Mansions and Yachts: Summer in Newport, Rhode Island

The summer in Newport, Rhode Island is in full swing. While it may not be the same as it was in the days when the Vanderbilts threw soirees for hundreds; mansions, yachts and good food are still the focus. While Newport, RI is a great destination for a romantic escape, there is also plenty to do with kids. Whether you are old or young, no visit is complete without touring at least one of the Newport Mansions.

Touring the Newport Mansions

The Newport Mansions — or the summer cottages of the wealthy families that used to escape to cooler Newport in the mid-to-late 1800s — are operated by The Preservation Society of Newport County. The Society maintains ten properties in all, the most famous ones being The Breakers, The Elms, Marble House, Rosecliff and Chateau-sur-Mer. Personally, I’m excited that they now allow photography inside so I get to share a glimpse of their elegance.

Breakers Mansion in Newport RI

The Breakers

The Breakers

I’ve visited The Breakers on numerous occasions, and each time I experience something new. The grandest of the Newport Mansions and a National Historic Landmark, The Breakers was commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, President and Chairman of the New York Central Railroad. Completed in 1895, this magnificent 70-room Italian Renaissance-style villa makes you feel like you have just stepped into a European palace. While touring these mansions can be fascinating for adults, kids tend to get a little antsy, especially with the old guided tours. The Preservation Society has ditched the guided tours in lieu of audio tours and have recently introduced a new “Family Tour.”

The Breakers grand staircase

The Breakers mansion kitchen

The back view from the Breakers in Newport Rhode Island

On my recent visit I listened to the Family Tour audio guide and thought it was so fun and engaging for kids. It features shorter segments with some fun stories to bring the house and its furnishings to life. Children can learn what it was like to grow up at The Breakers and play a little scavenger hunt with some of the sculpture and art.

Marble House in Newport Rhode Island

Marble House

Marble House

The Marble House is another favorite. As its name implies, they used 500,000 cubic feet of marble to complete this cottage for William K. Vanderbilt (younger brother of the owner of The Breakers) and his wife Alva. This is another house just filled with stories, especially those involving their daughter Counselo, who became the 9th Dutchess of Marlborough. Here, kids will especially enjoy the back lawn and the Chinese teahouse overlooking the ocean.

Marble House staircase

Marble House music room

Marble House Bedroom

Rosecliff

Rosecliff Mansion in Newport

Rosecliff

I still have yet to make it to The Elms, but I have a fond affection for Rosecliff, perhaps because I’m such a fan of The Great Gatsby (which was filmed there, the Robert Redford version at least.) Rosecliff was completed in 1902 for Nevada silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs and modeled after the Grand Trianon at Versailles. Ms. Oelrichs loved to throw a good party and the lawn is the perfect setting. When we visited my daughter sighed, “I can picture getting married here someday.” I told her to keep dreaming 🙂 .

Rosecliff mansion lawn

Yachting in Newport

Of course the boating culture has also always been the backbone of Newport society and it has been called the yachting and sailing capital of the United States. But have no fear, even if you didn’t arrive via boat, there are plenty of ways to explore this side of Newport. (Although, if you are arriving by boat, you should check out the new boating app called Dockwa, which is like an OpenTable for marina reservations.)

International Yacht Restoration Center in Newport RI

IYRS

Those interested in boating may enjoy popping into the International Yacht Restoration School to see what they have going on. This is where students from around the world come to learn the craft of boatbuilding, restoration, and more. But even though this is a place of learning, visitors are welcome to get a glimpse into the engineering and hard work that goes into creating these vessels.

And, if you have a car, venture to nearby Bristol, Rhode Island to see the Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame.

You can also check out That Newport Show podcast for ideas about how to get out on the water with yacht charters and antique yachts.

If you are coming to Newport, let me know by leaving a comment below so I can give you some restaurant recommendations (one of my favorites is Midtown Oyster Bar) or other ideas of what to do during your stay.

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Summer in Newport, Rhode Island -- learn more about the Newport Mansions and the Newport yachting scene

Note: This spring I participated in a FAM trip with Visit Rhode Island to learn more about the Newport Mansions and yachting culture. However, I have also visited the mansions and Newport many times on my own and all opinions are my own.

2 Comments on “Mansions and Yachts: Summer in Newport, Rhode Island

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  1. So elegant and beautiful! You know how much I love visiting royal homes so I would love to visit the Newport mansions one of these days. Amazing how much opulence is in these houses. Interesting about the Great Gatsby being filmed there.

      I do think of these as our American castles

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