The Best of Providence: Big City Travel in the Country’s Smallest State

WaterFire in Providence, Rhode Island, best of providence

With Boston just fifty miles to the north, the small city of Providence has always had a bit of a Napoleon complex.

But Rhode Island’s capital city has come a long way, especially in the past ten years. With great cocktail lounges, world-class beer bars, the famous Federal Hill Italian neighborhood, and a rich colonial history, it’s now a destination in its own right. Here’s the best of Providence, Rhode Island:

Do

Among the city’s regular events, WaterFire is the crown jewel. It begins every May with an army of volunteer “firetenders” who light the 80+ fire basins that line the city’s Woonasquatucket River. Amid an atmosphere of wood smoke, world music, and throngs of locals that fill the waterfront promenade, it’s a uniquely beautiful and captivating event.

best of providence rhode island panorama at risd  amp downtown

The Providence food scene owes a great deal to the influence of its earliest Italian immigrants. Take a tour of the city’s (largely Italian) Federal Hill district with Savoring Rhode Island. On her three-hour walking food tour, local chef Cindy Salvato takes visitors through Rhode Island’s greatest culinary neighborhood with plenty of samples and history along the way.

Eat & Drink

A short walk from downtown, the funky Julian’s Providence is one of the city’s not-so-well-kept dining secrets. Their all-day menus feature vegan options, unique takes on classic dishes (think braised short rib eggs Benedict), and a carefully considered craft beer selection. Be sure to go early as it’s frequently packed with locals from open to close.

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Long before food trucks inundated the U.S., Haven Brothers Diner became one of the country’s first restaurants on wheels. What started as a horse-drawn lunch wagon in 1888 has since become a Rhode Island institution and a staple of late-night dining in the city. The “Aluminum Room” as it’s sometimes called gets busiest after midnight, serving greasy burger and fry platters to the after-hours crowd.

Trinity Brewhouse is the oldest brewpub in Rhode Island and still among the best spots in the state for a local craft beer. For a no-frills Irish pub, there’s no better than The Wild Colonial tavern. Located in a historic brick and beam building, the bar offers craft beer, a solid whiskey menu, and small plate sandwiches and finger foods. Tucked into a side street of the city’s Federal Hill district, The Avery is a signless, unassuming bar that’s easy to miss. It’s part sleek, speakeasy-inspired cocktail lounge and part world-class beer bar, with the state’s most diverse craft brew selection.

Stay

It’s only within the last decade that boutique hotels have begun cropping up around downtown Providence. Hotel Providence is among the oldest and it’s still a great option for two reasons: the ideal, central location and the delicious Aspire restaurant. The latter offers not only some of the best locally sourced food in the city, but it’s also a great after-hours bar and lounge.

best of providence rhode island roof area

For pure style points, check out The Dean Hotel. The one-time “gentleman’s club” was once among the sketchiest and most infamous buildings in the city. It’s since been transformed into Providence’s swankiest boutique hotel. Noteworthy amenities include an onsite karaoke bar, coffeehouse, beer hall, and cocktail lounge.

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