Dubbed the “Sailing Capital of the World,” the seaside city of Newport, Rhode Island, is guaranteed to sway you with its charm. And there are plenty more things to do in Newport, RI, than sail (although who wouldn’t want that?!). This little coastal city, located at the southern tip of Aquidneck Island, was once popular among the United States’ most powerful and wealthy families, including the Kennedys and Vanderbilts. Today, Newport is visited for its beaches, ocean views, old pubs, mega-mansions and historic landmarks. This travel guide will ensure your time is maximized if you only have a day trip to Newport, Rhode Island. If you’re lucky enough to spend a weekend, you can still follow this one-day itinerary, and you won’t feel rushed! Instead, you can enjoy that bottle of prosecco on the harbor or explore more than one of the iconic Newport mansions.
Here is an itinerary for a day trip to Newport, Rhode Island:
- Mansion Tour
- Cliff Walk
- Lunch with an Ocean View
- Shop on Thames Street
- Historic Landmarks on Spring Street
- Dinner on the Harbor
Newport Mansion Tour
If you’re making a day trip to Newport, RI, it’s likely you have already eaten breakfast. Therefore, head straight to one of the iconic and grandiose Newport mansions. With only one day in Newport, RI, I recommend touring just one mansion. Most of the historic mansions are on Bellevue Avenue – apart from the few that are on the waterfront.
The Breakers Mansion Tour
The Breakers is not only the most visited attraction in Newport, but it is also the most popular tourist attraction for the whole state of Rhode Island. Intended to be a summer cottage, the 70-room mega-mansion was built in 1893 by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who was part of the elite Vanderbilt family. The Breakers mansion tour is a self-guided audio tour, and it should take between 60 and 90 minutes. It provides a detailed history of the Breakers as you wander through the elegant rooms on the first and second floors. The third floor is not open to the public. And be sure to snap a photo from the second-floor terrace — the view of the Atlantic Ocean is stunning!
The tour also shares stories from the Vanderbilt family members who lived in the home. In 1972, the Breakers was sold to the Preservation Society of Newport County, the organization that owns many of the mansions in Newport. Outside, the lavish gardens and mesmerizing ocean views reminded me of traveling to Ravello (on the Amalfi Coast in Italy).
Simply purchase an admission ticket when you arrive on the estate. If you plan to visit more than one mansion, purchase the two-mansion ticket. Ask the attendant if you are unsure – they will make sure you purchase the most cost-effective ticket!
The Marble House is also a Vanderbilt estate. It was owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s younger brother, William. This colossal mansion (similar to the opulent palaces in Vienna), was built to be a summer home and sits on the Cliff Walk. The views are spectacular! Like the Breakers, you can take an audio tour of the Marble House.
Sandwiched between the Breakers and Marble House, Rose Hill is another example of a Gilded Age mansion. It, too, sits along the Cliff Walk and offers beautiful views of the coastline. Rose Hill was famous in Newport for its lavish parties and entertainment. It is fitting, then, that parts of the original Great Gatsby were filmed here (along with 27 Dresses and True Lies). Audio tours are offered.
The “servant life tour” of the Elms Mansion is one of the most popular tours in Newport. The tour shares stories from the staff who worked at the Elms Mansion. Purchase your ticket on the Preservation Society of Newport County website. You can also opt for a self-guided audio tour.
Newport Cliff Walk
The Breakers mansion is conveniently located on the scenic Newport Cliff Walk. This 3.5-mile walking trail offers a (mostly) easy stroll along a paved trail. When arriving on the trail from the Breakers, you must decide which direction you want to go on the path. Turn to the right if you want to see more mansions, like the Rose Cliff mansion and the Marble House mansion. Head to the left if you want to see the local university, Salve Regina, and the popular 40 Steps. These 40 steps take you down closer to the water, and it makes for a picturesque view of the coastline and cliffs. The Cliff Walk may just be the place for the best views in Newport! Its rugged coast reminded me a bit of Howth Cliffs in Dublin and the Cliffs of Moher (also in Ireland).
Lunch (and/or a cocktail) with an Ocean View
At this point in the day, it’s time for lunch and a cocktail with an incredible view!
Castle Hill Inn
If you drive to Newport, the Castle Hill Inn is easy to access via car. Relax on the lawn with a glass of wine or local beer. The ocean breeze is waiting for you!
The Pavilion at 41 North
Located right on the marina in the main town center, The Pavilion at 41 North is an upscale outdoor bar with fantastic views of Newport’s Harbor. Lounge in the comfortable patio furniture while watching the yachts depart for the day. You may not want to leave! Especially since you can order lunch off the main restaurant’s menu.
Midtown Oyster Bar
It’s not directly on the water, but Midtown Oyster Bar is a convenient place to pop in for a quick lunch or snack. If there are a lot of items on your one-day itinerary in Newport, Midtown Oyster Bar may be the perfect lunch spot. Bonus points for the calamari and large local beer selection!
Located in the Newport Shipyard, enjoy a hearty brunch at Belle’s Café. There’s plenty of outdoor seating, too. Note: The café is only open for breakfast and lunch.
Bowen’s Wharf Pop-Up Bars
In Bowen’s Wharf, you will find several pop-up bars, including wine bars that offer small bites.
Newport Lobster Shack
A no-frills lobster shack located right on the water in the Newport Shipyard. Order at the window and find an open seat at the picnic tables. If traveling with kids (or dogs), this informal lobster shack may be the perfect spot. I must admit, I opted for the fish and chips, which were delicious!
Shop in Newport’s Thames Street and Bowen’s Wharf
Walk along the main streets, Thames Street and Bowen’s Wharf, as both are filled with a wide variety of shops and restaurants. The historic shopping street is similar to downtown Main Street in Falmouth, Massachusetts, in Cape Cod. Here are few shops on Thames Street in Newport worth checking out:
The fudge makes for a great souvenir. Although it’s so good, you may just eat it there!
If you need a coffee or a milkshake, pop into the local coffee joint, Kaffeology, on Thames Street. Some of the milkshake specials are wild – filled with fruity pebbles, pop tarts and pretzels. Don’t worry, you can order a simple black coffee, as well!
Cold Fusion Gelato
Close to Kaffeology and Newport Fudgery, this is the place to go for local gelato. There are also plenty of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shops throughout the city.
Reasonably priced soaps, candles and lotions that smell amazing! Pop in for the free smells – but I guarantee you leave with some goodies!
Alex and Ani
The international jewelry company, Alex and Ani, was founded in Rhode Island. You can visit the shop in Bowen’s Wharf.
Visit the Historic Landmarks in the Main Area of Town
Newport was founded in the mid-1600s, so there is no shortage of historical landmarks in the city. With only a day trip to Newport, you can’t see and do it all. Below are a few historical landmarks I recommend visiting due to the close proximity to Bowen’s Wharf and Thames Street. Simply follow Spring Street to visit these three historic sites. Also, the International Tennis Hall of Fame is located on Bellevue Avenue — if you’re a sports or tennis fanatic, you may decide to detour here instead.
St Mary’s Church
On the corner of Spring Street and William Street is St Mary’s Church, where former U.S. president (then senator), John F. Kennedy married Jackie Bouvier in 1953. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Follow Spring Street toward Trinity Church, which is the oldest church in Newport. Like most places of worship, this church has a unique history. The first president of the United States, George Washington, worshipped in this nearly 300-year-old church during his visit to Newport, and his pew is still marked. Check the website for updated tour times.
Proceed down Spring Street for a couple more minutes and you will reach Touro Synagogue. It is the oldest standing synagogue in the United States. Construction was completed in 1763, and George Washington visited the synagogue on his visit to Newport, as well. Check the website for updated tour information, as it can vary based on special events, season, etc.
Dinner on the Harbor
Newport is home to many fantastic restaurants. There are plenty along the water that offer exceptional views, especially around sunset! Although this guide is geared toward a simple day trip to Newport, I do recommend you stay for dinner! Here are a few restaurants worth checking out (and many of the lunch recommendations from above are dinner options, too).
22 Bowen’s Wine Bar and Grill
This upscale restaurant is outstanding! Fantastic service and delicious seafood. Make a reservation and request a table with waterfront views.
The Mooring Seafood Kitchen & Bar
Another upscale restaurant located right on the harbor. Enjoy a sunset dinner and watch the boats come in for the evening.
White Horse Tavern
If you’re willing to sacrifice waterfront views for a bit of history, make a reservation at the upscale White Horse Tavern. It’s is said to be the “oldest operating restaurant” in the United States. Now a National Historic Landmark, the White Horse Tavern has been operating since 1673. The restaurant serves both lunch and dinner.
How to Get to Newport, RI
If you visit as a day trip from Providence or Boston, it’s likely you are driving a car to Newport. There are plenty of meters, paid parking lots and even a tiny bit of free street parking in Newport. Parking lots worth checking out are Long Wharf Lot and the Newport Gateway Center Lot. However, you can drive around for a few minutes and find a place to park. Easy, peasy!
Day Trip from Providence via ferry
If you do not have a car, you can take the ferry from Providence to Newport. Check the ferry schedule, as it runs seasonally.
Day Trip from Boston via train and ferry
If you’re visiting Newport as a day trip from Boston and do not have a car, take the train from Boston to Providence. Then, hop on the ferry from Providence to Newport.
As with any trip, be sure to pack a reusable water bottle. It will come in handy when you’re walking on the Cliff Walk or touring one of the mansions. If your phone battery runs out quickly, bring a power bank.
There you go! That’s how to spend one day in Newport, Rhode Island. And if you love it so much that you want to stay the night, check out hotels, bed and breakfasts and apartment rentals on Booking.com.
If you liked this guide, you may also like these other coastal towns and planning guides.
- A travel guide to Cinque Terre, Italy
- Travel to Dubrovnik, Croatia
- Three days in Galway, Ireland
- A travel guide to Lisbon, Portugal
- How to plan a trip abroad
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