Nantucket, a pretty small island south of Cape Cod, is one of the best destinations for summer-long vacations, day or weekend trips, weddings, and romantic holidays.
Once considered the world’s whaling capital and still known by the name “The Little Lady of the Sea,” Nantucket is a charming New England town and place which you should definitely add to your bucket list.
It has a unique vibe which is due to the picturesque architecture, quaint cottages and historical buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, and blooming colorful gardens, as well as its iconic Nantucket Reds pants, and the gray weathered shingles on most homes and buildings.
Once you set foot on the island, you will most likely immediately start planning your next trip there.
The reason is that you can spend a day, week, or even a month on Nantucket just doing nothing, sleeping in, and then relaxing on one of the many soft-sanded beaches. At the same time, you can do the exact opposite and have fun-filled days every day during your stay there.
There is a lot to see and do in Nantucket. Here are some of the reasons why you should visit this island, and what to do when you get there.
Hit the beaches
Eighty miles of the shoreline of Nantucket is made up of beaches. The authorities and the conservation organizations of the island are dedicated to protecting nature and keeping the private beaches and the waterfront accessible by all. You can choose any of the over 25 beaches and will surely be impressed by every single one of them. The soft and fine sands and dunes, the endless ocean, and the beautiful views are what bring so many new and returning tourists and seasonal residents to the island.
You can pick a beach that is more children-friendly, like Children’s Beach or Jetties Beach. They are located on the north coast of Nantucket and thus border with the Nantucket Sound. This means that the water is warmer and calmer, and the weather is more predictable.
The southern beaches are on the shores of the open Atlantic Ocean. They are colder, with bigger waves and stronger currents, and preferred by surfers and youngsters. Some of them include Surfside, Cisco, Miacomet, and Tom Nevers.
There are several surf schools and rentals on the beaches of Nantucket, so you can enjoy some water sports while you are there.
Other beaches have amenities such as restrooms, showers, playgrounds, lifeguards, and more.
All beaches are easy to access via shuttle buses, by car, bike, or by foot. You can also book and rent a house or other residence for your stay based on the beaches and areas you would prefer to go to.
Learn more about the whaling industry history
The island of Nantucket is probably best known as being the former whaling capital of the world. Whaling was an industry that formed the island’s lifestyle and has left a clear imprint on all aspects of Nantucket, including the architecture, the culture, the community spirit, and the overall feel.
The Whaling Museum is ranked as the island’s number one attraction and was declared one of the ten places to visit in America before you die by travel expert Andrew Harper.
It is located in downtown Nantucket in a whale oil candle factory from the 1800s.
You can see multiple artifacts, whaling tools, weapons, pictures, and other related items from those glorious times.
There is even a skeleton of a sperm whale which is nearly 50 feet long, hanging from the ceiling.
At this museum, you will learn more about the story of the Essex whaleship, which a whale sank, but its captain survived. This story became the inspiration for Herman Melville to write Moby Dick.
The expositions are constantly being renewed, so it is always worth revisiting the museum when you are in town.
Enjoy the view from the Sankaty Head Light
Built on the easternmost point of Nantucket in 1850, the Sankaty Head Light is still fully functional.
In 1987 it was added to the US National Register of Historic Places.
The lighthouse itself is beautiful, and the view from the grounds there is spectacular.
One of the interesting facts about this lighthouse is that in 2007, it was actually moved back into the land by 400 miles. This was done to protect it from falling due to the corroding shores.
It is near the village of Siasconset and can be reached via the beautiful Sconset Bluff Walk walking path.
Be amazed by the stories of shipwrecks and bravery on the island
There is a small and not as well-known Nantucket Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum on the island, which is definitely worth visiting.
You will see actual artifacts from the ships which have sunk in the waters surrounding Nantucket through the centuries. There are also maps showing the places where the ships still lay on the Ocean’s bottom and models of some of the ships.
Because of the unexpected fogs and extreme weather conditions, Nantucket was sometimes referred to as the graveyard of the Atlantic during those years.
There were hundreds of shipwrecks.
You will also learn the stories of the many local heroes who risked their own lives to save the crews of these sinking ships.
Enjoy a stroll on Sconset Bluff Walk
This is one of the most striking walking paths in the country and is definitely worth experiencing when you go to Nantucket.
It starts from the iconic fishing village of Siasconset (Sconset for short), located near the eastern shore of Nantucket.
The path is made of white seashells and passes through the village, so you can admire the charming shingle-style houses with a weathered gray soft color and with trellis and thousands of pink roses and other flowers growing on and by them.
After that, the famous path passes through a small green forest and passes along the Sconset Beach and the Sconset market. Of course, you will have an amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean as you walk down the path.
At the end of the walk, you will get to the easternmost point of Nantucket, where you can explore and take pictures of the Sankaty Head Light.
The footpath is a perfect location for a romantic date.
See the oldest smock mill in the USA
In Nantucket, you can see the country’s oldest built and still operational smock mills. The Old Mill was built in 1746 by Nathan Wilbur and was based on the windmills in Holland.
It worked until the late 19th century and is still functional today, but only as a tourist attraction. When you visit the mill, you can take the guided tour to find out more about how the mill works, and if you are looking, you will see it milling corn too.
The Old Mill is part of the Nantucket Historical Association.