Newport, Rhode Island is not just a summertime destination. It offers a wintertime experience, particularly at Christmas, that’s perfect for families to celebrate the season with the greatest enthusiasm. Throughout December weekends, the area’s event calendar is filled with family activities. We couldn’t even begin to do them all, but here are our favorite ways to celebrate the Christmas season in Newport.
A Family Christmas in Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island is an incredibly popular tourist destination in the summertime when its marinas are filled with sailboats from around the world. There seems to be a festival for food or music happening most of the time. The Rhode Island beaches are full of swimmers and sunbathers. Kite flyers clamor to Brenton Point State Park, and it’s all exquisite.
But winter can be just as magical. Newport offers many activities and events to make the holiday season bright.
Join our NEW Facebook Community: Making Travel Easier. We promise to always tell you what we would tell our best friend -- what works for kids, what doesn’t and what you need to know before you go to have the Best. Family. Vacation. Ever. Our group of travel experts are ready to answer your travel questions!
Christmas in Newport at the Mansions
The most obvious attractions are the famed Newport Mansions decorated for the holidays. Santa is usually around on Sundays to welcome families.
My daughter is old enough to enjoy the Newport Mansions and occasionally listen to the family tour provided at the Breakers. To increase her interest, she has read two books about a girl her age named Kissimmee, who lived during the Gilded Age in Bristol Hall, a fictional neighbor to the famed cottages. These books are available at Amazon as well as the gift shops at the Mansions.
For my five year old, I explain that we are following a beautiful maze in a home that leads to a toy store. He dutifully follows all of the “Tour continues” signs, asking me “Is this the way to the toy store?”
The Breakers has a particularly well-stocked children’s section with a variety of toys, so this trick works best at this house.
Our family loves The Elms for its gorgeous trees on their grounds. We often head straight to the grounds and skip the house tour if our kids want to run around.
For the Outdoorsy Family
Weather can be a range from cool to cold in December, so we didn’t walk the Cliff Walk or explore the rocks along Brenton Point State Park like we usually do. The drive is still spectacular in any weather.
We had intentions to take an hour-long seal cruise to observe the harbor seals near the Newport Harbor, but the temperatures proved too much for us in the coats we had packed. We had to skip it this trip.
The Newport Christmas Stroll
We live only about an hour away from Newport, so we are regular visitors to the area. We were excited to participate in the weekend stroll, a tradition in many New England towns. We were familiar with the stroll in Nantucket, where the town center inaugurates the launch of the holiday shopping season with special events to lure gift-buyers into the stores.
In Newport, Bowen’s Wharf is the center of waterfront action. We grabbed lunch at Diego’s, a family favorite for solid California-Mexican standbys. The Cookie Jar next door offers an obvious dessert option.
My children had behaved so well at the Newport Mansions, I decided to reward them on a day getting increasingly rainy to visit the arcade nearby, Ryan’s Family Amusements. Similar to a Chuck E. Cheese establishment, parents convert dollars into tokens (on a card) that earn points for prizes. After $50 spent on games rigged against us, we left with many fun moments, an emoji pillow, and a pair of toy cuff links.
Cookie Decorating at the Vanderbilt Grace
The Vanderbilt Grace participated in the Holiday Stroll by offering a holiday cookie decorating class on Sunday afternoons. This event gets increasingly more full as the holiday approaches, so reservations are necessary.
The Vanderbilt Grace transformed one of their large suites into a sugar cookie paradise. Each child pays $25 to participate. Waters, coffee, and the most deliciously thick house-made hot chocolate are offered. A kids’ Christmas movie plays for the really little ones whose attention spans last for one cookie.
My kids, however, dug into this project with complete focus and attention. They hung onto every word of Pastry Chef Tricia and followed all of her tips for decorating cookies in the shapes of snowmen, trees, snowflakes, and Santas. It was too tempting not to join them at the spare work area, and we decorated a few dozen cookies that looked as good as they tasted.
Read More: More Hotels that Dress Up for the Holidays
The Hotel Viking – The Choice for Families
We left with white pastry boxes filled with cookies and plans to return next year.
Families will have a hard time finding a more family-friendly hotel than the Hotel Viking. The hotel has had many refurbishments over its 88 years as Newport’s first grand hotel, and its family offerings keep getting better.
A kids’ welcome bag include a plush toy, crayons, and a Viking Hotel coloring book of hotel and surrounding area. The hotel added a game room since our last visit, and my kids were delighted by the air hockey, basketball, bean bag tosses, and board games.
The fact that Hotel Viking also boasts an indoor pool cinches it for us as the family hotel of choice in Newport. Our double queen room was comfortable, and its atypical décor of painted furniture delighted my daughter.
Afternoon tea is well attended on the weekends at the Hotel Viking, which we have enjoyed before. There are other teas, but they are not in places where young children are welcome.
Our stay coincided with their annual dinner with Grinch and Santa event in the hotel ballroom. A family friendly buffet, cash bar, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus mingled with guests who were mostly local families.
After my children wrote letters to Santa, we met him and his wife, and then the ballroom doors burst open to an incredibly well-costumed Grinch. As the classic holiday song in his name took over the sweet carols preceding, it was enough to make a jittery two-year-old screech. But this Grinch was a pro and began dancing and high-fiving everyone in the crowd.
The S’Mores buffet and bonfires were a perfect dessert, and we made friends with other children while forgetting the cold temperatures outside.
So Much Fun, So Little Time
We always leave Newport feeling like we didn’t get to do all that we had wanted. It is a robust family destination with many options. Discover Newport offers event calendars and resources to help families find things to do in a city that many assume is for those before kids and those after the kids leave, but Newport works for everyone.
This particular time we left Newport was one to go down in our family lore. We had to cut our stay short, but I promised the kids a full day to enjoy the hotel pool I couldn’t get them out of. After they showered, dried their hair, donned Pj’s, we got in the car to head home.
While leaving the outskirts of Newport, my daughter screamed with the drama that a ten-year-old can, “Mom, he just locked us in his handcuffs, and he LOST the key!” I hadn’t inspected the handcuffs my son selected earlier that day in the arcade as a prize. I had completely forgotten about them.
Thirty seconds after she announced the situation in the backseat, I drove by the Middletown police department, made a fast left turn, and in we went. The officer on duty watched as two children in matching Hanna Andersen Christmas pajamas approached, walking closely together.
“Hi,” I asked with a big smile. “Can you do something about this?” as I swung their arms up for her to see their hands cuffed together. The officer was probably a mom, too, and she gave me that secret mom nod, telling me she was ready to set things right. In the bright lights of the police station, I could see a tiny release switch on the cuffs that was too hard to see in the dark backseat.
I released them quickly in a state of giggles and hurried us all away with a thanks and a smile before she suspected something was off with me. It was an ending worthy of a historic weekend and a fabulous photo souvenir that smartphones clearly were invented to immortalize.