Escape NYC for a Weekend in Newport, Rhode Island
Take a break from the city and step back in time, touring the seaside resort's famous Gilded Age mansions.
Step Back in TimeNewport is located just off the coast of Rhode Island on Aquidneck Island. This seaside village has been a popular tourist destination since the early 19th century, but it's become best known for its Gilded Age mansions, summer homes that were built by some of the country’s wealthiest families (Astor, Vanderbilt) in the late 19th century. The Preservation Society of Newport County maintains 10 of the properties, and eight are within walking distance along Bellevue Avenue. Both guided and self-guided tours of the mansions are available. 960 1280
Must-See: The BreakersThe Breakers is the most famous of the Newport mansions due to its sheer grandiosity. Railroad baron Cornelius Vanderbilt II modeled the 70-room estate after a 16th century Italian palace, and the opulent interior, which is literally covered in gilt, is the very definition of gilded. A self-guided audio tour allows you to explore at leisure, while providing first-person narratives from the manse’s inhabitants. 960 1280
Must-See: Marble HouseMarble House is another testament of the Vanderbilt’s wealth, and though not the largest, it set the precedent for all the society homes that followed. True to its name, it contains $7 million worth of marble; it's also a classic example of Beaux Arts architecture that was favored by the French. 960 1280
Must-See: The ElmsThe Elms (pictured) was also inspired by a French chateau, and though more “modest” in size than some of its neighbors, its art collection rivals many a museum. The Servant Life Tour is unique to The Elms, and includes tales from the butler and a maid while exploring everything from the basement kitchens to the servants’ quarters on the third floor—which entails climbing a cardio-worthy 82 steps.
If parts of Rosecliff look familiar, it might be because it’s been featured in major films such as "The Great Gatsby." Silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs loved to entertain, and as a result Rosecliff boasts the largest ballroom of the Newport estates. 960 1280
Must-See: Rough Point
Sprawling Rough Point is famous for being the summer home of billionaire tobacco heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke, whose extreme wealth and unconventional lifestyle drew media attention her entire life. The 115-room residence has remained the same since her death, filled with an impressive art collection and surrounded by formal gardens. Unlike the other estates along Bellevue Avenue, Rough Point was modeled after an English manor; it was also the site of Duke’s debutante ball.
Chateau-sur-Mer was the first on the Newport society scene, and the site of many a grand party. Its Victorian decor is markedly toned down compared to later arrivals, but rest assured its dark wood paneling and hand-painted murals are by no means boring.960 1280
Best ShoppingDowntown, Thames Street is just a block from the waterfront, and the mile-long strip (along with the surrounding area), is the main destination for shopping and restaurants. Expect to find an assorted mix of independents stores and chains.
Bowen’s Wharf and Bannister’s Wharf are also popular destinations for shopping and dining downtown. 960 1280
Where to EatDozens of good options exist: Corner Café is a popular spot for breakfast and brunch among locals and tourists alike; just be prepared for a wait. The Clarke Cooke House is located in a historic Colonial home, and is considered a must stop for notables passing through. Work off dinner by dancing at the downstairs Boom Boom Room.
The Mooring Seafood Kitchen & Bar has been a Newport mainstay for 25 years. This upscale waterfront eatery is where to splurge on Maine lobster, or oysters washed down with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. Smoke House is only open during peak tourist season from May to October, but its offerings—from baby back ribs to corn and crab chowder—are the best of both the barbeque and New England worlds. 960 1280
Where to Stay
The only thing harder than deciding where to eat is deciding where to stay. Channel the Gilded Age at Castle Hill Inn, a Relais & Chateaux property. Its lodging options range from a luxurious room in a 19th-century Victorian mansion, to cottages and houses on a private beach, to a separate property overlooking the harbor. On-site dining and spa services complete the relaxation trifecta.
Boutique hotel Gilded is a quirky take on the era and a must for lovers of architecture and design, from furniture in bold colors and shapes to wallpaper and accents that beg for your attention. Breakfast is included and might involve homemade baked goods such as cheddar-scallion scones or small plates with melon balls and cucumbers. The Vanderbilt Grace boutique hotel resides in a historic mansion, and yes, it was built by a Vanderbilt. It's near the attractions on Thames, and counts two restaurants, two pools and a spa.
The suite-only Mill Street Inn is ideal for families, and located in a 19th-century mill that’s been designated a National Historic Landmark. Or stay right on Thames in The Francis Malbone House, the former residence of shipping magnate Colonel Francis Malbone. The decor channels an earlier era, and provides the proper setting for an afternoon tea of homemade macaroons, cookies and more.960 1280
Getting There and AroundNewport's peak season occurs between Memorial and Labor Day. However, the holidays are also a great time to visit, since The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House are decked out in their Christmas finery.
A car is your best bet both for getting there and around, and the trip from N.Y.C. can be done in less than four hours without traffic. 960 1280
Southeast Lighthouse on Block IslandThe Southeast Lighthouse on Block Island was built in 1875 for $80,000. It was designated a primary seacoast aid to navigation. It was deactivated by the Coast Guard in 1990 and deemed one of America's 11 most endangered structures of historic significance by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Volunteers raised money to have it moved away from the edge of the bluff; it's now being restored to become a museum and overnight accommodation. Tours of the tower are available in the summer. 960 1280
Claiborne Pell Newport BridgeIn 1934, the state of Rhode Island petitioned for federal aid to build two bridges over the east and west passages of Narragansett Bay. While the project stopped and started many times, the Newport Bridge was finally opened in June 1969. It was later named in honor of Claiborne Pell, the longest-serving U.S. senator from Rhode Island. 960 1280
Boyd's WindmillThe Boyd's Wind Grist Mill, built in 1810, is a historic smock mill in Middletown, R.I. It originally had four common sails but the Boyd family added four more. The windmill was restored in 1990 and became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. It is open for tours on Sundays in the summer. 960 1280
McCoy StadiumMcCoy Stadium is home to the minor league baseball team, the Pawtucket Red Sox. The stadium holds more than 10,000 fans. It's also the site of the famous "Longest Game" between the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox. It lasted a record 33 innings and took more than eight hours over the course of two days.
Fort AdamsThe largest coastal fortification in the U.S. stands in Newport Harbor, R.I. The fort has a long history and played a role in many different wars. Guided tours are given daily. Visitors can see where soldiers lived, enter the casemates, explore the tunnel system and climb to the top for amazing views of Narragansett Bay and Newport Harbor. 960 1280
Rhode Island State HouseThe Rhode Island State House sits atop Smith Hill in Providence, R.I. It was designed in the same vein as the U.S. Capitol building with a central dome and two wings. The Senate chamber is in one wing and the House chamber is in the other. There is also a library and reception room. The state house is known as a proud symbol of Rhode Island's economic and social stature. 960 1280
Johnson & Wales UniversityJohnson & Wales University is a private college with both graduate and undergraduate programs in business, hospitality, culinary arts, technology and education. There are four campuses, including one in Providence, which serve more than 17,000 students. Its culinary and hospitality programs are ranked among the top in the nation. 960 1280
Cliff WalkThe Cliff Walk in Newport, R.I., is a National Recreation Trail that spans 3.5 miles. It combines the beauty of the shoreline with nature, including wildflowers and birds. The southern half of the walk is a bit rugged. Walkers will also see various mansions and buildings along the route. 960 1280
Brown UniversityProvidence, R.I. is home to the seventh oldest college in the US, Brown University. The Ivy League school offers graduate and undergraduate programs along with the Alpert Medical School and the School of Engineering. The university has about 8,400 students. 960 1280
Blackstone RiverThe Blackstone River starts in Massachusetts and continues into Rhode Island. It runs through Woonsocket, Cumberland, Lincoln, Central Falls and Pawtucket. It ultimately becomes the Seekonk River. It has been classified by the EPA as "the most polluted river in the country with respect to toxic sediments." Efforts are underway to clean up the river. 960 1280
Naval War CollegeIn 1884, Secretary of the Navy William E. Chandler signed an order to create a college for "an advanced course of professional study for naval officers." It established the school in Newport, R.I., and appointed Commodore Stephen B. Luce as the president. Today, the school has an expanded mission of providing a professional military education for all enlisted personnel and officers of the U.S. Navy.