Newport Introduction Walking Tour, Newport

Newport Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Newport

Newport, Rhode Island, is where history meets coastal charm... From its origins as a shipbuilding port to its place today as America's yachting capital, Newport has been tied to the sea.

The city was founded in 1639 on Rhode Island, now known as Aquidneck Island, and was named after the town of Newport in Shropshire, England. Its history is a tapestry of religious tolerance and maritime prominence. The latter, in particular, comes alive as you wander along the cobblestone streets of Bowen's Wharf and Bannister’s Wharf. These waterfront districts offer a delightful mix of boutique shops, seafood restaurants, and picturesque harbor views.

Newport thrived as a colonial port, fueled by Portuguese Jewish immigrants' arrival in the 18th century, who introduced sperm oil production and made Newport a whaling and industrial hub. However, the city also played a dark role in the American slave trade.

The American Revolution left its mark, with British occupation and a failed American-French attempt to reclaim Newport in 1778. Later, the city served as the French army's base during the Revolution. Post-war, Newport faced economic challenges, but it gained historical significance as Rhode Island ratified the Constitution in 1790, becoming the 13th American state.

The so-called Gilded Age, a period of opulence and excess in American history (roughly between 1877 and 1900) manifested itself in Newport in the form of the famed Bellevue Avenue Historic District, featuring an array of extravagant mansions belonging to America's wealthiest families. In the 20th century, Newport was a retreat for Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis spent summers at Hammersmith Farm and married John F Kennedy at Saint Mary's Church.

Among the city's architectural marvels, The Breakers stands as a shining example of grandeur, designed by renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt. Also, a visit to Newport would be incomplete without exploring the stately mansion known as The Elms, a marvel of neoclassical architecture.

For nature enthusiasts, there is the captivating Newport Cliff Walk, a three-and-a-half-mile coastal path that winds along the rugged shoreline. Here, you can experience the breathtaking juxtaposition of natural beauty and architectural splendor.

Rhode Island's Newport beckons with its blend of history and architecture, as well as sailing, beaches, tennis, and fabulous shopping. This coastal gem awaits your discovery and promises an unforgettable journey! Go for it!
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Newport Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Newport Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Newport (See other walking tours in Newport)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Bowen's Wharf
  • Bannister’s Wharf
  • Thames Street
  • The Elms
  • Bellevue Avenue Historic District
  • The Breakers
  • Ochre Court
  • Newport Cliff Walk
  • Forty Steps
1
Bowen's Wharf

1) Bowen's Wharf

Located in the heart of Newport, Bowen's Wharf is a historic maritime landmark that reflects the city's rich seafaring heritage. This vibrant waterfront area is steeped in history, with its brick walks, granite quays, and 18th-century commercial buildings taking visitors on a journey back to Newport's beginnings as a bustling seaport.

Bowen's Wharf was once a hub of maritime activity, featuring sailmaker's shops, sail-drying lofts, and various buildings that were essential to the bustling wharf's operations. It played a crucial role in the city's history as a trading post with connections to all corners of the world, making it one of the most significant colonial seaports. The deep and sheltered Newport Harbor, providing direct access to Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, further solidified its status as an essential maritime center.

Visitors to Bowen's Wharf can admire its unique architectural blend, featuring a cobblestone street, granite-walled quay, rare 18th-century wharf buildings, and brick 19th-century structures. This combination of architectural styles and building materials creates a distinctive and picturesque atmosphere that transports guests to a bygone era.

Today, Bowen's Wharf thrives as a vibrant destination where history, culture, dining, shopping, and entertainment converge. The waterfront area hosts various events, making it a focal point for locals and tourists alike. Its scenic beauty and historical significance continue to attract visitors of all ages who come to appreciate the enduring maritime legacy of Newport.
2
Bannister’s Wharf

2) Bannister’s Wharf

Bannister’s Wharf, located at the base of Newport's Historic Hill, has a rich history dating back to the 17th century, originally known as "Steven's Wharf" after its founder, Robert Stevens, who served as a Ship Chancellor. The wharf's colonial New England aesthetic beautifully encapsulates the essence of 1776 Colonial America, making Newport stand out as a destination in New England.

John Bannister's Wharf was not only the commercial hub of colonial Newport but also its social center, serving as a vital link between the bustling harbor and the growing town. This wharf witnessed historic events, such as the warm welcome Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry received upon his victorious return from the battle of Lake Erie in 1813 and the hosting of the triumphant 1977 America's Cup defender, Ted Turner.

Throughout its history, Bannister's Wharf has exuded a distinctive "joie de vivre" and has played a dynamic role in Newport's social and commercial life. While its shops once offered essential goods, today's visitors can explore twenty diverse shops and galleries, featuring unique and enticing offerings. These welcoming spaces are carefully curated, making each visit a delightful experience.

At the heart of Bannister's Wharf lies the Clarke Cooke House Restaurant, renowned as Newport's social and gourmet epicenter. It caters to both serious diners and those seeking a casual evening with a menu that has earned its chef a revered reputation. The restaurant's beautifully preserved 18th-century dining rooms provide the perfect atmosphere to savor the culinary creations.
3
Thames Street

3) Thames Street

Thames Street, a historic thoroughfare in Newport, is one of the oldest continuously used streets in the state and serves as the primary street in downtown Newport. It runs parallel to the picturesque waterfront, offering both residents and visitors a charming blend of history and vibrant commerce.

Thames Street has a rich history that dates back to Newport's early days. In 1654, it was officially laid out as one of the original two streets in the city, playing a crucial role in connecting the city's numerous wharfs with its urban center. The street derives its name from the River Thames in London, England, which was the homeland of many of the early colonists who settled in Newport. The street itself serves as a testament to the area's deep historical ties to England.

The northern section of Thames Street commences near the Common Burying Ground and meanders through several blocks that were once a Quaker settlement in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, situated near Easton's Point. Many colonial-era buildings line this part of the street, offering a glimpse into Newport's early history. Remarkably, these historic structures continue to house various commercial establishments, adding to the street's unique character.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the southern part of Thames Street saw a significant Irish population settling in the area. This multicultural influence contributed to the street's dynamic and diverse atmosphere, making it a vibrant and lively part of Newport.

Today, Thames Street retains its significance as the primary artery of downtown Newport. It features a delightful array of restaurants, shops, inns, and bars that cater to a wide range of tastes and interests. Whether you're exploring historic landmarks, indulging in delectable cuisine, or shopping for unique souvenirs, Thames Street stands as the bustling heart of the "City by the Sea," inviting all to savor its rich heritage and modern vibrancy.
4
The Elms

4) The Elms (must see)

The Elms is not just a mansion; it's a grand testament to the Gilded Age's architectural opulence. Completed in 1901, this colossal "summer cottage," as they are sometimes whimsically called, is an embodiment of splendor and French-inspired design. Horace Trumbauer, the renowned architect of the time, created this masterpiece for Edward Julius Berwind, a prominent coal baron. Drawing inspiration from the 18th-century Château d'Asnières in Asnières-sur-Seine, France, Trumbauer designed The Elms as a palatial retreat.

Berwind's vision extended beyond the mansion itself. Collaborating with landscape architects C. H. Miller and E. W. Bowditch, working closely with Trumbauer, the estate's gardens and landscapes were meticulously planned to complement the mansion's grandeur.

The Preservation Society of Newport County recognized the historical significance of The Elms, and in 1962, they acquired the property, opening it to the public for all to admire. In 1971, The Elms earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places, and its status was further elevated in 1996 when it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

The estate is a testament to French elegance, from the architecture of the house to the splendid grounds. The house's architecture represents a reinterpretation of the Château d'Asnières, an 18th-century French estate in Asnières-sur-Seine, France. While The Elms draws significant inspiration from this French masterpiece, it's not an exact replication, and there are notable differences. For instance, the flanking sections of the Château d'Asnières have five bays, while Trumbauer's design features four bays, marking it with a unique charm.

The gardens, a vital part of The Elms' allure, echo the taste of the eighteenth-century French landscape. They boast a sunken garden, which adds to the estate's appeal, creating a serene and picturesque environment.

Notably, the original American elms that once graced the property fell victim to Dutch elm disease. In their stead, weeping beeches now provide the mansion's striking shade and reinforce the sense of elegance that The Elms exudes.
5
Bellevue Avenue Historic District

5) Bellevue Avenue Historic District

Nestled along the picturesque Bellevue Avenue the Bellevue Avenue Historic District stands as a testament to the opulence and architectural grandeur of America's Gilded Age. This historic district, almost entirely residential, features a remarkable collection of mansions and summer retreats that were constructed by the country's wealthiest elite at the turn of the 20th century, including prominent families like the Vanderbilts and Astors.

The Bellevue Avenue Historic District is a window into the lavish lifestyle of the era, showcasing the summer residences of the country's elite. These mansions were not just homes; they were expressions of unprecedented wealth and affluence. The district is renowned for its architectural diversity and innovation, reflecting the pioneering work of major American architects from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Within the district, a plethora of architectural styles are on display, each representing the finest work of its time. This treasure trove of architectural diversity offers insight into the evolution of design and aesthetics over the years. Renowned architects like Richard Upjohn, Richard Morris Hunt, and McKim, Mead and White lent their creative genius to these magnificent residences.

In recognition of its historical and architectural significance, the Bellevue Avenue Historic District was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. This prestigious designation underscores the district's role in preserving the essence of a bygone era and making it accessible to the public.

The Bellevue Avenue Historic District is not merely a historic site; it has evolved into one of Newport's primary tourist attractions. Visitors from around the world flock to this district to explore the magnificent homes and gain an appreciation for the architectural and cultural heritage of the Gilded Age.
6
The Breakers

6) The Breakers (must see)

Nestled along the picturesque coastline of Newport, The Breakers stands as a symbol of opulence and grandeur from the Gilded Age, an era when America's elite families reveled in their wealth and sought to create architectural marvels. This magnificent mansion was commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, scion of the illustrious Vanderbilt family, as a splendid summer retreat. Today, The Breakers stands as a testament to their vision and extravagance.

The Breakers, a true masterpiece, was constructed between 1893 and 1895 under the guidance of acclaimed architect Richard Morris Hunt. It was designed in the Renaissance Revival style, showcasing exquisite architectural elements that transport visitors to another era. The 70-room mansion boasts a sprawling 138,300 square feet of grandeur, with 62,482 square feet of living space spread across five luxurious floors.

As you approach The Breakers along Ochre Point Avenue, you are greeted by magnificent sculpted iron gates, offering a mere glimpse of the splendor within. The mansion is surrounded by a 12-foot-high limestone-and-iron fence, enhancing its aura of exclusivity. The building's footprint occupies roughly one acre of the estate's 14 acres, providing breathtaking views of Easton Bay in the Atlantic Ocean.

In recognition of its historical significance, The Breakers was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and received the prestigious designation of National Historic Landmark in 1994. It also plays a vital role in the Bellevue Avenue Historic District. Today, it is operated and maintained by the Newport Preservation Society, welcoming visitors year-round to explore its timeless elegance.

The interiors of The Breakers are nothing short of extraordinary. Imported marble from Italy and Africa, along with rare woods and mosaics from far-flung corners of the world, adorn the mansion's chambers. Architectural elements sourced from French chateaux contribute to its timeless elegance. The library mantel, for example, hails from a French chateau and now graces The Breakers.

This architectural wonder encapsulates the essence of the "Gilded Age," a time when Vanderbilt family members were among the most prominent industrialists in America. Upon its completion in 1895, The Breakers was not just the largest but also the most opulent house in Newport.
7
Ochre Court

7) Ochre Court

Ochre Court stands as an opulent testament to the Gilded Age, a remarkable châteauesque mansion. Commissioned by Ogden Goelet, this architectural marvel was brought to life in 1892 at a staggering cost of $4.5 million, making it a grand testament to the Goelet family's wealth and stature in American society.

Ochre Court ranks as the second largest mansion in Newport, surpassed only by the nearby grandeur of The Breakers. These two magnificent estates, along with Belcourt Castle, the third largest mansion, and Marble House, were all masterfully designed by the illustrious architect Richard Morris Hunt. Today, Ochre Court is proudly owned by Salve Regina University, and it stands as a symbol of an era when grandeur knew no bounds.

The Goelet family, part of the American dynasty, had humble beginnings in 18th-century trade, which later burgeoned into vast 19th-century investments. Ogden Goelet, the visionary behind Ochre Court, was a banker, real estate investor, and a competitive yachtsman.

Architect Richard Morris Hunt poured his creative genius into the design of Ochre Court, taking inspiration from the elegant châteaux of France's Loire Valley. The mansion's design prominently follows the Louis XIII-style of architecture, characterized by soaring roofs, turrets, tall chimneys, and elaborate dormers. The opulence extends to every corner of the mansion, where one can marvel at classical-style ceiling paintings, ornate heraldry, intricately carved emblems and statues, and a wealth of stunning stained glass.

Ochre Court's exterior was chosen as a backdrop for the movie "True Lies," where it portrayed the Swiss mansion that Arnold Schwarzenegger's character infiltrates and escapes from in the movie's thrilling opening sequence.
8
Newport Cliff Walk

8) Newport Cliff Walk (must see)

The Newport Cliff Walk, a crown jewel of Newport, is a breathtaking 3.5-mile (5.6 km) public access walkway along the picturesque shoreline, offering visitors an opportunity to meander through a unique blend of natural beauty and history. Notably, it has been designated as a National Recreation Trail, marking it as a cherished natural and cultural asset, and it holds the distinction of being the first of its kind in New England.

The Cliff Walk embarks from the eastern end of Bailey's Beach and extends to the western terminus at First Beach. Along its enchanting path, several public access points beckon adventurers to explore this captivating stretch. These entry points are situated at key locations, including Bellevue Avenue, Ledge Road, Marine Avenue, Ruggles Avenue, Sheppard Avenue, Webster Street, Narragansett Avenue, and Memorial Boulevard.

As you wander along the Cliff Walk, the views that unfold before you are nothing short of magnificent. To one side, the restless waves of the Atlantic Ocean paint a vivid portrait of the power of nature. On the other, this enchanting stroll provides a unique vantage point to behold the grandeur of some of the most iconic mansions from the Gilded Age. Marvel at architectural masterpieces like The Breakers, Marble House, and Rough Point. These monumental structures, once the summer retreats of America's elite, stand as tangible relics of a bygone era.

Over the years, the Cliff Walk has faced the fury of nature's storms and hurricanes. From the New England hurricane of 1938 to Hurricane Carol in 1954, these weather events have caused periodic damage to sections of the walk. In response, a cycle of repair and rebuilding has continued to ensure its longevity.

In March 2022, a 20-foot section of the Cliff Walk near Webster Street and Narragansett Avenue collapsed. While no injuries were reported, this incident raised concerns. Public safety crews continue to assess the damage, and the area remains closed "for the foreseeable future." The cause of the collapse remains under investigation.
9
Forty Steps

9) Forty Steps

Nestled along the famed Cliff Walk you'll discover a unique and iconic location known as Forty Steps (40 Steps). These historic steps, originally built in 1880, have evolved into much more than just a stairway. They offer a fascinating blend of natural beauty and cultural history, making them a must-visit destination for residents and tourists alike.

The original forty rickety steps were constructed to descend to the bottom of the cliffs of Cliff Walk. Interestingly, these steps did not have a specific purpose because there is no beach awaiting at the bottom. However, they would go on to serve an unexpected role in Newport's history.

These seemingly purposeless steps became a gathering place for the laborers and servants of the grand Gilded-Age mansions that lined Newport's coastline. Amidst their daily routines and chores, the servants found solace and camaraderie at Forty Steps. Here, they would revel in music and dancing, providing a welcome escape from the monotony of their labor.

In the early 1990s, efforts were made to refurbish the steps, enhancing their safety and aesthetic appeal. The Forty Steps Restoration Fund played a crucial role in providing the steps with a facelift, replacing the rickety originals with new and enduring granite steps. This restoration effort preserved the steps for future generations to enjoy.

Today, Forty Steps stands as a timeless sanctuary where visitors can relish the breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. You can watch the waves crash against the rocky coast, immersing yourself in the sights and sounds of Newport's stunning shoreline. These steps are not confined to a select few; they are open to the public, and you can explore them freely.

Walking Tours in Newport, Rhode Island

Create Your Own Walk in Newport

Create Your Own Walk in Newport

Creating your own self-guided walk in Newport is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
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Travel Distance: 4.5 Km or 2.8 Miles
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