Nantucket is an island off Cape Cod in Massachusetts and one of the most beautiful places in New England. It has a large history of whaling but now only offers whale watching tours in the season, April to October. The island is the definition of super cute. Wild nature, incredible wildlife, and friendly locals. Downtown with its rough, cobbled streets and concentration of dark gray cottages that otherwise are spotted throughout the entire island. If this sounds tempting, a day trip to Nantucket is definitely something you should consider. As long as the weather is warm and nice.
Other than downtown, a day trip gives you the opportunity to explore other parts of the island. Like the beaches that cover most of the island’s coastline with white fine sand dunes and meet wild green bushes before you see any houses. Houses so charming you just want to live in them. The best way to get around unless you take a car is to see Nantucket by bike. There are also a few nice but short hikes you can do to immerse yourself into Nantucket’s wildlife.
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How to get to Nantucket island
To go on a day trip to Nantucket you want to travel from either Hyannis, Harwich Port in Cape Cod or New Bedford, MA with the earliest boat you can get.
There are daily ferries in the summer months. I recommend you aim to take an early ferry to get the most out of your day trip to Nantucket. The earliest ferry from Hyannis leaves at 6:10 am and the latest back again leaves at 8:45.
Day trip to Nantucket
On a day trip to Nantucket, there is lots to see and do whether you like chilling at the beach, go shopping and sipping coffee, admire the architecture or explore the small hiking routes the island has to offer. Just make sure you bring your camera. Because this picturesque island will beg you to take photos.
Luckily, the island is not very big, though you won’t get time to see it all, at least you can choose a few things that appeal to you for the day. I have made a list of the top things to do in Nantucket for one day. However, if you have more time, the island makes the perfect weekend getaway from Boston.
Things to do in Nantucket for one day
Downtown is best explored by foot. There are numerous small cobbled streets that are perfect to walk around. You will find some tourist shopping and a few nice cafés to have a coffee.
There are plenty of pretty buildings all around so make sure you have your camera ready.
There are several interesting museums you can visit on a day trip to Nantucket. I will only list the most popular ones here.
Nantucket Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum
In the 19th Century, more than 700 shipwrecks stranded around Nantucket as a result of unpredictable weather where fog, storms, and strong currents. The surroundings got referred to as “a graveyard of the Atlantic”.
The Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum is raised in memory of all the brave locals of Nantucket who risked their lives to save the shipwrecked.
The ticket includes a free guided tour, short films, access to the unique annual exhibition, Folger’s March view and discovery and scenic outdoor picnic seating. In addition, there are special activities for kids.
The museum is open from the last Monday in May (Memorial Day) to the 12th of October (Columbus Day).
Nantucket Whaling Museum
In the 18th Century, Nantucket was known for a massive whaling industry. The museum includes several galleries explaining the whaling industry and all the industries that arose from the era of whaling in Nantucket. You also find the skeleton of a 14 meters long sperm whale in the museum.
Walking up the circular staircase to Tucker’s Roofwalk you will get to a spectacular panorama view of Nantucket Harbor.
For official opening hours and ticket prices check the museum’s official web site here.
Museum of African American History
The Museum of African American History on Nantucket resides in two historical buildings, the African Meeting House and Florence Higginbotham House. The first is the only public building that was occupied by African Americans in the 19th Century that still stands. This makes it a historic building. The museum is in memory of the flourishing African American community that dominated Nantucket in the 19th Century.
The museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays through summer and fall. In the winter months and spring from January to May, they are open Friday to Sunday. Walking tours are offered on Saturdays, and petitions for visiting other days than the regular opening days can be made upfront.
You can find more information on their official web site.
Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum
Nantucket has a rich history of lightship basket making. The museum aims to educate and engage visitors about the art form and raise awareness and appreciation of it. In the museum, you can see old and contemporary artwork as well as learn how the lightship baskets are made. Beginners to advanced classes are offered.
For opening hours check their official web site here.
Visit Siasconset town and beach
Siasconset is said to be the most beautiful part of Nantucket. The locals just call it Sconset. The charming cottages from the 18th Century cluster up in the little village and continue along the seaside. Packed in tiny green gardens it is easy to forget that people live there, so remember to not step into their property and take photos in a respectful manner.
There are a couple of restaurants where you can have lunch or you can venture down to the beach. The road that turns right in the roundabout once you enter the village goes straight down to the beach. This long, white beach is one of the best in Nantucket and great for a swim on a hot summer day.
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Sconset Bluff Walk
Sconset Bluff Walk is the most picturesque scenic walk open to the public in Nantucket and one of the nicest hikes on the East Coast. This hidden path starts, coming from the roundabout entering the village and walking down to the beach, to the left before stepping down to the actual beach.
The path continues on the road through houses until you get to a left curve and you see the track starting beneath the trees in front of you. As you walk up the trek until the trees open up, take a U-turn to your right. Finally, you find yourself in front of the trail sign where Sconset Bluff Walk starts. The rest of the path goes along the cliffside looking out on the stunning beach. The only thing in between are lush, wild-growing bushes tangled in colorful wildflowers laid out like a rough yet smooth carpet to meet the fine, white sand.
Photograph the Sankaty Head Lighthouse
If you visit Siasconset, you are not too far from the Sankaty Head Lighthouse which was built in 1850. If you walk the Sconset Bluff Walk you are nearly there. Because of erosion, the trail takes you back to the road for the last kilometer or so. Sankaty Head Lighthouse is situated next to a golf course which makes stand out in the otherwise green surroundings.
Hike Millbrook or the Gardener Farm walk
Driving or biking west on Madaket Road, turn left at Millbrook Road. Then continue until the road turns into a dirt road. Once on the dirt road, you will see trails on your right-hand side. You can park your car or bike and walk into the forest for a small walk or a longer hike.
The land is flat, so it doesn’t require any specific fitness level. As the green trees tighten around you on the less frequented trail you are very likely to spot rabbits jumping past or even a deer or two. Also, numerous amount of birds can be spotted walking in the bushes right in front of you if you walk quietly.
There are several paths in the forest and you can make a loop of 20 minutes or walk during a couple of hours if you enjoy the silence of nature only broken by the cracking in bushes by wildlife and the singing of birds.
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Visit Nantucket responsibly
Make sure to be a responsible traveler even when only visiting Nantucket in a day. The island has a large number of wildlife that needs protection, so it’s important not to feed or interrupt wildlife you meet. Observe and enjoy if you are lucky to see an of them.
However, turtles have been observed crossing the road and have easily bin hit by cars. If you see turtles on the road make sure you wait for them to cross. Some species can bite pretty badly, so you don’t want to pick them up with your bare hands!
In a small place like Nantucket, where there are only a few people living there all year around, it is important to respect the locals and act like a visitor.
Make sure you don’t litter in nature and use the trash cans available whether in Downtown or other parts of the island.
I also recommend you bring your own reusable water bottle so you avoid buying single use plastic bottles.
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