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A Visit to the City by the Sea – Newport, RI

Mariners have been visiting Newport since the 1600s, and the enclosed, protected harbor is still a favorite transient destination for pleasure boaters today. Not only can visiting boaters enjoy all of Newport’s rich history, excellent dining and wonderful shops, but Newport is the gateway to exploring Narragansett Bay, which extends all the way up to Providence and connects to Mount Hope Bay and the Sakonnet River.

There are numerous marinas in Newport, most of which offer transient slips for visiting boaters. Many of them are private, so you need to know someone.

Alternatively, there are plenty of moorings and slips available for visitors. It’s a good idea to plan ahead and book a spot early. In the summer, hundreds of sailboats and power boat cruisers flock to the City by the Sea.

Old Port Marine (401) 846-5599 controls many of the open moorings and offers regular pick-up and delivery launches.  You can also try the city’s marine office (401) 846-1398 or hail the harbormaster on Channel 16 or call (401) 848-6492.

On the Waterfront. 

Most of Newport’s tourist infrastructure is located a block or two from the harbor’s edge. This part of the city is very walkable.

A series of wharfs extend out into the harbor along the city side. In recent years, developers have built up luxury boutique hotels and inns on some of these wharves, but others remain public gathering places.

The granddaddy is probably Bowen’s Wharf, right in the middle of America’s Cup Boulevard, which runs alongside the waterfront. You’ll find some of Newport’s finest seafood restaurants on this wharf, as well as art galleries, shops and booking desks for some of the most popular harbor tours and sailing experiences.

The Lobster Bar, which occupies the end position of the wharf, right on the water, is always a popular place to buy a lobster dinner. Next door is The Landings, an upscale place, and 22 Portside is a terrific steakhouse.

The next wharf over from Bowen’s is Bannister’s Wharf. Here you’ll find the Clark Cooke House, a favorite for everything from steak and chips to seafood of all kinds. Next to the Cooke House is the Black Pearl which runs an always-busy outdoor patio restaurant in addition to the small and dark pub inside. Great chowder is the headliner at the Pearl. 

Both Bowen’s and Bannister’s are full of quaint little shops, fine art galleries, ice cream and cookie places and much more.  You will also find the sign-up desks for the harbor excursion attractions. You can book trips on old wooden schooners and sloops that sail out into Narragansett Bay and back; you can book a sail on one of the old 12-meter racing yachts that used to contend for the America’s Cup in Newport; and you can board a sunset cruise around the harbor.

Explore the City. 

There’s a lot more to explore in Newport beyond the waterfront. Just north of the waterfront area is the city’s Point neighborhood, in the shadow of the towering Pell Bridge. This is one of the oldest sections of Newport, and many of the homes date back to the 18th century.  

Climb the hill above the waterfront and you’ll find Bellevue Avenue. In the Gilded Age of the late 1800s, fabulously wealthy magnates from New York vied with each other to build the biggest, most finely appointed mansions (they called them ‘cottages’!). Vanderbilt, Astor, Berwind, Duke and many others imported entire castles and churches from Europe to decorate their homes, most of which offer spectacular views out across the Atlantic.

Many of these ‘cottages’ are available for public tours. Alternatively, you can wander (for free) down the 3.4 mile length of Cliff Walk, which runs past the backyards of many of the Bellevue Ave. mansions. (Note: a section of Cliff Walk fell into the sea in the winter of 2022. There are plans to rebuild, but it may be several years before the entire Walk is complete again).

First Beach (also known as Easton’s beach) lies below Bellevue at the end of a U-shaped inlet. It’s a popular spot for sunning and swimming. And, yes, there is a Second Beach and even a Third Beach further to the east. Second Beach is popular with surfers and Third Beach is usually full of wind surfers. Third Beach is surrounded by the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge and the Norman Bird Sanctuary.

One of the most beautiful drives in the country is Ocean Drive, which winds around the seafront at the end of Aquidneck Island just outside the city.  At the western end, Ocean Drive passes by Brenton Point State Park with magnificent seascapes and crashing waves, and a sky filled with colorful kites of all shapes and sizes. Continuing on, Ocean Drive passes by rocky coves, desolate sandy beaches and more examples of seaside mansion “cottages”!

Music, Music Everywhere. 

One of the main attractions in the summer is the series of music festivals.  The world-famous Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival are book-ended in late July and early August weekends. 

The festivals are conducted on several stages at Fort Adams State Park, which guards the southern entrance to Newport Harbor. Because of the quality of the musicians in both genres, tickets are always at a premium. But boaters can take advantage of the seaside location by anchoring just offshore of Fort Adams and enjoying the music. Just be mindful of the cable crossing which is well-marked.

To help plan a visit to Newport, visit the city’s tourist website, www.destinationnewport.com.  You’ll find complete listings of restaurants, hotels and inns, shops, mansion tours, boating tours and much more.

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