Planning the perfect day on Nantucket requires little more than a sense of adventure. But to truly maximize your day trip, a few insider tips on what to see and do, where to grab a bite to eat, and how to travel around the island helps a great deal.
Tip # 1: Getting to the Island
Hop onboard a fast ferry with either Hy-Line Cruises or the Steamship Authority out of Hyannis Harbor for a swift one-hour cruise across Nantucket Sound to the docks in Nantucket Town. Additionally, Freedom Cruise Line out of Harwich offers an 80-minute transport seasonally. And, if you prefer to arrive by air, Cape Air flies to Nantucket from its home airfield in Barnstable in just under 20 minutes. The view from the sky is breathtaking, but you’ll need transportation to get downtown, as the airfield is about 3 miles out of town. Your best bet is a taxi, but buses also serve the airport. Plan at least 30 minutes to get downtown from the airport by bus.
Tip # 2: Getting Around the Island
Once you arrive on the island, you’ll need to decide how you want to spend your day. Some visitors wander the town’s cobbled streets, visiting historic sites and hunting for souvenirs in charming shops and boutiques. Others head straight out of town to one of the many lovely beaches. And a considerable number of hearty souls choose to pedal through the moors via bicycle to Siasconset and Sankaty Head Light. Whatever your idea of the perfect day on Nantucket, we have a few suggestions to help you maximize your visit.
Tip # 3: Touring the Island by Minibus
Often you will find a variety of minibusses awaiting your arrival when you disembark the ferry. For a standard fee, you can take a delightful 90-minute circumnavigation of the “Gray Lady,” Nantucket’s nickname, in the comfort of a small passenger van. It’s a great way to get an overview of the island in a short amount of time. Many tour guides are born and raised islanders and will regale you with humorous anecdotes about windmills, cranberry bogs, and nefarious whaling captains. If the tour vans are not at the dock, walk up to the visitors center on Federal Street for more information and reservations.
Tip # 4: Walking Tours
Nantucket Preservation Trust offers a variety of public walking tours of the island throughout the season. From a historic walk down Main Street to an in-depth look at the unique fishing village of Siasconset, your guides share their intimate knowledge of the island’s long and storied past.
Tip # 5: Water Tours of Nantucket
If your trip to Nantucket by ferry leaves you wanting more excitement on the water, choose one of the many tours offered by Nantucket Water Tours. Take an eco-tour or harbor cruise, travel up the harbor to see oyster farmers at work, or visit the remaining historic sites from Nantucket’s whaling era. These 1- to 2-hour tours are perfect for the whole family and an enjoyable way to see the island from the water.
Tip # 6: Bike Tours
Nantucket is blessed with beautiful, paved bike paths that crisscross the island. If you didn’t bring your own equipment, stop by Young’s Bicycle Shop to rent one and grab a copy of their self-guided tours. Alternately, Nantucket Bike Tours offers an introduction to Nantucket via bike, visiting most of the historical sites in and around the downtown area.
Tip # 7: Nantucket Whaling Museum
Be sure to save some time on your day trip to visit the Whaling Museum on Broad Street for an in-depth view of whaling artifacts. A 46-foot skeleton of a sperm whale soars above Gosnold Hall, and a replica of the Hadwen and Barney Oil and Candle Factory are but a few of the magnificent relics of the storied whaling days on exhibit. Be sure to head up to the 6th-floor observation deck for a spectacular view of the boat basin. And don’t miss the impressive collection of scrimshaw and lightship baskets in the Gallery.
Tip # 8: Stunning View from a Bell Tower
If you’re willing to climb 94 steps to the top of the bell tower of the First Congregational Church on Centre Street, you’ll be rewarded with a phenomenal view of the town below and the yachts in the boat basin. On a clear day, you can see for miles across Nantucket Sound. It’s a remarkable sight for a small entrance fee, plus a good workout.
Tip # 9: Nantucket’s Charming Shops
Wander the cobbled streets of Nantucket Town, window shopping, and pausing now and then to imagine what life must have been like during the island’s heyday. Not much has changed. The streets and storefronts retain the charm of yesteryear while offering an eclectic array of merchandise. Stop into Murray’s Toggery Shop for a pair of Nantucket Reds, Mitchell’s Book Corner for a tome on Nantucket’s history, and The Hub for a latte and Nantucket souvenirs.
Tip # 10: Island Cuisine
When it’s time to eat, your choices are practically unlimited. Try The Brotherhood on Broad Street near the Whaling Museum. For a trip back in time, try the Whaling Bar. Cru on Straight Wharf serves fantastic cocktails with an ocean view. Or stop into Le Languedoc Bistro, also on Broad Street, for casual dining based on classic French techniques.
The perfect day on Nantucket means different things to every visitor. But the one thing everyone agrees on is that it’s well worth the trip. So, the next time you visit our bed and breakfast on Cape Cod, be sure to plan a visit to the “Grey Lady.” We know you’ll be glad you did.