Thirty miles south of Cape Cod is the tiny island of Nantucket, "The Little Grey Lady of the Sea." Originally populated by the Wampanoag people and settled by the British in the seventeenth century, Nantucket developed into the whaling capital of the world. Today it is an upscale vacation destinatio…n, especially popular in the summer, where cute cobblestoned streets, rose-covered cottages, and four centuries of maritime history are set alongside unspoiled beaches, significant conservation efforts, and superb seafood and cocktail joints.
What to know before you go to Nantucket
As a beach destination, Nantucket is busiest in July and August. You can avoid the crowds and highest prices by visiting outside of peak times. The season officially opens in May with the Daffodil Festival and extends through to the Christmas Stroll in December. Combined with the beautiful scenery, festivals such as these make Nantucket a great shoulder season option.
Ferry access to Nantucket via the Hy-Line, Steamship Authority, or Seastreak is from either Hyannis or Fall River. The ride can take anywhere from one to three hours, depending on the departure point and which vessel you choose. Cape Air has several small planes arriving daily from Hyannis, and their partner airlines Jet Blue flies direct from Boston and New York. Once on the island, The Wave is a shuttle bus with routes to the different beaches and taxis are readily available.
If you are only on the island for the weekend, your time will be taken up with the beaches, perhaps a picnic or lobster bake, and maybe a bike ride. A weekly rental allows time to head to one of the historical museums and get a dose of maritime culture. No matter how long you have, make sure to catch the sunset and enjoy the fresh seafood.
Local, fresh, sustainable—these are the watchwords of the Nantucket dining scene. Scallops, clams, and fish are caught in the surrounding waters. Chocolate covered cranberries are from the island’s bog and don’t miss the Bartlett tomatoes that appear on many menus. Locally made Triple 8 Vodka and Cisco Beers nicely compliment dishes like smoked bluefish paté. Much of the island closes shop for a few winter months, and like everyone else, chefs and mixologists use the time to travel. That worldly influence can be seen on menus and helps contribute to the unique flavors of the island.
Four hundred years of maritime history are carefully preserved in Nantucket’s museums and architecture. Regular festivals attract international attention: Nantucket Wine & Food Festival takes place each May and events include dinners in island mansions, wine tastings, and demonstrations by celebrity chefs; June’s film festival has a focus on screenwriting and independent films. Nantucket has been a haven for artists for years and galleries feature many local and international artists. Pick up the arts Nantucket guide and drop into one of the many galleries for wine and cheese on Friday nights.
Nantucket is a popular spot for family reunions. Every year generations gather on the beach for picnics or to have their holiday card taken by a professional photographer. It’s easy to understand why: The beaches appeal to all ages and the restaurants are mostly very kid-friendly. There are plenty of active options, too, including swimming, surfing, sailing, hiking, biking, and sports camps, and rainy day activities like the Whaling Museum and the Maria Mitchell Aquarium.
Nantucket is called the Grey Lady for a reason. Fog on the island can disrupt travel plans, especially flights on small planes. One area can be smothered in gray while the other end of the island is bathed in bright sunshine. The beaches are all numbered—good to know just in case of emergency—and note that many do not have lifeguards. Beaches often require off-road permits to drive on; keep the tides in mind so you don't get stranded. Finally, all the cobbled streets can wreak havoc on your ankles (especially if wearing heels), so bring some footwear that has a little support.
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Alison Abbott is a travel and lifestyle writer with a focus on sustainable shades of green living. She is a passionate design enthusiast, content creator, and small business strategist, who sings the praises of keeping it local whether at home or abroad. When not searching out the best of artisans, growers, and locales that make a destination unique, you can find her working as editor of the blog Green With Renvy.