While it’s located a bit further north up the coast from the Long Island Sound, a trip to Newport, Rhode Island will make you think you just stepped into the setting of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The city was first raised to prominence as a rich port by a wave of Portuguese Jews who arrived during the 18th century and brought with them a wealth of experience in commerce and a general spirit of enterprise. By the 20th century, Newport became the summer getaway for some of the wealthiest families in the United States, including the Vanderbilts, the Wideners, and the Astors.
As the American elite began to pour onto the shores of Aquidneck Island and erect their summer homes in Newport, the city became a shining example of aristocratic opulence. The mansions that line the streets will make you wonder how one family could possibly inhabit a property so large and the elegant architecture have you questioning whether you’re in New England or the south of France. Of course, the cold ocean breeze and thick Rhode Island accents will once again remind you that you are, in fact, in the American northeast.
Newport, Rhode Island has a great deal to offer for visitors of all ages and interests. The center of town has a ton of bougie storefronts where you can dress yourself like an upper-class New Englander (if you’re willing to spend hundreds of dollars for a Lilly Pulitzer or Vineyard Vines). There are plenty of pubs and restaurants offering classic New England cuisine like clam chowder or lobster rolls. And embedded into all of this grandeur and culture is Newport’s long and complicated history as a major hub of slave trade and battleground during the Revolutionary War. If you’re planning to take a trip to Newport, here are some of the things you should have on your itinerary:
One of the most popular activities among tourists visiting Newport is to take a leisurely stroll along the Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile stretch of pathway that covers three sides of Newport’s coast. Most people access the Cliff Walk from Thames Street to the north or from Coggeshall Avenue in the south, and you can easily hop on and off the path as you like. Of course, you don’t have to walk the entire 3.5 miles, but you should at least make a pitstop for some stunning views of Narragansett Bay.
While you’re walking, you’ll be treated to incredible views of the rugged coastline on one side and up-close views of Newport’s Gilded Age mansions on the other. You can pass right through the campus of Salve Regina University and see the students enjoying the sounds of the ocean after they’ve finished up one of their classes in a mansion that’s been repurposed as a lecture hall. Most of the walk is extremely easy; however, there are some parts near the southern end of the cliff walk that require you to step carefully from rock to rock.
Fort Adams State Park
If you decide to do the entirety of the Cliff Walk, you’ll inevitably pass by Fort Adams State Park, located on a peninsula on the northern end of Newport. This is perhaps the best place in all of Newport to catch the sunset, as it offers gorgeous views of both Newport Harbor and the East Passage of Narragansett Bay. You can also stop by the actual fort that was named for President John Adams and established on July 4th, 1799, if you want to learn about the history of the United States Army.
There are so many things to do in Fort Adams State Park. The park offers activities such as saltwater bathing, fishing, boating, soccer, rugby, and picnicking. If you go during the summer (as most visitors do), you might just stumble into a lively music festival. And no matter what time of the year you decide to go, you’ll be treated to incredible views of the coastline and some relaxing footpaths filled with greenery.
You simply can’t visit Newport without experiencing the mind-blowing opulence of the Newport Mansions. As industry in the United States grew during the 20th century, the nation’s wealthiest people flocked to the “City by the Sea” and built some of the most absurdly massive beach mansions you can see anywhere in the world. Each of these mansions has been meticulously preserved, and together they serve as a time capsule of the culture and artistry of the Gilded Age.
Some of these mansions offer visitors the opportunity to walk around the interior while some can only be viewed from the outside. As you can imagine, though, entry fees into these grandiose castles aren’t exactly cheap. To start off your mansion tour, check out The Breakers on Ochre Point Avenue, the symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s empire. Next, head on over to The Elm on Bellevue Avenue, which was commissioned by Edward Julius Berwind, a huge mogul in the coal industry, in 1898. Some of the other more impressive mansions include Château-Sur-Mer, Rosecliff, Marble House, and Rough Point, all of which have their own unique character and architectural style.
Newport Art Museum
The Gilded Age architecture of the Newport Mansions isn’t the only example of artistic expression in the city, however. Newport Art Museum was founded in 1912 on the belief that art has the power to bring diverse groups of people together and strengthen the social fabric of a community. The museum is located on Bellevue Avenue and is itself an important piece of history as it represents one of the first examples of American Stick Style architecture. The building was originally designed by Richard Morris Hunt in 1864 and then was purchased by the museum in 1915.
The museum’s collection, which focuses on American art and contemporary art, includes over 3,000 pieces encompassing a wide range of mediums from paper prints, canvas paintings,; and textiles to sculpture, installation works, and newer forms of media. The collection ranges from the 18th century to the present day and includes works from internationally recognized artists from each of those time periods. The museum also hosts lots of fun events and activities which include live painting and sipping cocktails.
If you want to do some sunbathing during your stay in Newport, the best place to do so is Easton’s Beach, located on Easton Bay to the east of the city and known to locals as First Beach. This is the largest public beach in the city of Newport and you can access it from Memorial Boulevard. There’s plenty of paid parking right on the beach or you can park down the street for free and make the short walk to the beach.
Besides the beautiful sandy shore, there are plenty of other fun amenities around Easton’s Beach. If you’re visiting with kids, you can check out the Carousel and Beach Bounce, both located right by the Rotunda Ballroom. You can also go to the Save the Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium, an interactive marine science center with over 40 species of aquatic animals rescued from the Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island waters. The aquarium also features touch tanks with animals such as skates, seahorses, dogfish sharks, urchins, lobsters, and turtles.
Newport Craft Brewing & Distilling Company
After a long day of touring Newport, you should head over to Newport Craft Brewing & Distilling Company for a cold drink. The brewery began as a joint venture between four college friends that was started in a garage and has since turned into a 10,000-square foot manufacturing operation and a popular tourist attraction for drinkers visiting Newport.
You can go into the tasting room, sample one of their limited edition beers, and chat with one of their friendly bartenders. If you want to enjoy the open air, however, you can get a drink at the outdoor pavilion and play some lawn games.