Newport, Rhode Island is a hub for art, history, and music. The city began as a healthy seafront economy that sought to overcome the challenges of industrialization after the Revolutionary War by reinventing itself. Miraculously enough this idea worked, and Newport became a vacation destination for wealthy tycoons, businessmen, and heiresses that sought an escape from the summer heat. Newport has been amazingly well-preserved, and visitors can experience pieces of history everywhere they turn, from museums and mansions to relatively new additions like the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Many of Newport’s activities are seasonal and very similar to the way the wealthy tycoons lived when they would visit in the 19th and 20th centuries. Even in the winter off-season, though, there is plenty to do. Seafood restaurants are among the most popular dining spots, and a bustling downtown area is a home to niche shops and high-end stores. Seafront activities should be planned in accordance with the weather. Historic seafront towns and cities, including Newport, often have narrow and cramped roads, so drivers should be careful and keep an eye out for pedestrians on foot or small scooters.
The Newport mansions may be among the most recognizable landmarks of the city. Many were constructed during Newport’s Gilded Age in the late 19th century when moguls and wealthy aristocrats erected summer cottages to entertain dozens of guests. “Cottage” is a relative term, of course, since many of these lavish homes contain more than 100,000 square feet of marble, gold, and velvet grandeur. Self-guided tours are now provided by the Newport Historical Society during the spring, summer, and fall months. Some homes are also open during the winter season.
Rosecliff is one of these stately mansions, and its allure extends beyond being a piece of the past. It was the set of The Great Gatsby film adaptation in 2013, and has a similar history. Once used by a Nevadan heiress, it was later owned by philanthropist and businessman J Edgar Monroe, who threw lavish, Mardi Gras-themed soirees. High ceilings, chandeliers, and floor-to-ceiling windows are among the most beautiful aspects of this historic home.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame is located in the Newport Casino complex on Bellevue Avenue. It honors tennis stars and contributors to the sport, and its courts are open to the public. The grounds can be walked without charge and concerts and social events are occasionally held there. The guides at the indoor museum are knowledgable and can leave even uneducated guests feeling like experts on the sport.
The Newport Cliff Walk is a designated National Recreation Trail that’s popular with tourists and residents alike. It’s 3.5 miles long and primarily made up of easy, paved terrain. There are multiple entrance points and benches scattered along the first half of the trail so visitors can sit and enjoy the view over the ocean. The latter half of the trail is more treacherous and should be walked with caution.
Right at the start of the Cliff Walk is Easton Beach. It’s a popular spot for families and surfers and stretches ¾ of a mile long. It includes a boardwalk and a 1950s carousel along with seasonal amenities like showers and a propane gas grilling area. Two parking lots prevent parking from being an issue.
Other than maintaining the mansions and numerous other sites, the Newport Historical Society also operates a museum that can educate visitors on the history of the area. Items of daily living and artifacts are on display, and the museum is open daily. There is no cost of admission but a suggested donation is appreciated by the Society. It is open every day from 10 AM to 5 PM and provides guided tours.
Art students and enthusiasts alike will enjoy the diverse art on display at the Newport Art Museum. Since its founding in 1912, it has brought various forms of art to the city and its many visitors. Performances and films are a part of its galleries’ programs, as are public speakers and artist talks. Despite Newport’s historical and period history, much of the art at the museum is contemporary and speaks to a modern audience.
If the beach is a little too noisy for you, Fort Adams State Park might be an option that suits your interests. The reservation protects Fort Adams and the land surrounding it, which is often used for sports such as rugby and soccer, picnics, fishing, and boating. Summer festivals, such as the Jazz Festival and Folk Festival, are major attractions. Fort Adams itself also offers private and group guided tours. Visitors looking for a more personalized experience can windsurf or rent a private sailboat.
If you haven’t made your mind up yet when it comes to accommodations, the Chanler is certainly an option to consider. One of many mansions turned into inns or hotels, the Chanler is one of the most recognizable and accessible; it’s located right at the start of the Cliff Walk off of Memorial Drive, which runs parallel to Easton Beach. The property is maintained and remains mostly true to the styles of its era, although all the modern amenities of a 21st-century hotel are provided. It gives travelers a chance to live like a 19th-century aristocrat, even just for a few days.