15 Best Things to Do in Newport County, RI
Newport County is one of the seven regions of the state of Rhode Island.
It was established in 1703 with four original towns: Jamestown, Portsmouth, Newport, and New Shoreham.
The towns of Little Compton and Tiverton became part of the county in the mid-1740s, with the town of Fall River being split off Tiverton.
Fall River was ceded to Massachusetts in 1862, while New Shoreham became part of Washington County in 1963.
Today, Newport County is comprised of a lone city, New Port, which is also the county seat, five towns, three census-designated places, and 41 villages.
Here are the best things to do in Newport County, Rhode Island:
Do an Audio Tour of The Breakers
The Breakers is a Gilded Age mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue in Newport.
The 125,339-square-foot estate features 70 rooms and served as the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, a member of the Vanderbilt family.
Built between 1893 and 1895, the Renaissance Revival-style mansion was designed by Richard Morris Hunt, while the interior décor was by Parisian firm Jules Allard and Sons and Beaux-Arts architect and decorator Ogden Codman Jr.
It’s the ultimate display of opulence, with sculpted iron gates and a 12-foot-high limestone-and-iron fence welcoming the visitors.
The mansion offers The Breakers Family Tour, which will give you a perspective of what a typical summer day was like for Vanderbilt children.
There’s also the Beneath The Breakers Tour, which will take you on a tour of the mansion’s underground systems.
But if you’re looking for something more interesting, you can do the self-guided audio tour via an app, where you will hear personal accounts from family members.
Walk along the Scenic Harbor of Fort Adams State Park
Fort Adams State Park is a public recreation and historic area located on Fort Adams Drive Newport.
The park preserves the historic Fort Adams, which is a coastal fortification that was active from 1841 until the 1950s.
Established in 1965, Fort Adams State Park offers scenic views of both Newport Harbor and the East Passage of Narragansett Bay.
There are several recreational activities in the park, including salt water bathing, fishing, boating, and rugby.
There’s a 75-minute guided tour where you will learn about the history and restoration of the fort and have access to its underground tunnels.
You can also do a self-guided tour and access the 6.5-acre parade field as well as the restored north overlook.
The Fort Adams Bay Walk offers stunning sunset views overlooking Newport Harbor, the Newport Bridge, and the Bay.
Fly Kites at Brenton Point State Park
Brenton Point State Park is an 89-acre public recreation area located on Ocean Drive in Newport.
The park sits at the southwestern tip of Aquidneck Island and offers panoramic views of Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
It was named after Governor William Brenton, who previously owned the land in the 17th century as a farm.
The park contains one of the original four Panama mounts built for the 155mm guns that were placed as part of the island’s coastal defense battery during World War II.
A stone observation tower can be accessed by visitors for unobstructed views of the forests and ocean.
Because of its location, the park has the perfect wind conditions for kite flying.
There are also kite stores on-site if you want to fly your own.
See Your Favorite Player’s Equipment and Apparel at the International Tennis Hall of Fame
Tennis fans will have the time of their lives at the International Tennis Hall of Fame located on Bellevue Avenue in Newport.
Previously the Newport Casino, the sports complex is dedicated to past and present tennis players as well as important people with valuable contributions to the sport.
The complex includes grass tennis courts, indoor courts, court tennis facilities, a theater, and a museum.
Established in 1954 by former tennis official and player Jimmy Van Alen, the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum houses memorabilia from the sport’s greatest players.
The Hall of Fame has inducted almost 300 players from more than 20 countries, with living legend Martina Hingis serving as its global ambassador.
The 13,000-square-foot museum contains photographs, equipment, apparel, trophies, and audio and video recordings of the sport’s brightest stars.
Sample Locally Produced Wines at Greenvale Vineyards
Greenville Vineyards is an eighth-generation farm located on Wapping Road, Portsmouth.
The family-owned and operated vineyard is known for producing small batches of locally grown wines since 1863.
Greenvale Vineyards was one of the first wineries in the region to produce chardonnay and cabernet franc in 1984, pinot gris in 2001, and albariño in 2012.
Take the whole gang to an outdoor experience, where you will be seated outdoors in a waterfront, pastoral setting.
Wines are served by the glass or flight, and you can bring your own snacks to pair them with.
There are also food trucks offering pizzas and Greek and Mexican food.
You can also book a vineyard tour, where you'll get to explore around the estate while sampling their selection of wines.
Dine at the Marble House’s Chinese Tea House
One of Newport’s treasured Gilded Age mansions is the Marble House on Bellevue Avenue.
Built between 1888 and 1892, the Beaux Arts style mansion was designed by renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt as a summer cottage for Alva and William Kissam Vanderbilt.
The 50-room house was made with 500,000 cubic feet of marble, accounting for $7 million of the total $11 million spent on building it.
Alva Vanderbilt had sole ownership of the Marble House when she divorced William in 1895, but she relocated to her second husband’s mansion after their marriage the following year.
She reopened the mansion and added the Chinese Tea House, where she hosted rallies for women’s suffrage.
Today, visitors of the mansion can purchase pre-packaged sandwiches and other snacks, coffee, tea, and other beverages and eat them in the Tea House while enjoying the view from the seaside cliff.
Eat Beef Wellington at White Horse Tavern
Nothing screams fancy than a hefty serving of Beef Wellington, and the White Horse Tavern is the right place for it.
Located on Marlborough Street in Newport, this upscale farm-to-table restaurant serves classic American cuisine and a wide selection of wines in a historic setting.
It’s housed in a colonial tavern dating back to 1673, widely considered “America’s Oldest Tavern.”
The restaurant is known for its Beef Wellington, which is served with foie gras mousse, whipped potatoes, sautéed greens, glazed carrots, and Périgueux sauce.
The Duck Scotch Egg, which is topped with pickled onions and drizzled with honey-bourbon aioli and sriracha, is also one of the crowd favorites.
White Horse Tavern’s extensive wine pairings include both local and international spirits.
Have a Scenic Drive along Ocean Drive Historic District
The Ocean Drive Historic District is along the southern shore of Newport.
The 10-mile drive begins at an intersection with Ocean Avenue and follows the coastline, traversing Brenton Point State Park and ending at Fort Adams.
The road consists mainly of low hills, where houses dating back to the 19th and 20th centuries are still standing, serving as living proof of the state’s heydays during the Gilded Age.
Compared with the mansions along Bellevue Avenue, houses along Ocean Drive are less formal and not as massive due to the more rolling landscape.
The Ocean Drive Historic District includes a total of 53 historical buildings, most of which are exclusively residential, with a few commercial structures like clubhouses of private beaches.
See Animal-Shaped Shrubs at the Green Animals Topiary Garden
Located on Corys Lane, Portsmouth is the Green Animals Topiary Garden.
The seven-acre estate is the oldest topiary garden in the country.
Thomas E. Brayton bought it in 1872 to serve as his summer residence.
It consisted of an 1859 Victorian-style home overlooking Narragansett Bay, farm outbuildings, a pasture, and a vegetable garden.
It was Brayton’s gardener, Joseph Carreiro, who was responsible for designing and maintaining the ornamental and edible gardens.
The first topiaries were initially displayed inside a greenhouse but were eventually moved out in 1912.
When Brayton died, his daughter Alice took over the estate and hired Carreiro’s son-in-law, George Mendonca, to help out in shaping the topiaries.
Alice later renamed the property “Green Animals” after the precisely shaped shrubs.
Enjoy Beachcombing at South Shore Beach
South Shore Beach is a small, rocky beach located on South Shore Road, Little Compton.
Because of its location facing Rhode Island Sound, it’s one of the few beaches on the Bay where you can catch some good-sized waves.
It’s also a great fishing spot during the spring and fall seasons as fish from Buzzards Bay migrate to forage.
Along the beach, you may see rare shorebirds terns and piping plovers, as well as seals sunbathing on the rocky sands.
South Shore Beach is an excellent spot for beachcombing, as it’s filled with beautiful rocks and seashells that you may add to your collection.
Stroll around the Beavertail State Park
The Beavertail State Park is a 153-acre public recreation area located on Beavertail Road in Jamestown.
The park was previously part of Fort Burnside, forming a section of the coastal fortification during World War II.
Its centerpiece is the 1856 Beavertail Lighthouse which remains active today.
The lighthouse has a museum where sea life exhibits are on display, including a hands-on aquarium that the kids will surely enjoy.
At the foot of the lighthouse are cliffs that you can climb down to get close to the tidal pools.
The rocky shoreline is a favorite spot for visitors to watch the sunset over the clear waters of Narragansett Bay.
Try Bodysurfing at Second Beach
Located on Sachuest Point Road in Middletown is Second Beach.
Officially called Sachuest Beach, it’s a mile-long, south-facing beach popular among families looking for a short sandy getaway.
Its white sands are dotted with small rocks and seashells that are great for beachcombing activities for kids.
The waves are mild and are perfect for bodysurfing and boogie boarding.
There is a concession stand selling snacks and drinks as well as grills and picnic tables if you want to have some lunch by the beach.
Just beware of the seagulls patrolling the beach, as they can be aggressive and snatch your food away.
Second Beach is also equipped with changing rooms, showers, and port-a-johns in case you want to freshen up before heading home.
Go Scuba Diving at Fort Wetherill State Park
Fort Wetherill State Park is a 61.5-acre public recreation area on Fort Wetherill Road, Jamestown.
The park sits on the southeastern tip of Conanicut Island, opposite Fort Adams State Park.
It served as one of Rhode Island’s coastal fortifications during World War II, protecting the entrance to Narragansett Bay.
Today, it’s a popular scuba diving spot, attracting diving clubs all the way from New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts all year round.
The park has three main entry points for different diving skill levels.
“Deep Dive” or “The Wall” is the deepest of the three and features colorful anemones; “Goat Path” or “Middle Cove” is in between “Deep Dive” and “Boat Launch” and can be accessed via a dirt path, hence the name; and “Boat Launch” can be accessed via Fort Wetherill State Park’s boat launch.
Spot Migratory Birds at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge
Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge is a 248-acre nature preserve located on the southeasternmost tip of Middletown.
Situated between the Sakonnet River and Rhode Island Sound, the peninsula offers 2.5 miles of nature trails and several viewing decks.
Because of its location, it’s a popular stopover for migratory birds, boasting the largest population of harlequin ducks on the East Coast during the winter season.
The park also comprises different habitats, from salt marsh to upland shrubs, supporting over 200 species of birds, including the snowy owl, peregrine falcon, and northern harrier.
Don’t forget to bring your binoculars when you visit the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge.
Explore the Trails of Norman Bird Sanctuary
Norman Bird Sanctuary is a 325-acre nature preserve located on Beach Road, Middletown.
The sanctuary is the largest preserved open space in the county, boasting hayfields, woodlands, ponds, and ridges overlooking the ocean.
It has seven miles of hiking trails, which will take you on a wildlife viewing adventure where you’ll see different species of animals and local and migratory birds, depending on the season.
A 19th-century barn serves as a museum with exhibits and artifacts about the wildlife in the sanctuary.
The Norman Bird Sanctuary also has a renovated 18th-century farmhouse that you can rent for overnight stays.
Traveling to Newport County is like traveling to the heydays of American high society.
With its massive mansions and sprawling estates, it’s easy to forget that the region once played a significant role in protecting the country during the war years.
Thankfully, there are structures like Fort Adams that were beautifully restored to remind visitors of the county’s historical significance.
Discover more when you try these best things to do in Newport County, Rhode Island.