NEWPORT, Rhode Island — Newport leaves little to the imagination when it comes to sharing and preserving its Gilded Age past. That's why you'll see mansion tours and their counterpart, the Cliff Walk, on every itinerary for the popular summer destination that makes for an easy city break from New York (a quick three-and-a-half hour drive) and Boston (a mere 90 minutes). And while the gilded-mirror hallways of the 70-plus room, 19th-century homes will leave your jaw on the marble floors, there are plenty off-the-port ways to enjoy the affluent coastal shores.
A refreshing mix of boutique hotels, restaurants, cocktail bars, and festivals offer a fresh take on the classic seaside town. Don't skip the classics, but mix in these new and little-discovered spots to your itinerary.
The list has been updated for summer 2023.
Where to Stay
Three Newport newcomers are making waves.
This 57-room hotel sailed into the Long Wharf during the summer of 2020, offering a new view of the historic cityscape from their panoramic rooftop and from floor-to-ceiling windows in each room. The hotel aims to pamper guests with modern amenities such as Peloton bike deliveries for in-room workouts, spa treatments, Nespresso machines, and complimentary ice cream and sparkling water on tap. The prime location makes it easy to avoid Newport's notably tricky parking situation. Boat and trolley tours leave from just outside the hotel, or you can explore on a beach cruiser. Because a sail on Narragansett Bay is a must in Newport, Brenton has its own private 36-inch Hinckley Picnic Boat available for charter day or night with cocktails and canapes on board.
Located on the historic waterfront of Hammetts Wharf, the hotel's 84 rooms evoke to Newport's mercantile history with a fresh atmosphere and a 9,000-square-foot outdoor patio with striped sun beds and views of the harbor. Rooms and suites are sun-drenched with a simple decor of crisp nautical colors, while the eclectic lobby and guest lounges feature a rotating art gallery with work from local artists and photographers who share their Newport stories. A cozy reading library leads to a guests-only patio with nightly cocktail service and a great sunset view.
There's nothing cliche about the seaside decor of this hotel, which is relaxed and stylish with cool tones and vintage elements sourced from antique markets and local artists. Tucked away from the bustling harbor, the location is ideal for travelers who wants to avoid the tourist crowds while staying within a short drive of beaches and restaurants. The lobby and its sunshine-yellow floating fireplace give off retro vibes and have plenty of seating for cocktails and unwinding after a day in the sun. The vibe by the pool — decorated with a hand-painted wave mural by Rhode Island native Sean Spellman — is cheery, and the bar serves frozen cocktails and lobster rolls. On weekends, several food trucks pull up outside the hotel, including the especially popular Del's Lemonade, a Rhode Island icon. (Ed note: The hotel is being fully restored in 2023 after a building fire in 2022.)
When nothing but a stroll back to the Gilded Age will do, try these two.
The Chanler at Cliff Walk
The grand dame hotel of Newport — and the only one along the Cliff Walk — began life in the 1870s as the summertime cottage of John Winthrop Chanler, a New York Congressman, and his wife, Margaret Astor Ward, the great-granddaughter of John Jacob Astor. Not a bad pedigree, as these things go, especially in these parts. You could trace the history of opulence in the twenty rooms, which are all decorated in different period styles but are all harmonious — from the paintings, fireplaces, chandeliers, and antique furnishings to the matching textiles in the pillows, curtains, and canopy beds. It's all polished, refined, and genteel. And, yes, you'll want to dress for dinner at Cara, the in-house, fine-dining restaurant with two nightly seatings and two tasting menus.
The Cliffside Inn
An homage to the bygone Victorian era with contemporary, stylized details for the modern traveler, the historic 1876 Victorian manor was converted in 2019 into a charming boutique hotel by New England-based hospitality company Lark Hotels. The sixteen sun-filled rooms and suites are unique, with a mix of colorful, vintage Victorian and contemporary furnishings, gas fireplaces, and whirlpool tubs. Cozy nooks, window seats, and libraries stocked with English literature give the space a well-lived-in feeling, as do the stately wraparound porch and formal rose-filled gardens that are as elaborate today as they were in their heyday. Read more on Fathom: Spend a Gilded Night in a Newport Mansion.
Where to Eat
Of course in Newport, it's all about chowda and lobsta. But several new restaurants that have popped up across the wharf are quickly becoming as beloved as the classics.
While staying at Hammetts Hotel, you won't have to venture far for great coastal seafood and Italian fare at the hotel's harbor-front restaurant. The high-top cocktail and raw bar draws locals and visitors alike, and a cooling ocean breeze sets the mood for house-made seafood pastas, local summertime salads, and a freestyle tasting menu to accompany a creative cocktail menu.
In the heart of Newport's Washington Square, this informal neighborhood wine bar serves an Italian-style aperitivo menu of grilled pizzas, baked clams, and antipasti shared plates. Perfect bites before heading out for a sunset sail.
Lawn at Castle Hill
A popular and gorgeous seaside spot for evening cocktails on the Adirondack-chair-dotted lawn where the America's Cup boats race by at sunset. If the scenery is too good to leave after happy hour, stay for cornbread clam chowder, crispy oysters, and steamed lobster.
No post-dinner harbor stroll is complete without a cone from this famous soda fountain off Bellevue Avenue. Get a house-made frozen yogurt swirl in a waffle cone with the works — sprinkle and candy crunch toppings.
The Black Pearl
A Bannister's Wharf classic. Order their infamous clam chowder and a chilled glass of wine.
You'll find a few outposts around town serving small-batch nitro coffee (the trendy term for "extra strength") alongside refreshing options like cold-brew lemonade, lavender tonics, and sandwiches to port to the beach.
This BYOB Jamaican restaurant run by a husband-and-wife duo is a refreshing change from seafare with with spicy jerk chicken, rasta pasta, and fried plantains. The vibe is cool, with great Afrobeats on the playlist.
Where to Shop
The main drag of Thames Street is lined with T-shirt and souvenir shops. Venture to the side streets and hilly cobblestone streets for authentic local treasures.
Long live old-school vinyl shops that keep on groovin' and don't let technology stop 'em! This retro shop sells, buys, and trades records on Newport's Broadway Street. Drop in to hear the day's soundtrack, and walk out with a rare Rolling Stones 45.
If, after a mansion tour, you're wondering how you can gild your home with fancy antiques, look no further than this 30,000-square-foot warehouse that has been selling and collecting antiques from Newport mansions since 1969. Rare bronze statues, stained-glass windows, crystal chandeliers — you'll find all that and more here.
Styled like an old-fashioned apothecary, this eco-friendly soap shop sells handmade bath products and salts, as well as a unique skincare line made from locally sourced herbs and tinctures formulated to heal and sooth sunbaked skin.
What to Do
Hit the Beach
Easton's Beach (known to locals as First Beach) is a popular break for its proximity to the entrance to the Cliff Walk. But the real reason locals love it is for Flo's Clam Shack, known for homemade clam cakes, lobster bakes, and fried oyster rolls. To avoid crowds, head to Gooseberry Beach at the end of Ocean Drive. The private beach club dissuades tourists, but an inlet that's open to the public has shallow, waveless shores that are perfect for an afternoon dip.
Skip the Cliffs
Unless it's your first time in Newport, where the Cliff Walk is a great way to get a sense of Newport's Gilded Age history, it's best and advisable to skip it and head to Sauchuest Point in Middleton instead. The three-mile oceanside hike leads to a beautiful wildlife sanctuary that's home to birds, ducks, and other species — a peaceful stroll among lapping waves.
Visit the Mansions
Those cozy beachside cottages all pretty stunning in their opulence, history, and grandeur — if you go for that sort of thing, of course. You could spend a full day wandering the ballrooms, bedrooms, carriages houses, kitchens, and gardens, which remain intact in all their period perfection, but the unmissable ones include The Breakers, Marble House, and The Elms.
Take a Yoga Class
If all the ocean time has given you sea legs, stop by Newport Power Yoga for a range of classes from slow restorative sessions to heated power flows.
Go to a Festival
The three-day Newport Jazz Festival (August) on Fort Adams always draws a lively crowd. Several other festivals are making their way to the harbor, including the Newport Mansions Food & Wine Festival (September), Bowen's Wharf Seafood Festival (October), and Newport Restaurant Week (April), a perfect off-season time to sample the menus of popular summer destinations.
Keep Exploring Rhode Island
Get inspired for Newport Living
Stream High Society, the 1956 movie starring Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly in her last on-screen appearance before she became the Princess of Monaco, or just watch the best scene in the movie — Crosby and the Louis Armstrong performing "Now You Has Jazz."