American millionaires certainly knew how to put the ‘gild’ in Gilded Age, with their opulent summer cottages and splendid yachts. You can still get a taste of the high life when you visit this sophisticated Rhode Island town.
Located on the southernmost tip of Aquidneck Island in the heart of southern New England, Newport packs a visual and experiential punch—one that includes five centuries of history. It takes between five and six hours to get there from the Main Line region, so plan on at least a few days to get a representative sample of all that Newport has to offer.
Shopping, dining and many recreational activities are an easy walk from downtown’s cobbled paths. The famed Newport mansions are only a few miles away. If you want to experience some truly stunning views, take a ride on the 10-mile Ocean Drive or a stroll the 3.5-mile Cliff Walk high above the ocean. Some drops are as high as 70 feet.
The harbor-side Brenton Hotel is the latest luxury option in downtown Newport. Suite-sized rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the water or the town. Dogs are welcome—and they even have their own concierge.
Get acquainted with your surroundings on complimentary bikes. If it’s a more intense workout you’re after, have a Peloton delivered to your room, followed by an in-room spa treatment. In the evening, star-gaze on the rooftop bar. Rates starting at $499. 31 Americas Cup Ave., (401) 849-3100, brentonhotel.com
There’s a pretty good reason why the Brenton Hotel’s on-site restaurant is called The Living Room. Its comfy furnishings and casual atmosphere are reflected in a menu that features pork belly steam buns, grilled octopus, bacon-wrapped bourbon barbecue salmon and a deluxe lobster roll. After dinner, head to the rooftop for signature libations and unobstructed views in three directions.
The next morning, start your day with a breakfast sandwich or burrito, eggs Copenhagen (with pastrami-style smoked salmon), or loaded tots. If you plan to picnic later in the day, the restaurant will pack up a charcuterie board with cheese, fruit and spreads, plus a baguette or ciabatta.
For the best off-the-beaten-path places to eat, let the locals lead the way. On Rhode Island Red Food’s Newport Neighborhood Tour, you’ll sample specialties at six ethnic and favorite hometown eateries. Total walking distance is only a mile. $69 per person; add alcoholic beverage sampling for $84. Corner of Marlborough Street and Dr. Marcus F. Wheatland Boulevard, (401) 684-1110, rhodeislandredfoodtours.com
One of the most elegant dining spots on the island, Castle Hill Inn is situated in an 1875 mansion built at the end of magnificent Ocean Drive. The three-course menu showcases local ingredients in creative upscale preparations. Start with a classic caviar service. The wine list offers 800 selections. 590 Ocean Drive, (401) 849-3800, castlehillinn.com
America’s oldest operating restaurant and the 10th oldest in the world, the White Horse Tavern has been serving seafood from Narragansett Bay since 1673. The décor has retained its lovingly preserved colonial look and feel, while the menu has a more contemporary flavor, with options like beef Wellington, lobster mac and cheese, and selections from an extensive raw bar. 26 Marlborough St., (401) 849-3600, whitehorsenewport.com
Begin with lobster-and-shrimp fritters with chipotle-maple aioli or hand-rolled lobster cannelloni at the Mooring Seafood Kitchen & Bar. Entrees may include spicy seafood linguini and Maine lobster stuffed with scallops and shrimp. A thoughtful selection of gluten-free offerings is also available. 1 Sayers Wharf, (401) 846-2260, mooringrestaurant.com
The Hungry Monkey Cafe is a whimsical diner-style breakfast and lunch spot. Don’t miss the French toast stuffed with fruit and cream cheese icing, or the Chimpanzee French toast with peanut butter, sliced banana and a honey drizzle. Or try an international Benedict—like the Irish version with corned beef hash and hollandaise sauce. 124 Broadway, (401) 619-4433, hungrymonkeycafe.com
Of the 10 magnificent mansions open to the public in Newport, The Breakers is the most over the top in terms of size and grandeur. Some of the walls of this former summer home of the Cornelius Vanderbilt II family are covered in platinum. Completed in 1895, the 70-room Italian Renaissance-style villa was inspired by 16th-century palaces and built by an international team of craftsmen and artisans. To really get the essence of the property, download the free audio tour from the Newport Mansions app and bring earphones or earbuds. 44 Ochre Point Ave., (401) 847-1000, newportmansions.org
For a mansion tour from a different perspective, add The Elms to your itinerary. Modeled after a mid-18th-century French chateau, this summer home of a Philadelphia coal baron was built in 1898. Its Servant Life Tour offers a glimpse of how the other half lived and worked. $15. 367 Bellevue Ave., (401) 847-1000, newportmansions.org
Discover a fantasy menagerie and whimsical geometric shapes at Green Animals Topiary Garden. In spring, thousands of tulips and 49 varieties of daffodils are in bloom. Picnicking is permitted—and you won’t find a more beautiful spot for your spread. 380 Cory’s Lane, (401) 847-1000, newportmansions.org
Get a taste of Newport’s upscale sailing lifestyle with cruises on Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay. There’s no better way to end a busy day than enjoying the open-air upper deck on an evening cocktail cruise with Coastal Queen Cruises. Your narrator will point out lighthouses, forts and other interesting sites along the way. #5 Bowens’s Landing, Bowen’s Wharf, (401) 423-9900, ext. 3208, coastalqueencruises.com
If your heart is set on a yacht sail, America’s Cup Charters will take you out on the bay, let you help raise the sails or even be part of the crew. 49 America’s Cup Ave., (401) 846-9886, americascupcharters.com
Newport is still a working maritime town for lobstering and fishing. With Fish’n Tales Adventures, you can join a crew aboard the 50-foot fishing boat Northeastern on Narragansett Bay and Newport Harbor. The 90-minute lobstering experience gives you a chance to help bait the traps and sort the catch. $30; trips include equipment rentals. 31 Bowen’s Landing, (401) 619-4431, fishntalesadventures.com
In Newport, the cars are as snazzy as the yachts. See how the styles have changed over seven decades at the Newport Car Museum, which showcases over 85 examples of automobile artistry. 1947 West Main Road, Portsmouth, (401) 848-2277, newportcarmuseum.org
Sample the fruits of local vineyards’ labors on the Newport Jaguar Tours Wine Tasting Tour. They’ll be doing the driving—in a classic luxury hardtop or convertible Jag. Morning excursions take you on a guided grand tour of Newport’s scenery, history and culture, topped off by a visit to one of the area’s premier vineyards. If you take the afternoon tour, you’ll visit two vineyards. Full-day tours include a brief tour of Newport, followed by tastings at three or four vineyards. (401) 855-6435, newportjaguarstours.com
This May, Newport’s Sailing Museum is set to open, offering a high-tech, interactive celebration of the city’s favorite sport. Displays and activities are designed to engage sailors of all skill levels. Learn the basics of sailing, feel yourself skimming the water in a virtual-reality dome, and take a trip through history at the National Sailing and America’s Cup Halls of Fame. 365 Thames St., (401) 324-5761, thesailingmuseum.org
Browse the one-of-a-kind shops at Bowen’s Wharf. Sails are transformed into handmade totes and handbags, and fishermen’s rope into baskets and mats, at Sea Bags. 25 Bowen’s Wharf, (207) 553-0144, seabags.com
At Gineva, you’ll find locally handcrafted Murano glass jewelry. 8 Bowen’s Wharf, (401) 846-1654, ginevajewelry.com
Primavera offers a wide range of works by local artisans. 4 Bowen’s Wharf, (401) 841-0757, primaveranewport.com
The Newport area is home to 45 oyster farms. In May, Bowen’s Wharf is the site of the weekend-long Newport Oyster & Chowder Festival. Opening night admission includes a dozen oysters and an alcoholic beverage, Saturday and Sunday admission includes six oysters or a cup of chowder. (401) 849-2243.
Inspired by the great courses of Ireland and Scotland, Newport National Golf Club provides 18 holes of scenic championship play that will challenge any player. 324 Mitchells Lane, Middletown, (401) 848-9690, newportnational.com
With Rail Explorers, you can hop on a pedal-powered vehicle and ride the railroad tracks along Narragansett Bay on scenic Aquidneck Island. Choose from daytime, sunset or lantern-lit evening tours. Some include brunch and campfires (BYO marshmallows). Pack a picnic for a stop at a private bayside grove. 1 Alexander Road, (877) 833-8588, railexplorers.net