Are you planning a dream vacation to Nantucket? Well, this tiny island in Massachusetts is among the country’s most popular coastal vacation spots and is accessible by plane or ferry. Nantucket has a lot to offer whichever season you want to visit, from cobblestone streets and historic architecture to stunning ocean views and beaches.

The island derives its name from a Southern New England Algonquian word that means “in the middle of waters” or “far away land.” It has a great historical significance, particularly serving as the world’s whaling capital from 1690 to the 1800s and featuring hundreds of restored pre-Civil War homes.

There’s something mystifying about Nantucket that you’d want to experience. As you plan your first trip to the island, here are some ideas for a memorable vacation:

1. Book Your Accommodation Well in Advance

If you plan to visit Nantucket in the high season, booking your accommodation in advance is a good idea. You should also do the same when visiting the island when there’s a popular festival going on.

Making early reservations for your accommodation can help you avoid last-minute delays and glitches. It’s also a great way to get the best deals and a better choice of living units. 

As you look for accommodation units, stick to a budget and inform the facilitators about your special requests or needs in advance. Also, read up on reviews before booking.

Whether you are traveling as a lively group of friends or family, consider booking a house for your stay for complete privacy and great value for money. Vacation homes also have a homely feel and are very spacious, making them perfect for group visits.

2. Don’t Try to Walk Everywhere on the Island

While Nantucket may seem like a small island, it’s quite time-consuming and tiring to explore it by walking. To avoid this, arrange your transportation before getting to the island. Your options include renting a car in Nantucket or transporting your car through the ferry. 

While bringing a vehicle with you is quite convenient, getting it on the island can be costly. You also need to make an early reservation for this service. If you want to avoid the extra ferry costs and the headache of booking in advance, renting a car is a great option. You can even rent an SUV or a Jeep with a beach driving permit to drive over beach sand.

Alternatively, you may use a public bus or taxi to move around.

3. Explore Nantucket by Bike

With many bike trails in Nantucket, it’s easy to get to the island’s main points of interest via bike. For instance, you can bike to the Sankaty Head Lighthouse in Siasconset, the best spot to watch the sunset. The island’s three main bike trails connect Madaket on the west, Siasconset on the east, and Surfside on the south.

Finding a bike rental on the island is easy, and the service is quite affordable. Before arriving on the island, read about some popular bike rental shops to know what to expect.

4. Prepare for the Unpredictable Weather

Though Nantucket has favorable weather conditions during the summer, the weather conditions are unpredictable all year. However, you can expect the nights to feel chilly. Daytime temperatures vary with the season.

To cope with the uncertain weather patterns, prepare beforehand. Pack a light jacket, an umbrella, and a couple of footwear items to be ready for whatever happens. 

5. Research the Restaurants

As you decide what to do in Nantucket, research the best dining options. Doing this will save you from last-minute disappointments, as good restaurants are often fully booked. 

While researching, look at the menus, pricing, and days/hours of operation. You should also look at their limitations and procedures.

Nantucket is not known to be a budget destination, so you need to save a large sum of money for food. The island features a variety of restaurants and eateries with waterfront views, diverse menu options, and exclusive offers. 

For lunch, many restaurants in Nantucket don’t make reservations necessary if they are open to everyone. 

6. Visit the Lighthouses

Nantucket has some of the most picturesque and beautiful lighthouses on that side of the east coast. So, visiting them is a great way to spend your time on the island.

You can visit Great Point Lighthouse, Sankaty Head Lighthouse, and Brant Point Lighthouse. Great Point Lighthouse is situated at the island’s most Northern part within the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Reserve, while Sankaty Head Lighthouse is situated in Siasconset. Brant Point Lighthouse is located at Brant Point Beach.

Constructed in 1849, Sankaty Head Lighthouse is the last lighthouse on the island to gain construction approval. It stands 158 feet tall, features red and white stripes, and sits on a 7-acre open field surrounded by Siasconset Beach.

Great Point is quite hard to reach since it sits at the northernmost point of Nantucket. Nevertheless, getting to this lighthouse is fun if you are an adventurous traveler.

Of all the Nantucket lighthouses, Brant Point is the easiest to access since it lies on a beach near downtown Nantucket. When visiting the island via ferry, you’ll see this lighthouse as the ferry approaches the dock. It is a great place to watch ferries and sailboats go by.

7. Enjoy the Beaches

Nantucket is popular for its pristine and beautiful shorelines that facilitate plenty of water activities. Check out north shore beaches like Dionis and Jetties if you want to surf in gentle waters. Cisco, Madequecham, Nobadeer, and Surfside Beach are south shore favorites for cold water surfing.

The water temperatures on the island’s Atlantic side are usually cooler than on the North Shore coast. Since they tend to have shifting sands, strong currents, and heavy surf, it’s crucial to know how to handle yourself when caught in one.

The north shore beaches, except Brant Point, are more favorable to children and families since they have a gentler surf. They are accessible from town and boast great views of the harbor.

As you explore Nantucket’s beaches, take safety precautions for a nuisance-free experience. These include being on the lookout for large waves and swimming with the right gear.

8. Learn About the History

Over the centuries, historians, storytellers, filmmakers, and biographers have helped record Nantucket’s rich history. If you are visiting the island for the first time, you can learn about this history from people who are well-versed in it. Here are some of the things you may learn:

  • The Cape Verdean Heritage (The long association between the Cape Verde archipelago off Senegal’s coast and Nantucket)
  • Nantucket Lightship Baskets 
  • The Essex and its legacy (A story about an enraged sperm whale that rammed into and sank the Essex, a Nantucket whaleship, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean)
  • Nantucket Women’s History (Including Mary Starbuck’s involvement in Quakerism on the island)
  • Native people (The history of human habitation in Nantucket dates back to about 12,000 years ago)
  • Artifacts (Over 15,000 artifacts in the Nantucket Historical Association artifact collection that reflect the variety of island life)
  • Whaling (Learn about oil extraction from small whales washed ashore)

The Nantucket Whaling Museum is one of the best places to immerse yourself in the island’s rich history. Under the management of the Nantucket Historical Association, this museum features exhibit spaces and galleries with art and artifacts on Nantucket life on display.

9. Enjoy Shopping

Besides featuring vast lands of untouched nature and historic architecture, Nantucket boasts a large collection of the finest antique houses, shops, bookstores, and art galleries. From fine linens to hand-made jewelry and antiques, there are a lot of items first-timers can shop in Nantucket.

The Nantucket Historic District is the best place to start your shopping adventures. In this charming downtown, you’ll encounter plenty of shops and stores with plenty of items to buy.

Some of the shops to check out include Craftmasters of Nantucket and Murray’s Toggery Shop. Craftmasters of Nantucket specializes in jewelry and ornaments, among other items. On the other hand, Murray’s Toggery Shop is known for Nantucket Reds, a unique clothing style with a weathered look.

10. Don’t Miss the Spirit

A trip to Nantucket is incomplete without a visit to the Boat Basin, a full-service marina in the Nantucket Harbor. The Boat Basin boasts luxury amenities, 240 boat slips, and pet-friendly docks.

Walking through the ‘Sconset Bluff Walk is another great way to experience the spirit of Nantucket. You get to immerse yourself in the scenic sea and heathland views for a relaxing and calming effect.

The last place you should check out is Cisco Brewers for tastings of wine and craft beer and live music. This rustic brewery features food tents and food tracks with incredible options. Their beer, cocktail, and wine selection is also great.

Final Thoughts

As a picturesque island with stunning natural resources and well-preserved historic structures, Nantucket is great for solo visits or family vacations. Take note of the suggestions discussed in this guide for a memorable time in this vacation destination.

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