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Nantucket Day Trip Planner and Guide

A day trip to Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard is one of the favorite activities of Cape Cod visitors. Each island has its own distinct flavor and feel. Nantucket is the "Far Away Island", so named by the native Americans, about 25 - 30 miles from shore, depending on whether you embark from Hyannis or Falmouth. Martha's Vineyard, by comparison, is only 4 miles off the coast of Falmouth, and easily within view of the mainland. The fast ferries have made Nantucket, once considered "far away", a convenient one-hour jaunt over the water. There remains, however, a distinct "far away" feel to Nantucket Island. The atmosphere is somehow distant and other worldly in ways that are difficult to put your finger on, but you can definitely sense it, and it is part of the magic. Nantucket gets into your skin and your senses, and beckons you to return. There is simply no other place quite like it. So, if you want to enjoy a great day on the “Far Away Island”, here is an itinerary with ideas you can use to really make the best use of your time and make a great day of it.

Getting There From Here: You can fly from Hyannis by Cape Air or Nantucket Airlines, but for a day trip just about everybody takes the ferry. Get an advanced reservation on a fast ferry from Hyannis or Falmouth. These high speed boats ride on top of the water and get you there in about an hour. The "slow" ferry is about two hours each way. If you are going for the day, get a ticket for an early ferry going over, and a late one coming back. The ride out of Hyannis is particularly beautiful, past harbor front homes and beaches. As you pass the last harbor buoy the ferry speeds up like an airplane on the runway, and almost feels like it’s going airborne. The fast ferries travel at about 25 miles per hour, and Nantucket is about 25 miles from Hyannis Harbor.

Planning Your Day - There are a number of ways you can spend the day or part of it. Here are a number of ideas we have assembled, so you can decide how you want to plan and approach your visit.

Bicycling and Mopeds: Nantucket has a great bike trail system, and this a great way to see the outlying areas and find a great picnic spot. You can bring your bikes on the ferry or rent them in town. There are plenty of places to lock bikes in town, so after your island bike tour you can stroll and shop around the downtown. The bike rental stores have very helpful trail maps, or can on at the Chamber of Commerce at Zero Main Street. You won't want to bike around the bumpy cobblestoned streets of the town center for very long, so here are a few suggestions:

Ride northwest toward Madaket and Madaket Beach. This takes you out into the western side of the island. It is quiet and more rural and the bike paths are great. At the very end of the road you'll end up at Madaket Beach. An alternative is to take a right just before the beach and head down toward Madaket Harbor. You can lock the bikes and walk onto another nice beach inside the harbor. The swimming is nice and the harbor is quiet. Eel point road and Cliff Side Road make this a loop tour that, so you don't retrace your ride on the way back. The distance from town is about than 10 miles. On the way out of town, you can pick up some hefty sandwiches and goodies at a store called Something Natural.

Ride southeast toward Sconset. Sconset is very beautiful, especially in the spring when the roses are out. The cottages located on side lanes are quaint and interesting, and there is a store in the square where you can stop and get a snack and sit for a while. It is only about 7 miles. From here you can head north through Dionis, and then back toward town. It is a beautiful loop tour.

3. Head directly south to Surfside Beach. Only 3.5 miles one way.

Mopeds: If you rent mopeds, be extra careful on the in town roads. You cannot use the bike trails, you are sharing the road with lots of cars on a small island and windy roads. A few unfortunate moped riders have included a tour of the Nantucket Cottage Hospital emergency room as part of their island adventure.

Click Here For A Google Map of Nantucket Island, showing the bike loops to Madaket and Sconset  

Take A Narrated Tour Of The Island - 2 hours: There are local tour guides who will take small groups (6 or so) in a small van or mini van all around the island, and show you more in two hours than you could find or figure out yourself in days. Unlike some kind of "canned” tour, this was more like a friend guiding you around for a couple of hours. . The guide was local, friendly, interesting and knowledgeable about things historic, scenic and current. We drove out to the lighthouse at Great Point, walked around and saw the beach roses, and learned about the homes that are falling into the water and how much is being spent to save them. We took in the the history of the island, drove down to Sconset (also known as Siasconset), which is especially beautiful when the roses are out, and saw many things that the vast majority of day visitors never get anywhere near. If you really want to find out what Nantucket is all about in a couple of hours and get oriented, this is a great way to do it.

The Nantucket Whaling Museum - 1-1/2 - 2 hours: This is a comprehensive museum and exhibit about Nantucket, not just a whaling museum. Nantucket history and whaling are inseparable, as you will see, so don't pass this up thinking that it is all about whaling. The museum was completely renovated and modernized in 2005, and includes a multi-media presentation, huge whale skeleton and a an activity room for kids. There are many special exhibits and programs. The museum also provides organized 90 minute walking tours through the historic downtown.

Walking Tour Of The Historic District - 1 - 2 hours:: You can pick up a self guided map at the Chamber of Commerce at on Main Street. The map allows you to stroll around and learn the historic significance of a number of buildings in the main street area. Plan on spending around 1 - 2 hours taking the tour.

First Congregational Church Tower - 1/2 hour: This church tower provides the best view of Nantucket, and you can see Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod on a clear day, from about 120 feet above the street. Between about mid-May and mid-October, church volunteers open the church to visitors; also the tower, with its unparallel view, to folks who are willing to climb 94 steps to the observation room. From here, on a clear day, Martha's Vineyard and the hills of Cape Cod can be seen. On the way up you'll see the old bell, which is still rung on special occasions. The tower tour is $2.50, last time we checked. Who says nothing on Nantucket is inexpensive? Open: Mid-June to mid-Oct., Mon.-Sat. 10-4, and Fri. and Sat. Daffodil and Memorial weekends; services Sun. 9 and 10 AM.

Walking, Exploring, Shopping and Dining Around Town - 2 - 3 hours: We leave this for last only because you can stroll and dine at your leisure, and whatever you decide to buy, you don’t have carry it around all day. The town center is a short walk to the ferry, so if you notice time getting short you’re not going to be 10 miles out of town on your moped. Stroll down main street and around all the side streets. There are lots of unique galleries, shops and restaurants, more than you could visit if you were here for weeks.

Finally, the downtown offers a view of some fantastic vessels, and a beautiful inner harbor, known as the Nantucket Boat Basin - 1 hour. The outer harbor is a stunning display of beautiful motor and sailing vessels at their moorings, but the boat basin allows you to walk up and down the wharfs, with the boats right there as you walk by. There are a number of very impressive, world class vessels here.

And finally, click here for some interesting Nantucket trivia - provided by the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce.

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