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5 Reasons to Visit Providence This Summer

Destination & Tourism | James Shillinglaw | July 03, 2015

5 Reasons to Visit Providence This Summer

PHOTO: Providence features WaterFire, a multi-sensory experience that has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city. (Photo by David Amadio)

Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, is being reborn and is emerging as a destination for travelers interested in cuisine, culture, arts and shopping. Indeed, in 2014 it was ranked the number one city in America by the readers of Travel + Leisure.

Earlier this year the city, which has a population of more than one million, elected a new mayor, Jorge Elorza, a native of Providence whose parents emigrated from Guatemala. Elorza is intent on making the city fiscally healthy and attractive to visitors. Here are five reasons why you should visit Providence this summer:

1. Eat in a new capital of culinary arts: Thanks in part to the fact that the city is home to Johnson & Wales University, a major culinary educational center, Providence has seen a surge in openings of new restaurants and eateries. The city remains at the forefront of such culinary movements as farm-to-table cuisine and city-dwelling food trucks.

Providence is most famous for its Italian food, with the Federal Hill section of Providence named one of the five best Little Italy’s by Food Network Chef Mario Batali. Other restaurants make use of the abundance of fresh seafood from nearby Narragansett Bay. A strong Dominican population has also migrated to Providence infusing the flavors of Latin America throughout.

A sampling of top restaurants includes Al Forno (Italian), Bacaro (Italian), Birch (modern American), Café Nuovo (global cuisine), CAV, Chez Pascal Restaurant, Cook & Brown Public House (American), The Dorrance (New American), Garde de la Mer (French seafood), Gracie’s (American), Local 121 Restaurant (American), Nick’s on Broadway (American), North (American), Pane E Vino (Italian) and Waterman Grille (American).

Other great foodie options include Ogie’s Trailer Park (featuring American comfort food served in a kitschy trailer park décor), Rebel Lounge (American), and the eateries at the Providence G complex, which includes G Pub (gastro pub) and Rooftop at the Providence G (American with great views). And if you’re up for a very different kind of coffee Vanuatu Coffee Roasters (only coffee shop in the world to import coffee from remote Pacific island of Vanuatu). For more restaurants, click on Providence Restaurants.

Food trucks include Haven Brothers, a trailer on wheels that parks nightly next to Providence City Hall serving burgers and other treats from the grill; Like No Udder, which provides dessert treats; Mama Kim’s Korean BBQ, offering East Asian cuisine; and Hewtin’s Dog Mobile, serving hot dogs, sausages and sandwiches.

Visitors also can experience a culinary tour, Savoring Rhode Island, organized by Providence Chef Cindy Salvato. Tours go behind the scenes to meet chefs, bakers and pasta makers in Federal Hill. Guides share tips and advice about Italian cooking and sample regional favorites such as cheese, wine, antipasto, bread, homemade chocolates and cookies.

2. Experience top events, performances and festivals: Every summer Providence features WaterFire, created by local artist Barnaby Evans, a multi-sensory experience that has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city who come to see the bonfire installation on the three rivers of downtown Providence. Upcoming performance dates include July 14 and 18, and Aug. 1, 15 and 29).

There’s also AS220’s annual Foo Fest block party, set for Aug. 8, featuring 12 hours of live music, art, performances, family-friendly activities, food and drink. AS220 is a local artists’ organization committed to providing a forum for the arts.

In addition, the Rhode Island International Film Festival will take place Aug. 4-9, as the largest public film festival in New England and an Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences qualifying event. And later in the year the annual Halloween Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular, Oct. 1-Nov. 1, takes places featuring thousands of illuminated, carved pumpkins on display in a woodland setting at Roger Williams Park Zoo.

Providence 2015 Summer Restaurant Week, taking place July 12-15 and repeated in January, features 75 restaurants offering three-course, prix fixe value menus for lunch and dinner.

3. Stay in unique new and refurbished accommodations: Providence features 5,500 hotel rooms, including some new and revamped properties. The Dean Hotel, a boutique property featuring rooms from $109 and up, opened in downtown Providence last year. The early 20th century building, which has 52 guest rooms, was once a brothel and has been renovated with a design that features a fresh take on comfort and simplicity.

The Dean also has several drinking and dining venues, including locally roasted Bolt coffee in the hotel’s lobby, a private karaoke bar, and a street-level beer garden and restaurant. The hotel is located in the center of Providence’s bustling cultural scene, offering access to some of the city’s best galleries, museums, boutiques, restaurants and bars.

Elsewhere the Providence Biltmore, a landmark 309-room hotel dating from 1922, has recently become a member of the Curio Collection by Hilton after undergoing extensive renovations in 2014. The Omni Providence, a 564-room hotel, also renovated its public spaces earlier this year, including upgrades to the lobby, meeting spaces, indoor pool and coffee shop.

Other hotels in the city and surrounding area include the Marriott Providence Downtown (351 rooms), Hilton Providence (274 rooms), Renaissance Providence (272 rooms), Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown  (110 rooms), Crowne Plaza Hotel Providence-Warwick (266 rooms), Courtyard Downtown Marriott (216 rooms), Sheraton Providence Airport Hotel (206 rooms), Comfort Inn Airport (201 rooms), Hampton Inn Providence/Warwick Airport (173 rooms), Hilton Garden Inn Providence Airport/ Warwick (160 rooms), Wyndham Garden Providence (136 rooms), Radisson Airport Hotel – Providence (111 rooms), Best Western Airport Inn (103 rooms), Residence Inn Providence/Warwick (96 rooms), Courtyard by Marriott - Warwick (92 rooms), Hotel Providence (80 rooms), Christopher Dodge House Bed & Breakfast (14 rooms), Hotel Dolce Villa (14 rooms) and Old Court Bed & Breakfast (10 rooms).

4. Shop in the oldest indoor mall in America: Arcade Providence, which opened in 1828, has been completely revitalized and is now home to a number of different Rhode Island-based retailers and indigenous eateries.

Some of the most popular venues in Arcade Providence include the New Harvest Coffee & Spirits (featuring innovative coffee cocktails); Livi’s Pockets, featuring Middle Eastern street food; Nude Boutique, a fashion outlet owned by former Project Runway contestant Jonathan Joseph Peters; Carmen & Ginger, offering vintage jewelry, fashions and more; and Flaunt Boutique, featuring jewelry and accessories.

Other top shopping areas in Providence include Wickenden Street, with its art galleries and antique shops; Thayer Street, home to chic boutiques and located next to Brown University; and the Providence Place Mall, located downtown and anchored by Nordstrom and 100 specialty shops.

5. Discover great art, culture and architecture: Providence is home to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), one of the premier art schools in the country, and has become a haven for artists and entertainers. It boasts the largest number of working artists in the country and features an eclectic mix of galleries, theaters and museums.

RISD's Museum of Art houses more than 80,000 works of art, ranging from Greek sculpture to French Impressionist paintings, Chinese terracotta to contemporary multimedia art. The Museum's Pendleton House is the earliest example of an "American wing" in any museum featuring a collection of 18th century American decorative art.

The Chace Center, which debuted in 2008, marked the first major expansion of the RISD Museum. The five-story glass and brick structure, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jose Rafael Moneo, added 6,100 square feet of exhibition space to accommodate contemporary works of art as well as traveling shows of national prominence.

For foodies, the Johnson & Wales Culinary Arts Museum is devoted to the preservation and history of the culinary arts. Exhibits include a diner museum, stove museum, chef histories, kitchen gadgets and appliances, presidential palate and state dinners, as well as culinary showpieces.

Architecture of many eras can be found on Benefit Street. Visitors can stop in at the Providence Athenaeum, one of the oldest private libraries in the country. Discover the city’s history during Providence Walks: The East Side, a free walking tour created last summer that focuses on the city’s history and historical figures, with stops including the Rhode Island State House, RISD Museum, Providence Athenaeum, John Brown House and more.

Other notable art institutions in Providence are Firehouse XIII and the Providence Steel Yard. Firehouse XIII is a gallery, performance space and artists’ lofts all built within the shell of an old firehouse. The Providence Steel Yard is an artistic and educational endeavor located in the industrial Valley District.

For the dramatic arts, the Trinity Repertory Company, founded in 1963, is one of the most respected regional theaters in the country. Featuring the last permanent resident acting company in America, it offers a variety of contemporary and classic works. Elsewhere, FirstWorks, a non-profit arts organization, produces world-class performing arts and education programs, including 24 arts festivals, attracted more than 155,000 participants.

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