Pastimes in Providence (RI)

We spent a few days in Providence last week at the tail end of a whirlwind college tour. These college tours have been great (for me anyway – my teen might disagree). I have used them as an excuse to spend time in a bunch of cities I didn’t know that well. When not smiling and nodding at an earnest college student doing their best not to trip while walking backward, we have whiled away some fun hours in the cities of St Louis, Seattle, Ann Arbor, Boston and Providence.

Now back into the swing of everyday life at work and school, the place I keep returning to in my mind, is Providence. Just a short 3 hour Amtrak ride away, lies a beautiful little New England city, rich with history and culture and a great place to spend a few days. The Providence river runs right through the middle of the city making it a pleasing pedestrian city where a car isn’t necessary (a draw for New Yorkers).

Bonus: it was springtime and even though it rained one day, the blooming cherry & pear blossoms made everything that much more beautiful.

The Providence River runs right through the center of the city.


  • The Dean Hotel – maybe a bit farther from central downtown, but go for the coffee bar, karaoke lounge, great restaurant (North) and bikes available to lend. Plus everything in this tiny state is closer than you think.
  • Hotel Providence: listed on National Register of Historic Places, this boutique hotel is well situated in the heart of downtown. Pets are welcome too.
  • Graduate Providence: I discovered Graduate Hotels in Ann Arbor and fell in love. The great design and college town vibe are charming under any circumstances. Throw in complimentary bike rental and custom LSTN loaner headphones, and you have yourself a memorable experience.


  • Walk the length of Benefit Street for a glimpse of a cohesive collection of beautifully restored 18th and 19th century architecture. Many of the homes look just as they did 200 years ago.
  • Walk Atwells Avenue in Federal Hill – Providence’s Little Italy – summertime is filled with festivals.
  • See a show at the Providence Performing Arts Center. We were in town when The Book of Mormons was touring through there. Scored $50 seats right at the door 30 minutes before showtime.
  • Waterfire: In the summer months (and not every weekend – see schedule), the Providence River lights up with an art installation called Waterfire. Almost 100 bonfires blaze just above the surface of the river in downtown Providence and illuminates the public spaces and parks along the river. The event gets very crowded so plan ahead.
  • Visit the RISD Museum of Art. A decent selection of artwork from ancient to modern. Added bonus – lots of art students mulling around and sketching. Note: if you have child in HS, tour the RISD art school just for the opportunity to get a look at the Nature Lab!
  • Providence Athenaeum – if you like libraries, this one is not to be missed. Founded in 1836, its the building where Sarah Helen Whitman broke off her relationship with Edgar Allen Poe. It’s also a great spot for some quiet reading.
  • Roger Williams Park & Zoo – the only activity you will need a car for, but an Uber works just fine if you came by Amtrak. You can spend the better part of a day exploring this park and zoo – home to many rare and exotic animals.
Cherry Blossoms on Benefit Street.
The Providence Athneaeum
Performing Arts Center – The Book of Mormon

The Nature Lab and Water Lab at Rhode Island School of Design.


  • Thayer Street – where the college crowd goes to hang out. A pretty little street just behind Brown University filled with shops and restaurants.
  • Westminster Street – a unique downtown strip of independently owned fashion boutiques, galleries and design stores
  • Providence Place: a typical US shopping mall with all the usual shops and a 16 cinema multiplex and IMAX. Great for a rainy day.


As always, my food recommendations tend to be the mid priced less common spots. We believe it’s easy to find the most expensive restaurants in a city, so we focus on finding those reasonably priced gems that might not jump out at you, and might be easier to go to with family in tow.

Photo taken from Facebook of Malted Barley.
  • The Malted Barley: Craft beer and hot pretzels. If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life it would be the cheddar bacon hot pretzels at Malted Barley. Bonus: they also have Gluten Free hot pretzels as well. Near the Hotel Providence and Performing Arts Center.
  • North: Creative hipster fare located in the chic downtown Dean Hotel (see above). Prepare to wait a bit. Always crowded.
  • Enoteca Umberto – a Federal Hill italian favorite with outdoor seating. Try the hand rolled pastas and fresh mozzarella.
  • Durk’s BBQ: Located on Thayer St. and catering to the college crowd. Smoked brisket, pulled pork and yummy sides in a fun atmosphere with great craft cocktails.
  • Den Den Korean Fried Chicken: Just off Thayer St, Ramen, Korean BBQ and of course Korean fried chicken are all serving the late night college crowd.

Want more weekend getaway ideas?

Read: Your School Break Inspiration and 5 Spots You Haven’t Yet Thought Of For Spring Break.

Touring colleges in Providence? See College Trip Planning in 5 Easy Steps.

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