Newport, Rhode Island, checks all the boxes for a great getaway. Beautiful rocky shores interrupted by sandy beaches, excellent shopping, world-class sailing, and an abundance of seafood restaurants will satisfy any visitor. But what impresses tourists the most is the town’s architecture. The 19th-century summer “cottages” and the colonial-era buildings downtown create an irresistible old-world charm. Many mansions – such as The Breakers, The Elms, Marble House, and Rosecliff – are open to the public. But if a down-to-earth adventure is more your style, take a Cliff Walk along the ocean, visit one of many fascinating state parks nearby, or simply soak up the sun on one of the sandy beaches. In this post, you will learn what to do and what to see in Newport, RI.
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ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VISITING NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND
With my third visit to Newport, Rhode Island, I finally got it right. This time, I devoted 5 days to fully explore the area. I learned that Newport is not just about history and mansions; it is actually an excellent destination for nature lovers.
As Rhode Island’s principal tourist center and resort community, Newport receives millions of tourists per year. They come to attend special events, sail, and view the city’s mansions and other attractions. The city’s popularity has stimulated significant private investment in retail shopping facilities, hotels, timeshare units, restaurants, clubs, and other tourist-oriented enterprises.
Where is Newport, RI
Newport is a seaside city on Aquidneck Island. It is located in Narragansett Bay approximately 33 miles (53 km) southeast of Providence, Rhode Island, 20 miles (32 km) south of Fall River, Massachusetts, 74 miles (119 km) south of Boston, and 180 miles (290 km) northeast of New York City.
History of Newport, Rhode Island
Since its founding by English settlers in 1639, Newport has bustled with diversity. The policy of liberty of conscience and religion resulted from its founders’ religious beliefs and their frustration over political intervention in their religious life in Boston.
Among the religious groups attracted to this haven in a world of threatening intolerance were Quakers and Jews. Along with their international trade connections, their presence helped transform the town from a small agricultural outpost to one of colonial America’s five leading seaports.
During the late 19th century’s Gilded Age, elite families from South Carolina, the King and Griswold families of New York, and later the Vanderbilts built the mansions for which Newport has become famous. Several of these mansions have become major tourist attractions. After World War II, one of the most successful historic preservation movements in the country saved hundreds of structures throughout Newport County.
Newport’s stereotype solely as a playground for the wealthy during and after the Gilded Age is in contrast with local reality. While Newport continues to be home to summer visitors of dazzling wealth, and while some of them have made Newport their year-round home, most of the city’s residents are middle and working-class. (Newport Historical Society: A Brief History of Newport).
Best time to visit Newport, RI
Newport is very popular during the summer, so you will have to deal with crowds and peak prices. If sunbathing is not your priority, I recommend visiting in the fall. My last visit, in the middle of October, was truly fantastic. The leaves were already turning into their final splendor, and unlike in the summer, parking was easy to find. The fall scenery enhanced the town’s old-world charm.
Christmas Time in Newport, RI
Newport comes alive during the Christmas season. Founded in 1971, Christmas in Newport began as a two-week festival that celebrated the holiday season’s noncommercial traditions. The annual program boasts multiple activities for nearly every day of December.
During these festivities, the cobblestone streets shine with the glow of white lights, and quaint shops invite with candlelit windows. The Gilded Age mansions display Christmas trees and thousands of poinsettias. Each year, some historic mansions transform into a sparkling display of Christmas magic and invite visitors to take a peek.
What to see in Newport, RI
You will find plenty of things to see and do in Newport, from visiting the mansion to relaxing on the beach. Take your time to soak it all in.
The Breakers – the Must-See Mansion in Newport
The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer “cottages” and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence at the turn of the century. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad.
The Commodore’s grandson, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, became Chairman and President of the New York Central Railroad system in 1885 and purchased a wooden house called The Breakers in Newport during that same year. In 1893, he commissioned architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a villa to replace the earlier wood-framed house, which was destroyed by fire the previous year.
Hunt directed an international team of craftsmen and artisans to create a 70 room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo inspired by the 16th-century palaces of Genoa and Turin. Allard and Sons of Paris assisted Hunt with furnishings and fixtures. Boston architect Ogden Codman decorated the family quarters.
The Elms was the summer residence of Mr.and Mrs. Edward Julius Berwind of Philadelphia and New York. Mr. Berwind made his fortune in the coal industry. In 1898, the Berwinds engaged Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer to design a house modeled after the mid-18th century French chateau d’Asnieres (c.1750) outside Paris.
Construction of The Elms was completed in 1901 at a cost reported at approximately $1.4 million. The interiors and furnishings were designed by Allard and Sons of Paris and were the setting for the Berwinds’ collection of Renaissance ceramics, 18th century French and Venetian paintings, and Oriental jades.
Cliff Walk in Newport, RI
This scenic 3.5-mile walkway winds on the edge of Newport’s shoreline, passing the backyards of many of the town’s most glamorous mansions. Many visitors start at Easton’s Beach or The Breakers mansion and head south to Bailey’s Beach. Along the way, they can catch a glimpse of other famous homes like the Marble House and Rough Point.
The trail is open year-round from sunrise to sunset, with parking at First Beach or the Narragansett Avenue entrance. You do not have to complete the whole path. I recommend combining it with visiting the Breakers.
For the most part, Cliff Walk is paved and easy, but farther south, it becomes rocky. In spots, just a couple of feet from the path are abrupt drops of over 70 feet. Keep in mind that the path is rather narrow, so social distancing may be challenging.
Newport Ocean Drive – 10 Miles of Historic Landmarks and Stunning Coastal Views
In the late 1800s, Newport became a summer retreat for wealthy people looking to escape hot summers. Today, you can take a glimpse of some of their houses by following Ocean Drive.
Newport’s Ten Mile Drive combines the history of a wealthy summer community with a fabulous Newport recreational treasure of public parks and miles of public access shoreline. It ranks as one of the most popular drives in the country.
Ten Mile Drive basically has four legs: Brenton Cove Shore, East Passage of Narragansett Bay, Ocean Drive, and Bellevue Ave. The best way to do the drive is to start at Thames St. You drive on the waterside of the road and drive around to end on Bellevue Ave.going north.
Brenton Point State Park
Occupying the former grounds of one of Newport’s grandest estates, Brenton Point State Park affords its visitors one of the most spectacular views on the East Coast. Located at the south end of the island, it faces out into Rhode Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. The park offers picnicking facilities, hiking paths, fishing, and kite flying. The sunset is spectacular at the park.
Fort Adams State Park
Overlooking Brenton Cove in Newport’s Fort Adams State Park, this historic military compound was once used to defend Newport’s harbor from potential enemies. Once it was gifted to the state of Rhode Island in 1965, the fortress reopened as a historic landmark.
Fort Adams is located about 4 miles southwest of downtown Newport. To explore the fort, visitors will need to purchase a ticket for a guided tour, which costs $12 for adults and $6 for children ages 6 to 17. A family ticket for two adults and up to four children is offered for $30.
The park offers a wide range of activities, including salt water bathing, fishing, boating, soccer, rugby, and picnicking. Fort Adams is perhaps best known for its annual summer concerts when the Jazz Festival and the Folk Festival draw thousands to enjoy the music and beautiful surroundings.
Bowens Wharf was the vital commercial port of thriving pre-revolutionary Newport. With its red brick walls, docks filled with boats, and the sights and sounds of Newport Harbor in the background, it is an excellent place for shopping, dining, and relaxing.
Unique gifts, handcrafted artistry, fine clothing, jewelry, and home furnishings are all centrally located on Newport’s historic waterfront at Bowen’s Wharf. You will love browsing among over 20 retail shops for the perfect gift or souvenir from your visit to Newport.
Nestled just steps from the waterfront, Thames Street has been Newport’s main commercial drag since the 18th century. You’ll find there a collection of local shops as well as more conventional stores like Express and the Banana Republic. It also offers a good dining scene, ranging from budget-friendly seafood spots to ritzier establishments.
This area claims a high concentration of colonial homes, dating back to the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Stop by to see Trinity Church. This religious site was completed in 1726, and its cemetery acts as the final resting place of some of the city’s earliest settlers.
Green Animals Topiary Gardens
Located in Portsmouth, just a short drive from Newport, Green Animals Topiary is the oldest and most northern topiary garden in the United States. The 7-acre estate overlooks the Narragansett Bay. It contains an extensive collection of topiaries, including eighty sculptured trees. Favorites include teddy bears, a camel, a giraffe, an ostrich, and an elephant.
There are also pineapples, a unicorn, a reindeer, a dog, and a horse with his rider. You can also stroll around 35 formal flowerbeds, geometric pathways, and rose arbors.
Newport is blessed with a beautiful coastline. It offers beaches for any taste – from high cliffs to stretches of soft sand sheltered by coves and inlets.
Easton’s Beach or First Beach
First Beach is closest to town and offers a snack bar and restrooms. Also known as Easton’s Beach, this 3/4-mile stretch of coastline is the prime spot for sand lovers. It marks the beginning of Cliff Walk, so parking there is challenging during the peak of the day.
Sailing in Newport, RI
Prestigious America’s Cup is frequently held in Newport, where the fastest sailing ships race for the trophy. The area is often referred to as the “sailing capital of the world.” Its waters are home to hundreds of vessels, and several sailing companies offer harbor tours and sunset cruises. Check out Sailing Excursions be Classic Harbor Line Company.
Beavertail State Park
Beavertail State Park is a public recreation area encompassing 153 acres at the southern end of Conanicut Island in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. The state park’s main attraction is the active Beavertail Lighthouse, the current tower of which dates from 1856. During World War II, the area was part of Fort Burnside, one of several coastal fortifications designed to protect Narragansett Bay.
The park’s scenic shoreline offers hiking, picnicking, and saltwater fishing. It is a beautiful park to explore.
Fort Wetherill State Park
Fort Wetherill State Park is a public recreation area occupying 61.5 acres at the southeastern tip of Conanicut Island in the town of Jamestown, Rhode Island. From 1901 through World War II, Fort Wetherill, along with Fort Adams, was a part of a string of coastal defenses designed to protect the bay’s entrance points.
The Fort Wetherill battery and training camp were acquired by the State of Rhode Island from the United States in 1972. The park is used for sightseeing, scuba diving, picnicking, boating, fishing, and hiking.
The Vanderbilt, Auberge Resorts Collection – in the heart of Newport, beautiful boutique hotel, large rooms, excellent location, and friendly staff
Hotel Viking – historic Newport hotel, great location, rooftop bar
Newport Marriott – historic downtown, waterfront, a terrace with a view
Newport Bay Club and Hotel – in the heart of Newport, secure parking, with kitchenette
Admiral Fitzroy Inn – perfect location, onsite parking, rooftop deck
Atlantic Beach Hotel – reasonably prices no thrill hotel, clean and spacious, walking distance to the beach and Cliff Walk
For better prices, check out towns around Newport. You will get more for your buck.
Best Restaurants in Newport, RI
Dining is a must-activity when visiting Newport, RI, especially if you are a seafood lover. Numerous restaurants offer New England clam chowder, lobster rolls, scallops, and more. The higher-end restaurants can be found along the historic harbor and Bellevue Ave, while bargains are scattered along Broadway.
Black Pearl Restaurant has a very good reputation. It is famous for its clam chowder. I loved the lobster salad sandwich, which is actually not very much of a salad, just huge chunks of delicious lobster on a croissant.
My favorite restaurant in the Newport area is Coast Guard House in Narragansett. It has a huge patio right on the water and a well-stocked bar. Add to it a delicious lobster roll, and for me it means satisfaction guaranteed!
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