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Experience Newport, Rhode Island Attractions Like a Local

The Cliff Walk in Newport RI near the Newport mansionsby Eric Hurwitz. Page updated on 11/15/16. Cliff Walk, Newport RI (Photo Credit: Onne van der Wal)

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Those who think of Newport, Rhode Island, conjure up images of wealthy America, given the famous mansions and lavish lifestyles that went on inside those oversized cottages. Today, you can still see the lifestyles of the rich and famous through a mansion tour, but Newport has evolved in different ways to please tourists. There's a wealth of shopping, dining, lodging, recreation and, yes, traffic that makes this legendary community a bustling, New England tourist destination. Of course, there's endless scenic coastal views that can never be taken away, no matter how much Newport develops as an international vacation destination.

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Newport indeed has something for everyone. We prefer the simple things, so we'll start with some of the more natural, relaxing settings.  Recreation enthusiasts will love Easton's Beach, a near-perfect stretch of sand and waves that is ideal for the family. At Easton's, you'll also find a carousel and a branch of the New England Aqaurium. The Aquarium is limited in presentation, but interesting enough to take a satisfying tour of our friends from the sea. It's just an added bonus to a wonderful day at the beach. The Cliff Walk extends a few miles above the sea, affording amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, there's the revered Ocean Drive, a great place for a scenic coastal drive. Located at the mouth of Newport Harbor is Ft. Adams State Park. Famous for its folk and music festivals, Ft. Adams State Park is worth a visit any time of year, as it's a grand New England-flavored experience with different seasonal panoramic perspectives of Newport Harbor and the East Passage of Narragansett Bay.

Wide and narrow streets some with charming cobblestone -- as well as scenic wharves that only New England could offer -- provides seemingly endless shops, including boutiques, gift shops and art galleries. Brick Market Place, between America's Cup and Thames Avenues, is one of Newport's better shopping districts with over four acres of shopping! There's lots of small shops at the Market Place with an upscale presence, so if you're looking for bargains, there's always the Walmart at 199 Connell Highway in Newport.  Dining will not disappoint, either, from the informal landmark Brick Alley Pub and Restaurant (140 Thames Street, Tel. 401-849-6334) and casually upscale waterfront dining gems like the Black Pearl (Bannister's Wharf, Tel. 401-846-5264).

Fine lodging choices abound in Newport, including stately inns, historic bed and breakfasts and upscale hotels.  Although we concentrate on day trips, given our proximity to Newport, we've heard great things about the charming Hotel Viking, as well as the Castle Hill Inn and Resort with amazing water views.

If you're a museum lover, Newport delivers with the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport Art Museum and Art Association and the Museum of Newport History.

Of course, Newport offers the aforementioned, spectacular mansion tours and we highly recommend you taking the tour. The tour includes famous homes like the Breakers, The Elms and the Rosecliff.  I particularly like the Breakers (the Vanderbilt's home), a 70-room Italian Renaissance- style palazzo inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin. It just incredible that families lived in these homes that seemingly rival the size of Rhode Island.  Pay careful attention to the details of the homes -- it's the moldings, the high ceilings, the sweeping staircases, the outdoor gardens that give these homes true personality.  After all, how many big, modern, mass-produced "McMansions" have you seen that have a unique personality?  It's all in the craft and pride of the builders, as evidenced by these spectacular Newport mansions.

The mansions are certainly a primary travel attraction in Newport, but I believe the true appeal of Newport, however, is to treat it like a small town. Yes, there are myriad attractions but we've found the best way to enjoy Newport is to pick just a few attractions and spend the rest of the day soaking in the atmosphere.  That could mean having an outdoor lunch at the Black Pearl, exercising with a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean at the Cliff Walk, or just admiring the old buildings and homes that ultimately give Newport its personality. In other words, you could make Newport a place to shop, rush from one attraction to another, and cross "things to do" off your list one-by-one.  That would be missing the point, however, of visiting Newport.  There's a personality to the community, a vibrancy, a unique character in every piece of cobblestone that will make you say to friends, "You had to be there." So while articles like this try to cover the appeal of Newport, you can never really fully explain why Newport is a wonderful travel destination. It's just there to experience and enjoy, the way it was before all the shops and attractions came in, and families were just happy to eat a burger and ice cream at Newport Creamery and then just walk to the beach from a simply laid-out hotel.  You can still lead that type of  simple life in Newport, but like the rush hour traffic, corporate board games, overuse of video games, computers, cell phones and televisions, and all the stuff you were trying to get away from, please realize that you can fall  into that same stressful trap if you don't plan your Newport vacation with some sanity in mind. So relax, know that whatever you do will be fun, and plan to come back many times to do other things in this amazingly diverse, expansive Rhode Island travel getaway.

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