I recently went back to visit the state of Rhode Island, where I was born and raised. It’s a small state, but in many ways packs a big punch. At the top of my agenda was a day trip to Newport, a historic and gorgeous city set on Aquidneck Island.
One can’t think of Newport without conjuring up the harbor filled with luxurious yachts. The city hosted the annual world-famous America’s Cup sailing regatta for many years. It’s also known for Bellevue Avenue, a charming tree-lined boulevard containing Gilded Age mansions which were once the summer homes of the Vanderbilt’s, the Rockefeller’s, and other elite American families.
How much can you see on a day trip to Newport? Naturally, that depends on your energy level and desired pace. I’ll admit, my agenda is more aggressive than most, but there are two remedies for that: (1) pick-and-choose from my menu below, or (2) spend a whole weekend.
1. Harbor Cruise or Trolley Tour
To get acclimated with Newport, I’d recommend one of the hour-long tours. The scenic cruise sets out on the Rum Runner II, a 1929 wooden boat used during the Prohibition. For landlubbers, hop aboard an old-fashioned trolley for a narrated drive to check out Ocean Drive, Bellevue Avenue mansions, Cliff Walk, and more.
A bit touristy but a lot of fun is the waterfront, nestled between Bannister’s Warf and Bowen’s Wharf. The small-but-charming area is packed with boutique shops selling nautical-themed souvenirs and restaurants offering both exquisite seafood and views of the marina.
While you’re on the waterfront, pop into one of the restaurants with a view, and order one of Rhode Island’s iconic foods – lobster, freshly caught at nearby docks. Whether you order it as a brimming lobster roll, topped on a salad, or the whole steamed crustacean waiting to be cracked open and dipped in hot butter, you can’t go wrong with this tasty treat.
4. The Breakers
It’s been cited as “conspicuous consumption.” The Breakers, an 1895 “summer” mansion designed to replicate an Italian Renaissance palace is a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II, one of America’s wealthiest industrialists.
Opulence and ostentatious displays of wealth abound. Exquisite antiques and windows swathed with fine textiles fill each of the 70 rooms. The self-guided audio tour takes you past towering marble columns, floors of inlaid mosaics and towering ceilings richly painted with gold leaf.
For me, the best part was standing in the loggia, gazing across the meticulously landscaped back yard and out to the vast ocean horizon.
The Breakers is the cream of the crop, but there are around a dozen of these preserved time capsule mansions in Newport if you’re so inclined to visit more than one in a day trip to Newport.
5. Cliff Walk
A must-do (and my favorite thing) in Newport is a stroll on the Cliff Walk. The winding 3.5-mile shoreline walking path offers views with waves of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and a lineup of Gilded Age mansions on the other. Brisk sea breezes keep the path cool even in the hot summer months. Part of the path is rocky, including an optional 40-step staircase that leads down the cliff to the crashing surf.
You don’t have to take in the entire 3.5-miles if you don’t want to; the walkway can be entered at several signed points along the way, including through the Breakers for tour ticket holders.
6. Easton’s Beach
Also known as First Beach, Easton’s Beach is located along Memorial Boulevard near the entrance to the Cliff Walk, so it can also be combined with that activity. Aside from a frolic in the ocean on a hot day, the big draw at Easton’s is the vintage carousel. There’s also a visitor’s center with a small aquarium and a snack bar that sells legendary double lobster rolls.
7. Fort Adams
Overlooking Brenton Cove, massive Fort Adams State Park is a military compound used in the 19th-century to defend Newport’s harbor. In 1965 the fort was gifted to the state of Rhode Island and reopened as a historic landmark. If you’re a history buff, you’ll love the tour of the fort’s halls and underground tunnels as well as views of the harbor and Narragansett Bay.
8. Whitehorse TavernClaiming to be America’s oldest saloon, the White Horse Tavern is your chance to take a step back in time. The AAA Three Diamond Rated eatery dates back to 1673. The sea-to-table menu features littleneck clams and oysters, grilled swordfish, and lobster mac and cheese. Be aware, the menu can be pricey (Beef Wellington $44) and proper dress (e.g. collared shirts) is required.
No visit to Little Rhody would be complete without a visit to Newport. The city is also an easy trip from some of the other New England States and New York City.
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Disclosure: The author and photographer were honored to be the guest of Discover Newport, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are their own.