The Ultimate Guide to Newport, Rhode Island

Grab some sunnies and our comprehensive guide and make the best of summer in the City by the Sea.

Come Sail Away

The sweet pleasures of a cruise down the bay.
By Mary Grady

newportToo much of our time is spent on roads, the same roads traveled over and over, the same traffic we’ve battled before, the same narrow lanes, the same unchanging views. The moments of crossing bridges, when we’re lifted into the open sky and the land and the bay spread out before us, those moments go by so fast, they scarcely register. But spend an hour on a boat instead, suspended between the deep sea and the infinite sky, trusting the sure hand of your captain at the helm, sipping on a summer cocktail, relaxing with friends or eavesdropping on strangers, and the Rhode Island summer soaks right into your core.

This pastime of the swells now welcomes all comers, thanks to the return of the Providence-Newport Seastreak ferry that locals fell in love with last summer. This year, the ferry offers a longer season, adding forty days of sailing, from June 16 to October 1, plus an extra trip every day, totaling four on weekdays and five on the weekends. The ferry is sticking with the easygoing price of just $10 a go, an even easier $5 for children (kids younger than two are free), seniors, and those with disabilities, plus free parking in the roomy fenced-in lot next to where Shooters used to be.

Your vacation time starts with locking up the car and taking in the view from the shoreline, next to India Point Park. It’s easy to forget that Providence has this saltwater connection, cut off from downtown by the hurricane barrier and the freeway. But right here on the edge of the city, locals are fishing, kayaking and sailing, while traffic zips by on the 195 bridge and the giant windmills off Allens Avenue turn slowly in the breeze.

Waiting in the check-in line at dockside, you have a few minutes to check out the bay vistas — and your fellow passengers. The trip is popular with seniors — why wouldn’t it be, at $5 — plus a fair number of out-of-town vacationers, along with a mix of families, bicyclists, students and couples. The check-in is quick and easy. Most travelers have already made their reservations online — a good habit, since the trips sometimes sell out, especially on weekends and holidays. The magic of the bay and the summer sky seems to keep everyone friendly, relaxed and in a good mood.

Once onboard, travelers have a choice: a comfortable seat in the shady air-conditioned cabin, next to a big window, with free Wi-Fi and easy access to alcohol, or the only choice that makes any sense — the open deck on top, where the endless sky stretches across the wide, wild bay. Yes, the wind will blow like mad up there, and the sun blazes down without a break, but that’s why we bring tie-down hats and sunscreen. This is where you take your out-of-state visitors to show off your beautiful, bountiful bay, passing by windmills and buoys and lighthouses, pointing out the carousel at Riverside, Barrington’s beach and Prudence Island’s summer homes. You can wave to quahoggers hard at work and yacht sailors at play, and check out schools of tiny sailboats, their captains-to-be practicing the tack and jibe.

From the top deck, you’ll get a back lot tour of the commercial docks and Navy ships along the coast of Aquidneck Island, and look up to see the underside of the Newport Bridge passing overhead. The ferry takes you to Perrotti Park, right in downtown Newport, a five-minute stroll from dozens of shops and restaurants, yachts and harbor views. The more ambitious can hike a mile or so to First Beach and the Cliff Walk, or to the mansions on Bellevue Avenue. Or you can hail a motor launch at the park that will take you to Fort Adams or Rose Island.

Time it right, and you can catch a bay sunset on the way home. Venus and the first stars and maybe a crescent moon will appear, bigger and brighter than they ever look from your backyard. And you can make a wish — perhaps to ride the ferry again, soon and often.

Flying High

A view of Newport unlike any you’ve seen before.
By Dillon Stambaugh


Photography courtesy of Bird’s Eye View Helicopters

In a busy day, Jeff Codman revs up his Robinson R-44 Raven I anywhere from twenty to thirty times. His customers pay for a luxurious experience at a reasonable price — a charming vantage of a charming state. Bird’s Eye View Helicopters offers passengers a view of coastal Rhode Island that even the wealthiest Newport socialite couldn’t purchase and hang on a wall.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve already walked Newport’s Cliff Walk countless times, and you’re looking for something new. While the three-mile stroll is scenic and the mansions envy-inducing, there are only so many times you can gawk at the Breakers and feel miniscule in the foreground of the Vanderbilts’ so-called summer cottage. That’s what drove me to Bird’s Eye View — the opportunity to soar above old money, give new energy to fading memories and experience life from an unfamiliar angle.

In the interest of romance and the aforementioned, my girlfriend and I book the intimidatingly named chopper for the Exclusive Island Tour — one of eight specialized routes offered by Bird’s Eye View. Customers can also explore Providence, Bristol or Newport during sunset at a similar cost. Overcome with fourth-grade butterflies, we board the viper red aircraft and are greeted by Codman, our pilot for the evening. We exchange pleasantries, and before we can say “Aquidneck,” we are soaring 500 feet above southern Rhode Island.

The Exclusive Island Tour begins northbound and we fly over the western coast of Portsmouth with views of Prudence Island, Hog Island and the Mount Hope Bridge. As the sea green Mount Hope Bay glistens with sporadic whitecaps, my girlfriend and I marvel at the landscape of Roger Williams University, where we first fell in love.

Next, we explore the intricacies of Island Park Cove en route to the Sakonnet River. All the while, Codman offers unobtrusive commentary regarding the sights below us. The pilots at Bird’s Eye View aren’t there to lecture you; they understand the tour is a visual experience meant to captivate the passenger. The simple facts and guidance offered in-flight are merely that, guidance, and only supplement the overall experience.

Following scenic views of Tiverton and Little Compton, Codman directs us back over Aquidneck Island. With the imposing Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge on the horizon, we circumnavigate the Newport Naval Station. Covering much of the coast with an expansive campus, it is easy to understand why the Navy is one of the largest employers in the smallest state. Then, once over the bridge, we encounter some unexpected guests and laugh at splashing seals on the rocks of Rose Island.

And then, there are the mansions.

Newport, despite its depth of character, is synonymous with lavish living and, if nothing else, it makes for a remarkably romantic and breathtaking aerial view. As cliche as it sounds, you haven’t seen Newport until you’ve seen it like this. Bird’s Eye View adds perspective to the million dollar private homes, Rough Point, Marble House, Rosecliff and the entire city of Newport. To walk past the mansions is one thing, but to see the landscape in its entirety from the sky — to truly understand its wealth and beauty — is bucket list-worthy.

What seems like a two-hour tour is over after approximately twenty minutes and covers thirty miles, with Codman gently landing us back at Newport Airport. I exit the aircraft, feet on pavement, and survey the land around me. I suddenly understand why Codman fires up his helicopter thirty times a day. It’s not just for business; life is more exciting from the air. From $75 per person.

Leave a reply