Riveting Rhode Island

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Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the U.S., but it’s teeming with culture, culinary delights and a charming ambiance, most evident in its capital city Providence, and the state’s seaside gem, Newport. Spending a long weekend in both Providence and Newport last spring—it’s a scenic drive from one city to the other—we did our best to soak it all up. In Providence, it was all about the creative vibe and foodie scene, while in Newport, we were utterly enchanted by its picturesque coastal setting, historic sites and downtown waterfront.

passing through providence

It’s no wonder Providence is a hotbed of culture, since three top colleges and universities—Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, and Rhode Island School of Design—are located in this small city. With the amount of creative energy and passion for food coming from these institutions out into the community, it makes sense that instead of seeing a Starbucks on every corner, you’ve got a bevy of independent cafes and restaurants.

We rented a car during our stay, but soon realized the best way to get around and get a sense of the city is by foot, so we ditched the car. “Providence is a great destination because it’s very walkable, and we’re a great culinary city so there’s a lot to explore with restaurants,” says Kristen Adamo, v.p., marketing and communications, Providence Warwick CVB. “I think that having so many universities in this compact downtown really affects the culture, so you get the amenities of a big city, but it’s still easy to get around.”

MUST-DO: While artwork and galleries dot the downtown streets, a great way to experience everything in one place is at the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design. Composed of five buildings, the museum is home to over 86,000 objects ranging from a 12th century Buddha to an ancient Egyptian mummy, Newport furniture and paintings by Picasso and Matisse. The gift shop also features unique pieces of art, created by students, faculty and alumni of the university.

MUST-SEE: This year marks the 20th anniversary of the First Night of WaterFire, Barnaby Evans’ award-winning fire sculpture installation on Providence’s rivers. The annual event, which takes place late-May thru early-November, has expanded to more than 80 bonfires lighting the three rivers passing through the city.

WHERE TO DINE: Nicks on Broadway, set in the residential West End, has made a name for itself on the Providence dining scene by using local and seasonal ingredients from nearby farms to create gourmet dishes packed with flavor. Gracie’s, located across from the Trinity Repertory Company theater, is also all about going local, so much so that it even has a rooftop garden to ensure fresh ingredients. Recommend your clients come with an appetite and go for the 5-course tasting to sample a bit of everything.

WHERE TO STAY: Downtown Providence features a few top options for hotels, including the grandiose Providence Biltmore, a 294-room hotel dating back to 1922. Our spacious corner jr. suite featured a king bed and separate living room with plenty of windows for great views of downtown. It’s within walking distance of Waterplace Park, the universities, and prime shopping and dining spots. The hotel boasts newly renovated guestrooms; renovations will be complete by the end of next month. Rates start at $149 per night. The nearby Renaissance Providence Downtown shows off the city’s artistic side. The 272-room hotel is housed in a former Masonic Temple that was abandoned during the Great Depression. The transformed temple reopened as a hotel in 2007 after a $100 million historic restoration, paying homage to its past with its unique design. When the temple closed, the inside walls were taken over by graffiti artists, and the hotel captured this piece of its history with photographs of the art in guestroom bathrooms. Call for rates.

lifestyles of the rich and famous

“There are reasons why the Vanderbilts, Whartons and Astors made Newport their playground in the late-1800s. Our spectacular coastal scenery, cool ocean breezes, awe-inspiring architecture, thriving downtown waterfront and memorable hospitality make Newport the shining gem in the coastal crown of New England,” explains Andrea McHugh, marketing & communications manager, Discover Newport. “The magnificent ‘summer cottages’ on historic Bellevue Avenue are open to the public and always make an unforgettable impression. Thankfully, you don’t need a baron of industry’s bankroll to enjoy the city-by-the-sea.”

Driving across the bridge into Newport, the scenery changes from high rises and cityscape to charming coastal views, sailboats, and mansions dotting the cliffs. The town, also nicknamed the “sailing capital of the world,” offers superb sightseeing at some of the oldest landmarks in America, such as the oldest synagogue and oldest lending library.

As McHugh says, “Visitors here can choose their own adventure. Whether they want to recreate a regatta and sail aboard an America’s Cup 12-meter yacht, explore the mansions, shop the unique boutiques, savor local flavor at our restaurants, take in the scenery on our famous Cliff Walk or simply sink their toes in the sand and catch some rays, it’s all right here waiting in Newport.”

MUST-DO: Newport blossoms with festivals in summer: the Newport Folk Festival at Fort Adams State Park and the Newport Kite Festival at Brenton Point State Park, both in July; and the Newport Jazz Festival at Fort Adams in August.

MUST-SEE: If your clients want to get their bearings, recommend they take a Viking Trolley tour, a guided trolley ride along Ocean Drive and up along Bellevue Avenue. During the approximately 3-hour tour, your clients will have the chance to hop off and explore The Breakers mansion, the one-time opulent home of the Vanderbilts, and walk along the 3.5-mile Cliff Walk skirting the Atlantic.

WHERE TO DINE: Chocolate lovers should make their way to “Gourmet Row,” and stop in at la maison de COCO, an intimate cafe and kitchen with French flair. Pastry chef Michele De Luca-Verley spent time living in France and has weaved French touches into her treats, which include tea-infused truffles. On the main strip, Tallulah on Thames is a cozy little restaurant that has made a big name for itself. The decor is just as charming as the cuisine—with black chandeliers, hardwood floors, a view of the ocean from the upstairs dining room and bar, and seasonal menus.

WHERE TO STAY: Set on Newport Harbor, the Newport Marriott is located close to all of the downtown Newport action. This 312-room hotel is ideal for families who want space to spread out, and love a buffet breakfast, which is found at onsite restaurant Fathoms. We enjoyed our scenic view of the water and boats from our king guestroom, and found the hotel served as an excellent starting point to venture out and explore Newport. Rates are $169 to $519 April to October. If your clients prefer a tucked-away retreat, recommend Castle Hill Inn, a Relais & Chateaux property, with options ranging from a room in the 19th century Agassiz mansion to accommodations in beach houses, beach cottages, a chalet, or the harbor house. Starting rates are $329 per night.

getting there

The drive from Providence to Newport is under an hour, so for clients interested in exploring both cities, recommend renting a car and enjoying the scenic drive over the Pell Bridge Newport, connecting Newport to Jamestown. Both cities are easily accessible from T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, offering flights from major domestic carriers. Clients traveling from Florida specifically, can hop on JetBlue, with nonstop flights from Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando to Providence. Recommend your clients upgrade to the Even More Space seat, with more legroom and early boarding privileges.

contact information

Castle Hill Inn: castlehillinn.com
Discover Newport: discovernewport.org
JetBlue: jetblue.com
Newport Marriott: marriott.com
Providence Biltmore: (800) 294-7709; providencebiltmore.com
Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau: goprovidence.com
Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel: (401) 919-5000; renaissanceprovidence.com