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Rhode Island Travel | College Hill, Providence RI
College Hill in Providence RI is in an Ivy League of its Own

Brown University campus, Providence RI
Brown University campus

Article and photos by Eric H.
Providence, R.I. looks like a real city with its skyline, financial district, sophisticated high rise hotels, densely populated neighborhoods, commuting traffic congestion, and outstanding cultural and dining scenes.

The typical urban landscape changes in a hurry, though, crossing Route 44 over the Providence River and driving uphill towards East Providence. Stunning, historic 18th, 19th and 20th century homes with various architectural styles saturate several blocks of leafy streets. Cobblestoned
Benefit St. might be the greatest representation with its mile of grand colonial homes -- one of the largest concentrations in the United States.

The renowned Rhode Island School of Art and Design leads to the Ivy League splendor of Brown University where more historic buildings (including ancient churches) and homes mix in so well with the historic neighborhoods that it's sometimes hard to tell who owns what.  Make no mistake about it, though: the Brown University campus is huge as this academic institution is the largest institutional landowner in Providence with the main campus featuring 235 buildings on 143 acres -- including nine libraries for the avid reader!

Brown University Campus, Providence RI

Bounded by North Main St. to the west, Power St. to the south, Governor St. and Arlington Ave. to the east and Olney St.  to the north, College Hill makes for a great walk with its hills providing a good workout and amazing historic scenes along the way. The wealthy small town feel is quite an interesting contrast, given that Providence is one of New England's largest cities. 

Expansive academic green spaces are ubiquitous and the main shopping and dining district on Thayer St. seems significantly more laid back than say, the Boston University and Northeastern University urban neighborhoods in Boston, Mass., Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., or Clark University in Worcester, Mass. Although a few Brown University students can get obnoxious with their loud off street parties, red solo cups, and rolling pedestrian roadblocks on sidewalks, areas of College Hill are so quiet that you can hear that proverbial pin drop.  It's a nice mix offering the best of both worlds (isolated student misbehaviors, aside): a vibrant college aura and an almost isolated quiet neighborhood vibe with no signs of urban blight or density. Its stellar presence of preservation and overall appeal is so impressive that, in 2011, the American Planning Association designated College Hill as one of the Great Places in America.

Prospect St. homes, College Hill, Providence RI

Prospect St. home, College Hill in Providence

College Hill neighborhood, Providence RI

Those spectacular College Hill neighborhoods are indeed a local treasure -- perhaps one of the best we've seen in New England -- but Thayer St. does liven up the district quite well with shopping, food and drink. Popular destinations include the independently-owned Avon movie theater (around since the 1930s), Brown Bookstore, Antonio's Pizza, Kartarbar restaurant and bar, Blue State Coffee coffeehouse, and quality chains like Urban Outfitters, Johnny Rockets, Chipotle Mexican Grille, Ben and Jerry's, Starbucks and Tealuxe. Even with chain businesses, Thayer St. doesn't have much of a corporate feel at all as thriving local businesses dominate the business district. There's an excellent mix of ethnic restaurants, as well as shops that sell clothing (ranging from traditional to goth), used books, antiques, gifts, toys, sporting goods, and artwork and prints. Lou's Family Restaurant on nearby Brook St. is a favorite amongst college students and professors offering big portions of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lou's home style, comfort foods are so good that the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives once featured its BBQ chicken ravioli, meatloaf and grilled pumpkin muffins.

Thayer Street, College Hill, Providence RI

Lou's Family Restaurant, College Hill, Providence RI

On your way out of College Hill, you can see a return to urban civilization
but don't feel down about your reluctance to leave this appealing city oasis. As seen here at Prospect Terrace Park on Congdon St., and an area near Route 44, respectively, the views give another validation that a return trip to College Hill must always be kept on the New England "A" list travel agenda...

Prospect Terrace Park, College Hioll, Providence RI

College Hill Providence with skyline in view

Related articles and resources:
Visiting Providence
Olneyville NY System Wieners, Providence RI
Make reservations at hotels near College Hill in Providence
Exploring Pawtuxet Village RI


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