The island of Nantucket, located 30 miles south of mainland Massachusetts and next to its famous neighbor Martha’s Vineyard, has become a leading summer vacation destination.
There are countless reasons why tens of thousands of tourists arrive on the island yearly, including its scenic and clean beaches, untouched nature, historic buildings, and great restaurants, shops, galleries, and venues.
Are you finally ready to cross off Nantucket from your dream vacation bucket list? Here are some tips for everyone who wants to make the most of their first trip to this magical New England island.
Plan in advance
Keep in mind that Nantucket can be reached only by air or by sea. And also, in the peak of the summer season, the island’s population can swell up to five times.
So, it is essential to plan your vacation well in advance if you want to find the best accommodation options and book the plane or ferry tickets for your trip.
The cheapest and most enjoyable way to get to the island is via ferry. You can take a traditional or high-speed ferry from Hyannis Port in Cape Cod.
If you don’t like the idea of traveling by sea, you can find affordable plane tickets if you plan early too.
As for the accommodation for your stay, you can choose one of the many local houses, cottages, beach houses, lofts, and mansions up for short-term rent on Nantucket.
Even though hundreds of them are available all around the island, it is recommended that you make your reservations as early as possible to get the best deal and land the house you want for your unforgettable vacation.
Explore the island on a bike
Bringing your car to Nantucket can be done only via ferry, costing you hundreds of dollars. Parking and driving, especially during the high summer season, can be a true ordeal.
The good news is that this tiny island has an extensive network of safe and accessible bike lanes, so you can easily get around Nantucket by bike, even if you are not an avid cyclist.
You can bring your bike if you travel via ferry, or rent one when you reach the island.
Some short-term rental homes even come with complimentary bicycles for their guests.
The island has very few low hills and is a mere 14 miles in length and only 3 to 5 miles wide, so you can explore it by pedaling and enjoying the sights, smells, and atmosphere of Nantucket as you go.
And don’t worry if you get tired of pedaling because all of the shuttle buses there have bike racks, so you can always hop on a bus and rest those legs when you feel like it.
Visit the famous historical sites
Nantucket was the most important whaling hub in the world for nearly 100 years during the 17th and 18th centuries. So, the island’s population was affluent and successful, building hundreds of beautiful mansions, houses, and other buildings and streets.
About 750 of these historic houses and buildings are restored and preserved perfectly today.
So, once you set foot on the cobblestone-paved streets of Downtown and pass by these majestic pre-civil war buildings, you will immediately feel like you have stepped back in time to those years when the local captains and crews went on dangerous travels to faraway seas to bring back the precious whale oil.
Nantucket is also home to three of the oldest functioning lighthouses in the USA – Brant Point Light, Sankaty Head Light, and Great Point Light.
The island also has the oldest still-functioning windmill in the country, which you can visit and watch work.
It also has an old prison known as the Old Gaol. The Oldest House on Nantucket is open to visitors too. It was built in 1686.
Undoubtedly, the Whaling Museum is the top-rated place to visit when on the island of Nantucket. It contains thousands of unique exhibits, artifacts, artworks, and other amazing things from the whaling years. It even has a real sperm whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling, the first Fresnel lens for lighthouses in the country, and historical artifacts from the original whaling ship and its captain who inspired Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick.”
A smaller but equally impressive Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum in Nantucket is also a must-see.
Pick a beach suitable for you
One feature that attracts thousands of vacationers each summer is the island’s endless gorgeous beaches on all coasts.
There are more than 25 beaches, each free to access and use.
Some of the beaches, especially those on the north coast, such as Jetties, Children’s, and Dionis, are preferred by families with kids because they are close to or in town and are on the shore of the warmer, calmer and shallower Nantucket Sound. These beaches have all amenities you will need to spend the day comfortably, even with grumpy or picky young children.
They have restrooms, changing rooms, lifeguards, playgrounds, pavilions, food trucks or restaurants, and other facilities to keep everyone happy.
The southern coast beaches like Surfside, Cisco, and Nobadeer are more popular amongst youngsters, surfers, and watersports lovers because of the heavier surf and stronger currents. They are also home to the two surf schools of Nantucket.
But there are some less crowded and more remote beaches, such as the postcard-like Steps Beach, Madaket, Tom Nevers, and Coskata-Coatue, where you can go if you prefer a quieter and more private relaxation time.
Know where to eat and drink
Nantucket may be a small and remote island, but it has become an essential culinary center. It is home to some of New England’s best fine dining and modern restaurants, bars, and eateries.
It is also the place to eat some of the most delicious takes on traditional and international dishes prepared with local fresh seafood and produce and try the best ingredients, wines, and other beverages worldwide.
Some top fine dining restaurants in Nantucket include Topper’s Galley Beach, Cru, Straight Wharf, and The Chanticleer. Remember to make table reservations well in advance if you plan to visit most of the upscale eateries on the island.
Of course, there are some more casual and approachable eateries, including restaurants, diners, food trucks, beach shacks, bars, markets, coffee shops, and others offering delicious food, craft cocktails, and cool drinks.
Some dishes to try during your vacation in Nantucket include the local scallops, clams, fresh oysters, and Maine lobster rolls.