The 20 Best Things to Do in Newport, Rhode Island

Newport Vineyards
Newport Vineyards

If you’re looking to vacation like a Gilded Age baller, your best bet is Rhode Island's City by the Sea. Newport is home to lavish historic mansions, beautiful beaches, and some of the best dining on the East Coast. Spend an afternoon tailgating at Newport Polo, then sip cocktails and slurp oysters at dockside restaurants. Whether you're a history and culture buff or just want to soak up waterfront views with some good food, Newport delivers on all fronts.

Explore The Breakers mansion

Find out the secrets of the Vanderbilts, who grew up in this so-call summer "cottage." The 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo was inspired by the 16th-century palaces of Genoa and Turin. Do a self-guided audio tour, or sign up for the Beneath the Breakers experience that explores the underground tunnel, basement, and boiler room while discussing how technology changed from the Gilded Age into the 20th century.

Newport Lobster Shack
Newport Lobster Shack

Get lobster at The Newport Lobster Shack

You can’t come to Rhode Island without eating some lobster. Crustaceans are hauled in by fishermen right at the dock where the shack stands, and you can opt to take live ones home to cook yourself or order prepared food at the shack, to be enjoyed at the rustic waterfront picnic tables. Whether it's a steamed lobster dinner, an overstuffed lobster roll, or fried lobster nuggets, you can bet your seafood made the shortest trip from the boat to your mouth.

newport beach
Easton's Beach | Flickr/spablab

Have a beach day at First, Second, or Third Beaches

If you can figure out which beach is which, you'll be better informed than many Rhode Islanders. First Beach is also Easton's Beach and it's located along Memorial Boulevard near the entrance to the Cliff Walk. It boasts a visitor's center with a small aquarium, a carousel, and a snack bar with a deal on double lobster rolls. Second Beach is also Sachuest Beach, bordering a wildlife refuge with 2.5 miles of nature trails. The kid-friendly Third Beach is a little further down on Third Beach Road, where calmer waters attract paddleboarders, windsurfers, and more.

Castle Hill
Castle Hill

Sip cocktails on the Lawn at Castle Hill Inn

This upscale inn and restaurant features a sprawling lawn that overlooks Narragansett Bay. Spend an afternoon in an Adirondack chair sipping Champagne and eating lobster rolls delivered straight to your seat, or head up to the patio for a more substantial meal under shaded umbrellas. Watch sailboats skim past while the sun dips into the ocean, lighting up the sky. Ocean breezes make temperatures drop as evening turns into night, but fret not, blankets are available at your table. If you book a room here, special seating sections are also available to guests at the no-reservations restaurant.

fort adams
Billy Black

Take a guided tour of Fort Adams

This massive fortress stands guard on prime real estate surrounded by the big blue deep. In the 19th century, the architecture protected the public from enemy attack. Fort Adams once housed generations of soldiers, families, and their pets, and daily hourly tours (from 10am-4pm) include underground tunnel exploration, a look at quarters where officers lived, and a scenic view of Newport Harbor. During July and August weekends, guests can also tour the "Lost" fortress; the Advanced Southern Redoubt is a fortification that has two dry moats and two draw bridges.  

cliff walk
Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

Explore Newport's famed Cliff Walk

Wear sturdy sneakers, park along Easton's Beach, and enter the 3.5-mile trail near the Chanler Hotel. Looks can be deceiving: The walk starts out as a stroller-friendly paved path that showcases the ocean on one side and Gilded Age mansions on the other. About a mile in, you'll reach 40 Steps, a staircase that leads down the cliff to the crashing surf. Go back up the staircase, and keep going. When the path turns into a rocky trail, the real adventure begins; the finish line frames secluded oceanfront views.

Tailgate at Newport Polo

Arrive a couple hours early to stake out a spot on the grounds with a blanket, chairs, and picnic stocked with wine, cheese, and charcuterie. Saturday evening matches are more like social events, where guests come decked out in their preppiest clothes (the unofficial dress code involves paisley print and seersucker dresses for the ladies and bow ties and pastel pants embroidered with lobsters and anchors for the guys). At halftime, join everyone on the grass to stomp the divots, and after the match ends, head to the edge of the field to high-five the jockeys as they make the rounds on horseback for sweaty hand slaps.

Newport Train
Jonathan Budzyna

Explore the Newport Train tracks by locomotive or pedal-powered rail bike

Dining options on the vintage passenger cars include live music paired with a multi-course meal, a murder mystery-themed dinner, and an ice cream train ride for kids. The rails follow the coast with incredible waterfront views by the Mount Hope Bridge. The Portsmouth station is also the starting location for a new attraction called Rail Explorers. Load yourself and some friends into a pedal-powered rail bike and work up a sweat while admiring Aquidneck Island's scenery.

Newport Vineyards
Newport Vineyards

Do wine tasting at Newport Vineyards

The recently renovated Newport Vineyards boasts a brand-new tasting room with views of the stainless-steel tanks and open glass garage doors that lead out to the vines. Tours and tasting flights are available, or you can sip wine by the glass on the patio. Grab sandwiches and baked goods at the Vineyard Café for a picnic, or stay for dinner at the onsite restaurant, Brix. On Saturdays, the grounds host the Aquidneck Growers' Farmers Market from 9am-1pm, and there's live music on summer weekends from 1-4pm.

Bike or ride Ocean Drive

The coastal route cruises past mega estates and over-the-top mansions where the ocean views are as insane as the houses. The roads are equipped with a bike lane but it can still be pretty dicey during peak traffic times. Your best biking bet is for an early morning ride along the tranquil stretch of rolling hills by the sea.

Take a tennis lesson at Newport’s International Tennis Hall of Fame

There's still time to become the next Andy Roddick. Book a private lesson with a professional instructor at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, where legends like Arthur Ashe, Andre Agassi, and Martina Navratilova are honored. If you're not game for smashing balls across the court, then check out the museum where you can get up close and personal with a hologram of Roger Federer.

Rhode Island Red Food Tours
courtesy of Rhode Island Red Food Tours

Take a Rhode Island Red food tour

Rhode Island Red is a breed of chicken that originated in nearby Little Compton, and this food tour pays tribute to the bird by feeding guests well at up to six restaurants. On Fridays and Saturdays at noon, go off the beaten tourist path for a three-hour jaunt that includes stops at local haunts. You might hit a historic tavern, a trusty old pub, a hamburger joint, and a seafood shack, and you'll learn the ins and outs of Newport's restaurant scene along the way.

Learn about rum history on board the Rum Runner II

If you like piña coladas, then you'll love this motor yacht tour that teaches passengers about the history of the local rum trade and secret speakeasies that once existed along the harbor. You'll pass mansions from the water while learning about pirates and smuggler boats in the age of Prohibition. Choose the Smugglers Cocktail Cruise on Saturday and Sunday evenings, and you can drink potent libations as you explore the bay.

Audrain Automobile Museum
Audrain Automobile Museum

See rare cars at the Audrain Automobile Museum

Car enthusiasts can check out this private collection, featuring a rotating selection of more than 220 of the world's most exotic wheels. The current Fast, Fun and Fabulous show features a Lamborghini, Bugatti, and a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Asteroid through October.

Book a helicopter tour over the bay

Take off in a candy apple red Robinson R-22 helicopter to indulge in sky-high views over Newport's mansions and coastline. For $75 per person, Bird's Eye View Helicopters zooms over Narragansett Bay to give guests an aerial perspective of Gilded Age history, lighthouses, and Newport's beautiful Pell bridge. Choose an experience that pairs with a vineyard visit or a boat cruise, or go all out with a proposal package, and ask to spend forever together from the sky.   

Run with the Newport Run and Chug Club

Get familiar with the city by going for a run with a group of locals. Runners meet up at the Fastnet Pub on Thursdays at 6:20pm for an informal 5K followed by beers inside the Irish pub. You'll get your bearings on the city while sneaking in a workout, and meet the people who live and work here. The Fastnet's also a good spot for live music, darts, and watching international sports games.

Jennifer Manville Photography

Attend the newportFILM outdoor movie series

Internationally known documentaries are shown in front of some of the most stunning backdrops on the island. Free movies roll on Thursday nights at sunset at various locations, and usually include live music, food vendors, and a post-film Q&A with directors.

Complete the Water Journey at the Bodhi Spa

Modeled after European bathhouses, the hydrotherapy circuit alternates hot Epsom and Dead Sea salt baths, an aromatherapy steam room, and infrared and electric saunas with a cold plunge pool set at 55 degrees. Invigorate your senses with a $55 day pass that includes unlimited access to the hot and cold treatments. The Water Journey stimulates the circulatory system and bathes cells in oxygen-rich blood while releasing toxins. If you book a massage or other treatment, the Water Journey is half-price.

Visit the oldest synagogue in the US

Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the United States, stands atop a hill in Newport. The first Jewish residents settled in Newport in the 17th century, arriving from Barbados, an unexpected home to a Jewish community since the 1620s. As Newport grew in prominence, the Jewish community required a house of worship, and Newport resident Peter Harrison was enlisted to design New England's first synagogue. The building is open for tours Sunday through Friday, and services are held on Friday nights and Saturday mornings and on all Jewish holidays.

Relive Jackie O. and JFK’s wedding  

Part of Camelot began in Rhode Island. On September 12, 1953, Jacqueline Bouvier and then Senator John F. Kennedy tied the knot at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Spring Street in Newport. This summer, the church is offering a new Return to Camelot presentation on Tuesdays from 3-4pm that includes vintage film clips and a live performance of music and song from their wedding ceremony and reception at Hammersmith Farm. St. Mary's worked with the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and Library in Boston to obtain historical material and photographs to help others relive the timeless couple's wedding day.

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Jamie Coelho is an associate editor at Rhode Island Monthly magazine, where she is the editor of the local food newsletter, The Dish. Follow RI Monthly at @RIMonthly and @TheDishRIM.
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