Already a member? Please login below for an enhanced experience. Not a member? Join today

Sailboats, Gilded Age mansions delight in NewportSailboats, Gilded Age mansions delight in Newport

Editor's note: Consider visiting Newport, Rhode Island, on your way to or from AOPA's Groton, Connecticut, Fly-In Oct. 6 and 7. Fly-In attendees can sign up for a fly-out to Newport on Oct. 6, hosted by the Cessna Pilots Society.

Newport State Airport is just northeast of the city, near the center of Aquidneck Island. Bring your boat shoes and polo shirt to cruise the bay in an authentic America’s Cup racing yacht or high-speed motor yacht. Then sip champagne and toast the sunset.

  • Newport is the “Sailing Capital of America,” so take a sunset cruise aboard the 72-foot schooner sailing yacht “Madeleine.” Cruise past the famous Castle Hill Inn, where visitors savor lobster rolls and champagne on the grand lawn. Photo by Michael Wantz, courtesy Classic Cruises.
  • Newport State Airport is just northeast of the city, near the center of Aquidneck Island. Enjoy the sights of lighthouses, sailboats, and mansions inbound. With busy New York/New Jersey Class B to the southwest, VFR flight following or an IFR flight plan is highly recommended; be prepared for multiple vectors or re-routes for traffic along the eastern seaboard. Photo courtesy Bird’s Eye View Helicopters.
  • Bird’s Eye View Helicopters offers aerial mansion, bay, lighthouse, and custom tours. They know where all the fanciest mansions are and to whom they belong(ed), plus, a helicopter can hover. You can even take an introductory helicopter lesson. Photo courtesy Bird’s Eye View Helicopters.
  • Play tennis on the beautiful grass courts of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum. Photo courtesy Discover Newport.
  • Sailors from Captain Kidd to America’s Cup champion Dennis Conner have plied these waters. Now you can sail on an authentic America’s Cup racing yacht. Photo courtesy 12 Meter Charters.
  • Hang on tight! Racing yachts catch the wind in Narragansett Bay. Photo courtesy 12 Meter Charters.
  • The “Rum Runner II” motor yacht was built in 1929, during the height of Prohibition. Originally built for two New Jersey mobsters to elude the Coast Guard while speeding cases of "hooch," it will now cruise you, cocktail in hand, past Newport mansions and former speakeasies that were fueled by seaborne smugglers back in the 1920s and 30s. Photo by Michael Wantz, courtesy Classic Cruises.
  • The Black Pearl Restaurant is a Newport institution and famed for its clam chowder. It’s at Bannister’s Wharf, where you’ll also find ice cream shops, clothing boutiques, and cafés. Photo courtesy Discover Newport.
  • Housed in a mansion on Newport’s famed Cliff Walk, The Chanler offers a complimentary house car and fine dining along with Gilded Age elegance. Photo courtesy The Chanler.
  • The Chanler hotel offers 20 distinctive rooms decorated in various period styles. Photo courtesy The Chanler.
  • Cocktails and small bites on the rooftop of the Grace Vanderbilt, perhaps the best spot in all of Newport to catch the sunset. Photo courtesy Grace Vanderbilt.
  • The Muse, fine dining at the Grace Vanderbilt hotel. Paintings that echo the 1920s-30s era are scattered throughout the hotel. Photo courtesy Grace Vanderbilt.
  • All the way at the southern tip of Rhode Island, the Ocean House, one of only 11 Forbes triple-five-star hotels in the world, sits right above the quiet beach. Photo courtesy Ocean House.
  • Room service with a view. Not much can beat an ocean-view room like this one. Photo courtesy Ocean House.
  • Sunset at the Ocean House, which offers private beach cabanas, a fire pit, croquet lawn, putting green, 12,000-square-foot spa, boutique, indoor fitness center and lap pool, and squash courts. Golfers will enjoy a day at nearby Lake of Isles, where Ocean House guests have access to the 7,300-foot South Course, Clubhouse, and Matches Tavern. Photo courtesy Ocean House.

Founded in 1639, Newport is home to more surviving colonial buildings than any other U.S. city. The Gilded Age (about 1870 to early 1900s) brought wealthy families like the Vanderbilts, Astors, and Whartons to Newport for summer retreats. Bird's Eye View Helicopters offers aerial mansion, bay, lighthouse, and custom tours. Even if you view the mansions from the air, don't miss touring them inside. Of the 10 Gilded Age “summer cottages” that still stand, four have self-guided audio tours, or you can choose from a variety of specialized tours. Ornate doesn’t even begin to describe the opulence inside these homes from floor to ceiling. The gardens are equally lavish.

The first U.S. National Tennis Championship was held in here in 1881. Today, Newport’s International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum houses the world’s largest collection of tennis memorabilia. Learn about the origins of tennis and the evolution of the racket, famous tournaments, and great players. You can even play on the beautiful grass courts.

Relive the 'Gilded Age' as you tour opulent old homes like this Marble House. Photo courtesy Preservation Society of Newport County.

The New York Yacht Club brought championship sailing to Newport in 1930 with the America’s Cup, sailing’s most prestigious trophy, where it remained until 1983. Now you can hop on board and help sail an America’s Cup racing yacht with 12 Meter Charters—no experience is necessary. Or just sit back and hang on as the sleek yacht catches the wind and cruises on her side. Other wet fun includes lounging on the beach or cruising Narragansett Bay in a Prohibition-era powerboat or 72-foot schooner. Visit local lighthouses or take the Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile walking path along the eastern shoreline and one of Newport’s most popular attractions. Birders will want to visit the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, home to the second-largest wintering population of Harlequin Ducks on the Atlantic coast. Look for the clown-colored ducks as well as loons, eiders, and gannets along the rocky coast. Falcons and snowy owls often winter here as well.

Get a tour and a taste of the town at the Newport Storm Brewery. But don’t miss the Black Pearl Restaurant, a Newport institution famed for its chowder located right in the center of the action at Bannister’s Wharf, with its shops and cafés. Flo’s Clam Shack is just that, a shack, but they’ve been serving up the best clams in Rhode Island since 1936. But for a real treat, make a late dinner reservation at the Castle Hill Inn. First, pull up an Adirondack chair to enjoy the sunset on their grand lawn, with first-come first-serve seating. You can order cocktails and oysters, lobster rolls, or other goodies before you head inside for the white tablecloth treatment and water views. And of course you can stay in this beautiful four-star waterfront hotel, too.

Homes of the rich and famous line the gorgeous Newport coastline. Photo courtesy Discover Newport.

Newport offers a wealth of fine accommodations. The Chanler is a boutique hotel right on Cliff Walk. Close to downtown, Grace Vanderbilt is a restored mansion with a rooftop deck terrace where you can enjoy light fare and cocktails with views of the historic downtown and harbor, or fine dining at Muse. Work out in the gym or get a massage or signature treatment at the Vanderbilt Spa. For something really different, sleep on the Ocean Romance, an 80-foot motor yacht bed and breakfast. Or, drive an hour to peaceful Watch Hill, the southernmost point of Rhode Island, and stay at the Ocean House, a Victorian mansion perched 650 feet above the ocean—one of only 11 Forbes triple-five-star hotels in the world (see photos for details).

Upscale dining, boutique shops, luxurious hotels, yachts, beaches, great seafood, and gorgeous sunsets; Newport has it all!

See the Beavertail Lighthouse and Gilded Age homes on an aerial tour of Newport. Photo courtesy Bird’s Eye View Helicopters.
Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to [email protected]
Topics: US Travel

Related Articles