Providence can be frustrating to talk about. I always get annoyed with people who say, “I love Providence: it’s so cool and hip” because this often translates into, “I visited Brown when I was touring colleges and saw their campus and College Hill.” On the one hand, this is frustrating because the city still has a ways to go in a lot of respects and has gone through some tough times, only recently becoming more built up. On the other, it fails to see what the rest of the city has to offer.
Self-righteousness aside, there are a lot of great things in Providence, and I’m surprised that it’s taken me so long to compile some of them into a concise, Friday Five post, but here it goes.
1.) Small Point Cafe–Providence has a number of coffee shops (like all the great ones along Wickenden Street), but I’d say that Small Point is my favorite. This DownCity shop is in a growing neighborhood and serves great drinks and bagels in a funky space with chalkboard walls and Gumby adorning the counter. Visit for a while to enjoy the coffee and people watching. Plus, DownCity is a good neighborhood, though small, with other shops like Craftland and Symposium Books which are worth poking around. 230 Westminster Street, $
2.) RISD Museum–Located in Providence’s historic College Hill neighborhood, the RISD Museum is a day trip in and of itself. This museum houses extensive collections of modern art, and I recommend picking a couple of exhibits to focus on during your visit. In the past, I’ve enjoyed the modern exhibits as well as the Japanese woodblock prints, Egyptian, and Asian art collections. Bring your student ID for a discount. 224 Benefit Street, Free-$$
After visiting the museum, it’s worth spending some time exploring College Hill. The Providence Athenaeum is one of the oldest libraries in the country and is a booklover’s paradise inside. The Providence Art Club is another beautiful building in the area that showcases local artists’ work.
3.) WaterFire–Anyone can tell you to go to WaterFire if you visit Providence, and they’re not wrong in doing so. This public art installation breathes a lot of life into the city and encourages people to go out for the night, get a bite to eat or a drink, and then enjoy the show. On select summer nights, WaterFire ignites a series of fires along the rivers through Providence. A gondola rides through to represent the city’s Italian heritage, and different music symbolizes the city’s history. Waterplace Park, Free
4.) Providence Flea–Lesser known than WaterFire, the Providence Flea market is another good reason to get into the city on summer weekends. Down the road from College Hill, this flea market hosts vendors who sell antiques and a number of upcycled products, like skateboard pens. It’s fun to take a walk around and see what they offer. At the very least, it’s a good way to start a Sunday visit into the city before heading to the RISD Museum, which is free Sundays. Make sure to haggle! 345 South Water Street, Free
5.) Pane e Vino or Al Forno–For many, Providence is synonymous with Italian food. Its Federal Hill neighborhood touts a number of Italian markets and restaurants, and I’ve tried a couple so far. Camille’s is good, though pricy, but Pane e Vino has been my favorite on the Hill. They do a good job serving Italian classics with a slight local flair, and the environment is warm and open while still part of the hokey (which I mean in a good way) Federal Hill aesthetic. 365 Atwells Avenue, $$
Al Forno is another popular restaurant, though not on the Hill, that doesn’t need travel bloggers writing about it to draw in the crowds. Though in an out of the way location, Al Forno is decidedly more modern in both its ambience and its take on Italian dishes. My Italian grandmother was quick to complain that the pasta was “too” al dente for her, but I think the dishes deliver with regards to flavor. 577 South Water Street, $$$$