If you have never been to Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, this summer might just be the time to take a trip. Whether you go to the day or spend the weekend, you won’t be disappointed. Nantucket is small, unique Island off the coast of Hyannis, Massachusetts. It is 30 miles south of Cape Cod and has been named a National Historic District that looks basically the same as it was in the 17th century. Nantucket was a booming whaling port back in the early days with seaside cottages and 17th century lamps lining the streets. Today, there are still many of those seaside cottages around and the streets are lined with old-fashioned lamps. Instead of seeing whaling ships lining the docks, one sees an array of modern watercraft moored.
Your journey begins with a drive to Hyannisport, Massachusetts where you will catch the high-speed ferry to Nantucket Island. There are two travel methods to get to Nantucket: ferry/boat or airplane. Seeing how most of us don’t own a boat or want to pay the price of airline tickets, the ferry is the way to travel. The Hy-Line Cruises out of Hyannis, MA is the best method we found to get to Nantucket Island. They offer both a high-speed ferry and a traditional ferry, the high-speed takes an hour to get to Nantucket, whereas, it is almost two hours for the traditional ferry. In addition to the ferry service, they have cruises and fishing charters.
After an uneventful two hour drive from our house in Connecticut to Hyannis, we pulled into the ferry lot, dropped off our luggage, paid for parking in one of their lots at a cost of $20 for two days, parked the car, and boarded the ferry. Parking cost varies depending upon the time of the year.
If you have a wait for the ferry there is a deli restaurant on the other side of the parking lot. You can buy food and bring it on the ferry too. We bought a nice Caesar salad and some scones and decided to get a drink on-board the ferry. Did you know you could bring pets with you on the Ferry? We must have seen 5 dogs on this trips of all shapes and sizes during our Ferry trip to the Island.
We decided to sit in the open-air upper deck on this leg of the journey. Here’s a hint – before the ferry starts, if the weather is good the deck will fill up fast. Once it starts most people flee inside and only a few remain. The best seats are just outside the door on either side or the very back row that is covered by the bulkhead. We met a couple that have a summer home on Nantucket and we chatted the whole trip out as the sea breeze blew around us.
The ferry trip seemed to go by quickly and the next thing we knew was that we were pulling into the Nantucket Island dock. As we pulled up we saw a lighthouse with a family and children waving at the boat.
When the town of Nantucket appears you know you are in a for something special. All of the houses, shops, and buildings have the weather worn New England look. I hear there are even strict guidelines about how you can paint and what your house can look like in keeping with the look and feel that Nantucket is famous for.
As we were headed out of the dock, we took in a few quick sights of the center of Nantucket Island. The roads in the center of Nantucket are made of large cobblestones, some of them may be the original ones used to make the road. The shops in town coupled with the streets, bring me back to what I believe a New England seaport town would have looked like. There are a lot of nice shops to browse in.
We were staying at a Inn outside of town and they picked us up in their van. As we left town and worked our way into the rural areas, all the houses still use clapboard as siding. That is because the island is a historic district and even the modern Cumberland Farm Convenience store we passed had that look to fit in with the rest of the island. A couple things quickly stood out: narrow roads and lots of people riding bicycles.
We stayed for the weekend at The Wauwinet Inn. The Wauwinet is out towards the northeast end of Nantucket Island, about 9 miles from downtown Nantucket. The Inn is beautiful and is quintessential New England. It is a peaceful place to stay, enjoy the spa, go to the beach and eat at the acclaimed Toppers restaurant which is on-site. Our stay was amazing and we can’t wait to visit again.
The Inn is so peaceful that you will think no one else is staying there but when the sun is about to set, everyone comes from all corners and fills the back lawn. Guests sip wine and grab a chaise lounge to watch the sun go down. The view of the sunset over the Nantucket Bay is stunning. It was one of the most amazing and unobstructed sunsets I have seen.
The next day we spent exploring the Island. On our drive around we stopped at the Bartlett Farms market. The Bartlett Family has owned and operated this farm since the early 1800’s. They have fresh fruits and vegetables, garden plants, and flowers in the market and also offer Farm Tours and Wine Tastings.
In 2006 they opened their market where they sell produce from their farm. In addition to the fresh produce, the market has organic foods, pre-prepared meals, meats, dairy products, and household staples. Attached to the market is their garden center where you can get plants and garden accessories. As we walked around the market, it reminded me of a smaller version of Whole Foods or Wegmans. Within the market, they have their own kitchen where they offer prepared fresh food and desserts. All of the prepared food and dessert looked delicious, especially the glazed walnut topped cheesecake. There must have been two inches of walnut topping on it. Too bad we were still full from breakfast because there were a lot of delicious looking items I wanted to buy.
Then we drove up to the one of the beaches. We weren’t dressed for the beach so we just walked and looked at the houses. It must be wonderful to live on this island, but very expensive. Spending the day at the beach on Nantucket Island is definitely something to plan on for a future visit.
Back in town we did a little window shopping and more sightseeing. On our walk we encountered an painter Illya Kagan who was working on a commissioned painting a picture of the harbor for a client.
As we strolled through town, I felt like I was walking through a slightly modernized 19th century seaport village and all that was needed were people wearing clothes from that era. The streets were lined with boutique shops, art galleries and museums. This is no bargain-hunters shopping so be prepared to spend big bucks if you shop on Nantucket Island.
Due to time constraints, they were several things were unable to do, like visit some of the preserved lands. With over 45 percent of the island preserved and protected in its natural state there would be several areas of natural groups of plants and animals to see. One tour/excursion we missed, but wanted to take was Great Point Wildlife Refuge Natural History Excursion on the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge. The refuge itself is open year round, but the excursion is only open from April to October. The excursion takes you on a guided tour of the refuge; seeing and learning about Nantucket’s wildlife, natural history and habitats. You will visit the bird sanctuary and Great Point Lighthouse where there may be some seals loitering.
There is so much we wanted to do but just didn’t have the time. These are on our list the next time we visit Nantucket Island.
- Visit any of the 17 historic properties or museums
- Take a bicycle excursion around the island
- Go on nature walks
- Harbor cruise
- See lighthouses up close
- and of course, visit the beaches
After walking around town, we grabbed a bite to eat and readied ourselves for the ferry ride back to Hyannis. The ride back was spent like the ride over; chatting with other riders. I have to say that Hy-Line Cruises was very accommodating, as we had to change our reservations a couple times and they were more than happy to meet our needs.
We really enjoyed our short stay on Nantucket Island. It was picturesque and charming with a wide variety of things to do. You will get the true sense of New England when you visit here. They have year-round theatrical performances, music, art, film, and literature events, so you need not visit just during the summer months. I found it be relaxing, especially where we stayed. I recommend going there in the middle of spring or fall season as the population increases 4 fold during the summer months. We heard about a Christmas Stroll that takes place in early December and the winters are mild, so that may be a good time to visit.