Preservation Society of Newport County
History buffs will love Newport, Rhode Island, the summer playground for America’s first titans of industry, with so many great American things to do.
Travel takes you to new places—when you travel to Newport, Rhode Island, you travel back in time. My trip to this historic destination (pre-pandemic) was a walk back in time, literally, as Newport, a city set on Aquidneck Island, is a totally walkable town—my favorite way to see a place. And there is history around every corner with so many things to do as Newport, Rhode Island is among the first American towns to be settled in the New England area.
Before we get to the posh sporting lifestyle, seaside luxury and elegant mansion soirees, find out how Newport came to be.
By the 1850, the Gilded Age of American history was a time of rapid economic growth, and titans of industry were the benefactors of this era of expansion.
Wangkun Jin / Shutterstock
During the Revolutionary War, the British occupied Newport from 1776 to 1779, chasing out nearly half of the residents and destroying the local economy. After the war, Newport, Rhode Island had missed the beginning of the industrialization and reinvented itself as a summer resort with fun things to do.
By the 1850, the Gilded Age of American history was a time of rapid economic growth, and titans of industry were the benefactors of this era of expansion. The famed mansions of Newport were built as summer homes by wealthy tycoons, like the Vanderbilts, Astors, Dukes and Morgans, and on tour for wide-eyed guests, especially The Breakers designed by Richard Morris Hunt and built in just two years (1893 to 1895) at about $7 million…125 years ago!
This is when iconic Ralph Lauren-like luxury sporting events arrived to entertain the new Newport, Rhode Island summer residents with things to do. Newport Polo, host of the Newport International Polo Series and functioning body of the historic Westchester Polo Club, America’s first polo club, established in 1876 and the charter member of the United States Polo Association.
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Summer visitors brought their yachts, and racing was a regular pastime in the harbor. The New York Yacht Club operated out of Newport in the summer, and by the 1930s, the America’s Cup sailing regatta was held in Newport annually until 1983. Two of the Cup’s biggest fans were President and Jackie Kennedy, who would watch from their family’s yacht Honey Fitz cruising the Narragansett Bay.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame is set in The Newport Casino, a National Historic Landmark that was first opened on July 26, 1880 as a social club for Newport’s turn of the century summer elite today is the site for the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In 1881, the first U.S. National Men’s Singles Championship was played on the 13 grass, six hard and one clay court to the sound of a string quartet. The tournament eventually evolved to become known as the U.S. Open.
I highly recommend a visit to the City by the Sea with so many interesting things to do in Newport, Rhode Island. Enjoy our city guide to this ICONIC City with all my picks for the best places to stay, dine and things to do.
WHERE TO STAY
Newport, Rhode Island is the place for grand and historic accommodations, so channel your inner wealthy socialite when selecting from our favorite, tested places to stay that take you back in history.
The Chanler is an inn and a storied estate on the mansion tour, where Gilded Age elegance and gracious hospitality are enjoyed with ocean vistas.
The Chanler at Cliff Walk
THE CHANLER AT CLIFF WALK
The Chanler is an inn and a storied estate on the mansion tour, where Gilded Age elegance and gracious hospitality are enjoyed with ocean vistas. The stars are amazing over the water, and we suggest a nightcap at the firepit. The Chanler offers 20 rooms elegantly decorated in various period styles. The Chanler’s fine-dining restaurant, Cara is a fave of mine.
Read McKendree / The Cliffside Inn
THE CLIFFSIDE INN
This luxurious Victorian mansion was a summer escape for 20th Century painter, Beatrice Turner, from 1907 to 1948. The historic building was updated with eclectic, artistic details inspired by her life and work. With just 16 rooms, each space is beautifully furnished in period styles with modern Waterworks-style bathrooms.
The chef on property cooks breakfast to order daily that can be enjoyed on a wrap-around porch, and the owner hosts nightly wine and cheese gatherings to get to know the guests. The Cliffside Inn is located close to the Cliff Walk and mansion tours, which makes walking everywhere a breeze.
Castle Hill Inn
CASTLE HILL INN
Castle Hill was a gracious, shingle-style house commissioned in 1874 by marine biologist and naturalist Alexander Agassiz of Harvard University as his summer home, where he kept his eye on the ocean and sea life. During World War II, the mansion housed Naval officers while functioning as an impromptu base. After the war, the inn became a summer hotel, hosting Hollywood royalty in Newport, Rhode Island.
Grace Kelly stayed there while filming High Society in the 1950s. Novelist Thornton Wilder was also a frequent visitor and describes the turret suite as a “magical room.” In 2008, Castle Hill became a Relais & Chateaux property.
The Dining Room at Castle Hill Inn offers diners local fish, regional meat and fresh seasonal produce in their award-winning contemporary American kitchen. The Castle Hill Inn lawn has a majestic view of Narragansett Bay, and sunsets from this vantage point are spectacular. In winter, the views from the heated Sunset Terrace Bar are truly beautiful, while in warmer moments diners can enjoy the outdoor Newport, Rhode Island dining experience on the lawn.
Originally built in 1909 by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, a scion of the Vanderbilt family, the property is a vintage Newport mansion meticulously restored to its former glory, just minutes from the waterfront. Come for elegant fireplaces and museum-quality artwork in the lobby entrance, Christy’s Gallery and Snooker Room—along with pampering worthy of a railroad baron.
In the summer, enjoy exquisite dining on the terrace and evening drinks at the rooftop bar with sweeping views of Newport Harbor. Gwynne, the fine-dining restaurant features local seafood and produce.
WHERE TO DINE
You’re on the East Coast, where seafood is plentiful and fresh. Savor these favorite stops where you’ll enjoy a taste of all the goodness that comes from the ocean.
White Horse Tavern
THE WHITE HORSE TAVERN
As the USA’s oldest bar, The White Horse Tavern is regarded as a national treasure. Placed on the National Historic Register, the property was built in 1652, but not converted to a barn until 1673. The cuisine includes a delicious number of artisan cheeses and fish caught off Newport, Rhode Island. This 17th Century establishment was a favorite of Jackie Kennedy, who was rumored to prefer table 40.
Midtown Oyster Bar
Location in Bouchard Inn, Bouchard Restaurant was founded by Chef Albert Bouchard and his wife Sarah, who took the restaurant to national acclaim. Everything is made on premises using local ingredients. The fine food paired with a casual setting makes this a Newport, Rhode Island gem.
MIDTOWN OYSTER BAR
After a day shopping downtown Newport, Midtown Oyster Bar is a perfect and lively spot for a light bite, oysters, of course, lobster and corn chowder or Maryland crab cakes—some local favorites paired with locally brewed beer or craft cocktails.
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The Mooring has served guests for nearly four decades with craft cocktails, “top-of-the catch” sustainable seafood, including an award-winning wine list and an extensive raw bar with chilled lobster claw, oysters, littleneck clams, shrimp and crab legs. Enjoy panoramic sunsets over Newport Harbor dining outside. Make sure to try the bag of doughnuts—lobster and shrimp fritters with chipotle-maple aioli.
Strolling down Bellvue Avenue on your way into town, you’ll bump into Pasta Beach, a quaint, modern Italian neighborhood eatery. It was so good that we ate there two days in a row at a window seat watching passersby. Start with the Napoletana salad with baked eggplant, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and mixed greens, and then order the housemade gnocchi with pesto.
WHAT TO DO
Your trip to Newport, Rhode Island is all about walking through history and breathing in the ocean air. The experience will be enhanced if you get an overview before you dive in. The Museum of Newport History in the Brick Market is a perfect place to start.
The most spectacular summer cottages, as they were called, were where the captains of industry spent six weeks every summer in exquisite mansions beyond comparison.
Rough Point Mansion & Museum / Newport Restoration Foundation
THE MANSION TOURS
The most spectacular summer cottages, as they were called, were where the captains of industry spent six weeks every summer in exquisite mansions beyond comparison. The “neighbors” spent summers extending and accepting invitations to each other’s mansions. The pressure to keep up with the Vanderbilts and the Astors was never more present.
The must-see tour includes 10 historic properties maintained by The Preservation Societyof Newport County, and Doris Duke’s mansion with the Newport Restoration Foundation, you’ll encounter 300 years of American history on more than 80 acres of gardens and parks. You can walk or take a trolley to see the mansions. Two homes
Garrett Nantz / Shutterstock / The Breakers
The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer “cottages” at 138,300 square feet and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social standing when the Vanderbilt fortune came from steamships and then railroads in turn-of-the-century America. The Rosecliff boasts an expansive ballroom known for its lavish parties and is the set for many Hollywood films, including “The Great Gatsby,” “True Lies” and “27 Dresses.”
Paul Brady Photography / Shutterstock
THE CLIFF WALK
Along the eastern shore of Newport, Rhode Island, the Cliff Walk combines the natural beauty of the shoreline with architectural highlights of this historic community. Running from the east end of Bailey’s Beach to the western end of First Beach (and behind many of Newport’s famous mansions), the Newport Cliff Walk has been designated as a National Recreational Trail.
St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church
HAMMERSMITH FARM AND ST. MARY’S ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
Newport held an important place in Jackie Kennedy’s life story—she married JFK in 1953 at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church and their reception was held at Hammersmith Farm, where she grew up and spent her childhood summers. It was rumored she designed the windmill on property. During JFK’s presidency, the 28-room Victorian mansion was referred to as the “Summer White House.” You can’t visit today, but the property is visible from Castle View Inn next door.
Experience unprecedented boating and sailing opportunities by getting aboard an America’s Cup 12-meter yacht or cruising on an outfitted motorboat in Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay. It’s the perfect outing for sunset time and the harbor is lined with shops and restaurants to enjoy afterwards. Bring a coat, as it’s windy and often chilly.
Jim Schubert / Shutterstock
Once used extensively in maritime travel and sea navigation, the famous Newport, Rhode Island lighthouses are steeped in history and reflective of a charming and quaint period in America. Four notable sites are the iconic Castle Hill Lighthouse, Rose Island Lighthouse, Newport Harbor/Goat Island Lighthouse which is the first lighthouse and Ida Lewis Lighthouse.