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Where is Nantucket? An elbow-shaped island located 30 miles off Cape Cod in Massachusetts, Nantucket is a favorite summer vacation destination prized for its seaside charm, great restaurants, and lively shopping scene. Hailed as the whaling capital of the world in the mid-19th century, Nantucket built American fortunes as it manufactured the oil that lit the country’s homes and streets. Today, this 14-mile-long island is a summer escape for a modern and more diverse upper class; thankfully, though, Nantucket is not exclusively for the wealthy. Much of its 82 miles of prime coastline is open to the public, while at the height of summer, downtown brings out a mix of classes and backgrounds, heritages, and fortunes. Love historic architecture? The entire town of Nantucket is an official National Historic District and includes more than 800 pre-1850 structures within one square mile — while still embracing the present day.
Ready for a visit? Read on to find out the answer to “Where is Nantucket?” and learn how you can get there, plus discover a few of our favorite things to do, places to eat, and places to stay.
Where is Nantucket?
Getting to Nantucket
While you can access Nantucket via a short flight from Boston or Cape Cod, most visitors come by ferry from Hyannis. Two outfits, Hy-Line and the Steamship Authority, offer service. The traditional ferry takes a little more than two hours, while the high-speed boat gets you there in half that time.
Wondering if you should bring a car to Nantucket? You can, but why bother? It’s expensive, ferry slots for vehicles fill up fast in the summer season, and Nantucket itself is made for walking and cycling (and in a pinch, you can grab a taxi). But if you truly do need a vehicle, consider renting one on the island.
Things to Do on Nantucket
On Nantucket, cycling routes fan out from downtown in every direction. To Madaket. To Surfside Beach. To Wauwinet. Of the 30-odd miles of paved paths here, the longest (and arguably most scenic) is an 18-mile round-trip that begins downtown and heads east, parallel to Polpis Road, to the sea. Bring your bike or rent from a number of local outfitters — most notably Young’s Bicycle Shop, overseen by third-generation owner Harvey Young just steps from the ferry landing. ’Sconset Bluff Walk
Cutting between the Baxter Road estates and the Siasconset bluffs, this is easily one of New England’s great walking paths and a bucket-list Nantucket activity. Beyond the gorgeous ocean views, part of the appeal of the walk is that it’s not one kind of experience. You’re cutting through a small neighborhood of houses (respectfully, of course), then advancing through a manicured backyard; now you’re under tree cover. There are flowers and birds, pathways to the water, and a lineup of places to stop and drink in the scenery. Make it a quick jaunt or part of a long afternoon — either way, you won’t be disappointed.
SEE MORE:A Walk for All | The ’Sconset Bluff WalkMadaket Beach
Nantucket sunsets are breathtaking, and no visitor to the island should skip watching the day end at this beach. There’s no land on the western horizon to get in the way of the show — just open water and a view that will make memories to last a lifetime. Named a 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Beach for Sunsets.”
It’s a nonstop party at this dog-and-kid-friendly mini-village, where Nantucket’s only craft brewery and its winery and distillery sisters showcase their liquid artistry. Bike the 2.5 miles inland or catch the free seasonal shuttle from downtown, and join locals and tourists who know they’ll find live music and the island’s best food trucks here. Seats at beer hall-style communal tables under the sun are quickly claimed by fans of Cisco’s unique beers, which include Gripah, a grapefruit IPA that drinks easy as a day at the beach. Named a 2019 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Brewery Experience.”
Nantucket Whaling MuseumHonoring the gritty days when Nantucket whalers roamed the seas, this impressive museum makes its home in — wait for it — a former spermaceti candle factory. Here, visitors are served up a distinct collection of scrimshaw, a detailed chronicling of the industry’s rise and fall, and one giant whale skeleton. For more island history, be sure to visit the old African Meeting House, once the central gathering spot for the African-American community of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Places to Eat on Nantucket
At breakfast, customers line up for the sourdough French toast. Come dinner, this bistro dishes up upscale cuisine like linguine with local quahogs and swordfish au poivre. When we visit Nantucket, it’s one of our first stops.
SEE MORE:Black-Eyed Susan’s | Local FlavorThe Downyflake
This classic family-owned diner has been contributing to Nantucket’s charm for more than 80 years. On your way to the bluff walk, stop by for a freshly made doughnut or tuck into a hearty breakfast or lunch. Open daily from early April to mid-January. The Proprietors
Those Quaker whalers who made the first Nantucket fortunes picked up a taste for the exotic as they traipsed around the globe. Honoring that tradition, this contemporary American restaurant borrows techniques and spices from Asia and Europe to make the most of New England meat and fish. Named a 2015 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Global Dining.”
An upscale burger joint with more than 30 craft beers makes so much sense on Nantucket that you might have to stand in line to get inside. The signature Lola Burger is a half-pound patty with cheddar cheese, red onion compote, and foie gras sauce. The “adult happy meal” includes the burger with fries and a quarter-bottle of California brut. Tuna, lamb, and falafel burgers are also available. Named a 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Burger.”
Brotherhood of ThievesIts motto is “good food, good drink, good company” — and with a name like Brotherhood of Thieves, how could anyone resist checking this place out? Expect a wide selection of typical American dishes and New England seafood favorites, served in either the cozy basement tavern, the light-filled main dining room, or the delightful beer garden.
Places to Stay on Nantucket
Now a part of the Lark hotel chain, this boutique beauty is centrally located in the heart of downtown. Sensitive restoration has maintained the Nantucket authenticity of this former sea captain’s home while making way for the comforts and technology that 21st-century guests expect. A courtyard with fire pits has a BYOB cocktail mixer bar, and an on-site café can steam lattes and cappuccinos to order. Named a 2015 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Island Inn.”
Greydon HouseUber-chic guest rooms and nautical-tinged decor by award-winning Manhattan design firm Roman and Williams. A cocktail list curated by star Boston barman Jackson Cannon. A laid-back fine dining restaurant (open year-round, by the way) helmed by Michelin-starred chef Marcus Gleadow-Ware. Amenities galore, including beach supplies on-demand and bath and beauty products from the likes of Ursa Major and island favorite Follain. No wonder this inviting 16-room inn is set in what was once a doctor’s home practice: It’s a modern shot in the arm for Nantucket’s bed-and-breakfast scene. Named a 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Island Lodging.”Woof Cottages
Cuter than a wee lobster chew toy, these 12 wharfside cottages at the Nantucket Boat Basin overlook no detail in welcoming dogs to island life: a basket of treats and toys, a personalized ID tag, a high-end therapeutic pet bed, and even doggie sunscreen. Owners, meanwhile, get a list of Nantucket’s many pet-friendly attractions—and can direct additional inquiries to Bailey the concierge, a black Lab mix who knows all the island’s ins and outs. Named one of the 2018 Editors’ Picks for Dog Lovers.
SEE MORE:9 Favorite Nantucket Hotels & Inns
Have you ever visited the island of Nantucket? Tell us about it!
This post was first published in 2018 and has been updated.