It may be the yachting capital of the world, but you don’t need nautical stripes – or a summer cottage – to enjoy the seaside retreat of Newport, Rhode Island. With its fresh briny air, expansive sea views and stunning bays, it's obvious why cityfolk continue to follow in the footsteps of the American industrialists here. Enjoy a taste of the good life in just a few days on a visit to this historic Southern New England town.
A trip to the Classic Coast is not complete without experiencing Newport’s boating culture. Options for getting out on the water abound. Take sailing lessons at Sail Newport (either sailing lessons or sailboat rentals). Book a sunset or day sail on an historic schooner with Classic Cruises of Newport. Experienced boaters can charter one of many America’s Cup sailing yachts. And for a completely different experience, you can even book your stay on a local houseboat. These aquatic adventures are not limited to summer months either. Many families love to bundle up for seal-watching boat tours in the cooler months with Save the Bay.
Tour the mansions
During America’s Gilded Age in the late 1800s, captains of industry and New York’s elite built summer cottages in Newport. Many of these mansions have been preserved and are open to tour inside today. Dripping in ornate chandeliers, lined with marble and furnished with imported antiques, these mansions are from another world.
Get a glimpse of a very different era of American history on a mansion tour. The former Vanderbilt 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, The Breakers, is one of the most popular mansions to tour. If you want to see the other side of this privileged lifestyle, book the Servant Life Tour at The Elms.
Anyone for tennis?
Every July, the Hall of Fame Open is played at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in the heart of Newport. Tennis fans will also appreciate the interactive museum also at the International Tennis Hall of Fame – especially the popular Roger Federer hologram. With nearly 2,000 objects on display, the museum explores the history of the game from inception to the current day. Even if you’re not visiting during the Open, you can book a court or join the club to play in the footsteps of some of this sport’s greats.
Dine on local seafood
Lobster rolls, oysters, fried clams, fresh fish – ask a local where to get their favorite and you may get a different answer from each person you question. A few names will frequently crop up. When looking to enjoy fresh seafood with a waterview, local favorites include Twin Lobster Rolls at Easton’s Beach, fried clams at Flo’s Clam Shack, oysters on the rooftop deck of Midtown Oyster Bar, New England clam chowder at the Black Pearl, and the catch of the day at Belle’s Cafe at Newport Shipyard.
Ride the rails
A fun and unique way to explore the island is by riding the rails with Rail Explorers. These pedal carts utilize the rails from the Old Colony Railroad, which was built in 1862. Meander along Narragansett Bay on two or four-person rail bikes, passing Mount Hope Bridge, Hog Island Lighthouse and coastal woodlands.
Explore Fort Adams
Historic Fort Adams guarded the entrance to Newport Harbor from the mid-1800s through the early 20th century. Today it sits on the grounds of a state park, which is free to enjoy. Visitors can utilize the small beach, walk along the coast on the two mile Fort Adams Bay Walk, or explore some of the historical sites. Those interested in military history should sign up for a guided tour. You’ll learn about the fort’s design and history. You’ll also have the opportunity to take in the view from the top of the fort walls and walk through the underground tunnels.
Hike to Hanging Rock Point
Norman Bird Sanctuary is known as a wildlife refuge and environmental education center, but locals like to visit for its seven miles of hiking trails. There are accessible trails like the Universal Trail, as well as pathways through fields of wildflowers, woodlands, and wetlands. If you take one of the more challenging trails to Hanging Rock, you will be rewarded with beautiful ocean views from a scenic point that also overlooks Gardiner Pond and the towers of St. George’s School. Watch your step while climbing over the rocky puddingstone trail.
Stroll Newport Cliff Walk
Wrapping along the Eastern Shore of Newport, the Newport Cliff Walk is popular with visitors and locals alike. This 3.5 mile public walkway hugs the rocky shoreline and passes the back lawns of some of Newport’s most stunning homes. Paid parking is available near Easton’s Beach (locally known as First Beach) and at Narragansett Avenue and Ochre Point Avenue near Forty Steps. For a short and easy walk with great views, focus on the section between Forty Steps and Ruggles Avenue.
Go wine tasting
The Newport area is home to three wineries: Newport Vineyards, Greenvale Vineyards and Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard. Book a table for a wine tasting or farm-to-table dining at Taproot or Brix at Newport Vineyards, or pack a picnic to enjoy with a bottle on the lawn of Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard. Not that into wine? There are plenty of local breweries, cideries or distilleries to visit instead.
Explore a car museum
Most towns boast of an art museum or history museum, and Newport certainly has those, but it also has a couple of unique museum experiences that automobile aficionados will enjoy. The Audrain Auto Museum is preserving Newport’s history through automobiles. With access to over 300 vehicles from 1899 to modern day, this museum showcases a small collection of cars at a time to match the current exhibit theme. Meanwhile the Newport Car Museum in nearby Portsmouth is a private collection of 85 automobiles ranging from the 1950s to the present. Exhibits range from Ford & Shelby cars, Corvettes, fin and muscle cars and Mopars.
Go bird watching
Tourists aren’t the only visitors to flock to the Newport area. The 242-acre Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge is home to the second-largest wintering population of harlequin ducks on the Atlantic coast. See them between November and March each year. Stroll through the three miles of walking trails along rocky shoreline and along salt marshlands. In addition to the ducks, you may spy loons, eiders, gannets, peregrine falcon, or snowy owls. There are more than 200 bird species that visit here seasonally.
Take a scenic drive
Ocean Drive from Castle Hill Inn to Bellevue Avenue is one of the prettiest scenic drives in Rhode Island and many visitors choose to make the drive in a fun three-wheeled, two-passenger scooter. Brenton Point State Park is a perfect stop to fly a kite or clamber over the rocks and poke around tidepools. Bring some beach chairs and a picnic and settle in to watch a beautiful sunset.
Stomp divots at a Newport Polo Match
America’s first polo club in Newport hosts the Newport International Polo Series from June through September each year. Dress in your preppiest summer apparel and book a table in the pavilion to enjoy an exciting polo match. And yes, fans do get to go out on the field to ‘stomp the divots’ back into place before the second half of the match.
Tea at Blithewold
The gardens and 45-room mansion at Blithewold in nearby Bristol is an authentic example of the Country Place Era. With beautiful views of Narragansett Bay, a stroll through the spring and summer gardens is a lovely way to spend an afternoon in Newport. Although the best way to experience Blithewold is at one of the estate’s special events. Pack a picnic and spread out on the lawn to enjoy the Music at Sunset summer concert series, or reserve a table for Tea & Scones with views of the Bay from one of the mansion porches.
Picnic at Beavertail State Park
One of the prettiest places in all of Rhode Island is located just across Narragansett Bay at the southern tip of Conanicut Island in Jamestown. Beavertail State Park covers 153 acres with a beautiful rocky coastline and open picnic grounds. The main attraction is the working Beavertail Lighthouse and the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum. Pack a picnic and plop yourself on the rocks to enjoy those classic New England coastline views. Beavertail is also a perfect spot to fly a kite, go tidepooling, or try your hand at saltwater fishing.