For great food, culture, and community fun, mark your calendar for these can’t-miss annual Newport, RI, events.
By Yankee Magazine
Feb 13 2018
Newport International Boat Show | Favorite Newport, RI, EventsPhoto Credit : Courtesy of Newport International Boat Show
Seen from the water, the Rhode Island city of Newport can look like a 19th-century painting, with its many colonial buildings clustered around a harbor filled with sailboats and punctuated by the 150-foot spire of the 1726 Trinity Church. But of course Newport, a one-time shipping hub turned resort town, is today an active participant in the 21st century, drawing visitors with its modern shopping, dining, and entertainment scenes.
Among the best times to visit this coastal charmer are during its signature celebrations and festivals, which run the gamut from seafood feasts on the waterfront to elegant Christmas displays at grand mansions. Here are some of our favorite Newport, RI, events to mark on the calendar.
The state’s oldest St. Patrick’s Day Parade is held rain or shine — or even blizzard: Back in the mid-1980s, Newport was reportedly the only East Coast city to go forward with its scheduled parade when a major snowstorm blanketed the region. The parade steps off from City Hall at 11 a.m. and winds down Thames Street to the Fifth Ward, the historic heart of Newport’s Irish community. Expect bagpipe bands, fife and drum corps, clowns, and reenactment groups (Revolutionary and Civil wars). This year: March 14, 2020
Any lingering winter dreariness is banished during this celebration of all things green and gold. Over the past several years, volunteers have been planting like crazy to bring the daffodil count in the City by the Sea to more than 1 million (making Newport “the daffiest city in America,” according to organizers), and the results are on full display during this festival. Highlights range from a “Driving Miss Daffodil” car rally and classic car show, a “Tour de Jonquilles” bike ride through bloom-lined streets, and a parade of dogs dressed up like, yep, daffodils. This year: April 24–May 3, 2020
From doughnuts and whoopie pies to barbecue and lobster rolls, more than 25 of New England’s most popular food trucks will dish out fan favorites while an array of national and regional craft beers will quench your thirst. Lawn games and music ensure fun for the whole family (kids 12 and younger are admitted free). This year: May 16–17, 2020
Started in 2016, this Bowen’s Wharf event is a relative newcomer to the Newport scene — but it’s been a hit with bivalve lovers from the get-go, so grab your tickets in advance. The focus is on the bounty of a dozen Rhode Island oyster farmers (offering Watch Hills, Matunucks, Salt Ponds, Aquidnecks, and more), who will be shucking alongside local restaurant pros under festival tents. In addition to lots of first-class slurping, there will be live music and contests, signature drinks, and a variety of food from favorite Newport eateries. This year: May 30–31, 2020
Nearly 10,000 plant lovers turn up each year for what is arguably — given its setting at the Grand Trianon–style mansion Rosecliff — the classiest flower show in all of New England. While the theme changes from year to year (for 2020, it’s “Voices in the Garden”), the three-day extravaganza always kicks off with a not-to-be-missed opening-night party and continues through the weekend with lectures, demonstrations, garden displays, judged horticultural specimens and floral designs, and even children’s activities. Separate ticketed events worth checking out include an afternoon tea and a champagne and jazz brunch. All proceeds go toward the Preservation Society of Newport County’s landscape restoration efforts at its 11 historic properties. This year: June 19–21, 2020
In November, even before the lineup is set, tickets for the Newport Folk Festival go on sale, and the fact that most are snapped up in a matter of hours is a testament to the staying power of this musical celebration, which was first held in 1959. From those early years of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, it’s evolved into a three-day stand based at beautiful Fort Adams State Park and featuring not just folk but indie rock, blues, reggae, and more. Among this year’s performers: Randy Newman, EOB, Big Thief, and CAAMP. (And FYI, if you didn’t score a ticket last fall, you can always try your luck in the official fan ticket exchange.) This year: July 31–Aug. 2, 2020
Close on the heels of the Newport Folk Festival is its equally famous jazz counterpart, which was founded in 1954 and which, after spending most of the 1970s wandering among other host cities, came back to Newport for good in 1981. Also situated in Fort Adams State Park, the festival packs three days and four stages with the likes of Nora Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Diana Krall, and Angelique Kidjo. This year: Aug. 7–9, 2020
As it reaches its 50th anniversary this year, the Newport International Boat Show still has plenty of wind in its sails. As one of the largest in-water boat shows in the country, this Newport Yachting Center event invites visitors to stroll the docks and ogle a spectacular array of new powerboats and sailboats that range from keelboats to cruisers. On land, the attractions include displays of accessories, equipment, and services. (Everything one might need, in fact, to just sail away.) As a bonus, right next door at Bowen’s Wharf you can find a terrific wooden boat show running concurrently with the main event. This year: Sep. 17–20, 2020
For a little old-fashioned country-fair fun, you do have to leave the city — but just barely. A 15-minute drive from downtown Newport brings you to the bucolic Norman Bird Sanctuary, which hosts an annual harvest fair. Families delight in a weekend filled with pony rides, midway games, arts and crafts, contests, and rides on a barrel train, the “Mabel Express.” Local food trucks and vendors help keep everyone fueled up; on the flip side, a beer garden with live music offers the chance to chill out. This year: Oct. 3–4, 2020
The summer crowds are long gone from the Newport waterfront by October, but just look what they’re missing. This seafood extravaganza pairs a picture-perfect oceanside setting with the freshest local catch. On the menu from area restaurants and fishermen’s associations are fish tacos, lobster rolls, fried calamari, lobster dinners, clam chowder, stuffed quahogs, clam cakes, and oysters, scallops, and clams (plus a few dishes “for landlubbers”). Home-grown bands provide live music as festivalgoers load up and chow down. This year: Oct. 17–18, 2020
Launched in 2006, this annual event showcases the flavors of some 50 local eateries — spanning all kinds of cuisine — at an affordable price. (Think: two-course prix fixe lunches for $20 and three-course prix fixe dinners for $35.) Past participants have included seafood specialist Midtown Oyster Bar; Bouchard Restaurant, renowned for its fine French cuisine; and the popular harborside steakhouse 22 Bowen’s. This year: Nov. 6–15, 2020
It takes volunteers more than a month to deck out three of Newport’s grandest mansions for the holidays, as they put into place some 30 Christmas trees and thousands of poinsettias, floral arrangements, garlands, and wreaths. Visitors are invited to behold their handiwork at the Breakers, the Elms, and Marble House, all National Historic Landmarks and models of Gilded Age opulence. Each house also offers a schedule of holiday evening entertainment (ticketed separately), as well as visits from Santa and carolers. This year: Nov. 21, 2020–Jan. 3, 2021
SEE MORE:Christmas at the Newport Mansions
The spirit of the season shines bright at this monthlong community celebration, in which all the activities — more than 70 total — either are free or help benefit a charity. Among the things you can do: Check out the largest gingerbread lighthouse in New England (16 feet tall and weighing 350 pounds) at the Newport Visitor Center … take a holiday lantern walking tour … enjoy free concerts and shows … get in some last-minute shopping at craft fairs … and keep an eye out for Santa, who’ll be popping up all over the place. Be sure to check the calendar for the lighting of the beloved Bowen’s Wharf Christmas tree. This year: Dec. 1–31, 2020
SEE MORE:Christmas in Newport
Come shake off the chill at what’s proclaimed to be New England’s largest winterfest: 10 days of food, music, and fun. Expect kid-pleasing events such as a teddy bear tea, a bounce house, seal-watching tours, and a “princess party.” Adults, meanwhile, will appreciate the cocktail contests, ice bar, wine and cheese tastings, and chili cookoff, plus comedy and live music. From beach polo to ice sculpting to an illuminated “garden,” the lineup just gets bigger and more diverse, year after year. 2021 dates: TBA
Do you have a favorite among the lineup of annual Newport, RI, events?