Ditch the car and take the train to Providence. Numerous attractions clustered around the city’s vibrant downtown district are within easy walking distance of the station.
There’s outdoor ice-skating at the huge (and typically uncrowded) rink on Kennedy Plaza—within sight of the historic Providence Biltmore hotel, which was saved from the wrecking ball in the 1970s. Dip into the nearby Ellie’s Bakery for hot chocolate and a chunk of babka, or meander east, across the Providence River, to the RISD Museum.
The ancient Greek and Roman art galleries are open this winter, as is the exhibit “Inventing Impressionism,” which explores the radical nature of paintings and drawings by the likes of Édouard Manet, Georges Lemmen, and Camille Pissarro. (The fifth-floor European art galleries, however, are closed for renovation.) The museum’s Café Pearl opened last year; it serves baked treats and the locally coveted Bolt Coffee, and is a quiet place to regroup. Or head back outside and walk two minutes to the Providence Athenaeum, to learn about the library’s role in the ill-fated romance between Edgar Allen Poe and Providence poet Sarah Helen Whitman, and about author H.P. Lovecraft’s love of the place. Take a self-guided tour, or just be inspired by three floors crammed with books and assorted prints, paintings, and sculptures.
From there, walk back down Benefit Street, past the museum, to the first First Baptist Church in America. Join the Independence Trail, a lively and free self-guided tour, accessible by smartphone, to hear about the impressive white structure, with the strongest steeple around, and a bit of Providence’s history: it was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams after he was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for promoting the separation of church and state. The trail, marked by a green line on the sidewalk, is a 2.5-mile circular route that highlights more than 100 culturally significant sites, including the old and new State Houses and the spot from which colonists rowed out to attack the HMS Gaspee in 1772.
It also stops at the Providence Place Mall. Don’t linger there. Instead, for food and shopping, head behind the Providence Biltmore to the locus of the downtown arts and entertainment scene anchored by Washington and Westminster Streets. Check out AS220, an artist-run organization that coordinates rotating galleries, shops, performances, and classes, while managing a restaurant and bar, too. Also worthwhile is Craftland, a gallery of handmade objects, and the excellent Symposium Books and Cellar Stories Bookstore.
Providence is full of innovative restaurants. Downtown, try the Figidini Wood Fire Eatery or The Dean Hotel’s restaurant Faust. On a Saturday night, there’s probably also time to attend a show or concert at the Trinity Repertory Company or the Providence Performing Arts Center; the last MBTA Commuter Rail train to Boston leaves at 10 p.m.—or take the more expensive (but faster) Amtrak train at 10:35 p.m. Either way, a day in this dynamic small city is well spent.