- I’m a New Yorker who relocated to Providence, and I’m sharing the best things to do, see, and eat.
- Tourists should visit the Providence Athenæum, RISD Museum, and Riverside Park.
- They should eat at Cav, Butterbang, LaSalle Italian bakery, and Ellie’s Parisian bakery.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
After living in Brooklyn for eight years, I made the move to Rhode Island in March 2020. I’d been visiting Providence for years since my best friend lived there, so when I became a full-time remote freelancer, I was finally able to follow my heart there.
Tiny and filled with old libraries, shops, and historical sites, the city is home to a thriving art scene and LGBTQ-friendly culture.
Things to know before you go
- COVID-19 PROTOCOL: Rhode Island is now offering free testing and vaccination for travelers. The state doesn’t require masks if you’re fully vaccinated, but travelers are required to wear masks in hubs like the airport and on public transportation.
- WEATHER: Like most of New England, the seasons are intense in Providence. Bring lots of layers in the winter months and prepare to sweat in the summer.
- CURRENCY: The city uses US dollars. Credit cards are accepted at most places.
- WALKABILITY: Providence is a city you’ll want to see on foot. Rhode Island also offers affordable bus services throughout the state, especially in Providence, for only $US6 ($AU8) a day or $US2 ($AU3) a trip through the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.
Where to stay
The Graduate is fancy and potentially haunted
If you’ve got a big budget, love history, and don’t mind a few potential extra guests, The Graduate is the place for you.
Unsurprisingly, the basement was converted into a speakeasy during Prohibition in the 1920s and ’30s.
There have also been many reports of paranormal activity over the years, including doors locking or unlocking, lights flickering, and disembodied voices talking. There are also frequent reports of hearing invisible partygoers.
Rates range from about $US170 ($AU232) to $US300 ($AU410) a night, depending on the room type and day.
Tip: The hotel is in the center of downtown Providence, so locationwise, it’s an excellent choice.
Sleep Aboard is sure to be a quirky and memorable experience
It’s a few steps away from downtown Providence along with many amazing restaurants along the marina.
Rates range from $US115 ($AU157) to $US250 ($AU342) a night depending on the number of guests and time of year.
Tip: Sleep Aboard also rents out its boats for parties and functions.
For an authentic and historical Providence vacation, book a downtown Victorian on Airbnb
If you don’t want to stay in a hotel or on a boat, you can rent out a beautiful Victorian home, like the one that was historically registered to William Crins and has thousands of five-star reviews.
The interior decor is stunning and matches the antique, historical vibe of the house. It even has a beautiful rose garden and a tiny cottage with a desk inside if you’re working on the next great American novel.
Rates range from $US93 ($AU127) a night for one guest to $US101 ($AU138) a night for two.
Tip: This Airbnb also has a Steinway Model B Grand Piano in the guest room.
Things to do and see
The Providence Athenæum is a dream for historians and bookworms
The Providence Athenæum embodies everything I love about this magical city.
Founded in 1836 with collections from the previous athenaeum that go back to 1753, the Providence Athenæum has a card catalog created by its first female employee, Mary Angell, in 1873, which is still used today.
Edgar Allen Poe reportedly held meetings here with the renowned spiritualist Sarah Helen Whitman between trips to the local cemeteries.
Only members are able to borrow books from the centuries-old collection, but anyone can visit the library and explore the mysterious stacks.
Tip: Be sure to check out the reading room, which has some seriously comfy couches.
RISD Museum is the perfect destination for the artsy traveler
The Rhode Island School of Design is famous for being one of the most competitive art schools in the US.
Its museum, which is open to the public, is also known for its expansive collection, ranging from ancient Egyptian and ancient Greek galleries to contemporary exhibitions. It’s constantly rotating its featured exhibitions to contribute to cultural movements and conversations.
Tip: The museum requires visitors to purchase their tickets and schedule their trips in advance to ensure the capacity maintains safe social-distancing requirements.
Riverside Park has fun for all ages
I stumbled upon Riverside Park one sunny Saturday morning.
After exploring the trails, I discovered that it has really nice playgrounds. There’s also a fish ladder, built by the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, to help fish migrate up and down the river and provide students with an opportunity to study aquatic wildlife.
The park is in Providence’s Olneyville neighborhood and is well maintained. It even houses a community garden.
Tip: Don’t forget to visit the Little Free Library to take a book and leave a book.
WaterFire is a free, breathtaking, and unforgettable experience
On a few nights throughout this fall and winter, the rivers in downtown Providence will be set on fire for the community celebration of WaterFire.
The event has been a quintessential Providence experience for the past 25 years – breaking only in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic – and it’s scheduled to return in September.
Each lighting honors a local group, including a salute to essential workers; BIPOC arts, technology, and business; and veterans.
Tip: It’s free, but arrive early. The spots with the best views next to the river fill up quickly.
Queen of Hearts and Modern Love have unique gifts and boutique finds
The sister shops Queen of Hearts and Modern Love are both full of the cutest clothing, accessories, and gifts Providence has to offer.
Modern Love focuses more on home decor and accessories, and Queen of Hearts offers more clothing and jewelry. They carry tons of local small businesses and even have their own makeup line.
Tip: This is the perfect place to pick up a one-of-a-kind gift.
Symposium Books is a cozy shop with lots of indie charm
It has great prices and a wide selection of books, including new contemporary novels and classics.
There are also frequent in-store and virtual author talks and signings, and it even has a book club.
Tip: Check out Symposium’s event calendar for author signings, reading groups, book-release parties, and more.
Where to eat and drink
If you want strong coffee, visit The Nitro Cart
The Nitro Cart has both a physical store and a traveling cart that pops up around the city.
All the beans are sourced and roasted from local Rhode Island coffee masters, cold-brewed, and poured from nitro taps, which creates a strong, chocolatey, creamy dose of caffeine.
It’s my favorite cold brew in the city.
Tip: Nitro Cart is available in cafes all over Providence. There are also some locations in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Butterbang croissants will change your life
Butterbang is a pop-up croissant bakery that’s only open on random surprise Saturday mornings. Orders are made throughout the week and picked up at the bakery’s window, which is the owner’s converted kitchen.
It started as a mobile croissant shop on a bicycle, but during the coronavirus pandemic, the owner switched to the online-ordering system.
Butterbang is constantly updating its menu and introducing new flavors. There are always classics, like plain, chocolate, and almond, but there are some surprises, too, like the mouthwatering Dainty Pig (a flaky croissant stuffed with Gouda cheese and prosciutto).
My favorite is the Gouda-za’atar stuffed croissant. Its fragrant Middle Eastern spice mix complements the rich pastry and Gouda cheese. When it comes to sweet options, the cardamom palmier is delicious.
Riverside Park is down the street with a full playground and picnic tables if you need a place to sit and enjoy the best croissants of your life.
Tip: Sign up for email alerts, which will tell you exactly when ordering goes live for the weekends. There are sometimes pop-up croissant days during the week, too.
The Grange has amazing vegan and vegetarian options
The Grange is a tried-and-true favorite of mine. I’ve dined in and taken out many times over the past three years and loved every bite of food I ordered.
The entire restaurant is vegetarian, and it has tons of vegan options as well. The menu is clearly marked with gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free, and vegetarian options, making this the perfect place for a crew with different dietary restrictions and allergies.
Tip: The hush puppies are an absolute must. Order them as an appetizer. They come with maple butter and pickled jalapeños for the perfect marriage of spicy and sweet.
Cav is the best choice for a date night
Cav is a modern-American dining experience that’s just as memorable as it is delicious. If you’re looking for the perfect date night in Providence, this is the place. The loft and decor are beautiful.
The modern, award-winning cuisine has something for everyone, including vegetarian and vegan options.
The black-truffle ravioli in lemon-sage sauce served with broccoli rabe put me on an emotional flavor journey that brought happy tears to my eyes.
The service is some of the best I’ve ever experienced. Shout out to Kimoy, our amazing server.
Tip: Go on Wednesday evenings when there’s live jazz music that pairs perfectly with the delicious food and sultry atmosphere.
Ellie’s brings Paris to Providence
It also has stunning custom cakes. I was able to order a magical forest cake, complete with snails, for my girlfriend’s birthday. Aside from being visually magnificent, the chocolate cake with salted-caramel buttercream frosting was flavorful and magnificent.
Whether you stop here for a cappuccino and macarons or get a custom cake, a trip to Ellie’s is a must.
Tip: Try some of its one-of-a-kind flavor combinations, like blueberry-elderflower and raspberry-rosé champagne.
LaSalle Bakery has the best old-school Italian bread and pastries
The Italian-American cultural heritage is strong in Providence, so I would be remiss not to mention where you can get a delicious sfogliatella (shell-shaped filled Italian pastry).
The original LaSalle Bakery opened in Providence in 1930 and has been a community staple ever since. It has Sicilian-style bread with an unmistakably crisp crust, custom cakes, biscotti, and sfogliatella that would make any nonna swoon.
Tip: Visit early in the morning when the giant Sicilian loaves are fresh and hot out of the oven.
Lamei Hot Pot is a fun and delicious mealtime adventure
It’s a lot of fun to sit around a boiling pot and craft your perfect meal, and Lamei is the perfect place to do it.
Pick from a plethora of fresh vegetables, mushrooms, meats, noodles, and even more traditional Chinese add-ons like duck’s feet. The broth is the most important part, so choose one based on your spice preferences.
The produce was unbelievably fresh, and the meat was beautifully prepared.
Tip: Don’t forget to visit the sauce bar for sesame oil, chili flakes, crispy garlic, and other flavors for your meal.
The Malted Barley hits the spot for delicious pretzels and beer
It has delicious sandwiches on pretzel rolls. I thought it’d be a pretzel bun, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it actually meant a pretzel sliced in half.
I had the Cali chicken sandwich, which was delicious.
Tip: I highly recommend the cinnamon-sugar pretzel for dessert.
Final tips before your trip
- Take some time to explore on foot. Some of the most interesting spots in Providence I’ve discovered by just wandering around.
- Chat with locals. We’re friendly and will most likely share our favorite spots.
- Check out the city event calendar. Providence offers a rich variety of historical and cultural experiences, many of which are free and family friendly.
- Consider booking a trip in the fall. Autumn in New England is unmatched worldwide, with the most stunning and vibrant foliage of changing colors.
- Everything on this list is LGBTQ friendly. As a member of the LGBTQ community who’s in a queer relationship, I’ve never felt uncomfortable with my partner in Providence. We’ve received nothing but warm and welcoming treatment.