Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Providence Rhode Island. Many tourists, especially those who are not from the United States, might not understand why someone would want to spend 24 hours in Providence, Rhode Island? What even is there to do? Well, Rhode Island may be the smallest state, but it has fiercely loyal and proud inhabitants. They are happy to show you the greatest 24 hours in Providence you could imagine.
I myself lived in Providence for almost four years when I was attending Brown University. So I’m thrilled to take you around to all my favorite haunts and give you the real “Providence college student experience”. Ready to relive your college days, only with a lot more tasting menus and a lot fewer keg stands? Then let’s head out on our 24 hours in Providence!
24 Hours in Providence
Where to Stay?
Providence is a hip college town in many ways, so why not spend your 24 hours in Providence at a groovy boutique hotel like the Dean Hotel? There are adorable furnishings in the room, a great cafe for coffee and pastry in the morning, and a terrific restaurant called North in case it’s pouring rain in Providence (very likely) and you don’t feel like going out for dinner.
If that’s not enough for you, know that the Dean Hotel is within walking distance of basically everything you’d want to do in Providence like the Providence Place Mall and the RISD Museum. Finally, it’s located in a historic brick building that was probably a brothel at one point. There! I think I’ve provided something to please everyone.
24 Hours in Providence
What to Pack
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
If the weather is rainy or snowy, which happens quite often in New England, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out without feeling like some gauche tourist with gross feet.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in Providence
Morning: Discover Providence Tour
When I went to college in Providence, it wasn’t a very popular destination for travelers. That’s why I was so happy to see that Providence now gets enough tourists to sustain a local tour company! Experience Rhode Island Tours runs a bus tour from April to November. It runs twice a day from April to November. For this itinerary, I recommend the 11 AM tour.
Our guide was a knowledgeable Providence native, so I will call him Buddy, in honor of Providence’s much “beloved” late mayor. Buddy spent 90 minutes driving us around to every major attraction in Providence. I don’t want to spoil all his secrets, so I’m going to stick to the highlights—
three fun facts: 24 hours in providence
24 hour treat: ellie’s bakery
The tour doesn’t begin until 11 AM, and we’re not going to want to wait until then to start our 24 hours in Providence. I recommend getting breakfast at Ellie’s Bakery, which is just a short walk from the Dean Hotel. If you’re going on a weekday, it won’t be super crowded, so you can relax and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Just keep in mind that it is closed Monday.
Ellie’s Bakery is inspired by classic French bakeries, but it definitely puts its own spin on all the traditional treats. We’re going to be having more sweets later on the tour, so I suggest filling up with something savory like their decadent breakfast sandwich made with Cabot cheddar cheese and tomato jam. You can get this one veggie-friendly or carnivore-friendly, as you choose. It’s all topped off on a freshly baked Ellie English muffin.
I feel like if Ellie’s had been closer to Brown when I was a student, it might have inspired me to wake up before noon, at least sometimes. And now that we’re fed, it’s time for the tour and fun facts to begin!
1) is there any food on the tour?
No food is included with the price of the tour. However, there is time on the tour to stop in the Italian neighborhood of Federal Hill to pick up your own very affordable snacks. I recommend getting a sfogliatella at Scialo Brothers Bakery, which is over 100 years old. They actually make their sfogliatelle from scratch, which is really tricky.
Sfogliatelle are pastries made with an incredibly flaky pastry, almost like leaves. Don’t eat them on the bus or you’ll leave hella crumbs. You can fill them with pretty much anything, but I like the ones made with sweetened ricotta the best. They are easy to eat, but hard to make and even harder to pronounce. I always heard them said “zvoi-ya-dell” on The Sopranos, but this might not be the most accurate pronunciation.
The vast majority of Italian-Americans in Providence have made only positive contributions to the city. But sadly everyone only wants to hear about the Mob, so I’m forced to oblige. Providence used to be the third biggest Mafia city in the entire country. The black building in my photo used to be the Coin-O-Matic, which was the headquarters of the murderous Patriarca crime family.
While Raymond Patriarca, the former head of the family, is gone, some of his associates still live in Federal Hill. So don’t talk about the Mob too loud until you get out of Providence. And please, when you think of Italian-Americans in Providence, remember the sfogliatelle better than the Patriarcas.
2) what is the best college in providence?
There are so many excellent colleges and university in Providence! We’ve got the Rhode Island School of Design, aka RISD, the Catholic Providence College, the public Rhode Island College, and the fabulous Johnson and Wales, which has amazing culinary and hospitality schools. But I have to vote for my alma mater, Brown University. It’s an Ivy League school, and the campus is well worth a visit even if there’s no one in your immediate circle applying to college.
One of the most notable landmarks on campus are the Van Wickle Gates. It’s said that every Brown student needs to go through these gates twice in their lives. The first is when they arrive at the university as freshmen and the second is when they graduate. I didn’t attend my commencement ceremony, instead receiving my diploma through the mail, so I’ve only been through these gates once. Does that mean I’m eternally cursed? Eternal curses are a big thing in Providence, as we will soon learn more about.
My favorite monument on the Brown campus is the Carrie Tower. It was built in honor of Carrie Brown, who was the great-granddaughter of Nicholas Brown, a founder of the university. Her husband, an Italian, was so devastated by her loss that he donated the money to build the clock tower after she died. On the base of the tower is the inscription, “Love is strong as death”. I’m not crying, Internet Stranger! You’re crying!
Brown is an open campus, so you might see some students wandering around during the tour. I don’t think these kids look like they’re taking their studies seriously enough, though.
3) what are the other big monuments in providence?
I’ll give you a rundown of my three favorite highlights. The big performing arts center in Providence is officially called The Dunkin Donuts Center. But Buddy confirmed that if you call it that, everyone will know you’re a tourist. All locals call it “The Dunk”. When I was in college, I saw U2 play here, and my friends and I had a blast even though we were seated in the back row. Do check out a concert here if you can.
The Providence Biltmore is my absolute favorite landmark in the city. Buddy told us that it’s a fact that every Rhode Island resident will stay at the Biltmore at one point in their lives. He may have been exaggerating slightly, but it’s no exaggeration to say that the Biltmore is the highlight of the Providence skyline.
My freshman year in college, I was hit by a car, and the hospital released me onto the street disoriented and with no way of getting home. It was night and I was lost and terrified. I was only able to get to campus by orienting myself by the light of the P-Bilt sign. So technically the Providence Biltmore saved my life.
But for some, the Providence Biltmore is a little dangerous. Notorious murders took place here during Prohibition. One even involved a Cardinal suspected in the murder of an 11 year old prostitute, which is about as shocking as a story can get. So don’t be surprised if you have a ghostly friend tucking you in at night if you stay here.
Right by the Providence Biltmore is Burnside Park. It was named after a Union General who moved to Providence after the war and married a local girl. He was not a very good general and got fired with a quickness. Today he is most famous for being the inventor of the sideburns. (I know that sounds like a joke, but it’s actually 100 percent true.)
Historically Burnside Park is most famous for being the site of a speech by John F. Kennedy the day before he was elected president. But I remember it for its lovely skating rink which is opened in the winter months. Buddy said that the skating rink was the brainchild of his namesake, Mayor Buddy, after Mayor Buddy visited New York City and wanted to create a Rockefeller skating rink in Providence.
The skating rink is less impressive, but charming and definitely worth a visit if it’s cold enough because what else are you going to do in Providence in the winter?
24 Hours in Providence
Afternoon: Explore Eastern Providence
During our last 24 hours in Providence, we walked around the western side of Providence. Today I’ll take you to my favorite attractions on the eastern side of Providence. (I’m using the Providence River as the dividing line between east and west here.)
Speaking of the Providence River, I’m sure someone will write in to suggest that I mention WaterFire here. WaterFire is an awesome event during which the Providence River is basically set on fire. But it happens so infrequently that I’m not going to devote much blog space to it. If you’re in Providence when WaterFire is happening, don’t miss it! You can see the schedule here.
And now that the preliminaries are out of the way, I present…
approximately top 5: eastern providence
1) roger williams national memorial
There are three Providence legends you can’t miss during your time in Rhode Island’s capital, and Mr. Roger Williams is the first. Roger Williams was a Puritan, a champion of religious tolerance, and most importantly, the founder of Rhode Island. Many people say that Providence’s progressive and tolerant character is a continuation of Roger Williams’ legacy.
The Roger Williams Center is located in the middle of the Roger Williams National Memorial. Go inside and talk to the park ranger on duty–it’s free! Not enough visitors to Providence take advantage of this attraction. You can watch the free movie and then ask the ranger as many questions as you want.
My ranger told me everything she knew about Mr. Williams from the positive–he is believed to have inspired the religious liberty amendment to the Constitution–to the negative. During the King Philip’s War of the 17th century, a group of Native Americans burned the fledgling city of Providence to the ground. After this Roger Williams, who had been encouraging positive relationships with Native Americans, became involved with the Native American slave trade. I appreciate that they didn’t sugarcoat Roger Williams at his memorial.
My takeaway from this is that it’s really disturbing I didn’t learn more about King Philip’s War in school, since it’s such an important event in American history. I bought a book on the subject at the Roger Williams Center to rectify the situation.
2) fleur de lys studio
Architecturally speaking, this is my favorite building in Providence. But it also has the best backstory of any building in the city. One of the most famous people to come out of Providence was native son and horror writer HP Lovecraft. Lovecraft made the Fleur de Lys Studio the home of the character Henry Anthony Wilcox in the short story “The Call of Cthulhu”. So this home has been immortalized in countless nightmares around the world, even though a Cardinal definitely never drowned an 11 year old prostitute in a bathtub here.
Apparently the editor of the local newspaper the Providence Journal didn’t like that Lovecraft set such a creepy story here, so he wrote that he was going to send a ghost to Lovecraft’s house to haunt him. Lovecraft’s response was to…write a creepy poem about being haunted, which the ProJo eventually published. So I guess the editor wasn’t really too angry.
3) lunch at east side pockets
At this point, you should have made it up College Hill to Thayer Street. This street is the main drag for all Brown University students. I can’t tell you how much time I spent here when I was in school in Providence, possibly because it’s the only real street on College Hill, and who wants to walk up and down a hill just to find something to do?
If you want to feel like a college student again, grab a falafel at East Side Pockets. Basically everyone here will be a Brown or RISD student except for you. The line is long but it moves quickly. If you want the guys behind the counter to love you, just tell them that you want everything on your falafel. They get cranky if you have too many requests because it slows the line down. It is, however, okay to say you don’t want hot sauce because it does have quite a kick.
4) avon theater providence
I’ve taken you to my favorite lunch place in Providence, so now it’s time for my favorite cultural institution. The Avon is an excellent art house movie theater right on Thayer Street. One of my favorite memories of college is going to a midnight showing of Brian DePalma’s Scarface and being the only solo girl in attendance. I don’t need a boyfriend to drag me to a movie where a bunch of people get murdered with chainsaws!
I’m sure whatever is playing at the Avon when you visit will be worth seeing because their selections are so well curated. And it’s the perfect place to hang in Providence if it’s raining. (Very likely, after all Miss, this is New England.) Just one word to the wise. No matter how cute this vintage candy machine inside the Avon looks, do not eat any candy from it. I learned this the hard way.
5) providence athenaeum
The Providence Athenaeum is one of my favorite libraries in the world. And I do love a good library. Definitely save a good hour to give yourself a self-guided walking tour around here. The library provides free leaflets so you can take the “Raven Tour” of the library. It’s called the Raven Tour in honor of Edgar Allen Poe who spent time in this library when he was courting a wealthy lady writer in Providence. (She accepted the proposal, but they never actually married.)
The Providence Athenaeum was built in 1838, and in both style and concept it is Greek Revival through and through. The word Athenaeum means “temple of the goddess of wisdom” and what better name could there be for a library? Visit every room to enjoy the architecture and the literary treasures like the giant book on Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt, appropriately located in the Egyptian cabinet.
And of course it wouldn’t be a Providence literary attraction without a touch of Lovecraft in the night. This bust is appropriately creepy because it looks like his eyes have no pupils. Pleasant nightmares!
24 Hours in Providence
Evening: Dinner at Birch
You know a city has really arrived when it has its own fine dining, locally sourced tasting menu restaurant. New York City has loads, Oklahoma City has one, and now so does Providence. Picky eaters need not apply, but if you’re an adventurous food lover, make a reservation at Birch to sample a gourmet tasting menu experience with or without wine pairings. You won’t be able to choose the dishes, but you will be able to enjoy the finest local produce in New England. It’s the best possible ending to your 24 hours in Providence.
The fresh, seasonal produce and proteins were so well selected with every dish. My first course was raw Rhode Island Beef with tomato, horseradish, pole beans, and pink peppercorn. First of all, I did not know there was beef from Rhode Island. I would have thought the state was too small to contain more than one cow.
But the beef and heirloom tomatoes were so fresh, it felt like they had both just been slaughtered before my very eyes. (I maybe have been reading too much HP Lovecraft.)
You might be able to tell I spent 24 hours in Providence in the summer with all the tomatoes they were throwing at me. The second course is for seafood, and this was cherry tomato with albacore tuna, seaweed, and rose. The sweetness of rose and tomato were perfectly cut by the saltiness of seaweed and tuna. And I’ve never had rose in a seafood dish before! I’m always so excited to meet a new taste experience.
I apologize for the blurry quality of this photo. I can only assume it is being haunted by one of Providence’s many ghosts.
The main course was a perfectly cooked Rhode Island duck. If Rhode Island can support this many animals right now, imagine how many it could support if we let the state grow to a normal size! The duck was paired with lettuces from the restaurant’s garden and duck fat juice. I appreciate how the dish was kept very simple so the beautiful flavor of the duck could come through. Not every dish needs ten thousand bells and whistles on it, Guy Fieri.
I cleverly planned for you to have the rich sfogliatella at midday because I secretly knew we were getting a light, summery dessert with dinner at Birch. This rhapsody in purple is blueberries with beeswax and preserved plum granita. No matter how stuffed you are, this dish would be soothing on the belly. And I loved the pure taste of the blueberries, which truly screams New England in the summertime. Or is it demented Red Sox fans who truly scream New England in the summertime? I get so easily confused.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Providence!
What would you do with 24 hours in Providence? Would you be frightened if HP Lovecraft wrote a poem about a haunting just for you? And can you think of a worse scandal than a Cardinal drowning an 11 year old prostitute in a bathtub? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Providence. If you have time for another 24 hours in Providence, try this itinerary.