed you like any good Italian grandma! However, if you want goodies to go, Venda Ravioli will set you up to cook an Italian feast at home.
if the artist scene is more your thing, Olneyville is where to go. Located just west of Federal Hill, abandoned mills have since been converted to lofts, theatres and studios, giving the area’s resident painters, ceramicists, musicians, designers and performers a place to shine. If you’re looking to grab a bite or a brew, head to Troop. Order up a cocktail, a sandwich and a bowl of street noodles to share, guaranteed to get you some new friends.
With or without the noodles, Providence will welcome you back, and it’s an invitation you’ll be happy to accept.
Expenses for this trip were covered by Lou Hammond. Thoughts, opinions and ramblings are the writer's own. Chrissy Barua is a member of The Daily Meal's Culinary Content Network and regularly publishes at The Hungary Buddha Eats the World. You can follow her at @thehungarybuddha.