When people think of Newport, the first thing that comes to mind is usually the Newport, Rhode Island mansions. The coastal town is home to many opulent Gilded Age mansions that acted as summer homes for some of America’s wealthiest families. It’s definitely a historic town, as its main street – Thames Street – was established in the 17th century. Head there for the best shopping and Newport, Rhode Island restaurants.
A popular summertime destination, there are fortunately quite a few Newport, Rhode Island beaches. The famed Cliff Walk conveniently connects Easton’s Beach to Bailey’s Beach. For romantic things to do in Newport, RI enjoy a picnic overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from one of the Ocean Drive Historic District’s many scenic spots. Keep reading for more Newport attractions, as well as fun things to do in Newport, RI with kids.
1. The Breakers
The Breakers is one of the grandest homes in Newport and it was constructed in 1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt II. The Vanderbilts were one of the wealthiest and most well-known families in the United States. The Breakers was built in the Italian Renaissance-style and modeled after 16th-century palaces in Genoa and Turin. With 70 rooms, The Breakers incredibly acted as just his family’s summer home. Today, the oceanfront house is a National Historic Landmark, which people can visit year-round.
2. Marble House
Speaking of the Vanderbilts, Marble House was constructed in the late 19th century for William Kissam Vanderbilt – the younger brother of Cornelius Vanderbilt II. However, the Gilded Age mansion looks strikingly different from The Breakers, as it was built in the Beaux Arts-style and its exterior resembles that of the White House. As for similarities, Marble House is located along the coastline from The Breakers and is also a National Historic Landmark that’s open to the public.
3. The Elms
Another grand home, The Elms was built for coal baron Edward Julius Berwind in 1901. Architect Horace Trumbauer was inspired by the 18th-century Chateau d’Asnieres in France. Set away from the coastline, The Elms features a stunning great lawn and lavish gardens with sculptures, marble pavilions, a sunken garden, and a carriage house. Together with the mansions mentioned previously, the Preservation Society of Newport County cares for The Elms and it is open to the public.
4. International Tennis Hall of Fame
A visit to the International Tennis Hall of Fame is one of the best things to do in Newport, RI for sports fans. It’s dedicated to preserving and promoting the history of tennis and celebrating its champions. Located inside the former Newport Casino, the International Tennis Hall of Fame is a museum with indoor and outdoor tennis facilities as well. There are nearly 2000 objects on display inside the interactive museum, but one of its must-see attractions is the Roger Federer hologram.
Rosecliff is another Gilded Age mansion, built between 1898 and 1902 for Nevada silver heiress, Theresa Fair Oelrichs. Architect Stanford White modeled the home after the Grand Trianon in Versailles. Mrs. Oelrichs was known as one of the great hostesses of Newport, as she hosted many lavish parties at Rosecliff, which is located next door to Marble House. Rosecliff has been used as a filming location for blockbusters like The Great Gatsby and 27 Dresses.
6. Fort Adams State Park, Newport, RI
Established in 1799, Fort Adams was a United States Army post built at the mouth of Newport Harbor. The large coastal fortification was active from 1841 to midway through the 20th century. Today at Fort Adams State Park, there are guided tours that take visitors from the top of the forts to the underground tunnels. Other things to do within Fort Adams State Park include visiting Eisenhower House, walking along the Fort Adams Bay Walk, and attending annual festivals.
7. Ocean Drive Historic District
One of the most popular things to do in Newport, RI is to go for a drive along Ocean Drive. The 10-mile-long road was designated a National Historic Landmark District (hence the name) in 1976, due to its distinctive landscape and architectural landmarks. Prepare to be blown away by Ocean Drive’s scenic coastal views. Top sights to see along the way include the aforementioned Fort Adams State Park, Gooseberry Beach, and Castle Hill Inn & Resort.
8. Easton’s Beach
Named one of the best beaches in New England, Easton’s Beach is located on Memorial Boulevard at the start of the famed Cliff Walk. Surf the waves or soak up the sun from the white-sand shores of the town’s largest beach. Easton’s Beach is also home to a restored 1950s carousel and the Save the Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium. Open at Easton’s Beach during peak season, The Beach Store has beach chairs, umbrella, and board rentals.
9. Cliff Walk
The Cliff Walk is considered one of the town’s top attractions. It’s a 3.5-mile walking path that hugs the coastline and stretches from Bailey’s Beach to Easton’s Beach. The Cliff Walk takes you past many of the opulent mansions listed above, including Rosecliff, The Breakers, and Marble House. As you walk along the scenic trail and take in the oceanfront views, it’s easy to see why the town enchanted so many of America’s wealthiest families in the 19th century.
10. Newport Art Museum
Founded in 1912, Newport Art Museum operates a gallery out of the John N. A. Griswold House. A National Historic Landmark, it’s an eye-catching American Stick Style building. The art museum’s permanent collection includes artworks from the 1800s to the present day. However, it also hosts rotating exhibitions from some of the world’s best contemporary artists. The art museum organizes artist talks, film previews, a Winter Speaker series, and art education programs as well.
11. Bowen’s Wharf
To truly experience the Newport waterfront, you need to visit Bowen’s Wharf. This wharf and surrounding area is full of unique shops, restaurants and galleries. You can easily spend most of a day exploring this historic seaport village. Bowen’s Wharf is also the main launching point for the best Newport boat tours, and you can take a relaxing sailboat tour, a fishing expedition, or if you’re up for it, experience parasailing behind a speedboat! We think Bowen’s Wharf should be on everyone’s must-see list when you visit Newport.
12. Rough Point, Newport, Rhode Island
Rough Point is another Vanderbilt mansion currently owned and operated by the Newport Restoration Foundation. Built for another brother (this time it’s Frederick William Vanderbilt), Rough Point was built in the English Manorial-style between 1887 and 1892, using red sandstone and granite. Bordering the renowned Cliff Walk, the mansion features an extensive fine and decorative art collection inside, and panoramic Atlantic Ocean views outside. Its last resident was billionaire tobacco heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke.
13. Thames Street
Thames Street is a 1.5 mile-long historic thoroughfare that runs parallel to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s one of the state’s oldest continuously used streets, as it dates back to 1654. Thames Street is the place to visit if you want to find the town’s coziest pubs, liveliest bars, best boutiques in heritage shopfronts, and its greatest cafes. Head to the iconic Brick Alley Pub and Restaurant for the best nachos in town, and Bouchard Restaurant to feast on fresh seafood.
14. Touro Synagogue
Established in 1763, Touro Synagogue is a National Historic Site and the oldest synagogue in the United States. Designed by renowned British architect Peter Harrison, inside the synagogue are 12 Ionic columns – each carved from a single tree – which represent the 12 tribes of ancient Israel. Today, it’s still an active Orthodox synagogue. However, people can still visit and do guided tours of Touro Synagogue. Go to the onsite Loeb Visitor Center to purchase tickets
15. Brenton Point State Park
One of the best outdoor things to do in Newport, RI is to visit Brenton Point State Park. It’s situated at the southern tip of Aquidneck Island, in the middle of the Ocean Drive Historic District. The large recreation area is located on the former grounds of one of the town’s grandest estates. Along with offering scenic Atlantic Ocean views, Brenton Point State Park is also known as a great place to picnic, hike, and fish.
As mentioned, Chateau-sur-Mer is one of the historic Newport Mansions cared for by the Preservation Society of Newport County. A landmark of High Victorian architecture, the Italianate-style granite home was built in 1852 for Old China trade merchant William Shepard Wetmore. It was the town’s most palatial mansion before the Vanderbilts built their ‘summer cottages’ in the 1890s. The Wetmore family famously hosted many elaborate and memorable parties at Chateau-sur-Mer in the late 19th century.