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This fabled Rhode Island resort with a yacht-studded harbor was once the playground of the Vanderbilts and the Astors (their mansions along Bellevue Avenue can now be toured). Today, you’ll still find a well-heeled crowd, as well as beach-going families and music lovers who come for the annual folk and jazz festivals held each summer. Here are some of the top things to do in Newport — and yes, eating fresh New England seafood (clam chowder, anyone?) is definitely one of them.
The Preservation Society of Newport County maintains numerous mansions, including the spectacularly ornate 70-room Breakers, built in 1895 by Cornelius Vanderbilt. Other "summer cottages" (as these grand estates were cheekily known), include The Elms, Marble House, and Rosecliff (the tango scene in True Lies was shot in the ballroom).
Learn about Newport's illicit history during a one-hour harbor cruise aboard the Rum Runner II. This handsome 1929-era wood-hulled boat was an actual "rum runner" used by bootleggers during Prohibition. Nowadays, it's used solely for sightseeing trips, and the rum punches served on board are perfectly legal.
If it's a lobster you're after, head to Newport Lobster Shack. This no-frills concession is in an out-of-the-way spot down by the docks, but it's well worth the trip. Order the lobster roll — super fresh chunks of meat in a light coating of mayo with bits of celery — along with a cup of lobster bisque, and sit at one of the outdoor picnic tables.
Sip a glass of sparkling wine or a handcrafted cocktail (like the gin-based Rosecliff Gardens), and nosh on small plates on the Grace Vanderbilt hotel's Roof Deck, featuring jaw-dropping views of the boat-studded harbor, especially stunning at sunset. The secret is out on this rooftop bar, so get there early for a prime seat!
Located in Newport's historic district, the White Horse Tavern is housed in a building that dates back to 1673. With its beamed ceilings and stone fireplaces, you'll feel like you've stepped back to colonial times. Start out with Narragansett Bay clams, followed by the duck breast or the house specialty, Beef Wellington.
Gurney's Newport is located on its own island in Newport Harbor. With amenities like a cabana-lined pool, an outdoor cocktail lounge with modern fire pits, and a branch of the Italian restaurant Scarpetta, you may never want to leave, but if you do, there's a fun little water shuttle that'll drop you in the heart of downtown.
One of the top things to do in Newport is Cliff Walk, a scenic 3.5 mile coastal path. The trail can be challenging at times, as the surface changes from flat pavement to uneven rocks, so wear proper footwear, but be prepared to be blown away by the views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and grand mansions on the other.
Thames Street, one of Newport's main drags, is lined with restaurants and bars, many of which have live music. Rock, blues, and jazz bands perform at Newport Blues Cafe, while One Pelham East attracts top cover bands, and Buskers is an Irish bar where you can order a good pint of Guinness while listening to live music.
Scrimshaw, the art of engraving on ivory or bone, was started by 18th- and 19th-century American whalemen to pass the time during long sea journeys. Scrimshanders, on Bowen's Wharf, specializes in this uniquely American folk art, selling beautiful hand-crafted decorative pieces that feature nautical Newport-based scenes.
At Newport Vineyards, you can enjoy a tour of the winery and vineyards, followed by a tasting (try the pinot grigio and dry rosé). If beer is more your thing, head to the Newport Craft Brewing and Distilling Company to sample craft beer, such as hefeweizen and pilsner, and snack on soft pretzels in the outdoor pavilion.
For gorgeous coastal views, rent a bike and pedal along Ocean Drive, where you'll pass yacht clubs, private beach clubs, and Benton Point State Park, which has a public (but rocky) beach. As you head back toward downtown Newport, you'll see Fort Adams State Park, where the city's famed music festivals take place.
One of the prettiest views in all of Newport can be found at the Castle Hill Inn. Sit on the outdoor deck of its water-facing restaurant — or better yet, sit in one of the white Adirondack chairs on the manicured lawn, just steps from a historic lighthouse, and gaze at the sailboats and yachts gliding by, mimosa in hand.
You don't have to be a car buff to enjoy the Audrian Automobile Museum, which showcases some of the rarest cars in the world, ranging from an 1899 Crouch steam-powered vehicle to the exclusive 2016 Porsche 911R — and don't miss the 1941 Cadillac Fleetwood limousine once owned by the Vanderbilt family.
Take a peek inside St. Mary's, a Roman Catholic church on William Street, where Jacqueline Bouvier and then-senator John F. Kennedy were married on September 12, 1953. Nearby on Queen Anne Square is Trinity Church, a white, steepled New England-style beauty built in 1726 (George Washington once worshipped here).
Easton's Beach, also called First Beach, is Newport's largest strand, and it's especially popular with families. There's a playground, a vintage carousel, and a snack bar. Be sure to try a Del's Lemonade, the classic Rhode Island frozen lemonade. Afterward, head to nearby Flo's Clam Shack, open since 1936, for a plate of fried clams.
A visit to Newport isn't complete without a seafood dinner at The Black Pearl, on historic Bannister's Wharf down by the harbor. In the summer months, you can't beat the outdoor patio, or, if you prefer inside, you can dine in the colonial-style Commodore Room. Be sure to order a cup of its award-winning clam chowder.
One of the top things to do in Newport is to visit the International Tennis Hall of Fame, where you can check out the plaques of famed players like Chris Evert, John McEnroe, and Arthur Ashe, walk through the exhibits, and stroll the gorgeous grounds, which feature grass tennis courts where tournaments still take place.
Bannister's and Bowen's wharfs are fun and festive spots for a few drinks. The aforementioned Black Pearl has a lively outdoor patio bar (love the frozen margaritas!), while the Clarke Cooke House, which attracts a yachtie crowd, has numerous bars within its cavernous 18th-century building. The views of masted boats are a gorgeous nautical backdrop to 22 Bowen's alfresco bar.
Liberty Donuts, part of the Long Wharf shops, is known for its fresh and delish donuts topped with everything from crushed Oreos to chocolate chips. There are also yummy flavors like Boston cream pie, chocolate glaze, and maple bacon. Liberty also serves ice cream and coffee, including espresso and nitro brew on tap.
Built in 1760 as a private residence, The Francis Malbone House is a luxury inn with 20 rooms (many feature fireplaces), period sitting rooms, and a peaceful courtyard garden. It's in a central location on Thames Street, making it walkable to restaurants, bars, and shops.