Biking (and eating) Providence

Many people visit Providence, Rhode Island, to tour the local colleges or make a pit stop on their way to Boston. But for those who live there, P-town is a diverse, laid-back city full of restaurants with character, Victorian architecture, peaceful hiking trails, and aspiring artists. Plus, it also happens to be an extremely pedestrian- and bike-friendly place. Here’s a bike tour that gives you a real feel for the Renaissance City.

Start your morning by bicycling through Swan Point Cemetery, 200 acres of trees, flowers and headstones dating back to the 1840s. Look through the trees on the eastern edge to catch glimpses of the Seekonk River. Science fiction guru H.P. Lovecraft, one of Providence’s strangest sons, is buried here.

After working up an appetite, bike north on tree-lined Blackstone Boulevard and make a left on North Avenue, then another left down Hope Street and head to Seven Stars Bakery (820 Hope Street) for locally roasted coffee, a super-moist ginger muffin or warm sticky roll, handmade daily with organic flour.

Pop in at Frog and Toad (795 Hope Street) for Danish paper-cut mobiles, bird feeders carved from colored gourds, handmade notebooks, unique totes, and cute cards.

For lunch, do like the Brown students and grab a falafel sandwich at East Side Pocket (278 Thayer Street) or try the chicken kabob, marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, and fresh garlic with the works: hummus, tomato, onions, pickles, tabouleh, tahina, and yogurt cucumber sauce. Don’t forget a side of pita chips, and save room for baklava for desert.

Pay a visit to the student galleries at the Rhode Island School of Design’s Woods-Gerry Gallery (62 Prospect Street) then head down Meeting Street a block to the park on Congdon. Lounge on the lawn with the students in Prospect Park and admire the stellar views of downtown Providence and the west side.

Next stop: The Edna W. Lawrence Nature Lab (13 Waterman Street) for an eyeful of the 80,000-odd specimens housed in a hands-on studio at RISD. See insects, seeds, birds’ nests, a moose head, raccoons, mice, a chameleon named Prince Oprah, skeletons, butterflies, tortoise shells, fossils, and much more. The private lab is open to the public (call ahead if you plan to visit with a large group), but only students are permitted to check the items out for use in their sketches. Celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, the studio is definitely worth a stop—you’ve never seen anything quite like it.

For a taste of Providence’s Italian side, pedal on over to Tony’s Colonial in historic Federal Hill. You’ll be mesmerized by the small shop packed with friendly, Italian-speaking staff, as well as cheeses, homemade pastas, dozens of olive varieties, fresh orichetta with garlic and rabe, and Rhode Island’s famous “pizza strips“—deep dish seasoned crusts topped with sliced tomatoes.

If you’ve still got some life left in you, push up your kickstand and head on over to Julian’s (where many of the dishes are prepared with local produce) for a bumblebee cocktail (tanqueray, honey, and half a lemon) and one of their amazingly creative daily specials. On Thursday night, fulltime chef Michael McHugh was making cast-iron grilled duck breast over cherry pepper potato gratin, with roasted purple carrots and rosemary-infused chocolate sauce. And when he’s not mixing up in the kitchen, McHugh plays in an experimental folk band with pal Chris Rosenquest.

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Get a side of roasted peanut marshmallow-sweet-potato mash up for the road and bike home after a Providence-packed day.

For an interactive version of the above map, click here.

Photo: Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau

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