Providence may be smaller than its big brother Boston, but with a quaint downtown, beautiful Brown campus and a culture of its own, this city is definitely worth a visit next time you’re on the east coast.
Providence is an often overlooked force to be reckoned with when it comes to quaint New England towns. Population-wise, the city is about one sixth the size of Boston, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in cute, quiet streets and its own unique culture.
Widely known as the “Creative Capital,” Providence is home to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), one of the oldest fine arts and design colleges in the country.
Brown University is also located just above RISD on the east side of town, with an Ivy League campus that boasts colonial brick academic buildings and lively green fields filled with frisbee-throwing college students. If you get the chance, climb all the way to the top of Brown’s campus for pristine views of downtown Providence.
Providence is only 45 minutes away from Boston by train, making it perfect for a day trip or a long weekend of Sperry and seafood-filled New England adventures.
Located atop College Hill and separated from downtown by the Providence River, Brown University is in its own charismatic New England world. On most days of the week, the streets, campus lawns and College Hill cafes are filled with energetic, bustling students either booking it to class or hanging out on the campus lawns.
Brown was established in 1764, and the iconic campus really shows its age — in a good way. Buildings have a colonial English feel, with tall spires, brick facades and the Baroque-style Carrie Clock Tower, which serves as a landmark for those who get easily turned around (cough, me, cough).
Unfortunately, during my time at Brown I didn’t see any of its famous alumni like Emma Watson or John Krasinski. But all was not lost. I did get to rewind the clock and pretend I was back in college, eating and drinking along the same, popular Thayer Road that Brown’s student population flocks to on the weekends.
My college dream quickly ended every time I was ID’d and they saw my real age, but hey … for one day, I was an honorary Brown student, whether the bartenders believed me or not.
Providence River Stroll
The Providence River, which winds through the heart of downtown, makes for a great afternoon stroll. It’s set below some of the city’s most historic buildings, and, as it typically goes in Providence, is never overrun with tourists.
Things do heat up in the summer when the city hosts its popular WaterFire celebrations. During Providence’s WaterFire, more than 80 sculptures built along the river are lit up, sparkling and swaying in the summer breeze as music from around the world fills the air.
WaterFire is one of the must-see attractions in Providence if you’re lucky enough to visit this pretty little city in the warm, inviting summer months.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, flocks of Italian immigrants moved to Providence and called the western Federal Hill neighborhood home. Over time, Federal Hill became known as Providence’s Little Italy, and today, more than 100 years later, it’s still the perfect spot to soak up (read: eat!) Providence’s Italian culture.
Federal Hill boasts street upon street of adorable Italian restaurants. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but, as we know on The Wanderlost Way, sometimes the more unusual, the more delicious.
And in this case, I can promise you — one order of spaghetti with clams later — that an out-of-the-way Federal Hill dinner is the perfect addition to your Providence adventure.
Know before you go
While Brown’s hilltop campus offers sweeping, scenic city views, it can also cause serious soreness in your legs and feet. I mean, that thing is straight uphill.
If you’re starting your trip out from the Providence Train Station (located one mile directly downhill from Brown), that leaves you with two options for getting to campus:
- Wear comfortable footwear, and know that, like most mountains, it’s just as steep and treacherous on the way up as it is on the way down.
- Get an Uber. (No explanation needed.)
However you decide to embark on your Providence adventure — car, train, foot or Uber — rest assured that this capital city is easily navigable, so even if you, say, stray from the path (lookin’ at you, Wanderlost crowd!), you can quickly and calmly find your way back.