Would you call a home with 70 rooms a cottage? If not, you’re obviously not Cornelius Vanderbilt II. The Breakers, the "summer cottage" of the 19th-century multimillionaire, is one of the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island that are now by far the city’s top attractions. (More on Newport’s Social Scene in the Gilded Age.) Here are highlights of homes open to the public, giving you a peek into the lives of the privileged.
Tips: Many mansions can only be toured during summer. Consider a combination ticket for multiple properties. And for a different perspective on the most stunning waterfront homes—including Astor’s Beechwood, now privately owned and no longer open to the public—don’t miss the Cliff Walk.
The Breakers History: Built by Richard Morris Hunt in 1895 for New York railroad mogul Cornelius Vanderbilt II; style is Italian Renaissance
Why Go: Over-the-top grand—it's the most opulent of Newport's mansions; huge Preservation Society retail store in basement.
Why Skip It: Tours are often big and very crowded; it's an enormous house that can feel a bit overwhelming.
More Visitor Info: The Breakers full review
Belcourt Castle History: Built by Richard Morris Hunt in 1894 for Oliver H.P. Belmont; based on French 18th-century hunting lodge.
Why Go: Incredible collection of furnishings and art from more than 30 countries; "ghost tours" are given Thursdays and Saturdays.
Why Skip It: The somewhat quirky and kooky interior isn't to everybody's taste.
More Visitor Info: Belcourt Castle full review
Chateau-sur-Mer History: Built in 1852 by local contractor for China Trade merchant William Wetmore; significantly modified in 1870s by Richard Morris Hunt; style is Second Empire
Why Go: A must if you're a fan of High Victorian style; the elaborate grand staircase is one of Hunt's seminal creations; among the prettiest gardens and grounds in Newport.
Why Skip It: Open for just half the year.
More Visitor Info: Chateau-sur-Mer full review
Chepstow History: Built by George Champlin Mason in 1861; style is Italianate villa.
Why Go: Fine collection of landscape paintings by Hudson River School artists.
Why Skip It: Has a bit less wow factor than other Newport mansions; open for just three months of year.
More Visitor Info: Chepstow full review
The Elms History: Built by Horace Trumbauer in 1901 for Philadelphia coal magnate Edward Berwind; style is French chateau.
Why Go: Offers a fascinating "behind-the-scenes" tour; you can explore the house at your own pace with digital audio tour; 10 acres of stunningly restored grounds.
Why Skip It: If you'd prefer a tour given by a person rather than an audio-headset, this isn't the mansion for you.
More Visitor Info: The Elms full review
Hunter House History: Built by Jonathan Nichols in 1748 for local sea merchant.
Why Go: Fantastic collection of colonial furniture by renowned Newport artisans; in the city's historic Point District.
Why Skip It: In different part of town from the Bellevue Avenue mansions; pricey admission; has a much smaller scale than other mansions in town; open just three months of the year.
More Visitor Info: Hunter House full review
Isaac Bell House
Isaac Bell House History: Built in 1883 by the firm of McKim, Mead, and White for Isaac Bell, a cotton merchant; style is shingle Victorian.
Why Go: Offers an interesting look at a mansion currently undergoing restoration; unusual mix of Continental European, Early English, and Asian influences; less visited than others, and thus less crowded.
Why Skip It: Less dramatic in sheer size and grandeur than some others in Newport; open for just three months of the year.
More Visitor Info: Isaac Bell House full review
Kingscote History: Built in 1841 by Richard Upjohn for a plantation owner from Georgia; style is Gothic Revival
Why Go: One of the earliest summer cottages built in Newport; contains one of the first installations of Tiffany glass.
Why Skip It: Open for just three months of the year.
More Visitor Info: Kingscote full review
Marble House History: Built in 1892 by Richard Morris Hunt for William K. Vanderbilt.
Why Go: Outrageously opulent, arguably more so than The Breakers; you can tour house at your own pace with digital audio tour; be sure to check out teahouse overlooking ocean.
Why Skip It: One of the most-visited mansions in town, so tours can be crowded.
More Visitor Info: Marble House full review
Rosecliff History: Built in 1902 by Stanford White for Nevada silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs; modeled after Grand Trianon in Versailles.
Why Go: It's been featured in many movies, from The Great Gatsby to Amistad.
Why Skip It: Somewhat crowded; open for just half the year.
More Visitor Info: Rosecliff full review
Rough Point History: Built in 1889 in the English manor style; home of tobacco heiress Doris Duke until her death.
Why Go: Most recently lived-in Newport mansion gives a more contemporary perspective on the city's Gilded Age
Why Skip It: Limited availability and high cost of tours; you can only come to the mansion via a shuttle from Newport Visitors' Information Center downtown; open for just half the year.
More Visitor Info: Rough Point review