Nantucket Island is one of America’s most sought-after vacation destinations. And it’s no wonder. Nantucket, Massachusetts has an impressive resume of things to do, restaurants, a fascinating history and so much more. Designated as a National Historic Landmark, the picturesque island is home to beautifully preserved cobblestone streets and majestic lighthouses, all perched on a breathtaking stretch of coastline. Let this be your guide to the best things to do in Nantucket, and you’ll see how much Nantucket Island punches way above its weight.
Easy to Get To
How do you get to Nantucket? Luckily, it’s easy. Located south of Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, the tiny island of Nantucket has surprisingly many transport options. Most travelers take the ferry. Ferry service to Nantucket runs from four different ports and ferry companies. Have your pick from Hyannis, Harwich Port and New Bedford, Massachusetts for ferries from Cape Cod, or take the high-speed ferry to Nantucket from New York City.
If you’re not keen on the boat, just arrive at the Nantucket Airport (ACK). Flights to Nantucket run frequently during the summer through major carriers like American, Delta and United. The nearest airports to Nantucket are Martha’s Vineyard and Hyannis, on Cape Cod. However, flights run from New York, Providence, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and of course, Boston to Nantucket. ACK airport also services many smaller regional airports in the area. For a non-summer getaway, Cape Air is the only year-round flight service on the island, running flights from Cape Cod and Boston to Nantucket. All in all, island tranquility isn’t really so far away after all.
Great for a Long Stay or a Day Trip
Over the years, more than a few people have become smitten by Nantucket’s island charms. In fact, Nantucket’s modest population of around 11,000 balloons to 50,000 in the high season, as thousands of families make Nantucket Island their summer home. Even an extended stay on Nantucket Island won’t leave you with a shortage of things to do. Nantucket’s nature never gets old, and the island offers a wide array of activities, restaurants and sights. However, the convenient ferry schedule allows for even a day trip to Nantucket. The first ferry from Hyannis arrives at 8:45am, and you wouldn’t have to head back Capeside until 5:30pm, leaving almost nine hours to soak up all the island’s sun and surf. No matter how long you stay, you’re sure to be enchanted.
One of the best ways to explore Nantucket Island is by bike. Nantucket is only 14 miles long, and its mostly void of hills, making it a perfect place for all ages and skill levels to explore on two wheels. Several bike shops are just off the wharf, like the Nantucket Bike Shop or Young’s Bicycle Shop, the island’s oldest. All shops rent out bikes for the day, or longer, if you’d like to ride a little more. Better yet, many hotels offer complimentary bicycles. Nantucket has 35 miles of bike paths, but a great place to start is at the lighthouses, almost all of which are accessible by bike. The Sconset trail will take you through the cottages and coastline Nantucket is known for, culminating at the Sankaty Head Lighthouse.
What really seals the deal on Nantucket’s sought-after status are its gorgeous beaches. What’s even more enticing is the sheer variety of beaches available. You’ll find everything from calmer shores on the North Shore, to the surfer’s choice on the South Shore, to a fishing beach at Great Point. If you have the time, every one of Nantucket’s beaches are worth a visit, but here’s some of the best.
One of the most popular spots is Jetties Beach, just outside town on the North Shore. North Shore beaches are perfect for families, as the currents are much weaker. That also means Jetties is one of the best spots for swimming. Jetties also offers volleyball nets, a playground, sailing, and even a skate park. It’s also the place to catch the annual Boston Pops concert each summer. Children’s Beach is nearby, with shallower waters for the little ones.
South Shore beaches are perfect for surfers. Surfside, accessible by bike or shuttle, is excellent with its world-class burgers and perfect picnic spots. As the name suggests, it’s also great surfing. Cisco Beach, also on the South Shore is home to one of Nantucket’s great surfing schools, if you’d like to get in on some of the action. To get some of your own slice of the island, head to Great Point. It’s the best place to go fishing, and it’s also worth the seven-mile jaunt down the sand to the Great Point Lighthouse.
Lastly, a trip to Nantucket isn’t complete without catching its beautiful sunrise and sunset. For sunrise, there’s no place better than Sconset Beach, especially with its smaller crowds and seal sightings. For sunset, head to the West Shore for Madaket Beach. Here, the waves are too strong for swimming, but its beautiful sand is great for a dinner picnic to watch the sun go down.
Nantucket Island was settled by Europeans all the way back in the 1600s, meaning there’s centuries of history to catch up on. The island’s isolation and proud residents are to thank for some of the best-preserved historic cottages and lighthouses in the country. The most beautiful spot on the island is Siasconset, or Sconset for short, an old fishing village with countless 18th-century cottages that give Nantucket its rustic atmosphere.
For a more comprehensive study of the island, take a sightseeing tour. Several companies, like Barrett’s Tours, offer 90-minute to 2-hour tours. Another must when visiting Nantucket is the Whaling Museum. Here you’ll find everything from a giant whale skeleton to one of the best scrimshaw collections in the world. If you can’t get enough of the ocean life, the Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum is another great stop. There you can learn more about the more than 700 shipwrecks that have occurred on the island.
This is just a small selection of the historical sights Nantucket has to offer. History buffs should also stop by the Jethro Coffin House, the oldest house on the island, as well as the Old Mill and the Old Jail. Don’t forget to go lighthouse hopping. Brant Point Lighthouse is the island’s most picturesque.
While Nantucket Island has some of the best seafood you’ll ever eat, it’s not all about what’s in the ocean. Nantucket is an unlikely culinary hotspot, and you could center your whole day around where you’re eating next. Start with a homemade breakfast, like the classic American fare at Black Eyed Susan’s, or stop at The Downyflake for some fresh chocolate-glazed donuts.
For a casual Nantucket lunch, make it beach-side. For something easy, most beaches have their own snack bars or food trucks nearby, like the lobster shack at Madaket Beach. Or pick something up to go for a picnic, like a sandwich from Something Natural. Try the lobster salad sandwich, and finish it off with some of their fresh-baked cookies. Dinner in Nantucket has no shortage of options. For classic seafood, head to Cru, home to Nantucket’s best lobster roll. For seafood with a twist, check out The Pearl’s Asian-fusion menu, or Le Languedoc’s French-inspired cuisine.
Late night, head to Cisco Brewers, a vineyard, distillery and brewery all rolled into one. It’s great for a casual evening with drinks and food trucks. If you’re more hands-on, you can even sign up to take a cooking class from Nantucket’s best local chefs at the Nantucket Culinary Center.
Nantucket is truly a gem in the Atlantic. No matter how long you stay, you can be certain you’ll be heading back soon.