A practical guide for visiting New England’s charming Nantucket
Nantucket, MA, has become such a popular destination that there are literally hundreds of guides for making the best of your stay there.
This exclusive summer vacation and preferred second home destination is located 30 miles south of Cape Cod and near Martha’s Vineyard, making it a top preferred spot for the famous and the wealthy.
The island used to be considered the whaling capital of the world and is the place and its people that inspired the writing of Moby Dick.
On this island, you can see some of the best-preserved pre-Civil War historic buildings and infrastructure in the USA, which is another reason why it attracts so many visitors.
But while some of the steps for planning a trip or vacation on this New England Island can be pretty straightforward, such as booking a ferry or plane ticket and finding a suitable residence for your stay, others are not as clear-cut.
Here are some insider tips for planning a trip to Nantucket and making the best out of it.
Planning your trip to Nantucket
When planning your trip, make sure to plan ahead and to give yourself enough time for the things you want to do and the places you want to visit.
Although Nantucket is a popular day trip or weekend trip destination, you don’t want to rush through everything and miss the best parts of the island due to a lack of proper planning.
It is recommended to book your ferry or plane tickets well ahead, especially if you will be going to Nantucket during the high season. During the peak months, the population on the island surges from 10,000 to more than 50,000 people!
Also, the best local private homes and other accommodations in Nantucket are the ones that get booked the earliest, so make sure to reserve the house, cottage, or other lodgings there as early as possible.
After that, it is a good idea to plan the schedule for your trip as meticulously as possible. Choose how to spend your days on the island, and make sure to plan everything accordingly so that you make the most of your trip.
Even though Nantucket is a small island, it still has more than 80 miles of beaches, three historic lighthouses, multiple wildlife reservations, notable neighborhoods, and downtown streets to explore. There are also various museums, top-notch restaurants, galleries, exclusive stores, and numerous other things to do and see while there.
Another tip that will help you feel comfortable and have the best time possible on the island is to plan your budget accordingly. Nantucket is definitely not a budget destination, so be prepared to pay an average of about $182 a day per adult there.
If you want to make your trip there as affordable as possible, you should plan a trip for the shoulder season, early spring from March to April, or for the late fall in September or October.
The earlier you book your accommodation, the better deals you may get.
Also, remember to do your research on the restaurants and eateries to know how much to expect to spend on food while in Nantucket.
Last but not least, when planning your trip there, keep in mind that Nantucket is known as “the Gray Lady of the Sea” for a reason. It is because of the sudden deep fog and unpredictable weather there. So, be prepared for rain, fog, cloudy days, and similar weather when you are planning your trip.
Check the forecast, bring a raincoat and umbrella, and choose some alternatives in your schedule in case of rainy days. The good news is that there are many museums, galleries, and other places to visit on a rainy day in Nantucket.
Reaching the island
Make sure to calculate your travel time correctly, especially if you are going on a short trip to Nantucket. Keep in mind that getting there by traditional Steamship Authority ferry from Hyannis, Cape Cod takes two hours and 15 minutes. The passenger-only HyLine Cruises ferry will get you there for an hour.
The traditional ferry is the least expensive way to get to Nantucket.
The flight time to and from the island depends on where you catch that plane. A flight from Boston usually takes about 35 minutes. But don’t forget to calculate your drive or bus or train trip to the airport or to the port of Hyannis as well.
The Memorial Airport of Nantucket is in the south of the island, and there are regular bus shuttles from it to town or other parts of Nantucket.
Since getting to and from the island can be done only by sea or air, you should be prepared for potential delays and cancellations of ferry or plane tickets due to unexpected bad weather, especially during the colder months.
Nantucket is only 14 miles long, and from 3 to 5 miles wide, so it is easy to get from one point to another via walking, bike, bus, a rented car, or a cab, or Uber. Bringing your car is very expensive and is generally not encouraged, especially during the peak of the summer season.
Thankfully, there are affordable and regular public shuttle buses called The WAVE, covering almost all neighborhoods and parts of the island from May to October.
The island is also covered with a network of bike paths to reach just about any point of Nantucket by cycling. The total length of the bike paths there is more than 30 miles, and there are various bike rentals there. You can even bring your bike with you via the traditional ferry.
Walking is another way to enjoy the beauty of this New England Island.
If you have arrived by ferry, you will land directly in downtown Nantucket, so you can start exploring the historic cobblestone streets and buildings by strolling around right away. You can also reach Main Street in only 10 minutes of walking from the Wharf.
When in Nantucket, you can take advantage of the many guided walks of the historic district and other areas and sites, including the wildlife reserves, the lighthouses, the cranberry bogs, and more.
Not to be missed
Here are some sites which you should add to your Nantucket trip itinerary:
The Nantucket Boat Basin
This is a 240 boat marina in the historic Nantucket harbor. You can visit the basin to gaze at the luxurious yachts and picturesque boats and the postcard-like lofts and cottages near the shore. Also in the area are some of the top-rated restaurants, galleries, and stores on the island.
Nearby is Brant Point Lighthouse, which is one of the landmarks of Nantucket.
There are three fully functional lighthouses on the island, all of which have long histories and have navigated the boats and ships passing by for centuries.
Since the three lighthouses are located on different points of the island, you may want to plan your trips to each accordingly in advance.
As mentioned earlier, Brant Point Lighthouse is located near downtown Nantucket, and is one of the oldest functioning lighthouses in the USA, built back in 1746. This is the site that you will likely see first if arriving on the island via ferry.
Sankaty Head Light is located on the easternmost point of the island, right next to the picturesque fishing village of Siasconset. You can enjoy the 1-mile Sconset Bluff Walk to the beautiful beach of Siasconset and this historic lighthouse.
Great Point lighthouse is on the northernmost point of Nantucket and is the hardest one to reach. It is at the end of the Coskata-Coatue wildlife refuge and can be reached via a 4WD vehicle with a special oversand driving permit.
The Sconset Bluff Walk
This is one of the most picturesque walks on the island and in the country. It passes by some of the most iconic and recognizable gray weathered shingle-style cottages, red roses, and charming gardens. The path is 1 mile long and covered with white seashells.
It is one of the most romantic places to be and the trail to choose if you want to take the best vacation photos ever.
The Loines Observatory
This is a fantastic place that is often forgotten by visitors to the island of Nantucket. It is one of the best places to go on a clear night in the summer. You can view the starts, the constellations, and, if you are in luck, a rarer celestial event in the skies over the island through one of the two telescopes in the observatory.
The local team of astronomers will assist you and will teach you about the various visible stars, planets, and the Milky Way you can observe.
Having a bite to eat in Nantucket
Cisco Brewery is one of the top-rated attractions in Nantucket. It is the only outdoor brewery in the country and is home to some of the best craft beers in the area, such as Whale’s tale pale Ale, Wandering Haze IPA, and Gray Lady Wheat Ale.
The brewery has a spacious beer garden, and there is live music and food trucks every day. The best news is that it is right next to the Nantucket Vineyard and the Triple Eight Distillery, so there are drinks for every taste at Cisco Brewery!
This coastal restaurant is one of the most romantic places to enjoy dinner as the sun sets over Cliffside Beach. Galley Beach is located on the northern shore and is open for reservations all summer. You can book a table on the Oceanside or on the beachfront and enjoy some delicious freshly caught seafood such as lobster and clams and a cocktail or chilled rose with your toes buried in the soft, warm sand.
Millie’s is a beloved restaurant for young and old and for locals and visitors of Nantucket. It happens to be one of the best family-friendly eateries on the island as well.
Millie’s is in western Nantucket next to the picturesque beach of Madaket, known for some of the most stunning sunsets in the country.
At Millie’s, you can enjoy some Cal-Mex or Mexican cuisine, but with a unique local twist.
There are some traditional Mexican meals, such as fish tacos and quesadillas. But in addition, you can order some one-of-a-kind dishes, salads, and appetizers.
The meals are served both inside and at the picnic tables outside, so your kids and pets can play around.
Some of the best dishes to try at Millie’s include the inventive Lobster and Mango Summer Roll with Soba, the Burrata Beet salad, and the iconic Millie’s Bridge Po Boy, the best clam roll on the island!
According to TripAdvisor, this is among the top-rated restaurants in Nantucket. Keepers offer fresh local food, a friendly service, and all this at very reasonable prices.
Some of the dishes to try here include Seared Caribbean Cauliflower, Grilled Shrimp and Polenta, or Lemon Pepper Crusted Cod.
Keepers is located at 5 Amelia Drive. Unlike most other Nantucket-based eateries, it is open all year round.