Newport: A Four-Season Destination For Families

By Jeff and Stephanie Sylva

Long regarded as one of the “sailing capitals of the world,” Newport, Rhode Island is often perceived as only a summer resort destination. However, Newport offers such a wide variety of year-round and seasonal activities and events for families with children that it makes a perfect choice for a family vacation any time of the year. From its spectacular coastal scenery to its awe-inspiring architecture, Newport has so much to do and see that families will have a great time experiencing this wonderful coastal New England town. In addition to the attractions and events of the summer months, visitors will be drawn to Newport during the entire month of December with the Christmas in Newport Celebration, and again in February during the Annual Newport Winter Festival.

Newport’s convenient location – just 6o miles from Boston, 70 miles from Hartford, 150 miles from New York, and only 18 miles from T.F. Green Airport – puts it within easy driving distance of many Northeast families. But don’t wait until you get there to begin planning what to do. There are just too many choices and it’s easy to become overwhelmed with options.

The Gilded Age Mansions

Newport’s grandest treasures are the Gilded Age mansions of such families as the Vanderbilts and the Astors. In the late 1800’s, America’s wealthiest families chose Newport as their resort destination. These magnificent “summer homes” along Bellevue Avenue bear such names as The Breakers, Marble House, Astors’ Beechwood, Belcourt Castle, and Rough Point and are testimonies to the opulence of this time period. Many of the mansions offer tours and have youth prices (6 – 17 years old) for their tours. A good tour for families would be the living history museum, the Astors’ Beechwood, where actors are placed in the period setting of 1891 and treat visitors as friends of Mrs. Astor. A number of children took the tour when we were there, and the actors made sure to engage them frequently. The kids really enjoyed the attention.

A great way to get an introduction to Newport and its historic mansions is to take a scenic trolley tour with Viking Tours of Newport. This narrated tour presents a wealth of information about Newport as well as great views of the beauty of Ten-Mile Ocean Drive and the mansions along Bellevue Avenue. Upgraded tours also include a tour of one or more of the mansions. Visit www.vikingtoursnewport.com for information.

Sports Enthusiasts

Newport was long the home of the America’s Cup sailing races and this sailing tradition continues to flourish in Newport in many ways. Visitors can enjoy a sunset sail aboard a wooden sailboat, an afternoon sightseeing cruise on a former rum-runner, or even a harbor excursion on a chartered former America’s Cup 12-meter yacht. One must get out on the water to truly appreciate the beauty of Newport and its surrounding area.

Newport is also home to the Museum of Yachting and the International Restoration School, making this city a sailor’s paradise. There are a number of cruise or charter companies that offer a variety of sailings. The Adirondack II is a classic schooner that offers a comfortable sailing sightseeing excursion. For more information, visit www.sail-newport.com. Classic Cruises of Newport offers excursions on either the classic schooner Madeleine or the Prohibition-era motor yacht, Rumrunner II. Visit www.cruisenewport.com for more information. For a truly authentic sailing experience, try a two-hour sail aboard a legendary America’s Cup winners with America’s Cup Charters. Visit www.americascupcharters.com for information. Other sightsailing cruises are available with Sightsailing of Newport – visit www.sightsailing.com for information. Finally, the Newport Cruise Co. offers one-hour harbor tours as well as luncheon or dinner cruises. Visit www.newportcruiseco.com for information on these harbor tours.

Tennis enthusiasts will love to visit the International Tennis Hall of Fame, a comprehensive and interactive tennis museum. The facility also offers public use of its lawn courts, the only lawn courts available for public use in the country. Those who favor America’s favorite pastime can catch a Newport Gulls baseball game at historic Cardines Field. Need a little exercise? Then take a walk – albeit one with a spectacular view. The 3.2 mile Cliff Walk, designated a National Recreation Trail in 1975, passes by the sprawling lawns of the mansions and the pounding surf of the Atlantic. During the colder months you can enjoy a spin around the ice and some hot chocolate at Newport’s Downtown Skating Center. During the summer families can enjoy the beach at Newport County’s First, Second, and Third Beaches. While at the beach take a ride on the Easton’s Beach Carousel at First Beach. Another great family activity is a picnic at Brenton Point State Park – the perfect place to fly a kite! The great ocean winds and spectacular sweeping views make this simple activity one the kids will love. Even the trip along Ocean Drive to get to the park has miles of scenic coastline.

Shopping and Dining

A visit to Newport also means some great strolling through the unique shops and galleries as well as eating in some of the great restaurant choices that make Newport a great place to visit. The downtown area and the various wharfs along the harbor are home to a wide array of great shops, fine galleries and fantastic restaurants. Two particular restaurants that families will love are the Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant and the Rhode Island Quahog Company. Both serve great food in a family-friendly atmosphere and offer a number of reasonably priced items. If you like clams, and you also like chili, you’ve got to try Rhode Island Quahog’s chili – it’s quite different.

Kids will enjoy watching master craftsmen at work at the International Yacht Restoration School, the Thames Glass Studio, or the Anchor Bend Glassworks Studio. Also while strolling the waterfront, visit the Aquidneck Lobster Company and view the catch of the day – hundreds of live crustaceans in the large seawater tanks.

Special Events

Newport has a great schedule of special events throughout the year, many of which are great for families. Two wintertime events that incorporate many family activities are the Annual Christmas in Newport Celebration and the Newport Winter Festival. This year’s Christmas in Newport Celebration, a month-long celebration during December, will be the 38th such celebration featuring music and culinary events. Tree lightings at Bowen’s Wharf, Washington Square, the Tennis Hall of Fame, and the Newport Skating Center help put people in the holiday mood. A highlight for kids is the Polar Express train ride from Newport Train Station, which is offered on various days in December. The 75-minute train ride along Narragansett Bay includes a reading of the classic holiday story, hot chocolate and cookies, and a train boarding by Santa at the North Pole where he will greet each child with own sleigh bell. Reservations for this are strongly recommended. Visit www.christmasinnewport.org for information.

Other events that kids will enjoy are visits with Santa at a number of the Gilded Age Mansions such as the Breakers, Marble House and the Elms; a variety of craft workshops such as Santa’s Workshop at Easton’s Beach Carousel and Rotunda and The Tennis Hall of Fame Nutcracker Craft; a holiday production at the Newport Children’s Theater, as well a wide variety of other holiday events and activities. Visit the Christmas in Newport website for a complete listing of the scheduled events.

February’s 10-day Newport Winter Festival is a great wintertime getaway for families who may not be looking for a ski vacation and don’t have the budget to plan a Caribbean vacation. The Festival offers a long list of events and activities that families will love. Family Scavenger Hunts will have parents and kids racing around Newport in search of items to win the hunt. Mothers and daughters can bond during one of the Mother Daughter-Makeovers. Everyone will be amazed at the skill displayed in the Ice Sculpting Contest. Some very popular food events include the Annual Chili Cook-Off, the Annual Nacho Tasting, and the Annual Pizza Cook-Off. Other activities include a Beatle-Mania Concert; the 4 Band Jam Session at the Newport Blues Café (great for teens!); the Children’s Fair at the Newport Marriott with music, magic and fun; Family Night: Wine Tasting and Kids Movie and Kids Karaoke and Dinner at the Rhino Bar and Grille; the Kids Dance Party; and the Teddy Bear Story Time at the Mainstay Inn. These are only a selection of the events scheduled for the week of the Newport Winter Festival. For more information and a complete list of events and activities, visit www.NewportEvents.com.

March is Irish Heritage Month and a centerpiece of this celebration is the festive St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In May, all pirates convene on Newport to celebrate PirateFest. Activities for the day include a pirate treasure hunt; various Pirate sailings; the telling of pirate stories, history and lore; Cap’n Nick’s Newport Pirate Walk; a Family Pirate School; a Pirate Fashion show; a Kiddie Pirate costume Contest; a Swashbuckler sing-Off; and the culminating event, the Buccaneers Ball. For more information on PirateFest visit www.piratewalk.com/piratefest. The Annual Great Chowder Cook-Off takes place in June. Restaurants from across the nation and around the globe cook up gallons of chowder and compete for various titles. August is the time for the Newport Folk Festival and the JVC – Jazz Festival, both long-standing music festivals.

Getaway Packages

Getaway Packages are available during the different seasons and are especially attractive in the fall, winter and spring; each package combines a discounted room, daily breakfast, and various discounts on admissions to participating attractions. Visit www.GoNewport.com to view the various packages offered. This site also provides a wealth of information on accommodations, dining, attractions, and special events. The Marriott Hotel, conveniently located on the harbor and within easy walking distance of most shops, restaurants and attractions, has a Family Fun Package that includes a deluxe room, in-room movie, a large pizza delivered to the room, breakfast for 2 adults and children aged 12 and under staying in the same room, complimentary use of health club, indoor pool, whirlpool and racquetball courts, and the Newport Coupon Book, good for discounts at many restaurants, services and attractions. Prices for this package start at $225 per night. For more information, visit the Marriott website at www.marriott.com and typing in Newport, RI.

Another conveniently located hotel that offers a Family Fun Package is the Newport Harbor Hotel and Marina. We stayed here and had a room with a great view of the harbor and marina. The family package includes a room with choice of view, in-room movie, and a large pizza with a 2-liter bottle of soda. The hotel has a heated indoor pool and men’s and ladies’ saunas. For more information on the Newport Harbor Hotel, visit www.newporthotel.com.

Newport has a wide variety of choices for accommodations, many of which are easy on the budget if you’re willing to drive a short distance. Parking in downtown Newport is not that easy however. There are parking garages and lots, but these can become an expense, especially during the high season of the summer.

If You Go:

Newport is a great choice for a family destination, whether during the high season of the summer or even in the cold of winter. The best way to plan your visit is to check out the website at www.GoNewport.com to view all the information about travel, accommodations, dining, attractions, and special events. Once in Newport, make your first stop the Newport County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau at 23 America’s Cup Avenue in downtown Newport.

Jeff and Stephanie Sylva are retired high school teachers and have been professional travel writers for over twenty years. Their daughter Jennifer, who is currently in college, often travels with them.

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