The best time to visit is during a Waterfire weekend, which happen from late May through October (be sure to check the schedule in advance.) Waterfire is an award-winning open-air art installation and sculpture created by Barnaby Evans and installed on the three rivers of downtown Providence. This powerful work of art features over eighty bonfires lining the rivers and river basin. What can’t be captured in a photo is the fragrant scent of burning wood, the mysterious feel to the candlelit chandeliers under the arched bridges, the gondolas and boats traveling down the river, and the enchanting music from around the world. A bounty for the senses, Waterfire has enraptured millions from around the globe and is a must-see for Providence visitors.
You will have trouble fitting it all in during just 48 hours, but you can try!
9:00am Start off with breakfast at Succotash (373 Richmond Street), featuring southern-inspired cuisine in a cozy and charming atmosphere. You might enjoy sitting on the patio or one of the hightop family-size wood tables inside. In addition to delicious brunch options and entrees like chicken and waffles, you might like one of the “build-your-own” mimosas or bloody marys to kick off your getaway.
10:30am Next, spend some time exploring Providence’s College Hill (home to Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design) with a visit to the RISD Museum. Don’t be fooled by thinking this is just some small college museum, it is actually the 20th largest art museum in the United States! The RISD museum houses over 86,000 works of art, including pieces from famous artists such as Picasso, Monet, Manet and Andy Warhol. A major attraction is the important 12th-century wooden Buddha Dainich Nyorai, the largest historic Japanese wooden sculpture in the United States, located in its own (very Zen-like) gallery.
12:30pm After visiting the museum, head over to Harry’s Burger Bar (121 North Main Street) for lunch to chow down on some delicious mini burgers (think White Castle but much, much better) and salt and pepper fries. If you want to indulge, try either the bacon bloody mary (with bacon infused vodka) or the chocolate crack dessert, depending on your poison.
2:00pm Cross the river to Providence’s Downcity by way of the Waterplace River Basin, and be sure to check out the Wall of Hope in Waterplace Park, featuring tiles painted by RI schoolchildren after September 11th. Spend some time shopping in Downcity along Westminster, Weybosset and Washington Streets. Along the way, you might want to pop into the recently reopened Arcade (between Westminster and Weybosset Streets), the nation’s oldest indoor shopping mall built in 1828 featuring Greek Revival columns, granite walls and classic facades.
7:30pm When you get hungry stop for some authentic Spanish tapas at Flan y Ajo at 225A Westminster. This place is tiny but you can either get a spot at the bar or stand at the outside tables and enjoy the weather. This place is BYOB but no worries, ENO is a great wine shop right next door. Everything is good so just keep ordering until you are full. If you think you will be too tired to stand while you are eating, plan ahead and make a reservation at Bacaro (262 South Water Street), an Italian restaurant and salumeria. You can choose a selection of charcuterie, hot and cold small plates to share, the decadent pasta con i funghi (fresh tagliatelle with truffle-scented egg) but you absolutely MUST try the amazing grilled margherita pizza.
9:30pm After dinner, stroll along the river to take in all the sights, sounds, and smells that Waterfire has to offer. You can enjoy mimes performing in Memorial Park, watch the Waterfire volunteers silently gliding up the river to replenish the wood for the fires, take in a jazz performance on Steeple Street, participate in ballroom dancing in front of the draped and uplit TD Bank building on Westminster St, or watch the street performers or by the basin in front of the Providence Place Mall. If you really want to splurge, plan ahead and book a gondola ride with La Gondola for an experience to remember. Your heads will hit the pillow with the scent of wood smoke in the air and the enchanting music lingering in your ears.
11:00pm Stop for a late night drink at The Dorrance (60 Dorrance Street). The high, decorative ceilings call back to yesteryear but don’t be fooled, their drink menu is cutting edge. If you can’t find room at the gorgeous long bar, you will probably find a table in the balcony overlooking the main room.
2:00pm Next it is time to experience Providence’s historic parts on a 2.5 mile walking loop on Providence’s Independence Trail. This self-guided tour covers four centuries of history, architecture, culture and folklore. At stops along the way, you can dial 401-441-6401 to learn more about where you are standing. For something more formal, you can take a walking tour from the RI Historical Society. You might also want to explore Providence’s historic and charming Benefit Street, check out H.P Lovecraft’s house on a literary tour, see the First Baptist Church (the oldest Baptist church in America), walk through the Brown campus, or pay a visit to the historic Providence Athenaeum library.
(If you get hungry, you might want to check Twitter and see where the local food trucks are hanging out because Providence has a very vibrant gourmet food truck scene.)
4:00pm On your walk, be sure to check out the Rhode Island State House and look all the way up to the top of the world’s fourth largest self-supported dome to see Independent Man, the 11-foot tall, gold-covered statue that represents freedom and independence — values on which Rhode Island was founded. [Fun fact: the RI state house is made of Georgia marble and the Georgia state house is made out of RI granite!]
7:00pm For dinner, it is time to try some RI seafood at Hemenway’s (121 South Main Street). Start off with some RI-style calamari, which is sauteed (vs breaded) with garlic and hot cherry peppers (no marinara sauce), or sample some local oysters. Then try the Baked Stuffed Shrimp or splurge on a lobster (just ask the market price first!)
9:00pm Later, check out Providence’s nightlife with some live music at Lupos Heartbreak Hotel, some of the nightclubs in the Jewelry District or Waterfront area such as Hot Club, or have some fun with dueling pianos at the Point Street Piano Bar.
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Tamara is a family travel blogger at We3Travel.com writing about her family’s travel adventures and tips and tricks they’ve learned along the way. When not traveling, she calls RI home.
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