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Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect one day in Providence tour. Rhode Island’s main claim to fame is that it is the smallest state in the United States. Providence, of course, is its capital. But there are so more many reasons to enjoy a One Day in Providence Tour than just to check the capital of the smallest state off your bucket list. Providence is home to terrific attractions like the RISD Museum. It’s also home to one of the best Little Italys in the whole country.
Full disclosure: I went to college in Providence, so after New Orleans and New York, it’s the city I know the best. Join me for my One Day in Providence Tour, and I will take you all around one of the Northeast’s most charming cities.
One Day in Providence Tour
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. It’s a great base for your One Day in Providence Tour.
One Day in Providence Tour
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!
One Day in Providence Tour
Morning: RISD Museum
As I mentioned, Providence is home to a massive number of colleges and universities for such a small city. But one of the most prestigious is the Rhode Island School of Design, aka RISD. Providence is more known for its fab restaurants and lovely architecture than any one major attraction. The RISD Museum is really the Number One Can’t Miss Attraction in the PVD. They have a collection that can stand toe to toe with any mid-sized museum in the country.
If you’re looking to visit the RISD Museum, check out their website here. Keep in mind the RISD Museum is closed every Monday. Also admission to the RISD Museum is free on Sundays, which saves you a pretty penny, but be warned the museum can get crowded.
Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, let’s get right down to…
three fun facts: risd museum
1) is there political art?
You bet your sweet bippy! RISD and its neighbor Brown University are extremely leftie, so the art in the RISD Museum is quite progressive. For example, this wallpaper looks dainty and delicate, but if you look closely, you can see that the wallpaper is actually decorated with prisons. There’s barbed wire around too. I imagine it’s a commentary on how we romanticize prisons in order to justify their cruelty. And now I feel guilty for thinking the wallpaper is pretty.
The political art can also be educational, like this piece by Walead Beshty called “24-inch Copper”. It’s designed to be the same size as a FedEx box. Apparently FedEx owns a patent on this exact size of box. How can you own empty space, FedEx? Maybe you should focus on getting poor Tom Hanks home to Helen Hunt before you try to own the concept of a 3-dimensional shape.
2) what about the design?
Good call, Internet Stranger! We must never forget that Design puts the D in RISD. So of course the RISD Museum has an amazing collection of pieces that are famous for stunning design. My favorite is this curvy window by Art Nouveau master Hector Guimard. Guimard is most famous for designing those fabulous entrances to the Paris Metro, but I pretty much love everything he does. This window makes me want to gather all my hair up in a poof, sit by the window, and stare dreamily into space while solving the murder of an opium addict.
It’s also exciting to be able to find the works of former RISD students in the RISD Museum. This fabric sculpture was done by RISD alum Do Ho Suh. It was modeled after the doorknob on his house on Benefit Street when he was a student. The docent notes say that Suh likes to create sculptures based on important places in his life. I like that idea. It’s as if all of his sculptures are tiny fabric ghosts.
3) does the risd Museum have anything famous?
Ghost fabric doorknobs not doing it for you? Fine. The RISD Museum has plenty of works from super famous artistes. How would you like a surprisingly realistic Picasso?
Works from major African-American artists like Aaron Douglas…
and Jacob Lawrence.
If you like French heavy hitters, there’s my personal favorite, Manet. I like the way he paints women because they always look like they’re not having any of your nonsense.
And here’s a rare Renoir lady who has all her clothes on.
24 hour treasure: pendleton house
The Charles Pendleton House is my favorite part of the RISD Museum. When you look at my photo, you would probably guess that this was somebody’s house at one point, but you would be wrong…dead wrong. Pendleton was an avid collector of American decorative arts, and he designed the house to display his collections. Then he donated it to the museum. (Rich people donating things is a big thing in Providence history, especially if by donating you mean bribing.)
Keep an eye out for Pendleton’s collection of gambling and gaming pieces. Pendleton was apparently an avid gambler. That’s one of the benefits of being rich! You get to make your vices all classy. No Vegas barfly gets to donate his collection of seedy casino matchbooks to any museum.
One Day in Providence Tour
Afternoon: Explore West Providence
It’s easiest to explore Providence if you mentally divide the city up into the eastern part of the city and the western part. We’ll hit up the east tomorrow, but for today it’s all west baby. The western part of Providence is home to the best shopping, the big Italian neighborhood, and the coolest murder house. But first, lunch!
approximately top 5: One Day in Providence Tour
Providence is most famous for Italian food, but you can find any kind of ethnic cuisine in the city now, from French to Peruvian. I decided to stop at Mokban for their pork bulgogi lunch special, which as you can see from my photo is an amazing bargain. You get the sweet pork, the lettuce to wrap it in, and about a jillion sides. Was I expecting to eat noodles, salty fish cakes, spicy cucumber salad, and milky corn that day? No. Am I glad I did? Absolutely!
One final bonus of eating at Mokban is that there’s no tipping because tipping is not part of Korean culture. So you can save your money and hopefully be satisfied that your server is making a livable wage!
Downtown Providence wasn’t so happening when I went to college, but it’s really hopping now. And we all know when a downtown springs back to life, that means lots of cute little stores. My favorite is the joint venture Queen of Hearts and Modern Love. These stores are special because they sell creations from RISD alums.
I collect earrings in every city I visit, so I was excited to find a unique pair of earrings made out of bullets. Better in my ears than in someone’s gun! And now if someone bothers me, I can throw one of my earrings at them and then tell them “The next one’s coming at you faster,” like I’m Timothy Olyphant on Justified.
3) public art
One way Providence is trying to encourage tourism is by having street art bloom all over the city. Because of RISD, it makes sense to brand the city as a destination for the arts. You can follow this excellent public art self-guided walking tour put together by the city here. But I want to draw your attention to my favorite mural, which is not included in their guide.
This purple majesty is called “Adventure Time”, and it is by Poland-born artist Natalia Rak. There’s something about this mural that really captures the experience of being a little girl for me. When I was a child, I’m sure that I dreamed of finding this wonderland behind my closet door every time I opened it. Instead all I found was shoes and dust bunnies. Life is like that sometimes.
This is my second favorite mural because this lady is having an even worse hair day than I am.
4) federal hill
Here it is! The greatest Little Italy you’ve never heard of! Federal Hill! You will know you are there by the pine cone hanging above the street. Lots of people get confused because it looks like a pineapple, which is a traditional sign of hospitality. But this is a pine cone which is…also a traditional Italian sign of hospitality.
Also at the entrance to Federal Hill is Garibaldi Square, which honors the Italian heritage of Providence. You might notice that a gentleman named Mayor Vincent Cianci designated this memorial, but no one calls him that. Everyone in Providence knew him as Buddy Cianci. He was an extremely controversial figure who dominated Providence politics for decades.
He was first elected mayor in the 1970s but had to resign because he beat up a guy who supposedly had an affair with his wife. He was reelected mayor in the 1990s, but had to leave office because he had been convicted of racketeering charges. Mayor Buddy managed to be both beloved throughout the city and a walking embodiment of terrible stereotypes about Italian-American politicians.
5) federal hill shopping
We had a big lunch and we’re having a big dinner, so I suggest just stopping for a light lemon square at Pastiche, arguably the best bakery in Providence. (We’ll be going for Italian sweets tomorrow, never fear.) I always do right by you, food-wise, don’t I?
I would also be remiss if I didn’t advise you to buy some art in Providence. Because the city wants to be associated with artists, there’s no tax on any art purchased in the city. My favorite art store is Gallery Z. The people who work there are super friendly and have amazing Providence accents. (It’s like the love child of a Boston accent and a Jersey accent for those who haven’t had the privilege of hearing it.)
6) murder house
I promised you a murder house, and I intend to deliver! The official name of this strange abode is Barnaby’s Castle, but to me and all right thinking peoples, it is the mail order murder house. A gentleman named Thatcher Graves murdered the widow Barnaby with an anonymous bottle of whiskey sent to her through the mail. Mrs. Barnaby had the poor judgment to leave money in her will to Mr. Graves, who was her business adviser.
I suppose Graves didn’t have the patience to wait for the widow to die like a normal person. This murder is famous because its victim lived in this insane building, but also because it was perhaps the first murder in the United States to be committed using the mail. And I think the story teaches a valuable lesson: don’t drink bottles of whiskey that are sent by strangers through the mail.
One Day in Providence Tour
Late Afternoon: Long Live Beerworks
Basically every city in the United States has its own craft brewery now. I’ve been to craft breweries in cities from Portland, Maine to Moorhead, Minnesota. So I can definitely say that Long Live Beerworks is one of my favorites. The staff is totally unpretentious and will hook you up with a sampling of their best without making fun of you for not being a Craft Beer Aficionado.
I had the Isosceles IPA, which was not too bitter, a special dark beer, not too heavy, and the gently sour 2.5 Anniversary Berliner Weisse with blackberries and passionfruit. If you’re into trying new flavors, this is a great combination because you can sample a wide variety of beers. But if you’re more set in your beer-tasting ways, I’m sure they have a brew that can satisfy your needs.
One Day in Providence Tour
I would never taunt you by taking you to a Little Italy like Federal Hill and not letting you feast on Italian food. I like Massimo because they serve upscale and modern versions of Italian-American classics. For a girl like me, who grew up near Little Italy in New York City, it was heaven. Start your meal off right with a frosted aperol spritz…
Continue with a bowl of spicy clam soup made with fresh and succulent clams, nothing from a can. I especially loved the crusty bread that helped me soak up all the juices.
24 hour treat: pasta carbonara
If you get only one thing at Massimo, let it be this. Unlike many pasta carbonara dishes, this is not too heavy. The meat is especially flavorful because it’s guanciale (pork cheek), not bacon. The raw egg on top just adds to the lusciousness. Plus the pasta is made in house which makes every dish better.
Cannoli is my favorite dessert of all time. I never get anything else if it’s on the menu. The combination of crispy pastry shell and sweet ricotta filling gets me in my feels. I wish I had taken notes on this particular cannoli, but I scarfed it too quickly to savor the flavors. That says everything I need to say about the dish!
That’s a Perfect One Day in Providence Tour!
What would you do on a One Day in Providence Tour? Is Mayor Buddy good or evil? And if they converted the Mail Order Murder House into a hotel, would you stay there? 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 have a One Day in Providence Tour. If you have time for another One Day in Providence Tour, add this itinerary.