Even though it is a tiny state, “Little Rhody”, New England’s most visited tourist attraction Rhode Island, is packed full of the best. The state’s main draw is Newport, America’s most famous playground for super-rich during the golden age of the early 20th Century. It boasts fabled mansions that rival or often imitate the grand palaces of European royalty.
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Providence is also filled with the history from an earlier time, when merchants made a fortune on the slave trade. Add miles upon miles of stunning beaches to Rhode Island’s shoreline, rich industrial history and idyllic island and you will see why Rhode Island should be included on any New England itinerary.
The Breakers, Newport
Cornelius Vanderbilt built Newport’s most famous and grand Gilded Age mansion in 1895. It reflects the wealth of the Vanderbilts. It boasts 70 rooms including a grand dining room on the third floor. The cottage is an Italian Renaissance “summer house” and was constructed using imported French and Italian marble, alabaster, and Italian limestone.
Ceiling paintings, mosaics and marble columns are used to decorate the rooms. This was as the Vanderbilts intended, since they never wanted to be outdone by wealthy rivals.
Cliff Walk, Newport
Despite the efforts of past mansion owners to block access from the ocean side of Bellevue Avenue, Newport’s Cliff Walk remains a public walking trail since the time when these great palaces were in their prime.
Walking along the rocky shore offers views of the breakers breaking on the rocks below. It is also possible to see the gardens and facades of mansions from above. This is one of the most loved activities in Newport. After 3.5 miles, the Cliff Walk passes by Rough Point at the end of Bellevue Avenue. Just above the path is the Marble House Tea House.
Roger Williams Park Zoo, Providence
Roger Williams Park Zoo, despite its heritage as one of the oldest zoos in America, is a shining example of modern zoo ethics and design. The zoo is free of cages and allows animals to live in natural environments, so visitors are able to see them without any visible barriers.
They can see snow leopards and wildebeests, wildebeests, elephants and wildebeests in the 40-acre zoo.
Rogers Williams Park Zoo in Rhode Island is a popular place to take families because of its family-friendly environment and many activities.
A 435-acre park includes a Botanical Center with New England’s largest indoor display garden, The Museum of Natural History, as well as a planetarium and a carousel.
Address: 1000 Elmwood Avenue, Providence, Rhode Island
Official site: http://www.rwpzoo.org/
Waterplace Park, a four-acre park, and Riverwalk are bordered by the Woonasquatucket River that runs through Downcity (Providence). The city celebrates the river several times a year, in spring, summer and fall. Until late in the 20th Century, it was entirely covered by roads.
Residents and tourists alike walk along brick footbridges and riverside walkways to light more than 100 bonfires. They are kept burning throughout the night by large iron pans placed in the river’s middle. These family-friendly celebrations are highlighted by street performers, vendors, world music, and other entertainments.
The Elms in Newport
Edward J. Berwind, a Philadelphia coal magnate, ordered his mansion to be built on the Chateau d’Asniere in Paris. The Berwinds’ summer home, completed in 1901, was decorated with Venetian paintings. It was also furnished in French antiques dating back to the time of the Chateau d’Asniere.
The tours provide information about the maintenance staff and the technical systems of the building. You should make time to visit the Classical Revival gardens that have been restored, particularly the lower ones, which include fountains, a sunken area, and marble pavilions.
RISD Museum for Art, Providence
The Museum of Art at Rhode Island School of Design, Providence is remarkable for its vast array of collections and their wide-ranging scope. The historic and contemporary textiles, as well as the dress collection, total more than 26,000 items. They include ancient Egyptian clothing fragments and Elizabethan stitchwork, 20th-century American designers, and Japanese Noh theatre robes.
Other collections include Decorative Arts and Design, Asian Art, Contemporary Art, and Ancient Art. There are also Painting and Sculpture collections featuring works by Rodin, Picasso and Matisse.
The museum’s shop has a wide selection of unusual household and gift items.
Newport Marble House
Marble House, built in 1892 by the same architect who designed The Breakers, predates it. The house was inspired by the Petit Trianon in Versailles (French palaces were the most popular model of the time), and features a lavish, gold-encrusted ballroom. The rest of the house is equally extravagant in detail and is widely regarded as the most elegant of all the Belle Epoch mansions located in Newport.
The pink Numidian marble is used to face the elegant dining room. It almost resembles a Versailles salon. Custom-made solid bronze dining chairs weighing 75 pounds each were a feat of engineering for even the most fit footmen.
Alva Vanderbilt built a teahouse in red Chinese on the grounds in 1913. You can view it from Cliff Walk.
Address: 596 Bellevue Avenue Newport, Rhode Island
Rosecliff was designed by Stanford White after Louis XIV’s Grand Trianon in Versailles. It belonged to Tessie Oelrichs, one of Newport’s most famous hostesses. It is not less extravagant, but it is the most livable of all the mansions.
The ceiling of Newport’s grand ballroom, which measures 80 feet long, is cloud-streaked blue with plaster swirls and painted medallions. The film scenes were shot in the ballroom for The Great Gatsby, and True Lies. The house’s crown jewel is its graceful grand staircase, which rises in graceful Baroque curves and is accented by a filigreed iron railing on either side.
The large rose gardens with wood trellises and urns have been restored using the horticulture records from George Bancroft (19 -century rose gardener), who originally created the gardens.
Address: 548 Bellevue Avenue Newport, Rhode Island
Ocean Drive, Newport
You can continue on to Coggeshall Avenue if you want to see more mansions after Bellevue Avenue. Then, turn left and follow the shore past Bailey’s Beach. You will pass more Gilded Age “cottages” as well as some newer Newport mansions over the next 10 miles. As the route curves around Aquidneck Island’s southern shore, it will be the most luxurious.
Brenton Point State Park can be used as a place to have a picnic, or to just sit and enjoy the view of the sea. It is a popular spot to fly kites because of the steady breeze that blows on it.
You’ll turn right at Brenton Point and then pass the U.S. Coast Guard Station. Next, you’ll see Hammersmith Farm up a hillside. This is where President Kennedy held his 1953 wedding reception.
You’ll find many things to do at Fort Adams State Park. In the park are the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals.
Walking Tour of Bellevue Avenue Mansions in Newport
The Newport mansion that is the most famous and grandest, is located in a row running between Bellevue Avenue to the ocean. A few other houses face them from the opposite end of the avenue. Cliff Walk offers views on the ocean side while a walk down Bellevue shows their grand entrances and facades. Today’s scene looks just like it did for the fashion-conscious ladies who rode their carriages along Bellevue Avenue in the late afternoon ritual.
Walking south on Bellevue Avenue from Memorial Avenue to the first mansion, Kingscote is on your right. Although it is smaller than the rest, it is still the oldest. It was built in 1841 and is a stunning example of a Gothic Revival-style villa. On the right is The Elms which was built in 1901. These mansions and others are all open to the public. You can also see many other buildings that can be admired from the street.
Chateau–Sur-Mer is another one of the older mansions. It was later restored in Arts & Crafts style. The interior is a collection of Victorian and early 20 th century decoration. The 1901 Vernon Court, which is also on the left, houses the National Museum of American Illustration. It displays works by Maxfield Perrish, Howard Pyle and Norman Rockwell.
Rosecliff and Beechwood are located in a row that overlooks Cliff Walk. After several distinguished mansions, the newly restored Belcourt Castle is to your right. It was built in 1894 and is a mixture of a villa and a stable that reflects southwestern Medieval Revival as well as stick style.
At the end of Ocean Drive at Bellevue Avenue, you will see the bizarre Gatehouse of Rough Point with its witch-hat Turrets. Rough Point was used as a home by Doris Duke, until she left it to the Newport Restoration Foundation. Visitors see the place as it was when Doris Duke, a reclusive heiress, left.
Narragansett Bay Beaches
Long stretches of fine white sandy beaches are what you want. Head south to Providence and head to Narragansett or South Kingstown for a series of public beaches that sit on Narragansett bay’s protected waters.
Matunuck Beach State Park, East Matunuck State Beach, Roger W. Wheeler State Beach, Scarborough State Beach, Scarborough State Beach and Narragansett town Beach all offer changing facilities and parking. You can find lodging and restaurants in the historic beach resort of Narragansett Pier just a few steps away.
Further south, there are more beaches that face Long Island Sound. Here, the surf can be heavier. Watch Hill, an old-fashioned resort town, has a beautiful beach, a lighthouse and a historical carousel.
Colt State Park, Bristol
Colt State Park is located on one of New England’s most beautiful shorelines. It covers 464 acres and overlooks Narragansett bay. The park’s shoreline is bounded by four miles of the East Bay Bike Path. Inland, there are lawns and flowering shrubs, stone walls and 10 large play areas. There are also six picnic groves with tables.
The park’s history is told in a museum that includes a main house, barns and stables as well as statuary of mythical Greek gods or goddesses. One of the few original buildings on the estate, the barn housed prize Jersey cattle.
Address: Route 114 Bristol, Rhode Island
Block Island and Mohegan Bluffs
Block Island can be reached from Point Judith (Galilee), a coastal town, ten miles off the coast. You can bike or walk from New Harbor, where lodging and dining are available, to many beaches or the Victorian Southeast Lighthouse. This brick building with its light tower sits so solidly on its bluff that you will be amazed to learn the story of how it was moved to prevent it from falling into the sea.
Mohegan Cliffs is a stretch of coast cliffs that stretches for three miles and drops 200 feet to the sea. These 151 steps are a steep climb, so you might be discouraged from climbing up again.
The 1867 North Lighthouse is located at the northern tip. It houses an interpretive center. The island is dotted with trails that run for miles. Birders flock to this spot in the fall to see the 150 species. This island is a romantic getaway with its remote feeling.
Providence Performing Arts Center
The magnificent facade of Loew’s Movie Palace, on Weybosset Street is hard to miss, especially at night when it glows in all its neon glory. The authentically restored 1928 Beaux Arts theater was reborn in 1982 as the Providence Performing Arts Center. It features crystal chandeliers, marble columns, tiers of balconies, plasterwork detailing, and a ceiling with medallions around a multi-tiered dome.
The theater’s visual appeal is not the only thing that draws people to it. It is also a top-notch performance center and the second largest theater of its type in the country. It hosts top-notch Broadway tours and many choose it to be their launch stage.
The 1927 Wurlitzer Organ, one of three five-manual Wurlitzer keyboard consoles, can reproduce the sounds of an entire orchestra. The National Register of Historic Places includes the 3,100-seat theater.
Address: 220 Weybosset Street, Providence, Rhode Island
Official site: https://www.ppacri.org/
Blithewold, which overlooks Narragansett bay, was built for Augustus Van Wickle in 1908. It resembles an English country home from the 17th century. The 45 rooms have been furnished in the same way as when the family lived there. They also decorated them with their collection of Gorham silver and Baccarat crystal and more than 30 sets each of fine china.
Large windows overlooking the estate’s 33-acres of gardens were designed into the house. Blithewold is home to some of the most beautiful New England gardensopen for the public. It includes a water garden and an enclosed garden as well as display gardens, rock gardens, and a rock garden. There are more than 500 varieties of trees, shrubs and plants, including the East Coast’s largest giant Sequoia, as well as a bamboo grove.
Address: 101 Ferry Road in Bristol, Rhode Island
Official website: www.blithewold.org
Benefit Street, Providence and John Brown House in Providence
Today, Benefit Street is known as “The Mile of History”. It was the cultural, civic, and intellectual heart of Providence during colonial and early Federal times. This mile of brick- and stone-paved streets will allow you to immerse yourself into the exciting times for young America.
Benefit Street is unique because it isn’t a museum street frozen in time, but a lively neighborhood where Victorian and 20th-century additions keep it alive in the present. This street is home to some of Providence’s most fascinating architecture. A stroll down it will reveal gorgeous gardens, a family cemetery, churches, and period homes.
The John Brown House is the most impressive, which was built for John Brown, a prosperous colonial merchant. He was the first person to build outside of the busy waterfront. However, he could view his wharves from India Point from this hill, where he traded lucrative China trade.
This elegant home still has the original Brown family furniture. It includes some of the best examples of work by Rhode Island’s renowned cabinetmakers as well as early decorative and artistic arts. This colonial home is the best.
Herreshoff Marine Museum, Bristol
Newport’s culture and history are deeply rooted in sailing, especially the America’s Cup race. The museum dedicated to the Herreshoffs’ boat designs and models will give you a good idea of how this is happening.
Their greatest achievement was to design and build eight consecutive American Cup defenders, 1893-1834. The America’s Cup Hall of Fame, which houses more than 60 power and sailing yachts, as well as displays and videos about boat building and sailing, is part of this museum.
One Burnside Street Box 450, Bristol Rhode Island
Official site: www.herreshoff.org