Where The Locals Go – Providence, Rhode Island

Today I welcome Tamara Gruber from Providence, Rhode Island.  Located at the head of the Narragansett Bay with The Providence River running through the center of the city, Providence, once known as the “Beehive of Industry” has in recent years rebranded itself as the “Creative Capital” due to the many institutions of higher learning and arts community.  Tamara, share with my readers – where do the locals go?TWT: Every destination has a local hot spot. What is the local hot spot in your area and would you please describe the atmosphere?  Why do locals go there?

TG: I’d have to say that Providence’s Downtown is where to be (and it was just named America’s #2 Downtown by Livability.com.) During Waterfire, which is an open air exhibit consisting of over 80 bonfires on the river running through the heart of downtown, thousands of locals and visitors alike gather to see street performers, listen to the haunting music, walk along the river front, enjoy jazz and salsa bands, sample local foods, and even do some fresh air ballroom dancing. While it is reminiscent of Venice with its candlebra-lit arched bridges and gondolas gliding through the river, there really is nothing like it. You just never know what you’ll find happening downtown. My nephew recently visited during a FirstWorks festival and we witnessed the Bandaloops “dancing” and twirling down the face of a eight story building while flashmobs, roller derby, and graffiti artists were performing elsewhere.

TWT: Your friend is flying into town for the first time and wants to experience the local food scene, where would you take him/her?  What are some of the dishes you would recommend?  How is the ambiance?

TG: My favorite restaurant in Providence is Bacaro, which is an Italian restaurant and salumeria. It is a lively, two-story restaurant right on the Waterfront in an old, classic brick building in the historic part of town. Downstairs is the bar and deli case showcasing their cased meats and cheeses. Upstairs it is a little quieter with a view of the open kitchen and the river. The wood-grilled, paper thin-crusted Margherita pizza qualifies in the “best thing I ever ate” category but you really can’t go wrong with anything. In addition to the menu, they offer a wide selection of charcturie and hot and cold small plates, making it a perfect place for sharing with a group. I highly recommend the pork belly from the hot tapas menu and the Pasta con i funghi, which is a homemade tagliatelle pasta with mushrooms, butter and a truffle-egg on top. Delicious! For dessert, plan ahead and order the fruit crisp at the beginning of the meal because it takes 20 to 40 minutes to make.

TWT: Travelers enjoy learning about the local art scene when they arrive in new locations.  Are there local artists (musicians, painters, poetry writers, etc.) in your area that perform or feature their work?  Where can travelers go for these experiences? 

TG: Providence is the home of Rhode Island School of Design so you will have ample opportunity to see the very vibrant art scene. On the third Thursday of every month galleries across the city open their doors for a free “Gallery Night” event. You can also see thousands of pieces of fine art every day at the RISD museum. There are a variety of theater choices including Trinity Rep, the Gamm Theater, Providence Performing Arts Center (which hosts touring Broadway shows) and Vets Memorial, home to the RI Philharmonic Orchestra. For more live music, you can check out the schedule of Lupos Heartbreak Hotel or any number of other clubs in the area.

TWT: What are some of the more popular festivals in town?  Are they held annually, several times a year, once a month?  What time of the year do they take place?  Where can travelers go to find out more information?

TG: The most popular festival is certainly Waterfire, which takes place on various evenings (mostly weekends) from May to October. In addition, there is the FirstWorks Festival (which doesn’t take place at any regular times), and other neighborhood street fairs and festivals. For more information, travelers should look at goprovidence.com or Waterfire.org.

TWT: If travelers want to experience recreational activities during their stay, what can they do and where can they go?

TG: Providence offers an excellent bike path that goes along the East Bay down to Bristol, RI (home of the nation’s oldest 4th of July celebration) with excellent water views.  People also enjoy running or walking along the Blackstone Boulevard in Providence’s East Side, a two lane street with a greenway in the middle. Families might enjoy the playground at Lippitt Park or picking up some fresh produce at the Saturday Farmer’s Market located there. Nearby there is also rock climbing (indoor at RockSpot Gym or outdoor at Lincoln Woods), kayaking along the Blackstone River, or visiting one of the many beaches that give Rhode Island the name of Ocean State.

Caffe Dolce Vita

Caffe Dolce Vita

TWT: Many travelers pick destinations that offer voluntourism / eco-tourism / activism / volunteer opportunities.  What types of opportunities exist in your area?

TG: Save the Bay is an organization geared to cleaning up the Narragansett Bay and shoreline. They offer volunteer opportunities for beach clean ups and also Seal Watch tours that educate people about the wildlife in the Bay.

TWT: I know travelers like certain forms of transportation.  Some like to walk and/or bike while others prefer to get around at a quicker pace.   What is the best way for travelers to get around town? 

TG: Providence is a really easy city to get around. If you are up to a few hills, it is very walkable. In fact, it was named a Top 10 Most Walkable City by The Huffington Post. If you are coming from out of town, it is very easy to drive in the city and many restaurants offer valet parking. The Amtrak and MBTA trains come right into downtown Providence, which is then walkable to the local bus depot. Lyft, a car service startup, also just began operating in Providence. Finally, if you are flying into TF Green Airport or taking the train, there are Zipcars around the city if you needs wheels for just a short period of time.

TWT: For those who want to get away for a day for some peace and quiet, yet still take in the scenery, where are some areas that travelers can go to “get away from it all” and still enjoy the outdoors?

TG: My suggestion would  be to get out of downtown and visit Roger Williams Park, which is a 427-acre park in Providence that houses a zoo, natural history museum, botanical gardens, boathouse, carousel, and much more. If they want to go further afield, I would recommend biking either the East Bay Bikepath or the Blackstone Valley Bikeway. Lastly, I’d head to the beach, probably Charlestown State Beach after the crowds have gone and walk along the beach looking for driftwood.

TWT: Travelers can get a sense of culture by observing their surroundings and people watch.  Where can travelers go in your area to engage in this popular activity?

TG: Everywhere! Rhode Island was founded on principles of diversity and religious freedom. It is an up and coming city with strong racial, ethnic and social-economic diversity. Plus the addition of Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University adds that funky, college town feel to it. I’d check out the Providence Flea — a flea market that takes place on the grass near the river on South Water Street and is more artsy/craftsy/antiques than junk, one of the outdoor farmer’s markets, go to a Brown or Providence Bruins hockey game, take in a Pawtucket Red Sox game, walk around Providence Place Mall, or hang out in DePasquale Square on Federal Hill, Providence’s Little Italy.


Claimed to be founded on seven hills, geographically compact and easily accessible by foot, travelers have an opportunity to experience Providence’s culture, arts and food scene all within a 20 mile radius.  With the downtown area being the main attraction that offers an abundance of waterfront activities to heightening your senses with its vibrant art scene, travelers will experience modern day Providence while walking through the richness of one of the oldest cities in the United States.

Tamara is a family travel blogger at We3Travel.com (link http://www.we3travel.com). A NJ-native, she moved from NYC to RI with her husband in 2002 and can’t believe they are still there!

You can contact Tony Toto a.k.a. The Walking Traveler at thewalkingtraveler@gmail.com


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