Tracy Lee Karner

26 on-the-cheap hours in Newport and Bristol, Rhode Island

Tracy Lee Karner
The Breakers Mansion, seen from the Cliff Walk in Newport

Newport has historically been a summer get-away for the über-wealthy. But you don’t have to be one of Mrs. Astor’s 400 to enjoy a delightful, high-class escape from the rigors of daily life.

  • Tip: If you’re not a total GPS-savvy techno-geek, before you travel, print out this handy (free) Newport Harbor Map for your wanderings

Then get yourself to southern Rhode Island and spend 26  hours enjoying its special ambience on-the-cheap (or, if you feel flush, choose the ooh-la-la tour). In any case, dress classy-resort-y. This is Newport, after all (but wear comfortable shoes, for your tootsies’ sake!)

  • It’s not the very cheapest place around, but its convenient location and pleasant rooms make this well worth the price. For the best rates, plan your trip plenty ahead, figure on staying mid-week, and when making your reservation, ask when their rates are going to be lowest (To make certain you’re getting the best deal, check the rate posted on kayak before you reserve. Follow the prompts, enter your dates, and then type Newport Harbor Hotel in the “Hotel Name” box on the left ).
  • If you’re willing to drive back and forth from the harbor to your bed (and you have the temperament to fiddle around trying to find parking in Newport), you can use Kayak to book an even cheaper room in nearby Middletown (but remember, parking–if you can find it–will cost $3/hour).

I’ll pay a little more and stay at the harbor for 3 reasons:

  1. I waste less of my precious Newport time if I’m not driving to and from one of the budget chain places in Middletown;
  2. I have less parking cost/hassle when I stay at Newport Harbor Hotel (I can park one car at the hotel for $15 during high season, and for free off-season);
  3. and I can retreat to my very nice room anytime I want to put my feet up in a tranquil, private place away from the crowd.


  • Take the Newport Harbor Shuttle (at $10 for a one-hour round trip, it’s the cheapest boat ride in Newport). Board at  the Marine Terminal/Perrotti Park (don’t be late, the shuttle stops running entirely at 6:00).

the 2 best ways to get around on land:

  1. Use your map and walk: stroll upper Thames area (between the Common Burial Ground and Memorial Boulevard and between the Harbor and Spring Street); explore the Harbor area while you window shop, look at yachts; and don’t forget to check out lower Thames (on the other side of Memorial) where some of the most unique shops are located. Skip the Brick Marketplace shops–you can see all that stuff in every suburban area of America.
  2. Take the Trolley from the Gateway Visitor’s Center. The map/schedule is here.  (Fare is $6 for hop on-and-off privileges; ask for an all-day pass when you first board). The visitor’s center can tell you where to get on. Get off at Bellevue and Ruggles, then take the Cliff Walk down to Easton Beach. Take your shoes off and cool your tootsies in the surf. From the beach, it’s a 6-block walk back up Memorial Blvd. to Bellevue (this map gives an overview of all of Newport). Gawk at the mansions. When you’re weary of walking, hop on the trolley going back toward town (wait at the posted “trolley” signs).


  • pop into the historic White Horse Tavern on Marlborough Street and sit at the bar. This is the oldest continuously operating tavern in the United States (since 1673, just imagine). It’s worth seeing. The food is good, too, but to enjoy that treat, you’ll have to come back when you’re not doing Newport on-the-cheap.


  • Smoke House is the groovy open-sided, great-smelling place on the harbor-side of America’s Cup Avenue between Bowen’s Wharf and Memorial Boulevard. Their BBQ isn’t super-cheap (but it’s super-good, and the smaller meals are under $20). For me, their reasonably-priced appetizers, soups and salads are each generous enough to make an entire meal.  But I’m not saying that you ought to resist splurging on the BBQ–my hubby always gets the Q and I nab a taste. (31 Scotts Wharf, 401-848-9800, noon-10 Sun-Thur; noon-midnight Fri-Sat)
  • Panini Grill phone in and pick up your sandwiches, then cross the street to find a harbor-side  park bench. (186 Thames St. 40- 847-7784, 11 – 9)
  • Franklin Spa for a tasty old-fashioned breakfast. (229 Spring Street; 401-847-3540)
  • and pick up wine to open in your hotel room, if you wish, at retail, not marked-up restaurant prices, from Newport Wine Cellar. ( 24 Bellevue Avenue, 401-619-3966)

Meander and explore all evening long, and tomorrow morning. 

  • Watch the sunset; window shop; have a cup of coffee, some gelato, a cup of clam chowder; enjoy all the historic architecture; and definitely do a little unobtrusive and enlightening eavesdropping.

SHOPS I WOULDN’T WANT TO MISS  (just browsing–I don’t buy anything when i’m sticking to a budget): 

11:00 am is CHECK-OUT. Go spend the next 4 hours just up the coast in Bristol.

  • Take a half-hour drive north on RI-114 to visit the impressive Blithewold Mansion and Gardens in Bristol (less expensive & less crowded than the Newport mansions; open Tue-Sun and Holiday Mondays, mid-April through Columbus Day and at Christmas Time);
  • Have a late lunch (avoid the lunch-rush crowds) at Aiden’s Pub–their extensive menu offers plenty of options for budget-dining. You can sit indoors or out.
  • Burn off some calories strolling around the sweetly quieter, lovely town of Bristol.

You can squeeze a whole lot of relax-time into 24 on-the-cheap hours in Newport/Bristol.  And it’s definitely easier to chill-out, when you’re not stressed out from too much splurging!
So–where do you go when you want to relax for 24 hours without breaking the bank?

14 thoughts on “26 on-the-cheap hours in Newport and Bristol, Rhode Island”

  1. Wow, lots of good advice! And I never heard of mansion in Bristol – this will be a great place to visit! Thank you!

    1. I’m glad you like it. People always ask us how we find all this stuff. Wherever we go, we’re always digging up things, people and places that many of the locals have never noticed. I think it’s because we’re just naturally curious, and we walk a lot a gawk a lot, and ask a LOT of questions of everyone. Stick with us, we’ll show you an interesting time! (I’m planning on doing a day set in Connecticut a few months from now…)

    1. Thanks, Linda. I would get a whole lot more done, if I didn’t feel compelled to put so much thought and detail into everything I write. 😉
      But then, I really do want to write useful itineraries. I figure all I have to offer, really, is my honest experience and opinions. And I have been really frustrated by online and magazine/newspaper “itineraries” that don’t really say anything helpful or new, but are just a repeat of the same few places/activities everyone else is already talking about. I really am trying to share what WE do when we travel, because we enjoy what we see/experience and I imagine a few other, like-minded people, might, too. I hope.

  2. I get rid of everyone at home, I rent a couple of movie I have been wanting to watch for years and I read my book without any interruption. If only I could make this come true! 😉
    Your itinerary sounds great, Tracy!

    1. My biggest craving was for some solitude when my children were toddlers–it just NEVER happened that I could be alone and do what I wanted for longer than 5 minutes. And then they grew up.
      I still can’t believe how fast it went.

  3. A nice post, Tracy Lee. I love going to Newport for a day or two as it is only a couple of hours drive away. I’m hoping to meet friends during the time the historic mansions are decorated for Christmas but they are wonderful to visit anytime of the year.

    1. The mansions really are amazing–Christmas is my favorite time of year, too. Thanks for stopping by my blog!
      And I hope you get to enjoy the mansions with your friends during the holiday season.

    1. It’s definitely my kind of fun…
      I love seeing new places, but I just never get tired of exploring all the nooks and crannies in New England–we’ve been here for years, and keep turning up new discoveries and insights. There’s so much diversity in a relatively small area (hard to imagine that all of New England area could fit into Texas five times!)

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