This fabled seaside city in Rhode Island is known for its yacht-studded marinas and magnificent Gilded Age mansions. When you make the choice to travel in the USA, Newport, R.I. has to be on the top of your list. While the Astors and Vanderbilts once roamed here, its clapboard houses, cobbled lanes and gas lanterns in the historic district speak to its rich Colonial heritage. Plus, fun activities like scenic boat rides around the harbor and shoreline walks coupled with plenty of great seafood restaurants make Newport an ideal getaway.
Things to do in Newport, R.I.
The city is home to presidential history, beyond Jackie and JFK’s wedding, noted below. It was also the so-called “summer White House” for President Dwight Eisenhower. And while the summer is an excellent time to stroll down Newport’s historic byways, the holiday season offers stunning views of those Gilded Age mansions lit up and decked out.
Tour the magnificent mansions, aka “summer cottages,” including the Breakers, a 70-room Renaissance fantasy with Baccarat chandeliers and mosaic ceilings built in 1895 by Cornelius Vanderbilt II. While the Breakers may be the most famous of the Newport mansions, Rough Point, a former Vanderbilt enclave, has a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean from the grounds. And the Elms offers grounds that may eclipse the rest of the city’s “summer cottages.”
Take an hour-long scenic boat ride around Newport Harbor aboard the Rum Runner II, a 1929 wood-hulled boat that actually was a “rum runner” during Prohibition (rum punches included). Touring the Harbor like a 1920s smuggler on a class yacht might work up some thirst for boat riders.
Stroll Newport’s historic district, which is known for its cobbled lanes, street lanterns, Colonial-era homes (many of which now house charming B&Bs), steepled churches and centuries-old graveyards. One of Newport’s most distinctive landmarks, Trinity Church, towers over this neighborhood. Founded in 1698, it is the oldest Episcopal parish in Rhode Island and the building dates back to 1725.
Immerse yourself in a little Gilded Age-style glamour by having lunch at Castle Hill Inn. Dine on lobster rolls and risotto while overlooking the water-facing patio as sailboats glide by. In the right season, you can get on the Lawn, Castle Hills’ peerless al fresco dining experience, and feast on oysters and local littlenecks.
Visit the International Tennis Hall of Fame, featuring Grand Slam trophies and outfits worn by players such as Serena Williams in the museum, then check out the outdoor grass courts on the 7-acre grounds. It offers an interactive tour through tennis history with a touch table tennis game serving trivia questions back and forth and a booth for visitors to record themselves calling famous tennis matches.
Spend the morning meandering along the Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile National Recreation Trail that hugs the shoreline. The water and mansion views are spectacular – have your camera ready! Much of the walk goes over various mansion properties and some of the cliff-side drops are near 70 feet, so be careful.
Visit historic Trinity Church with its distinctive box pews; St. Mary’s Church, where John F. Kennedy and Jackie Bouvier married in 1953; and Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue building still standing in the United States. JFK, like his predecessor Ike, made Newport the summer getaway for his presidential administration.
Head down to Bannister’s and Bowen’s wharves, which are lined with nautical-themed shops and seafood restaurants, including the AAA Two Diamond Rated Black Pearl (the clam chowder is a must). Items on offer at shops along Bannister’s Wharf range from coffee and European clothing to yachting parapehnalia and sunglasses. A perfect range of items should you decide to set off on a voyage on the Madeleine, a 72-foot schooner designed especially for the harbors and surrounding waters of Newport.
Step back in time with a dinner at the city’s oldest restaurant, the White Horse Tavern, a AAA Three Diamond Rated eatery that dates from 1673. The menu features items like New England oysters, beef Wellington and lobster mac and cheese. Just be sure to wear a collared shirt. Though jackets are not required, some old-thyme New England standards must be adhered to.
Newport has a pretty lively nightlife scene, especially along Thames Street, where you can catch live music on most weekends. The 1.5 mile strip is the nerve center of Newport life, with cute shops and even some bed and breakfasts for those that like to be in the middle of all the action. There are also jazz clubs, waterfront brewpubs and wine bars.
Do you know a great spot to add to our list of things to do in Newport, R.I.? Let us know in the comments!