With its tightly packed rows of immaculately restored colonial homes and impossibly narrow streets, Newport looks and feels every bit the quintessential New England maritime town.
For those less nautically inclined, the museums, mansions, and restaurants can keep you occupied for days.The city’s fascinating history, excellent beaches, upscale shopping district, and the most creative food in the state are what really put Newport on the map. Of course, for those interested in sailing, opportunities abound here; whether you’re interested in lessons, boat rentals, or charter services. Excellent surf breaks, prime saltwater fishing, and picturesque cliff walks also draw visitors from near and far. For those less nautically inclined, the museums, mansions, and restaurants can keep you occupied for days. Culturally speaking, Newport is predictably preppy and highbrow—which is what you might expect from a city where the Vanderbilts and Kennedys once spent their summer vacations.
Most visitors traveling from Providence will reach the island via Route 138, a road that bends around an off-ramp and somewhat dramatically reveals two stunning bridges spanning the sparkly waters of the Narragansett Bay. The Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge (circa 1922) connects motorists to the Island of Jamestown, where the road eventually continues to the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge, which offers a dazzling view of blue ocean dotted by sailboats, seagulls, and small surrounding islands. Downtown Newport welcomes visitors with cute cobblestone walkways, the sparkling waters (and impressive yachts) of its adjacent harbor, and a lively shopping and dining district along historic Thames Street.
Planning Your Time
Newport is one of the most popular destinations in the state, and you’ll want to spend at least a weekend here to touch on the major sights and activities. It is possible to see Newport in one day by touring Ocean Drive, walking the waterfront, and taking in at least one mansion tour. But of all the waterfront communities in Rhode Island, this is one where you’ll want to try to dedicate at least two full days, especially in the summer when one could easily spend an entire day just lounging on the beach.
Newport is really two cities in one—there’s the tightly laid out downtown with its narrow one-way streets and rows of buildings dating from colonial through Victorian times, and then there’s the sweeping, wealthy peninsula that juts south and east of all this, where expensive homes on large plots of land dominate the landscape. The downtown area is best explored on foot (especially in the summer when traffic is at its peak), but it’s nice to have a car or at least a bicycle to explore the rest. One full day to tour each of these areas, along with a little time set aside for the beach or a sail, is an ideal way to spend a weekend.
The catch is that Newport can be crowded in summer and on weekends just about any time of year, and hotel rates are among the highest in New England, so consider staying nearby and making several day trips into town. Moderately priced motels and hotels are in nearby Middletown, and as the popularity of sites like Airbnb continue to rise, so too do the possibilities for less expensive lodging. Still, there’s no way of getting around the fact that summer is a favorite time to visit but an awful time for traffic, getting a table at restaurants, and enjoying the city’s attractions without enduring long lines or crowds. Consider visiting during shoulder seasons of May or September, or on a weekday, when you’ll have much more room for exploring.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Rhode Island.