Attractions

14 Mansions in Newport, RI You Have to See to Believe

Newport, Rhode Island was the summer playground of America’s wealthiest during the Gilded Age, and it has plenty of still-standing mansions that live to tell the tale.

The preservation and restoration of the Gilded Age mansions give visitors a glimpse of the opulence, artistry, and complicated culture that went into these time capsules.

If nothing else, the beautiful architecture and cliffside views of the ocean should be enough to inspire you to visit this area.

Today, this article lists down the best Newport mansions to tour, as well as the lesser-known mansions in the area.

History Of Newport Mansions

Why were these mansions built, anyway? And why are many of them in Newport, RI?

In US history, the Gilded Age was an era of rapid economic growth from the 1870s to around 1900, when industrialism rapidly expanded. It was a time when America’s wealthiest became even wealthier.

Industrialists and savvy investors, such as Vanderbilt, Morgan, Astor, and many others saw their fortunes skyrocket, and many of them built palatial homes in beautiful places all over the country to stay in during the summer.

Newport, Rhode Island was an ideal city to build a summer home, especially for New York’s wealthiest, because of its beautiful coastline, its accessibility, and its stark contrast to the urban cities where they normally live.

We call them mansions, but these wealthy families called them “summer cottages.” And yet everything about them, from the exterior embellishments to the interior adornments, were all designed to show off their affluence through parties and socials.

These “cottages” had grand receiving areas, dining rooms, music rooms, and ballrooms. Interestingly, they had few bedrooms, presumably because the owners of these cottages expected their party guests to go home to “cottages” of their own and thus didn’t host many of them overnight.

The Gilded Age came to an end when the increasing inequality of wealth made way for political upheaval. Many of the rich owners of these mansions lost their fortunes one way or another.

A few lucky ones were able to hold on to their “summer cottages,” which serve as residences for their descendants to this day.

Some of these mansions were sold to new owners, converted to schools for use as academic buildings, or destroyed and converted into residential or commercial subdivisions.

The others were saved from demolition by the Preservation Society of Newport County, founded in 1945 to protect Newport County’s architectural heritage.

Fortunately, a good number of Newport mansions are open to tourists, giving visitors a glimpse of how life was like in the Gilded Age, both for the wealthy families that lived and partied in the mansions and their servants who made everything possible.

Newport Mansions Visitor Guidelines and Rules

Note that these rules and general guidelines apply to those mansions maintained by the Preservation Society of Newport County. Other mansions may have their own set of rules, which you must still follow so that you and other visitors all have a great time.

  • It is recommended to start your mansion tour in The Breakers so you can also visit the Welcome Center to get information about the mansions.
  • Exterior photography through handheld cameras for social media and non-commercial purposes is allowed.
  • Exterior photography through drones is strictly prohibited.
  • Interior photography is allowed only for social media and personal, non-commercial purposes. No selfie sticks, tripods, or flash photography are allowed.
  • Allot a minimum of one and a half hours for touring each mansion.
  • With very few exceptions, mansions have free parking.
  • Kids are welcome, but strollers and carriages are not.
  • Mansions normally have a dress code. Shirts (except those that have offensive language printed) and shoes are mandatory.
  • No large bags and luggage allowed.

 

Best Newport Mansions To Tour

1. The Breakers

By far the most popular Newport mansion, The Breakers is the Italian Renaissance-style Vanderbilt estate widely acknowledged to be the grandest, most extravagant mansion in Newport and is thus the signature symbol of the Gilded Age.

The Breakers Mansion

The mansion features 70 rooms, a 45-foot high Great Hall, gold- and platinum-covered walls, and intricate panels with mythological beings. All these sit on a 13-acre estate overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

It is recommended to visit this mansion first, as this is also the site of the Welcome Center of the Preservation Society, where you can get information about all the other mansions they’re in charge of and make your visit to the Newport mansions easier to plan.

Essential Information
Address: 44 Ochre Point Avenue, Newport, RI | 401-847-1000
Hours: Vary depending on season; check this detailed, regularly updated calendar prior to your visit
Cost: $26 per head for adults; discounts available for children
Website: The Breakers
Notes: National Historic Landmark; Wheelchair accessible; multilanguage tours available

2. Marble House

One of the first stone mansions in the area, Marble House is another extravagant mansion. Alva Vanderbilt, the original owner of the house, is said to have spent $7 million then (equivalent to almost $128 million today) on the marble used to construct it.

With 50 rooms spread over four levels decorated in various styles, as well as a Chinese Tea House that was a later addition, the Marble House is an elegant structure and one of the earliest done in the Beaux-Arts style of architecture.

Essential Information
Address: 596 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI | 401-847-1000
Hours: Vary depending on season; check this detailed, regularly updated calendar prior to your visit
Cost: $18 per head for adults; discounts available for children
Website: Marble House
Notes: Partially wheelchair accessible; multilanguage tours available; National Historic Landmark

3. The Elms

The Elms mansion was the summer residence of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Julius Berwind. It isn’t as extravagant as the previous two mentioned, but its beautiful architecture modeled after the French chateau d’Asnieres is remarkable and well worth looking at.

The interior is designed to show off the Berwind’s Renaissance ceramics, 18th-century paintings, and jades from Asia.

Fun fact: It is one of the first houses wired for electricity in this area.

Essential Information
Address: 367 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI | 401-847-1000
Hours: Vary depending on season; check this detailed, regularly updated calendar prior to your visit
Cost: $18 per head for adults; discounts available for children
Website: The Elms
Notes: Partially wheelchair accessible; multilanguage tours available; National Historic Landmark

4. Rosecliff

Rosecliff was home to Nevada silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs, an heiress from Nevada.

Inspired by Versailles’ Grand Trianon, which was the garden retreat of French kings at Versailles, the architectural style is Baroque and Baroque Revival, producing clean lines and perfect symmetry.

If this house looks familiar, it may be because it has been used as a set location in movies such as The Great Gatsby, Amistad, and True Lies.

Essential Information
Address: 548 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI | 401-847-1000
Hours: Vary depending on season; check this detailed, regularly updated calendar prior to your visit
Cost: $18 per head for adults; discounts available for children
Website: Rosecliff
Notes: Wheelchair accessible; multilanguage tours available

5. Chateau-sur-Mer

Considered the first of the great Newport mansions, Chateau-sur-Mer was recognized as the most palatial in Newport from its completion in 1852 until The Breakers and the Marble House were built.

This mansion was built for William Shepard Wetmore in High Victorian architecture and was subsequently remodeled in the Second Empire French style. Unlike many of the other mansions in the area, Chateau-sur-Mer was not built as a summer residence but as a year-round residence.

Essential Information
Address: 474 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI | 401-847-1000
Hours: Vary depending on season; check this detailed, regularly updated calendar prior to your visit
Cost: $18 per head for adults; discounts available for children
Website: Chateau-sur-Mer
Notes: National Historic Landmark

6. Kingscote

Kingscote is one of the earliest mansions designed in the Gothic Revival style of architecture. Originally owned by George Noble Jones, the property was acquired by William Henry King when the Civil War broke out.

The dining room features the earliest known installation of Tiffany glass, which is a type of glass produced between 1878 and 1933 at the Tiffany Studios in New York.

Essential Information
Address: 253 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI | 401-847-1000
Hours: Vary depending on season; check this detailed, regularly updated calendar prior to your visit
Cost: $18 per head for adults; discounts available for children
Website: Anchor Text
Notes: National Historic Landmark;

7. Isaac Bell House

The Isaac Bell House is acknowledged as the first Shingle-style house in the area and the best example of its kind.

The architects and designers of this house drew inspiration from a mix of international styles, such as Japanese, European, and Old English elements.

Essential Information
Address: 70 Perry Street | 401-847-1000
Hours: Vary depending on season; check this detailed, regularly updated calendar prior to your visit
Cost: $18 per head for adults; discounts available for children
Website: Isaac Bell House
Notes: National Historic Landmark

8. Hunter House

Away from the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, where most of the other mansions are located, the Hunter House is one of the finest examples of Georgian Colonial architecture.

It originally belonged to Jonathon Nichols, Jr., and the subsequent owners of the house added or renovated parts of the house. The most prominent owner of the mansion was William Hunter, a US senator and after whom the house is named.

Essential Information
Address: 54 Washington Street, Newport, RI | 401-847-1000
Hours: Vary depending on season; check this detailed, regularly updated calendar prior to your visit
Cost: $18 per head for adults; discounts available for children
Website: Hunter House
Notes: National Historic Landmark

9. Chepstow

Chepstow is an Italianate-style villa that is a prime example of a Victorian summer cottage.

Chepstow

Photo Credit: Christine Wagner

Originally owned by Edmund Schermerhorn, it contained various valuable paintings, including the Morris family’s collections, as well as 19th-century landscape paintings by the Hudson River school of artists.

Essential Information
Address: 120 Narragansett Avenue | 401-847-1000
Hours: Vary depending on season; check this detailed, regularly updated calendar prior to your visit
Cost: $18 per head for adults; discounts available for children
Website: Chepstow

10. Green Animals Topiary Garden

Green Animals is the oldest topiary garden in the US, but when this property was bought by Thomas Brayton in 1872, it consisted of seven acres of land, a white clapboard summer residence, farm outbuildings, a pasture, and a vegetable garden.

The superintendents of the property were responsible for creating the topiaries, sculpting more than 80 pieces in different shapes from yew, California privet, and English boxwood.

Today, Green Animals is a rare example of a self-sufficient estate with a Victorian house, topiaries, vegetable gardens, and orchards.

Essential Information
Address: 380 Cory’s Lane, Newport, RI | 401-847-1000
Hours: Vary depending on season; check this detailed, regularly updated calendar prior to your visit
Cost: $18 per head for adults; discounts available for children
Website: Green Animals Topiary Garden

Other Newport Mansions Worth Visiting

As I’ve mentioned, not all of the Gilded Age mansions in Newport are managed by the Preservation Society. Here are other Newport mansions you should consider visiting.

11. Ochre Court

Ochre Point was commissioned by Ogden Goelet in 1892 in a châteauesque architectural style and is second only to The Breakers in size.

Ochre Court

Photo Credit: David

Nowadays, it serves as the main administration building for Salve Regina University and is used for occasional social functions.

Essential Information
Address: 100 Ochre Point Avenue, Newport, RI | 401-847-6650
Hours: Mon-Fri 9am-4pm
Website: Ochre Court

12. Belcourt of Newport

Oliver Belmont commissioned this mansion in 1891 to have a summer cottage for him as well as his many horses.

With this vision, the architect, Richard Morris Hunt designed the ground floor around an enormous carriage room and stables, with only a single bedroom where Belmont can live with his horses in privacy.

However, when Alva Vanderbilt (yes, the same Alva Vanderbilt who owned the Marble House) moved in with him, she had the ground floor transformed to be more suitable for humans than for horses.

Ownership then changed hands many times before Carolyn Rafaelian bought it in 2012. Currently, Carolyn Rafaelian is in the process of restoring Belcourt to its former glory.

Essential Information
Address: 657 Bellevue Ave, Newport, RI
Hours: Fri and Sun 11am-4pm; Sat 11am-5:30pm
Cost: $17.50 per head for adults; discounts available for children
Website: Belcourt of Newport

13. Rough Point

Commissioned by yet another member of the Vanderbilt clan, Rough Point is at the south end of Bellevue Avenue and is built in the style of a stately English manor.

Rough Point Mansion

Photo Credit: Ben+Sam

After a few more transfers of ownership, the last owner of the house was Doris Duke before it got turned over to the Newport Restoration Foundation, which Doris Duke herself founded in 1968.

Nowadays, Rough Point looks more or less the same as it looked when Doris Duke lived here. It’s not by accident; the house is carefully maintained to get a lived-in look. The result is that when you tour the house, it feels less like a museum and more like a visit to your distant aunt’s house.

That is, if your distant aunt were a billionaire who owned plenty of expensive art and furnishings, as well as a couple of camels.

Essential Information
Address: 680 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI | 401-847-8344
Hours: May to Nov, Tue-Sun 9:30am-3:30pm
Cost: $20 per head for adults; discount available for students with ID
Website: Rough Point Museum
Notes: Maintained by the Newport Restoration Foundation; wheelchair accessible

14. Vernon Court

Vernon Court was commissioned by Anna Van Nest Gambrill and was built in 1900 in French classical style, loosely based on the French mansion Château d’Haroué.

At some point, it was considered one of the ten most beautiful mansions in America.

It remained in the Gambrill family until 1956, after which ownership changed hands a number of times.

At present, Vernon Court houses the National Museum of American Illustration (NMAI) and is temporarily closed for renovation.

Essential Information
Address: 492 Bellevue Ave, Newport, RI | 401-851-8949
Hours: Vary depending on season; check their calendar prior to your visit
Cost: $20 per for adults; discounts available for seniors, children, students with ID, and military
Website: National Museum of American Illustrators

Ticket Options

If you plan to visit the mansions multiple times a year, membership to the Preservation Society is the most expensive option upfront but will work out to be the least expensive per visit as long as you visit frequently.

For one time visits to multiple mansions, various packages are also available for a wide range of mansions, with some packages even including popular activities aside from touring the mansions.

However, membership and packaged tickets will only cover the 10 mansions that the Preservation Society is maintaining.

The simplest, most straightforward way to get tickets is to just get it in the mansion you’re visiting. This is the most convenient and allows for spontaneity.

Tips For First-Timers to Newport

Getting To Newport

If you’re flying into Newport, it’s almost 100% certain that you’ll arrive via the TF Green Airport.

From here, you can rent a car, ride the bus (via RIPTA or Peter Pan Bus Lines), or book an Uber to go to Newport.

Getting Around

Renting a car is by far the easiest and most convenient option for getting around, especially considering most mansions do not allow large bags and luggage inside.

Where To Stay

The magic of Newport is that wherever you decide to stay, you’ll be within walking distance of restaurants, bars, shops, and other attractions.

If you want oceanfront views, Castle Hill Inn & Resort, Club Wyndham Inn on Long Wharf, or The Chanler at Cliff Walk are solid choices.

However, if downtown Newport is more your style, Hotel Viking, Courtyard by Marriott Newport Middletown, or Mill Street Inn are also great places to stay.

What To Wear

Rhode Island weather is notoriously variable. From early June to mid-September, average highs reach above 70°F; mid-September to October is known for their Indian summers, with warm, dry weather during the day and cooler temperatures at night.

November is characterized by rainfall, and December to March sees average highs of around 44°F, with more than 20 inches of snowfall yearly.

It’s wise to dress according to the weather but plan for sudden changes. Layers are encouraged, as well as weatherproof footwear.

Best Time Of Year To Visit

The end of spring (around May) and the start of autumn (around September) are generally considered the best times of the year to visit Newport, weather-wise. Not too hot, not too cold, and a few drops of rain make it the ideal weather for walking around.

What To Eat

Your trip to Newport would be a waste if you don’t at least try some of Newport’s signature dishes and drinks.

Coffee milk has been the official state drink since 1993. Coffee is simmered with pure cane sugar to create a syrup, which is then mixed with ice-cold milk.

Del’s frozen lemonade started out as a mix of snow, lemons, and sugar in the 1840s and is now prepared by machine, producing a frozen product with a texture between a Slurpee and Italian ice.

As a coastal city, Newport had plenty of ways to prepare various seafood. Clams casino is a dish made of littleneck clams stuffed with bacon, peppers, and breadcrumbs and then broiled.

They also like putting their unique twist on already-known dishes. For instance, johnnycakes are pancakes made of cornmeal, and their version of zeppoles aren’t fried donuts but creampuff-like pastries filled with a custard-type cream and topped with more cream and a cherry.

Plan Your Newport Mansion Tour Today!

Exploring Newport mansions gives you a glimpse of how the rich lived in the Gilded Age, which is part of our history.

In fact, it’s one of the stops in a New England road trip itinerary that we’ve previously described.

Start organizing and scheduling your trip to Newport today!

Which Newport, RI mansion would you tour first? Where do you plan to stay? Share it with us in the comment section!