The Wampanoag people originally inhabited Nantucket, and they lived on the island undisturbed until 1641 when the British arrived. The island’s land was originally deeded to Thomas Mayhew and his sons, before then being divided among 31 original owners. Many of today’s inhabitants can still trace their roots back to these “Founding Fathers” of the island. However, it wasn’t until the whaling boom in the 1700’s that Nantucket gained national exposure and the wealth that is now associated with the island. Today it attracts people because of its quaint boutiques, pristine beaches, and year round festivals and attractions.
Nantucket was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1966, and was dubbed the “finest surviving architectural and environmental example of a late 18th- and early 19th-century New England seaport town” by the National Park Service.
During my Tour Directing days I got to spend one day a week on this beautiful island. We flew in from Martha’s Vineyard and took an hour-long island tour, before dropping guests off in Nantucket town. We would then take a ferry back to mainland Massachusetts. Nantucket is beautiful; everything you could want in a coastal New England destination. It has been able to retain its charm, despite being a destination for summer tourism. You can certainly do Nantucket in a day if you have limited time, or can’t get accommodations on the island. Just be sure to plan your travel well in advance because the ferries book up fast! Also, don’t neglect the island outside of Nantucket town. Try to venture out to see other areas of the island to really appreciate its true beauty.
Getting to Nantucket
Nantucket has two main transportation options; flying in via Nantucket Memorial Airport, or by ferry via Steamship Authority or Hy-Line Cruises. Some ferries can accommodate both foot traffic and motor vehicles, and you can choose from high-speed or slow departures. Reservations are strongly encouraged during peak season. The ferries themselves are reasonably comfortable with many seating options and a snack bar. The journey takes about one hour from Nantucket to Hyannis on the fast-ferry. There are also seasonal ferries to Martha’s Vineyard and New Bedford. Flights arrive and depart to the state of Massachusetts daily, weather permitting. Flying allows for a beautiful view of the island, although be warned that you will be flying on very small aircraft.
Things to do in Nantucket Town
First Congregational Church – Visit this lovely New England church founded in 1725 and climb the 94 stairs to the tower for a beautiful view of harbor and island.
Whaling Museum – An informative museum about the history of whaling in Nantucket.
Jared Coffin House – Constructed in 1845 this historic mansion was built by Jared Coffin, one of the most successful ship owners during the island’s whaling days.
Nantucket Basket Museum – This museum is dedicated to the promotion and appreciation of lightship baskets and their makers. This art form is complex and truly unique to Nantucket.
Old South Wharf – This former row of fishing shacks now contains assorted art galleries and high-end shops.
Four Winds Craft Guild – Shop here if you are looking for authentic baskets & art from local artists.
Hadwen House – This historic home is one of the “Two Greeks” built in 1845. These homes were the most ostentatious private dwellings on the island, and were built to show the island’s wealth and prestige.
The Three Bricks – These historic buildings date back to 1838. They are private residences, but they are lovely to look at from the exterior if you enjoy architecture.
Restaurants in Nantucket Town
On Straight Wharf:
Provisions – A nice place for a quick take out sandwich or salad.
The Tavern – A basic restaurant with a large and varied menu. It also has an outdoor patio space.
Cru – A high-end oyster bar on the water.
Slip 14 – A casual seafood restaurant.
On Main Street:
Arnos – An upscale, eclectic American restaurant.
The Pharmacy – An old-fashioned 1929 soda fountain counter located in a pharmacy. They serve simple breakfast food, sandwiches, coffee and ice cream.
Met on Main – Serves American and island fare in a comfortable and spacious atmosphere.
On Broad Street:
Brotherhood of Thieves – Pub-style restaurant whose name comes from an 1844 pamphlet written on Nantucket. The pamphlet attacked those who supported slavery, and helped to create a unique spirit of independence and strength on this tiny island.
How to see the Rest of Nantucket Island
Nantucket Island Tours: Take a small bus tour with friendly and knowledgeable guides around the island. This is a great way to see some of the more remote areas of the island, especially if you have limited time on Nantucket and do not have your own transportation. Nantucket is a naturally beautiful island, and is so much more than Nantucket town. Some of the highlights include the Old Mill, Sconset Village, Sankaty Head Lighthouse and much more! Find Nantucket Island Tours in the Hy-Line Ferry office or buy tickets online.