This Black Friday day trip from our Thanksgiving festivities in Portsmouth, RI, began because I have been wanting to eat at Al Forno in Providence for at least ten years. Al Forno put Rhode Island on the foodie map over 30 years ago and is credited with creating the grilled pizza.
That's reason enough. But Providence is also one of the coolest city gems of New England with quaint sense-of-place architecture, great pubs and walks. Much of it feel like a mini Boston without the traffic. On one side of the river is Brown University and College Hill. I've now visited all the Ivy Leagues and Brown has the best small-town campus feel with red brick buildings and small tree-lined quads. On the other side of the river is downtown Providence, with a revitalized waterfront, Providence Place Mall, the commanding marble State House, the convention center, and Providence College.
You should either walk the mile length of Benefit Street near Brown yourself, or take a guided walk. It has one of America's highest concentrations of colonial architecture, with gorgeous 18th & 19th-century homes.
Providence was only 30 minutes from my aunt and uncle's house in Portsmouth, so it was a really easy day trip. We absolutely loved Al Forno and I bought the owners' first cookbook, Cucina Simpatica, one of Ina Garten's favorites (Yes I love the Barefoot Contessa. Love.).
Al Forno Tip: We arrived at 5:30 p.m. and was told there was going to be a 2-hour wait. Felt like we were back in New York! We ended up eating at the downstairs bar but you can also call ahead to get an idea of the wait time, they will put your name on the list, and you can arrive closer to that time. Reservations are only for 6 people or more.
1. & 2. Thayer Street is the main shopping & eating street next to Brown's campus. Definitely worth a stroll if you're near campus, and you can pop into the Brown bookstore.
3. Near Brown, Providence has a ton of these gorgeous older New England homes. This white beauty was my favorite.
4. Looking across the river at College Hill from the State House.