Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.
Sightseeing in Newport, Rhode Island
Of all the magnificent mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, the grandest and most lavish certainly must be The Breakers. Considering that it was built as a summer cottage, it is hard to fathom that The Breakers as well as most of the other Gilded Age mansions of Newport, were only occupied for 6–8 weeks each summer.
Can you imagine owning a home as large and extravagant as this and only spending a handful of weeks there? But, considering that most of Newport’s mansions were owned by some of America’s wealthiest families, it makes sense that they owned more than one residence and moved between their homes as the seasons changed.
History of The Breakers
The Breakers was completed in 1895 and was the summer residence of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his family. He initially purchased the property in 1885, but the mansion that was on the grounds burned in 1892. In planning for the new home, Vanderbilt went to great expense to make the new mansion as safe as possible to avoid another fire.
The use of steel trusses, imported marble, and the limited use of wood all contributed to one of the finest examples of Italian Renaissance architecture during Newport’s Gilded Age. The incredible craftsmanship, décor, and period furnishings will take visitors back in time to a glorious period of American history when the titans of the Industrial Revolution spared no expense for their summer cottages.
Getting to The Breakers and Parking
The Breakers is located on Ochre Point Avenue and has a prime waterfront location with magnificent views of Easton Bay. There is plenty of parking available, and the lot is located directly across the street from the main entrance. Parking is free of charge. There are also bicycle racks, and this is a great way to explore Newport. The Trolley is another good option for getting around Newport, and it does stop at The Breakers. We rode our bikes and found it to be an easy and enjoyable ride.
Taking the App Based Tour
Visiting The Breakers is relatively easy to do, and while guided tours were offered pre-pandemic, now all tours are done using the Newport Preservation Society app. This allows visitors to move at their own pace, and I can vouch that the app-based system works well.
You can download the app before your visit by going to the App Store and searching for Newport Mansions. You will see docents in the building as you take your tour, and they are available and eager to answer any questions you may have. Your app-based tour of The Breakers includes the first and second floors as well as the Kitchen and Butler’s Pantry. You will also have access to the grounds, which I highly recommend.
What to Expect on the Tour
As you walk through the front gate of The Breakers, you will find the new Welcome Center, ticket office, and garden cafe to your left. After securing your ticket, you can proceed up the gravel driveway to the grand entrance.
Everything about this mansion is impressive, and as you enter the first floor, you will be greeted by the magnificent Great Hall and Grand Staircase. This is just the start of a tour that will leave you wondering, exactly how much space did this family need to live comfortably?
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The First Floor
The app-based tour will take you around the first floor and then up to the second floor, where the family’s bedrooms were located. The Great Hall on the first floor was certainly designed with entertaining in mind, and the four massive chandeliers hanging from the ceiling are impressive. The room measures an incredible 50 feet wide by 50 feet long by 50 ft high. The ceiling is painted a sky blue with clouds, giving the impression of being outside. The large doors open to a vast patio overlooking the backyard that must have hosted many a social gathering.
Other rooms on the first floor included in the tour are the magnificent Dining Room, Library, Music Room, Billiards Room, Breakfast Room, and the Kitchen with its shiny copper pots and pans dangling from above. As part of his attempt to keep The Breakers from having another devastating fire, Vanderbilt had the kitchen built on the first floor away from the main house instead of the customary basement location.
Adjacent to the kitchen is the Butler’s Pantry, which has a second-floor mezzanine and is stunning with the Vanderbilt’s fine China on display. The pantry has a large safe built into the wall that was used to store the family’s silver, which was no doubt worth a small fortune.
The Second Floor
While The Breakers contains over thirty bedrooms, most of them were for the staff and were located on the third floor. Surprisingly, the second floor contained just enough bedrooms for the immediate family and a few guests. The Vanderbilt’s didn’t need a lot of guest bedrooms because most of their friends and acquaintances had their own mansions to go home to. The tour will take you through the bedrooms of Mr. Vanderbilt, his wife Alice, daughter Gertrude, daughter Gladys (Countess Szechenyi), and a guest room.
The second-floor balcony, or upper loggia as it’s referred to, opens to the scenic expanse of the backyard and Easton’s Bay. As you tour the second floor, be sure to enjoy the great views of the Great Hall and the Grand Staircase. From this vantage point, you really get a sense of the magnitude of the Great Hall.
Gardens and Backyard
When you are done touring the inside of The Breakers, venture outside and spend some time exploring the gardens and the backyard. A staff of 20 maintained the grounds, and they certainly must have kept busy to keep the property in meticulous shape. It’s a beautiful, tranquil, setting and if the surf is up, you may be able to hear the waves breaking on the rocks below, hence the name, The Breakers.
Most of Newport’s mansions have huge backyards that front the water and maintaining the grounds and gardens was an expensive and labor-intensive undertaking. The property of The Breakers encompasses 14 finely-manicured acres and has recently undergone a revival project that will be completed in phases over 5-years. It’s certainly not hard to imagine the grand parties that must have taken place here every summer.
If you’re planning to tour more than just one of the mansions, ask about the multi-mansion ticket or consider purchasing a one-year dual membership to the Newport Preservation Society, which will get you and a guest into all their properties for a year.
The Breakers Visitor Information
- Open daily from 10 am to 6 pm, with the last admission at 5 pm.
- Starting November 1, the last admission is at 4 pm.
- Adults: $26
- Youth: $8
- Duo Ticker: $34 (admission to any 2 properties)
- Duo Youth: $10
- Summer Passport $42 (admission to any 3 properties, valid through November)
- Youth Passport $12
- Dual Membership $80 (entry into all the properties of the NPS for 2 adults for 1 year)
When to Visit
Hopefully, you enjoyed this brief tour of Newport’s most opulent mansion, and you get to explore it for yourself. When planning your visit to Newport, remember that it will be packed with tourists during the peak summer months. Consider a visit in early to mid-spring or in the fall when temperatures are more comfortable, the crowds are smaller, and accommodations are less expensive. Another wonderful time to visit The Breakers is during the Christmas Holiday when they decorate the mansion for the season.
There is a lot to discover in Newport in addition to the mansions, and it has many excellent restaurants. It’s a wonderful place for an extended weekend visit or longer, and there is plenty to see and do to keep you busy.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Bill De Giulio