The idyllic small island of Nantucket is only 30 miles south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and has become one of the top-desired destinations for vacation and second home buying in the country.
Nantucket has some of New England’s most picturesque beaches, untouched nature reserves, and refuges. It also prides itself on the perfectly preserved colonial-style historic buildings, cobblestone streets, and sites reminiscent of the times when the island was known as the world’s whaling capital.
If you are planning on going to Nantucket for the first time, you may be overwhelmed with all of the beaches, museums, historic sites, lighthouses, restaurants, and events you want to see there.
Here are some tips which can help first-time visitors to the island of Nantucket to make the most of their trip.
- 1 Planning Tips
- 2 Things To Do in Nantucket
Firstly, you should plan how you want to get to the “Little Grey Lady of the Sea.” Since it is an island, there are only two ways to get to Nantucket. One is via sea, and the other is by flying in.
There are regular ferry lines from Hyannis, Cape Cod, and other ports. The traditional Steamship Authority ferry is the most affordable way to get to the island. There is a faster passenger-only high-speed ferry line that will get you to Nantucket in just about an hour.
The fastest way to reach Nantucket is by flying in. Luckily there are many direct flights from major airports in the area. You can get on a charter or a helicopter if you want to splurge for a luxurious vacation.
After you buy your tickets, it is time to find the perfect dwelling for your stay. There are some high-end luxury hotels on the island. But for a more affordable and authentic experience, you may want to rent one of the many available local private houses, cottages, and other residences. They can be found in different parts of the island.
Keep in mind that during the peak of the summer season, which is in July and August, the availability of flight and ferry tickets as well as the free local residences may be limited because of the massive popularity of Nantucket.
This is why you should plan well in advance. Or, if you want to avoid the crowds altogether, choose to visit Nantucket before or after the peak of the summer. Keep in mind that in high season the population expands from 10,000 permanent residents to 50,000 people and more!
Once you have the logistics set, it is time to plan your itinerary for your first time in Nantucket.
While the island may be only 14 miles long and about 3-5 miles wide, it is still filled with unique sites, places, and things that need to be seen or experienced.
The first thing to do is to rent a bike for your stay. Or even better, use the bike, which many of the rental homes include as part of the price for visitors.
Bike paths encompass the island, so you can get just about anywhere while riding a bicycle. This is an eco-friendly, healthy, and delightful way to enjoy the scenic views and the atmosphere of Nantucket.
You can take various bike paths and guided tours, or you can explore the New England island yourself.
Things To Do in Nantucket
Here are some suggestions for the things to do, see and experience when you visit this picturesque island for the first time.
See the historic lighthouses
Make sure to plan a trip to at least one of the three historic lighthouses in Nantucket. They are Great Point Light, Santaky Light, and Brant Point Light.
Walk the Sconset Bluff Walk
The other thing to do when in Nantucket is to walk the Sconset Bluff Walk. If you have been admiring the photos of Nantucket on Instagram, then you have probably stumbled upon the most instagrammable spots, many of which are located on this walking path.
It starts in the fishing village of Siasconset. The trail passes through the charming private cottages with grey weathered shingles and red and pink French roses climbing up to their roofs.
The path is covered with white seashells and will lead you through some of the most beautiful old-fashioned gardens you have seen. Then it will take you to the local market, and after that, reach the east coast, where you will end up on Siasconset Beach.
This is the best place to go to watch the sunset over the Atlantic. It is also a perfect spot for romantic pictures, picnics, or a day at the beach. You can visit the Sankaty Light, which is nearby, to get some Instagram-worthy photos to share with your friends there too.
If you want to take the best sunset pictures there, you should head to the opposite west coast to Madaket Beach instead.
Stroll around the Nantucket Downtown District
You should also definitely plan a stroll in the historic Nantucket Downtown District. There you can admire the superbly preserved historic buildings and homes alongside the cobblestone streets.
Downtown, you can go shopping in some of the best boutiques, explore the various art galleries, and buy a pair or two of the iconic Nantucket Reds pants or other apparel from the Murray Toggery Shop on Main Street.
Explore the Whaling Museum
Don’t forget to visit the Whaling Museum, which is nearby. It is one of the top-rated sites to visit in Nantucket and will let you explore the fascinating whaling past of the island’s people. Located in an old whale oil candle factory, the museum has some unique exhibits, including a gigantic sperm whale skeleton, Fresnel lens, and more.
Check Out the Wharf
After you’re done with the museum, you can head off to the wharf to see the mega yachts and sailing boats in the marina and the harbor.
One unique way to explore and experience Nantucket is to go on a sailing tour on one of the many harbor cruises. There are private and public cruises suitable for people of all ages, interests, and budgets.
Visit the Beaches
Of course, no trip to Nantucket will be complete if you don’t spend at least one day on one of the many beaches there.
There are more than 80 miles of beaches on all shores of Nantucket, which are free to visit and enjoy.
The ones on the north are on the Nantucket Sound coast, so the water there is calmer and warmer and more suitable for young children.
Children’s Beach is perfect for families with kids. Or you can go to Jetties Beach, where you can enjoy the panoramic ocean views while sipping on a frozen margarita or another handcrafted cocktail at the Sandbar. At this beachfront restaurant, you can also enjoy some freshly caught oysters, shrimps, clam chowder, and more while dipping your toes in the soft white sand.
Party at Cisco Brewery
If you are looking for a place to go party while visiting Nantucket, then you should go to Cisco Brewery.
This is the only brewery on the island, and a writer once called it “the happiest place on Earth,” which is a pretty good description of the place.
There is a big beer garden where you can taste some of the unique craft beers, such as Whale’s Tale Pale Ale, Wandering Haze IPA, Grey Lady Wheat Ale, or Shark Tracker Light Lager.
But even if you are not a beer drinker, don’t worry because the brewery is right next to the local winery and the Triple Eight distillery of Nantucket, so you can try some of the local wines and unique spirits with local cranberries and other products.
There is free live music at Cisco Brewery every day, so the party goes on until the late hours, no matter when you visit Nantucket.
There are also many food trucks there, so you can grab snacks and dishes of all kinds while enjoying the drinks and the party.
Have a romantic dinner in Topper’s at the Wauwinet Inn
For a one-of-a-kind dining experience when visiting Nantucket, you should visit Topper’s at the Wauwinet Inn for a romantic dinner on the waterfront. Or go to CRU, where you can go for brunch, lunch, or dinner and eat some of the best lobster rolls on the island while sipping on the iconic Crucumber cocktail.
Go on a food trip
If you prefer Asian-inspired food, then you can try out The Pearl. For a more casual Nantucket dining experience, you can opt for Met on Main, located on Main Street.