Providence, Rhode Island, is an incredible destination for a weekend getaway. With its historic architecture, world-class eateries, and bustling shopping districts, the city will keep you busy -- and if you’re headed to the capital of the Ocean State for a few days, you’ll certainly want to plan your trip carefully.
So, what should you do during your weekend in Providence? We’ve got a few suggestions. To make the most of the experience, look for accommodations near downtown Providence, which will allow you to explore the city easily. Once you’ve got a place to stay, these places would make worthy additions to your itinerary.
You don’t need to be an alumna to appreciate the Brown University campus. Located in the College Hill neighborhood, this Ivy League institution was founded in 1764, and its historic architecture makes it well worth a visit.
The campus is home to a variety of galleries and museums that are open to the public, and the institution offers regular free events. Be sure to check out the David Winton Bell Gallery, which features amazing contemporary art exhibits, and the Plant Environmental Center, a set of six greenhouses with a variety of horticultural marvels from around the world.
One important note: Most of the campus’s public attractions close in the late afternoon, so try to plan your visit for early in the day.
Flanking the west side of the Brown campus, Benefit Street is also known as the Mile of History. The intersection of Waterman and Benefit is a great starting point for exploring this gorgeous collection of Colonial buildings.
Thanks to ongoing preservation efforts, the thoroughfare features wood-frame houses from the 18th and 19th centuries in remarkable condition. You’ll see architectural marvels from the Federal period, along with the Providence Athenaeum, a publicly funded library that opened in 1838. Note that not all parts of this historic building are fully accessible; the building has multiple levels connected by staircases, and no elevator. The library’s website recommends calling ahead for accessible entrance to its Salon events, the Reading Room, and restrooms.
To get the most out of your experience of Benefit Street, consider booking a tour. Special-event tours are also available throughout the year, so if you’re interested in a particular period of Providence’s history, be sure to visit the Rhode Island Historical Society’s website.
Just west of downtown, you’ll find the historic Federal Hill neighborhood. This is a great place for an afternoon stroll, with easily walkable streets. Perhaps more importantly, it’s home to some of the best restaurants in the city (more on that in a moment).
Providence’s Italian community settled in this region of the city in the early 1900s, creating an inviting community of shops, cafes, and restaurants. The heart of the historic area is DePasquale Square, a plaza with colorful buildings, narrow streets, and a beautiful fountain. It occasionally functions as a hub for neighborhood events, but it’s also a great place to take a breather or snap a few pictures.
From May through November, you’ll want to check out WaterFire Providence, especially if you’re traveling to fill up your camera roll. Created by artist Barnaby Evans, WaterFire Providence consists of more than 80 bonfires on the Providence River.
Hundreds of volunteers work to light the braziers twice per month, setting the river on fire -- in a well-controlled manner, of course. You’ll smell the burning aromatic woods as you walk through Waterplace Park; musicians, street performers, and vendors add to the appeal, ensuring that you’ll leave with a smile on your face and a story to tell.
WaterFire is a nonprofit organization whose focus is on community engagement and urban revitalization, and given the popularity of the WaterFire Providence project, we’d say they’re doing a great job. Be sure to check the project’s website for up-to-date schedules.
Roger Williams Park
Once you’ve experienced downtown Providence, head south to Roger Williams Park. With multiple museums, gardens, lakes, pathways, and a zoo, this 435-acre park offers plenty of options for active travelers. The Roger Williams Park Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the nation, and it’s open year-round. Discounted tickets are available for seniors and children.
The Victorian Rose Garden and the Museum of Natural History are two more of the park’s must-see attractions. The garden features a stunning variety of roses from Albertine to White Dorothy Perkins. They bloom throughout the spring, though some varieties are repeat bloomers, meaning that they bloom a second time in the autumn.
The Museum of Natural History, with its public planetarium and variety of seasonal exhibits, is a great place to visit with the grandkids.
Eating In Providence
While Providence is a relatively small city in the smallest state in the country, it is home to a vibrant culinary scene. In 2012, Travel + Leisure ranked the city first in the nation for its dining culture. Providence still occupies a top-10 spot on some lists.
The best food in Providence is vibrant, yet approachable and affordable. Of course, seafood plays a major role in some of the city’s must-try dishes, but fish and crustaceans aren’t the only standouts in this Ocean State oasis.
Here are a few restaurants that serve up local fare in the unmistakable Providence style.
Nick’s On Broadway
So, what is Nick’s on Broadway? Think classic American, seasonally focused, and locally sourced. This historic diner-turned-bistro is known as one of the best spots in Providence for a delicious brunch.
Dishes at Nick’s are thoughtfully curated, beautifully plated, and just as tasty as they look. The restaurant is open for brunch and dinner, with a break between services. A reservation isn’t required, but it is suggested for larger parties -- especially on weekend mornings. The original location is in the Federal Hill area, but a second location recently opened on Westminster.
Iggy’s Doughboys & Chowder House
Doughboys are the Rhode Island take on fried-dough treats. They aren’t quite zeppoles, and they aren’t quite doughnuts, but they are quite delicious. These deep-fried creations are flat disks sprinkled with granulated or powdered sugar. They can also be served plain. As for size, that depends: We’ve seen doughboys the size of saucers.
The original Iggy’s Doughboys & Chowder House in nearby Warwick, Rhode Island, is an ideal spot to try your first doughboy. While it is about a 30-minute drive south of downtown Providence, we promise it’s worth it. While you’re there, you can also enjoy some classic New England chowder or clam cakes.
When a Providencian says they’ll bring pizza to a gathering, it’s probably not going to be what you expect. Rhode Island has its own special take on this dish, and while it doesn’t really resemble the traditional pie, it’s still tasty.
Providence pizza, also known as party pizza or bakery pizza, is made on focaccia-type bread and has a layer of tomato sauce. That’s it -- no cheese, no toppings, no frills. It’s cut into strips and served at room temperature, so it’s more like a fresh tomato bread than a pizza.
Visit LaSalle Bakery off Admiral Street to try this local delicacy for yourself. LaSalle’s focus on fresh, quality ingredients helps to bring out the subtleties of Providence pizza, and if you’re in the mood for something sweeter, it’s got plenty of pastries, cookies, cakes, and pies.
As we mentioned earlier, Federal Hill is the go-to spot for Italian food in Providence. Many of these businesses serve lobster ravioli, which is arguably the city’s most famous culinary contribution.
Andino’s and Elizabeth’s Portofino are most likely to carry the dish year-round. If you’ve got access to a kitchen, you can also buy freshly made ravioli at the gourmet Italian market Venda Ravioli (the market also has a cafe, but it is only open from late spring through early fall).
Shopping In Providence
Looking for a place to shop in Providence? You’re in luck -- the city offers an array of small local shops, boutiques, upscale stores, and shopping centers.
Start at The Arcade, the oldest indoor mall in the United States. Built in 1828, it underwent extensive renovations to add 48 microloft apartments to its upper floors. The first floor features several retail shops, casual dining restaurants, and a coffee shop/whiskey bar. The Arcade is an interesting architectural landmark, so even if you’re not interested in shopping, it’s worth a quick look.
Providence also has a vibrant vintage and antiques scene. Rocket to Mars is a great place to stop if you’re looking for vintage clothing, knickknacks, vintage dinnerware and glassware, furniture, or art. Nostalgia Antiques & Collectibles on Wickenden Street is another must-visit; the self-described “curious emporium” is full of New England memorabilia, antiques, and vintage items spanning three floors.
If you’re visiting during the summer or fall, the outdoor Providence Flea is an essential stop for dedicated shopaholics. This carefully curated market is open every Sunday from May through September, with limited winter and spring dates at an indoor location.
Getting To Providence
Now that your interest is piqued, it’s time to plan your weekend getaway. Providence is easy to reach via air or car. Fly into Green International Airport in nearby Warwick, then visit the InterLink hub. This transportation headquarters offers access to plenty of public transit, rail, and rental car options that will complete your journey to Providence.
If you’re driving your own car, check out the Park Downtown Providence site. It’ll guide you to convenient parking in the heart of the city. You can even download Providence’s Passport Parking App to grab paid parking spaces without scrambling for change.
There’s plenty to keep you busy in this historic New England urban center. So much, in fact, that you might have to plan a second weekend visit… and a third… and, well, you get the picture.