Newport and Providence, RI

Rhode Island, the nation’s smallest state, manages to pack into its tiny borders a long list of things to see and do on a weekend trip. This little state, nestled in the underbelly of New England, offers great coastal scenery, quaint seaport villages, and an underrated capital with an outstanding food scene and sky-high walkability rating.

Newport church spires

Newport skyline

Rhode Island, the nation’s smallest state, manages to pack into its tiny borders a long list of things to see and do on a weekend trip. This little state, nestled in the underbelly of New England, offers great coastal scenery, quaint seaport villages, and an underrated capital with an outstanding food scene and sky-high walkability rating.

Newport

Admiral Rochambeau Statue, Newport Harbour, RI

Admiral Rochambeau Statue, Newport Harbour, RI

We were in Newport for a wedding of a college friend of Emily’s. We stayed at the Wellington Resort, on the southern end of Thames Street, a historic street lined lined with restaurants, cafes, antiques shops, and other places you expect to see in a old New England seaport town. The first night, at the suggestion of a friend who is in the restaurant industry, we went to Stoneacre Pantry, a small restaurant a few minutes walk away. After filling up on “beef cheeks”–yes, that’s what I ate–we joined everyone at a historic inn called Vanderbilt Grace for cocktail hour.

Newport historic

Old Colony house in Newport, exhibiting Georgian architecture

Trinity Church Newport

Trinity Church

Early the next morning, I drove around Newport, stopping first at Washington Square and snapping some shots of the colonial buildings surrounding it, such as the Colony House, before moving to the nearly 300 year old Trinity Church, a filming location for the movie Amistad.

Ocean Avenue, Newport RI

Ocean Avenue

Ocean Drive, Newport Rhode Island

Coast view from Ocean Drive

I then drove along Ocean Avenue, the winding road that skirts the Atlantic Ocean on the southern end of the island on which Newport sits: Aquideck Island.

The Breakers, Newport RI

The Breakers

The Breakers Rhode RI

The Breakers

The Breakers newport

The Breakers

This route snakes past enormous mansions, some dating back to the Gilded Age, when Newport was the summer destination of the era’s “robber barons”. The most famous of the houses, Cornelius Vanderbilt III’s The Breakers, was built in 1893. I was there a full 30 minutes before it opened for tours, so didn’t end up going inside, but I got some good pictures from the Cliff Walk along the rocky shore.

Overall, I loved Newport. Not only was the wedding awesome, but it was great to catch up with friends in such a nice town. I suggest going there when the weather is warm; getting an ice cream and sitting on the wharf overlooking the water is a much more pleasurable experience in the summer.

Newport

Emily and friends, Newport

Brown University

Brown University, Providence Rhode Island

College Green at Brown University

The next day, we drove up to Providence for our early evening flight.  Providence has a great skyline, a nice walkable downtown, and unique neighborhoods such as Federal Hill and College Hill. Our time was a bit short, so we focused on seeing Brown University and Downtown.

Brown Rhode Island

Emily, her cousin, and me

Emily’s cousin, a student at Brown, took us around the tree-shaded College Green, the central yard of the campus, lined with 19th century Victorian Gothic and neoclassical buildings. Interestingly, a bunch of students on the green were playing Muggle Quidditch, the real-world version of the Harry Potter game quidditch. Hovering high above the players, in an oak tree mostly stripped of leaves in the November chill, was not Harry Potter’s owl Hedwig but a huge red-tailed hawk or peregrine falcon (not sure which). The bird had its eye on a grey squirrel hanging upside perilously below it.

Brown University Rhode Island

Hawk at Brown

Emily’s cousin also showed us her dorm building. I’m not sure how Brown spends the $62k  it charges per student each year, but I bet that not much of it goes to maintaining and improving the living arrangements of students. She and her roommate did what they could to decorate their room, putting up posters and pictures to break up the concrete walls, but as Emily and I took up seats on the bean bag chairs in the corner, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being in a collegiate version of a minimum-security jail cell.

Downtown Providence

Providence RI rhode

Downtown Providence

Brown sits atop a steep hill overlooking downtown Providence, and the view of the city from the streets around the campus is superb. The Providence skyline is impressive for a city of its size. The Bank of America Building, an Art Deco tower built in the 1920s, is the most recognizable–it even is depicted in the opening Family Guy credits. This 428 foot building is completely vacant, symbolizing the hard economic times that have come to this city and state in recent years.

Providence RI rhode Biltmore

Providence Biltmore

Rhode Island Capitol building in Providence

Rhode Island Capitol building in Providence

Weybosset Street in downtown Providence

Weybosset Street in downtown Providence

We used Yelp to find a great pizza restaurant downtown called Providence Coal Fired Pizza, not only because it had good reviews but that it had a lot of TVs for the NFL games. Afterwards, we explored a little bit more of the downtown, walking down Westminster Street, towards the Providence River, passing a lot of old Victorian-era buildings along the way.

Providence RI rhode

Bank of America City Center off Burnside Park

 

One building I was really impressed with was the Westminster Arcade, a historic shopping center dating back to 1828. Fronted on Westminster Street by massive Greek columns, the arcade is the first enclosed shopping mall in the U.S.

Providence Rhode island

RI State Capitol

Providence Rhode island

Bank of America bldg 5

Summary:

Great trip, but I wish we had more time to see some more of Providence. We didn’t set foot in Federal Hill, the site of the city’s Little Italy. Maybe next time.

Food

Providence Coal Fired Pizza

Providence Coal Fired Pizza

22 Bowens, Newport rhode

Lobster Roll, 22 Bowens, Newport

Newport: Stoneacre Pantry: Superb food with attentive service, the kind of service that results in your water glass being refilled without you noticing. We went for dinner on a cold night. Condensation fogged up the windows, adding to the coziness of this small restaurant.  I had the chestnut soup and the “beef cheeks,” which were so tender and tasty that I forgot I was eating a dead cow’s face. I thought the food was reasonably priced given the quality of the food, decor, and prime location on Thames Street. My only knock against this place is that they don’t have any draft beers–only cans and bottles.

Newport: 22 Bowens Wine Bar and Grill: We ate here for lunch on Saturday. I thought the food was great and fairly priced. I had the lobster roll, which actually had a good hunk of lobster in it, unlike some other places I’ve tried. Loved the location right on a busy Newport wharf.

Newport: Corner Cafe and Bakery: great little cafe on the edge of town, serving up huge portions of breakfast food for a good price. Despite the Yelp reviews about the bad coffee, I thought the coffee was perfect.

Providence: Providence Coal Fired Pizza: Excellent selection of upscale pizza prepared in a coal oven, as you would expect from the very literal restaurant name. Prices were fair because you can feed two people with each pizza. Good selection of draft beers. I loved the location right on Westminster Street, and the building itself; it’s in a big old factory building with high ceilings popular in the late 1800s-early 1900s.

Hotel:

Newport: Wellington Resort: I thought this hotel was just ok. It is arranged in a weird way; the rooms are in different buildings unconnected to each other. The buildings all look the same so it’s easy to get confused about which building is yours. The 10am checkout time was a little odd, especially during the low season when there is little occupancy. It was also really noisy in the room, with the boiler or whatever making a lot of noise right behind our headboard. I think this place is in need of a major upgrade to justify the prices they charge. Well, this is Newport so they can probably charge anything they want.

Map:

 

Kevin is based in Washington, DC and writes about his travel adventures in the Mid-Atlantic region and around the world. Through entertaining writing and eye-catching photography, he aims to provide readers with useful information as they plan their next trips.

Leave a Reply