I know what you’re thinking. Summer seems like the perfect time to visit Rhode Island, stroll along the cliff walk, and visit the mansions. I know! I did it. But, there is something extra magical about seeing the mansions all decorated for Christmas. Yes, it can be extremely cold, but you’ll be inside for most of the time anyway. Plus, you can get a deal! The mansions sell a winter day pass that allows your to visit the four main homes (The Breakers, The Elms, Marble House, and Rosecliff) for only $35. You can use the pass during the holiday celebrations! And while you could probably see all four mansions in one day, it can get a bit monotonous. I recommend taking two days to enjoy them all, plus you’ll have time in the evenings to explore Newport and nearby Providence!
When visiting the mansions, you can meander at your own pace, because each home offers an audio tour for its visitors. You can play the tour on your own borrowed headset as you wander in and out of each room. I found it fascinating to listen to the stories of how the mansions were built and who lived there. Even better? The audio tours are offered for free with your admission. Most of the tours end in the kitchen of each mansion – where you’ll find a gingerbread house replica of each house! (Side note: Rosecliff’s gingerbread house is in The Breakers’ kitchen.)
Might as well start with my favorite and the most famous mansion. After visiting all four, my friend and I agreed that The Breakers was our favorite. Something about the opulence of the main hall with the 15-foot poinsettia tree just resonated with me. It’s the epitome of the Gilded Age. The Breakers used to be a summer home for the renowned Vanderbilt family, built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II around the same time that his uncle built Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.
One of my favorite rooms at The Breakers was the Billiards Room. Much darker than the rest of the mansion, you can tell that this is where the Vanderbilts entertained themselves. You an see the acorn (the Vanderbilt family emblem) continued through the tiled floor. There is also a turtle hiding in the mosaic – can you find it?
The best part about The Breakers is that the second floor is completely open in the middle, with the hallways making a circle around the center. This allows you to look down on the main ballroom and take in the beautiful views of the house. The first floor also boasts a ‘grotto’ complete with a water fountain. The far side of the house has ceilings painted with the seasons in French.
Facts about The Breakers:
Built from 1893-1895.
Sits on 13 acres.
Contains 70 rooms and 62,482 square feet of living area.
Worth about $150 million today (2018).
Members of the Vanderbilt family lived on the third floor of the home (which is not open to visitors) until January 2018.
Modeled after a French chateau, the Berwind family from Pennsylvania were the original owners of The Elms. One of my favorite features of the property was the sprawling backyard, which was pretty private and great for taking photos.
If you have the time (and the money), you can do an additional tour at The Elms to go ‘Behind the Scenes’. This tour takes you to the underground tunnel, servants quarters, and offers a rooftop view. If you choose that option, it’s best to call ahead to reserve a time so it doesn’t get sold out!
Facts about The Elms:
Built from 1899 to 1901.
Sits on 10 acres of land.
Contains 60 rooms with over 60,000 sqauare feet of living area.
Worth about $45 million today (2018).
By far the most expensive of the Newport Mansions, Marble House was another Vanderbilt family legacy. Built by the brother of The Breakers, the design of Marble House was inspired by the Palace of Versailles in Paris. It is said that Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt wanted the home to showcase art. Being made out of marble, it did just that! One of my favorite features of the house was the second story overlooking the kitchen. In the cabinets you can find dishes printed with “Votes for women” since Marble House was the site for Alva’s gatherings for the women’s suffrage movement. If you’re looking for a more in-depth look at Marble House, fellow travel blogger Hanna wrote all about it!
Facts about Marble House:
Built from 1888 to 1892.
Sits on 4 acres of land.
Contains 50 rooms.
Worth about $300 million today (2018).
William Vanderbilt ‘gifted’ the mansion to his wife, Alva, for her 39th birthday… before they divorced a few years later.
Marble House has been used in several films including The Great Gatsby (1974) and 27 Dresses (2008).
While Rosecliff does not technically participate in ‘Christmas at the Newport Mansions’, it is included in the winter daypass, so it is worth a visit when you’re there! Commissioned by Theresa Oelrichs to replicate a French garden, Rosecliff has become a sight to see. The grand ballroom has to be my favorite spot in the mansion, with the ‘sweetheart staircase’ a close second. With floor-to-ceiling windows along both sides and a ceiling covered in blue skies and clouds, the room is like a breath of fresh air. Rosecliff used to be the site of many elaborate gatherings and parties – including one attended by Houdini!
Upstairs there is an art gallery with rotating exhibitions as well as a bridal suite. Rosecliff is the site for many weddings – if you can afford it!
Facts about Rosecliff:
Built from 1899 to 1902.
Sits on 21 acres of land.
Worth about $75 million today (2018).
Can be rented for private events.
Rosecliff has also been used in several films including The Great Gatsby (1974), Amistad (1997), and True Lies (1994).
Christmas at the Newport Mansions continues through the end of December. If you have the chance, definitely check it out! And if you’re looking for more things to do in the area, I’ve written guides for both Newport and Providence. Rhode Island may be the smallest state, but it has so much charm to offer!
Have you been to the mansions? Which one is your favorite? Let me know in the comments!