On a sunny summer day, Newport literally sparkles with the gleam of the ocean. White sand, stunning coast, glistening water—it's not hard to see what the rich Guilded Age folk saw in the landscape. That privileged set—names like Astor, Duke, and Vanderbilt—arrived in the nineteenth century to build their sprawling "cottages" and take best advantage of the coastline's glorious vistas. Newport became their summertime playground, and many of those sprawling mansions still stand along Bellevue Avenue. A trip to Newport isn't complete without a visit to the mansions and a stroll along Bellevue's abutting cliff walk. Even the smallest child can appreciate the rolling grounds and imagine what it was like to actually live in one of these grand dames. Still, one need not be upper crust to enjoy Newport's plentiful riches. The coastline is open to all, whether from the open hull of a skiff, the seat of a kayak, or (if you're really lucky) the deck of an enormous yacht, or on bike or foot on the long stretch of Ocean Drive that mirrors the water's edge.
Events like the popular Newport Folk Festival in August are renowned for their crowds. While the activities are fun, the frenetic pace (and the lines for everything, starting with parking) is best avoided if your schedule allows. Summer in general really bustles, with many hotels flashing "No Vacancy" signs on weekends. Still, sun worshippers who want to take best advantage of the Memorial Day to Labor Day season should do so midweek, when the crowds quiet down. Those lucky souls with extra flexible schedules (read: not yet prisoners to the school year) will do well to visit in May and September, when the temperatures are up but the off-season prices aren't. Fall nets an even quieter season, when you can take advantage of the crisp temperatures and lovely foliage. In November, Newport's pace picks up again when the entire area—mansions, wharf, and shops—twinkles for the Christmas season.
Rhode Island's weather is called a "continental climate," with winters and summers tempered by the oceanside locale. In the height of summer, temperatures often stay comfortably in the 70s; even an 80-plus degree day, when combined with the salt-air humidity, stays comfortable with cool, gentle breezes. Fall finds temperatures dropping into the 50s and 60s, with foliage peaking usually during the end of October. Newport again reaps the rewards of the sea during the winter, netting considerably less snowfall than its neighbors to the north. Still, those same sea breezes can make it feel mighty chilly when temperatures drop into the 20s and 30s. Temperatures head into the 50s and 60s in April and May, but count on the rise to be accompanied by significant rainfall, the heaviest of which generally arrives in April.
Rhode Island's TF Green Airport, near Providence, is the closest airport to Newport; Boston's Logan Airport is approximately 90 minutes away. From Green, rent a car or hop a Rhode Island Public Transit Authority bus to Newport (401-781-0444). Bus service is also offered from Logan's South Station, as well as Providence and New York's Port Authority via Bonanza Bus Lines (888-751-8800). In season, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) offers a ferry from Providence's Conley's Wharf for $20 roundtrip.
Newport makes it easy to leave the car behind, offering numerous inexpensive modes of public transportation. Options between Memorial Day and Labor Day are particularly plentiful, when a $5 day pass will get you a trolley ride to virtually any place in the area. The yellow trolley line runs all season, traveling between the Gateway Center and the all-important mansions. The advantages of using public transport include cheap parking for your car: Ask the driver for a RIPTA rider receipt, and park all day at the Gateway Center for $2. Water taxis are available at Old Port Marine to travel to Goat Island and Fort Adams for $5 roundtrip.
Newport International Film Festival (June)
Newport Jazz Festival (August)
Newport Folk Festival (August)
Newport International Boat Show (September)
Newport's Gateway Visitors Center (at Long Wharf) has a wealth of resources, with a staffed information desk, a detailed informational exhibit on the area, and brochures on just about every attraction, hotel, and scenic vista you can visit. Information specialists happily dole out free maps and point you in the right direction. Online, plentiful resources are available at Gonewport.com and more still at visitrhodeisland.com.
From Memorial Day through Columbus Day weekend, the Newport Summer Pass garners holders one-price admission into numerous area attractions. The price of $30 for adults and $16 for children nets roughly a 30 percent savings over paying for each attraction individually. Participating attractions include Amazing Grace Harbor Tour, Astor's Beechwood Mansion, Fort Adams, and the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Also, check out www.gonewport.com for seasonal deals and discounts.