The Best Things to Do, See, and Eat in Providence, Rhode Island
When you’re surrounded by the gentle flow of the Providence River and the collegiate climes of Johnson & Wales University, you’re right in the mix of downtown Providence. The easy walkability of the area makes getting from an afternoon at the Providence Athenaeum to a night out at the Water Fire celebration a snap.
The Dean Hotel
Housed in a former bordello, the Dean Hotel keeps things oh-so local with repurposed industrial objects incorporated as design elements from top to bottom. Along with its compelling rooms, the Dean also houses a beer hall, a karaoke corner, and a dimly lit cocktail bar. Why leave?
Just across the Providence River, you’ll find the stately Providence Athenaeum. Housed in a distinguished 1836 Greek Revival building, this library and cultural center is the perfect place to spend an afternoon reading, browsing the card catalogs (yes, they still have them), or listening to one of the esteemed guest speakers. Amidst a world of online pursuits, this is a most welcome in situ experience.
Created by artist Barnaby Evans, this large-scale nighttime art installation is staged on the Providence River, where a parade of more than eighty bonfires float down the river, accompanied by music. Each awe-inspiring lighting is accompanied by a celebration that brings food, a sense of community and general wonderment to the entire downtown.
As the showpiece for one of the world’s most celebrated art and design schools, the RISD Museum offers a brocade of creative expression that includes everything from ancient sarcophagi to the fashions of Todd Oldham. Visitors can also explore galleries dedicated to faculty and student work. Don’t miss the gift shop, which is a mini museum in and of itself.
Built in 1828, the nation’s oldest indoor shopping mall is set in an impressive columned building that boasts wide granite steps, classic Greek Revival facades, and a gracious center atrium. Step inside the Arcade and stroll through over a dozen boutiques and an artisan coffee roaster before stopping for littlenecks at the Rogue Island Local Kitchen and Bar. If you don’t want to leave, you can move into one of the micro-lofts on the building’s second and third floors.
Trinity Repertory Company
Based in the Lederer Theater Center, the Trinity Rep is one of the most esteemed regional theaters in the country. The company brings together an eclectic mix of productions, organizing each season around a theme. The current season features works that fall under the rubric “Rebels, Renegades, & Pioneers,” including Julius Caesar, The Heidi Chronicles, and To Kill a Mockingbird.
On any given visit to AS220 you might encounter a Coltrane tribute, vinyasa yoga, an open figure drawing class, or a performance piece in their black-box theater. The artist-run organization is passionate about urban revitalization, and has become a gathering space for those dedicated to freedom of expression. (There’s also a restaurant serving food made with locally sourced ingredients and a bar on premises, proceeds from which go towards furthering the group’s mission and programs.)
Just a short walk up Broadway and you’ll be tucked into one of the half-dozen tables for breakfast or lunch at Kitchen, a tiny Federal Hill treasure. Start with the muffin of the day (cranberry, blueberry, doesn’t matter—they’re all great) and move on to the French toast and an order of what might be the thickest-cut bacon in all of New England. Then walk the meal off. It’s worth it.
With a rooftop garden that supplies their vegetables and herbs, Gracie’s really walks the seasonally inspired talk, serving beautifully crafted New American dishes made from locally sourced ingredients such as Rhode Island fluke, Pineland Farms rib-eye, and Crescent Farms duck. The truly adventurous might want to go all in for one of the restaurant’s five-, seven-, or nine-course tasting menus.