I was recently lucky enough to spend a day in Newport, Rhode Island to explore the highlights of this charming harbor city. Exploring Newport led me down a couple of different paths, out into nature on the Cliff Walk, and then back indoors, exploring the architecture and design of one of the Gilded Age mansions. In between, I drove along the coast, and past many more of the opulent ‘cottages’ that Newport is famous for. With these opulent mansions and the rugged coastline just steps away from one another, Newport is more than just your average New England town.
I visited in April, so the spring blooms were bursting from the ground, but the weather hadn’t quite sorted itself out, and I had to dodge a few rain showers during the day. It just meant that I spent a little more time in the car than I’d planned, but even so, the not-quite-spring weather provided for some dramatic conditions along the coastline, so it was really a win-win situation.
Do you want to know what I would recommend doing on a day in Newport? If you don’t have time to read this post right now, pin it for later!
What to see during a day in Newport?
There’s quite a few options, so here are my suggestions…
I always like to get outside for a walk or hike, so my number one priority in Newport was to get out on the Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile trail that clings to the cliff edge alongside the fabulous Gilded Age mansions of Newport.
I didn’t have time to walk the entire trail, so I chose to park at the 40 Steps and walk south from there towards the most prestigious of the Mansions. The trail hugged the coastline to begin with, and then meandered away, across the lawns of the Salve Regina University grounds, complete with fields full of daffodils that were an instagrammers dream that day! Of course, I also stopped to take a few photos of the daffodils juxtaposed with the colonial era mansions in the background.
Further on, the trail again hugs the coast as it steals a tiny bit of space between the rugged coastal cliffs and the perfectly manicured mansion grounds.
Eventually, the sealed trail peters out, and the path continues on over a coastal rock scramble, where shoes with grip are a real benefit. Unless you’re not sure on your feet, you should definitely continue on here, as the trail meanders past several more of these significantly grand ‘summer cottages’ dotted along the coastline.
No matter what the weather, it’s a beautiful walk, and you’ll enjoy not only the mansions, but maybe some wild waves meeting the rocky coastline along the way.
This ten mile drive along the Newport coastline was stunning on an otherwise wet and wild day, so I can just imagine how amazing it must be on a sunny day. The road snakes along the coastline, swinging away behind sand dunes at times, hugging the rocky shore at others. There are many pullouts along the way to give the opportunity to stop and enjoy the scenery. I loved the pullouts right on the coast. Listening to the receding tide making music on the rocky seabed was amazing!
The beaches along this stretch of shoreline were all deserted when I passed by, but during summer, they are open for business. Unlike nearby Hazards Beach, Gooseberry Beach is a public beach, but does have a private club for members.
Toward the end of the drive (if you started from Bellevue Drive & the Mansions), you’ll come across Castle Hill Inn. It’s worth popping up there for the scenic views, or even for lunch on the lawn during summer – it’s supposed to be fantastic.
Fort Adams State Park
I really only had time to stop and enjoy the views from here, but Fort Adams looks fascinating, and I’d love to return and explore a little further. In its heyday, this was the largest and most sophisticated fort in the country. The panoramic views of Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay are not to be missed.
The Preservation Society of Newport County owns and operates a number of historic properties throughout the Newport area. Many of these opulent ‘summer cottages’ are open to the public, and if you’re visiting Newport, then you should visit at least one of them.
I chose to visit The Breakers, one of the most imposing architectural structures along the Cliff Walk. The Breakers was commissioned by the Vanderbilt family to replace the original wooden cottage called The Breakers that had burned to the ground in 1892. The 70 room Italian Renaissance- style palazzo mansion was completed in 1893. The Breakers remained in the Vanderbilt family’s ownership until 1972 when it was purchased by the Newport Preservation Society.
The self-guided tour of the mansion weaves its way through the rooms on the lower floor, before heading upstairs to the bedrooms. The gilded age opulence of the first floor stood in direct contrast to the luxurious practicality of the bedrooms on the second floor. Among it all, I loved the library, and could imagine it being the perfect quiet space to retreat to. I was also fascinated by the solid marble bathtubs that had to be filled 2 to 3 times before anyone could bathe in them just to have the water warm enough!!
I only had time to visit the one mansion during my stay in town, but I imagine that it would be nice to see at least one of the others if you had the time. I was rather partial to visiting Rosecliff to see the ballroom and heart shaped staircase. And also, just because it was used in the filming of the original Great Gatsby. I could just imagine Daisy Buchanan sashaying about the place!! You can buy combo tickets when you visit the mansions, so if you plan on seeing more than one make sure you do your research and get the best deal.
Back in town, I didn’t have great weather for exploring. I mainly did a drive by of the shops and a short and soggy wander around Bowens & Bannisters Wharves. I’m really hoping I get a chance to return to Newport, so I can explore a little more around town, and experience some of the cafes and restaurants that are dotted across the wharves and through the main streets of town.
I did have a chance to grab a quick snack from Coffee Grinder on Bannisters Wharf. This tiny nook on the end of the wharf had great coffee served by a barista who’d learned her craft in Australia! The selection of baked items didn’t look bad either. In summer, it would be the perfect spot to while away time on the outdoor Adirondack chairs overlooking the harbor.
What else is there to see on a day in Newport?
Some of the other attractions of the area that I think would be worth checking out include cruising on the Harbor, visiting the International Tennis Hall of Fame or the Audrain Automobile Museum, taking a foodie walking tour, visiting the National Museum of American Illustration, spending an afternoon at Brenton Point State Park along the Ocean Drive, or just spending a few hours wandering Thames Street and Bowens and Bannisters Wharf, browsing the shops, and indulging in a few of the tastes of New England.
As for the beaches, the locals I met told me that Easton’s Beach has the most going on, but is not necessarily their beach of choice – for a bit more peace and quiet, they head to Second or Third Beach!
New England Cuisine
It’s all about the New England staples of crab cakes, clam chowder, oysters and lobster rolls isn’t it? At least that’s what I hear.
I didn’t have time to experience the food in New England so can’t give any solid recommendations other than a coffee at Coffee Grinder as I mentioned earlier.
Beverages? Narragansett Lager springs to mind, but there has to be others. Despite that, I didn’t find a local craft brewery anywhere in the vicinity of Thames Street, and I didn’t have time to venture further, so you’ll just have to hold out for my recommendations from Southern Maine!.
When to go?
While it only has a year-round population of around 25,000, this resort town welcomes around 3.5 million tourists per year, so whenever you go, you can expect some crowds. Summer is the prime time to visit, but you’ll be swamped by tourists, and most likely the East Coast humidity. I’d recommend visiting in the shoulder seasons of March – May and September – November. The weather might be a bit chilly, but just layer up and get out to explore.
If you really want to enjoy time on or in the water, then make sure you check cruising schedules and beach club opening dates, as these will be dependent on the weather. The main indoor attractions are open year-round, so if you are keen to do some indoor exploration, then the shoulder seasons or winter might be just the time for you.
Hit the road!
Located at the tip of Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay, Newport is more than just a resort town for the well-heeled set. Within two hours’ drive of Boston, and four hours’ drive from New York, Newport would be the perfect weekend getaway at any time of year. Don’t hesitate; grab the keys and go! If you want to include Newport as part of a longer road trip, why not continue on up the coast to Boston, and Southern Maine.
Have you been to Newport, Rhode Island? Is there anything I missed and should definitely look out for next time? Let me know in the comments.
From Newport, I travelled on to Kennebunk in Maine to explore the New England coastline. Look out for my blog post on the Coastlines and Craft Beers I discovered there.