I used to hang my hat in Newport Rhode Island on most summer weekends when I lived in Boston over twenty years ago, however it had been awhile since I spent a significant amount of time in this well-known New England tourist destination that oozes with as much fun as it does history. Friends had a centrally located summer cottage though it was more of a brownish red house than a cottage, and while every bedroom was always full and there always seemed to be someone sleeping on the couch, it was a convenient place to hang your hat for the weekend when after all, beaches and pubs were the order of the day back then.
Priorities are a little different when you’re 24 and while Star Bar wasn’t around when I lived back east, Cappy’s Hillside Cafe certainly was, a quintessential dive bar along Memorial Boulevard that has been around since 1938. Think Budweiser lights, cheap beer, hot dogs, a place to watch the game and that place where you might just end a long night out on the town. According to one source, it also happens to be the second oldest bar in Newport after White Horse Tavern.
I remember more lazy afternoons sitting on the patio of The Black Pearl, drinking pints of draft beer with friends after several hours roasting in the sun on 2nd Beach. It’s a venue that appeals to me as much today as it did twenty years ago and they serve some of the best clam chowder in the country (says two sources). If you’re a chowder fan, watch how chef Jasper White makes it. (yes, really…he shared his secrets online; note the video is from 2012, although my photo below is from last month).
I spent a glorious afternoon on the Black Pearl patio sipping an oaky Chardonnay with nothing between me and the harbor views but my sunglasses. My friend Carol came down to visit from Massachusetts during my recent trip and we reminisced about the old days — the ‘boys’ in our lives at the time and those late late Newport nights. They sailed, surfed and painted to make end’s meat or drove a taxi. That rebellious youthfulness still exists in this New England waterside destination today.
What’s so unique about Newport because of its age and the fact that it still attracts sailors and not just the rich ones, is that it still has many reasonably priced bars that are about as authentic as it gets, but it’s also the playground of the American aristocracy with its summer polo matches, perfectly manicured golf courses and majestic estates along Bellevue Avenue. Even along trendy Thames Street, you can get a filling burger at Willy’s for under $10 but they also make a mean espresso martini that seems out of place with the character of the place. On the very same street is upscale Bouchard where proper attire is required and their website is clear about leaving your kids at home, at least if they’re under the age of 7. This is Newport.
Both of these venues are on our restaurant picks, so if you’re a foodie, be sure to read my extensive guide to the Newport Restaurant scene which has so many mouthwatering photos that you might be tempted to book a trip to Newport just to eat.
Note that this travel guide is largely designed for Newport’s warmer travel months, from Spring through Fall rather than the upcoming winter season, however much of what is outlined below can be enjoyed through November and some things, even later, especially the pubs, cafes, shopping, food and historical value that Newport offers. Did you know that Newport is home to the oldest restaurant in America and has a haunted past?
Below, I explore my top ten reasons to visit Newport although there are inevitably more. They include Sunsets, History & Architecture, Ghosts & its Haunted Past, International Polo, Newport City Walks (let’s throw her great parks in there too), Shopping, Beer/Food/Wine, Great Luxe Hotels, Resorts and Spas, Beaches and Sailing, not necessarily in that order. I’ll start with one of the things I miss about New England: her sunsets, particularly in the late summer and early fall.
There’s really nothing to say here; I’ll simply let the photos do the talking!!
Below is the view from the lawn of Castle Inn and the views just keep getting better as the sun begins to set.
History & Architecture
There’s no shortage of history in Newport, which given its deep rooted past, it goes without saying that Newport boasts a variety of interesting original architecture from as old as the country is. Not only does it have some of the best pubs I’ve hung out at for many a’ summer, but it is also known for the Gilded Age mansions lining Bellevue Avenue, some of which are now museums.
Set on Aquidneck Island, Newport’s yacht-filled harbor also hosted the America’s Cup, a renowned annual regatta, for many years and is famous is The Breakers, an 1895 mansion patterned after a Renaissance Palace.
There’s a lot to explore depending on your interests, from the infamous International Tennis Hall of Fame, which we sadly didn’t have time to do this time around and the Breakers (mentioned above) to art galleries and the Newport Art Museum, which I’d recommend.
From a historical perspective, you should try to see some of Newport’s most infamous mansions, whether you do this on a tour or take the task on solo. The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer “cottages” and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence in turn of the century America.
There’s no shortage of decadence here, externally and internally. There’s also the Stable & Carriage House which is located approximately a half-mile west of the house, on Coggeshall Avenue. Completed in 1895, it is 100 feet deep and 150 feet wide, U-shaped with a carriage house in the center.
I find the history of the carriage house and stable most interesting. It was made up of 12 grooms, a large hayloft and grain room over the stable itself and the head coachman who was responsible for the carriage house and stable, had a five-room apartment. Remember the the period of time when you think about the size of the place and the number of people involved to run it.
Also worth noting is the The Preservation Society of Newport County whose mission is to protect, preserve, and present an exceptional collection of house museums and landscapes. Bear in mind that these sites exemplify three centuries of American architecture, decorative arts, and landscape design spanning the Colonial era to the Gilded Age. I love the fact that this organization exists!
There’s also the Discover Colonial Newport Tour, which is a collaborative with the Newport Historical Society and the Newport Restoration Foundation. For tours, you meet at the Brick Market Museum & Shop on 127 Thames Street and meander from there. If you’re interested in history and architecture, I’d recommend adding this to your Newport agenda.
Ghosts and a Haunted Past
We loved our time in Salem, in part, not just because it’s a beautiful town along the Massachusetts coast, but because of its history and connection to witches. We learned a ton, met with two witches, one of whom is meant to be one of the oldest in Salem and did a witches ritual at night that took us through the city, where we learned about the history and the Witch Trials. Anthony also decided it would be fun to explore one of the cemeteries at midnight, a last minute decision after a long dinner one evening. I was thinking coffee and a brandy as we sat at a bar in a quaint bar with the fireplace blazing in the background however romantic took on a new meaning on that summer evening as we explored Salem’s haunted past.
Newport has it’s own haunted accolades and stories, all of which you can learn about during a lantern-led evening stroll through some of Newport’s shadowy lanes while you take in tales of local ghosts, ghouls, and legends. Our guide even shared ways of increasing the likelihood of catching ‘ghosts’ and a supernatural presence with our iPhone cameras.
Other tidbits you’ll learn include answers to the following questions: Who haunts George Washington’s Revolutionary War headquarters? Was Lizzie Borden acting on her own accord… or just following in her family footsteps? Why do people continue to hear a mysterious drum beat as they walk the bricks of Blood Alley? What are the strange winged skulls crowning the tombstones of New England’s dead?
Photo credit: NewEngland.com.
Newport International Polo
Did you realize that Newport is home to Newport International Polo and features teams from around the world and from major U.S. cities playing against USA / Newport. Newport Polo, host of the Newport International Polo Series XXV, is also home of the Westchester Polo Club, America’s first polo club established in 1876, and founding member of the United States Polo Association.
See my write-up on Newport Polo that includes the chic fashion culture around the sport as well.
Below, I look into the field as Newport plays Philadelphia in late August.
You can reserve a private table or area depending on how large your group is, something I would recommend. Most people bring a picnic and make a “day” out of it. Let’s just say that a lot of the picnic baskets went far beyond ordinary picnic fare. I even spotted Caviar, homemade breads, smoked salmon, Champagne, fruit salads in beautifully adorned bowls and pastries.
Newport City Walks
Newport is such a great place to walk through, whether it’s the old buildings up on the hill near the Viking Hotel (where we stayed for a few nights), along Thames Street and its nearby cobblestone streets which has tons of great cafes and boutiques to wander through, along the fun-filled wharf where you can stop for drinks or an ice cream with plenty of great views or in one of its lush green parks in the center.
I’ll let the photos do the talking as walking is one of my favorite ways to explore a destination.
The chic ambiance at Forty 1° North
Scooter World: as an aside, while I’m a huge fan of walking any new city, you can rent scooters in Newport, which is a fun thing to do. We took one out for a couple of hours, from zipping around the main city to the road that leads to Fort Adams and Carol and I had a blast! Scooter World is at 12 Christies Landing in downtown Newport.
Newport has no shortage of shopping — the magic here isn’t the area that houses many of the well known brands and chains but the quainter cobblestone streets and alleys where you can find unique jewelry stores focused on the 1920’s, natural soap and candle shops, a boutique filled with furniture and home goods focused on the sea and sailing or cupcakes.
I’ve compiled a list of shops that most resonated with me (from quirky and random to clothing, jewelry, home and antiques, although the bulk of them are clothing and accessories). Boutique & Store suggestions include: Aardvark Antiques, Angela Moore Boutique, Cabbage Rose (fashionistas pointed me to this one), Bellevue Beauty Walk, Ambiance Boutique (a designer consignment boutique that specialize in one-of-a-kind, new and gently worn designer items, handpicked for style and quality), Brahmin, Bermuda Bay, Chace n’Lulu, Chez Shell (simple but elegant), Francesca’s, Diva, Kristina Richards, Carol Richardson and Mandarine Boutique.
For jewelry, check out Alex & Ani, Alloy Gallery and Gioni Originals. One of my favorite spots in Newport Silver Company (love, love, love). They’re located on Swinburne Row/Brick Market in Newport although you can also order online (www.newportsilvercompany.com).
Above photo credit: Newport Silver Company.
Below, another more boutiquey jewelry shop on Thames Street.
Great home stores include Chateau & Bungalow and Cottage & Garden, although below is a fun shop along Thames Street that mixed home ‘wares’ with a Newport sailing flavor. Fun, fun, fun!!
The foodie scene in Newport is outa this world — I could return and just eat for a week. Some of our favorites are shown below however be sure to read my Food Guide to Newport as it is fairly extensive and as mentioned above, includes tons of appetizing photos, including drinks and desserts.
Overlooking Newport Harbor, Forty 1° North offers two uniquely-styled restaurant options, from casual family fare, to cocktails, to intimate upscale dining, at either The Grill or Christie’s, the latter of which is a great locale in the heart of summer where you can sit outside and sip on specialty cocktails, martinis (below) and incredible wine.
Their desserts were through the roof as well…..
Pasta Beach was a big surprise — homemade pasta and sauce is made by Marco, the chef and king of this foodie gem off the beaten path, all with a Bologna twist. My favorite pick of the evening was his Pappardelle al Cinghiale with wild boar, mixed vegetables and herb ragout – OMG!! Note that our two favorites go to Fluke and Pasta Beach, for a combination of freshness, attention to detail, great service and beyond our expectations delicious fare.
Below, Sweet Berry Farm is a post-and-beam farm market and café situated on 100 acres of conserved farmland. You can grab food from their indoor store (salads, sandwiches, homemade soups, pies, pizzas and more) and sit out on one of their picnic tables in a natural setting that is surrounded by beautiful gardens. They sell freshly grown seasonal fresh fruits, vegetables, cut flowers, as well as a variety of gourmet and specialty foods. The pick-your-own season begins in June when the first strawberries ripen and extends through December with Christmas trees and wreaths. We love the fact that they use only sustainable growing practices.
Historical, Luxe Hotel & Resort Stays
In August, we experienced the following three which we can highly recommend.
Wellington Resort: facing the water, this ideal family stay condo-style property has both an indoor and outdoor pool. You can go for one and two bedroom options and they have full kitchens, washer and dryer, beautiful views and TV’s with DVD players. The family amenities couldn’t be more perfect, including free movies every night and it’s conveniently located right on Thames Street, so is a stone’s throw from all the main activities, restaurants, cafes and shops as well as an easy walk to the Wharf. Read my review.
A sunset from our hotel balcony….
The Viking Hotel: this landmark luxury hotel is only a 10-12 minute walk from Newport’s Long Wharf Mall Shopping Center and the main port, depending on how fast you walk. Considering that parking isn’t easy in the downtown area, leaving your car at the Viking and walking to the restaurants and bars around the harbor is definitely the way to go. What I love most about this chic but traditional styled hotel is its warm ambiance mixed with elegance — the fine touches in the rooms make you feel right at home and the restaurant was oh so delicious! Read my review.
The wall in our hotel room….
SPAFJÖR: while I didn’t have a treatment here, we stayed at Hotel Viking for a few days so I was able to check out the spa’s facilities on site. They offer traditional massages, and facials, including one of my favorites, their anti-aging facials that incorporate high doses of Vitamin B3, Vitamin C and Hyaluronic Acid. They also offer treatments that help Rosacea, inflammation and acne to advanced peels, microdermabrasion, laser treatments, stone, therapeutic and Balinese massages.. The ambiance was lovely and it is housed in a historical classic hotel outside the city center, so it offers an opportunity to also relax at their restaurant afterwards if you decide to book a spa/dinner combo. We loved our meal at One Bellevue as mentioned above which is included in more detail in my Ultimate Newport Food Guide.
Castle Inn: This luxury property has some of the most breathtaking views in Newport. While it is located slightly outside the city center and doesn’t have a pool, there are cottages right on the ocean and the bar scene and restaurant is top-notch. Taking in the sunset on their massive lawn with its Adirondack chairs and lovely wine menu is the way to do Newport right. We love this property and think it’s more of an ideal choice for a romantic getaway, or if you simply want to be further out of the bustle and noise of the city center. Read my review of their spa.
There’s only one treatment room which is one of the things that makes this place so special. No, there’s no steam room or sauna however the attention to detail, the ‘it’s all about you and only you’ when you’re there and the use of all natural Farmaesthetics all add to the magic of the place. The other piece of magic is the property itself and the breathtaking views from the inn, especially around sunset. Read my spa review.
If you want to take sailing lessons, head to Sail Newport which offers sailing lessons on much smaller boats (four is comfortable) that leave from Fort Adams. Sail Newport is home to New England’s largest public sailing center and is considered Rhode Island’s premier public sailing site. We had two private lessons with them on subsequent days so we could build on what we learned the previous day, which I’d strongly recommend, even if you’re only in Newport for a short stay.
Be sure to read my article on Sailing in Newport which goes into much more depth on what you can do and where!!
They leave from Fort Adams just outside town.
Go with Classic Cruises of Newport to experience day time and sunset cruises. We went with a boat called the Madeleine, which offers sailing harbor tours and sunset sailing cruises. It’s a 72-foot schooner sailing yacht which maintains 19th century sailboat style with a 21st century sailing yacht comfort and convenience.
Below is an alternative….the AQuidneck.
Let’s face it — Newport has incredible beaches. Areas of Newport Beach include Corona del Mar, Balboa Island, Balboa Peninsula (also known as Balboa), Lido Peninsula, Newport Coast, San Joaquin Hills, and Santa Ana Heights, and West Newport. Notable beaches include the one closest to town and probably the most well known, 1st Beach, followed by 2nd Beach and 3rd Beach, the latter is where we spent most of our time.
We loved 3rd Beach because it is a little further down the road past 2nd Beach in Middletown, is smaller and less crowded. You can also rent paddle boards and kayaks from Island Surf and Sport, which I’d recommend doing. They have individual kayaks as well as ones designed for two if you’re up for a more leisurely ride around the many moored boats facing the beach.
It’s a great spot to come for some R&R time and is a fabulous spot to bring kids as well. Because this beach is actually set back in a cove, there aren’t many waves here and so it’s peaceful, serene and well, just lovely! I was inspired to shoot — between the sailboats, birds and laughing children playing in the sand, there were no shortage of visual summer delights to take in.
Other beaches worth mentioning include Hazards Beach, Gooseberry Beach, Bailey’s Beach and Reject’s Beach.
What did I miss? What do you love most about Newport? Let us know in your comments!
Other Recent Articles on Newport:
- The Ultimate Foodie Guide to Newport Rhode Island
- The Wellington Resort, an Ideal Newport Stay for Families
- The Viking Hotel Newport
- Where & How To Sail in Beautiful Newport Rhode Island
- The Retreat at Castle Hill Inn
- Newport International Polo: The Game’s History & Fashion
Details and Logistics:
- Discover Colonial Newport Tour: 127 Thames Street, Newport RI | www.newporthistorytours.org.
- Sailing and Water Experiences in Newport — details and logistics can be found in more detail in my article on boating experiences in Newport.
- Restaurants in Newport mentioned above and for a host of others – read my foodie guide on Newport (also noted above several times)
- Newport Polo: 250 Linden Lane, Portsmouth RI | www.nptpolo.com
- 3rd Beach Island Surf and Sport: 3rd Beach Road, Middletown RI | www.islandsports.com
- Newport Ghost Tour, Marriott Hotel (this is where they meet for the evening city tours): 25 America’s Cup Avenue, Newport RI | www.ghostsofnewport.com
- International Tennis Hall of Fame: 194 Bellevenue Avenue, Newport RI | www.tennisfame.com
- Sweet Berry Farm: 915 Mitchell Lane, Middletown RI | www.sweetberryfarm.com
- Easton’s Beach: 175 Memorial Boulevard, Newport RI | www.cityofnewport.com/departments/easton-s-beach
- Scooter World: 12 Christie’s Landing, Newport RI | www.scooterworldri.com
Note: some of my tours and experiences were hosted however all opinions expressed are entirely my own.