When to visit
- Very Favourable
What to do
- Worth the detour
- Must see
Located on an island in Narragansett Bay in the small state of Rhode Island, Newport has been a prestigious summer resort for many years.
This seaside city is, indeed, more than charming with its narrow streets, Victorian houses, majestic mansions, rich culture and history, and a harbour full of sailboats and yachts during the summer season.
The history of a Gilded Age…
Newport's history dates back to the colonial era. Founded in 1639, the colony was a "haven of religious toleration" where Christians and Jews could worship openly, and a flourishing centre of commerce.
The outbreak of the American Revolution, during which Newport was occupied by the British from 1776 to 1779, followed by the War of 1812, led to the collapse of the local economy.
A new identity as a summer resort began to emerge in the 1840s, when well-to-do New Yorkers and Bostonians began spending their summers here. Newport reached its zenith in the late 19th century, serving as a summer playground for some of the nation's wealthiest citizens, who built grand summer "cottages" there. To maintain her social standing, each season a good Newport hostess had to entertain in grand style, holding lavish dinners and balls with an extensive guest list.
As the Gilded Age came to an end, many fortunes were lost. Thanks to the Preservation of Newport County, several mansions have been preserved and protected and are now open to the public.
This popular recreation trail runs for 5.6 kilometres along some of the most beautiful coastline in all of New England and past many of the Newport mansions. The clifftop trail offers spectacular ocean views, and sunsets from the Cliff Walk are particularly romantic. Most of the path is paved and easy to navigate, although there are a few more rugged rocky areas. It stretches from the east end of Bailey's Beach (private beach) to the west end of Easton's Beach (First Beach) and there are numerous public access points along the way, such as on Bellevue Avenue and Narragansett Avenue.
The mansions of Newport are an enduring testament to the city's prestige and elegance. Guided tours are available of the 9 main mansions, all of which are owned and operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County. Most of them are on or around Bellevue Avenue (www.newportmansions.org):
- The Breakers : Completed in 1895, this 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo was the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, whose grandfather made the family fortune in steamships and the railroad. Open every day from April-December, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (44 Ochre Point Avenue).
- Marble House : The summer residence of William K. Vanderbilt was designed by the same architect who designed his brother's house, The Breakers. Marble House was inspired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles. Open every day from April-December, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (596 Bellevue Avenue).
- The Elms : The son of German immigrants, Edward Julius Berwind made his fortune in the coal industry. Eager to impress his wealthy neighbours, he had this mansion built in 1899, modelled after the 18th-century Château d'Asnières near Paris. Open every day from April-December, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (367 Bellevue Avenue).
- Château-sur-Mer : built in 1852, and remodelled in 1872, this palatial residence was constructed for wealthy China trade merchant William S. Wetmore. It was the most luxurious home in Newport for many years. Open every day from April-November, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (474 Bellevue Avenue).
- Rosecliff : The house was purchased in 1891 and renovated by Theresa Oelrichs, the daughter of an Irish immigrant who made his fortune in the Nevada gold mines. This prestigious residence, which is named for its extensive rose garden, was modelled after the Grand Trianon of Versailles. Open every day from April-December, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (548 Bellevue Avenue).
- Isaac Bell House : Successful New York cotton broker and investor Isaac Bell had this mansion built for his retirement at the age of 31! The Shingle-style house was completed in 1883. Open every day from late June until early September from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and weekends in May, June, September and October (corner of Bellevue Avenue and Perry Street).
- Kingscote : This Gothic Revival-style mansion was built in 1839 for George Noble Jones, a southern planter, then sold in 1860 to William H. King, for whom it was named (King's Cottage). Open every day from May to October, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (253 Bellevue Avenue).
- Chepstow : This Italianate mansion was built in 1860 for Dutch millionaire Edmund Schermerhorn, then bought in 1911 by the Gallatin family, who gave it the name of a Welsh castle. Tours by reservation from late June until early September between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. (120 Narragansett Avenue).
- Hunter House : Constructed in 1748, this Georgian Colonial mansion was home to two governors before serving as the headquarters of Admiral Charles de Ternay, commander of the French fleet, during the War of Independence. After the war, the house was acquired by Ambassador William Hunter. Open every day from late June until early September from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and weekends in May, June, September and October (54 Washington Street).
*** Hours may vary, check thr website ***
Newport Historic District
The Newport Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1968 due to its extensive and well-preserved assortment of intact colonial buildings. You will discover buildings that marked the history of the nation as you stroll through the narrow streets and past the small shops and cafes along Thames Street. This area is easily explored on foot.
Museum of Newport History in the Brick Market
The Brick Market is a 3-storey brick building dating from 1762 and a real Newport landmark. Located in the heart of the city and managed by the Newport Historical Society, it now houses the Museum of Newport History, which tells the story of the city's early settlers and maritime trade.
Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Newport welcomed its first Jewish residents in the 17th century, possibly as early as 1658. By 1758, the Jewish population had grown sufficiently that there was a need for a house of worship. During the British occupation of Newport, the synagogue became a hospital for the British military and a public assembly hall.
Today it remains an active house of worship. 20-minute guided tours are offered from mid-April to mid-October, some days of the week only, between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Old Colony House
This brick Georgian-style building and National Historic Landmark was the meeting place for the colonial legislature. Completed in 1741, it has not been altered much since its construction. It still belongs to the state and is managed by the Newport Historical Society.
In addition to its political and architectural importance, the building has served as an army barracks, hospital, courthouse and a location for Steven Spielberg's film Amistad.
National Museum of American Illustration
Founded in 1998 by Judy Goffman Cutler and Laurence S. Cutler to house their collection of primarily “Golden Age” American illustration art, today the museum also exhibits American illustration from all periods, styles and talents. The building is magnificent and the collection of works on display there is impressive.
Generally open in summer from Thursday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Other buildings of interest to see in this area include Great Friends Meeting House (21 Farewell Street), Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House (17 Broadway), Trinity Church (141 Spring Street), International Tennis Hall of Fame (194 Bellevue Avenue).
The fine sands of Rhode Island
Of course, where there is ocean, there are also beaches! If you would like to start or end your day on the fine sands of Rhode Island, you have a few public beaches to choose from, although the majority of Newport's beaches are privately owned.
Easton's Beach , known as First Beach to the locals, is the most popular. It boasts 1 kilometre of soft white sand, sparkling blue water, and an antique 1950s carousel as well as numerous amenities: playground, picnic area, toilets, snack bar, chair, umbrella and boogie board rental. Paid parking. (175 Memorial Blvd, Newport).
Sachuest Beach , known as Second Beach to the locals, is in Middletown, a few kilometres from Easton's Beach and next to Norman Bird Sanctuary . The beach is more peaceful and the waves are better for surfing. Paid parking. (474 Sachuest Point Road, Middletown).
Gooseberry Beach: Set in a cove, this is a private beach, but also open to the public. It is a quiet, place to relax with calm waves, making it popular with families with young children. Paid parking. (130 Ocean Avenue, Newport).
Where to eat
- $ Inexpensive
- $$ Moderate
- $$$ Upscale
- $$$$ Fine dining
Corner Café ($$-$$$)
This is a great spot for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is always very busy and it is easy to understand why after tasting their Irish, Portuguese and West Coast-influenced fare.
Open Monday-Wednesday from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Sundays from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Mooring ($$-$$$)
This popular restaurant enjoys a prime location on the Newport Harbour. The menu offers a variety of fresh seafood dishes and a fine maritime dining experience. You can eat on the patio for magnificent waterfront views or sunset over the harbour, and you can also sit at the bar before or after your meal. Reservations recommended!
Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (until 10 p.m. on Friday-Saturday).
White Horse Tavern ($$$$)
This historic tavern first opened in 1673, making it America's oldest restaurant! For generations it has served the freshest fish, clams and lobsters directly from Narragansett Bay, along with produce, meats and other products from local Rhode Island farms. Reservations are recommended and there is a dress code: casual shirts and dresses, no athletic wear or sleeveless shirts.
Open Sunday-Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m and Friday-Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Restaurant Bouchard ($$$$)
This restaurant in downtown Newport offers fine French cuisine in a cozy romantic setting. The wine list is excellent and the service is impeccable. Reservations are recommended, and the restaurant is not suitable for children under 7. There is a dress code: no sneakers, flip-flops, jeans, T-shirts or tank tops.
Open Thursday-Monday from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
*** Hours may vary ***
- Very Favourable