Newport, Rhode Island is not exactly known for handing out bargains. In fact, it has a well-deserved reputation for catering to the well to do. With its coastline mansions, upscale boutique stores, and top notch restaurants, Newport, RI is a destination where you could easily spend a fortune on lodging and meals alone. But that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank for an idyllic New England getaway.
After all, Newport is an incredibly fun and picturesque coastal city with tons to do, miles of walkable waterfront, and beautiful beaches, all of them entirely free to visitors. In other words, Newport is for everybody, not just the wealthy.
But if you plan on visiting Newport on a budget, you will need to take some extra steps to make it both an affordable and enriching experience. There are all kinds of Newport vacation packages to choose from, but before you go that route, there are also a number of money saving tips you’ll want to consider.
Some Newport History
Founded by English settlers in 1639 in the Rhode Island colony, Newport has a deep and rich cultural history. Located on Aquidnck Island in the Narragansett Bay, Newport’s seaside climate and relative proximity to the city’s of Providence, Boston and New York have long made it a popular summer destination for the wealthy. While this part of its identity is readily on display (and still very much true), there is far more to Newport’s history.
During the colonial era, Newport was the scene of much revolutionary activity, both in the lead up to, and through the duration of, the War for American Independence. Some would even argue that the British occupation, starting 1778 and ending in 1780, may have been a major strategic turning point in the war. The departure of British forces created a naval base of operations for the French, who arrived to support the colonial effort.
As a visitor today, you can visit Fort Adams State Park and numerous other historical sites of importance to America’s war for and defense of its independence. You can also see the spectacular evidence of its service to wealthy elites on vacation in the following century.
By the late 19th and early 20th century–a so-called Gilded Age when wealthy industrialists expanded their affluence dramatically in America–Newport became a seat of wealth and opulence. Marquis families like the Vanderbilts, Astors, and Wideners competed to build the most elaborate and expansive “summer cottages.” Most of these Newport mansions are accessible to the public today as mansions.
However, as the Newport Historical Society notes, there is far more to see than just the homes of Newport’s wealthiest families. Visitors can also see “beautifully restored colonial landmarks for visitors to explore along with, fine small museums, such as the Museum of Newport History in the Brick Market which is a perfect place to begin a visit to the area where visitors can get an overview of the city’s history. The Newport Art Museum, the Tennis Hall of Fame, Audrain Automobile Museum, Fort Adams, Redwood Library, Touro Synagogue, Trinity Church, and many other attractions offer the visitors an unrivaled opportunity to explore aspects of this country’s history.”
In addition to these historical attractions, Newport has only grown over the last several decades as a cultural hub. In the 20th Century, the Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival helped place the seaside town on the map among cultural elites and music lovers in the U.S. Today, its mix of culture, history, and music, alongside its rich culinary tradition and occasionally rowdy nightlife make it a top destination for tourists.
So as you can see, Newport’s history is one of wealth, privilege and opulence. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a Vanderbilt to experience the best of what the city of Newport has to offer. Read on to find out how.
10 Ways to Save Money On Your Newport Rhode Island Vacation
If you’re looking for postcard experiences, you’ll get your money’s worth just by paying the modest toll that it costs to cross the Newport Bridge. Spanning the Narragansett Bay and overlooking a shimmering surface dotted with sailboats and seabirds, Newport Bridge offers visitors a fitting preview of a town with no shortage of aesthetic pleasures. And to make a point that we’ll reiterate frequently throughout this article, taking in all that beauty won’t cost you a thing.
However, lodging and food will cost you a whole bunch. So it’s important to find a good balance. That’s what we’re here for. Whether you’re planning to book a comprehensive Newport vacation package or you’re planning just to wing it, we’ve got tips to help keep your costs down. Newport may be famous for its fancy accommodations and even fancier attractions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend a few days living the high life on a controlled budget.
We’ll tell you how…
1. Try Newport During the Shoulder Seasons
Newport is a top destination during the warmer months. Its beautiful beaches, bustling marinas, and rocky coastlines draw tons of vacationers in the spring and summer. Of course, this also brings higher prices in lodging, ticket prices, and attraction entry fees.
On the other hand, the “off season” in Newport is the winter, and we wouldn’t necessarily recommend visiting Newport during the cold seasons. While there are plenty of amazing destinations in New England for winter sports–see our tips on how to visit Vermont on the cheap–Newport is not one of these places. Indeed, the waterfront town can be quite cold and gloomy in the winter. Of course, if you’re into that sort of thing, you can save a whole lot on your trip. But that’s not necessarily a popular play.
This is why most travel experts would advise checking out Newport during the “shoulder seasons.” The shoulder seasons are the brief stretches preceding and succeeding the peak months. Consider traveling to Newport between April and May or September and October.
While the weather is generally temperate and the attractions still appealing, these stretches don’t coincide with major vacation seasons for schools and businesses. This means the tourist crowds tend to be at least slightly smaller. As a consequence, prices are lower for most things–especially lodging–at least relative to the cost during peak summer months.
You may be able to score a good deal on a Newport vacation package during the shoulder season. If you have the flexibility to book your vacation during one of these months, you’ll save a ton while still enjoying many of the area’s top attractions.
2. Stay in Neighboring Towns
At just 11 square miles in size, Newport itself is both small and notoriously expensive when it comes to lodging. The downtown area is a mix of luxury hotels, waterfront resorts, and charming but costly boutique lodging experiences. To be sure, each of these offers a lovely stay in a highly walkable area. But you will absolutely pay for the privilege.
On the other hand, some of the neighboring towns are far more modest in cost and may offer a greater diversity of accommodations including an array of Airbnb and VRBO hosted vacation rentals. Consider exploring the nearby Middletown or Portsmouth in neighboring New Hampshire, where you’ll likely find a far wider array of budget-friendly options including hotels, motels, and Holiday Inns. (Sorry, had to.) This gives you the chance to find the lowest nightly price in the region.
At any rate, wherever you land in one of these neighboring towns, you will be just a short drive’s distance from the top tourist attractions in nearby Newport including Fort Adams State Park, a recreational space and historical site best known today for hosting the Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festival; the famous and opulent Newport mansions that line the city’s stately Ocean Drive; the bustling shopping and restaurant district that centers around Thames street; and countless lovely green spaces, gardens, historic landmarks, and more.
3. Travel During the Weekdays
Newport is a great city but also a pretty small one. That means you can do it all in just a few days. Not only that, but its lively waterfront and huge selection of restaurants and bars means that Newport nightlife is jumping every night of the week. So what does that mean for you?
Well, if you’re willing to be flexible about when you visit, you can plan your entire stay during the midweek. Hotels, flights and rental cars will all be more affordable to travelers visiting Newport from Monday through Thursday as opposed to Friday through Sunday. If you have the freedom to plan your trip during the weekdays, you can save a bunch without skipping any of the top attractions or missing the general party vibe of this great city.
4. Dine In For Some Meals
The food may be amazing in Newport but it’s also quite costly. The coastal city is well known for its buttery twin lobster rolls, rich clam chowder, and its crispy-battered calamari. If you like seafood, we are not at all suggesting that you should skip these experiences. The food is half the reason to visit.
However, it doesn’t mean you have to eat in an expensive restaurant for every breakfast, lunch and dinner during your trip. One great way to save money is to search for accommodations with kitchens or kitchenettes. This is a strong argument in favor of booking accommodations through a vacation rental service like VRBO or Airbnb. While you could spend a bit more up front to ensure a space with full kitchen amenities, you will absolutely save more in the long run by avoiding dining out costs.
To wit, you could easily run up a bill for a few hundred dollars on a single dinner with drinks. At that rate, paying a couple hundred more for a few days in a rental with a kitchen would be a sounder investment.
Then, upon your arrival in Newport, visit the local grocery store and stock up on food for a few easy breakfasts, some lunches that can be readily packed for a day on the go, and plenty of snacks to offset the nickel and dime spending you might otherwise find yourself doing at attractions and convenience stores. Indeed, you’ll likely pay more for lower quality items in these settings. Plan ahead and keep energy-boosting snacks like nuts, dried fruits, jerky, and granola on hand.
And of course, Newport isn’t just home to countless amazing seafood restaurants. You’ll also find an incredible bounty of fresh seafood markets. If you’re willing to take a few chances in the kitchen, you can still enjoy the best of what the region has to offer while preparing your meals in your rental.
It also helps to plan ahead for those occasions when you actually will be dining out. Select carefully. Pick a night or two to go out for a nice dinner while offsetting the cost with various dine-in options. And do comprehensive research before you arrive to search for highly rated but budget friendly food options. Newport restaurants may be notoriously expensive, but you can still find tons of casual breakfast nooks, beach stands, and food trucks featuring the region’s freshest catches at a friendly price.
You just have to know where to look. Do the research in advance and achieve the perfect balance of affordable and delectable.
5. Do the Motel Math
As noted, you can do pretty well by looking to towns in close proximity to Newport for lodging. But you’ll also want to consider the type of lodging that makes the most sense for you.
Also noted above, you can save money on food costs by booking a vacation rental with a kitchenette. But there are also some monetary benefits to staying in a more traditional hospitality setting.
Small families and couples may benefit from staying in hotels that actually include some amenities. For instance, hotels offering free parking and included bike rentals can help reduce your peripheral costs. Other amenities like free Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast, and shuttle buses to the center of town can reduce what you spend on day to day travel costs like food and transportation.
When you’re considering your lodging options, make sure you take hotel perks into consideration. For couples seeking a quaint experience, but one that nonetheless does come with some amenities, the region surrounding Newport is also noted for its many Bed and Breakfasts. In some cases, this charming option will actually cost less than the average 3-star hotel room.
The main point is that you should shop around before booking your Newport vacation. Weigh the pros and cons of each lodging option and go from there.
6. Ditch the Car
If your Newport vacation is actually a road trip, you may want to consider parking your car somewhere safe for the duration of the trip. If, as noted above, your hotel comes with free parking, you will likely be leaving your car in that space for the duration. Because here’s the thing–Newport has a storied past, a beautiful history, and numerous city sections bustling with locals and travelers alike, but it’s not necessarily a fun place to navigate by car.
To reiterate a point, Newport is not very large. There’s a lot of fun packed into several small and closely connected areas. With tons of happy crowds and a basic layout that is roughly 300 years old, Newport is not a particularly hospitable place for driving or parking.
According to Destination Newport, “One of the biggest mistakes people make when visiting Newport is to try to do it by car – this is a really bad idea. Newport was founded in the 1600’s, hundreds of years before the automobile. As such, most of our streets are extremely narrow, and parking around town can be quite difficult. Our advice – ditch the car at the Newport Visitor’s Center lot and head out either on foot or bike.”
Assuming you don’t have free hotel parking, this is good advice for a few reasons. First, the Visitor’s Center offers extremely inexpensive parking relative to what you might pay to dock in a downtown parking garage. And this is to say nothing of the irritation you’ll experience battling both pedestrian and auto traffic while searching for a space. The truth is, you can actually get around many parts of Newport faster by bike, or even just by foot.
Once you depart the Visitor’s Center, you’ll be within striking distance of the city’s popular and bustling waterfront area restaurants, stores, and no shortage of kiosks where you can book boat rides and water adventures.
If you’re in pretty good shape, you’ll find that many other desirable attractions are within a 20 to 30 minute walk. With picturesque neighborhoods and scenic stops along the way, you’ll have plenty to do and see on your way to some of the most popular places in Newport including the Tennis Hall of Fame, the Newport Museum of Art, and the world famous Cliff Walk.
Newport also has a fairly reliable public transportation system. The public bus system, RIPTA, offers convenient routes throughout the city at a relatively low fare. Combine bus rides with well-researched walking routes and you can get around the entire city for just a few bucks a day.
7. The Best Things In Life (and Newport) Are Free
It’s true. For an expensive city, Newport has a remarkable amount to offer visitors at absolutely no cost at all. From the area’s beautiful beaches and the iconic Castle Hill Lighthouse to the historic Bellevue Avenue and the stately Ocean Drive, lined with the historic Newport mansions and leading directly to the aforementioned Cliff Walk, Newport is an absolute feast for the senses. It costs nothing at all to simply savor the sights, sounds, and even the scents rolling in from the coastline.
Indeed, these experiences are not to be missed. Not only that, but Newport’s modest size means that you can enjoy many of the best attractions all in one shot. For instance, many visitors will combine Ocean Drive with the Cliff Walk. You can cruise down this ten mile stretch at a leisurely speed–everybody does it–taking in some of the most opulent and eye-popping mansions you’ve ever seen.
Many of these mansions–such as the Marble House and the Breakers–are particularly famous architectural works of the so-called Gilded Age. Open to the public, most also offer ticketed entry and guided tours. But it is entirely free to stop along the way and scope the grounds.
If, as we’ve advised, you are traveling without a car, this is a perfect excursion for which to rent a bike (or take advantage of the free bikes offered by your hotel). Generally speaking, Newport is a bike-friendly city. Rental options are widely available throughout. This is a great option for Ocean Drive, one that will spare you the slow moving auto traffic while also providing an immersive, self-paced experience.
At the end of this drive, you’ll find the stunning Cliff Walk, a scenic oceanfront trail that winds along the rocky coastline, offering a terrain that varies between paved trails, rocky passes, and sandy beaches. It is truly one of the most immersive ways to experience the New England coastline. Given the varying terrain, cyclists may consider locking up bikes and taking in this experience on foot. Good sturdy shoes are strongly recommended if you’re planning to make this trek.
With all of that said, the experience described above will cost you absolutely nothing, and it’s something you absolutely must do while there. You can also wander Historic Hill, a district boasting some of the region’s loveliest homes, pack a picnic for the breezy Battery Park beneath the Newport Bridge, or immerse yourself in the tourist hot spot, Bowen’s Wharf.
Likewise, you absolutely must see Fort Adams State Park during your visit. As The Travel notes, “Fort Adams is a historical landmark that holds a deep significance in Newport (similar to the city’s oldest synagogue). From 1841 until the 20th century, Fort Adams stood proudly over the Brenton Cove. Today, the Fort Adams State Park is home to the fort, surrounded by a public recreation area. This free attraction is a great spot for fishing and picnicking, offering an expansive view of the Newport Bridge.”
And once again, it will cost you nothing to experience the park itself. Guided tours of the fort are generally in the range of $10 per adult and between $5 and free for children depending on their age.
8. Skip the Guided Tours
By the way, this is totally your call, but for those on a budget, it’s far more cost effective to route your own walking tour in lieu of the expensive guided tours targeting out-of-towners. Skip the pricey tour and instead do your own research. A combination of Google Maps, city guidebooks, and audio tours should give you everything you need to chart your own way around the city, to take in the key attractions, and to learn about each site’s unique history.
And here’s the great benefit of doing it this way. In addition to costing nothing, this gives you the freedom and knowledge to see Newport at your own speed. When your self-guided tour passes through a beautiful garden you have more time to stop and smell the roses, as it were. Alternatively, if your self-guided tour passes by a charming pub, you also have the time to pop in for a dozen oysters and a cold beverage.
9. Check the Events Calendar
While Newport has a reputation for its cost and opulence, it is also famous for its longstanding connection with the Jazz and Folk Festivals. This makes it a culturally rich destination at all times of year. Keep a close eye on the events calendar, where you’ll find a steady schedule of free events, street fairs, performances, and festivals.
If you haven’t landed on trip dates yet, you may even consider booking your trip around the wide variety of free events and festivals that take place throughout the year. Look for concerts, art exhibits, or cultural celebrations, many of which will offer free or low-cost admission.
You’ll also want to schedule a stop at the Newport Historical Society Resource Center, which not only offers free admission to its educational resources and historic artifacts, but which also frequently hosts cultural events and art exhibits, educational seminars, musical performances, and numerous other free and enriching experiences.
Check out the site and consult the events calendar, or just drop by for a visit during hours of operation. You can also learn a lot about upcoming events by following local social media accounts and websites.
10. Fish For Deals and Discounts
As long as you’re perusing local social media accounts, these can be a great place to find promotions, deals, and discounts, on top tourist attractions, bike rentals, lodging deals, restaurant bills, tickets for museum and mansion tours, tours of the elegant Newport vineyards, and much more.
You can also save a bunch of money on the top attractions by bundling them together through discount passes. For example, you can purchase the Newport Winter Festival bracelet or the Bristol Explorer Pass, both of which provide discounted admission to a number of top attractions in the area.
A little planning can also save you a ton on top attractions. Many of the museums and mansions around town offer discounted or even free admission during specific days or even specific times. Do your due diligence and map out your experiences based on the most affordable days and times to visit. Oh and if you’re planning on checking out the International Tennis Hall of Fame–and they have holograms now so you definitely should–the museum is entirely free to all visitors 16 and under!
For everything else, we strongly recommend scheduling a stop at Newport’s Visitor’s Center before diving into your getaway. You’ll find tons of pamphlets and brochures with promotions, coupons, and information about off-peak hour costs. This is also a great opportunity to ask the friendly people working behind the desk about any discounts or promotions that you might have missed. Get tips directly from informed locals on how to make your dollars go a little farther in Newport.
Bonus Tip: Look for Travel Offers With Your Credit Card Company
Make sure you’re taking advantage of your credit card travel rewards programs as you book your hotel, rent a car, buy a ticket for a flight, or dine at a restaurant. As you plan your Newport getaway, take a look at the offers that come with your current credit cards. See if you can earn cash back, travel points, frequent flier miles, discounts on gas and more.
If you don’t see these benefits with your current credit cards, it may be worth reviewing a few new offers. For instance, those booking a flight may want to consider signing up for the rewards program specific to their airline. This rewards club will usually give you access to a credit card with generous travel rewards and friendly perks like preferred boarding, reduced baggage fees, and even access to a customer lounge at the airport.
If, on the other hand, you plan to drive into Newport, start by checking out a few generous card offers that provide rewards for fueling up. Getting points and cash-back rebates at the pump can add to some excellent savings over the course of a vacation.
There are, in fact, lots of ways to save money if you’ll be taking a road trip to Newport. Naturally, when you’re driving, the cost of gas, tolls, and parking can add up. So before you hit the road, make sure you know all of the best ways to save money during your road trip.