Port of Newport
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Fine early churches like the 1726 Trinity Episcopal Church, the oldest synagogue in North America, historical centers dedicated to tennis and yachting, the nation's oldest library and the largest coastal military fortifications in the U.S. make Newport a fine destination for any history buff. Newport's also an exceptional destination for its famous 3.5-mile Cliff Walk winding between the mansions and the sea, the super-scenic Ocean Drive and Bellevue Avenue, plus several accessible beaches, a magnificent harbor and myriad shops and seafood restaurants along the wharves off Thames Street.
Newport, Rhode Island, has enjoyed a long and complex history. Unlike puritanical Boston, it was a haven for religious freedom, welcoming Quakers and Jews whose meeting house and synagogue are among the historic buildings surviving today. By the 1760s, Newport was one of the five largest ports in Colonial America and was a major exporter, as well as part of the infamous slave trade. Many fine Colonial homes went up during this period, and Newport-made furniture was among the finest in the colonies. The first American Navy was established there in 1775, but this prosperous period ended when the British burned the harbor and fleet, once during the Revolutionary War and again during the War of 1812.
The scenic beauty of the town and its beaches began to attract summer residents. By the late 19th century, Newport had become a mecca for the wealthy. Families like the Vanderbilts and Astors put up opulent palaces by the sea, which they called "cottages," to be used for a feverish six-week summer season that was America's most elaborate social scene. Though wealthy residents remain, that legendary Gilded Age died out with changing times. The mansions, saved and restored by the Preservation Society of Newport County, serve as major tourist attractions drawing millions of visitors each year.
The Navy kept its ties to Newport over the years, and the U.S. Naval War College and Naval Undersea Warfare Center still are headquartered here, but the naval base that had helped support the local economy was closed in 1973. It was after the naval destroyers moved out that the yachts began to move in. The city fathers turned their attention to tourism, the waterfront wharves were restored, shops and restaurants bloomed, and visitors flocked.
With its many assets, Newport has emerged as one of New England's most popular resorts and a major stop for cruise ships, especially during the fall foliage season.
Top Newport Itineraries
Queen Mary 2 (QM2)7 Night Canada / New England CruiseNew York , Halifax, Boston, Boston, Newport, New YorkNow
Caribbean Princess13 Night Canada / New England CruiseFort Lauderdale , Charleston, New York , Newport, Boston, Bar Harbor, Saint John , Halifax, Sydney , Quebec City, Quebec CityNow
Norwegian Dawn11 Night Canada / New England CruiseNew York , Newport, Boston, Portland , Bar Harbor, Halifax, Sydney , Charlottetown , Saguenay, Quebec City, Quebec CityNow
Insignia10 Night Canada / New England CruiseNew York , Newport, Boston, Bar Harbor, Saint John , Halifax, Sydney , Quebec City, MontrealNow
Seven Seas Navigator10 Night Canada / New England CruiseNew York , Newport, Boston, Bar Harbor, Saint John , Halifax, Sydney , Quebec City, MontrealNow
Where You're Docked
Most cruise ships anchor in Narragansett Bay off Newport and use tenders to take passengers to Perrotti Park, within easy walking distance of the visitor center and local public transportation as well as shopping.
There's lots to do within an easy walk of the docks in Perrotti Park. Walk along Thames Street (pronounce the "TH" as in the), the harborfront street lined with shops and restaurants. When you see something that interests you on one of the cobblestoned wharves (Bowen's, Bannister's, Perry Mill, Brown and Howard), turn right and go exploring. Find a seat and watch the busy harbor traffic, sailboat races and ferries plying out of Narragansett Bay to Block Island and under the sweeping Jamestown-Newport suspension bridge to Providence.
Good to Know
You'll find little to worry about in Newport, but as in any popular port, it's best to keep your money stashed out of sight in a secure purse or inside pocket. Leave excess cash in your stateroom safe.
By Bus and Trolley: Newport offers excellent public transportation for visitors. RIPTA (Rhode Island Transportation Authority) buses and trolleys leave from the visitor center to most of the popular attractions in town, including downtown, the Cliff Walk, beaches and Fort Adams; No. 67 goes to the mansions. All-day passes are available for about $6. Viking Tours offers trolley and bus narrated tours from the center that include scenic drives along Bellevue Avenue and the spectacular Ocean Drive. Tours also can include mansion visits.
By Taxi: Cabs are available at the visitor center. A ride from town to The Breakers, the Vanderbilt mansion, is around $9.
By Boat: From Memorial Day to Columbus Day, you can sightsee by boat from Perrotti Park aboard the Newport Harbor Shuttle, which makes seven stops around the harbor. Riders can get on and off all day for $10.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
ATM machines are available at the visitor information center, one block from the tender dock in Perrotti Park. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Bank of America also has several centrally located ATMs -- at 62 Americas Cup Avenue near Bowens Wharf, 514 Thames Street and 181 Bellevue Avenue.
English is spoken in Newport.
Food and Drink
Newport is known for seafood, especially lobster, chowder and catch-of-the-day entrees. Try a johnnycake, Rhode Island's version of cornbread.
While touring the mansions, sandwiches and salads in delightful surroundings are offered at the Carriage House and patio at The Elms (11 a.m. to 4 p.m., late May to mid-October) and the Chinese Tea House at The Breakers (open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, mid-May to late October).
La Forge Casino Restaurant (186 Bellevue Avenue; 401-847-0418) at the Tennis Hall of Fame is a Newport institution with an Irish atmosphere, serving pub fare and more upscale food with views of the grass courts. (open 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday)
In the wharf area, the Mooring Seafood Kitchen provides good harbor views, fresh seafood, locally grown organic produce and a terrific wine list (Sayer's Wharf; 401-846-2260; open 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday) The Black Pearl is located along the busy waterfront and is one of Newport's best-known and longest-serving restaurants, famous for its clam chowder. (Bannister's Wharf; 401-846-5264; open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily)
If the day is fine, for a splurge (and the best view in town away from the crowds), take a cab for lunch on the lawn of the Castle Hill Inn, Newport's Relais and Chateaux property. The menu includes crab cakes, lobster rolls, native fish wrap sandwiches, catch-of-the-day entrees and burgers (590 Ocean Drive; 401-849-3800; open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday, brunch with live jazz 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday, dinner 4:45 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 4:45 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday)
Nautical souvenirs are the best reminders of Newport. For something fun, you can find pillows in the colors of signal flags at Custom Canvas Newport (6 Bowen's Wharf; 401-847-4977) and more pricey original Newport scrimshaw by the owner and artist at Scrimshanders (14 Bowen's Wharf; 401-849-5680).
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