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Newport, Rhode Island

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Newport codified the concept of separation of church and state in its statutes in 1641.
  • The America’s Cup stayed in Newport more than 50 years, from 1930 to 1983.
  • The Vanderbilt mansion called Marble House contains 500,000 cubic feet of marble.
  • Newport was the site of the first auto race, in 1895, and America’s first polo game (1876).
  • Newport hosted the first national tennis championships (now the U.S. Open) in 1881.

Gilded memories

Newport, R.I., is best known for its collection of mansions dating from the Gilded Age of the late 19th century and as the U.S. sailing capital — not to mention for its scenic coastal setting, of course.

However, there is more to this story. For starters, Newport was one of the American colonies’ earlier settlements, dating from 1639. Its founders believed in freedom of religion and separation of church and state, atypical notions at the time.

The good news/bad news for this port town was the three-year British occupation (1776-1779) during the American Revolution. More than half the population fled, and the economy was so badly damaged that post-war industrialization passed the city by. On the other hand, Newport, already endowed with its special location, saved much of its historic architecture and hence gained in touristic appeal.

Accordingly, in the mid-19th century, before the Civil War, Newport attracted a summer colony of artists and intellectuals. Later in the century, the super wealthy industrial and business hotshots came to build their summer “cottages.” It was this crowd that fostered the development of yachting and tennis in America. They set the stage for Newport’s successful America’s Cup racing, and they created the tennis tournament that became the U.S. Open.

Today, tourists flock to Newport for the sailing, and no wonder. There are so many different kinds of boating experiences on offer, including the chance to sail on America’s Cup vessels. Other water-based activities include jet skiing, kayaking, parasailing and scuba diving. And, not forgetting Newport’s tennis legacy, visitors can play the game on the courts where the U.S. Open was born.

Guests are also attracted by the Newport Music Festival and the city’s famous Jazz and Folk festivals. The colonial architecture is a draw, as well as the palatial Gilded Age mansions. Nearly a dozen of the mansions are open to the public.

Finally, while the wealthy summer residents made Newport what it is, most locals are middle and working class. Newport’s modern tourists don’t have to have blue blood in their veins either.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go scuba diving in Narragansett Bay. Take lessons to hone skills, if needed.
  • Rent the wheels and give yourself a tour of Newport by bicycle.
  • Get a taste of the America’s Cup heritage by crewing on a 12-meter yacht. Arrange that with America’s Cup Charters in Newport, which offers the use of five yachts that competed in the big race, three of which were winners, one of them twice.
  • See a performance by the Beechwood Theatre Company which generally performs interactive murder mysteries, period plays and improv comedy. The Newport venues vary but may include historic mansions.
  • Charter a sailboat for a week, and be your own captain.
  • Go parasailing or windsurfing. Or, for something quite different, take polo lessons at the Newport Polo Club.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Attend a military reenactment at Fort Adams, the largest coastal fortification in the U.S. See where soldiers lived and explore the fort’s tunnel system.
  • Hire a boat to see Narragansett Bay, with or without a captain. Or, simply join a sightseeing excursion into the bay.
  • Take sailing lessons. There are several appropriate schools in this town of sailors.
  • Stage your wedding in one of Newport’s grand old mansions.
  • Overnight aboard an at-sea B&B, a 50-foot sailing yacht (called B and B on the Water) in Newport.
  • Take Newport’s Cliff Walk, and regard it as a photo op. This 3.5-mile walk in historic Newport, designated a National Recreation Trail in 1975, combines the appeal of Narragansett Bay and the glamour of the city’s oceanside mansions. About a third of this walk is over rugged terrain.

Things to do for Authentics

  • It’s a must-do. For a good overview of the Gilded Age in Newport, take a sightseeing tour that follows the Gilded Age heritage trail and shows off a series of those 19th century mansions built by the Astors, the Vanderbilts and their ilk.
  • Play tennis on the grass courts at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, site of the first U.S. Open. And, tour the museum.
  • Come to town for Christmas in Newport events, including concerts, candlelight tours, visits from St. Nicholas, the Holly Ball and reenactment events. It is a monthlong celebration.
  • For an 1800s Christmas reenactment, go to the Whitehome House in Newport. The actors, local theater majors, prepare a holiday meal. You sample and take home recipes for colonial holiday dishes.
  • Between December and April, take a seal watching cruise.
  • Attend the Newport Flower Show in June. Or, schedule your visit to attend the weekend Newport Mansions Wine and Food Festival, hosted at Marble House and Rosecliff, in September.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Discover Newport at www.discovernewport.org