Perfect in Providence
Sometimes the closest destinations are often the most neglected. The place you can “always go to” is usually the place that stays on the back burner the longest and the one you do not make the time for. Walking through the historic streets of Providence with the February sunshine beating down on us, I was struck by how charming and eclectic the capital of the Ocean State was. Only 50 miles and one short hour drive from our house, I had been to Providence many times, whether it was shopping at the Providence Place Mall with friends in high school, attending the theater with my mom for my 16th birthday, exploring the Water Fires as a disinterested teenager or even just last year to see my beloved Georgetown Hoyas succumb to the Providence Friars in overtime.
The common thread with all these visits was that I came for an event or occurrence. I had a specific reason to be in Providence for a couple of hours and then leave; however, the truth is Providence is worth so much more. It is worth a long, lingering afternoon exploring the Providence Athenaeum and the RISD Museum, sitting in Prospect Park watching the sunset and cozying up into the 18-seat birch for an innovative tasting menu. A stroll down picturesque Benefit Street will have you marveling in the preservation of historic buildings which are worthy of competition for those in Charleston or Boston. And to think this gem of a city has been at my fingertips all this time ready to be explored? After reading about a blogger from New York who spent a weekend last year exploring Providence, I knew that 2016 was the year I had to do it myself.
Thirty hours in Providence unlocked a whole host of surprises (including the 60 degree February weather). A small and walkable city, the most populous city in Rhode Island is often overshadowed by neighbors New York City and Boston. However, with a history all its own, a budding food scene, a thriving artistic community and a young, collegiate population, Providence offers the small city charm with all the sophistication of its big city neighbors. If you find yourself in the capital of the United State’s smallest state in the future, here are some activities to make an enjoyable weekend.
Saturday – Arrive early in the morning to make the most of your time in Providence. Head to College Hill where you will have the opportunity to walk through the beautiful buildings of the seventh oldest university in the US, Brown. Cute neighborhood shops and eateries line the streets and Benefit Street could keep you entertained all day – the historic houses elicit charm and remind you of a previous era.
When hunger strikes head to the Downcity neighborhood to Providence Coal Fire Pizza for delicious pizzas. These had come highly recommended to us and did not disappoint. It was the perfect place to cozy up on the colder of the two days with two special guests who drove down from Mansfield!
You’ll have a hard time not going for that extra slice of pizza so your afternoon should be full of walking. Just a short walk down Westminster Street will bring you to the Arcade, the oldest indoor shopping mall in the US. It will not take you long to scroll down the one lane “mall”, which has been preserved as a national landmark and revived with new shops and eateries with lofts above it.
My favorite part of the whole weekend was discovering the Providence Athenaeum, a unique member-supported library which will catch you by surprise the moment you walk in the door. As a self-proclaimed biliophile, this was my heaven. After spending time wandering around the shelves, you can settle downstairs in one of their cozy chairs (I discovered their magazine collection of Conde Nast Traveler and would have been happy never leaving).
Head high above the city for the best views of Providence at any time of day, but especially at sunset. Prospect Park offers the perfect vista.
By now, you’ll be ready to check-in to your hotel. The Dean is a fun and edgy hotel with a Hofbrauhaus style beer hall attached, along with the Magdalene Room for cocktails and the Boombox if you are in the mood for karaoke. The rooms are minimalistic and clean and the atmsophere makes the hotel itself a destination. One of the big perks of staying at the Dean is that we did not need use a cab or Uber or train or bus all weekend! Almost unheard of in Boston, but the relatively smaller size of Providence not only makes this attainable, but also quite normal.
A quick drink in the dark Magdalene room and a 2-minute walk to the acclaimed birch and you will be ready for the four-course tasting menu that surprises and wows you. Attentive service, fantastic food and an intimate setting (just 18 seats), makes birch a must-visit. There are many options for post-dinner drinks, but we chose The Eddy, a young, dark bar with great cocktails and a fun atmosphere.
Sunday – You will need to wake-up early to beat the Providence breakfast crowd, but it will be worth it! Head over to the West End to queue up at Nick’s on Broadway. When you walk in, you will feel like you are at a diner with a no-frills atmosphere and plenty of counter seats. Nick’s is deceiving though because one look through the menu will prove this is not your average diner. Locally-sourced and innovative dishes abound on the menu and we had the hardest time deciding what to get, but rest assured you cannot go wrong with the grilled orange cranberry bread and the Mexican breakfast dish!
At this point, we were still in need of another coffee so we headed over to Fox Point to check out The Shop. Filled with students hard at work, this small and trendy coffee shop is clearly a favorite of the locals and one I could see myself spending some more time in on the next visit!
Next it was over to the First Baptist Church in the United States to admire the beautiful old architecture and the cutest little wood doors on the pews. (Note: we could not get in on Saturday all the doors were locked, but on Sunday afternoon after the services they were open).
When you finish, head across the street to the RISD Museum, an impressive art collection which is associated with the well-known Rhode Island School of Design. We spent hours wandering around the museum and the cozy Pendleton House and would love to return and see the rotating exhibits.
After strolling downtown for a little longer, we caught one last great meal before hitting the road. Den Den hit the spot with warm, Japanese and Korean comfort food and after some bibimbap and shrimp shumai we were ready to tackle the less than an hour drive home. One of the best parts about a close trip is the ability to spend all day Sunday in the destination!
Providence – I have just scratched the surface. Now that I know all the charm that lies beneath your eclectic and sometimes gritty façade, I will make sure to return soon. In the meantime, I am still reveling in all the wonderfulness of this past weekend, and my second trip of February.
Per usual, many thanks to my favorite traveling companion, Max, for helping me capture some of these great moments!