What are the five best things to see and do in Providence?

Melanie Nayer

Providence may be best enjoyed in the summer when all its outdoor attractions are open and you can take full advantage of its nearby beaches. With that in mind, check out Forbes Travel Guide’s picks for the five best things to do in Providence:

1. Federal Hill. Stroll through Federal Hill, Providence’s Italian district. One of the most famous Italian neighborhoods in the Northeast, Federal Hill is ripe with restaurants, cafés, bakeries, Italian grocers and novelty stores.

2. WaterFire. On display from May to October (though the actual dates can fluctuate based on weather), WaterFire is an arts sculpture-meets-light show on three rivers in downtown Providence. Watch as floating bonfires light up the water and move along the river. The backdrop of the arched bridges and slowly passing flames makes for quite an enchanting scene.

3. Beaches. About an hour’s drive from Providence in nearby Newport, you’ll find some of the best beaches in New England. Take advantage of the soft sand and calm waves at Easton’s Beach, which has a seasonal carousel, skateboard park and free weekly summer concerts.  

4. Explore Narragansett Bay. Narragansett Bay has sailing, boating, fishing, kayaking, swimming and whale watching tours throughout the year. Around the bay are historic little villages where you can dine, shop and explore the history of Rhode Island. We suggest you book a ride on one of the historic schooners and sail into the sunset for a picture-perfect evening.

5. Providence Heritage Trail. This trail offers a look back at three centuries of homes and buildings that have played a key role in Rhode Island’s history. Along the trail you'll see an 18th-century mansion, the nation's oldest Baptist church, one of the nation’s most talked about culinary institutions (the Culinary Arts Museum), and the celebrated Roger Williams Park Zoo.

  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What are the best side trips from Providence?

    While Providence has much to offer those in town, there’s also plenty to see just outside the capital of the country’s smallest state. Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend side trips to nearby Newport and Watch Hill.
     
    Watch Hill is about an hour drive from Providence and this quaint town has a quintessential lighthouse with gorgeous views of the picturesque Rhode Island. Watch Hill is also home to a great downtown area, which is filled with local boutiques. Stop by the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Ocean House resort for a fine dining experience at the resort’s farm-to-table restaurant, Seasons.
     
    Newport is about 45-minutes south of Providence and has a happening summer beach scene. Hang here with a picnic basket of goodies, then grab a bar stool at one of the nearby ocean-side restaurants to watch the sunset. End your summer day in Newport with oyster shooters on the beach.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What are the five best Providence food experiences?

    Providence is ripe with interesting and authentic food experiences. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s inside tips for tasting your way through Providence:  

    1. Seafood. Thanks to Providence’s location near some of New England’s best fishing banks, the seafood here is top-notch. Head downtown to Hemenway’s for New England-style clam chowder.

    2. Italian. Providence’s Little Italy is one of the oldest Italian neighborhoods in the country. Federal Hill, the city’s Italian district, has Italian groceries and novelty stores, as well as a slew of bakeries and restaurants where authenticity reigns supreme.

    3. Hot dogs. Rhode Islanders like to keep things simple, which is why N.Y. System hot dogs are one of the best foodie finds in the city. The restaurant serves its hot dogs on a steamed bun and tops them with meat sauce, onions and mustard. Known around town as “gaggers,” these dogs are a Providence staple. 

    4. Pizza. Almost every city has its own version of pizza, and Providence is no different. Legend has it that Al Forno’s in Providence was the first place in America to serve grilled pizza (thin pizza cooked on a grill). While we can’t verify that’s true, we can confirm that the pizza here is worth a visit.

    5. Raw bars. Whether you’re at the beach in Newport or sitting in a fine dining restaurant in downtown Providence, it’s likely you’ll be near a raw bar thanks to Providence’s location on the water. Shuck an oyster, crack a crab claw or throw back a shrimp shooter while you’re in town.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What is the best thing to bring home from Providence?

    There are a few special items Forbes Travel Guide editors can recommend you bring home from Providence. Grab an artist’s rendering of Federal Hill, Narragansett Bay or the Newport Beaches from one of the local shops near the Rhode Island School of Design or along the sidewalks that line Brown University. If you’re driving from Providence to a nearby city, take a cannoli with you from the Italian district Federal Hill. And if you’re looking for something truly unique, stop by the Roger Williams Park Zoo adoption office and pledge your commitment to one of the animals in the park. You’ll take home a certificate of adoption and photo of your adopted animal — you’ll be able to keep the animal close to your heart even when you’re no longer in Providence.
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  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    Where is the best nightlife in Providence?

    For a small city, Providence knows how to shake things up when the sun goes down. The downtown area is filled with buzzy bars and clubs. If you want something a little more leisurely, head to a restaurant in Federal Hill for outdoor seating. Go for dinner and stay through dessert, lingering over a glass of wine while people watching. During the summer months, downtown Providence turns into one big party when WaterFire kicks off. The famous summer water parade takes place nightly from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and the restaurants and bars along the river stay open a bit later to accommodate the crowds.  
     
    If you’re willing to travel about 45 minutes south of the city to Newport, you’ll find a lively nightlife scene come summertime. Kick back at the Newport beaches during the day and enjoy seriously casual outdoor entertainment at night — think flip-flops, tank tops and draft beers.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What is the best way to see Providence in one day?

    With a plan, it’s easy to navigate and explore Providence in a day. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest you start your morning at the Rogers Williams Park Zoo, where you can wake up with the animals and take a leisurely stroll through the zoo’s scenic gardens and ponds. After the zoo, head into downtown Providence to walk through the brownstone sidewalks around Brown University and enjoy the centuries-old architecture that beautifies the neighborhood. You’ll find a few art galleries and boutiques here too, so stop in when you see something you like. Have a late lunch at any of the Italian restaurants in Federal Hill, and grab a cannoli to go at one of the authentic bakeries.
     
    After lunch, head toward downtown for a tour of the Providence Capitol Building, one of the oldest capitol buildings in the nation. When you’re finished, make your way down to the river where crowds start to gather at sunset to watch WaterFire — an arts-sculpture-light show. End your day at CAV, an American restaurant with an international, bohemian vibe.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    Where is the best shopping in Providence?

    Providence isn’t known for its shopping scene, but there’s still plenty to peruse while you’re here. For premium shopping, the Providence Place mall is the place to go. The state’s largest shopping venue and home to around 200 retail stores — including department stores Nordstrom and Macy’s — Providence Place also has dining and entertainment venues. Alongside retailers like Tiffany & Co., Coach, the Apple Store, Sephora, Ann Taylor and J. Crew is an IMAX Theatre, great for when you need to take a break. For a more local shopping experience, head to downtown’s Westminster Street where you can find boutique clothing shops, designer stores and art galleries.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What are the five best things to do with kids in Providence?

    From beaches to bird-watching, there’s plenty to do in Providence to entertain kids of all ages. Here are the five best Forbes Travel Guide-recommended activities for kids:

    1. Roger Williams Park Zoo. This beloved zoo is set on 430 acres and offers a lot more than animals. Besides standard zoo fare (giraffes, elephants, kangaroos) you can canoe or paddle boat on the river, walk the outdoor gardens, play in Carousel Village or take a walk through the Museum of Natural History. When you need a break, take one of the miniature trains that loop around the grounds.

    2. Providence Children's Museum. Designed for younger kids, Providence Children’s Museum is packed with fun educational exhibits, including a time-travel adventure, geometry lab and water explorations. Many of the exhibits are free.
     
    3. Crescent Park Carousel. Built in 1895, the Crescent Park Carousel is considered a work of art and has recently been restored to its former beauty. For just a buck, kids can ride one of the 62 hand-carved figurines. The park, located about 15 minutes southeast of downtown Providence, also holds family movie nights on Fridays during the summer.
     
    4. Rhode Island Bay Cruises. Launch from North Kingston, about 30 minutes south of the city, and check out the lighthouses and the islands that line the coast. You’ll also pass by the famous mansions in Newport, as well as popular attractions like Fort Adams and the Newport bridges.  
     
    5. East Bay Bicycle Path. Get your kids rolling on Providence’s mostly flat, 14.5-mile path that traverses through state parks, by coves and over bridges. Hop on the path at Colt State Park or Haines Memorial State Park.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What are the five best things to see and do in Providence?

    Providence may be best enjoyed in the summer when all its outdoor attractions are open and you can take full advantage of its nearby beaches. With that in mind, check out Forbes Travel Guide’s picks for the five best things to do in Providence:

    1. Federal Hill. Stroll through Federal Hill, Providence’s Italian district. One of the most famous Italian neighborhoods in the Northeast, Federal Hill is ripe with restaurants, cafés, bakeries, Italian grocers and novelty stores.

    2. WaterFire. On display from May to October (though the actual dates can fluctuate based on weather), WaterFire is an arts sculpture-meets-light show on three rivers in downtown Providence. Watch as floating bonfires light up the water and move along the river. The backdrop of the arched bridges and slowly passing flames makes for quite an enchanting scene.

    3. Beaches. About an hour’s drive from Providence in nearby Newport, you’ll find some of the best beaches in New England. Take advantage of the soft sand and calm waves at Easton’s Beach, which has a seasonal carousel, skateboard park and free weekly summer concerts.  

    4. Explore Narragansett Bay. Narragansett Bay has sailing, boating, fishing, kayaking, swimming and whale watching tours throughout the year. Around the bay are historic little villages where you can dine, shop and explore the history of Rhode Island. We suggest you book a ride on one of the historic schooners and sail into the sunset for a picture-perfect evening.

    5. Providence Heritage Trail. This trail offers a look back at three centuries of homes and buildings that have played a key role in Rhode Island’s history. Along the trail you'll see an 18th-century mansion, the nation's oldest Baptist church, one of the nation’s most talked about culinary institutions (the Culinary Arts Museum), and the celebrated Roger Williams Park Zoo.
  • On July 28, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best places to eat in Providence?

    Here’s a lesser-known fact about Providence: the food scene is fantastic. Since Providence sits near Boston and New York, most travelers overlook this small city when it comes to eating, but real foodies know where to find the real gems. Check out Forbes Travel Guide’s picks for the five best places to eat in Providence:

    1. Camille’s. Located in Providence’s Federal Hill neighborhood, Camille’s has been the spot for Italian food since 1914. Favorites include champagne risotto with shrimp and asparagus, as well as homemade pastas. Finish your night with a glass of fine grappa.

    2. Hemenway’s. If you’re seeking seafood in Providence, look no further than Hemenway’s, located just off the river in downtown Providence. It has some of the best seafood dishes in the city. One tip: Hemenway’s serves the traditional New England version of clam chowder — made with cream, bacon and potatoes — so save room for a hearty bite.

    3. CAV. This contemporary American restaurant’s draw is more for its bohemian atmosphere than anything else, but it has top-notch, award-winning food to boot. CAV is located in an old antiques shop in the jewelry district, and makes for an incredibly cozy and romantic dinner.

    4. Pane e Vino. Often lauded as one of Rhode Island’s best, this restaurant serves rustic Italian cuisine in a quaint setting. Plus, you’ll get to taste some of the area’s best ingredients, since most of the dishes are made from local, sustainable and all-natural goods.
     
    5. Seasons. This Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurant is located inside the Ocean House resort, which is about an hour outside of Providence in Watch Hill. It’s known for its fresh farm-to-table fare, so grab a seat at the chef’s table to watch the dishes on the menu come to life — you might even get a few samples of other menu items.
  • On July 28, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best places to stay in Providence?

    Providence is a lively mix of old and new, modern and sophisticated but also oozing with historic charm, and the hotel options in and around the city reflect this juxtaposition. Forbes Travel Guide editors picked the five best places to stay in Providence:
     
    1. Providence Biltmore. In the heart of downtown, this historic luxury hotel is walking distance from Providence Place mall, Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University and the famed summertime WaterFire activities.
     
    2. Ocean House. This Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel is about an hour drive southwest of Providence. Located at the top of Watch Hill, it sits on 13 acres of land and has a private white sand beach. Indulge in visits to the Five-Star OH! Spa and the Four-Star restaurant Seasons.  
     
    3. Hotel Providence. Situated in the center of the city, this luxury boutique hotel is within walking distance of Providence Capitol Building, downtown restaurants, bars and Brown University. The lobby and other public areas are filled with authentic European antiques, which add a touch of sophistication and more than a little charm to the hip Hotel Providence.
     
    4. Vanderbilt Grace. One of the original mansions in Newport, the Vanderbilt Grace was built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt in 1909. Today the mansion – located about 45 minutes south of Providence — includes 33 rooms and suites, a spa and fitness center with indoor and outdoor pools, and two restaurants. The luxury hotel sits along the famous Newport Mansion walk on the water, offering great views of the ocean.

    5. Christopher Dodge House. This charming bed and breakfast is house in a 19th-century Italianate mansion and is ideally located near Brown University and downtown Providence. Revel in the grand architectural details like 11-foot ceilings, marble fireplace mantels and ornate moldings.