Fall is a wonderful time to plan a getaway. It’s shoulder, or value season, in many destinations, and that usually means fewer people, better availability, and lower prices, while the weather is still reasonably good.
It’s easy to think of Providence, Rhode Island, as just part of the massive Boston area, but it deserves consideration in its own right. This capital city is one of the oldest in the United States, and its own special flavors and culture. With a population of under 200,000, it is a big (not huge) city, yet still keeps a small town heart.
Here’s my guide to a fall getaway in Providence. While some of these recommendations are good all year round, some are quintessentially fall.
Things to Do
Fall Foliage Drive – This is one of the most obvious fall activities, generally running from late September through early November. While it’s always hard to predict Mother Nature’s behavior, it is believed that peak viewing with be the third week of October. Whether you’re planning on staying in the city, or including it has part of a larger fall foliage road trip, Providence needs to be on your itinerary.
Enjoy WaterFire – Created by artist Barnaby Evans in 1994, the art installation knows as WaterFire has quite literally brought light to the city. With a schedule of full lightings scheduled May – November, over 80 braziers spanning from Waterplace Park to Memorial/South Main Street Park are lit at sunset and continuing to flame until around 12:30 a.m. It’s a rosy glow to the nighttime. You can find a schedule here.
Visit a college campus – Fall is back to school time, and with main campuses for five major colleges and universities, education is big business – and has a big influence – in Providence. Whether you’re seeing your son or daughter off to school, are planning a visit to see if the campus is right for you, or just like the vibe that a college culture brings to a city, Providence has it. The main campuses for Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, Providence College, Rhode Island College, and Rhode Island School of Design are all found in Providence.
[tweetthis]Plan your next getaway to Providence, RI with these recommendations @goprovidence[/tweetthis]
Tour the State House – Located on Smith Hill, and overlooking downtown Providence, the State House is built in the American Renaissance architectural style and combines elements of ancient Greek and ancient Roman style. It is open for touring Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (except holidays). You can pick up a tour pamphlet and do it on your own, or book a free tour with one of the State House Guides. Guided tours are offered at 9, 10, and 11 a.m., and 1 and 2 pm, and are about 50 minutes long. The State House has security screening in effect, so plan accordingly.
Take an Architectural Tour – Whether you opt for a self-guided walk or drive through the streets of Providence, or sign up for an organized walking tour, you can’t help but notice the colonial buildings throughout the city. Benefit Street, a mile-long cobblestone street, has one of the highest concentrations of Colonial buildings in the country. The Rhode Island Historical Society offers modestly priced walking tours through the fall, giving you a history lesson to go along with the architecture.
Be Amazed at Rhode Island School of Design Museum – This museum, affiliated with the university, has a collection that spans the breadth of art and design. From ancient to contemporary art, from costumes and textiles to decorative arts, from sculptures to paintings to photography, and more. It also features works from notable Rhode Island artists. The purpose of the museum is not only to display its impressive collection, to to serve as education and inspirations to students at the university.
Go to a Food Museum – Well known for its culinary program (Emeril Lagasse is an alumnus), the Culinary Art Museum at Johnson & Wales University contains a collection that’s hard to describe, other than to say it’s all related – somehow – to food. You’ll find cookbooks and cooking utensils, food advertising, art, home design, history, and more. Walking through with friends there were lots of comments like “I remember that at grandma’s house” or “Mom used to have that.” It’s a little food trip down memory lane, and also offers displays of student work as well.
Visit Newport – Located about 37 miles southeast of Providence, Newport is probably best known for its mansions, as a summer resort town, and its historical significance during the American Revolution. With three National Historic Landmark Districts in the city, you’ll see your share of restored colonial buildings and mansions dating back to the Gilded Age. In contrast, however, Newport is a working maritime city, rife with commercial fishing and oyster boats. It’s also known for its pleasure sailing and boating. Newport is an easy day trip from Providence.
For more ideas about things to do and see in Providence, click here.
Where to Stay
In additional to boutique and eclectic independent hotels, you’ll also find the usual chain hotels (and their frequent guest programs). Find information about all the hotel and accommodations options in Providence here, and about home and boat vacation rentals (stay in a houseboat!) here.
Providence Biltmore – The oldest hotel in the city, this historic hotel has survived prohibition, numerous hurricanes, renovations, and politics, and remains a landmark in the heart of downtown Providence. You can read my review of the Provident Biltmore here. Rates start around $165/night, double occupancy. Find booking information here.
Hotel Providence – Located close to the canals, this hotel gets you close to the WaterFire activities. The hotel has a great location, but it seems to be a love it (walkable distance to many things) or hate it (homeless shelter nearby and occasional transients on the street). Rates start around $190/night, double occupancy. Find booking information here.
The Dean Hotel – Minimalistic hip meets history is what you’ll find in this 52 room boutique hotel in Providence’s Downcity Historic District. Onsite bars and restaurant continue the hipster theme, and there are plenty more within a 5-minute walk. Rates start around $160/night, double occupancy. Find booking information here.
Christopher Dodge House – This bed and breakfast is located in a 3-story brick mansion that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Located near downtown, you can easily walk to most place. Note that there is no elevator on the property, so you’ll need to be able to manage the stairs. Rates start around $150/night, double occupancy, and include breakfast. Find booking information here.
Hotel Dolce Villa – With its bright pink, blue, and yellow exterior, this hotel is located on Federal Hill, the heart of the Little Italy neighborhood. It’s a good fit for those who like eclectically cultural neighborhood and who are able to overlook its occasional inconsistent service standards. Rates start around $230/night, double occupancy. Find booking information here.
What and Where to Eat and Drink
Picking a favorite restaurant is difficult. It depends on the mood, the ambiance you’re looking for, how far you want to travel, and other variables. I offer up a few suggestions as a starting point. .
Wine tasting – There are three wineries in Newport Country: Sakonnet, Newport Vineyards, and Greenvale Vineyards. All three vineyards offer tastings for a fee. Sakonnet and Newport Vineyards have a restaurant on site. I wasn’t aware that their were wineries in this region, so comparing the flavor profiles was a treat for me.
Whisky Tasting – Sons of Liberty Spirits makes small batch craft spirits, including whisky, gin, and single malt scotch. They offer tours every half hour on Saturday afternoons (starting at 1:30 pm). When it comes to spirits, these are not my favorite choices, however I enjoyed their cocktails offered up by their creative mixology.
Seafood – Of course you can find seafood in this coastal city. Whether you head to the docks, a market, or a restaurant, you’ll find delicious fish, clams, oysters, and lobster.
White Horse Tavern – The White Horse Tavern in Newport claims to be the oldest restaurant in the United States, dating back to the 17th century. Don’t let the colonial tavern setting fool you though, this is far more than pub food (try the Beef Wellington). Open for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. Business casual dress code (collared shirts required) is enforced.
Gracie’s – This fine dining restaurant features seasonal menus, often incorporating ingredients from their rooftop garden. Gracie’s offers 3 three and five course chef tasting menus along with an ala carte menu (try the chocolate pudding cake for dessert).
Nick’s on Broadway – Offering seasonal local sourced food, Nick’s on Broadway is located in Providence’s west end. It is open for brunch and dinner (delicious charcuterie).
Ellie’s Bakery – Open for breakfast and lunch, Ellie’s serves up Parisian inspired pastries and light fare, and also offer cooking classes. Don’t dither over what to order – a croissant and some macarons will be just fine. Be sure to pick up extra macarons to nibble on back in your hotel room, they make a great late night snack.
Looking for more information on restaurants and dining in Providence? You’ll find a list of more restaurants and reviews here.
Getting to Providence
Warwick’s Green Airport (PVD) is the closest airport, about 10 minutes from downtown Providence and just of of I-95. You could also fly in Boston’s Logan Airport (BOS) which is about a one hour drive away, and also connects to Providence via shuttles, scheduled bus, Amtrak, and commuter rail services.
Although I had a vehicle during the time I was there, Providence’s RIPTA offers public transportation. Current fares are $2 per ride or $6 for all day pass. Download the mobile app to help you get around easily.
Some of this information was gathered as part of a sponsored press trip, and as a result, some of these activities and experiences were complimentary for me. Some of the links in this post that are affiliate links. If you click through and buy something or make a reservation, it may result in some small remuneration coming my way. You still pay the same low price while supporting this blog.
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