One of my favorite times of year is Christmas, and living in the New York City area, I get to experience, to the fullest, all the splendor that comes with the season. However, with all that Christmas magic in the city comes congestion, and as New York City swells, it leaves me longing for a quieter Christmas experience.
This year, I planned an escape from New York, which lead me to the coastal town of Newport, Rhode Island. Located just three hours away, Newport is the perfect weekend getaway for anyone seeking a good dose of quaint classic holiday cheer without the massive crowds. Here are my recommendations on how to make the most of your visit to Newport that is sure to get you in the holiday spirit.
Relax over a few holiday cocktails
Newport is not short on places to imbibe. Whether you decide to drink at a historic pub, pop into one of the watering holes sprinkled in between the many shops, or opt for place with a water view, you’ll find a festive atmosphere in Newport’s bars. Not only are they beautifully decorated with lots of Christmas lights, wreaths and bright red poinsettias, they also mix up delicious holiday drinks like the gingerbread or sugar cookie martini that is sure to put you in a holiday mood.
Best of all, going in the winter months means fewer crowds (especially with no cruise ships in port), so you’ll have an easier time getting in and finding a seat at the bar. A few of the bars that I enjoyed during my visit included The Red Parrot, The Gas Lamp Grill, and The Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant. They are all conveniently located in the heart of downtown along Thames Street.
However, if you only have time to visit one place for a drink, go to the White Horse Tavern. Just a short walk from Brick Alley, this historic pub was my favorite place to wrap up my day with a cocktail. Founded in 1673, it is the oldest bar in the United States. You’ll find multiple small dining rooms throughout, but for a drink, visit one of the two small bars located on the ground floor and 2nd floor. The bar on the ground floor has a cozy fireplace, perfect for warming up after walking around all day in the cold brisk sea air.
Finish your Christmas shopping
You’ll have no problem getting all your Christmas shopping wrapped up while visiting Newport. There are plenty of stores conveniently located in the downtown area along Thames Street. If you are looking for something from a popular chain store, start your shopping at the northern section of Thames Street where you’ll find the Long Wharf mall (outdoor mall / shopping plaza) filled with all the familiar stores.
For more unique gifts, especially coastal themed gifts, move past the Long Wharf Mall and make your way down to Brick Alley, Bowen’s Wharf, and South Thames Street where you’ll find mostly boutiques. My top 3 picks include Ben’s Furniture Co. at Brick Alley, and Primavera and the Newport Mansions Store, both at Bowen’s Wharf.
At both Ben’s Furniture and Primavera, you’ll find unique home furnishings and accessories with a nautical theme. The Newport Mansions Store sells everything you would find at the gift shops at the various mansions along with some other local goods like cans of the famous clam chowder from Newport’s own Black Pearl restaurant. I especially loved the classic Christmas decor items for sale that had a coastal touch like the starfish Christmas trees and starfish ornaments at the Newport Mansions Store and the throw pillows at Ben’s, which featured a lobster wearing mittens wishing you warm wishes.
Visit the decked out halls of Newport’s mansions
No visit to Newport is complete without a visit to its Gilded Age mansions, and during the Christmas season, three of Newport’s most opulent ones are open and all decked out for the holidays. Make sure you have your camera ready to snap a picture of the beautiful Christmas trees or fireplaces filled with poinsettias. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to get that perfect picture of a gorgeous holiday scene.
The Breakers is by far the most popular mansion in Newport due to its size and beauty. It definitely was my favorite mansion, but Marble House was a close second. The Christmas decorations were very well done in every room, making these large opulent homes feel Christmas cozy.
I recommend you visit the mansions during the morning hours. If you have two days, consider visiting two on one day and the third on your 2nd day as soon as they open. Having toured the mansions both in the morning and afternoon hours, it was much more pleasant in the morning when, at times, you’d have a whole room to yourself to enjoy. Plus, if you plan to drive (each mansion has a small parking lot), you’ll be able to get a parking spot in the morning hours, whereas by early afternoon, the small lots are full, and you’ll have an extremely difficult time finding a spot (especially at Marble House).
Each mansion takes no longer than an hour to visit. Consider visiting The Breakers as soon as it opens at 9AM, and then proceed directly to Marble House, which opens at 10AM. Finally wrap up your mansion tour with the Elms, which is located closest to the tourist district / downtown Newport area. Note that all the mansions close at 5PM with the last tour admission at 4PM.
One ticket gets you admission to all three National Historic Landmark mansions: The Breakers, The Elms, and Marble House through Jan 2. All tours of the mansions are self-guided audio tours that you can do at your own pace and are included in your ticket price. (Price: $29.49/adults, $9/ages 6-17).
Know Before You Go
- Make Reservations for a weekend visit in December. Although Newport is not as busy as it is during the summer months, December weekends still draw a decent crowd that will be most noticeable during dining hours when the small restaurants fill up quickly. I recommend making a reservation in advance for dinner (especially at the White Horse Tavern) and be sure to make advanced hotel reservations if you want to stay in one of the popular hotels or bed and breakfasts in the tourist area by the Wharf.
- Visit the mansions early. Visit the mansions in the morning because by noon, the crowds will arrive putting you in a slow line moving from room to room. Get there for opening hours.
- Free parking is available at the three mansions, but the lots are small. Although each mansion has free parking, the lots are not very big so parking is difficult, if not impossible, to find once the afternoon arrives (especially at the Marble House). As an alternative, consider taking the “mansion trolley”. The public bus, 67A, runs a loop past all the main mansions. However, if you like the convenience of having your car to move on to the next mansion on your own schedule, follow tip #2, and just visit in the morning when the crowds are small and the lots are empty.
- Use the free audio guide. The audio guides are free, so definitely take advantage of it and use it. It’s great to hear the stories about the families who made these magnificent mansions their summer homes and get some information about the features and functionality of each room.
- Skip the gift shop at the mansion. When visiting the mansions, don’t waste valuable time in the gift shop. Instead, do your shopping later in the day at the Newport Mansions Store at Bowen’s Wharf. It is affiliated with the mansions, and it carries exactly the same items that you’d find at each of the mansions’ individual gift shops.
Special thanks to Discover Newport for a complimentary tour of the mansions. As always, opinions are my own.
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