Nantucket is one of the best-preserved historic towns and a number-one summer vacation destination both for domestic visitors and foreign travelers alike. The peak of the high season on the island comes during the warmest months of the summer, but the place also has a lot to offer in spring, fall, and even during the Christmas holidays. Nantucket’s location is excellent, as it is only 30 miles south of Cape Cod and can be reached via ferry or plane in an hour or two. This East Coast island is an exceptional one-day or weekend trip destination, especially for people from Boston, NYC, or those who are staying at Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard, and we are about to show you why.
What’s the best time to visit Nantucket?
The island of Nantucket is a top destination for people looking to buy second or third homes and vacation houses. During summer, the population of about 11,400 can swell up to 50,000 people due to the seasonal residents and vacationers.
But because summer is the busiest season, it is also the season with the biggest crowds. So, if you want to enjoy a more authentic and less crowded trip, you may choose to plan a day trip to the island somewhere in spring or fall.
The travel fares, accommodations, and local services are more affordable during this time, and there are fewer people on the beaches, in the streets, in the island’s top-class restaurants, and in the historic sights during the shoulder season.
The official summer season begins in mid-May and ends in early October. But there are some exciting events and festivals which take place as early as March, such as the Daffodil Festival and the Food and Wine Festival. You can also enjoy a magical Christmas stroll during the holidays, another thing very much worth considering.
Since it is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, the weather in Nantucket is not as predictable as in the mainland USA, but you can expect the temperatures and weather conditions to be similar to other New England locations in the area.
A few facts about Nantucket
Nantucket was known for over a century as “the whaling capital of the world,” and its whaling history affected the local architecture and culture, so the residents now strive to preserve this impressive heritage. The famous novel Moby Dick was inspired by a real story of the heroic captain and crew of a whaling ship that a sperm whale destroyed.
The authorities, conservation and preservation organizations, and the tight-knit community of Nantucket are all passionate about preserving their architecture, nature, and access to all of the fabulous beaches and wildlife reserves on the island.
There are over 80 miles of beaches, three historic and still functioning lighthouses, the oldest windmill, a Whaling Museum, and many more beautiful sights to be seen and events to attend on this island.
As soon as you set foot on the island, you will immediately see why it is such a charming destination to choose to spend a day or more in and why Nantucket is on many people’s bucket lists.
If you decide you want to spend more than a day in Nantucket, though, there are many excellent hotels and inns for tourists in all areas of the island you can choose from (more on that later in the text).
One Day in Nantucket Itinerary
As mentioned, Nantucket is an absolutely fascinating place. However, if you only have one day here, you need to have a plan when it comes to sightseeing to make the most of your time here. Here’s what you can do to fully experience this amazing island.
You can get to Nantucket by ferry from the Hyannis port in Cape Cod. The Steamship Authority ferry port is a two-hour drive from Boston. You can take I-93 and then Route 3 to get there by car. There is also an option to take the CapeFLYER train from Boston to Hyannis. The trip via train is about two and a half hours long.
While it is possible to take the car with you on the traditional ferry, it will cost you somewhere in the range of $300-$400 and more, depending on your vehicle. So, it is much more affordable to leave the car behind and get on the ferry. The traditional ferry takes about two hours and 15 minutes to reach the piers of Nantucket. You can take the Hy-Line ferry, which will get you to Nantucket in just an hour.
If you prefer, you can fly to Nantucket via one of the available commercial and charter flights to and from Nantucket Memorial Airport.
When arriving via ferry, you will land either on Straight Wharf or Steamboat Wharf. Both are in the heart of the historic district of downtown Nantucket. This means that you can start exploring the island straight off the ferry.
Once you’ve soaked in the vibe of the wharves with the beautiful yachts and fishing boats, you can take a trip down the cobblestone streets to the famous Whaling Museum. The museum has some stunning artifacts, pictures and even a real 46-foot sperm whale skeleton displayed. It is located in a renovated historic oil candle factory, which has a gorgeous viewing deck on the roof where you can get a great view of the harbor and town.
When you are done with the museum, take a stroll down Main Street, and you will see some stunning stately mansions. Along with them, are the iconic weathered gray shingle-style cottages and overflowing gardens with blooming roses and flowers and among them some exclusive boutiques, stores, galleries, and cafes.
Some historic homes are open for tourists so that you can get an authentic feel of these perfectly preserved houses. Make sure you take note of the nameplates on the buildings because most homes there have names, and they are often very quirky and cute.
If you are looking for the best souvenir from Nantucket, don’t forget to pop into Murray’s Toggery Shop. This is the only place in the world where you can officially buy the famous Nantucket red pants and apparel. Or, if you prefer, you can buy a traditional hand-woven lightship basket from one of the few galleries and workshops in town.
To get a perfect bird’s eye view of the entire downtown and the harbor, you can climb the tower of the nearby First Congregational Church. This church has been an important part of the Nantucket community for three hundred years since it was founded way back at the beginning of the 18th century. It’s quite a beautiful piece of architecture, especially if you come and see it in the evening.
While enjoying your day in the historic district of Nantucket, you can try some of the best homemade ice creams, have a coffee and snack, drink a craft brew or cocktail, or order some fresh seafood in one of the many world-class restaurants, bistros, and cafes in town.
Oran Mor, for example, is an exceptionally charming bistro, Straight Wharf has been around for decades serving top-class seafood, and The Chanticleer offers you the experience of dining in a rose garden. And there are plenty more great places for a meal! So, foodies, you’ll absolutely love this
If you prefer to see more of the island and you have time left before the last ferry, you can take the shuttle bus to the village of Siasconset. Take a stroll down the famous Sconset Bluff Walk, and you will see some of the iconic, picturesque cottages with the soft gray shingles and climbing French roses, which Nantucket is best known for. The path will take you to Siasconset Beach and the Sankaty Head Lighthouse.
Before getting on the ferry, you can visit the second oldest functioning lighthouse in the USA – Brant Point Light, close to the wharf. If your ferry leaves in the evening, you can enjoy the stunning view of the island, the lighthouse, and the ocean in the sunset.
Where to stay in Nantucket, MA?
The Nantucket Hotel & Resort
77 Easton Street, Nantucket, MA 02554
If you want to live it up while in Nantucket, you will need to book a great hotel, and the best choice for that is The Nantucket Hotel & Resort. Not only is this place perfectly located and close to a beach, the ferries, and many great shops and restaurants, but this five-star beauty also looks amazing, too. The view from it is quite beautiful too, and there are suites and cottages on offer, as well. Your visit to Nantucket will be unforgettable here!
9 Cliff Rd., Nantucket, MA 02554
Another amazing place to stay. Cliff Lodge offers amazing views that allow you to enjoy incredible sunrises, but the location is also superb because you’re mere minutes’ walk from the beach. Furthermore, they serve an awesome breakfast here, and the interior is bound to make an impression thanks to the beautiful rooms you get to enjoy. The staff is also excellent, so you can rest assured you will have a great stay here.
Seven Sea Street Inn
7 Sea Street, Nantucket, MA 02554
Seven Sea Street Inn boasts a nice and quiet location where you can really relax and get plenty of rest. Apart from the comfortable bedrooms, you can do that in the inn’s wonderful garden, an ideal place to just sit and enjoy the fact that you’re on this amazing island. You will also be close to the town center. Numerous amenities guarantee you will have everything you need for a pleasant stay, so you will be able to enjoy your visit to Nantucket to the fullest.
5 Chestnut Street, Nantucket, MA 02554
Hotel Pippa is a lovely little boutique hotel that dates back all the way to 1847. Of course, today it is very much a modern place to stay, but the interesting story of this building is very much worth exploring. The location is excellent, right in the middle of the historic district, and the interior is very pretty and exceptionally clean. Definitely worth your time!
Day trips from Nantucket:
Nantucket is a popular day-trip destination on US East Coast, but if you’re spending more than one day here, you can set up a day trip for yourself, too. Here are a few great destinations close by.
For this, you should plan a trip by ferry, and the ride takes about two and a half hours at most. One day in Boston will be quite a treat because this great American city is just oozing with history, and you can really sense the spirit of the American Revolution permeating it. Definitely one of the best choices for a day trip from Nantucket.
Another destination ideal for a ferry day trip (about two hours and 15 minutes), Cape Cod is teeming with lovely little villages, great eateries, lighthouses, and many other great sights. It’s a great place to visit if you want to just relax and have a great, stress-free day by the shore.
It takes about two and a half hours to reach Martha’s Vineyard from Nantucket, and this is definitely a trip worth taking. Lovely sandy beaches and charming towns make this one of the most popular vacation destinations in the US, and this trip is sure to show you why.
Extra tips for visiting Nantucket
- Since Nantucket is an island known for its unpredictable weather, it is good to bring a raincoat or umbrella, especially if you plan a trip during spring or fall.
- The easiest and cheapest way to get around the island is via bike. You can rent one, or bring your own bike aboard the ferry.
- All beaches are free and open to the public, and some even allow 4WD vehicles if you have the right permit.
- There are also several stunning wildlife reserves and sanctuaries on the island, which nature lovers can explore.
Make sure you have everything you need
What to pack for your next trip?
Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.