Rhode Island might be the smallest state in the US, but it still manages to pack in a ton of attractions and must-visit destinations. If you’re looking for a cultural and culinary adventure that will transport you to a different place entirely, you might want to move Rhode Island’s Little Italy a few places up on your bucket list. This authentic Italian neighborhood in Providence is full of restaurants, shops, history, and Old World culture. Munch on a slice of late-night pizza from an award-winning pizza parlor, enjoy a candlelit dinner for two at an intimate Tuscan-style bistro, browse for ingredients at a specialty food store, or join in the fun at a local festival. The opportunities for fun, food, and shopping are endless. Here are some of the top reasons to visit Little Italy, Providence.
1. The Fascinating History
The history of Providence’s Little Italy dates back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As Rhodetour.org explains, India Point in Providence was a key port on the Fabre Line, the only transatlantic route to southern New England. As a result, almost eighty-four thousand immigrants passed through Providence on their way to a new life in the US. Eleven thousand of them decided they liked the look of Providence and didn’t go any further. The majority of the Italian immigrants within that group moved into Atwells Avenue and Spruce Street on Federal Hill, eventually spilling over into the rest of Federal Hill as their population grew. Today, the area is home to the descendants of those immigrants along with the many other Italian Americans who’ve joined them over the years.
2. The Pineapple that’s Not a Pineapple
As you pass under the main arch that leads from Atwells Avenue onto Federal Hill, you’ll notice a large sculpture hanging from the underpass. Most people think it’s a pineapple, but look carefully, and you’ll notice that it’s actually a pine cone. La Pigna, as it’s called, is a little nod to the Italian culture that’s dominated the region for over a century. A symbol of abundance and quality, it acts as a welcome and reminder to all who pass under it that they’re about to enter one of the state’s most treasured culinary and cultural districts.
3. Authentic Culture
Rhode Island’s Little Italy doesn’t just pay lip service to its heritage for the sake of tourists – this is an authentic Italian neighborhood where the traditions, culture, and language of Italy are part and parcel of daily life. As Onlyinyourstate.com says, as you walk around the neighborhood, you’ll see an Italian color combination for the painted lines on the streets, Italian flags dancing in the wind, and hear Italian being spoken almost as much as English. And that’s to say nothing of the dozens of Italian restaurants, bakeries, butchers, and boutiques selling all the same kind of treasures you’d come across in a Tuscan marketplace.
4. DePasquale Square
As goprovidence.com says, if Garibaldi Park and the Gateway Arch are the welcoming arms of Federal Hill, DePasquale Square is its beating heart. The wide plaza with its quatrefoil fountain has been the central meeting point of the area ever since the first Italian immigrants began pouring into Federal Hill at the turn of the 20th century. Today, it’s a riot of colorful buildings, milling tourists, busy locals, and slightly scary seagulls. If you want to linger over an espresso and a pastry and enjoy a few hours of people-watching, this is the place to do it.
5. Fun Festivals
The residents of Little Italy like to celebrate, and when they do, you’re going to want to join in. The biggest event on the calendar is the Feast of St. Joseph. St Joseph is the patron saint of Sicily, and is believed to have saved the island’s residents during a drought after they prayed to him for rain. On March 19th each year, Little Italy turns out to honor St. Jospeh with a procession along Atwells Avenue with a living rosary. The custom is for everyone to dress in red (although if you forget and turn up in green, no one’s going to get offended). During the celebrations, all the bakeries line their shelves with Zeppole, a very delicious kind of fried dough.
6. Shop Til You Drop
If your ideal day involves shopping, shopping, and yet more shopping, you’re going to love Little Italy. Check out Venda Ravioli, Roma’s, or Tony’s Colonial for Italian ingredients like imported olive oils and vinegars, quality meats and cheeses, antipasti, Italian candies and confections, pasta, and imported porcini mushrooms; stop by Gasbarro’s Wines for a bottle of Old World wine to accompany your meal, or pick up some baked goods at Scialo Bros. Bakery. If you’re hunting down some fine Italian fashion, make a beeline for Garbolino’s Boutique and Carrara Shoes.
7. Restaurant Hopping
As you’d expect of an authentic Italian neighborhood, good food, great restaurants, and world-class hospitality are all part and parcel of the Little Italy experience. Pizza, spaghetti, meatballs, tiramisu… whatever your favorite Italian dish, you can guarantee the one you try here will be one of the best you ever ate. Everyone has their favorite spot, but if you want to enjoy the best of the best, be sure to check out Timmy’s Legendary Grilled Pizza, a top-rated pizza parlor whose wood-fired pies are the stuff of legend; Joe Marzilli’s Old Canteen, a local institution that’s been keeping customers stuffed on family favorites like lasagna, chicken cacciatore, and manicotti since 1952; and Siena Restaurant, an award winning restaurant serving authentic Tuscan cuisine like involtini di melanzane, penne alla vodka, saltimbocca and a truly heavenly torta cioccolata. Other top spots not to miss include Andino’s, a wonderfully hospitable Italian restaurant that does an eggplant parmigiana to die for (the florentine ravioli and the five cheese ravioli are worth checking out too), and Massimo, a place that can make even something as simple as focaccia bread dipped in olive oil taste like the best thing on earth.
And if Rhode Island’s Little Italy doesn’t do it for you, make sure to visit the real thing and check out the 20 Best Restaurants All Tourists Love in Italy.