1. Where to Stay
Walk to downtown’s attractions from Hotel Providence (from $179), a boutique spot with a prime address on restaurant-heavy Westminster Street. Take a self-guided tour of the art collection, and have lobster sliders ($12) at in-house eatery Aspire, which was voted Best New Restaurant by the readers of the Providence Phoenix in 2009.
Check out the picturesque College Hill neighborhood at the Old Court Bed and Breakfast (from $115), where accents like vintage wallpaper and marble fireplaces lend a homey feel. Ask for a room with a view of the State Capitol building and take an evening stroll out the front door and down Benefit Street, one of the city’s most beautiful avenues of colonial mansions.
Stay within your budget at Hotel Dolce Villa (from $92) in Federal Hill, the city’s version of Little Italy. Don’t expect opulence, but the functional white-on-white suites have far more personality than the average chain, and all have kitchenettes. Satisfy your late-night sweet tooth with a slice of lemon mousse cake ($6) with a decadent crust a few steps away at the justifiably famous Pastiche Fine Desserts, open until 11:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
2. Where to Eat
Try a well-curated tasting of international cheeses at La Laiterie at Farmstead, which could include Divine Providence (a Goudalike, cow’s-milk cheese), aged in the restaurant’s very own cave (a selection of five for $18). Heartier offerings, like the macaroni and cheese made with Gruyère and brie ($10), round out the menu. Be sure to reserve in advance, as lines often stretch out the door on weekends.
Avoid the chain-restaurant feel of Providence’s other raw bars at Ama’s (3 Luongo Square; 401-421-1100), an intimate space with low lighting that boasts a constantly changing selection of locally harvested oysters. If they’re in stock, order the briney Moonstones ($2 each), delivered daily to the restaurant straight from Narragansett Bay, before moving on to a selection of Japanese-inspired small plates like sautéed shiitake mushrooms ($4) and fried tofu pouches ($4).
Don’t miss the housemade charcuterie selection ($7 each, three selections for $19) at New Rivers, a seasonal American bistro that put Providence on the culinary map when it opened back in 1990. The current locavore-friendly menu—created by Chef Beau Vestal, who’s worked there for more than eleven years—has a focus on offal and smoked and cured meats; try the duck ham, served with a brown-sugar glaze, and the air-dried saucisson sec, sliced thin and served with a drizzle of olive oil.
3. What to Do
Reserve a space at least a month in advance for a three-hour cooking course (from $80) at Johnson & Wales’s renowned culinary school. Taught by the same chef-instructors who have trained the likes of Emeril Lagasse, the classes cover everything from Cajun cuisine to pastry techniques. The most popular of these workshops, which are capped at eighteen participants, tend to be those that focus on the cooking of countries like India and Vietnam.
Spend an afternoon expanding your food knowledge at the Culinary Arts Museum ($7 admission), a 25,000-square-foot temple to the past, present, and future of cooking. The museum’s collection includes 250,000 artifacts, vintage photographs, menus, and works of art, plus 60,000 cookbooks; current exhibits cover everything from ancient Roman cuisine to dinners at the White House.
Head to neighboring Pawtucket for a visit to the German-American Cultural Society, home to an old-fashioned beer-and-sausage party (drafts from $4, food from $3.50) every Friday night. Starting at 7 p.m., the Ratskeller Bar, an unfussy basement space, opens to nonmembers, who come for the friendly atmosphere and imported beer selection. Play a few games of pool and darts for free, then watch the regulars sing drinking songs from the old country as the accordion plays.
4. Insider’s Tip
Discover under-the-radar local happenings at Julian’s, a hub of Providence’s alt-centric West Side neighborhood. Besides having a great beer selection, the front entrance displays an impromptu collection of flyers and postcards advertising events—think warehouse concerts, anarchist library parties, and bike shop anniversary barbecues—that you can’t find out about online or in print.
5. Oddball Day
Tap into the student-fueled alternative scene by exploring some of the city’s quirkier destinations. First, grab breakfast treats at Allie’s Donuts in North Kingstown (3661 Quaker Lane; 401-295-8036), an unassuming bakery twenty minutes south of the city that produces a dense old-fashioned-style and a multicolored assortment of glazed and sprinkled doughnuts ($8 for a dozen). Once you’re full, head back downtown to visit the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab, which is part natural history museum and part inspirational resource for Rhode Island School of Design students. Filled with live animals, taxidermy, eggs, shells, and skeletons, it looks like a setting for one of Wes Anderson’s films. Afterward, make a quick jaunt to Olympic Records in the Fox Point neighborhood to check out the newest vinyl-only store in town and play a few games on one of their pinball machines. Next, stop into Olga’s Cup and Saucer for a savory cheddar scone ($3) and cappuccino ($3.25) before walking over to see an afternoon movie at the Cable Car Cinema, which primarily screens limited-release and foreign films. Next, catch a concert at AS220, a music venue and gallery space that’s a trailblazer in the local arts community. In addition to hosting a mix of local bands and touring indie acts, the in-house restaurant was revamped last year and serves a surprisingly good selection of food; try the tomato-braised lamb sandwich ($7) with a pint of Rhode Island’s own Narragansett Beer ($2.50) while the band does their sound check. If you’re in need of a nightcap, savor a craft beer at the clandestine, not-for-profit drinking spot known as the GCB (42 Charlesfield Street; 401-421-0270), which stands for Grad Center Bar. It’s a private club located on the Brown University campus, but you can buy a one-day pass for $5 and kick back in the bustling basement space while choosing from a rotating selection of limited-edition beers from New England breweries like Cisco and Pretty Things.
Check out Eat Drink RI for upcoming food outings and restaurant news.
Find restaurant deals at Providence Daily Dose.
Read about local arts and event listings on The Providence Phoenix, the local alternative newspaper.
If you’re visiting Providence with kids, check out The Rhode Less Traveled for ideas.