Built in traditional colonial style and dedicated in 1762, Touro Synagogue is the oldest in the U.S. and a national historic site. George Washington's letter to the Hebrew Congregations of Newport is on display in the synagogue. The letter is an important piece of history because it reassures those who had fled religious tyranny that life in their new nation would be different. The statements about religious liberty were echoed in the First Amendment. Other exhibits include information about Jewish colonists in early America and a colonial cemetery. Tours are generally held every 30 minutes in the afternoon and are an educational experience for people of all backgrounds.
Local Expert tip: The tour schedule may vary due to Jewish holidays, ceremonial occasions and special events.
Newport has its share of traditional sailing vessels, but Privateer offers a slightly different experience. If tilting sailboats and ducking under the boom isn't your thing, relax on a 52-foot catamaran and sprawl out on the spacious deck or on the bow netting. The speedy vessel takes guests further in the harbor than many of the sailing ships, and there is a cash bar on board for cheap beer, mixed drinks, and wine. Be sure to move around the boat and ask the crew questions. Much of the commentary comes from the back and can be difficult to hear if you're perched in the front the entire time. Both day sails and sunset cruises are available.
Local Expert tip: If you take the evening cruise, bring warm clothes. It can get breezy on the ship, especially after the sun goes down.
There's something whimsical and intriguing about the process of glassblowing, and Thames Glass brings it to life. Visitors can create an ornament, paperweight, or vase out of hot, molten glass under the supervision of a skilled professional. After the pieces come out of the oven, your name will be signed onto the artwork so it can be displayed proudly. The owner, Matthew Buechner, grew up in Corning, New York (home of Corning Museum of Glass), and has been practicing the art of glass blowing for more than 20 years. His works are available for purchase at the shop (or online) and include ornaments, perfume bottles, glass fish, snowmen, and seashells.
Local Expert tip: This should be one of your first stops in Newport because it takes two days for the glass to cool.
Once home to the legendary Vanderbilts, The Breakers is one of Newport's most glamorous mansions and is located on 13-acres of cliffside ocean front property. It was built in 1895 by railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt II. The mansion was constructed in the Italian Renaissance style, with attention being paid to every last detail. Enjoy the period furnishings, gold filigree, carved wood, marble, platinum walls (yes, platinum!) and mural-sized paintings throughout the home. If your schedule's tight and you can squeeze in only one mansion, decide on this one. The self-guided tour allows visitors the option to explore further, or stay on the main path and is both informative and entertaining.
Local Expert tip: Combo packages are available online that add additional mansion tours of your choice.
Finding parking in Newport is a hassle – and an expensive one. If you find a free spot for your car, leave it there and explore the area with a Segway tour of Newport. Three different itineraries are offered ranging from one to three hours that span up to 10 miles. The one-hour Bellevue tour takes visitors past "summer cottages," on electric Segways while the Ocean Drive tours – which last an hour and a half – travel along the coastline to Newport Country Club and Gooseberry Beach. The lengthy, three-hour tour tacks on the mansions of Bellevue and cliff walk (in addition to the coastline). The company also offers bike rentals, sales, and bike tours for those looking to fit in a little exercise on vacation.
Local Expert tip: In order to rent the Segway, you must be 16 years of age and have a valid driver's license.
For a quintessential sailing experience, look no further than 12 Meter Charters, which offers hands-on cruises that allow the guests to assist the crew and steer the ship around the harbor. The company's fleet consists of five vessels that were America's Cup contenders including Heritage, which went on to be a champion ocean racer. Two-hour afternoon and evening cruises take sailors past the Rose Island Lighthouse, Fort Adams,the New York Yacht Club, and under the Newport Pell Bridge – an addition that many of the shorter cruises do not include. The helpful crew will point out important sights and provide background information about the vessel.
Local Expert tip: Attach your camera and other belongings to your body. When the boat tilts, people easily loose items to the sea!
A visit to a historical city like Newport wouldn't be complete without visiting some of its older residents – or having a visit from them. The Old Town ghost walk is a lantern-led tour with an enthusiastic and costumed guide as your learn about the city's gruesome past. The guides don't ask that you believe in ghosts – just that you keep an open mind to the possibility. Note that it is not a ghost hunt (with ghost-finding equipment), but more of an educational, spooky trek that finishes at Trinity Church where travelers can stand on the tomb of a local pirate. It is ideal for families, history buffs, or anyone looking for an interesting evening attraction.
Local Expert tip: Bring your camera for opportunities to capture orbs.
A tour of the National Museum of American Illustration gives you two for the price of one: a museum and a mansion! The three-acre grounds were inspired by King Henry VIII's gardens, and the museum venue is located in Vernon Court, an interpretation of an 18th century French chateau. Originally, the museum was established to showcase art from the Golden Age of American Illustration, but today art from many different time periods is on display. Guided tours lead visitors through each of the rooms while also granting time to explore on their own. During peak season, the museum is open on weekends (and with an advance reservation on select days), and during the off-season Friday is the only day that tours are offered. Children under five are not permitted.
Local Expert tip: Check the schedule before visiting. They are only open select days.
Are you a fan of TV shows like Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" or "Man vs. Food?" Newport Gourmet Tours offers the chance to have a food and travel adventure of your own. Recently, the culinary scene in Newport has expanded dramatically, and many world-class-chefs and artisans are setting up shop in the area. The tour – which is led by a chef - gives visitors the opportunity to meet them and try some of their cuisine. The Bellevue tour starts at Hotel Viking and continues through the city's gourmet shops, while the Broadway tour brings you along the local side of town dotted with numerous taverns and restaurants. Sample cheese, chocolate, and more!
Local Expert tip: Book your tickets way in advance! These tours sell out quickly!
History comes alive on easy-paced, nine-mile bike tour that shows riders how Newport shaped the nation in the past and the present. The Classic Newport Tour is a relaxing ride that educates guests about the hidden history of Newport with knowledgeable and fun guides. During the two-hour ride, you'll find quiet streets that you didn't know existed! Enjoy a picnic lunch and go for a short dip in the ocean at Bailey's Beach. Upon returning, book the Two Islands & Three Forts Tour, an extension of the classic trip where riders travel by ferry from Newport to Jamestown to bike past the country roads and have a bite at a charming local restaurant. The guides are very informative and accommodating and will help to meet you and your family's needs.
Local Expert tip: Bring water and sunscreen!