New England's superlative walk by the sea—the Newport Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island—allows you to traipse through the backyards of this historic city's spectacular mansions and private homes, admiring the ocean views that made this stretch of coast so alluring to America's rich and famous at the tail end of the 19th century. A stroll along this 3.5-mile pathway is a multi-sensory experience that is a must for Newport visitors in all but the most ferocious New England weather. You'll see architectural artistry that is only outdone by the majesty of the Atlantic, which provides a soothing soundtrack for your stroll.
During America's Gilded Age, just before the advent of the 20th century, the colonial city of Newport became a playground for wealthy families, who built opulent "cottages" along the shore, which they occupied chiefly during the sparkling summer season. Development of segments of what we now know as the Cliff Walk began around 1880. The path that stretches along the coast had been trodden for centuries first by indigenous Narragansett people and then by European settlers.
The Army Corps of Engineers stepped in during the early 1970s to make the walkway, which suffered damage during New England's two most devastating hurricanes in 1938 and 1954, safe for public use. In 1975, the Newport Cliff Walk was designated New England's first National Recreation Trail. Its precarious oceanside location necessitates continual repairs and maintenance. It's an investment in what has long been the most popular attraction in this destination that has more to see and do than other cities its size.
Newport's Cliff Walk is one of the most romantic walks in all of New England and access is free. It's a great spot for a romantic stroll between touring Newport's mansions and upper-crust restaurants, and although there are access points to enter the sea, taking a dip could be dangerous depending on the weather. Even if you only walk a short segment of the Cliff Walk, you'll love this chance to admire coastal views that once enchanted America's elite families. Bicycles are prohibited on the Cliff Walk, but dogs are allowed as long as they stay on leash.
The northern half of the Cliff Walk is the easiest portion to navigate. The walkway is paved here, and sturdy fences protect you from taking a tumble as you walk along the oceanside cliffs. If you intend to go the entire 3.5-mile distance, though, be prepared with sturdy footwear, as conditions along the final mile or so of the trail are rough and much more challenging.
Best Time to Visit: You can visit the Cliff Walk any day of the year between sunrise and sunset. Of course, you might want to skip the Cliff Walk if the weather is rainy, icy, or bitterly cold. During the Newport Daffodil Days Festival, also known as Daffy Days, in the spring, more than one million daffodil bulbs are blooming along the Cliff Walk and throughout the city.
Accessibility: The northern, beginning stretch of the Cliff Walk is wide and paved, so it is the most accessible segment of the trail is doable with a stroller. It is not flat, however, and parking limitations mean the Cliff Walk is not very handicapped accessible.
Travel Tips: Make sure to use the restroom facilities at Easton's Beach before setting out on your trek. There are no other permanent public restroom facilities along the Cliff Walk.
Cliff Walk Highlights
There are many worthwhile sights along the Cliff Walk, here are some highlights from north to the south
- The Forty Steps: At the end of Narraganset Avenue, you can count the steps of this staircase which will lead you straight to the ocean. The stone staircase is not the original one, which was built in the 1800s, but it is much safer and sturdier.
- Salve Regina University: Arguably the most scenically-situated campus in Rhode Island, and maybe all of New England, look out for Ochre Court and other architecturally significant buildings on the 80-acre grounds like McAuley Hall and the O'Hare Academic Center.
- The Breakers: You'll see many public mansions along the route, including Rosecliff and Rough Point, but the most magnificent and impressive mansion of all is The Breakers. This 70-room palazzo was designed by Richard Morris Hunt for Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt.
- The Marble House: Another must-see Newport mansion designed for members of the Vanderbilt family by Richard Morris Hunt, the home is now a museum and open daily for tours. One of the most notable parts of this home is the Chinese Tea House which was built on the cliffs.
In Newport, Rhode Island, there are many ways to stay occupied beyond touring the mansions and strolling along the cliffs, although those are the city's main attractions, from trolley and boat tours to sweet treats.
- Take a Trolley Tour: This is a fun and affordable way to see the city and you'll have different itineraries to choose from, depending on if you want to see all the mansions or take the scenic route.
- Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth: If you want to see candy being made before your eyes, pay a visit to Newport Fudgery, a candy shop famous for its saltwater taffy and chocolate fudge.
- Get Out on the Water: If all the sailboats on the water inspire you to get out there yourself, you can sign up for a 90-minute harbor cruise with Classic Cruises of Newport. For the best views, go during sunset.
- Visit Easton's Beach: Newport's largest beach may not have a lot of sand for sunbathing, but there is a boardwalk where you can indulge in some classic New England lobster rolls.
Newport is located in the southeastern corner of Rhode Island, 36 miles south of the capital of Providence via either I-95 and RI-238 if you take the western route through Warwick, or I-195 and RI-114 if you go east, briefly crossing over into Massachusetts, before reentering Rhode Island to go south towards Portsmouth. Between May and October, you can also take the ferry from Providence which takes about an hour.
Route 67 is your public transportation alternative to hiking the entire Cliff Walk in both directions, but you will still need to walk an additional distance to meet up with the bus. If you've parked at the Newport Gateway Visitors Center on America's Cup Avenue, the bus will return you to this central hub. You needn't worry about getting "lost" along Newport's Cliff Walk. Large signs indicate cross streets, which lead out to Bellevue Avenue, the main "mansion drag" in Newport.
Newport's Cliff Walk begins at the western end of Easton's Beach at Memorial Boulevard and continues south with alternate entrance points at Narragansett Avenue, Webster Street, Sheppard Avenue, Ruggles Avenue, Marine Avenue, Ledge Road, and Bellevue Avenue at the east end of Bailey's Beach.