Splayed across seven hills on the Providence and Seekonk rivers, Providence was Rhode Island's first settlement, founded in 1636 "in commemoration of God's providence" on land granted to Roger Williams by the Narragansett Indians. Despite its roots in celebrating freedom, the city flourished as one of the most important ports of call in the notorious "triangle trade," where New England rum was exchanged for African slaves, who were then sold for West Indian molasses. With Slater's invention of the textile mill, industry along with port trade became the mainstays of Providence's economy.
The state's capital since 1901, Providence is today one of New England's three largest cities. Ivy League Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD, or "Rizdee") give the place a certain cultural verve, while the many original colonial homes on Benefit Street and around College Hill emanate an atmospheric, historic feel. The city's ethnic diversity is showcased west of downtown by the large Italian community on Federal Hill, with bustling restaurants and traditional appeal.
Nestled into Narragansett Bay and bordered on the east by the Seekonk River, Providence is a small, friendly city full of history, culture and diverse immigrant communities. In the last few years, downtown Providence has been undergoing a striking renaissance that has added an official Arts and Entertainment district and European style to its classic New England beauty.
Downtown Providence, where three rivers now run, is reminiscent of Venice, complete with seasonal gondola rides, Riverwalk's quaint arched bridges, and a waterside amphitheater at Waterplace Park that is the frequent site of cultural events and scenes from the TV show "Providence." Providence Place Mall, containing among other outlets a Nordstrom's, Filene's and Cheesecake Factory, is located right across the street from Waterplace Park. Downtown Providence also has the Providence Performing Arts Center , where many shows are booked throughout the year. Just down Washington Street from the Providence Biltmore is the renowned Trinity Repertory , which has a busy schedule of critically acclaimed plays. South Main Street and Thayer Street contain the Cable Car and Avon cinemas respectively, which show a range of movies but specialize in art house and foreign films.
On designated evenings throughout the year, wood braziers, interspersed along the riverfront between Waterplace Park and Hemenway's Seafood Grille & Oyster Bar on South Main Street, are lit to create the visually stunning Waterfire, which is often accompanied by strolling musicians and other street performers. Nearby are other popular, upscale restaurants, like Capriccio's and Pot au Feu .
The East Side of Providence is home to Ivy League Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and the thriving artistic and intellectual community they attract. Many stately, refurbished Colonial and Federalist mansions can be found in and around Brown and College Hill. The drive down Benefit Street is a visual treat of New England architectural beauty, complete with 19th Century-style streetlights; here you will also find historic churches (Baptist and Unitarian) and the Rhode Island School of Design Museum .
Comfortably fitting into the picturesque East Side neighborhood are a range of small to medium-sized eateries and cafes to suit many tastes. From the elegant riverside Gatehouse Restaurant in the east, and the cosmopolitan Rue de L'espoir , to Louis' Restaurant's diner-style meals on Brook Street, you can find a surprising range of foods and prices in this one very small area.
There are handsome green trolleys regularly conveying passengers between these parts of the city, traveling down Brook Street and Wickenden Street to pick up people heading for downtown and other neighborhoods, like Smith Hill, home of Rhode Island's commanding State House, next to the train station and Federal Hill.
India Point Park and South Water Street border downtown Providence on the southeast. The park is a pleasant spot for boating and strolling. At its end, in front of the hurricane barrier, is the ferry terminal for Rhode Island's nearby vacation spot, Block Island. South Water Street and nearby South Main Street contain clubs and restaurants providing a variety of environments and meals to suit many tastes in one five-block area. Hot Club is a popular nightspot that sits on the water, offering a view of boats moored at the docks next to it. Just north of India Point Park is the Wickenden Street area, a trendy strip of shops, restaurants and cafes. You can eat dinner at the Tokyo Restaurant or Taste of India , or you can sit on the porch of The Coffee Exchange , where students pick up coffees and muffins.
The south end of Providence contains the award-winning Roger Williams Park Zoo , a lovely and entertaining spot that is home to more than 600 kinds of animals.
A lively Italian neighborhood, Federal Hill, borders the downtown area on the west side and is full of interesting restaurants boasting world-class Italian food, such as Caserta Pizzeria and Pastiche Fine Desserts & Cafe . Marking this community just above downtown on Atwells Avenue is a pineapple sculpture on an arch that overhangs the street.
Providence is a rich history with a variety of dining options, most of which can be found downtown, in East Providence, Federal Hill and just outside the city.
Downtown Providence features diverse dining establishments. Capriccio's , along the river, features European fine dining. Just down the next street is Pot au Feu , which serves French food in the dining room or the more casual basement area. Murphy's Delicatessen serves home-style meals and deli sandwiches. New Rivers American Bistro offers dinners that fuse many different global cuisines. If you're looking for Asian flavors, New Japan Restaurant has a diverse menu that guests love.
Cafe Nuovo , an acclaimed fusion cuisine eatery, has a river view. Olives on North Main Street features a martini bar. Another restaurant where people go to see and be seen is CAV , the antique shop/restaurant in the old jewelry district.
The Gourmet House offers a similar array of national foods from Southeast Asia and China. The Tokyo Restaurant gives a you a thoroughly Japanese eating experience, complete with a tatami room. Geoff's on Benefit feature whimsically named sandwiches that are arguably the best in the city.
Catering to the upscale residents and communities of Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design , the East Side offers many dining experiences. Taste of India is a popular restaurant, as is Kabob-N-Curry —both offer a reasonably-priced Sunday buffet. Contemporary American dining can be found at the Z Bar and Grille . In one small three-block area of Hope Street near Wickenden Street , is Rue de l'Espoir , Guido's and the Sawaddee Thai restaurant. Rachel's specializes in pasta and seafood, Guido's is an intimate Italian restaurant and the Rue features French cuisine and a tasty Sunday brunch.
Nearby, Cafe Paragon offers upscale dining at reasonable prices. You can get Middle Eastern food at East Side Pockets , or tasty Greek meals at Andreas .
The very popular Coffee Exchange is a good place to stop in the morning. A tiny restaurant called Creperie offers crepes and smoothies.
Providence is home to a large Italian community, reflected in the pasta dishes and pizzas available in many area restaurants. But the city and environs is also a melting pot, reflected in the many other kinds of cuisine available here.
Federal Hill, just to the west of downtown, may be where you can find the best Italian food, from inexpensive and casual Angelo's to the stately, ornate Camille's and the Mediterraneo . All offer pasta, meat, poultry and seafood dishes, each with its own flavorful and unique style. What some consider the queen among pizzerias, Caserta's , resides on the edge of Federal Hill.
Outside the City
If you venture on short trips outside Providence you can find some delightful restaurants. Just north of Providence, in Pawtucket, is the hearty food of the Modern Diner on East Avenue. A short ride south of Providence in Cranston is the famous Twin Oaks fine dining establishment. Five minutes east on Route 195 lies the lodge-like family restaurant Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse , surrounded by large stores and chain restaurants.
Continuing south of Providence you can enjoy fine dining at the Warehouse Tavern overlooking the harbor of East Greenwich. Just below East Greenwich you can get gourmet snacks and sandwiches in the Wickford Gourmet , or good dinners at Wickford's Seaport Tavern . By Narragansett Beach you can dine at the Coast Guard House and watch the ocean's waves. Or you could sample seafood and traditional American fare by the water in George's of Galilee .
Southeast of Providence in Warren you can experience fine dining with a view and pick your own lobster at the bayside The Wharf Tavern . In Bristol, just south of Warren you'll find a charming Irish eating experience awaits at Aidan's Pub & Grub (which can also be found in Newport).
Tour Providence, its historic landmarks, museums and recreation spots. Providence is known for its mix of progress and Old World charm from the convenience of the public transit and its stops at local landmarks like Benefit Street colonial mansions and ivy-league Brown University .
Providence City Hall Downtown Providence offers many visitor attractions. Providence City Hall , the massive Providence Train Station and the Rhode Island State House are all located close to one another. Grab a bite to eat at Capriccio's or New Japan Restaurant .
Trinity Presbyterian Church Enjoy the architecture at Trinity Presbyterian Church , visit the cultural performance venue AS220 and stop into the impressive Culinary Archives & Museum At Johnson & Wales University . When you're through, dine at Meeting Street Cafe or Pot au Feu .
Bank of America City Center Do some skating at Bank of America City Center , then browse the collection at RISD Works , which showcases art from former Rhode Island School of Design students. Enjoy a meal at nearby Cafe Nuovo or Gracie's .
Brown University Tour the Victorian Governor Henry Lippitt House Museum and walk the historic Brown University campus. Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church was built in 1862, and exemplifies Medieval Gothic architecture. Nearby is Providence Athenaeum , one of the country's oldest libraries. Enjoy the fine dining at Camille's .
Waterplace Park & Riverwalk Relax in the heart of downtown at the Providence Waterplace Park & Riverwalk, and observe the WaterFire , on display every Saturday. Be sure to hop on the trolley to attend Gallery Night Providence , then grab a bite to eat at Trinity Brewhouse or Temple Downtown .
Providence tour companies offer experiences ranging from gondola rides to trolley trips.
Walking Tours Rhode Island Historical Society ( +1 401 273 7507/ http://www.rihs.org/ ) Providence Walking Company ( +1 401 723 2621 )
Bus Tours Conway Tours ( +1 401 658 3400/ http://www.conwaytours.com ) Go Go Tours ( +1 401 353 1488/ http://www.gogowwv.com/ ) Bloom Bus Lines ( +1 800 323 3009/ http://www.bloombus.com )
Gondola Tours La Gondola, Inc. ( +1 401 421 8877/ http://www.gondolari.com )
Trolley Tours Trolley Tours of Providence ( +1 401 421 3825/ http://www.providencetrolleytours.com )
Culinary Tours Rhode Island Market Tours ( +1 401 934 2134/ http://www.rimarkettours.com/ )
Ghost Tours Providence Ghost Tours ( http://www.providenceghosttour.com/ )