East Coast US, New England, Travels

Extravagance on display in Newport, Rhode Island

Next up in the continuing saga of Diana’s obsession with Groupon: a trip to Newport, Rhode Island, which began when I found a $49 per night hotel stay. And this wasn’t some crappy hotel. It was clean, three minutes from the beach, and that price got us a king-sized suite for the night!

(Of course, it was also during the off-season.)

So, on a Saturday morning in early March 2015, we tossed our bags in the car and headed off for a weekend in Newport.

When I mention Newport, I’m assuming one of the first things that comes to mind (for those who have heard of it) is the giant mansions. Yes, I’m talking about that Newport. And yes, the mansions really are that enormous. Excessive, really, is the most appropriate word to describe them.

Also, beautiful.

But mostly just completely excessive.

In addition to the mansions, there’s quite a bit of history in Newport. The majority of the buildings we saw are on the National Register of Historic Places, including houses built in the 1700s, the old library and athenaeum, many statues of historical figures, and other stone structures in the local parks.

Since we’re budget travelers, we did our Newport exploring on our own and on foot (which was a little cold since it was March, but thankfully it was a sunny weekend). We began at the visitor welcome center before setting off through the town, stopping approximately every ten feet to take pictures of all the old buildings.

Ann Webber House 1794
Ann Webber House, c. 1794 – Newport, RI

Before venturing too far away from the coast, we wandered across the short bridge to Goat Island, home to the Goat Island Lighthouse. From here, we were treated to views of Long Island Sound, the 11,250 foot (3430 m) long Claiborne Pell Bridge (the longest suspension bridge in New England, which we’d driven over in order to reach Newport), and some of the town itself.

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Claiborne Pell Bridge – Newport, RI
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Walkway out to Goat Island – Newport, RI
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Looking across Newport Harbor from Goat Island – Newport, RI

After crossing back to the mainland, we began meandering the streets and wandering through a couple of parks, stopping to read signs and contemplate the statues. Highlights included the Touro Synagogue (built in 1763, the oldest existing synagogue in the United States), Touro Park, and Queen Anne Square.

Gov Gideon Wanton House 1720WIlliam Stevens House 1720
Governor Gideon Wanton House and the William Stevens House, both c. 1720 – Newport, RI
City Hall
City Hall – Newport, RI
Redwood Library
Redwood Library and Athenaeum – Newport, RI
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Art Museum – Newport, RI

We ended the day at the White Horse Tavern, which is the oldest continually operating tavern in the United States! Built in 1652 as a private residence, it later became a meeting place for the local colonial government before eventually being granted a liquor license.

This is by far the fanciest restaurant I’ve ever been to (we were a bit underdressed…lesson learned) and also the most expensive. But Pat and I were considering this trip to be somewhat of a belated anniversary celebration, so it was a good time to splurge. We ordered beer and our entrees, and it was absolutely the best chicken I’ve ever had! The restaurant itself is small (reservations are a good idea), very quaint, and has managed to retain its wooden decor and historic atmosphere.

The next morning, we parked at Easton’s Beach and headed out to the Cliff Walk – the famous waterfront walkway that passes by the majority of the Newport Mansions. For those who are interested, there are tours available to go inside three of the largest mansions, but we opted to skip those for the sake of time and money. Instead, we just followed the Cliff Walk from one end to the other and back again.

It was very snowy in places (on the plus side, there weren’t many people there) but that didn’t stop us from oohing and ahhing at the mansions and also enjoying the beautiful views of the Rhode Island coast.

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Beginning of the Cliff Walk – Newport, RI
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Ocean Lawn Mansion (I think) – Newport, RI
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Ochre Court Mansion – Newport, RI
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Vinland Mansion – Newport, RI
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The Breakers Mansion – Newport, RI

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Land’s End viewpoint – Newport, RI
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Made it to the end of the Cliff Walk – Newport, RI

In the end, my impressions of Newport are mixed. The history was interesting and the architecture is undeniably beautiful. But as someone who came from a family without a lot of money to spare, I just can’t quite get over the theme of excess on display in Newport. Sure, it’s nice to have a vacation home in a pretty place, but no one needs a giant mansion with 8 bedrooms and a pool that they only live in for a few weeks a year. There are so many other things – more useful things, charitable things – that money could be spent on.

The US is already an extremely wasteful nation with a penchant for material things, a condition which is magnified a thousand times in Newport. And that’s something I’m just never going support. The mansions are magnificent, yes. But truthfully, Newport probably isn’t a place I’ll ever return to.

9 thoughts on “Extravagance on display in Newport, Rhode Island”

  1. I’ve been to Newport several times but always when it was warmer. It’s pretty with the snow, but man, that looks cold! I was under the impression that most if the REALLY huge mansions are now museums. Is that not right? Are any of the mansions on the cliff walk still privately owned? Either way, I agree, no one needs something that ridiculous to live in….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The sun was pretty warm that day, thankfully, so it wasn’t too terribly cold.

      We didn’t go in any of the mansions so I haven’t researched them at all. I know some are open for tours but I was under the impression that most are still privately owned. I’m not positive, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s definitely hard to identify with the mindset of the people who funded these ginormous palaces that were, as you pointed out, only occupied for a few weeks a year, but then again they *were* the richest citizens in their day, robber barons mostly. I can still appreciate the architecture and the beauty but I am in total agreement with you regarding the excess and the conspicuous consumption; it leaves a bad taste in my mouth as inequality continues to grow in this country.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t get me wrong, we had fun and learned some history and did a lot of oohing and aahing. Plus, it’s super pretty! It’s just one of those places where once was enough for me.

      Liked by 1 person

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