NEWPORT, R.I. — Newport is known for its summer splendor: boating, long sunny days, the Newport Jazz Festival, a resort atmosphere. But there is life in this swanky seaside town in the winter months too. Its famous mansions are decorated for the holidays and host concerts and performances. You can tour the city by lantern. And while Newport is known as a pricey destination, an offseason wintertime stay can be more affordable. Plus it’s much less crowded than in those hot summer months.
Newport’s holiday festivities have also grown over the years. Some attractions, like the holiday mansion tours, start in November and go through to early January, said Kathryn Farrington, vice president of marketing for The Newport and Bristol County Convention and Visitors Bureau. And Christmas in Newport, which started as a two-week festival in 1971, now lasts through December, with events listed on its calendar for nearly every day of the month at christmasinnewport.org. The organization also coordinates an effort to make sure that only clear Christmas bulbs are displayed along the harbor, at restored Colonial homes and at businesses. The lights are intended to simulate the soft, historic look of candlelight.
All these attractions make the city a big draw for families this time of year. “It’s so wholesome,” Farrington said. “You want to grab hold of it and you want your children to experience it and you want it to be educational as well as experiential.”
Here are some details. Some events do sell out, so plan ahead with reservations and advance tickets where possible.
The city’s Gilded Age mansions come alive for the holidays with decorations and performances, providing a different twist for tourists who have visited at other times of the year. The Breakers, The Elms, and Marble House are decorated and open through Jan. 2 (last tour on Christmas Eve is at 3 p.m.; closed Christmas Day). Santa will visit The Breakers Dec. 5, Marble House Dec. 12, and The Elms Dec. 19 from noon to 3 p.m. Visitors wanting to see all three houses can get a pass for $28 for adults, $9 for children up to 17. Details at newportmansions.org. The Preservation Society of Newport County also hosts evening visits, complete with eggnog, cider and live music from Victorian carolers and others, on Dec. 4 and 11 at The Breakers (6 p.m.-8 p.m.) and Dec. 18 at both The Elms and Marble House ($28 in advance, $10 for children).
Another mansion, Rosecliff, hosts performances of Newport Nutcracker at Rosecliff, performed by the Island Moving Co., through Dec. 3. Tickets start at $65 for adults, $45 for children; details at islandmovingco.org.
Get a behind-the-scenes look at Rough Point, the estate of tobacco heiress Doris Duke. She spent the holidays in Hawaii, but a special tour called “UnDecked Halls” shows how her staff decorated their wing for the holidays in her absence and cared for the home. The tours are scheduled for Dec. 4, 11, 18 and 29, and are put on by Duke’s Newport Restoration Foundation; details at newportrestoration.org. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for children under 12. Hawaiian Christmas music will be playing, and photos of Duke celebrating the holiday in Hawaii will also be on display.
The holidays in Newport offer a look at Christmas past even farther back than the Gilded Age. Visit the Samuel Whitehorne House, an early 1800s Federal-style home, weekends in December, and listen as two Whitehorne daughters prepare for Christmas. Even sample their recipes, for just $5. Details at newportrestoration.org.
The Newport Historical Society —newporthistorical.org— has regular evening Holiday Lantern Tours through Newport streets, with tales of how Colonial residents celebrated — or did not, as the society points out — the holidays, Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 17 at 5 p.m. Tickets are $12 per adult, $5 for children. On Dec. 4 and Dec. 11, there are tours of the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House (which dates to 1697) with a guide in Colonial costume sharing how residents stayed warm in the winter. Tickets are $15 for adults.
The nation’s oldest synagogue, Touro Synagogue, is located in Newport and also worth a tour. Ground was broken on the Georgian building in 1759 and it was dedicated four years later. Touro is open for tours on Sundays, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., with the last tour at 1:30 p.m.; adults, $12, children 12 and under, free. Details at tourosynagogue.org.
In the summer, there’s sailing. In the winter, try ice skating at the Sovereign Bank Family Skating Center at Newport Yachting Center. The 30th annual tree lighting there kicks off the skating season on Dec. 10. Adult admission, $7, children 3 to 11, $5; details at skatenewport.com.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum hosts a holiday open house on Dec. 11 with Santa reading The Night Before Christmas. Entry is free with a donation of a food item. The poem was written by Clement Clarke Moore, a summer resident of Newport who died there in 1863. Details at tennisfame.com.
Newport is about 90 miles south of Boston and 35 miles south of Providence. For lodging, name your own prices at websites such as Priceline.com. A recent stay at the Hyatt Regency Newport cost $90 for a night, much less than the $150 advertised price. Or stay in one of Newport’s historic homes at a bed-and-breakfast. Check out your options at the Newport County Bed & Breakfast Association, newportribedandbreakfast.com.