Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Newport
You’ll find it hard not to be impressed at the opulence of The Breakers, the crown jewel of the Newport cottages. The 70-room four-story mansion was the summer estate of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the grandson of railroad tycoon Commodore Vanderbilt. The grand structure, built in 1895, was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, who modeled it after 16th-century Italian Renaissance palaces.
Vanderbilt spared no expense in designing this lavish Guilded Age temple, installing a high entrance gate that weighs over 7 tons, using gold leaf and rare marble, and bringing in painters from Europe to create mural-size baroque paintings. Inside, all the furnishings on view are original. Outside, open-air terraces give way to breathtaking ocean views.
The Preservation Society of Newport County purchased the house in 1972, and today it is a National Historic Landmark.
Fort Adams State Park is one of Newport’s most popular playgrounds. In summer, locals and visitors alike come to swim, fish, sail, play soccer, and picnic on its 105 acres, all against a panoramic backdrop of Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay. The park is also the site of Fort Adams, a sprawling 1820s fort that you can see on a guided tour, and the Museum of Yachting, which is housed in 19th-century stone barracks.
In August, the park hosts the famous Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival, both of which feature performances from up-and-coming artists to big names. On the southern end of park is Hammersmith Farm, the childhood home of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis; she and President Kennedy also hosted their wedding reception here.
The breathtaking Newport shoreline unfolds on the Ocean Drive, a 10-mile scenic cruise along Newport’s southern coast. Along the drive you’ll pass Gooseberry Beach, Hazards Beach, Castle Hill Inn, and Green Bridge. The winding road also passes Ida Lewis Yacht Club, Hammersmith Farm (where President Kennedy held his wedding reception in 1953), and the Museum of Yachting.
Popular stops along the way include Brenton Point State Park, where you can picnic, sip lemonade, soak up the ocean views, and hear the waves crashing against the rocks. Fort Adams State Park is another favorite stop, most notable for its myriad outdoor activities and as the site for the Newport Folk and Newport Jazz festivals. For more swimming and sunbathing, check out Gooseberry Beach, the drive’s the only public beach.
Traversing the center of Newport, Bellevue Avenue and its surrounding streets are home to some of the most exclusive properties in New England. The affluent area is mostly residential, and includes many of the Gilded Age summer “cottages” built by such iconic names as Vanderbilt and Astor. The homes were not just mansions; they were showcases for new and progressive architectural styles.
Along the mansion-lined avenue you can see the Isaac Bell House, The Elms, Marble House, and Kingscote. The Breakers, Newport’s signature mansion, is to the east on Ochre Point Avenue. Also here is the Newport Casino, home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the National Museum of American Illustration.
Tracing the perimeter of the southern edge of town, high above the crashing surf of the Atlantic Ocean, the Newport Cliff Walk fronts many of Newport’s famous Gilded Age mansions. The 3.5-mile (5.6 km) public walkway passes Astor’s Beechwood, Rosecliff, Marble House, The Breakers, Ochre Coure, and Rough Point, providing better views of these “cottages” then what can be scene from the street.
The long and winding walk is mostly paved and offers visitors not only stunning views of the mansions but also breathtaking vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding shores, as well as dramatic sunsets. Parts of southern half of the trail are unpaved and ramble over the rocky shoreline.
Designed by renowned society architect Richard Morris Hunt, the Marble House is a stellar highlight of Newport’s Gilded Age summer cottages. Built between 1888 and 1892 for William and Alva Vanderbilt, the 50-room mansion cost $11 million dollars and required a staff of 36 servants. It was one of the first Beaux-Arts structures in the United States, and its lavish styling was inspired by Le Petit Trianon at Versailles in France.
The entrance to the U-shaped building, which faces Bellevue Avenue, resembles the White House, with its Corinthian-columned portico. Inside are a number of lavish rooms, including the two-story Stair Hall dressed in yello Siena marble with an 18th-century Venetian ceiling painting; the Grand Salon, encrusted with three kinds of gold; and a dining room impeccably attired in pink Numidian marble and appointed in gilt bronze.
Alva Vanderbilt sold the house in 1919 and it was purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County in 1963.