A couple decades ago Providence was an avoidable bump in the road between New York and Cape Cod.
But as Trip Advisor says today, "Years of careful urban planning and meticulous restoration have rendered this former rum and molasses trading town one of the best places to live in the United States, star of an eponymous television show and a swell place to spend a weekend..."
It was everything a great city should have while it is still an easy town to drive around and even find a parking spot.
Three rivers run through it
Running through the center of the city is the Providence River which is formed by the confluence of the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck rivers in downtown Providence and flows into Narragansett Bay.
In the last two decades Providence has transformed its waterfront with Waterfire - a unique urban experience which literally sets the river on fire most Saturdays nights- built a convention center, attracted high-tech businesses, boutique shops and even more restaurants.
This is a city of many diverse neighborhoods, many with distinctive New England character, but it is Downcity that is the urban core and the city’s historic heart.
Providence has even succeeded turning Downcity into a mixed residential and commercial area. In the early 2000s, after several decades of decline, investments in Downcity helped it to resume its position as a major commercial and cultural center of the region with several excellent new hotels.
A short history lesson.
Bay Staters tend to be a tad snobbish about our history. Providence was founded by Roger Williams, a religious exile from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He named the area in honor of "God's merciful Providence", which he believed was responsible for revealing such a haven for him and his followers to settle. - and that was before the advent of Federal Hill.
The early 20th century saw a heavy Italian-American immigration into Federal Hill, making it the city's informal Little Italy which rivals Boston's North End, although today the area is more diverse with restaurants featuring many cousines. Federal Hill still retains its status as the traditional center for the city's Italian-American community.
Where to dine in Providence
Dinner at Pane e Vino: We both loved the meal that we had and the prices were reasonable for a big city restaurant, and Pane e Vino gives you an authentic feel of dining in Italy. The atmosphere is fun and our server Jackie was very attentive to our needs.
We began with "Rhode Island style" pan fried Point Judith calamari, semi dried tomatoes and hot Peperoncinis. It was truly memorable. We also had the best meatballs ever, a great beet salad and Lamb Shank with raviolis.
Where to stay:
We lucked out by reserving a suite at the new Hampton Inn & Suites in the heart of Downcity.
The price was reasonable for a suite in a city, and convenient to most of what we wanted to visit.
The hotel offers a complimentary full breakfast.
Where to do lunch:
The hotel is two blocks from the river, and great restaurant where we had a delicious lunch at the Parkside Rotisserie & Grill.
It is the favorite of many of the city's pols and hoi polloi.
Another place for dinner:
On our second evening we visited Local 121 restaurant, a ten minute stroll from our hotel on Washington Street.
Local 121 Restaurant is part of a landmark preservation renovation project.
The dining room is the former Dreyfus Hotel built in the 1890’s
For the diner, it means that you’re not only enjoying a world-class meal in an
elegant setting, prepared with the finest and freshest local ingredients available, but that you’re also supporting small family farms and local artists in Rhode Island and New England.
Below are some of our courses.
We began with the excellent Saltblock Seared Bomster Scallops, followed by Silver Fox Rabbit Three Ways with roasted apricots, spring onions, glazed Swiss chard, granola, apricot brandy jus, then Atlantic Cod a la Francaise with summer vegetables, mustard cream and ended with a delicious cheesecake and chocolate bombe.
Things to do in Providence;
A good travel product
Newspaper editors and travel writers get many PR releases which nearly all end up in the "round file".But the ShaveTech electric razor is not one of them.
We were sent one of the handsome, little wonders to test on a trip and discovered a great and very inexpensive product which sells online for as little as $19.95.
It gets a charge from the USB port on your computer, and works every bit as well as my usual Norelco, maybe even a little better.
The city of Providence as seen from the Providence River at its confluence with the Narragansett Bay