The City-by-the-Sea is a popular summer travel destination, but the joy of visiting Newport, Rhode Island in the winter is that you can dodge the summer crowds and take advantage of better rates on hotels. While it is a different experience on Aquidneck Island when it is cold, there are still plenty of fun things to do in Newport Rhode Island in the winter.
December is a lovely time to visit Newport, during a month-long Christmas in Newport celebration, but this seaside town offers fun all winter long. You can also find some of my other favorite things to do in Rhode Island in the winter, the best holiday events for Christmas in Rhode Island, and 101 things to do in Rhode Island.
Best Things to do in Newport Rhode Island in the Winter
Go Ice Skating at Newport Harbor Island Resort
You can enjoy outdoor ice skating at the Ice Rink at Newport Harbor Island (formerly Gurney’s Newport Resort.) The Ice Rink is located on the resort’s North Lawn with scenic views overlooking the Goat Island Lighthouse and Newport Pell Bridge. The rink is open daily, weather permitting, to both hotel guests and the public.
After a few laps around the ice, you can warm up with seasonal cocktails or hot chocolate in the lounge. Skates and skating aids are available for rent or visitors are welcome to bring their own skates. No reservations are required to enjoy this winter wonderland on the Rhode Island coast!
Cozy Up in an Igloo at the Newport Harbor Island Resort
Luckily when Gurney’s Newport Resort and Marina sold, the new owners of the Newport Harbor Island Resort continued the tradition of offering pop-up igloos in the winter. You can enjoy views overlooking Narragansett Bay and the Newport Bridge from your own, private heated igloo.
These posh igloos are outfitted with warm blankets and pillows, creating a cozy environment to enjoy seasonal cocktails and a dedicated menu. Reservations can be made through OpenTable, just keep in mind that they book up very far in advance and require a credit card deposit and a food and drink minimum.
Tour the Festive Newport Mansions at Christmas
Three of the Newport Mansions are decorated for Christmas around the holidays — The Breakers, The Elms, and Marble House. Each of these National Historic Landmarks is filled with thousands of poinsettias, fresh flowers, and evergreens from late November through early January (check the website for future schedules.)
Decorated Christmas trees are placed throughout the homes and dining tables are set with period silver and china as if waiting for Christmas dinner. In the Breakers, you can find a working garden-scale model of the Vanderbilt family’s New York Central Railroad, which travels through a village of gingerbread Newport Mansion replicas. The Elms host a Victorian streetscape scene in the ballroom, with sleighs and mannequins dressed in period costumes.
Inspired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles, Marble House is simply stunning, utilizing over 500,000 cubic feet of marble costing $7 million back in 1888 when construction started. The summer house was built for Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who established the family’s fortune in steamships and the New York Central Railroad.
If you are looking for a perfect holiday photo spot, the 15-foot-tall poinsettia tree in the Great Hall of The Breakers, made up of 150 poinsettia plants, provides a lovely backdrop.
Walk Through the Sparkling Lights at The Breakers
In recent years, The Breakers has extended the holiday decor and festivities to the outside with Sparkling Lights at the Breakers. Taking place in the evenings during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, visitors stroll along a half-mile-long path glittering with hundreds of thousands of holiday lights while friendly gnomes point the way and music fills the winter air.
You will walk through a 50-foot-long tunnel of light and the lawn is adorned with illuminated snowmen, reindeer, and more sparkling surprises. Santa’s Workshop is set up inside the Children’s Cottage and there is even a Van”deer”bilt selfie station for family photos.
During Sparkling Lights, there are five fire pits scattered around the property and the back terrace is set up with warming stations that serve adult beverages. The Breakers Welcome Center also will have refreshments, including snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, and a fire pit to make s’mores.
Enjoy Holiday Brunch at the Chinese Tea House
Located on the back lawn of the Marble House mansion and above the Cliff Walk, The Chinese Tea House offers a three-course holiday brunch curated by Stoneacre Brasserie. Featuring seasonal ingredients and artisan purveyors, this is an ideal way to experience the Newport Mansions by daytime in the winter.
The menu includes a tea tower, an entree selection, and assorted desserts. Complimentary tea service is included and specialty cocktails and wines are additional. Holiday Brunch is served on Thanksgiving Weekend and on select dates in December. Reservations can be made on Resy.
Take the Polar Plunge
At noon on New Years’ Day, join the other brave souls willing to jump into the freezing Atlantic Ocean to raise money for charity. All proceeds from the swim go to A Wish Come True, an organization that grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses in Rhode Island. The event takes place on Easton’s Beach (First Beach) in Newport, just steps from the Cliff Walk.
Have Fun at the Newport Winter Festival
In mid-February, the Newport Winter Festival offers 10 days of music, food, and fun and is touted as “New England’s Largest Winter Extravaganza.” The Festival features over 150 events, combining food, festivities, music, and fun for all ages including the Children’s Fair, Chili Cook-Off, Princess Party, and live bands.
Take a Lantern Tour of Colonial Newport
The Newport Historical Society offers group walking tours, including a holiday lantern-lit tour of the exquisitely preserved neighborhoods of Newport’s Historic Hill, transporting visitors back in time. Each tour lasts approximately 75 minutes and tours are offered year-round but the holiday lantern tour is only available on weekends in November and December. Tours are by reservation only.
It can get very windy down in Newport, so if you need to get in out of the cold, there are two museums to visit on your way to explore the mansions. The Audrain Automobile Museum houses 112 of the rarest and most remarkable vehicles in history, featuring fully restored vehicles ranging from the beginning of the 20th Century to the modern day. The Museum is located at 222 Bellevue Avenue and is open daily from 10 am-4 pm.
Just next door at 194 Bellevue Avenue is the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum. The museum was renovated in 2015 to feature more of the collection and to be highly interactive, including a tennis culture touch table, video highlights of great matches, a tennis globe featuring news and updates from around the world, and a hologram of 17-time major champion Roger Federer.
Take a Seal Watching Cruise
On weekends and public school holidays from December through April, Save the Bay operates Seal Watch Tours, departing from Bowen’s Wharf. They motor through historic Newport Harbor for excellent views of seals resting on Citing Rock off of Rose Island and the Newport Bridge. One-hour seal tours are entirely boat-based, while two-hour tours include a tour of Rose Island Lighthouse.
Celebrate Christmas at Newport Events
For the month of December, Christmas in Newport hosts daily events including tree lightings, Polar Express train rides, historical tours, shopping strolls, concerts and dances, Victorian-era Christmas festivities, culinary fêtes, arts, and cultural celebrations, and more.
You won’t want to miss the Holiday Boat Parade, the Bowen’s Wharf annual tree lighting, an interactive performance of The Nutcracker at Rosecliff Mansion, or Santa Magic at Long Wharf Mall.
Warm Your Belly
The Black Pearl is good for all seasons. In the summer you can sit outside on the wharf and enjoy seafood with a view. But in the winter, you can step inside the cozy tavern for a piping hot bowl of, what some say is the best, New England Clam Chowder. You can’t miss The Black Pearl on Bannister’s Wharf in Newport.
I love The White Horse Tavern in winter because of its wood-burning fireplace and cozy setting. Serving hungry Newporters since 1673, this historic tavern is claimed to be America’s Oldest Restaurant. They serve up classic fare, like Beef Wellington and Scotch Eggs wrapped in duck sausage. The White Horse Tavern is located at 26 Marlborough St in Newport. Reservations are recommended (request the room with the fireplace) and country club or business casual attire is expected.
If you visit in early November, you can take advantage of the deals during Newport Restaurant Week.
Newport is where to go for all your preppy wear, boating gear, and fashionable finds. Bowens Wharf and the shops along Thames are brimming with special holiday gifts for your loved ones. Kiel James Patrick and Lemon & Line are two Rhode Island-based brands that just scream Newport with their recognizable patterns and designs.
Visit a Spa
The Bodhi Spa is famous for its hydrotherapy treatments and healing water journey of hot, cold, steam, and ice. If you prefer a hotel spa, The Vanderbilt and The Viking both have lovely spas.
Take a Hike
Nearby Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Middletown is an important stopover and wintering area for migratory birds in Middletown and a perfect spot for birding. This relatively flat trail offers beautiful ocean views and you may even spy a snowy owl!
Hot Chocolate Bar at The Chanler
After taking a chilly walk on the picturesque Cliff Walk, stop at the Hot Chocolate Bar at The Chanler and sit beside the cozy, crackling fire pit and indulge in a luxurious cup of hot chocolate. The artisanal hot chocolate is meticulously crafted in creamy milk or sumptuous dark chocolate, or, kick it up a notch the a boozy version.
FIND A HOTEL IN NEWPORT
A few of the hotels that we love include:
- The Vanderbilt for a romantic getaway (see my Vanderbilt Hotel review)
- Viking Hotel for historic charm
- Hammets Hotel for location and urban chic
- The Chanler at Cliff Walk for a special occasion
- Newport Marriott Hotel & Spa for families
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