At a time when we all need a mental break, getting away for a vacation is becoming more of a challenge than ever, requiring navigation of COVID-19 testing, quarantine rules, and gulp-inducing decisions about things like getting on an airplane in the middle of a pandemic. A “staycation” in Providence, on the other hand, can be the perfect weekend (or midweek) getaway for road-wary locals, showcasing the best that the city has to offer, absent the usual crowds, and taking advantage of the beautiful fall weather. Playing tourist in your own backyard not only offers a chance to break away from the everyday, but also to see the capital city through new eyes and support local businesses when they need it most.
Beginning at India Point Park, the 14.5-mile East Bay Bike Path traces a path alongside Narragansett Bay and across the Seekonk River to Bristol, a very doable roundtrip by bike but also fun to experience in segments if you’re on foot or skates. Hilton Garden Inn is perfectly situated for a ride, roll, or run, with its front door just steps away from the path’s Providence trailhead.
Within easy walking distance of the hotel is Plant City, a vegan food hall and marketplace with dining on an outdoor patio; extend your stroll by continuing along downtown’s riverfront walking paths to Waterplace Park. You can warm up with a class at Providence Cycle Bar, or follow the newest leg of the city’s network of hiking and biking routes north on Gano Street to Blackstone Boulevard. Be sure to detour into beautiful Blackstone Park for scenic views of the Seekonk River or — for the ultimate in social distancing — into Swan Point Cemetery, where you’ll discover historic sites like the final resting places of Civil War hero Sullivan Ballou and the legendary author of macabre fiction, H.P. Lovecraft.
COVID-19 has Providence’s restaurant scene down but definitely not out, and the presence of one of the nation’s top culinary schools, Johnson & Wales University, not only feeds the city’s reputation for great food but also assures that it will remain so for many years to come.
The Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel, a glorious reinvention of the city’s long-abandoned but architecturally spectacular Masonic Temple, celebrates classic American dining and serves three meals a day — the breakfast menu, for example, journeys from New York-style bagels and lox to down-home Southern favorites like chicken and waffles and shrimp and grits.
It’s a great table-setter for a day spent noshing your way through Providence’s diverse dining scene: walk up Federal Hill and under the welcoming pinecone arch to dine outdoors in style on DePasquale Square or in the cozy courtyard at Bacco Vino & Contorni, then shop for Italian delicacies at Venda Ravioli, Roma, and Tony’s Colonial.
In Downcity, it’s the perfect time to revisit old friends like Gracie’s and Oberlin for fine food and craft cocktails, or head over to the West Side to embrace the kitsch at Ogie’s Trailer Park, order barbecue from Great Northern, or brunch out at Julian’s.
In a quiet neighborhood off Smith Hill, couples can retreat in comfort and privacy at one of Providence’s true hidden gems: the Christopher Dodge House Bed & Breakfast. With 14 guest rooms in an elegant, three-story Italianate home dating from 1858, the inn offers a romantic getaway package that includes a welcoming bouquet of flowers, fine chocolates, and a $100 gift card to Mill’s Tavern.
Alternatively, you can tailor your own couples’ weekend, perhaps starting with a hand-in-hand stroll across the new Providence Pedestrian Bridge followed by a decadent dessert at Sin – we suggest picking from their special “seven deadly sins” menu that accompanies sweets with cocktail pairings. A sunset gondola ride up the Providence River, serenaded by a bellissimo singing gondolier, is of course on the list of romantic to-do’s, followed by a waterside dinner at Cafe Nuovo, which offers fine dining with specialities like scallop risotto and boneless short ribs under its covered outdoor patio near the gondola landing.
If your kids are burned out on distance learning, get them off Zoom and into the zoo — the Roger Williams Park Zoo, of course, which is open Thursday to Sunday year-round and offers plenty of safe and family-friendly activities, including the Explore & Soar zipline, animal enclosures, and the Faces of the Rainforest exhibit. The Zoo’s Carousel Village is also open for merry-go-round and train rides, and families can enjoy walking amid the gardens, ponds, and historic buildings of Roger Williams Park.
School-aged kids will discover a world of play and learning at the Providence Children’s Museum, which reopened in October, while teens are likely to gravitate toward the 200-plus arcade games at Dave & Busters in the Providence Place Mall. The Courtyard by Marriott Providence Downtown right across the street has a “Family Blast Package” that runs through January 9 and includes lodging and a $40 Dave & Busters gift card (promo code ARN), and the arcade is adjacent to the Providence Place Cinemas and IMAX theater.
For family meals out, Harry’s Bar & Burger on Federal Hill has more than a dozen types of sliders on the menu, plus hot dogs and milk shakes — virgin for the kids, spiked for mom and dad. Good Game Grill around the corner from The Arcade specializes in diner classics served up with a board game from their vast collection. Head to PVDonuts, where the rings of deliciousness include donuts topped with Fruity Pebbles, and ice cream sandwiches and Monkey Bread are additional sweet temptations.
The sign on the building still says Biltmore, but Providence’s most iconic hotel has been transformed into the Graduate, adding some much-needed polish to the hotel’s old-school charm. The Graduate is angling for a fall reopening, but The Dean in Downcity is already welcoming guests back to its 41 rooms dressed in vintage elegance — a far cry from the century-old building’s past life as a brothel and strip club.
That’s a bit of local trivia you might not learn on a tour with Providence River Boat Company, which nonetheless offers narrated excursions delving into the city’s architecture and history — nautical, haunted, and otherwise. Or cut your own path with one of the free, self-guided walking tours drawn up by the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau, which trace the steps of historic downtown, the East and West sides, the Jewelry District, and the city’s early Black history.
Dining in Providence doesn’t get much more classic than the simple pleasure of a pizza and a beer at Caserta’s on Federal Hill. If you find yourself out late, relive your college glory days with an order of “all the way” hot weiners at New York System in Olneyville, or a couple of cheeseburgers from the Haven Bros. food truck downtown.
From the galleries to the streets, you’ll find artistic expression everywhere in Providence — including in the hallways and on the walls of Downcity’s Hotel Providence, which claims name-dropping inspiration from Tolstoy, Byron, Alexandre Dumas, Louisa May Alcott, and Emily Dickinson, among others.
In the surrounding neighborhood, The Avenue Concept Wayfinding Tour leads you to some of the city’s most prominent works of public art, including monumental murals and sculptures. The “Cultural Capital” is home to private galleries like David Charles and Gallery Z as well as the RISD Museum and Brown University’s David Winton Bell Gallery (check hours for COVID accessibility).
The Providence Art Club also has galleries of works by local artists that are open to the public. And while you’ll need to be a member (or invited by one) to dine at the Art Club’s intimate restaurant, anyone can grab a table at AS220, the hub of Providence’s creative community where you can drink and dine amid galleries and performance spaces.