Beyond College Hill (RISD's home on the East Side), there are a number of interesting neighborhoods in Providence well worth a visit. Once you get settled on campus be sure to make some time to explore—you'll gain a better sense of and appreciation for your new home.
Across the Providence River from the main part of campus, downtown (aka “Downcity”) Providence is home to the Fleet Library and the CIT/Fletcher Building. Beyond being walkable and bikeable, two transportation hubs are in the area: the Kennedy Plaza bus station and the Providence rail station. There are also many restaurants, hotels, bars and venues, including Ken's Ramen, Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel, The Dean and New Harvest Coffee & Spirits. During the warmer months, Movies on the Block draws crowds, as does Waterfire, and in the winter you can catch hockey and basketball games at “the Dunk” next to the Providence Place Mall. Johnson & Wales, Roger Williams, Brown University and the University of Rhode Island all have locations downtown as well.
South of downtown is the Jewelry District, where there are a number of restaurants (Red Fez, Olga's Cup + Saucer, Alforno) and the Providence Children's Museum. To the north, in Smith Hill, you'll find the Rhode Island State House (and nearby Los Andes, a popular Peruvian restaurant).
The East Side of town (not to be confused with East Providence, which is across the Seekonk River) is made up of a number of small neighborhoods. College Hill is home to both RISD and Brown University, and its main commercial strip, Thayer Street, has a range of dining and shopping options (East Side Pockets, Avon Cinema, Durks BBQ among them). To the south of College Hill is the Fox Point neighborhood, with Wickenden Street and India Point Park at its base. You'll find great restaurants and shops on Wickenden too, including Fellini's Pizzeria, The Shop and Adler's Design Center & Hardware. India Point Park hosts festivals and concerts and is the entrance to the well-loved East Bay Bike Path which runs 14.5 miles along the Narragansett Bay to Bristol, RI. The Wayland neighborhood lies to the east of College Hill around Wayland Square, where you'll also find a variety of shops and restaurants (Eastside Marketplace, Red Stripe, Books on the Square). The Blackstone neighborhood lies a bit further to the east and its Lippitt Park is home to the Hope Street Farmers Market during the warmer months. Mount Hope is located in the northeast quadrant of Providence, north of College Hill. Hope Street runs through it and is another great area for food and shopping (Ivy Tavern, Not Just Snacks, Three Sisters, Ran Zan). In general, the East Side is fairly walkable and bikeable and it's also serviced by the RIPTA bus system (students ride for free with a RISD ID).
Interstate 95 runs to the west of downtown Providence and the West Side (or West End) lies just beyond it. This area is defined by two neighborhoods: the Broadway/Armory district and Federal Hill. A well known Italian-American community, Federal Hill's many restaurants, bars and markets (including Pastiche, Enoteca Umberto and Lili Marlene's) line its main street, Atwells Avenue.
Broadway, a commercial street south of Federal Hill, has a number of vegetarian-friendly restaurants including The Grange and Nick's on Broadway. It is also home to the Columbus Theatre and record shops Armageddon and Analog Underground. Further to the south of Broadway is the Armory district, where you'll find north, Loie Fuller's, Hudson Street Deli and other restaurants. The Dexter Parade Grounds adjacent to the Armory hosts a farmers market every Thursday in the warmer months and nearby Fertile Underground is a local grocery co-op. If you travel east on Westminster Street back toward I-95, you'll find local favorites like White Electric Coffee and Ada Books.
To the west of the Armory district is Olneyville, a neighborhood known for its mill buildings and impact on art and music as the home base of the Fort Thunder arts collective in the '90s. You'll find some great restaurants including El Rancho Grande, Justine's and Olneyville New York System (a go-to for the city's famous hot wieners). There's a lot for artists and designers to get involved in in this part of town too—be sure to check out The Steel Yard, The Wurks and others. If you're an intrepid cyclist, Olneyville is a bike ride away from campus and RIPTA busses also serve the neighborhood.
Just to the north of Providence, Pawtucket was a major textile industry hub in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries. Today, many of its mill buildings have been converted to studio space or living accommodations. There are good restaurants (Pho Horn's, Chengdu Taste, Garden Grille), the McCoy Stadium (home of the Triple-A baseball team, the Paw Sox), interesting shops like Lorraine Fabrics and venues like Machines with Magnets.