Rhode Island’s capital city is one of the oldest in the nation, so it’s no surprise that history, art, culture, and education shape Providence’s 21st-century identity. A compact city of diverse neighborhoods, Providence has plenty to offer in terms of museums and historic architecture, but please don’t call it stuffy. There are experimental art galleries, a vibrant chef-owned restaurant scene, chic hotels, a “Little Italy’’ neighborhood to rival Beantown’s, and the legendary WaterFire, a multisensory bonfire event that takes place on select Saturday nights in the summer months. As a year-round destination, Providence offers plenty to entertain those who arrive for a day or a weekend.
Located in a 3-story brick Italianate mansion with 11-foot ceilings, marble fireplace mantels, and ornate plaster moldings, the newly renovated Christopher Dodge House Bed & Breakfast (11 West Park St., 401-351-6111, www.providence-hotel.com, seasonal rates from $109-$149) is a step back in time. Cozy rooms have cherry hardwood floors and exposed-brick walls as well as contemporary amenities such as cable TV and WiFi. You can’t go wrong at the downtown Courtyard by Marriott (32 Exchange Terrace at Memorial Blvd, 888-887-7955, www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/pvddt-courtyard-providence-downtown, seasonal rates from $119-$149). Centrally located across from the Rhode Island Convention Center and the State House, this 216-room hotel recently upgraded its facilities. Its rooms feature spiffy new bedding, linens, and flat screen televisions. For European-style luxury, the Hotel Providence (139 Mathewson St., 800-861-8990, www.hotelprovidence.com, seasonal rates from $139-$199) offers eighty deluxe guest rooms and suites, some inspired by works of New England authors. Emily Dickinson Suite, anyone?
A local favorite for almost two decades, Cassarino’s Ristorante (177 Atwells Ave., 401-751-3333, www.cassarinosri.com, entrees: $12.95-$23.95) combines Northern Italian flavors with fresh local ingredients. Sure to satisfy are the veal saltimbocca, grilled chicken with sautéed rabe, and tangy house-made pesto with pasta. On historic Federal Hill, Pane e Vino Ristorante and Enoteca (365 Atwells Ave., 401-223-2230. www.panevino.net, entrees: $16-$35) offers farm-to-table inspired menus in a romantic, candle-lit setting. Recent offerings included handmade porcini tortelloni, roasted duck confit with fig, walnut and mascarpone ravioli, and breaded and pan-fried veal chop. For a creative approach to modern bistro cooking, try New Rivers (7 Steeple St., 401-751-0350. www.newriversrestaurant.com, entrees: $18-$28). Chef/owner Bruce Tillinghast - trained at Madeleine Kamman’s famed Newton culinary program - and chef de cuisine Beau Vestal are committed to locally sourced and thoughtfully prepared seasonal menus featuring salads, house-made pastas, roasted chicken, pork, seafood, and rabbit. For a sweet treat, enjoy cakes, pastries, cookies, and cannoli at Pastiche (92 Spruce St, 401-861-5190, www.pastichefinedesserts.com, $2.25-$5.00).
DURING THE DAY
Everyone loves a zoo, especially the Roger Williams Park Zoo (1000 Elmwood Ave., 401-785-3510, www.rwpzoo.org, adults $12, children 3-12 $8, half-price in January and February), a beautifully landscaped, 40-acre park with elephants, giraffes, zebras, red pandas, snow leopards, moon bears, gibbons, giant ant eaters, and more in naturalistic settings. If the weather’s stormy, take the family to the Providence Children’s Museum (100 South St., 401-273-5437, www.childrenmuseum.org) with fun interactive exhibits and hands-on programs, or check out the collection of nearly 80,000 works of art in all media at the RISD Museum (224 Benefit St., 401-454-6500, www.risdmuseum.org, adults $10, youths 5-18: $3), part of the Rhode Island School of Design. When in doubt, there’s always shopping. It’s fun to wander the many boutiques on Westminster Street (www.shopdowncity.com) where Clover (233 Westminster St., 401-490-4626, www.cloverprovidence.com) sells clothing for men and women, featuring big-name labels as well as emerging designers.
Lace up your ice skates and head to the Bank of America Skating Center (2 Kennedy Plaza, 401-331-5544, www.kennedyplaza.org/skating-information, adults $6, under 12 $3), a 14,000 square-foot skating rink twice the size of Rockefeller Plaza’s in New York City. Sure, you can skate in the day, but night skating is truly magical. For a cultural evening, check out Trinity Repertory Company (201 Washington St., 401-351-4242, www.trinityrep.com, $22-$66) whose acclaimed resident company presents seven shows every season, balancing contemporary and classic works. Upcoming shows include “The Merchant of Venice’’ and “Sparrow Grass.’’ If comedy is more your style, the Comedy Connection (39 Warren Ave, 401-438-8383, www.ricomedyconnection.com, $10-$25 depending on show) offers laughs and cocktails, plus wings, fries, pizza, and wraps ($4-$10). Late night hipsters head to Nick-a-Nees (137 Central St, 401-861-7290, free). Described as the “ultimate chill dive bar,’’ this canine-friendly establishment is said to have the best jukebox in town for country, blues, and soul music. And it has a pool table, affordable beer, and occasional live music.