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A Visit to Providence RI

Provdidence highlights include remarkable historical preservation and restoration combined with a growing, impressive modern presence

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Waterplace Park, Providence, RI

Waterplace Park, Providence, R.I.. (photo by Eric H.)

Article and photo by Eric H. (Posted 5/5/07)

Providence, RI, proves that sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.

The city once prominent for jewelry now sparkles and shines in a different way with its ever-evolving beautiful skyline, making for a grand facade. Beyond that beautiful facade, however, is an equally impressive, incredibly intricate mix of modern and historical attractions that requires more than just a day trip. Not too long ago, however, Providence rivaled other down-and-out New England cities with an anemic skyline, not much nightlife and a feeling that things weren't all that safe when strolling near-ghost town neighborhoods. It was, to some outsiders, a city to pass through, pass out in, or take a pass on.

Now it is a world-class city, at least for several blocks. A visit to Providence is highly recommended as an interesting, worthwhile historical yet modern New England travel destination.

With determined state governmental and community involvement and funding from private investment, federal grants, and city funding, Providence somehow turned into a great city virtually overnight. All of a sudden the arts scene blossomed, restaurants of all different ethnicities opened seemingly every few feet, and beautification projects revitalized buildings, homes and parks. The $500 million Providence Place breathed much-needed retail life into the downtown with a beautiful three-story shopping mall featuring 165 stores, as well as some first-class restaurants in and around the area. Waterplace Park provides a four-acre oasis in the heart of the city with a one acre pond (leading to three city rivers), cobblestone promenade, an amphitheater with events and entertainment, arched Venetian style bridges over the water and charming, authentic gondolas and water taxis to tour this great area. What really puts Waterplace Park over the top, however, is "Waterfire" described on the Waterfire Web Site as having "sparkling bonfires, the fragrant scent of aromatic wood smoke, the flickering firelight on the arched bridges, the silhouettes of the firetenders passing by the flames, the torch-lit vessels traveling down the river, and the enchanting music from across the world all engage the senses and emotions of those who stroll the paths and bridges of Waterplace Park." The description sounds phenomenal, but a visit to this oasis even that much better!

Providence's remarkable transformation provides a synergy to already nice neighborhoods, thus making the city a more complete travel package. College Hill, on the eastern side of Providence, offers brownstone architectural elegance and the Ivy League Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design. It is perfect for a stroll to an almost village-like area of shops and restaurants Thayer Street, North and South Main Street, Waterman and Angell Street . Here, you can soak in the college atmosphere and the stunning tree-lined middle to upper class neighborhoods with some truly spectacular older homes. On the eastern side of College Hill is Wayland Square where the upscale neighborhoods continue and another village-like downtown setting includes a book store, art and toy shop, a deli, bakery, galleries and an excellent casually elegant restaurant in the Red Stripe. It's hard to believe Wayland Square is part of Providence, as the area seems more like an upper class quiet suburb.

Federal Hill is a charming Italian neighborhood with a huge archway welcoming visitors to bakeries, restaurants, pizza places and Italian residents adding a charming flavor. Camille's is a wonderful, slightly upscale place for great Italian food and Sicilia's has some of the best pizza we've experienced in the northeast (offering equally good thin and thick crust). Federal Hill is yet another Providence neighborhood perfect for strolling.

It is interesting to juxtapose the modern with the historic when visiting Providence. Compare modern the Providence Place shopping mall with the Arcade on Westminster St. -- the first indoor shopping mall in the United States that still houses 30-plus stores in its 1828 three-story, stucco rubble Greek Revival structure. This is typical of Providence in the best sense, a city of historical preservation mixing well with updates. Another great example of the "old and the new" is also well documented by the modern financial district juxtaposed with Benefit Street --with one of the largest concentration of colonial homes in the United States, reminding us that select circles in "Colonial America" had a few dollars also. The wealth then evolved into a bustling industrial revolution and a city well-known for its jewelry and silverware manufacturing. While all of that still exists in Providence today, the theme has changed where high-tech, arts and entertainment and tourism are now major players in the city's success.

While all the modern amenities have further enhanced Providence, it is ultimately the history and culture that lends the city its true flavor. Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian homes throughout the myriad neighborhoods are a sight to behold,as is the 1753 Greek Revival Providence Athenaeum Library, and a stunning-looking State House (recently restored to its original glory with a $17 million renovation) juxtaposed against the aforementioned modern Providence Place. The Tony Award-winning Trinity Repertory Company, Providence Performing Arts Center, the Rhode Island Philharmonic, the Museum of Art/Rhode Island School of Design and alternative theater and dance productions give the city myriad an amazing array of theater, fine arts and orchestral music opportunities. Providence also has many things to do with the children, including the large and entertaining Roger Williams Park and Zoo, a terrific Children's Museum, and the aforementioned Providence Place.

We strongly recommend a visit to Providence as part of your New England travel plans. Its sense of history and preservation and "new look" make Providence a terrific travel destination.

For more information on Providence, visit the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau

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