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 destination, 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.

Nantucket, Massachusetts/USA - August 9 2019: a row of eclectic stores can be found next to the harbor in Nantucket.

Photo By Mystic Stock Photography/Shutterstock


When’s the best time to 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.

How to get around Nantucket

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.

Can’t miss things to do in Nantucket

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.

Food and drink to try in Nantucket

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.

Culture in Nantucket

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.

For Families

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.

Local travel tips for Nantucket

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.

Guide Editor

Read Before You Go
Travel has become less convivial during COVID, but the boutique hotel line has created a safe space for strangers to rediscover the lost art of socializing.
Resources to help plan your trip
Nantucket is known as an exclusive vacation destination, and it’s easy to just sink into a beach chair and relax. But there are plenty of other activities to keep both adults and children busy, from biking and hiking to exploring lighthouses and wandering through the charming town.
This former whaling capital loves a party and many Nantucket restaurants put as much thought into their cocktail and wine menus as they do into their food. There are also plenty of places to kick back with just a casual drink or two. The local brewery and distillery adds to the island vibe and flavors.
Nantucket is a perennial favorite summer destination, with Atlantic Ocean beaches, picturesque harbors, and iconic lighthouses. Accommodations on the island range from cozy bed-and-breakfast rooms to marina-side cottages to penthouse loft apartments. Water views and beach shuttles are in-demand amenities, and most hotels can arrange boat rides and lobster bakes for a quintessential New England vacation.
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