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Experience Things To Do In Newport, Rhode Island Attractions Like a Tourist and a Local

by Eric Hurwitz. Page updated on 7/31/18.

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Downtown Newport, Rhode Island
Thames Street in Newport.

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 things to do in the form of shopping, dining, lodging and recreation 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. A prime example: The Cliff Walk that extends a few miles above the sea, affording amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Cliif Walk at Newport, Rhode Island

The Ciff Walk in Newport.

The stroll can look especially spectacular and dramatic around twilight...

Cliif Walk at Newport, Rhode Island

Newport's Cliff Walk at twilight.

Newport indeed has something for everyone. We prefer the simple things to do, so we'll start with some of the more natural, relaxing settings.  Recreation enthusiasts will love Easton's Beach (175 Memorial Blvd), a near-perfect stretch of sand and waves
three quarters that also features a carousel, snack bar with twin lobsters and lobster rolls, a ballroom (great wedding venue!), summer concerts, a skateboard park, playground, covered picnic pavillion and a beach and souvenir store.

Easton's Beach, Newport, R.I.
Easton's Beach, Newport.

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. It's a great spot for picnicking, fishing and boating. Fort Adams State Park is best known for its world-renowned summer Jazz and Folk Festivals. Ocean Drive in Newport, Rhode Island
Ocean Drive in Newport.

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 are many small shops at the Market Place with often an upscale presence. Dining will not disappoint, either, from the informal landmark Brick Alley Pub and Restaurant (140 Thames St.) and casually upscale waterfront dining gems like the Black Pearl (Bannister's Wharf) for lunch or dinner.

Brick Alley Pub and Restaurant in Newport, Rhode Island
Brick Alley Pub and Restaurant in Newport.

My favorite restaurant in Newport, however, is Jo's American Bistro (24 Memorial Blvd West) as owner Joann Carlson has created a dining out destination that features fabulously prepared fresh food and a pride of ownership that is so wonderful to see. Joann practically lives at the restaurant and leads by example by taking on virtually every job description including busing tables and serving customers. Jo's has something for everyone from burgers (absolutely delicious!) to more high end dishes like Lobster Carbonara.

"Salve (University) kids come here, date night people, those out for a burger," said Joann. "It's a place where you could see a 70-year-old talking with a 16-year old kid. Everyone gets along."

Jo's American Bistro in Newport, Rhode Island
Jo's American Bistro.

Bannister and Bowen's Wharfs, near Thames St., provide plenty of dining and shopping options from the picturesque harbor right up to the main drag.

Bowen's Wharf in Newport, R.I.
Bannister's Wharf.

Fine lodging choices abound in Newport, including stately inns, historic bed and breakfasts and upscale hotels. Some notable places to stay: the historic Hotel Viking, America's Cup Inn, and
Vanderbilt Hall, as well as the Castle Hill Inn and Resort and Newport Harbor Inn and Marina for amazing water views.

America's Cup Hotel in Newport, R.I.
America's Cup Inn

If you're a museum lover, Newport delivers with the International Tennis Hall of Fame (194 Bellevue Ave.), Newport Art Museum and Art Association
(76 Bellevue Ave.). and the Museum of Newport History  (127 Thames St.).

Of course, Newport offers the aforementioned, spectacular mansion tours. The tours include famous homes like the Breakers, The Elms. Marble House 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 Breakers mansion in Newport, R.I.
The Breakers in Newport.

The mansions are certainly a primary travel attraction in Newport, but I believe the true appeal of Newport, Rhode Island however, is to treat it like a small town. Yes, there are myriad things to do 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. 

The Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island near the Newport mansions
Daffodils in April where Newport's Cliff Walk meets Salve Regina University.

That would be missing the point, however, of visiting Newport, Rhode Island; 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 (181 Bellevue Ave., #4)) and then just walk to the beach from a simply laid-out hotel.  Or, just take in a sunset at King Park on Wellington St -- it's not a hyped tourist destination but more a place to enjoy by the locals...

Sunset at King Park.
King Park.

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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