If you’re looking for a laid-back seaside getaway in New England, it really doesn’t get any better than Newport, Rhode Island. Nestled on Aquidneck Island, Newport is flanked by Narragansett Bay to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. From scenic coastal drives to stunning cliffside hikes and a handful of sandy beaches, Newport is the prime place for a seaside retreat.
With its miles of coastline, it should be no surprise that Newport has a storied maritime history. Explore the city today, and you’ll find picture-perfect historic lighthouses and well-preserved homes that belonged to sea captains in colonial times. Head over to the glitzy Newport Harbor, and the massive sailboats and bustling wharves harken back to Newport’s maritime roots.
Newport’s other claim to fame is its lavish Gilded Age mansions, which can be found along Bellevue Avenue and beyond. If you want to get a taste of how elite families like the Vanderbilts and Kennedys used to summer in Newport’s heyday, you can tour these opulent summer homes, including The Breakers, Marble House, and Rosecliff.
While Newport was once a playground for America’s rich and famous, today, it’s a popular vacation destination for all types of travelers. Whether you want to spend your days getting your heart pumping by kayaking around Narragansett Bay or biking to the turn-of-the-century Castle Hill Lighthouse, or sipping wine on a beautiful vineyard and filling up on New England clam chowder and lobster rolls at Bowen’s Wharf, you’ll absolutely love Newport!
With so many things to see, do, and eat, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Newport, Rhode Island, for you. Stick to these fun and unique Newport bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time in the City by the Sea!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Newport
1. Tour Newport’s Lavish Gilded Age Mansions
No trip to Newport, Rhode Island, is complete without experiencing at least a little bit of the glitz and glam of the Gilded Age. And what better way to do this than by touring the city’s iconic mansions?
Newport’s Gilded Age mansions were built by some of the country’s most wealthy families between 1870 and 1910. At the time, elite families like the Vanderbilts, Astors, and Morgans all had summer “cottages” in Newport, where they would all vacation and host lavish parties year after year.
Fast-forward to today, and you’ll find 11 of these extravagant, old-world estates dotting Bellevue Avenue and Ochre Point. Tour the homes, and you’ll learn all about the families’ extravagant lifestyles and parties.
Perched on Ochre Point, right on the famed Cliff Walk, you’ll find The Breakers. Arguably one of the most famous Newport attractions, this extraordinarily opulent 70-room estate was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt from 1893 to 1895 and is a must-see on your Newport mansion tour. Other notable estates include The Elms, Marble House, and Rosecliff, to name a few.
You can either go on a self-guided tour of Newport’s Gilded Age mansions or sign up for a number of different tours, including a trolley tour!
2. Go Shopping on Historic Thames Street
Stretched parallel along the Newport Harbor, you’ll find the historic Thames Street. If you want to be in the heart of this buzzing seaside city, you’ll definitely want to spend as much time as possible shopping, wining, and dining in this part of town.
As one of the first two roads in Newport, Thames Street dates back to 1654 and was constructed to offer access to the city’s wharves. Today, the 1.5-mile Thames Street is the beating heart of the city, where you’ll find all sorts of creative art galleries, unique boutique shops, and some of the best bars in town. And the best part is they’re all housed in beautifully preserved colonial buildings!
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you’ll have a wide range of restaurants to choose from on Thames Street. Stop off at Midtown Oyster Bar for fresh Rhode Island seafood fare, O’Brien’s Pub for al fresco cocktails and pub grub, or The Red Parrot for creative Caribbean-inspired seafood fare. Either way you go, you won’t go hungry on Thames Street!
3. Take a Sunset Cruise on Narragansett Bay
Taking a cruise on Narragansett Bay is easily one of the coolest things to do in Newport, Rhode Island. Whether you’re looking for a romantic excursion or a family-friendly experience, Coastal Queen Cruises offers a range of different cruises, so you’ll easily find the perfect one for you!
One of the coolest things about these cruises is that you’ll get the chance to see the city’s historic lighthouses, Gilded Age mansions, and imposing forts from the water. Plus, if you’re lucky, you might even spot some sea creatures frolicking in the water!
If it’s history you’re after, the Scenic Bay Cruise offers a narrated tour while you cruise along the Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay. Alternately, the narrated Fall Lighthouse Cruise will take you to Rose Island Lighthouse, Castle Hill Lighthouse, and Goat Island Lighthouse.
If you’re looking to take the fun up a notch, there’s also the Lighthouse and Mimosa Cruise and the Evening Cocktail Cruise, which is the perfect pick if you want to get sunset views from the water!
4. Take a Stroll Along the Cliff Walk
Taking a walk along the Cliff Walk is one of the best Newport activities if you’re looking to relish everything this unique New England city has to offer. Whether you’re a history buff or a nature enthusiast, you’ll love wandering around this 3.5-mile-long trail.
The Cliff Walk begins at the western end of Easton’s Beach and ends at the east end of Bailey’s Beach on Bellevue Ave. The Cliff Walk is a National Recreation Trail in a National Historic District, so expect to come across all sorts of historic landmarks along the way, including Marble House, The Breakers, and Rosecliff.
As you meander around the oceanfront trail, you’ll find plenty of beautiful vistas and photo ops of the Atlantic Ocean along the way. Other must-see attractions are the Salve Regina University campus and The Forty Steps, a staircase at the end of Narraganset Avenue that leads you down to the ocean.
5. Pay a Visit to the Historic Bowen’s Wharf
Spending some time exploring Bowen’s Wharf is easily one of the best things to do in Newport, Rhode Island. Explore the area, and you’ll find all sorts of cute shops housed in 18th-century commercial wharf buildings.
This is also a popular jumping-off point for cruises to Narragansett Bay. Before or after your cruise, you can easily while away hours shopping for trinkets in the wharf’s boutique shops or picking out works of local art in one of the many galleries.
Of course, when it comes to food and drink, you’ll be spoiled for choice. From freshly baked pastries at The Cookie Jar to prime cuts of steak and award-winning wine at 22 Portside, there’s something to suit all tastes. But if it’s local seafood you’re after, The Lobster Bar serves up seriously good lobster rolls and New England clam chowder with a stellar view over the Newport Harbor.
Depending on when you visit, Bowen’s Wharf also plays host to some of Newport’s best annual festivals. Don’t miss out on the Newport Oyster & Chowder Festival in May, the Bowen’s Wharf Seafood Festival in October, or the Tree Lighting ceremony in December, to name a few!
6. Have a Chilled-Out Beach Day
Newport is surrounded by water, which means there are plenty of beautiful stretches of sand and hidden coves for you to enjoy when the weather is nice. Set at the beginning of the Cliff Walk, Easton’s Beach is easily one of the most popular Newport attractions.
Easton’s Beach is a prime spot for surfing and swimming. Plus, you can see the city’s Gilded Age mansions perched along the Cliff Walk right from the beach!
Fort Adams State Beach is another popular beach set to the west of Newport Harbor. Plus, you’ll get handy amenities from free parking and lifeguards to concession stands and picnic tables, so it’s easy to make a day of it.
If you’re looking for something a bit removed from the hustle and bustle of Newport’s most popular beaches, Third Beach is located near Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge and offers excellent swimming and kayaking opportunities. You’ll also find the 1.5-mile-long Sachuest Beach (aka Second Beach) just down the road.
From the calm waters of Gooseberry Beach to the stunning sunsets at Collins Beach, you’ll find a wide range of hidden beaches and coves dotting the Newport coastline. One of the best ways to see them all is to hop on a bike and get pedaling!
7. Go Wine (and Beer) Tasting at Newport Vineyards
Oenophiles won’t want to miss out on spending some time at the beautiful Newport Vineyards. Set just four miles from the heart of town, this recently expanded 100-acre farm offers 50 acres of vineyards, which are responsible for producing all sorts of award-winning wines.
But even if wine tasting isn’t your thing, paying a visit to Newport Vineyards is one of the most fun things to do in Newport, Rhode Island. The property is also home to Taproot Brewing Co., which has been fermenting small batch beers for the past 25 years. From their peachy Milkshake IPA to the raspberry and peach-infused Sour Ale and the hazy and hoppy New England IPA, there are always creative options on tap.
And if it’s just food you’re after, you’ll also find one of the most acclaimed restaurants in Newport at Newport Vineyards. This place is all about the farm-to-table philosophy, which is matched perfectly with beer and wine from Newport Vineyards and Taproot Brewing Co.
Depending on when you visit, Newport Vineyards is always hosting fun events you can participate in. From Weekend Patio Cookouts to Taproot Slider Thursdays, be sure to check out what’s on during your visit!
8. Take a Tour of the Historic Fort Adams
Located at the harbor mouth in Newport, you’ll find Fort Adams State Park. As one of the most popular Newport attractions, the historic Fort Adams was built between 1825 and 1838 to defend the harbor. Today, it’s possible to tour the grounds on both guided and self-guided tours.
The 75-minute guided tours will give you a fascinating look at the fort’s history, design, and restoration process. Plus, you’ll get to scramble on top of the fort’s walls and go underground into the fort’s mysterious tunnels.
Whether you opt for the guided or self-guided tour, be sure to take some time to take the Fort Adams Bay Walk afterward. This 2.5-mile trail circumnavigates the park and offers panoramic views of the Newport Harbor, Newport Bridge, and Narragansett Bay. This also happens to be one of the best places in Newport to watch the sunset!
Fort Adams State Park also plays host to all sorts of fun annual festivals and events, including the ultra-popular Newport Folk Festival and Newport Jazz Festival, which are both held in July each year.
9. Photograph the Picture-Perfect Castle Hill Lighthouse
There are a handful of historic lighthouses dotting the shores near Newport, but Castle Hill Lighthouse is arguably one of the most iconic. If you’re looking for relaxing Newport activities, it’s well worth taking some time to seek out this hidden gem.
You’ll find Castle Hill Lighthouse hidden away down Ocean Drive, just a short walk away from Castle Hill Inn on the west side of town. While the lighthouse is technically located on the Castle Hill Inn property, you can still visit the lighthouse, though you can’t actually go inside it.
Castle Hill Lighthouse dates back to 1890 when it was built to help guide ships traveling between Conanicut Island and Aquidneck Island. Today, it’s a popular spot for photography enthusiasts and anyone just looking for a tranquil picnic spot with beautiful views across the bay.
Plus, if you time your visit for sunset, you’ll be rewarded with magical photos and even better views!
10. Visit the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum
Newport isn’t just known for its prestigious sailing races and maritime history. This city also played a crucial role in the history of tennis in the United States. If you’re looking for unique things to do in Newport, then pay a visit to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the grounds of which still host the sports’ biggest stars during the Hall of Fame Open each July!
The museum is housed in the historic 1880 Newport Casino, the exclusive sports complex that hosted the first US Open Championship from 1881 until 1914. Located on Bellevue Ave., a museum was later added to the Casino to pay homage to the evolution and history of the sport and its many stars. Peruse the museum, and you’ll find over 2,000 artifacts from the museum’s collection of over 25,000 images, videos, publications, and more.
There are always interesting exhibits to check out too. “Kicks on Court” highlights how tennis shoes impacted pop culture, while “Breaking the Barriers” is all about the impact of Black tennis players on the American Tennis Association.
11. Have a Scenic Picnic at Brenton Point State Park
A day trip to Brenton Point State Park is one of the top things to do in Newport if you want to relish the city’s natural beauty. Located just off scenic Ocean Avenue on the southern tip of Aquidneck Island, this slice of paradise offers tons of outdoor activities perfect for the whole family.
The 89-acre green space was once home to The Reefs, a sprawling mansion built by wealthy businessman Theodore M. Davis between 1876 and 1883. The estate ultimately fell into ruin and the land was dedicated as a state park in 1974.
Today, Brenton Point State Park is a popular spot for hiking, fishing, and birdwatching. If you’ve got the time, it’s well worth picking up some picnic supplies and enjoying a leisurely meal on the grass or on one of the picnic tables. The views over Narragansett Bay are unrivaled here and the sunsets are pure magic!
If you’re planning a summer trip, try to time your visit for July when the annual Newport Kite Festival is held. It’s always fun to see all of the massive kites fill the air!
12. Dine at Newport’s Best Sea-to-Table Restaurants
It’s no secret that the City by the Sea is home to some seriously good seafood restaurants. And if there’s one thing that needs to be on your Newport bucket list, it’s dining at as many seafood joints as possible during your trip. From fine dining establishments to food trucks, there’s something to suit all styles here!
Clam chowder is a must-try food if you’re in Rhode Island, and if you find yourself in Newport, you have to pay a visit to The Black Pearl. Located on Bannister’s Wharf, this place serves up some of the best clam chowder in the state, as well as a range of other creative seafood-centric dishes.
For more seafood fare, head over to The Mooring Seafood Kitchen & Bar for their excellent raw bar and freshly caught seafood dishes. Though, if you want to order as the locals do, get their “Bag of Doughnuts,” which is a delicious grab bag of lobster and shrimp fritters!
For something light, sip wine and slurp native oysters while enjoying water views at Castle Hill Inn before indulging in signature lobster rolls and tuna tartare tacos at Midtown Oyster Bar. If you’re a seafood lover, you’re going to love eating your way through Newport!
13. Let Loose at One of Newport’s Many Annual Festivals
Newport might be a small town, but it sure does pack a punch when it comes to festivals. From summer concert series to holiday extravaganzas, there’s always something fun going on in Newport, no matter what time of year you visit!
Take a trip to Newport in the summer, and you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to annual festivals. Music lovers won’t want to miss out on the world-class Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival, which both take place at Fort Adams State Park in July. And history lovers won’t want to miss out on the historical reenactments at the Black Ship Festival each June.
Then there’s the Newport Daffodil Days Festival in April (think one million daffodils!), the Newport International Boat Show in October, and the ultra-festive Christmas in Newport event in December.
This is a foodie-centric town, so if you want to taste the best of the best, time your visit with the Newport Oyster & Chowder Festival in May or the Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival in September, to name a couple.
Whatever festival you attend, rest assured there will be plenty of live music, local wine, farm-to-table eats, and good times for you to enjoy!
14. Go Museum Hopping around Newport
If it’s culture and history you’re after, spending the day museum hopping around the city is one of the most fun things to do in Newport!
You can start off at the Museum of Newport History, where you can learn all about Newport’s storied history, glamorous Gilded Age, famous past residents, and so much more. Explore the museum, and you’ll also have the chance to check out over 10,000 fascinating artifacts.
Even if you don’t consider yourself an art aficionado, you’ll love perusing the Newport Art Museum. Founded in 1912, the museum now houses an excellent collection of art from Rhode Island and New England artists, including William Trost Richards and Catharine Morris Wright.
Classic car lovers won’t want to miss out on viewing the ever-changing classic car exhibits at the Audrain Automobile Museum. And for one of the most unique things to do in Newport, the National Museum of American Illustration features artwork from the “Golden Age of American Illustration,” with works from the likes of Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish.
15. Dine at “America’s Oldest Tavern”
If you’re a foodie and you’re looking for unique things to do in Newport, you should definitely look into dining at The White Horse Tavern. This place has been serving guests since 1673 and still stands proud as the oldest operating restaurant in the US and the 10th-oldest in the world!
You’ll find this colonial gem and National Historic Landmark right in the heart of town. The restaurant was originally designed as a two-story, two-room home for Francis Brinley in 1652, and it was later converted into a tavern and meeting place for the Colony’s General Assembly, Criminal Court, and City Council.
Now beautifully restored, The White Horse Tavern has been serving guests for 350 years. Visit today, and you can still dine on the freshest fish, clams, and lobster plucked straight from Narragansett Bay. From Rhode Island Clam Chowder and Lobster Bisque to start to Beef Wellington and Lobster Ravioli as mains, you’re sure to eat well here!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Newport, RI. What’s your favorite thing to do in Newport?
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