Written by Denise Dubé
History buffs only need a car and a bit of enthusiasm to enjoy day-long adventures into the past. From Newport to Lexington, there are plenty of historic sites in the area. The best part? You can get to all these destinations on one tank of gas (or less).
Why Go? The Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Astors helped create the Gilded Age—and some pretty magnificent mansions. Three of the 11 jaw-dropping Bellevue Avenue manors are open year round. “The number one historic destination in Newport is the mansions,” said Mark Brodeur, communications director for Rhode Island Tourism. “They are the most visited historic attraction in New England.”
Insider Tip: Eight of the 11 houses closed on Nov. 22, but several of them will re-open by March 15. The Breakers, the Elm and Chateau Sur Mer are open year round.
Must Do: Enjoy Christmas at the mansions until Dec. 30. Admission is $28 for adults and $9 for children aged 6-17.
The Fine Print: Taking pictures is usually not allowed. Ask before you snap a photo.
Newport, Rhode Island
Why Go? “When we talk about history, the streets are actually museums,” Brodeur said. The landmark trail shows early America, as it really was then and now.
Insider Tip: Venture further from the trail to visit a few of the dozens of the antique shops and art galleries.
Must Do: Need a break from mansion-hopping? Walk along Bellevue Avenue and feel the grandeur, too. Wrought iron gates, stone walls and magnificent gardens give visitors a taste of the past.
The Fine Print: Because these are gated mansions, you're not allowed to walk the estates—just in front and behind the property.
Corner of Massachusetts and Old Massachusetts Avenue
Why Go? The Battle Green, located at the corner of Bedford Street, and Massachusetts Avenue, is marked by H. H. Kitson’s statute of a Minute Man. Here, a handful of self-made colonial militia men stood their ground against thousands of British soldiers.
Insider Tip: Captain John Parker and his soldiers are buried under the obelisk on the Green’s edge. Cross the street and walk around Buckman Tavern. Colonial fighters, alerted by Paul Revere and William Dawes, waited there.
Must Do: Ye Olde Burial Ground is across the common and behind First Parish-Unitarian Church. Here you’ll find the remains of Lexington’s earliest settlers.
The Fine Print: Don’t play Frisbee or baseball on the Battle Green—it’s considered hallowed ground and holds America’s first fallen soldiers.
250 North Great Rd.
Why Go? In 1775, after the British headed for Concord, the colonial regulars from every nearby village and town were there to greet—and defeat—them. The replicated bridge and an adjacent obelisk are monuments to that bloody fight. “Concord and Lexington, all these years later, still evoke the courage and conviction of American Patriots,” said Betsy Wall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.
Insider Tip: Sidestep over to the Old Manse, hidden strategically beside the bridge. It was home to Nathaniel Hawthorn and a few other historic notables.
Must Do: Drive into Concord Center and have lunch, dinner or afternoon tea at the Colonial Inn in Monument Square. This ancient building also served as a hospital and was where the munitions were stashed. The restaurant offers typical, but flavorful New England fare. (Ask about the resident ghost.)
The Fine Print: The park is free and open to the public. Check regularly for ongoing year-round events; special programs sometimes require a reservation and a small fee.