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Often referred to as the ‘Sailing Capital of the World’ or the ‘City by the Sea’, Newport, Rhode Island holds a special place in my heart…and the heart of every other visitor for that matter!
As a seaside city located on Aquidneck Island, this New England gem is abundant with rich history, glorious cuisine, and endless opportunities to get lost in its unique culture. I’m fortunate enough to live less than an hour’s drive away and every visit leaves me wanting to come back for more – I just can’t get enough!
There is so much to see and do, it can be difficult to narrow it down to the highlights, but I’ll do my very best in sharing my favorites: 13 of the best things to do in Newport RI, the place that is as quintessential as New England can get!
Admire the Newport Bridge
The gateway to Newport! The Newport Bridge is one of the top Newport Rhode Island tourist attractions. Cliché I know, but the magic begins before you even set foot on Newport soil. When you’re visiting from the South and driving over the stunning Newport bridge, you really can’t stop yourself dramatically gazing out the car window like you’re destined for that role in your favorite music video (Dramatic Window Staring Disorder (DWSD) – it really is a thing, google it!).
The bridge is beautiful, both the structure and the superb views below of Narragansett Bay. When you see the bridge approaching in the horizon, you really do get that warm and excited feeling knowing the best is yet to come! If you can tie in your drive over the bridge during a New England sunset, you are in for a treat, the colors are magical!
Take a stroll on the Cliff Walk
Another of the very best things to do in Newport, Rhode Island is to take a stroll on the famous and gorgeous Cliff Walk.
Are you ready for one of the most charming walks you’ve ever been on? The Newport Cliff Walk has it all. At 3.5 miles long it’s crazy how much a relatively moderate coastal walk can captivate each and every one of your senses. From hearing the oceans waves colliding into the coastline and smelling the subtle scent of seashells on one side to seeing the magnitude of wealth and architectural wonder of the Gilded Age mansions on the other!
The taste of the salty sea spray from the Atlantic only encourages you to carry on walking more and how can I even get started on the touch of all those cute furry friends you’ll bump into with their owners along the way – my favorite New England Golden Retrievers!
Newport’s Cliff Walk is open from sunrise to sunset every single day of the year and is completely free for all to enjoy! The official starting point for this scenic stroll along Newport’s eastern shoreline is First Beach, Memorial Boulevard where you will find public parking available (for a fee).
An alternative, which I personally prefer, is on Narragansett Avenue by the Forty Steps entrance which is where I would normally begin my walk south. Whilst this entry point is paid parking on the street, there are also portable restrooms here which is always a bonus for me with the amount of coffee I drink!
There are a couple of other options along the way for entering and exiting the Cliff Walk – just pick the one that is right for you! I absolutely love starting at Forty Steps because the stony staircase leads to a spectacular view of the ocean – perfect photo opportunity or romantic spot for a proposal at sunset! Being able to wander directly in the shadow of these incredible mansions is truly wonderful, and helps transport your imagination back in time to the glitz and glamour this era oozed in.
The majority of the Cliff Walk is paved so it’s ideal for all ages and abilities and there are a number of benches along the way for you to sit and take in a breath of the fresh coastal air whilst you admire the views and tranquility around you. As you head further south on the walk, you will begin to notice it gradually becoming quite rugged and rocky near the last section of the walk from Ledge Road to Bellevue Avenue. This can make the last mile of the walk a bit more challenging, especially if it’s wet. Therefore, it’s super important to be aware of your surroundings and feel comfortable and safe as some of the cliff drops can reach 70ft!
TIP! Don’t make the same (now funny) mistake I made on my first trip there and think the route is 3.5 miles there and back! If you want to do the full route which includes the walk back again, remember the total mileage will be double! It’s definitely worth remembering if you’ve come to the Cliff Walk in your car and will need to walk back again. A great alternative though is to hop on one of the local buses to return back to your starting point!
Be impressed by the Newport Mansions
Now you’ve seen the exterior of these magnificent mansions, why not delve further within these Renaissance walls to really experience a taste for what life was like in the Gilded Age!? Be transported back in time to explore 250 years’ worth of history, elegance and wealth. There are ten estates among the Newport Mansions you can tour; I found The Breakers and The Elms the most spectacular.
You can currently purchase a ‘duo ticket’ online for entrance into two of the three options mentioned above for just $32! When I visited last summer, I chose from one of their six (yes six!) self-audio tours which allowed me to wander around at my own pace and listen to the unique tales of the people who both lived and worked in these mansions.
The artwork and attention to detail in these glorious mansions is admirable. The staff are extremely knowledgeable, they go above and beyond to answer any questions you may have and have done a sublime job in preserving these mansions in their immaculate condition. It’s not just about the interior though, don’t forget to head outside for some fresh air to explore the many acres of land and well-kept gardens associated with these incredible mansions!
I’ve not yet visited during the Christmas Holidays, but I’ve heard the mansions are transformed into a winter wonderland, each one decorated distinctively differently to suit the unique historic interior – sign me up!
Explore Downtown Harbor – Bowens Wharf
Certainly some of the most fun things to do in Newport RI involve shopping and dining! Dubbed the ‘Anchor of Newport’, a trip downtown isn’t complete without setting aside a few hours to explore Bowens Wharf.
Lined with endearing cafes, quaint boutique shops and an abundance of culinary options, you can’t go wrong! My favorite go-to cafe is Empire Tea & Coffee on Broadway who serve up the most delicious hot chocolate – perfect for a typical, crisp New England, winter’s day!
Also, if you can squeeze it in, I would recommend one of the ‘Sightsailing’ tours which takes you into Newport Harbour and Narragansett Bay. If you can bag a sunset cruise, you’re in for a winner!
Cruise Ocean Drive
Hop in your car and drive along the ten-mile Ocean Drive Road for an incredible scenic trip along the southern coastline of Newport. Take in the stunning views of the Atlantic from your car or bike whilst admiring the beauty of Castle Hill Hotel & Lighthouse, Brenton Point State Park, Gooseberry, Bailey and Belmont Beach and Fort Adams State Park along the way (also the location of the Newport Folk Festival).
Visit the Roof Deck at The Vanderbilt Hotel
Tired after a long day exploring Newport? Get yourself to the Roof Deck at the prestigious Vanderbilt Hotel (walk-ins welcome!). You honestly will not find a better place in Newport to sit back, relax and watch the colors of that New England sunset dissolve over the horizon behind the Newport Harbor.
I was taken here by my partner as a birthday treat in early October and it exceeded all my expectations. Our cocktails were delicious, the food was exquisite, the jazz tunes were heavenly, the views were breath-taking, and the atmosphere was unparalleled. I have a slight obsession with pretty outdoor string lights too so when I caught a glimpse of these hanging above, I knew this was going to be a memorable place for me!
Afterwards, we headed inside and had a bit of a nosy downstairs where we were greeted by an aesthetically pleasing interior of old school glamour entwined with a contemporary, fresh twist. This enchanting mansion was built in 1909 and boasts a number of suites and guestrooms, a snooker room, outdoor swimming pool and a fire pit in the garden where you can indulge in a tasty s’more (or seven!). Head over to their website to check for availability and rates. I can’t wait to revisit and treat myself to an overnight stay!
Check out Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina
Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina is not just “the most beautiful hotel in Rhode Island,” but it could also be considered one of the essential places to visit in Newport.
Whilst I have technically been here, I probably can’t claim it, so I guess that’s another excuse to go back! Last winter, I had a sudden urge to show off my dismal ice-skating skills, so a group of us headed here to try out the resort’s relatively new ice-skating rink. Long story short, we got there and the particular day we had chosen was considerably warm for a winter’s day and the ice was melting so skating was sadly off the cards! As much as I wanted to show off my expertly conducted pirouettes and axel jump, we hung up our ice-skating boots and ogled over the beautiful surroundings of this winter wonderland!
No wonder people choose to come here – the rink is located on the North lawn of the resort and as you glide seamlessly around, singing along to your favorite Christmas carols, you are treated to unobstructed views of the glorious Newport Bridge, the Harbour and Goat Island Lighthouse which is draped elegantly in festive Christmas lights and has its very own traditional Christmas reef!
No need to leave after ice skating though, next, head over to the resort’s pop up heated igloos on their lounge and fire pit deck for some Christmas cocktails and festive treats – you’ll thank me later!
Chill out at the Newport Folk Festival
Visiting Newport in the summertime? Here’s something that is one of the best things to do in Newport RI without a doubt: the Newport Folk Festival.
This is an annual event held every July in Newport that brings together all the folk lovin’ people! Even if you’re not a massive fan of folk music though, I’ve heard the atmosphere is incredible and is a festival not to be missed! Whilst it didn’t go to plan this year (COVID – ugh), if you head over to their website you can sign up for alerts so you will be the first person to know the details for ‘Newport Folk Festival 2021’ – get yourself there!
Dine at the White Horse Tavern
A friend of mine recently suggested a visit here after she had been and thoroughly enjoyed it. I mean who wouldn’t want to dine in the oldest operating restaurant in the USA!? This National Historic Landmark is also recognized as the 10th oldest restaurant in the world – quite an achievement!
The White Horse Tavern has had its welcoming doors open for over 350 years, serving both locals and visitors. They offer lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch options and after having a quick peek at the menu I already can’t wait to make a reservation (probably for all three!). PS: the tavern used to be owned by a pirate in 1702! Check out their website for the detailed history of the tavern owners through the years.
Pop by the International Tennis Hall of Fame
Before I moved to America, I was a keen tennis player in England growing up, but like many, I definitely don’t know enough about the history of the sport and how it’s shaped many players into the inspirational role models they are today. Fancy rubbing shoulders with some of the Tennis Hall of Famers? On a visit to Newport RI’s International Tennis Hall of Fame, you can explore an interactive museum which has thousands of artifacts, photographs and videos, helping you to piece together the history of the sport over the years.
You can test your knowledge of the sport, learn about the tennis legends of the world and are there any Roger Federer fans out there?! If so, one of the main attractions here is the holographic theatre which makes you feel like you are standing in the very same room as one of the greatest tennis players of all time! If you find yourself really in the tennis spirit, you can even make a reservation for the tennis courts to play a game yourself! Have a look on their website for more information and opening hours – I’ll be joining you too!
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Hello! I’m Hannah and I currently live in the smallest state in the US – Rhode Island! I moved here in June 2019 with work from the North West of England near the Lake District and I’ve absolutely loved exploring this beautiful country so far, especially New England! I hope you enjoy my articles and they help inspire you to #travelmoore! Please check out my travel blog, Travel Moore, and Instagram to follow my adventures!