Newport, RI 3-Day Getaway Guide
Visit Newport, Rhode Island to experience America’s colonial, seafaring, and gilded-age past. Our Newport, RI 3 day itinerary takes in Newport’s mansions, revolution-era squares, and the magnificent Cliff Walk.
The Newport, RI attractions are many! The city bustles with trendy shops, taverns, and boutique museums. Storefront displays change with New England’s four seasons. Big annual events add to the excitement of the city. Spring brings the Flower Festival, summer the Jazz Festival, autumn the Seafood Festival, and winter Holidays at the Mansions (to name a few).
Our get-away guide is packed with things to do in Newport, RI. The 3-day itinerary includes tours of the Bellevue Avenue mansions, sightseeing along the wharves, shopping in historic plazas, and long treks beside the yacht-filled waters. Bring your walking shoes and best bling. This vacation will be a blast!
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Newport Travel Tips
Transportation: Newport, RI is about 2-hours south of Boston, MA on Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay. Newport is easily accessed by car, bus, or train. Most attractions are concentrated in a compact, walkable area. Public transport trolleys run between many hotels, the mansions, Cliff Walk, and waterfront. Away from your hotel parking is sparse, and can be expensive.
When To Go: Summer months are the busiest. Many establishments are open year-round, and lots of people prefer the lighter crowds of spring, fall, and winter. In January and February some mansions and businesses limit hours to refurbish; call ahead for opening times. Finally, if you don’t like crowds, check the city’s calendar for festivals and events before booking.
Where To Stay: The waterfront area has a large concentration of accommodations ranging from hotel rooms to condos. Once you park, the restaurants, shops, and wharfs are at your doorstep. We recommend booking a hotel between the Long Wharf and Lee’s Wharf area.
Day 1: Tour Breakers Mansion, Trek the Cliff Walk, Evening on Bowen’s and Bannister’s Wharfs
Begin your day with a tour of the Breaker’s Mansion (Ochre Point Avenue, Newport). The Breakers is a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style house built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II. It is a National Historic Landmark and considered by many to be the grandest of all the Newport “cottages.”
In 1895, Cornelius II commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to design and build a summer retreat for his large family. In the midst of the Gilded Age (1870-1910), titans of business who had made their fortunes in industry and transportation transformed the city of Newport into an opulent summer retreat for the newly rich.
The entrance of the Breakers mansion leads to a Great Room with a 45’ high ceiling inspired by 16th century palaces in Genoa and Turin. The villa was showplace for the family’s artwork. Much of the main floor is covered in gold leaf and Greco-Roman antiquities. Cornelius II, who was president of the New York Central Railroad, also included odes to Mercury (the god of transport) throughout the mansion. The palazzo is set on 13-acres overlooking the crashing (“breaking”) waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
Scenes from the HBO historical drama, “The Gilded Age,” created by Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame) were shot in the Breakers mansion. The show highlights the tensions between America’s old money families, and their newly rich neighbors.
After touring the Breakers, you can access the Cliff Walk from the Ochre Point Avenue gate. The Cliff Walk is a 3.5-mile path that straddles the crashing surf of the Atlantic Ocean and the Newport mansions. The Ochre Avenue access point is about mid-way on the walk. If you turn north (left) along the paved walkway, you will soon pass several estates on the grounds of Salve Regina University.
After passing a scenic overlook you will come to the Forty Steps. This staircase dates back to the 1800s. In the gilded-age it was a meeting spot for the servants who worked in the mansions. Today, it provides access to the water for fishing and sunbathing.
From Forty Steps, the paved path continues on to Eason’s Beach. The water views are lovely, but the landscaping of the “cottages” mostly hides the houses from view on this portion of the path. Note: Easton’s beach is a good place to park if you don’t start the walk at the Breakers.
If you go south from the Breakers (to the right), you will pass several mansions (Rosecliff, Beechwood, and Marble House) until you reach The Waves Access Point by Ledge Road. At this juncture, the path turns from pavement to rock. Soon, you will reach Bailey’s beach where the trail ends.
Tonight, head to the waterfront’s wharves. Begin your exploration at the Bowen and Bannister Wharfs. The neighboring piers are lined with historic New England buildings filled with unique shops and attractions. There are nautical insignias along the brick and cobblestone pedestrian pathways. You can enjoy the boats in the harbor and book a boat ride for tomorrow.
The wharves are lined with eateries. There are ice cream, candy, and cookie shops as well as many seafood restaurants. The pubs along the wharf offer a variety of indoor and outdoor seating options.
The family-friendly area has fun for all age groups. You can spend the evening in this neighborhood, or continue exploring other nearby wharves.
Day 2: Explore Colonial Newport & Long Wharf, Boat Ride, Evening on Thames Street
This morning we will explore a bit of colonial Newport. Begin at the Trinity Church (One Queen Anne Square, Newport). This lovely Episcopalian Church was founded in 1698 (current church built in 1726). The inside of the church features an historically unique 3-level, center aisle pulpit. The outside of the church overlooks a grassy square and Newport Harbor.
Leaving Trinity Church, take Bellevue Avenue north to Washington Square. The town green is the historical center of Newport. Though most of the original buildings are gone, the square is laid out as it was in colonial times (around 1639).
As you stroll into the vibrant downtown area, notice Old Colony House. The building served as the headquarters for the city’s business from 1739 until 1900. The Declaration of Independence was first read to Rhode Islanders from the balcony of this building.
At the other end of the square, you will see the Brick Market. In colonial times it was Newport’s commercial center. The Museum of Newport History currently resides in the building.
Pass through the Brick Marketplace Shopping Mall and cross the street to reach Long Wharf. The first landmark you will come to is Perrotti Park and the Newport Hi-Speed Ferry Terminal. This long greenspace runs parallel to the America’s Cup Avenue and Newport Harbor.
Passing the park, trek along Long Wharf. On the harbor-side you will pass the Newport Yacht Club. On the city-side you will pass a series of shops including Celtica, a pub serving New England-style favorites.
At the end of the wharf, find the Newport Lobster Shack (delicious!). Continuing down Washington Street, you will come to Safe Harbor Newport Shipyard where you can view the business of commercial fishing and lobstering (from afar).
This afternoon, enjoy a boat ride. There are many sailing, fishing, and charter boat tours of Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay available. Two long time cruise operators in the area are Coastal Queen Cruises (Bowen Wharf) and Gansett Cruises (Bowen Wharf).
Tonight, we will explore Thames Street. The historic, partially-cobblestoned avenue is full of unique shops and lively bars.
Begin your exploration at the corner of Washington and Thames Street. The 1.5-mile street is one of the oldest continuously utilized roads in America. Thames runs parallel to the waterfront and connects Washington Square to the waterfront area. Even though sometimes it can feel like a pedestrian road, it is not. Take care to remain on the sidewalks. As you wander the road, you will pass some of the oldest and most-loved businesses in Newport.
Day 3: Tour Marble House, Explore Fort Adams
Start off the day with a second mansion tour. We suggest a ticket to Marble House (if you have already toured this house try The Elms or Rosecliff).
Completed in 1892, at a cost of 11 million dollars, William K. Vanderbilt commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to design his summer “cottage.” The mansion was modeled after a palace in Versailles. Most of the cost of the home (7 million dollars) went to the marble that adorns the home.
William Vanderbilt was the younger brother of Cornelius Vanderbilt II (who built the Breakers). William’s wife, Alva, was the “queen bee” of Newport society. It is reported that William gifted Alva with the deed to Marble House on her 39th birthday. She visualized the gift as her “temple to the arts.”
Alva later had a Chinese teahouse built in the backyard overlooking the ocean. The teahouse was famous for the women’s right to vote rallies that Alva held there.
Throughout Marble House you can see portraits of William, Alva, and their three children. One of the sons, Harold, was an avid yachtsman. There is a room devoted to the family's sailing trophies. Marble House is designated as a National Historic Landmark.
If touring a second mansion does not appeal to you, check out one of the many local museums. Nearby is the Naval War College Museum, International Tennis Hall of Fame, the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport Art Museum, Newport Car Museum, Museum of Newport History, Newport Historical Society, and the National Museum of American Illustration.
For your final Newport outing head out of town. If you have access to a private vehicle, make your way to Fort Adams via the Scenic Ocean Drive. From town, take Spring Street to Coggenshall and the start of Ocean Drive. The drive will take you past 10-miles of breathtaking ocean views, mansions, lighthouses, and pasture-land.
If you do not have access to a private vehicle, take the Ferry from Perrotti Park across the Newport Harbor to Fort Adams. The ferry runs 5 times a day; the crossing is about 18 minutes.
Once arriving at Fort Adams (Harrison Avenue, Newport) parking is free. There is a Visitor’s Center and restrooms onsite. Fort Adams was once a large coastal military installation. The fortification is now a State Park used for public recreation.
The property is located at the mouth of Newport Harbor and has panoramic views of Newport Town, Pell Bridge, and the eastern portion of Narragansett Bay.
There is a sailing facility onsite (public rentals) and many docks available for fishing, kayaking, and remote-control boating. The park’s expansive fields are used for picnicking, sunbathing, and sporting activities. In the summer, the site hosts the Newport Jazz Festival.
Fort Adams has guided tours that take visitors into the facility’s tunnels and on top of the fort’s walls. There is a free 2.25-mile paved walk around the park that give visitors a view of the exterior fort and its grounds (as well as gorgeous views of Narragansett Bay and Newport Harbor).
Whew! That was a full 3-days. Safe travels home, Laura and Randy
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