We recently took a day trip to Providence, Rhode Island a few days after our wedding. Since we had taken a few days off work, it seemed like a perfect day trip from Boston! It takes about 45 minutes by car from Boston to Providence and the same amount of time to take the MBTA Commuter Rail. There are a number of downtown Providence hotels that are also historic and perfect options if you choose to extend your stay longer than one day.
Providence is a historic city, and is one of the oldest cities in America. The capital of Rhode Island is located in the northeast part of the state, and was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams. It quickly became a place for religious refuge, and was one of the original 13 colonies.
At just over 20 square miles, Providence used to be one of the largest cities in America, but now it’s the perfect size for a day trip! With arts, culture, dining galore, shopping, and sports, Providence is a charming city that offers visitors both relaxation and plenty to do.
Let’s start our one day tour of Providence!
Park on the Brown University Campus where there are plenty of meters. Head over to Blue State Coffee and try one of their delicious and creamy iced lattes and a homemade pastry (they also offer vegan and gluten-free options) before heading out to explore the Brown University campus.
Founded in 1764, Brown is the seventh oldest college in America, and was one of just nine colonial colleges founded before the American Revolution. Keeping in line with Rhode Island’s religious inclusivity, Brown was the first college to accept students regardless of religious affiliation.
The campus is gorgeous, green, and walkable, so spend some time ogling the brick buildings and common spaces.
At the Brown University Gate
Next, head up Benefit Street, a mile-long street with some of Providence’s most historic homes and buildings. The brick sidewalks lead you past the John Brown House Museum and the Stephen Hopkins House, two homes from the 1700s. You’ll end up in front of the Providence Athenaeum. Built in 1836, it is a member-supported public library. An interesting fact is that Sarah Helen Whitman broke up with Edgar Allan Poe in the library (that’s just cold).
Browse the library stacks, check out the wood library card files, or read some magazines on the lower floor. When we were there they had an art and literary exhibition on wildlife in the lower level.
Providence has some excellent eateries and cafes downtown. We ultimately decided on Kleos, a Greek restaurant that is beautifully decorated. The blue walls and white wood is reminiscent of the Greek Islands, and their beef and lamb gyros were top-notch and authentic. Their menu includes fresh salads, octopus, a raw bar, roasted chicken, Brizola, and more.
Other lunch options we considered were Oberlin, an American restaurant; Providence Coal Fired Pizza; and Ken’s Ramen.
After lunch, browse some of the super cute shops and cafes in the Downtown area.
The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is one of the most renown fine art and design colleges in America. Founded in 1877, the college opened its Museum in 1893. The Museum houses 100,000 objects across four buildings that range from ancient art to contemporary works. Admission maxes out at $15 per person (less for members, students, kids, and seniors), so it’s an affordable way to pass a few hours.
After a few hours at the RISD Museum, head over to the Rhode Island State House. The neoclassical building was designed by McKim, Mead, and White and was completed in 1904. Tours of the State House are free with a reservation, so we booked a tour the day before. As it turns out, we were the only people on our tour, so we had a private tour guided by a local history major.
We learned that the dome on top of the State House is the fourth largest self-supporting marble dome in the world. A lot of the marble is from Georgia. On top of the State House is the figure of a male, who is named “Hope,” which is the state motto.
In a recent renovation, the designers peeled back layers of paint to find the original paint colors of the Senate and House of Representative rooms, and tried to replicate them as closely as possible with a light mossy green color.
The State House also displays two historic cannons that visitors can admire.
Rhode Island State House exterior and an interior shot of the dome
After checking out the State House, head over to the Federal Hill area, known as the “little Italy” of Providence. You can pick up a great coffee at cafes along Atwells Avenue like Cafe Pazzo (who also makes their own citrus-y cannoli filling), indulge in some Italian treats at Pastiche Fine Desserts, or try one of the many Italian pizza and pasta shops. There’s often live music in the square, and a charming fountain which is a perfect place to stop for a photo op or to meet friends. This neighborhood is so quaint and walkable, it’s definitely worth a visit during your trip to Providence!
As you wind down from a full day of site seeing, one of the best restaurants in Providence, Gracie’s should be on the top of your list! A friend had recommended it to us, and hands down, it was the best meal we’ve had in our lives. The service is impeccable and friendly, and it was a fantastic way to wrap up our day trip to Providence.
We both ordered the 3 course prix fixe and ordered different items from the menu so we could try as many things as possible. I can’t say enough good things about Gracie’s. Everything we ordered was fresh and tasty, like the beet salad, gnocchi, local fish, a sorbet in between courses, and delicious desserts (some items pictured below). If you are in Providence and really want to celebrate a great day of sightseeing or a special occasion, make a reservation at Gracie’s – you won’t regret it!
If you choose to extend your stay in Providence, Rhode Island, luckily there are a number of excellent hotel options in and around downtown Providence!
According to Trip Advisor, the best downtown Providence hotels include:
Hotel Providence (139 Mathewson St, Westminster Street, Providence, RI 02903): Amenities include a fitness center, free WiFi, and they’re pet friendly, too! Located in the Arts and Theater District, the historic hotel is ranked as the #1 downtown Providence hotel.
Omni Providence Hotel (1 West Exchange Street, Providence, RI 02903): The Omni brand of hotels is near and dear to me since I used to plan an annual event at the Omni Parker House in Boston. I think their hospitality and professionalism is unparalleled.
Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel (5 Avenue of the Arts, Providence, RI 02903): The Renaissance is one of the most stunning hotels in Providence, and the interior was designed by RISD talents.
I hope this brief guide to a day in Providence, RI helps you plan your day trip or gives you some inspiring ideas for sights to see. Let me know other interesting places you’ve been to in Providence here or over on the Facebook or Instagram!
Protect your face and head from the sun with this cool Rhode Island cap!