Nantucket is a small yet enchanting island 30 miles south of Cape Cod that is an incredibly popular tourist destination with many summer homes, lodgings, and plenty of activities for a fun-filled vacation. The island is known for being expensive, as is its neighbor, Martha’s Vineyard, with the cost of a single-family home in Nantucket usually starting in the low millions. But visiting here is an experience like no other.
The island was originally inhabited by the Wampanoag people until 1659 when the first English settlers began arriving on the island. The first settlers focused on farming and raising sheep, but overgrazing and the growing number of farms made these activities untenable, and the islanders soon began turning to the sea for a living.
If you intend to visit Nantucket on your summer vacation, you won’t be disappointed in what the island has to offer. In the downtown area, visitors will find a plentiful supply of boutiques and shops, historic sites, and restaurants with fresh seafood. Beaches line the island’s perimeter, with views of lighthouses and sailboats among the Atlantic Ocean and Nantucket Sound.
Fun & Best Things to Do on Nantucket, Massachusetts
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Nantucket, our curated guide below will help you.
1. Explore Nantucket’s Beaches
The beautiful, sandy beaches on the island are a perfect place to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of the town. Some of the most popular beaches on the island are Jetties Beach, Madaket Beach, Sconset Beach, Cisco Beach, Surfside Beach, and Children’s Beach.
Jetties Beach, on the north shore, is the most popular beach on the island and is a great place to relax. The beach also has a playground for children. Madaket Beach is a bit more secluded and is located on the west side of the island. It is a beautiful place to watch the sunset.
Surfside Beach is one of the most popular and crowded beaches on the island. It’s mostly used for surfing and bodyboarding. It is located on the southern side of the island and has a great view of the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.
2) Visit the Nantucket Whaling Museum
The Nantucket Whaling Museum is located in downtown Nantucket, and it’s a great place to learn about the island’s rich whaling history. The museum is managed by the Nantucket Historical Association, which oversees many of Nantucket’s historical landmarks.
The island’s history of whaling is a long and storied one. The whaling industry reached its peak in 1846 when Nantucket accounted for more than half of the world’s whale oil production. In 1851, Herman Melville published his classic novel, Moby Dick, with the island and its whaling history forming the backbone of his story.
Today, the island is home to the Nantucket Whaling Museum. The museum is located in downtown Nantucket and has many exhibits on whaling, including a 46-foot sperm whale skeleton. The whaling museum is also home to a massive Fresnel lens and a restored 1847 candle factory. The Nantucket Whaling Museum also has a rooftop deck with a great view of Nantucket Harbor.
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3) Rent Bikes and Explore the Island
Biking is a great way to explore Nantucket, as there are over 35 miles of multi-use paths on the island. There are several bike rental companies on the island, so you can easily rent a bike for the day. The Nantucket Bike Shop in downtown Nantucket is a full-service bike shop that offers a wide range of services, including sales, repairs, and rentals. The shop is open every day from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm.
The shop has a wide selection of bikes, including road bikes, mountain bikes, and cruisers. They also have a wide selection of accessories, including helmets, locks, and lights. Nantucket Bike Shop is the perfect place to go if you need to rent a bike. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable and will help you find the perfect bike for your Nantucket-exploring needs.
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4) Visit a Lighthouse
The lighthouses of Nantucket are some of the most beautiful landmarks to see when visiting the island. Nantucket is home to three lighthouses, each with its own distinctive look and history. The island’s lighthouses are Sankaty Head Light, Brant Point Light, and Great Point Light.
The Sankaty Head Lighthouse, officially the Sankaty Head Light, is a beautiful red and white lighthouse located on the island’s east coast. The lighthouse was first lit in 1850 and is still operational today. In 1987, this historic lighthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic places as the Sankaty Head Light.
The Brant Point Lighthouse, officially the Brant Point Light, is located on the northern side of the island, at the entrance to Nantucket Harbor. The Brant Point Lighthouse, easily accessible from downtown Nantucket, was built in 1746 and is still operating today. The Brant Point Lighthouse has the distinction of being the 2nd oldest lighthouse in the United States.
The Great Point Lighthouse is located on the island’s northern tip, at Great Point. The current tower was built in 1784 and is a wooden structure with a white painted finish. The Great Point Lighthouse has the distinction of being the 7th oldest lighthouse in the United States.
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5) Explore the Harbor and downtown Nantucket
The harbor and downtown area of Nantucket are great places to walk around and explore. In the Nantucket harbor, you’ll find many different types of boats, including tug boats, whale-watching boats, fishing boats, and more. The downtown area, with its cobblestone streets, is a beautiful place to explore with a large selection of boutiques and stores.
In addition to downtown’s Whaling Museum, other top destinations include the Nantucket Atheneum and the Dreamland Film, Theater & Cultural Center. The Nantucket Atheneum is the island’s public library, offering free services and programs to all of Nantucket’s residents and visitors.
The Dreamland Film, Theater & Cultural Center is Nantucket’s premier performing arts center, housing a cinema, events, and community activities. In addition, the White Heron Theater Company is another top spot for performing arts, as well as the non-profit Theatre Workshop of Nantucket.
Cisco Brewers, located outside the town, has a brewery tour with a free shuttle van that picks guests up beside their downtown office on East Chestnut Street and takes them to the brewery at 5 Bartlett Farm Road. Cisco Brewers is known for its live music, food trucks, tastings, and tours, along with a multitude of craft beer, wine, and drink options.
Located on downtown Main Street, make sure to check out the Compass Rose on the wall of Nantucket’s Ralph Lauren store. For food, there is some truly delicious restaurants downtown, including the Nautilus, Straight Wharf, Cru, and the Charlie Noble. For dessert, check out Jack & Charlie’s Ice Cream, Lemon Press, or Aunt Leah’s Fudge. You can also book a Nantucket Private Fishing tour to top your experience.
6) Visit The Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum
Located outside the downtown area, at 158 Polpis Road, the Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum honors Nantucket’s history of shipwrecks, as well as the heroic efforts by many Islanders to save shipwrecked mariners. The Museum is a great place to learn about the history of Nantucket and its maritime heritage.
The Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum is easily reached by car, The WAVE, or our free Shipwreck Shuttle, picks up at the Visitors Service on Federal Street from June on or by bike on the Polpis Road Bike Path.
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7) Hit the Links at Miacomet Golf Club
The Miacomet Golf Club is Nantucket Island’s only 18-hole public golf course. The Club, home to several different leagues and tournaments, has a fully functional putting green and driving range, while the course is complete with four tee options, challenging holes, and scenic island views. The on-site restaurant and beverage cart provide guests with delicious food, cold drinks, and a great time on the links.
8) Visit the Old Mill
The Old Mill is a historic windmill built in 1746 and is one of the oldest buildings on the island. According to the Nantucket Historical Association, which oversees the mill, the Old Mill is the oldest functioning mill in the country, continuing to grind corn into oatmeal to this day. Built in 1746 by Nathan Wilbur, a Nantucket sailor who spent time in Holland, the Old Mill, located at 50 Prospect Street, is definitely worth a visit.
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9) Maria Mitchell Aquarium
The Maria Mitchell Aquarium, also known as the Nantucket Aquarium, is a great place to learn about the unique marine environment and local aquatic species of Nantucket. Located on the shoreline of the Harbor, the Aquarium displays local Nantucket marine species and is an excellent place to learn about the amazing marine life around the island.
The Nantucket Aquarium is home to a Touch Tank, where you can learn to hold crabs, an Outdoor Circle Tank, which is home to larger species like baby sharks, horseshoe crabs, and flounder, and various Aquarium Rooms, with each one filled with more than 50 animals including jellyfish, lobsters, shrimp, and tropical fish.
It’s a perfect spot to bring the whole family. Located at 28 Washington Street, property passes are $20 for adults, and $12 for children aged 3-16, while children 2 and under are free.
10) Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge
The Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge is located in the northern point of Nantucket. The Refuge provides a protected habitat to a wide variety of wildlife, including deer, seals, osprey, and rare sea birds.
With over 16 miles of trails and sand roads, the Refuge is a great spot to explore sand dunes and small coastal forests, salt marsh, and tidal ponds, with a hike to Great Point Lighthouse, a walk, or a bike ride. There are no general admission fees; however, permission and fees may be required when driving a vehicle onto the Refuge. And if you want the best experience, we highly recommend booking a tour with the Trustees of Reservations.
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How to Get to Nantucket, Massachusetts
The easiest way to get to Nantucket, Massachusetts, is to fly into the Nantucket Memorial Airport.
If preferring a ferry ride, the options are:
The Steamship Authority High-Speed and Traditional Car Ferry depart from Hyannis, MA.
Hy-Line Cruises High-Speed Ferry departs from Hyannis, MA.
Freedom Cruise Line departs from Harwich Port, MA.
Seastreak High-Speed Ferry from New York City, NY, and New Bedford, MA.
Best Places to Eat on Nantucket, Massachusetts
There are a number of great places to eat on Nantucket. Check out the Nautilus, Straight Wharf, Cru, or Charlie Noble restaurants. For dessert, check out Jack & Charlie’s Ice Cream, Lemon Press, or Aunt Leah’s Fudge.
Where to Stay on Nantucket, Massachusetts
There are a number of great places to stay on the island, but the hotels are expensive. If you are looking for a luxury experience, head to The White Elephant. This historic hotel has graced Nantucket’s waterfront since the 1920s.
Located further inland, 76 Main occupies the former home of a ship captain. The Wauwinet Nantucket is situated between the Atlantic Ocean and Nantucket Bay. It is an adults-only hotel perfect for a romantic getaway.
Best Time for Visiting Nantucket, Massachusetts
The best time to visit the island is during the summer. The temperatures are warm, and the island is bustling with people. There are a number of events and festivals that take place during the summer months, as well as plenty of activities to keep you busy.
The island can get quite congested during the summer months, as it is a popular tourist destination. If you are looking for a more peaceful experience, we recommend visiting during the shoulder months of March and April or September and October.
Nantucket is a beautiful and historic island that offers many things to do. Whether you’re looking for the perfect seafood meal or an educational museum, Nantucket has something for everyone.
Why is Nantucket, Massachusetts, famous?
Nantucket is a charming island most famous for its seaport town atmosphere. The island is a popular tourist destination with many things to do, including whale watching, shopping, golfing, biking, hiking, and exploring the harbor and downtown area, as well as the lighthouses.
Do I need a car in Nantucket, Massachusetts?
Nantucket is easily navigated on the bike, moped, or foot, and also by shuttle bus or taxi. If you’re staying outside of downtown Nantucket, however, or if you simply prefer to explore by car, you might want to bring your own car or rent one when you arrive.
What do I need to know before visiting Nantucket, Massachusetts?
Before taking a trip to Nantucket, you should be aware that the island is quite expensive. Accommodations, food, and shopping are all quite costly compared to the mainland.
When is the best time to go whale watching in Nantucket, Massachusetts?
The best time for whale watching in Massachusetts is in the warmer months, typically from April to October, although whales have been spotted in waters around Massachusetts as early as mid-March and as late as early November.
Is Nantucket, Massachusetts worth visiting?
Yes, Nantucket is absolutely worth visiting. The island has a lot to offer visitors, including beautiful beaches, charming shops and restaurants, and a long, storied history of sea life.
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