Rhode Island's capital city, Providence boasts classic New England architecture, outstanding places of learning (Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design are here), and a thoughtfully revitalized downtown (a river runs through it). The city's many fine hotels and restaurants and its long-standing commitment to art and culture have also contributed to Providence's emergence in recent years as an appealing and easy-to-reach East Coast travel destination (its downtown station is on the Amtrak line). Below are some of the top Providence attractions and things to see and do for romantic couples.
This is romantic Providence's favorite retreat. The 427-acre, gently sloping parkland in the center of the city features scenic waterscapes, lakes, bridges, a carousel, and even a gazebo-like bandstand on the water favored by ducks, swans, and couples who marry in the sylvan setting. Non-nuptial activities include picnicking and kayaking (there’s a boathouse that rents equipment). Concerts take place in the park’s Temple of Music. And don't miss seeing the fragrant Japanese and Victorian Rose gardens when they're in bloom.
Providence Top Attractions: Roger Williams Park Zoo
Located within the park, the zoo contains many non-indigenous species including Chilean flamingoes, Eastern kangaroos, and African penguins and elephants. It can be disconcerting for an animal lover to witness these animals confined in a New England setting, yet they are clearly well cared for. The zoo is open year round.
The prestigious Rhode Island School of Design in Providence houses the state's leading museum of fine and decorative art and is a top attraction. The Museum consists of five buildings including the new Chace Center, which features student-curated exhibition space. The structure leads directly into the museum's new 20th Century galleries, a delightful mixture of furniture, painting, textiles and fashion created by many of the most famous artists of the time. Should you be pressed for gifts, RISD at Work on the ground level of the Chace Center sells art and objects created by the school’s talented students and their innovative teachers.
Ivy League Brown contains a meadow dominated by a tall clock tower with a tragic love story. Caroline Brown, granddaughter of Nicholas Brown, founder of the university, was an accomplished young woman who married late in life. Her union with Italian diplomat Paul Bajnotti was a loving, passionate one. Along with her sister Annmary and her husband, the four traveled the continent. After Caroline died unexpectedly in 1893, her bereft husband erected the Carrie clock tower in her memory. This is one of several romantic and historical stories tied to Providence. To hear more, contact the Rhode Island Historical Society, which can arrange a private romantic walking tour.
Site of many proposals, both decent and indecent, Cav restaurant seduces with its original and delicious recipes that blend fresh ingredients, inventive combinations, and French flair. We started with baked brie served with brandied sun-dried apricots. A buttery Maine lobster appetizer featured a scrumptious lobster-sherry sauce arrived next. They were followed by diver scallops, lemon zest risotto, and crème brulee for dessert, all exquisitely prepared. We were more than sated and satisfied. The eatery also contains a private room upstairs, a perfect spot for a rehearsal dinner (there's plenty of parking directly across the street).
A gem of a private library built in 1753, the Athenaeum has a wide-ranging collection of travel books. (It’s open to the public, but only members may withdraw books). It also has a tragic romantic story attached to it. Poet Sarah Helen Whitman was a widow and six years Edgar Allen Poe’s senior. The two had corresponded before they met in Providence and a passionate love affair ensued. "Your hand rested in mine, and my whole soul shook with a tremulous ecstasy," he wrote. He proposed; she said not until he gave up drinking. He could not, they separated, and Poe ended up dying destitute the following year. Whitman dedicated herself to keeping his memory alive and his work in high esteem.
A magnificent old theater in a circa-1916 building complete with an elaborate stained-glass ceiling, Trinity Rep is an outstanding regional theater (and has the Tony award in its lobby to back that up). It mounts about seven shows a year in its two theaters. While first choice in tickets go to regular supporters, there are always a few seats left for visitors. If you’d like to learn more about this beautifully renovated structure that began life as a vaudeville house, call the box office in advance of your show and request a free backstage tour.
If you can’t smell the garlic, you’re not close enough. Federal Hill is where Providence’s Italian population clusters. It’s the place to go for soulful pizza, mozzarella caprese, pasta pesto, chicken cacciatore, and other traditional Italian favorites. (Mario Batali told USA Today that Federal Hill is one of his favorite Little Italys in the country.) Federal Hill also has art galleries, boutiques, and even a few Chinese restaurants and sushi parlors. Great times to visit are during July’s restaurant week and June’s Federal Hill Stroll, when you can taste temptations from participating restaurants. And be sure to leave room for something sweet from Scialo Bros. Bakery, run by two hard-working sisters.
A public arts program begun in 1994, WaterFire converts the canals that run through downtown Providence into a magical, mystical setting on Saturday nights from late April through October, sunset to a little after midnight. The attraction brings thousands of locals and visitors to the riverside. Floating bonfires, known as braziers, illuminate the canals, their flames mirrored in the water. There are restaurants along the way, living statues, musical performances -- and plenty of marriage proposals.
Providence's canals also are plied by a fleet of gondolas. If you think that being paddled down the center of a major American city in an authentic Venetian gondola sounds romantic, contact La Gondola.
Another way to experience WaterFire is with a front-row seat at one of the city's restaurants. You can savor a candle lit dinner along the river, with a view of the bonfires, the skyline, and the activity along the river.
Providence Top Attractions: Prospect Terrace
It’s a small park but the view of Providence from the grounds is nonpareil. See the cityscape unfiltered, or enjoy the skyline framed by the Roger Williams statue. Afterwards, relax on one of the park benches and pat yourselves on the back for being so smart to choose Providence for your romantic getaway.