Old Nantucket lives in the Nantucket you visit today. The combination of 18th and 19th Century buildings and the cobblestone streets will make you feel as though you have stepped back in time. Antique shops, historic sites, charming inns and interesting museums are yours for discovering; with the added bonuses of dramatic scenery, miles of unspoiled beaches and plentiful nature preserves.
With few cars and no traffic lights, beach-goers and sightseers, cyclists, strollers and happy ice-cream eaters lend to the charm and personality of Nantucket, making it a popular destination for people fleeing larger cities for vacation and weekend getaways.
The Historic District is the hub of Nantucket Town and what you first enter when stepping off the ferry. Walk up and down Main, Federal and Center Streets. You'll see cozy bed & breakfasts like the
Take note of the small, round plaques by some doorways, issued by the
Siasconset and Madaket
Beyond the residential and touristy side of Nantucket Town are two villages: Siasconset, seven miles to the east, and Madaket, 6 miles to the west. In the days when factories rendered whale oil, Nantucket Town residents would flee to Siasconset (locally known as 'Sconset) to avoid the heavy smells. Today, 'Sconset is mostly a summer community with a few choice lodging options and several restaurants, like the
Madaket, on the west coast, is basically a large
A pet-friendly island, dogs are welcome on most ferries and on shuttle buses to and from the beach. Some hotels also accept your canine friend, such as the
With all its museums, beaches, outdoor activities, festivals, celebrations and nightlife, it is sometimes hard to understand why people consider this a relaxing destination. But of course, all the activity just contributes to the Nantucket experience that draws visitors back year after year.
The island is steeped in history: every cobblestone street and old home has a story. Centuries of Nantucket history have been preserved in numerous museums. A few are scattered around the island but most are in the center of town. Favorite spots include the Whaling Museum; Maria Mitchell Association's Aquarium; the Nantucket Atheneum, and the Oldest House, also known as the Jethro Coffin House, not to be confused with the Jared Coffin House.
Spring is greeted by the Daffodil Festival, with some 3 million blossoms the last weekend of April. Spring is a great time to partake of the Island's numerous outdoor activities, such as biking, hiking, bird watching, fishing, and nature study. You can even take a seal cruise.
Summer is peak season when throngs of vacationers flock to the pristine beaches to take advantage of the serenity and charm the isolated island offers. The island is ringed by some 50 miles of publicly accessible beaches, and, besides just lying about; you can also rent equipment to kayak, fish, sail or windsurf. The August Antiques Show takes place each spring.
In the fall, streets that were bustling in summer have quieted down a bit, yet there is still plenty to do, without the waits and crowds. October is the prime month for harvesting cranberries, an event not to be missed. Fishing aficionados will love Nantucket in the fall, when striped bass, bluefish, yellow and white perch and cod start to bite, and the Nantucket bay scallop harvest begins (visitors can participate in the harvest by obtaining a license from the town's Marine Department). October is also the month to sample the work of local artists, and also Nantucket's famous chowder. The Nantucket Arts Festival is the week before Columbus Day, while the Nantucket Chowder Fest is the following weekend.
Although a large number of inns and restaurants are closed during the winter, numerous shops, museums, and galleries and, of course, all the beaches are open. Exploring the streets and island in isolation is an incomparable experience. Visitors return year after year in the beginning of December for Christmas Stroll, an old-time celebration that includes tours of historical homes, crafts fairs, caroling and theatrical performances.
Summer nights, local and international bands can be heard crooning at numerous watering holes around the Island. Downtown finds a slew of nightspots providing live music, DJs and dancing. Among them is the Brotherhood of Thieves, a cozy bar with an extensive drink menu and live folk music year round. The Rose & Crown is a local favorite for live music, dancing, karaoke and its friendly beer-hall ambiance. The Tap Room offers live jazz many nights and an inviting bar every night.
Band concerts are held at Children's Beach from July 4 through Labor Day. Bring blankets, chairs, and snacks, and get some space in front of the bandstand. The third weekend of August usually finds the Boston Pops in town.
If fortunate enough to have scheduled your trip in the beginning of the summer, be sure to check out the Nantucket Film Festival, held for six days mid-June, and purchase your week-long passes ahead of time. After the festival is over, there are three movie theaters: Gaslight Theater and Dreamland Theater in town, and 'Sconset Casino. Only Gaslight is open year-round.
For art enthusiasts, there are a number of impressive art galleries in town, and the Island's Artist Association features year-round art exhibits. Several theatre groups and musical organizations also offer a variety of concerts and performances throughout the year. Listings can be found in the Inquirer and Mirror.
The name Nantucket derives from an Indian word that means "far away land" or "land far out to sea". The name applies to the island, the county that encompasses the island, and the island's main town—the only place in America that can claim such a distinction. The frequent fogs and common gray exterior of most homes has earned the Island the affectionate nickname of "little Gray Lady of the Sea".
First charted in 1602, and originally inhabited by the Wampanoag Indian tribe, the official history of the Island's European settlement begins in 1659, when a group of nine men invested "the sum of thirty pounds...and also two beaver hats, one for myself and one for my wife", to the present "owner", Thomas Mayhew, for the purchase of the island with the initial intent to raise sheep. The investors then offered half shares of property to entice skilled craftsmen to develop the island.
In 1672, the Islanders found whaling an ideal way to increase revenue. Experienced whalers were recruited to teach residents how to tap the abundant whale population in nearby waters. However, the whale population in nearby waters diminished over time, and whalers had to venture further out to sea to find more of the profitable mammal. On one of these voyages, in 1712, a boat blown off course discovered a pod of sperm whales, whose oil and by-products were considered preferable to those of local whales. The Island subsequently became the center for exploitation of sperm whales.
Nantucket flourished as the Whaling Capital of the World, and as the home base for entrepreneurs and investors interested in the products and by-products of the whaling industry. Nantucket's prosperity lasted until the mid-19th Century, when it was brought to a halt by a series of events. A sandbar formed, denying larger and heavier whalers access to the harbor. The town was hit by the great fire of 1846. The 1849 gold rush drew whalers to California, depleting the work force, and mainland whaling centers, like New Bedford, Massachusetts, gained the advantage of rail links to the rest of the country. The final blow came as cheaper petroleum products destroyed the market for whale oil The Island went into an economic decline that lasted until tourism came to the rescue.
In 1894, the Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) was founded to preserve the Island's history. The numerous museums, homes and historic properties scattered throughout the town depict how the original inhabitants lived and worked as Nantucket grew from a small 17th-century farming community into a whaling Mecca, and further evolved into an immensely popular summer resort in the 20th Century. Many of the homes of whalers and sea captains still stand today as private homes (available for occasional tours as part of fundraisers) guesthouses, antique shops and restaurants. Most of these homes retain the colorful names given them when they were built.
Numerous steps are taken to preserve the architecture of the Island; even the sizes of signs and exterior color changes of homes need to be approved by the NHA. Residents are very protective of the unique architecture and remoteness of the Island—there are no high-rise buildings or hotel chains; notice when arriving via ferry that church steeples are what you see as the skyline.
Some 800 homes built before the Civil War still stand, including the Oldest House, built in 1686, which belonged to Jethro Coffin, grandson of one of the original purchasers. This house now belongs to the NHA and, although the island has more buildings listed in the National Register Of Historic Places than any other place in Massachusetts, including Boston, Plymouth and Salem, it is Nantucket's only National Historical Landmark.
The Island still has three operating lighthouses that offer a direct physical link to the whaling era: Great Point Lighthouse, at the northern tip; Sankaty Head Lighthouse, along the eastern shoreline; and Brant Point Light, the second oldest lighthouse in the United States. A rare collection of whaling artifacts is on display at the Whaling Museum in the center of town. The cobblestones you see on Lower Main Street are the ballast that weighed down empty ships returning from delivering whale oil to England. The cobblestones enabled carts transporting heavy oil to move up from the wharves without sinking in the mud, but they are not easy on the feet. So, when visiting, be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.
Nantucket is a seaside haven with ideal accommodations for any occasion: a romantic celebration, family vacation, corporate retreat, special event or just a weekend getaway. However, Nantucket is not the place to come if you want to stay in a chain hotel or high-rise; they have yet to find their way to the Island. Most lodging can be found in Nantucket Town.
Accommodations on Nantucket are extremely limited: there are approximately 1200 beds available in high season, and 40,000 visitors make their way to the island on a busy summer day. Translation: reserve early! Sure, the spontaneous traveler may find a last minute cancellation, but you are much better advised to plan your trip to Nantucket thoughtfully, making ferry, dinner, and hotel reservations ahead of time.
Bed and breakfasts are plentiful in Nantucket Town, with choices like the Martin House Inn, the Anchor Inn and the Ivy Lodge Bed and Breakfast all at the top of the list in terms of quality and comfort. Also look into some of the many unique hotels, like the White Elephant Hotel Residences, which is over a century old and offers guest townhouse style lodging. The views from the hilltop Cliff Lodge are stunning, while the Ships Inn offers the historic appeal of being the home of a former abolitionist.
With such a limited number of guest accommodations, standard deposit and cancellation policies are strictly adhered to. Certain weekends, and especially in peak season, minimum stays are required, usually three days. Generally, if canceling a reservation is necessary, deposits (less 10% service fee) will be refunded up to 15 days prior to scheduled arrival. On shorter notice, deposits may not be fully refunded if the room cannot be re-booked for the entire canceled period. Be sure to clarify rates and deposit/cancellation policies with your innkeeper. It is also a good idea to make sure your needs are being met: while many lodging establishments have individual air conditioning units, refrigerators, private baths, cable TV or working fireplaces, just as many do not. (Visit the Nantucket Lodging Association's Web site, www.nantucketlodging.org, for a description of general policies, for assistance in finding a room, as well as for last-minute room availability).
To hone in on the perfect setting for your trip, ask the following questions: Do you want to be in the center of town, off the beaten path or overlooking the water? Do you want a luxurious, full-service resort with a pool, or an intimate old Nantucket home? Are you looking for an inn that includes breakfast, or would you rather feast on the delicious treats served in town? If you have trouble making up your mind, it might make you feel better to know that it is not uncommon for visitors to split their time between two inns.
When considering B&Bs, remember that they are more than just places to rest your head. They can be sources of entertainment and comfort on chilly, rainy or foggy days—not uncommon on the island nicknamed the Grey Lady. Your Inn can be where you end up spending most of your island time—sitting in front of the fire in the common room or your room, or hanging out in a library filled with books and games. Most Island B&B proprietors have a well-earned reputation for hospitality. They are a valuable source of information for what to do, where to eat, and how to get from point A to point B.
Rates are highest and the island is most crowded in-season, from mid-June to mid-September, plus Christmas Stroll, the first weekend in December. Mid-season is mid-May to mid-June, when properties are just reopening, and shoulder season, or off-season, runs from late fall to early spring. Many inns close in the off season, but you can also find excellent bargains including package deals complete with room, transportation, and meals.
Although many frequent visitors to Nantucket always return to the same lodgings, half the fun is exploring a new inn or bed & breakfast, and getting a view of the Island from a different location and owners' perspective. The personal service, idyllic scenery, proximity of most properties to Nantucket town and charm of the island ensure that anywhere you choose to stay will enhance your Island experience.