Welcome to my insider’s guide on how to spend a perfect weekend in Newport, Rhode Island! As someone who has explored its charming streets, sailed its picturesque waters, and delved into the rich history of this coastal gem, I’m thrilled to share my experiences and tips with you.
Newport, with its stunning Gilded Age mansions, vibrant waterfront, and delicious seafood, has it all. Offering a unique blend of history, luxury, and laid-back coastal living, it’s been a popular East Coast getaway for generations.
Located on Narragansett Bay, Newport’s maritime heritage is on full display at every turn. The city boasts the largest collection of colonial-era homes in the country and extravagant mansions built by the wealthiest industrialists of the late 1800s. Today, many of these “summer cottages” are now museums, where you can now explore the grounds.
Beyond Newport’s history, there’s also a contemporary flair that draws a younger crowd. Chic bars, seafood restaurants, and boutiques are sprawled around Bowen’s Wharf and Thames Street, one of the best alfresco dining scenes in New England.
In this guide, I’ll take you through the best of Newport, from the must-visit historic sites and scenic cliff walks to hidden local haunts and culinary hotspots. Ready to see this coastal city for yourself? Here’s my guide to spending a weekend in Newport, Rhode Island!
Hike the Cliff Walk
Take a seaside stroll along the Cliff Walk, a 3-mile walkway that connects Newport’s mansions with the scenic waterfront area. It’s one of the best hikes in New England, and a great place to exercise and take in the stunning views of the mansions and coastline.
Some parts of the Cliff Walk are paved, while others are rocky and uneven, so you’ll want to throw on good footwear. If you’re someone who wears sunscreen, bring that too!
For early birds, you won’t have any trouble finding parking in front of Easton’s Beach or on the side streets near the Salve Regina campus and The Breakers mansion. Sunrise is the best time to visit because the Cliff Walk hugs the eastern side of Aquidneck Island.
Is the Cliff Walk one of the prettiest spots to visit in Rhode Island? You bet!
Tour Newport’s extravagant mansions
Walk down Bellevue Avenue and you’ll instantly fall in love with some of America’s most impressive mansions.
Most of these homes date back to the Gilded Age during the late 1800s and early 1900s. This was when America’s wealthiest and most powerful families, including the Vanderbilts, Morgans, and Astors, sought Newport as their summer residences. Decked out with elaborate tapestries, artwork, and other décor, their homes were built to rival the royal estates of Europe. In many cases, they most certainly did.
There are 11 Gilded Age mansions that are open to the public. Be sure to check out the Newport Preservation Society website for an updated operating schedule.
Here are a few of my favorite mansions along with a brief description of each:
The Breakers: The most famous and iconic home in Newport. It was built for Cornelius Vanderbilt II in the Italian Renaissance style and contains 70 rooms.
Marble House: A mansion built from 500,000 cubic feet of marble. It was a birthday present for William K. Vanderbilt’s wife. Not bad!
Rosecliff: An ornate mansion that was filmed in the 1974 film The Great Gatsby. This is another National Historic Landmark that’s worth a visit.
Whether you’re an architecture lover or simply looking for a rainy day activity, the Newport mansions will not disappoint! These homes provide a unique glimpse of how the ultra-rich used to live during the turn of the twentieth century.
Lunch at the White Horse Tavern
Grab a hearty meal at the White Horse Tavern, the oldest restaurant in the US. It was established in 1673, more than 100 years before the American Revolution.
The White Horse Tavern is located near Thames Street, and serves a variety of local American dishes. The fresh seafood comes from Narragansett Bay, while much of the produce is sourced from nearby farms. I loved the oysters, lobster mac and cheese, and steak frites. The Rhode Island clam chowder wasn’t as creamy as what I’m used to in Boston, but it’s a local delicacy and worth trying, nevertheless.
Once you step foot inside, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to colonial times. The White Horse Tavern has been serving locals for 350 years, and though the setting is old and historic, the dining experience is more contemporary and upscale.
Stay overnight to truly experience Newport’s charm
Over the years, I’ve done many day trips to Newport. However, to experience all that Newport has to offer, you’ll want to spend at least a couple of nights to properly enter vacation mode.
First and foremost, I recommend staying somewhere on the ocean to truly see Newport in all its glory. You’ll find several classic New England hotels right on the Cliff Walk, which will get you close the famous mansions. Last year, I stayed at The Chanler at Cliff Walk, which is one of the most luxurious hotels in the northeast.
Nestled along the famed Cliff Walk, The Chanler at Cliff Walk is a Newport experience wrapped in luxury and history. This boutique hotel, set in a 19th-century mansion, offers a unique blend of Newport’s Gilded Age elegance and modern comfort. Each room is individually designed, reflecting different historical periods, making your stay a journey through time.
Imagine waking up to panoramic ocean views, dining at their acclaimed restaurant with local seafood and stepping right onto the Cliff Walk for a scenic stroll. The Chanler will cost you a pretty penny, but it’s worth it to immerse yourself in Newport’s charm.
To save money, plan to stay somewhere near the harbor. During high season, you’ll want to book many weeks (or months) in advance to get a decent deal. Otherwise, your best bet is to stay in a hotel or Airbnb within driving distance of Newport, RI.
Take a tour of the city
Sure, you can do Newport on your own, but a tour is a helpful way to get your bearings and learn a bit about the city. In these times, it’s also a great way to give back to the local community. Tour guides have been hit especially hard by stifled tourism caused by the pandemic, so by taking a tour with a local guide, you’re really supporting the community.
I took a Viking Trolley Tour, a scenic and narrated tour aboard an old-fashioned trolley. Our guide, Ray, provided a great overview of Newport and the many sights sprawled around the city. It was interesting to learn about Newport’s colonial, maritime heritage, as well as the Gilded Age for which the city is famous for. With Newport’s history being so vast, I appreciated this high level overview and it helped me figure out what I wanted to see later on.
Typically, when I explore new cities, I prefer to do the “free” walking tours (where you tip the guide at the end). But given that Newport is fairly spread out, a trolley tour was a nice way to get around.
Eat, drink, and shop around Bowen’s Wharf
Looking for one of the top things to do in Newport? Enjoy a summer evening around Bowen’s Wharf, a pedestrian-friendly zone with beautiful views of the waterfront. Together with Bannister’s Wharf, this is the heart and pulse of Newport’s marina.
Bowen’s Wharf is home to a mix of bars, restaurants, and boutiques, as well as a fun and lively alfresco scene with plenty of opportunities for people-watching and sailboat-gazing. If you’re visiting Newport over a weekend, be sure to make a reservation at one of the restaurants in advance. 22 Bowen’s, The Mooring, and Black Pearl are among the most popular restaurants near the waterfront, but there are many others in the vicinity.
Bowen’s Wharf is also within walking distance of Thames Street and America’s Cup Avenue, where you’ll find other shops, lobster bars, and attractions. It’s easy to get caught up in all the incredible food and eat your way through these neighborhoods. The lobster roll is a must!
Parking here can be tricky, so plan to either pay extra for a designated parking lot nearby or do street parking further away. Some restaurants will validate for two-hour parking.
Sunset boat cruise
A sunset boat cruise is a must when you’re in Newport. It was the highlight of my visit, and I’m sure it will be yours too.
On a clear summer night, set sail on one of Newport’s harbor cruises. Amazing Grace is among the most popular, where you’ll glide past superyachts, lighthouses, and mansions, all illuminated by golden hues. The sweeping views paired with the fresh sea breeze is an amazing experience.
Amazing Grace is owned by Oldport Marine, which provides other harbor shuttle services and charters. They are a great option if you’re planning to visit Newport in a group for a company outing, wedding or bachelorette party.
As you sail through the harbor, you’ll be surprised by the sheer number of big boats out there, many of which belong to individuals. Though the Gilded Age is long gone, Newport is still a summer haven for the rich and famous.
Tour the International Tennis Hall of Fame
If you’re a tennis fan or player, definitely check out the International Tennis Hall of Fame. It’s located at the site of the first U.S. Open Championship in 1881, and includes a museum, grass tennis courts, and an indoor and outdoor tennis facility.
The grounds and architecture are beautiful, while the museum houses interesting exhibits about the history and evolution of the sport. I was surprised to learn that the earliest versions of tennis trace back to medieval times, before evolving into modern tennis in the late 1800s.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame is the perfect rainy day activity during a weekend in Newport. It’s one of the best things to do in RI for families, hands down.
Is tennis not your thing? Another attraction I recommend nearby is the Newport Art Museum. It’s really close to the Tennis Hall of Fame, so if your family (or friend group) has different interests, this is a good opportunity to split up.
Explore Thames Street, Newport’s lively downtown area
Beyond all the extravagant mansions and world-class attractions, don’t miss Downtown Newport. This is the center of all the action in Newport – the heart and pulse of the city.
Here on Thames Street, you’ll find lots of lively restaurants, bars, and shops near the waterfront. As such, it’s one of the top nightlife areas of the city. Also along this 1.5-mile street, you’ll discover several museums and historic B&Bs.
I highly recommend taking it slow here. Give yourself plenty of time to pop in and out of family-run shops, restaurants, and bars.
Into cars? The Audrain Auto Museum will blow your mind
Just next door to the International Tennis Hall of Fame is another unique museum, the Audrain Auto Museum. It showcases some of the world’s rarest cars from 1899 to the present day.
While the museum has access to more than 200 vehicles, you’ll see about 15-20 cars on display at a given point in time. The exhibits in the museum change every three months, so you’ll see a new collection of cars every time you return.
When I was there, the theme was headlights, so you could see and learn about their remarkable evolution over the decades. It was fascinating to see that kerosene torches were used as headlights in the olden days, and for practical reasons, people rarely drove at night.
In Newport, it’s not uncommon to see fancy cars on the road, so it’s a fitting location for this museum. I’m not fully versed in this area, so it was nice to visit the Audrain Auto Museum to broaden my knowledge about high-end cars, especially in a historical context.
Drive along the Ocean Drive Historic District
While we’re on the topic of cars, let’s go for a drive along the Ocean Drive Historic District.
This is a 10-mile scenic drive along the coast where you’ll pass by private beaches, classic New England boats, and mansions towering over dramatic cliffs. There are plenty of places to pull and take photos. It’s also very bike and pedestrian friendly.
One place you won’t want to miss is Brenton Point State Park, an 89-acre park located where the Atlantic Ocean meets Narragansett Bay. It’s a terrific sunset and picnic spot, where you can relax, unwind, and watch the waves batter against the rocky shores. It can be a bit windy here, so it’s the perfect place to fly a kite.
Not far away is Fort Adams State Park, a historic area that’s home to Fort Adams. Here, you can take a tour around the grounds, and catch the sunset with panoramic views of Newport Harbor.
Rejuvenate at the beach
Need a break from the museums and mansions? Head to one of Newport’s beaches to soak up the summer sun and cool off in the water.
Rhode Island’s Classic Coast is home to hundreds of miles of beautiful sandy beaches. Here are some public ones around Newport that deserve a visit:
Easton’s Beach: Also known as First Beach, it’s located at the beginning of the Cliff Walk and is a popular sunrise spot.
Second Beach: Located just down the road from First Beach in neighboring Middletown, RI.
Gooseberry Beach: A small beach set in a quiet cove along Ocean Drive.
Fort Adams State Beach: A small beach in Fort Adams State Park that overlooks Newport Harbor.
Soak in the summer sun at Newport Vineyards
During a weekend in Newport, enjoy a glass or two of wine at Newport Vineyards. It’s the largest grower of grapes in New England, and offers a variety of tours, tastings, live music, and other special events.
There’s a solid variety of red and white wines here, so I recommend getting a flight of four to try. Be sure to make a reservation in advance for the outdoor patio, which has a beautiful view of the vineyard and a gentle breeze to go with it.
In addition to the winery, there’s also a craft beer brewhouse called Taproot Brewing Co. This, along with the restaurant and winery, makes for the perfect afternoon outing. The winery’s relaxed and charming atmosphere reminds me a bit of Napa Valley in California.
Take a ferry to Block Island
Planning to spend at least a weekend in Newport? Consider doing a day trip to Block Island. It’s a serene place to visit during all times of year, especially during the fall foliage season in New England.
This idyllic island is home to dramatic clay cliffs, windswept beaches, and historic lighthouses and Victorian-era homes. It has the classic New England vibes of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, without the crowds.
Take a hi-speed ferry to Block Island, one of America’s best hidden vacation spots, where you’ll find no stoplights or big international chains. Here’s the ferry schedule from Newport:
Dinner and drinks at the Castle Hill Inn
Enjoy a summer sunset from the Adirondack chairs at the Castle Hill Inn. This late 19th-century estate hosts an inn and restaurant, where you can eat dinner and have drinks with a view of the waterfront.
I didn’t get to go here unfortunately, but I’ve heard from friends that it’s a must when you’re in Newport. I drove by and the location is perfect with stunning views of the lighthouse and Newport Bridge.
Stroll The Point neighborhood
Though Newport is best known for its Gilded Age history, the city’s colonial heritage is also front and center. One of the best-preserved historic neighborhoods is The Point, home to the largest collection of colonial-era homes in the United States. This is a part of the Newport Historic District, which covers 250 acres of property in the center of Newport.
As I walked through The Point district, I was surprised to see how well-preserved and intact these homes truly were. There are about 50 of them dating to the early and mid 1700s. Each has a placard in front showing when they were built and for whom.
In The Point, it feels like you’re back in the days before the American Revolution.
Visit the Rose Island Lighthouse
Airbnb tree houses are cool and all, but have you ever thought about spending a night in a lighthouse? Rose Island has you covered.
Just off the coast of Newport, Rose Island is a pristine and secluded island with a classic New England lighthouse. It’s a unique experience where you can spend a night or even up to a week in the lighthouse, which dates back to 1870.
Wake up every morning to a picture-perfect sunrise and cap off the evenings stargazing with unobstructed views of the midnight sky. Here’s the website to make a reservation.
Even if a secluded island getaway isn’t in the cards, consider a lighthouse and harbor tour instead. Rose Island is one of Newport’s best hidden gems.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about a Newport weekend getaway
Looking to dive deeper into how to spend a weekend in Newport Rhode Island? Here are some popular questions from travelers like you:
How many days should I spend in Newport RI?
If you’re planning a trip to Newport, RI, I’d say give yourself at least three days. Newport packs a punch with its stunning coastal views, historic mansions, and vibrant downtown. Day one, dive into the Gilded Age with tours of The Breakers and Marble House. Spend your second day strolling the Cliff Walk for breathtaking ocean views, then hit up the bustling wharves for some fresh seafood. Dedicate your third day to exploring the hidden gems – maybe a sail around Narragansett Bay or a leisurely afternoon in one of the local vineyards. Each day in Newport peels back a layer of its rich history and charm, leaving you captivated and longing for more. Trust me, Newport’s mix of luxury, history, and laid-back coastal vibes makes every moment count!
Is Newport Rhode Island worth seeing?
Oh, absolutely! Newport, Rhode Island, is a must-see. It’s like stepping into a different era with its stunning Gilded Age mansions like The Breakers and Marble House, which are just dripping in history and opulence.
But it’s not all about the past; Newport’s sailing culture is vibrant, and the seafood is as fresh as it gets. The Cliff Walk? It’s a coastal trail that offers some of the most breathtaking ocean views you’ll ever see. And let’s not forget Downtown Newport, where the streets are lined with quaint shops, galleries, and restaurants that capture that classic New England charm.
Whether you’re a history buff, a beach lover, or just in it for some incredible lobster rolls, Newport has a bit of everything. That’s why I keep coming here again and again!
Where should I spend a Newport weekend getaway?
For a weekend getaway in Newport, you’ve got to immerse yourself in the heart of its charm. Start by booking a stay at one of the historic inns or boutique hotels. Here are some hotels I recommend:
- $$$: The Chanler at Cliff Walk
- $$: The Vanderbilt, Auberge Resorts Collection
- $: Newport Marriott Hotel & Spa
Spend your days exploring the grandeur of the Gilded Age mansions along Bellevue Avenue – each one tells a story of America’s elite. Don’t miss a leisurely stroll along the Cliff Walk; it’s where stunning ocean views meet historic landscapes.
Where can I find things to do in Newport RI this weekend?
No matter the time of year, there are always tons of fun things to do in Newport over the weekend. From exploring historic mansions and walking along the Cliff Walk to fine dining and boat excursions, the options are endless. To see what’s going on in Newport this weekend, check out the Discover Newport Events Calendar.
A weekend in Newport, Rhode Island
I hope you enjoyed reading this article on how to spend a Newport Rhode Island weekend getaway! It’s truly one of the most beautiful destinations that the Vanderbilt family has called home.
Whether you’re into history or chilling on the beach, Newport is a must-see on any east coast road trip itinerary. It’s the perfect day trip or weekend getaway from Boston, and you can even spend much longer!
Are you planning to visit Newport for a weekend anytime soon? Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below. Hope you have a fun and safe trip! -Jon
Article notes and disclosures: Back in July 2020, I partnered with Discover Newport and The Wayfinder Hotel, who hosted me and covered my experiences/expenses in Newport. However, as a travel blogger, I have visited Newport over ten times, so I used content from other trips to help make this guide. As always, all opinions are my own.