Day Trips: From Opulence to Intrigue - The Breakers Newport Mansion and Underground Tour Experience

Take a day trip to the Breakers Newport mansion, the grandest of the famed Gilded Age mansions in Rhode Island. Tour the opulent rooms and peek beneath the Breakers at the secret underground tunnels!

Day Trips: From Opulence to Intrigue - The Breakers Newport Mansion and Underground Tour Experience

There is something about a mansion that draws the average person to want to see it. Mansions show us the lifestyle we all aspire to live, even if we don't want to live in one. I personally would love a small house with a mountain view, a sweet firepit and deck in the back, but that's just me. Some find mansions to be a monstrosity, but I have always found mansions fascinating. Many mansions, like the one I visited, are equipped with numerous rooms for entertaining, multiple bedrooms, kitchens, and dining areas. They also hold a lot of history, and when preserved properly, it acts as a snapshot in time. I've visited this particular mansion several times in the past, both with friends and alone. So, on a chilly President's Day weekend in 2024, right around the same time I visited the JFK Presidential Library, I decided to pay another visit to this place, but with a little twist. Apart from the regular tour, I also booked a "Beneath The Breakers tour" that explores the underground operations that kept The Breakers running throughout the year, even though it was originally a summer home for the Vanderbilts.

Classic photo of The Breakers Newport (June 24, 2014)

Beneath The Breakers

I started my tour here, by joining the underground boiler room tour at 10:30am. These tunnels, made of brick and steel, are located 10 feet below ground level. We began our journey by going down the stairs to the boiler room, where we watched a short video. Our tour guide, Raymond, who is a Navy and Vietnam war veteran, explained everything in a way that everyone could easily understand. He stressed the importance of the underground's "guts and glory" for the house's "glitz and glamour." It was a well-spoken and undeniable truth. We explored the areas where coal was stored to fuel the boilers, and Raymond explained how the heaters kept The Breakers warm during winter. The mansion, which spans over 100,000 square feet, has numerous rooms that are heated by warm air channeled through gravity, without the need for fans.

As we pressed forward, we journeyed through the extensive brick tunnel. Above us, the view was filled with pipes and lights. Adorning the walls were enormous photographs that chronicled the reconstruction of The Breakers at different stages. This tunnel and the area beneath it played a vital part in the restoration of The Breakers following a devastating fire in 1893. Remarkably, the fully renovated Breakers that stands before us today was finished in 1898, despite the fact that it took just two years to rebuild the entire mansion.

This tour was incredibly captivating. It provided a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of a summer residence that operates throughout all four seasons. Despite being located in Newport, a coastal area, the winters here can be quite challenging with cold weather and snow. Therefore, it's crucial to ensure the mansion remains functional year-round. The dedicated staff is based there throughout the year, each with their own important tasks. It's quite amusing how a mansion can resemble an office building or factory. I thoroughly enjoyed this tour and highly recommend it. The tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable and allowed the audience to fully absorb the experience. This tour lasted 90 minutes and was well worth it.

The Breakers

After this tour completed, I moved over to The Breakers for a tour. I don’t believe they do guided tours anymore, logistically with the sheer number of people that visit year round, I don’t think it’s possible. They do offer a self guided tour, where you can download an app (search for Newport Mansions) and follow along with your earbuds on as you move through the mansion. As previously mentioned, this was not my first time here. However, every time I visit this mansion, I’m reminded of the grand architecture. The large rooms where every piece of the wall and ceiling is a piece of art in of itself, the Greek and Roman statutes that adorn the walls, the European Art that acts as the centerpiece of the room. It is very cultured, at least on the bottom floor. The bottom floor features The Grand Room, which is always a breathtaking sight, the billiard hall, dining hall and a music hall, among others. All are absolutely stunning to view.

Be that as it may, I actually found the top floor far more intriguing. I couldn't help but notice that the rooms were not as extravagant as the ones below. Walking through various bedrooms, servant’s quarters, bathrooms, and spacious closets was quite fascinating. The bathrooms stood out with their 4-faucet bathtubs, supplied with both freshwater and saltwater from the nearby Atlantic Ocean. Contrasts between the living conditions of the extended family and the servants’ families were evident in the mansion. The bedrooms were grand and spacious, painted in a more subtle manner compared to the overwhelming decor downstairs. Being someone who grew up working in foodservice kitchens, I was particularly interested in the kitchen area on the ground floor, complete with a cast iron stove, pots and pans, an ice room, and a two-floor supply room.

Final Thoughts

The Breakers is just one of the five mansions in the area that belongs to the Preservation Society of Newport and stays open all year round. The other mansions are only open seasonally, but Marble House had recently opened when I visited this mansion in mid-February. Newport has so many amazing places to explore, and this is definitely one of them. During the Beneath the Breakers tour, I discovered a whole new side to this mansion and learned that it's actually the fourth biggest attraction in all of New England, and the biggest one in Rhode Island. Only three attractions in Boston surpass it! Normally, I would come here in the spring, summer, or fall when the weather is nicer. However, it seems like the word has gotten out, and the number of visitors has skyrocketed since then, and rightfully so. This mansion and its tour never fail to impress, and you always walk away with new knowledge. With the Cliff Walk nearby and other mansions in the vicinity, this is the perfect place to start or end your day in Newport, Rhode Island.

people walking on green grass field during daytime
Photo by Praswin Prakashan / Unsplash