Growing up on the South Shore of Massachusetts, and having an avid sailor for a father, my family took many a day trip to visit Newport, Rhode Island. I can remember touring the mansions as a child, admiring the boats at the Newport Boat Show with my dad, and enjoying the beaches, restaurants, and various outdoor recreational activities during the summer. As an adult, I have returned to Newport many time, with my husband for a weekend getaway and with girlfriends as an escape from the duties of motherhood. Recently, my family spent Thanksgiving weekend celebrating the start to the holiday season in the “City By the Sea.” You can read all about our holiday celebrations here.
However, you would need months (possibly years) to explore every place in the city, so I think Newport should be on everyone’s list; better yet, if you live within a few hours, it’s worth making visits each season. The city is filled with visitors during the summer months and you absolutely should visit during the summer. However, there is also plenty to do during the winter.
If you need help planning a visit to Newport, DiscoverNewport.org is the perfect planning tool. It’s extremely easy to navigate and full of ideas based on your preferences for activities, food, accommodations, and budget. There is also a massive directory for weddings planning. The online calendar was up to date and quickly linked me to websites and phone numbers. It also covers more than “just” the city of Newport, by including both Newport and Bristol Counties. I’ve organized suggestion based on two popular areas of town:
Along Bellevue Avenue and nearby: There are some public lots and two hour parking spots directly on Bellevue.
1. You’ll surely want to spend time touring some of the mansions. There are eight mansions open to the public, but only three are open during the winter months: The Breakers, The Elms, and Marble House. The “Winter Passport” will allow you to visit all three mansions for one discounted price. Each house offers different, self guided audio tours; children will love the audio tour at The Breakers, which is told from the perspective of the House. Traveling with children: no strollers allowed inside the mansions, there is no coat check, tours are self guides with individual headsets, and there are restrooms located at the end of the tours. Some of the larger museum, like the Breakers and The Elms have their own parking lots.
2. The Cliff Walk is the most beautiful way I can think of to get your FitBit steps in for the day. It’s a 3.5 mile walk along the coast and you’ll get great views of Salve Regina University, many of the mansions, and the entire coastline. Note: There are several entrances and exits, and during the off season, plenty of nearby parking. You can also take the RIPTA Newport Trolleys around town and it will drop you off and pick you up at many points along the route. There are some stairs along the path, and strollers would be a tight fit at points.
3. Audrain Car Museum: Opened in 2014, the museum changes displays every 3-4 months with a new theme and new fleet of luxury cars, so you’ll want to visit frequently. The museum has a collection of over 250 cars (housed in warehouses in Newport and Virginia), so there are a lot of options when choosing which 18 cars to put on display. We toured the “Touring through the Decades” exhibit, with cars ranging from a 1923 Rolls Royce Ghost Speedster to a 2015 Aston Martin featured in a James Bond film. Each car has an iPad that described the car’s history and specs. Traveling with children: The museum is located on one floor with super sleek restrooms and plenty of space to maneuver strollers. I would imagine younger children might only have an attention span for a half hour, but could be persuaded to stay longer when they check out the handmade train set in the front window. However, I did see three sets of very enthusiastic fathers and sons touring the museum with very dreamy looks in their eyes.
4. The International Tennis Hall of Fame was built in 1880 and was home to the 1st U.S. Nationals Tennis Tournament the following year. Know for the grass courts (they maintain 13 on the property that the public can use), visitors will also want to check out the second floor museum. Children will love the scavenger hunt and the prize they’ll receive upon completion. Read about my family’s favorite exhibits here.
5. Newport Art Museum is spread throughout two side by side buildings and displays contemporary pieces, with a focus on established and emerging New England artists, especially native Rhode Islanders. There are some art installations not enclosed, so I would keep an eye on little ones. However, I would definitely bring my children on the second Saturday each month for the Children’s Workshop, where children create a different craft and learn about the artwork that inspired it. (The workshop is included in the admission fee). The museum also has a wide range of class geared towards adults, children, and some family focused classes. The “wearable art dyeing” and “chARTcuterie” classes looked especially fun.
6. Redwood Library is a private library but welcomes the public. The children’s corner was closed when we visited on a Saturday, but I’ve been told it has a vast collection of children's books, DVDs, and music. Most unique, and popular, is their collection of toys, puzzles, instruments, and even a train table. While only members can "check out these items, this would be a great spot on a cold (or rainy) day. They also have a full calendar of Story Time and Open Play sessions.
7. Fort Adams, the largest fort in the United States and the only fort never attacked, was one of the most fun historical tours my family has taken, with a very child friendly tour offered multiple times each day. Children will be engaged and there is plenty of space to run around and explore (just hold hands on the super steep staircase to the upper level). Check out my family’s favorite parts of the tour here.
Closer to Thames Street: There is some timed parking and a few small lots adjacent to some of the wharfs, but the Visitor's Center is your best bet.
Newport Gulls: A collegiate baseball team that plays right downtown during the summer. You can park across the street at the Newport Visitor’s Center and with a “stadium” of 3,000 seats, there’s not a bad spot in the park. You can purchase ballpark classics for a reasonable price, too.
Various boat cruises leave from the wharfs downtown each day (yes, even in the winter months, when you’re likely to see seals in the harbor!). You can go on whale watch, seal watch, and sunset cruises. Be sure to dress warm and use the restrooms before boarding!
Thames Glass: Far better than any touristy tee shirt or trinket, you can make your own glass ornament, paper weight, bowl, or vase. The whole process takes about 15 minutes, but you have to wait two days for the glass to cool before you can leave with your creation. (Don’t worry, they can mail it to you if you’re leaving town sooner). The staff was great with my children, but younger children (under age 5, I would guess) might prefer to watch someone else from the showroom, where there is a glass window for observation. Check out my family’s experience making ornaments here.
4. The Touro Synagogue, America’s oldest synagogue, is a National Historic Site located downtown. Tours are usually offered Sunday through Friday at multiple times during the day, but winter tours are limited to Sundays. The “tour” begins with a thirty minute presentation inside the synagogue and then visitors are allowed to freely explore the two floors of the Loeb Visitor’s Center, which showcases various exhibits, some of which have hands on activities for younger children. Traveling with children: Strollers are allowed and there are restrooms located in the Loeb Visitor’s Center. During the summer and early fall, they also host a special “Four Faiths, Four Landmarks” tour, which includes St Mary’s, where President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy were married.
Driving ten minutes or less:
1. Sachuest Point Wildlife Refuge: Drive past First Beach aka Easton’s Beach, (lots of public parking, restrooms, and the Exploration Center- see below), and past Second Beach (again, lots of parking and a smaller restroom facility open during the summer, as well as a campground) into the town of Middletown and follow the coast. You’ll eventually arrive at the Visitor’s Center, staffed by volunteers, and you’ll want to stop inside to check out the exhibit. You can also borrow one of the backpacks filled with binoculars, trail maps, pocket guides to birds and wildflowers, and even a notebook and pen to record what you see. There are restrooms, with a separate entrance, open to the public with longer hours than the Visitor’s Center. There are three trails and the longest one is 1.5 miles. The path is clear and strollers will fit. You’ll definitely want to stay on the path to avoid the poison ivy and ticks that abound in the brush. During the winter months, keep an eye out for seals in the bay, and if you go early in the morning or closer to sunset, look out for deer, mink, and coyotes. There are safe areas of green grass for children to run free, but when on the trails, definitely stay on the path.
The Save the Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium is home to dozens of species, many of which are native to the Narragansett Bay. The Center is located right on Easton's Beach- just look for the rotunda. There is a different theme each month and changing activities match the theme. On occasion, there are discovery walks directly on the beach and children will love the touch tanks. Once a month the center stays open late and visitor can check out the “Feeding Frenzy.” You can also book your own, private aquarium tour after hours and have the whole place to yourself! Parking isn’t an issue off season, but during summer months, you’ll need to have your Easton’s Beach ticket validated upon paying admission fees. Note: The Center is only open Friday- Sunday during winter months and some Rhode Island holiday Mondays.
Getting around town: It’s best to park at the Visitor’s Center and take local transportation. Many of the places I mentioned are within walking distance of one another, like on Bellevue Avenue. If you didn’t do your research ahead of time, the Visitor Information and Transportation Center is stocked with print materials and helpful associates.
If you’re visiting with children: We stayed at the Newport Marriott for our most recent visit. The Newport Marriott is super popular, due to it’s location, extensive amenities, and beautiful decor. It truly felt like a resort inside, with an indoor pool and fitness center that rivaled an upscale gym, two restaurant options and a bar on property (and a very and reasonably priced room menu), and plenty of space for lounging. (I read about an amazing spa on property as well, but alas, with young children, did not visit). The Newport Marriott is a popular spot for weddings, and wedding guests, in the summer and fall, so be sure to book way in advance. Children will LOVE the nautical decor, especially the lobby chairs.
If you’re visiting with your spouse or significant other: My husband and I love staying at the Admiral Fitzroy; it’s a small bed and breakfast right on Thames Street. You can park your car and walk just about everywhere. It’s the perfect couples retreat, very reasonably priced, does not require a minimum night stay like many other smaller hotels, and each stay includes a homemade breakfast every morning.
If you’re visiting with friends: A couple of years ago, I stayed at the Newport Bay Club & Hotel with girlfriends. We rented a two bedroom suite with a full kitchen, living room, and outdoor deck. Again, it was located on Thames Street, in the middle of all the action, and so we parked our cars and walked everywhere. There are lots of spas in the area, and plenty of great restaurants and bars.
Some of my favorite places to shop:
Along Bellevue Avenue: I love a good stationery store and Papers was filled with possibilities and Seashells in Bloom has wonderful nautical mementos, home decor, and jewelry. Along Thames Street: There are tons of souvenir shops and boutiques. One of my favorite online shops (and fashion bloggers) just opened their flagship store, Kiel James Patrick. Santa recently delivered another one of their anchor bracelets to me.
Disclosure: I was given a media pass from Discover Newport to visit some of these locations. All opinions expressed are my own.