Newport, Rhode Island: Weekender Guide

by Alex

Rhode Island’s coastal gem Newport is an absolute delight. Known the world over for its elegant mansions, Newport is perfectly picturesque and just waiting to be explored. We absolutely love it here and visit regularly, always discovering new things to love each time we’re in town. 

The downtown area is rather small, so you can walk around there with ease, but if you want to see the historic mansions and coastline of Ocean Drive, then you may want to consider driving or biking. Newport is a particularly wonderful place to explore by bike, with many options for rentals and docks if you brought your own.

Beyond its opulent mansions, Newport has beautiful nature and outdoors offerings, as well as a rich history. It is a surprisingly budget-friendly city, as you can walk around and admire the architecture, beaches, and coastline for free. Many of you know that Newport has a lot of hype around it– we’re here to tell you why it deserves every bit of it! 

Side note: we are also huge fans of Providence, another Rhode Island gem that is often overlooked in favor of Newport. Don’t miss our Providence weekender guide you can easily do both in a weekend (preferably a 3-day one, but you can squeeze both into 2 days!) 

Newport Top 5:

  1. Gaze in wonder at Newport’s famous Gilded Age mansions up close on the excellent 3.5 mile cliffside path known as the Cliff Walk.
  2. Bike or drive along jaw-dropping Ocean Drive for epic coastline views.
  3. Grab a bite at the oldest restaurant in the country, the White Horse Tavern
  4. Take in Newport’s downtown area along Thames Street, stopping in some quaint shops along the way. 
  5. Relax on one of Newport’s many beaches. We like Second Beach best, but they are all lovely places for fun in the sun. 

"Know Before You Go" Practical Information:

  • This may go without saying, but Newport is one of the most popular tourist destinations in New England. If you visit on a weekend in the summer, be prepared for there to be lots of people around. Keep in mind that the Cliff Walk is fairly narrow, and is best enjoyed when it’s not too crowded. 
  • Relatedly, finding parking in the tourist areas can be very challenging. We recommend arriving early in the day if you’re driving, as much of Newport’s parking is reserved for residents only.
    Be sure to double-check that you’re not parking in resident parking, as we can tell you from personal experience that the town is quite diligent about tickets!
    Tip: there are lots approximately every block along the Cliff Walk, that are often the best bet for finding a spot. You just key in your license plate into the meter and pay by the hour, and the fares are quite reasonable. 
  • Newport Jazz Fest is one the premier music festivals in the U.S., and always brings stellar performers. One of our favorite Newport memories was stumbling upon Mumford and Sons headlining the festival while ocean canoeing one evening. Side note: listening to Mumford and Sons live completely by accident (and without paying for it!) was truly a treat! Of course, Jazz Fest also brings huge crowds, so if you’re not coming into town for the festival, perhaps don’t plan to visit that weekend. 
  • If you only have the time or the budget to visit one mansion, we recommend The Breakers. Touring this magnificent property is worth the steep admission price, and its popularity is merited as well.

Newport Weekender Guide:

You can cover a lot of Newport in two days, but we recommend that you set aside some time to relax while you are here! Newport has gorgeous beaches and parks, as well as lots of places for a contemplative stroll.

Newport is one of the oldest cities in the U.S., founded in 1639. It has a thriving Historic District, as evidenced by quintessential neighborhood Easton’s Point (colloquially known as The Point.) Lovingly restored and maintained, the Historic District became a National Historic Landmark in 1968. However, this was not always the case– after the naval fleet left Newport in 1971, much of the area fell into disrepair. It was only through the diligent efforts of homeowners and philanthropists like Doris Duke that the area was restored to its former glory. 

Day 1:

Start your day with breakfast or brunch at one of Newport’s many delightful establishments. We love Belle’s Cafe in the shipyard for their delicious eggs and sandwiches, as well as really neat views of the surrounding shipyard. Enjoy your meal while checking out the massive boats all around, appropriate for the area’s rich naval tradition. We have also heard very good things about Franklin Spa and Scratch Kitchen, but have not tried them yet. 

Spend the morning strolling around the main downtown area to see some of the quaint shops and boutiques. It is fun to look for souvenirs here, or just to window shop as you soak in the ambiance of Newport. Don’t miss the Thames Street area, as well as the Redwood Library and Athanæum, the oldest library (that has been in continuous use) in the country. Touro Synagogue, built in 1763, is the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, and definitely worth a visit as well!

For lunch you should check out one of the restaurants near the main stretch– such as the Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant or the Red Parrot.  If you are looking for something a bit more laid back, try Pasta Beach Newport or Malt. Maybe strive for that balance between pleasantly satisfied and not-too-full, though, because next up is biking if you’re up for it!  

Once you have sufficiently explored the downtown area, check out Ocean Drive for the best views of… you guessed it, the ocean! It’s a little over 10 miles in total, but we recommend budgeting a decent chunk of time here in order to take in all of the spectacular views. 

We love to bike this route, as it is the perfect length for an afternoon ride and is largely flat, with beautiful views of the ocean on one side and the imposing backyards of the mansions on the other. This is definitely a popular excursion, and there are usually a lot of cyclists winding along the road and pulling over to snap pictures of the idyllic scenery. 

The end of Ocean Drive leads you right into Bellevue Avenue, home to some of the most iconic mansions in the USA. These mansions harken to a bygone era of glitz and glamour, and you can’t help but get taken in by their allure. There are major Great Gatsby vibes here, and indeed the version of the movie starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow was filmed at Rosecliff! 

Many of the mansions are open for tours, albeit with steep entrance fees, so this is your chance if you want to view the opulent interiors. Again, while each mansion is exquisite, if you only have time to tour one we recommend The Breakers, though Rosecliff and Marble House are two other excellent options. How much time you spend in the area depends on your interest level in the architecture, and you can explore several of the gardens and backyard areas, too. We took tons of photos of the mansions and stopped to peek at each one, so we spent longer in this area.

On the back side of the mansions is the Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile National Recreation Trail in a National Historic District– a rare combination! The Cliff Walk is absolutely delightful, and most of it is flat and paved, making it a lovely and relaxing activity. There is a 70-foot drop to the ocean on one side, and the backyards of the mansions on the other. Note that there are a few areas of rock scramble, so we recommend wearing good footwear if you want to keep going on this part. 

To finish a busy day, we recommend that you make a reservation for one of the area’s premier restaurants for a special meal. Two spots that we highly recommend are the restaurant at the Castle Hill Inn and the above-mentioned White Horse Tavern. The Castle Hill Inn Restaurant has the best view of the water anywhere in Newport, and their food is consistently top-notch. Watching the boats go by as the sun sets is one of the most wonderful experiences and really should not be missed. The White Horse Tavern is the oldest tavern in the United States, and is a great place to visit if you are interested in early American history.

Day 2:

Our favorite way to start the day in Newport is something our dear friends and Newport summer residents introduced us to– bagels on the beach. While there are many places to find bagels in Newport, the absolute best is Bagel Boys. Their everything and whole wheat bagel options are very tasty, and everything is so fresh. Perhaps most crucially, they do not skimp on the cream cheese! Once you have picked up your order, head to one of Newport’s many amazing beaches. Second Beach is our go-to, but Gooseberry Beach and Easton’s Beach are both excellent as well. We find that drinking coffee and devouring bagels on the beach in the early morning to be one of life’s great treasures.  

A few afternoon options include a visit to the Tennis Hall of Fame near downtown for tennis buffs, or spending the rest of your available time outdoors. As we’ve mentioned, Newport is a great destination for enjoying nature, and we have several recommendations for those who are interested in taking advantage of the offerings here. 

One option is to rent kayaks and go out on the ocean for some great fun. Navigating a kayak around Fort Adams State Park is super enjoyable and one of the most memorable things we’ve done in Newport. We also love to walk around Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. There is a big loop that you can walk here, and there are also great views of the ocean on your walk. There is a nice little visitor center at the wildlife refuge as well that you should check out to learn about the native wildlife here.

 

For sailing enthusiasts, Newport is one of the sailing capitals of the world. It hosted the America’s Cup for many years, and the Aquidneck Island area is a world-class sailing area with rentals available.

Last tip: if you’re seeking an indoor activity or have bad weather, Newport has a lovely art museum, too! 

Newport is such a charming and picturesque place, and one that you will not soon forget. 

With its beautiful nature, stunning mansions and top tier food, you are in for a treat when you visit!

Be sure to pin this guide for later, and don’t miss out on our other New England content– check it out on our landing page!

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