Settled in 1639, Newport  first became prominent as a prosperous international seaport (and a player in the rum and slave trades) until the British occupation in 1776. Once the Revolutionary War ended, it soon began its life as America’s first resort—drawing artists and writers first, followed by the country’s captains of industry.
By the middle of the 19th century, almost any family with a big name (from Edith Wharton to the Vanderbilts) and an even bigger trust had a summer “cottage” (read: mansion) on Ocean Drive or Bellevue Avenue. And those who didn’t had friends to visit here, and were thus still a part of the town’s culture. (One prime example: Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose visits to see friend Samuel Ward—brother of Julia Ward Howe—in Newport inspired his works The Skeleton in Armor and The Jewish Cemetery.) Since then, everyone from President Kennedy to Billy Joel has had homes here.
Newport  is an easy drive from Boston  (approximately an hour and a half), New York City  (about three hours), or Providence  (about one hour). It’s also a fairly quick bus ride from Providence; Rhode Island Transportation Authority (RIPTA, 401/781-9400, www.ripta.com ) runs from both downtown Providence and the airport. From Boston, Peter Pan Bus (888/751-8800, www.peterpan.com ) offers service to and from Newport a few times each day.
RIPTA buses run all over the major attraction areas of Newport, including Thames Street, Bellevue Avenue, and right to the Cliff Walk . One-way fare is $1.50. There are also several taxi companies, the most dependable of which is Cozy Cab (401/846-2500, www.cozytrans.com ). RIPTA also stops at towns along the Sakonnet Peninsula . To really do the area justice, however, you’ll want a car to explore the back roads.