Penelope of Is This Seat Taken? is giving us an inside look into Newport, Rhode Island!
Newport, Rhode Island, has been my go-to destination since I lived in Providence in college. It was always the perfect beach day escape or weekend excursion with the girls.
The town instinctively feels special because of the setting: glamorous mansions and colonial homes, epic ocean views, and gorgeous boats. It sounds like it should be pretentious, but the Rhode Island locals are friendly and everything is accessible!
Here’s my local’s guide to Newport, Rhode Island!
The Best Time to Visit
Newport excels in the summer! It’s a coastal city with a proud sailing past and prominent Gilded Age history. The result is a town with an emphasis on oceanfront activities, outdoor entertainment, and seasonal attractions, ideal for a summer getaway.
That being said, September is the best time to visit as it’s still warm and the tourists have left. The off-season is definitely quiet but the town oozes charm around the holidays too!
Renting a car isn’t necessary! The town is only 11 square miles and Ubers/Lyfts are widely available.
RIPTA buses also travel throughout the town. The 67 RIPTA line is actually a trolley that stops at some of the main Newport sites. For $6, you can get an all-day pass and use it to hop-on and off.
During the warmer months, walking and biking is a fantastic option. There are plenty of bike rental shops in town and it’s a great way to see the mansions and attractions at your own pace.
Along the streets, there are signposts and markers explaining any notable landmarks and the history behind them.
The Chanler at Cliff Walk
Where to Stay
If we’re talking an all-out splurge, book a room at The Chanler at Cliff Walk. Each room has its own opulent theme, the dining is world-class and the view will have you feeling like a Vanderbilt in no time.
Forty 1 North is a waterfront boutique hotel right off Thames Street. This hotel has all the modern touches and tech upgrades but is also eco-friendly. If you don’t stay here, you can always visit the popular Pavilion Bar.
If you value your privacy, opt for one of the Castle Hill Inn beach cottages off of Ocean Drive. The cottage may look humble from the outside, but it is outfitted with a wet bar, espresso maker, flat-screen TV, and deck that opens out onto a private beach.
If that’s not enough to convince you, yoga classes, bonfire nights and a Hinckley yacht are available for private excursions.
Hotel Viking is a great choice for a middle-of-the-road budget. This is the historic district of Newport. It has cozy rooms and all the amenities: pool, spa, fitness center, roof deck lounge, and complimentary bikes.
For an inexpensive option in the heart of town, the Newport Harbor Hotel and Marina will do the trick! The rooms are basic but the hotel offers overnight parking, plus bikes, kayaks, and paddleboards for use.
What to Do + Local Highlights
The Cliff Walk
The Cliff Walk should be first on the priority list! It is a 3.5-mile path and behind the scenes look at the beautiful mansions, historic properties (64 private residences!), and Salve Regina University buildings.
Though the trail starts out on a dirt path, it transitions through tunnels, on boulders and rocks, and even has access to some beaches.
Experience the Gilded Age
Taking a tour is the best way to experience the magic of the Gilded Age mansions, or “summer cottages” as they were. The Breakers, Marble House and The Elms are the three most visited and for good reason!
For something different, Rough Point was Doris Duke’s home and has been left “as is,” frozen in time! On the other hand, Belcourt is in the process of being restored, so you can see the process behind the scenes.
The National Museum of American Illustration is my favorite lesser-known attraction. It’s a two-for-one deal because you get access to both a Gilded Age mansion and a museum that houses a unique collection of original paintings, all intended as images for magazines, newspapers, posters and advertisements.
There are guided tours included in the admission price every Friday at 3:00PM.
Shop at the Many Boutiques
There is a surprising amount of shopping options in Newport! Bellevue Ave, Thames Street, and Broadway Street are filled with boutiques and New-England inspired retail.
My favorite stores for picking up unique gifts or nautical souvenirs are along Bowen’s and Bannister’s Wharves.
Enjoy the Beaches
Newport residents are spoiled with soft, sandy white beaches.
The most popular are along Memorial Boulevard and aptly nicknamed First, Second, and Third Beach.
First Beach has more amenities and is within walking distance to the Cliff Walk and restaurants, including the hotspot Flo’s. Technically Second and Third Beach are in Middletown but most consider it Newport.
As an alternative, Gooseberry Beach is on the other side of town and less touristy. Going to this beach is also the perfect opportunity to explore scenic Ocean Drive. I recommend a bike ride route along Ocean Ave, through kite-flying Brenton Point State Park and out to Castle Hill.
On the return ride, take Harrison Ave to see the Newport Country Club golf course and peaceful farmlands, including Hammersmith Farm where Jackie O’s family resided.
Go on a Sailing Tour
As the “sailing capital of the world” according to Forbes, it would be a waste not to see the city via the water!
Take a Step Back in Time
Check out one of the oldest establishments in the country, and there are a lot in Newport! Redwood Library and Athenaeum is America’s oldest continuous lending library and has a good selection of art too.
Next is the International Tennis Hall of Fame, which was established in 1954. It is both a museum that preserves tennis history, as well as the current site for matches on indoor and outdoor courts. This location hosted the first U.S. National Lawn Tennis Championships, today known as the U.S. Open!
After exploring these places, you could end with the White Horse Tavern, America’s oldest tavern with two intimate bars and award-winning food.
Watch a Polo Match
Newport Polo is the home of America’s first polo club, established in 1876. Ten years later, Newport hosted the inaugural International Polo Match. The tradition has stayed alive and there is now a series match every Saturday at 5:00PM in the summer or 4:00PM in September.
At half time, guests are encouraged to stomp the divots! The field is located in Portsmouth, about a 20-minute drive north of Newport.
Go Wine Tasting
Newport does have a few vineyards! Greenvale Vineyards Winery is located along the beautiful Sakonnet River and offers tastings and a place to relax. Jazz concerts are on Saturdays starting at 1:00PM.
Where to Eat
Corner Café is a favorite among locals and offers a particularly hearty breakfast. With specialty coffees, an expansive menu, and big portions, this is a great way to start the day.
CRU Cafe is my go-to lunch spot! The restaurant/bakery serves sandwiches, salads, and soups with fresh and local ingredients. Order ahead of time and pack a beach picnic!
Newport Creamery is a diner-style Rhode Island institution that offers “feel good” food. Get the “Awful Awful” for a special ice cream treat.
Both offer seating under twinkly lights with fire pits and views of the Claiborne Pell Newport suspension bridge, Goat Island lighthouse, and of course, the resident goats to keep you company.
On a nice day, make a reservation for drinks and apps on Castle Hill’s Inn’s The Lawn with outdoor seating and Adirondack chairs to accentuate the waterfront view.
The Clarke Cooke House is the setting for a Mediterranean-influenced American Cuisine meal. The hidden SkyBar upstairs and romantic candlelit summer porch are perfect for a date night. But the Bistro Room dining area and bar are just as cozy.
Things You Have to Eat
The freshest local fish, clams, oysters, and lobsters come from Rhode Island’s 384-mile coastline. You can’t go wrong with any seafood in Newport, but these stand out: Midtown Oyster Bar, The Mooring, The Black Pearl, and Flo’s Clam Shack.
Del’s Lemonade is a brand of soft frozen lemonade. Originally created in Naples, Italy in 1840, the original owner took his formula to Rhode Island and the family has been serving it up ever since.
There is a brick-and-mortar location on Thames Street, but you’ll also come across food trucks and street carts around town. Quick tip: don’t drink with a straw!
Helpful Tips + Fun Facts
Aquidneck Island consists of three towns: Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth. If you’re trying to save money, stay in Middletown or Portsmouth!
Newport has more colonial homes in use than any other location in the US. The mansions should be prioritized, but don’t underestimate the cool historic homes around town. Most will have a plaque with the year built, the original owner, and sometimes the history.
Here’s some more info to help plan your trip: