Heading to Newport, Rhode Island? Then prepare for some good times ahead. The seaside city offers a little something for everyone, with miles of gorgeous beaches, a lively arts scene, a legendary line up of music festivals, and some of the glitziest, most glamorous mansions you’ll ever feast your eyes on. If you’re a first-time visitor wondering how best to fill your time, wonder no more. Here, in ascending order, are the 20 best things to do in Newport, RI.
20. Food Tour
Newport’s food scene is legendary, and for good reason. The number of venues for foodies is almost too long to list, with some of the chief standouts including Newport Fudgery on Thames Street (if you’re not sure where to find it, just look for the shop with the longest queue and join it), Kilwins (the toffee and peanut brittle make great gifts, while the banana fudge pie ice-cream is for you and you alone), White Horse Tavern (it may be the oldest bar in America, but there’s nothing out-of-date about the duck wrapped Scotch Eggs), and Annies, a quaint, cozy little eatery serving the finest Eggs Benedict with lobster in Rhode Island.
19. The International Tennis Hall of Fame
Paying homage to the great and the good of the tennis world, the International Tennis Hall of Fame makes a fine place to while away a few hours. Granted, it helps to have at least a passing interest in the game to get the most out of a visit, but if you do, you’re in for a treat. Along with the hall of fame, the complex is home to a huge collection of artifacts and memorabilia highlighting the history of tennis from its very beginnings to the here and now. There’s even several grass tennis courts, an indoor tennis facility, and a court tennis facility- bring your racket and once you’re done admiring the exhibits, take the opportunity to practice your swing.
Even in a city of magnificent buildings, Chateau-sur-Mer stands apart. Built in 1852, it was once considered one of the most luxurious residences in Newport- and with its opulent Victorian furniture, priceless ceramics, intricate wallpaper, and huge chandeliers, it’s not to see why. Now in the safe hands of the Preservation Society, the palatial mansion is open to visitors year-round.
17. Newport Storm Brewery
Who can resist the temptations of a good brewery? Established in the 1990s by a group of college students, Newport Storm Brewery has taken the world of craft beer by storm. Today, it offers more than 100 unique brews- many of which you’re invited to sample during a tour of this fun site. Featuring a visitor’s center, an observation deck, and daily guided tours, it’s a great place to learn a little more about the beer-making process (not to mention taste some authentic Thomas Tew Rum while you do).
16. Audrain Automobile Museum
Motorheads shouldn’t miss a pit-stop at Audrain Automobile Museum. With a full 200 rare vehicles to see (some dating all the way back to 1899), it offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of the automobile. The exhibits change regularly, ensuring a completely novel experience with each visit. Depending on the timing of your trip, you might even be lucky enough to catch one of the regular events and galas held at the premises…. although with regular exhibits like “Horseless to Horsepower”, Speed Machines: Super Cars and Super Bikes”, and “American Muscle”, there’s really no bad time to visit.
15. Seal Watching Cruise
Combine a leisurely boat trip with the opportunity to glimpse some of Newport’s cutest residents with a Seal Watching Cruise. Perfect for the whole family, trips last between 75-90 minutes, and provide the ideal opportunity to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature. Although comfortable, it can get cold, so make sure to dress appropriately and take advantage of one of the warming beverages on offer.
14. Newport Viking Trolley Tour
Offering a friendly family whistle-stop tour of all of Newport’s best attractions, the Newport Viking Trolley Tour is a must for anyone who wants to pack in as much as possible in a short space of time. Offering stunning views over some of the city’s top landmarks, including Bellevue Avenue mansions, Fort Adams, and Ocean Drive, it’s a fabulous way of taking in the rich history, culture, and architecture of the city without having to move a muscle in the process. The tour takes just 90 minutes in total and promises a memorable experience for all.
13. Castle Hill Lighthouse
Drive to the end of Ocean Drive (more on which, coming up) and you’ll find Castle Hill Lighthouse, a still-active lighthouse, that, while not open to the public, is worth the trip for the photo opportunity. Standing an impressive 34 feet tall, it’s one of Newport’s most iconic landmarks: visit at sunset for the best views.
12. Bowen's Wharf
If you really want to feel the history of Newport, a stroll along Bowen's Wharf should do the job. Once a bustling maritime wharf, the area is now Newport’s prime retail and recreational destination, full of restaurants, shops, bars, and businesses. Its also the spot to book a sunset cruise or an island-hopping boat trip, and there’s no shortage of people offering to paint your face, cook you a taco, or play you a tune. But underneath the revelry, the history of the city cuts deep, and as you wander along the granite quays, it’s impossible not to imagine the tiny little sail shops and lobster boats that once dotted the area.
11. Touro Synagogue
Touro Synagogue has the distinction of being the oldest, and probably one of the most beautiful, synagogues in the US. Regardless of religious orientation, no visitor can help but be impressed by the majestic colonial architecture (which features twelve Ionic columns, each made from a single tree, to represent the twelve tribes of Israel), or the superb collection of artifacts, including a letter penned by George Washington to the Hebrew Congregations of the city.
10. Thames Street
Newport has a lot more to its name than big houses and gorgeous views. For those in need of some serious retail therapy, a visit to Thames Street is a must. As Newport’s main commercial drag since the 18th century, the street is a glorious combination of the old and the new, and the perfect place to pick up a few souvenirs (not to mention eat some outstandingly good food at one of the multiple dining options). Just bear in mind the streets are cobbled, so be sure to wear your comfiest shoes.
9. Fort Adams State Park
If you’ve heard of the legendary Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals, there’s a good chance you’ve heard (and probably dreamt of visiting) Fort Adams State Park. If you haven’t, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. With its stunning views over Narragansett Bay, and plethora of recreational opportunities (including swimming, picnicking, and boating) you’ll struggle to find a better place to spend a lazy afternoon.
8. National Museum of American Illustration
If you want to brag about visiting the USA’s first-ever museum dedicated solely to illustration, head on over to The National Museum of American Illustration. This most American of American museums is a treasure trove of vintage posters, original paintings, and artifacts (including Rockwell's first box of paints and Parrish's actual paintbrushes), all documenting the rich history of American illustration through the ages.
7. Newport Mansions
If you’re going to Newport, it’s basically obligatory to check out at least a few of the lavish mansions that border its coastline. Build by the emerging nouveau riche during Newport’s Gilded Age, the mansions are over-the-top, materialistic, disgustingly decadent, and, more than anything else, completely beautiful. Rather than go it alone, take advantage of one of the self-guided audio tours included in the entry fee: the insight they offer into the personal lives of the people who once called the buildings home is worth the price of admission alone.
6. Rough Point
Even if you haven’t the time for a tour of all the mansions in Newport, do yourself a favor by checking out at least one… and if possible, make that one Rough Point. Once the home of art collector, heiress, and philanthropist, Doris Duke, Rough Point has the feel of a traditional English manor, but the décor of a European palace. Expect ancient Flemish tapestries, centuries-old Chinese porcelains, exquisite French furniture, and a stunning collection of art pieces from all four corners of the world. The guided tours last 75 minutes and come extremely recommended.
5. Naval War College Museum
Anyone with an interest in the maritime history of Newport won’t want to miss the extraordinary Naval War College Museum. Established in 1952, the museum charts the history of the Naval War College (which was once based where the museum stands today), as well as offering an insight into the science and art of naval warfare through the centuries.
4. Museum of Newport History
Want to take in a little history during your trip? Then don’t miss a trip to the excellent Museum of Newport History. Boasting over 10,000 pieces, the museum introduces visitors to the rich history of Newport via a range of engaging, interactive exhibits. Of those, chief highlights include James Franklin’s printing press, a fine collection of colonial silver, and touching little artifacts from some of the first settlers to make Newport their home. Don’t miss a pitstop at the cute little museum shop on your way out.
3. Newport Art Museum
Newport Art Museum has been welcoming visitors since 1912, and today, it’s still as popular as ever. Featuring over 2,600 pieces of art that span over two centuries of American history, it’s a must-visit for anyone with an eye for art and an afternoon to spare. Along with the permanent collection, there’s a rotating platform of temporary exhibits that showcase the best of contemporary art from both local and international artists. Entry costs $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, and is free to anyone 17 years or younger.
2. Ocean Drive
Just missing out on the top spot is Ocean Drive, a National Historic Landmark District and one of the best places in Newport to appreciate the area’s rich architectural past and stunning natural beauty. Along the route, you’ll pass by a bevy of local landmarks, including King Park with its iconic statue of General Rochambeau, Fort Adams State Park, Hammersmith Farm (the venue of President Kennedy’s wedding to Jackie), Gooseberry Beach, Rhode Island Sound, and Narragansett Bay. Best of all, however, are the numerous mansions scattered along the way, built at the turn of the 20th Century as the summer cottages of New York’s movers and shakers.
1. Cliff Walk
It’s free, it’s beautiful, it’s got the best views in Newport, and … did we mention it’s free? If you’re visiting Newport, it’d be frankly remiss of you not to take advantage of the city’s best (and yes, cheapest) attraction. Set over three and a half miles, the Cliff Walk takes you along the eastern shore of the city, offering breathtaking ocean views and fascinating little glimpses at the luxurious villas that mark the way. Easy enough for even couch potatoes to manage (although you might want to watch out for the 70-foot drop at certain points), the walk’s a perfect way to spend an afternoon, and, as I think we may have mentioned once or twice already, you won’t be charged a cent for the privilege.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn