By Isabel Conway
The city of Providence, capital of America’s smallest state of Rhode Island is only an hour and a half by car from Boston. In the past overshadowed by New England’s historic colonial power house, Providence has long come into its own as a hip and cultured city, whose winding streets resonate with colonial-era charm.
1 Three rivers run through Providence and cruise boat tours are among the most popular attractions. You can even tour city waterways in authentic Venetian gondolas with La Gondola . See www.gondolari.com Drifting along the Woonasquatucket and Providence rivers it sure aint Venice but you enjoy lovely views of the ‘Mile of History’ in ‘Renaissance’ city’.
2 Check out historic Federal Hill known as ‘The Heartbeat of Providence’ starting at Atwells Avenue, exploring the cobblestone paths, food markets and boutiques, as far as Broadway, renowned for its grand architecture and good restaurants. Federal Hill is also home to a vibrant large Italian neighbourhood whose restaurants are said to rival those of North End in Boston.
3 Providence has a thriving multi ethnic culinary scene, featuring among the best US cities for food in reviews by the nation’s leading culinary magazines. We checked out one of the current favourites’ Oberlin’ on 186 Union Street that was full to the gills with midweek diners enjoying some highly adventurous cuisine, including healthy vegetarian small tapas type plates. The city’s food trucks are mobile gastronomic marvels, serving everything from American BBQ to cuisine from Korea.
4 Known as America’s ‘Creative Capital’, Providence is a hotbed of culture, innovation and design. Its world class museums, art galleries and cultural institutions includes the famed Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum, and the ArtProv contemporary art gallery as well as the Annmary Brown Memorial gallery.
5. If all that culture makes you thirsty, remember the city also has a thriving craft beer scene. A great way to sample the local libations is with the Rhode Island Brew Bus. See www.therhodeislandbrewbus.com The fun tour takes you to some of the city’s best craft breweries, distilleries and tasting rooms. New England’s controversial connection with Prohibition is also covered.
6 Shopping: Providence is crammed with funky boutiques, quirky markets and malls. The Providence Place Mall with over 170 stores is worth checking out. But for knockdown value on designer label goods Wrentham Village Premium Outlets, 30 minutes out of town with regular shuttle buses running from the downtown area is a shopaholic’s must visit.
7 Go to the Zoo. Providence is home to one of the oldest zoos in the US opened in 1872 to display a limited selection of small animals and birds. The zoo is set in Roger Williams Park which spans 435 acres of land. Over 100 different species are housed as close as possible to their natural settings. The latest new arrival is a baby giant Anteater, born to Delilah recently. See www.rwpzoo.org
8 Here for a longer stay? Then take a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard for some island therapy. Coach tours from Providence (from €109,44) drive to New Bedford Port where you’ll set off on a scenic morning cruise to the island. There’s free time on Martha’s Vineyard to shop, stroll the beach and treat yourself to a fresh seafood lunch. See www.viator.com for itinerary and bookings.
9 Providence Ghost Tour: Providence lends itself well to wintery ghost tours lasting an hour and a half and priced at $18 for adults and $10 for children. See www.providenceghosttour.com The tour by lantern light winds through the darkened streets of College Hill and the costumed guide reveals stories of ghostly happenings and sightings in a district that is laden with history and strange unexplained deaths and hauntings.
10 Love cooking? The Culinary Arts Museum on the Johnson & Wales University campus serves as a window into the gastronomic past. Exhibits cover a wide variety of culinary topics, from ancient kitchen gadgetry to a special space devoted to the chefs who served US Presidents. It’s slightly niche but sure to tantalize the taste buds of serious foodies.
For more information see Discover New England www.discovernewengland.org Rhode Island www.visitrhodeisland.com and Go Providence www.goprovidence.com