I haven’t spent much time in New England, but after my family’s summer vacation to Newport, Rhode Island last month, I’m now on a mission to visit more often. (In the summer—we all know I hate the cold!) I seriously wish I could bottle up Newport and share it with you today because has become one of my favorite places—I definitely want to get back as soon as possible.
My family had visited Newport once prior to this trip—back in 2005 when we were on a road trip around New England. We spent a day in town and fell in love with the Cliff Walk, The Breakers, and Rosecliff, and have talked about getting back to town ever since. Last summer we went to Savannah, and when we discussed where we wanted to go this year, Newport was a pretty unanimous choice. We flew in on a Wednesday morning and came home on Saturday night, which was the perfect amount of time to explore everything we wanted to. Summer is—and always has been—the peak season in town, so if you’re planning to visit between Memorial Day and Labor Day, definitely plan ahead if you want to have your choice of hotels and restaurant reservations!
I wanted to share a recap of our trip in case you’re planning a trip there now or in the future—don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about anything we did.
HOW TO GET THERE /
Getting to Newport from the DC area could not have been easier. Southwest has great deals out of DCA to Providence (PVD)—our roundtrip fare was about $125. The flying time is about an hour. It’s about a 35-45 minute drive from the airport to Newport, and there is one $4 toll bridge en route. We rented a car at the airport and drove, but it would also be an easy Uber ride, especially if you’re splitting it with multiple people.
GETTING AROUND NEWPORT /
Newport, especially the waterfront historic district, is very walkable, so we didn’t drive very many places. We mostly hopped in the rental car whenever we went away from the waterfront area. For instance, the mansions are a bit farther away—probably a 30-45 minute walk depending on which house you’re heading to—but they all offer free parking, so we drove to three of the four we visited. (The Breakers was relatively close to our bed + breakfast, so we walked there.) We also drove to both Castle Hill Inn and Flo’s Clam Shack—more on both below!—because they are quite a hike from the downtown historic area and both offered free parking. That being said, if you want to forgo the rental car and Uber around town, I definitely think it would be quick, easy, and affordable!
WHERE TO STAY /
We stayed at a Bed & Breakfast while in town, and while it offered some great perks—free parking, complimentary homemade breakfast, a beautiful garden patio, and a quick walk to downtown—the rooms definitely needed some TLC, so I’m not sure we’d stay there again. However, the number one rule in real estate is location, and we definitely lucked out in that regard since we were a block off Thames Street. Thames Street is where all the action is in downtown—there are a ton of restaurants, bars, and shops right on this main thoroughfare. Off of Thames Street are many of Newport’s historic wharfs—while many of them are working shipyards + docks, a lot of the wharfs off Thames Street are now also home to more restaurants, shops, and bars. If it’s you’re first time to Newport, I’d definitely recommend finding a B&B or hotel downtown near Thames Street and the wharfs—I’ve heard great things about The Newport Harbor Hotel and Hotel Viking, which is on Bellevue Avenue where many of the mansions are and is a short 10-minute walk to Thames Street.
WHERE TO EAT + DRINK /
We ate so well in Newport—there are so many great spots and nearly everywhere we went had fresh seafood on the menu, so if that’s your thing, you’re in luck! Here’s where we ate:
- Flo’s Clam Shack—our first meal in Newport right near Easton’s Beach, we went to this low key seafood shack on Monica‘s recommendation and it was one of our best meals! This is a super low key beach spot with a great atmosphere. I went for their crabby cake sandwich combo, which included one of the best crab cake sandwiches I’ve ever had, French fries, coleslaw, and a Bud Light for just $7.95 total!
- Clarke Cooke House—this was my favorite happy hour spot of the entire trip. We popped in to the Clarke Cooke House for an impromptu happy hour on Wednesday night and loved it so much, we went back on Friday night. This trip, we didn’t eat at the Clarke Cooke House, we just enjoyed lemosas—Fisher’s Island Lemonade* topped off with sparkling wine and fresh oranges. The Clarke Cooke House is cool because downstairs is casual colorful dining and then upstairs during the summer they do more upscale dining. In the basement is a fratty bar called the Boom Boom Room that has a vibrant nightlife scene.
- Diego’s—this is a casual Mexican cantina at Bowen’s Wharf that has ample outdoor seating and a cool vibe. The margaritas here are really good, however, none of us were really blown away by our food. This spot is definitely more “modern” Mexican than your classic Tex Mex place and you have to pay for chips/salsa.
- The Mooring—The Mooring is a more upscale seafood restaurant in Sayer’s Wharf. We ate here for lunch one day and had a beautiful view of the water from our table. I had a delicious ceviche dish with shrimp and scallops and a very filling caesar salad. It’s definitely a more popular spot in town, so if you plan to go, definitely grab a reservation. We thought it was a little overpriced for what it was, but definitely could be a good spot for a splurge meal if you really like seafood.
- The Black Pearl Patio—We loved our late dinner at the Black Pearl in Bannister’s Wharf! While there’s an indoor tavern arm of The Black Pearl, we opted to sit outside on their patio under one of their red umbrellas right next to the water. This spot was very cheap, but delicious beach vacation food—think burgers, clam chowder, fried chicken sandwiches, etc. They also have Whispering Angel on the wine list, which is always a win in my book!
- The Red Parrot—located right on Thames Street near the wharfs, we popped into The Red Parrot for lunch. This is a great spot for groups because it’s one of those places that has something for everyone. They also have a huge array of fruity frozen drinks. I ordered nachos to eat as my entree and barely made a dent—there were so many!
- Sticks & Cones Waffle & Ice Cream Hut—This is a great ice cream shop right in downtown historic Newport. We grabbed ice cream here one day after lunch and it was the perfect summertime treat.
- Del’s Frozen Lemonade—a New England staple, definitely stop by a Del’s while you’re in town and get a frozen lemonade—they are so good! I also am a big fan of the Del’s Shandy they do with Narragansett Beer—would definitely recommend it if you get the chance to try it.
- Midtown Oyster Bar—We ate at Midtown Oyster Bar for dinner one night and it was a great spot. It’s only been open for four years, but several people told us that locals love this place too, which apparently is a ringing endorsement. We had a reservation, but there was also a lot of first-come, first-serve seating at the bar. I started with a great creamy cod chowder and then had the chopped salad. My sister and dad split the seafood pan roast, which looked absolutely delicious!
- The Lawn at Castle Hill Inn—The Lawn at Castle Hill Inn was our favorite meal while we were in Newport! We ate brunch here on Saturday overlooking the water and then hung out for a while in the adirondack chairs on their lawn. If you want to go for lunch or brunch, definitely get a reservation online here. Dinner, the Terrace Bar, and the adirondack chairs are all on a first-come, first-serve basis. We were there for several hours on Saturday and had no problem getting adirondack chairs together on their Lawn, but I’ve heard sunset is very popular. There’s also drink service in the chairs—I’d recommend their blood orange bellinis! The Lawn is only open during the summer and you do not have to be a guest to go. There’s also complimentary valet parking for Lawn guests.
- Frosty Freez—we grabbed ice cream here on our way to the airport per a recommendation from a gift shop attendant at one of the Newport mansions—it’s a favorite ice cream place among locals. We loved it! It’s not particularly close to Historic Newport, but if you have a car and are craving ice cream, it’s definitely worth the trek.
*While in town, I was introduced to Fisher’s Island Lemonade at the Clarke Cooke House. I’ve since learned from my New England friends that it is very popular up that way, but it hasn’t made an appearance in DC yet, so this was my first time having it—and I absolutely love it! I’d describe it as a classier, better-tasting Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Nearly every restaurant we went to had it on the menu, so if you’re in town, I’d definitely recommend trying it.
THE NEWPORT MANSIONS /
One of the things I think you have to do while you’re in town is tour at least one of the Gilded Age mansions. The Preservation Society of Newport County sells tickets both online and at any of the mansions where tours are offered or the Newport Visitor’s Center. We opted for the five house ticket for $35/person and ended up touring four houses, so it was worth it. If you know you have time to tour more than one mansion, definitely opt for a multi-house pass—a single ticket to the Breakers is $24, a single ticket to Hunter House is $30, and a single ticket to any of the other houses is $17.50—it’s the best bang for your buck!
On our last visit to Newport, we had toured both The Breakers and Rosecliff, so we knew we wanted to get back to both to see how well our memory held up. We also made it to The Elms and Marble House on this trip. What’s great about the mansion tours is that at each house you’re given an audio device with headphones so you can tour the mansion at your own pace. Because it’s an audio tour, you can also show up at the houses at anytime and start on your tour—you don’t have to wait for a set time. On the device, there’s the main tour audio, but in each room, there are also several bonus tracks that allow you to learn more about specific elements of the room or about the era and you can pick and choose which ones you wanted to listen to. I loved the audio tours because it allowed me to really concentrate and my whole family could work through the mansions at our own pace.
If you only have time for one house, I’d recommend going to The Breakers, which was the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II—the Commodore’s favorite grandson—and his family. While all the mansions are stunning, ornate, and huge, The Breakers I’d say is the crown jewel because at 70 rooms, it’s the largest in town. It’s hard to comprehend that a family a) actually lived here and b) was able to amass enough wealth to build a home like this that they really only lived in for eight weeks out of the year. It has been beautifully taken care of and restored, and has beautiful sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Newport Cliff Walk.
That being said, my favorite house was Rosecliff. A popular wedding venue today, it also has a beautiful view of the Atlantic and Cliff Walk. It was built by Tessy Oelrichs—her father was one of the people who discovered the Comstock Lode in Nevada. Inside is the largest ballroom in Newport—it is stunning! It’s definitely a bit more understated than The Breakers, but I just loved the atmosphere there so much.
We also toured The Elms, which was owned by coal baron Edward Berwind. It was one of the first homes in America to be wired for electricity and had one of the first electrical ice makers. In 1961, the contents of the home were auctioned off and the property was sold to a developer. The Preservation Society of Newport purchased it, essentially saving it, and has it furnished with many period pieces. I love the picture of Elizabeth Wharton Drexel that hangs in the ballroom.
The last home we toured was Marble House, which was the summer home of William and Alva Vanderbilt—William was Cornelius’ brother. While we were on this trip, we all fell in love with the hydrangeas in Newport and Marble House had so many beautiful ones surrounding the house. Marble House was one of the first Gilded Age mansions to be built—prior, most homes had been simple wooden houses. The mansion cost $11 million to construct, $7 million of which was spent on marble. In the backyard is a Chinese Tea House that’s modeled after 12th century Song dynasty temples. Today, you can buy snacks and tea inside.
You can see a full list of the mansions open to the public here as well as their operating schedules.
WHAT TO DO /
After we toured The Breakers, we walked over to the Newport Cliff Walk, which in my opinion, is a must-do while you’re in town—and it’s free! It’s a 3.5 mile walk that overlooks the ocean and gives you a beautiful look at the Newport Shoreline. We hopped on the Cliff Walk at the end of Webster Street, right after it crosses over Ochre Point Avenue. If you hang a left once you’re on the Cliff Walk, you come across 40 Steps pretty quickly, which is an overlook that drops you 40 steps below the Cliff Walk so you can really see the rocky shoreline. We walked from there down to near The Chanler, and while the path wasn’t necessarily paved, it was very easy to walk on in our everyday shoes.
A highlight of our trip was our afternoon boat tour on the Rum Runner II through Classic Cruises of Newport. The Rum Runner II is a 1929 classic motor yacht that used to smuggle rum during Prohibition. The 90-minute guided tour through Newport Harbor and around its coastline was super informative and beautiful. A highlight for me was getting to see Jackie Kennedy’s childhood Newport home, Hammersmith Farm, which is also where she and JFK had their wedding reception. Classic Cruises of Newport also operates a classic schooner, Madeline. In addition to their East Passage Express tour which we took, they have several other tours—next time I’m in town, I really want to do the Champagne Sunset or the Smugglers Cocktail Cruise!
There’s also a ton of great shopping on Thames Street and at the historic wharfs—our favorites were Bannisters Wharf and Bowen’s Wharf, which are connected and right next to each other. In this area, we loved checking out the Kiel James Patrick flagship store, Primavera—a great giftshop with Christmas ornaments, cards, bath goods, etc, Soap & Water Newport, and The Black Dog General Store. I listed our favorite restaurants in these Wharfs above, but even if you’re not planning to eat or shop here, I’d definitely recommend a walk around—it’s a great place to catch boats coming in and out. We also popped into a few stores on Thames Street, which is also lined with shops and restaurants. While many of them are your typical tourist stop with Newport branded goodies, we really enjoyed the home decor store Guibone Living—lots of unique pieces and antiques!
While we were in town, we also took a trolley tour of Newport that was fully narrated. While it was definitely a good way to get out and about in Newport, I’d probably skip it if I had to do it again. Our tour guide didn’t have a great arc to his narrative and a lot of the information was very disjointed. I’d opt for the narrated boat tour or a walking tour. That being said, the highlight of the tour was seeing St. Mary’s Church, where John and Jackie Kennedy were married. During the summer months, the church actually recreates their wedding ceremony every Tuesday at 2pm. You can buy tickets for $15 here.
We absolutely loved our time in Newport—I think it was the perfect spot for our family trip this year! I can’t wait to get back sooner rather than later. If you have any questions about what we did, don’t hesitate to drop me a note!