Newport, Rhode Island comes to many people’s minds when they imagine the glamorous New England lifestyle. With sweeping Atlantic Ocean views and acres of Gilded Age mansions, it is not hard to see why thousands of people flock to this coastal town for their summer holidays.
The love for Newport is well-earned. This town is charming, welcoming, and a place many call home.
It is a natural fit that Newport is home to some of the United State’s finest museums, historical centers, dining establishments, cultural experiences, and natural beauty. Let us be your travel guide! Here are 13 things to do in Newport RI that will make you fall in love with this town, too.
Not only is the first thing on our list of things to do in Newport one of the best — it’s also free! Enjoy ten miles of breathtaking Atlantic coastline on the historic Ocean Drive.
Newport’s iconic 10-mile drive, known as “The Drive” by locals, takes you past Jackie Kennedy’s childhood home at Hammersmith Farm, Gilded Age mansions, Brenton Point State Park, Fort Adams State Park, Gooseberry Beach, and a plethora of dreamy summer cottages.
You can begin your tranquil drive at either Thames Street and Wellington Avenue in downtown Newport, or Ocean Avenue and Coggeshall Avenue, at the end of Bellevue Avenue. After making this trip you will easily see why Ocean Drive remains one of the great American coastal drives.
No trip to Rhode Island is complete without a self-guided tour of Newport’s mansions. Two hundred fifty years of American history live within the walls of nine spectacular Gilded Age mansions. Visitors may choose from six audio tours to take them across the 88-acres of exquisite estates and properties.
The Marble House is easily a guest favorite. The home belonged to William Vanderbilt, who was the grandson of the famous railroad tycoon Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. The Vanderbilt home was completed in 1892, and its temple-front entrance is reminiscent of the White House. The home only appears to be two floors from the outside, but actually contains four levels.
If you have visited France’s elegant Versaille Palace, the Marble House’s dining room will look familiar. The architect had many identical sculptures from the Palace of Versaille represented in the dining room. Many of the bedrooms in the home are also designed after Marie Antoniettes personal suit – a common occurrence in Newport architecture.
Another beloved stop on the mansion tour is the 13-room Rough Point mansion. Rough Point was the home of tobacco heiress Doris Duke. Today, Rough Point is a museum that depicts Duke’s life and legacy and life in Newport, Rhode Island. Upon her passing, Duke requested that her home open its doors for public enjoyment as a museum. As you pass through the different rooms of the estate, you will see very little has changed from how Ms. Duke last left her New England home.
In addition to being a museum of Duke’s life, many of the art pieces she collected throughout her life remain there today. As a result, Rough Point houses an exceptional collection of 18th-century art British portraiture, 16th-century Flemish tapestries, Chinese ceramics, and mid-to-late 20th-century fashion.
Lastly, the estate houses a rotating array of exhibitions generally focused on the life of Doris Duke.
The Cliff Walk is a public access trail that winds around the eastern shore of Newport, Rhode Island. In 1975, the Cliff Walk was recognized as the United States 65th National Recreational Trail.
Most of the 3.5-mile trail is accessible, but about one-third of it takes hikers over the rugged and rocky Atlantic shoreline. If you choose to engage with the rougher part of the trail, be aware that there are 70-foot drops and areas where rock scrambling is required.
This trail easily remains one of Newport’s premier attractions and welcomes 250,000 visitors per year.
Bowen’s Wharf is a waterfront neighborhood within Newport’s Historic Hill. The district has more colonial-era homes and buildings than anywhere else in the United States.
It has been a vital part of the city’s business district since the 17th century but became exceptionally important in the 18th century to New England becoming a thriving seaport. After the Revolutionary War, Bowen’s Wharf was a significant trade player, conducting business with countries all over the globe.
Today, Bowen’s Wharf is a vital element of Newport’s social scene. The neighborhood is filled with world-class dining, shopping, nightlife, and festivals. The “Pilot House” is a great place to pick up your Newport souvenirs.
BRENTON POINT STATE PARK
Brenton Point State Park spans 89 acres of what was formerly one of Newport’s most lavish private estates. The on-site mansion was constructed from 1876 to 1883 by a local businessman and lawyer named Theodore M. Davis, who called it “The Reefs Estate.”
After his death, the estate switched owners a few times. Finally, during World War II, the United States government took possession of the estate to use as a coastal defense battery.
Today, it welcomes guests for picnics, hiking, fishing, bird watching, or enjoying the magnificent ocean views. In addition, the Portuguese Discovery Monument is on-site, which pays tribute to the maritime navigators who assisted in the discovery of the area’s trade routes.
The original monument was constructed in 1988 and replaced in 2014. The updated monument uses columns to represent the 16 points of a compass.
FORT ADAMS STATE PARK
Fort Adams State Park was created to aid the preservation of Fort Adams and the surrounding areas of abundant historical importance. Today, the park’s 200 acres are used for festivals, hiking, picnicking, and other recreational activities.
Fort Adams State Park offers a great bay-view trail. From the west side of the bay, visitors can walk along the East Passage of Narragansett Bay. Along the western trail, you will see “The House on the Rock,” Castle Hill Lighthouse, Beavertail Lighthouse, and Rose Island Lighthouse.
The east side of the bay takes guests to an overlook of Narragansett Bay and Brenton Cove. Along the way, you will encounter the New York Yacht Club, Ida Lewis Yacht Club, the iconic Newport Waterfront, and Goat Island.
Goat Island was the former home to one of the largest torpedo factories in the United States. Today, a Hyatt Hotel has taken its place.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ILLUSTRATION
The National Museum of American Illustration is the first national museum to be dedicated exclusively to American illustrations. The museum is housed inside a stunning 18th-century adaptation of a French château, called Vernon Court. Built in 1898, and compared to the White House and the Biltmore, the estate is just as much of a museum as the artifacts it houses.
The home was designed by prominent architects John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings. Carrère and Hastings are known most for their New York Public Library design, U.S. Senate and House buildings in Washington, D.C., and additional work on national monuments.
The period’s most notable interior designer, Jules Allard et ses Fils, is responsible for Vernon Court’s inside. The home’s interior design was modeled after Marie Antionette’s private suits in Versaille. In fact, many of the estates in the Newport area, like the previously mentioned Marble House, were inspired by Versailles’ lavish architecture.
The collections and exhibits inside Vernon Court feature over 2,000 pieces from what is referred to as the “Golden Age of American Illustration,” spanning from 1865 to 1945. The American Imagist Collection spent over forty years assembling the masterpieces of illustration. Today it is the globe’s most extensive collection of its kind.
It houses the largest collection of works by Maxfield Parrish and J.C. Leyendecker and the second-largest Norman Rockwell collection. Additional artists’ work includes pieces by Howard Pyle (“Father of American Illustration”), NC Wyeth, Charles Dana Gibson, James Montgomery Flagg, Jessie Willcox Smith, Howard Chandler Christy, Violet Oakley, John Falter, John Clymer, and more than 150 other artists.
The museum rotates the display of about 125-150 pieces at any given time. So be sure to visit more than once to see as much of the display as possible!
INTERNATIONAL TENNIS HALL OF FAME
The International Tennis Hall of Fame was created to honor great tennis players and those who have contributed to the success of the beloved sport. The Hall of Fame is located within the former Newport Casino and today houses a museum, grass tennis court, and indoor tennis facilities.
The National Tennis Club’s on-site court is the oldest tennis court in the United States. Although it has been refurbished from a few fires throughout history, the tennis court’s original floor remains from 1880.
Additionally, the 13,0000 square-foot space offers an impressive collection of tennis artifacts and memorabilia.
Known by locals as the “First Beach,” Easton Beach is Newport’s most extensive beachfront.
Easton offers a quarter-mile of beachfront and a 1950s carousel. Easton Beach also serves as the beginning of Newport’s Cliff Walk. As stated above, the Cliff Walk is a famous 3.5-mile path that takes visitors along Newport’s iconic cliff views.
NEWPORT ART MUSEUM
The Newport Art Museum was founded in 1912 along 3 acres on historic Bellevue Avenue. There are two art galleries housed within the two historically significant buildings: the John N.A. Griswold House and the Cushing Memorial Gallery.
Today, the Art Museum welcomes over 18,000 visitors per year to explore their permanent exhibits, rotating collections, and engage with art classes. The Newport Art Museum’s permanent collection includes over 3,000 pieces from the 18th century to the present day.
NEWPORT HARBOR TOUR
Newport Harbor Tours are both a great way to see heart-stopping views of the city and get a fascinating history lesson.
Newport Harbor has played a vital role in North American history for hundreds of years. It has served as a whaling port, a crucial stop on a Chinese trade route, and a critical port during Colonial times.
There are many different ways to tour the harbor. You can roll up your sleeves on a lobster boat or enjoy views from a sleek yacht, sailboat, Prohibition-era smuggler ship, and more.
The city of Newport has the most pre-revolutionary structures in all of the United States. It is therefore, no surprise that the Touro Synagogue was built in 1763 and is the oldest synagogue in the United States. The Synagogue’s congregation was established as early as 1658.
Today, Touro Synagogue is a National Historic Site and still hosts services and welcomes over 30,000 visitors per year.
MUSEUM OF NEWPORT HISTORY
Located within the 1762 Old Brick Market on historic Thames Street, the Museum of Newport History finds its home. The museum focuses on the rich architectural history of Newport’s structures, as well as the lives of Newport’s residents, past and present, who have aided Newport’s significance in American history.
Museum highlights include James Franklin’s printing press, artifacts from the yacht Aloha, and other objects depicting everyday life in colonial Newport.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO RHODE ISLAND
WHERE TO STAY IN NEWPORT RI
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