Newport, RI

In 4 words: Gilded Age and more.
For your visit two full days are sufficient to visit all top attractions, but at least three days are recommended.
Distances are mostly walkable and parking can be a challenge in central town, but use of the car is natural.
Love its magnificent mansions.
Don’t miss: Art galleries and antique shops along the waterfront and Thames Street.
Worthy attractions: Breakers; Elms; Marble House; Chateau-sur-Mer; Rosecliff; Cliff Walk; Ocean Drive.
Left for another visit: Kingscote; a handful of lesser historic houses; Fort Adams.
Last visit: May 2013.


Things to See

Newport is first and foremost about impressive monuments of the Gilded Age – the mansions of the rich and famous built in XIX-early XX centuries.

Breakers ♥♥♥ is the most luxurious and opulent one. If you only go and see one mansion, you probably have to pick it over any others. Audioguide system is shared across all mansions managed by the local Preservation Society, but at Breakers, the structure of the guide is most excellent and enlightening.

Elms ♥♥♥ is less opulent but still impressive. It has best grounds of all mansions, even though it is not on the shore and does not have a sea view. Consider paying extra for the Servant Life tour, which is worth the fee and the need to reserve in advance: you get to see simpler things on this tour and you gain a different perspective on the workings of the mansion; plus, they take you to the roof for a sweeping view.

Marble House ♥♥ vies with the Breakers for being the most ostentatious, but is mostly luxurious on the first floor, not so much upstairs. The audioguide commentary expends a lot of time on Alva Vanderbilt, both illuminating and somewhat drawn-out. The Chinese Tea House, set by the shore on the mansion’s grounds, is a glorified snack bar, not to be confused with a place to get proper lunch.

Rosecliff ♥ is not as impressive as others and not as well furnished, but it has several bright expansive rooms. Since it can be rented for a special occasion, you can sort of try it on for size during your visit. Audioguide gets quite confusing at this mansion and provides way too much random trivia only loosely connected to the house.

Chateau-sur-Mer ♥♥ gets less tourist traffic because it is a Victorian mansion (slightly pre-dating the Gilded Age sensibilities), darker and not as regal on the inside. It is full of impressive period furniture and clatter, appearing somewhat most lived-in of all the major mansions. The exterior look is gorgeous proper chateau. There is no audioguide; the guided tour feels a bit rushed at times.

Visiting many houses one after another makes them blend with each other eventually, so you would be well served to find a constrained measure of exploring these attractions. The Preservation society has a bunch of lesser houses (open only during the “summer” season) which could be visited by the most insatiable. There are also a couple of mansions that do not belong to the Society but can also be visited.

Ocean Drive ♥, despite often considered the top attraction in Newport is actually somewhat underwhelming. It is a nice few miles drive along the coast, but it does not have that many good stops to observe coastal scenery, and provides very little in terms of glimpses of the great houses. Nonetheless, a good diversion if you are so inclined.

Cliff Walk ♥♥♥ is a great path along the cliffs’ edge behind the mansions. Some sections of it were still closed since Hurricane Sandy when we visited in 2013, but the part between Naragansett Street and Ruggles Street allows excellent views to Breakers and a few other properties on one side and the sea down below on the other.

Other attractions in Newport include a couple of museums and Fort Adams that we did not fit into our schedule. There is also the International Tennis Hall of Fame Museum. Respite from mansions can be found, among other places, in the lively commercial area that stretched from the Brick Marketplace through the wharves an onto Thames Street. It is full of fun shops and galleries.


Places to Eat

All places last visited in May 2013, party of two.

The Mooring ♥♥ sits by the marina in the central wharf area. Veranda is separated from the elements by screens and can be heated. Good lunch menu, plus raw seafood bar. We had roasted beet salad, crab cakes, swordfish burger and the specialty chowder. All very tasty. Good service. The damage: $80 including 2 glasses of wine and tips.

Canfield Restaurant and Inn ♥♥ – the atmospheric former casino has a large beautiful banquet room for formal eating. Excellent menu, and the portions are quite generous. Live music performances on Fridays and Saturdays. Fantastic roasted duck, unusual but tasty mushroom risotto for an appetizer, good meat and fish entrees all around. The damage: $150 with a bottle of wine and tips.

Le petit gourmet ♥ is a tiny European-style shop and cafe, offering a selection of quick bites: quiches, panini, soup, pastries, cheeses, meats. It sits at the very beginning of Bellevue Ave across from the Viking Hotel, next to better-known Maison de Coco.

Cafe Zelda ♥♥ is popular and loud during peak night time, its tight confines packed with younger affluent crowd. The service is very efficient, the food is simply excellent. Fantastic boulabaisse and chicken-fried lobster, great shrimps and escargot for appetizers. The damage: $155 with a bottle of wine and tips.

Black Pearl ♥♥ is also tremendously popular, especially during lunch (expect a significant wait time). It is located on the Bannister’s Wharf. The place serves possibly the best clam chowder anywhere, not as thick as the usual ones. Many other good choices, hearty but not necessarily raising to the level of exceptional. Confines are pretty tight, but manageable. The damage: $100 with 2 glasses of wine plus tips.

Conservatory at Vanderbilt Grace ♥♥ is one of two restaurants at a mid-size hotel, half a block from the main tourist thoroughfare. The other eatery, Muse, is run by a famous TV chef, but the Conservatory is simply a nice bright veranda area serving not extensive but good choice of dishes. On a late Sunday night we ended up having the later portion of our meal to ourselves in a rather romantic atmosphere. Excellent tomato soup, great mussels, exceptional crab cake. Good wine list shared with Muse. The damage: $140 with a bottle of wine and tips.

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