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Nantucket Day Trip Itinerary & Travel Guide

Nantucket is definitely one of the top things we both love about Cape Cod, and our weekly Summer vacation just isn't complete without spending a day here. We were also lucky enough to go for a few nights last September since it was off-season (meaning we could actually afford a hotel!), and honestly, it was one of my favorite getaways. It's a place that still seems stuck in time, but also provides modern amenities like amazing shopping and restaurants, and has some of the absolute best coastal scenery you can see. To me, Nantucket is magical, and I feel like everyone should visit.

What we also love about it is that it's a very easy day trip. Ferries drop you right off in town, and you don't need a car. You don't even need to leave the main town area, where everything is walkable, and you'd still have a great day.

Today I'll be sharing our tips for your day trip to Nantucket. Trips longer than a day would allow for more sightseeing and beach exploration, so these suggestions are really geared toward making the most of a day visit and seeing some of the best Nantucket has to offer in a shorter amount of time.

Since it's an island, you obviously need to take a ferry, and we usually choose the Freedom Ferry from Harwich Port. I love this one because it's only a 10-min drive from where we stay, and they offer free parking for day-trippers. It's also a smaller, fast ferry, and I just enjoy the entire atmosphere on the boat (choosing to always sit outside). This ferry takes you to Nantucket in about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Click here to visit the Freedom Ferry Website.

You can also take either the Hy-Line Ferry or Steamship Authority Ferry out of Hyannis. Parking is extra at this terminal, and during peak season, we highly suggest making a parking reservation ahead of time. A couple of times when we took ferries out of here (once for Nantucket, and once for Martha's Vineyard), we didn't know that you even could make parking reservations, and we had to park really far away and be taken back to the terminal by shuttle. Not the end of the world, and it's only a minor inconvenience, but just something to keep in mind.

Hy-Line offers fast speed service, and Steamship offers both fast and traditional service. I don't think Hy-Line offers a traditional ferry, but I could be wrong on that. The fast ferry service from these two lines takes about 1 hour each way, and traditional service takes about 2 hours and 15 mins (but is also much less expensive). Round trip fares for high speed are about $77 for Freedom and Hy-Line, and $69 for Steamship. Traditional Steamship service will be about $36 round trip.

Click here to visit the Steamship Authority Website.
Click here to visit the Hy-Line Cruises Website.

If you're able to fit it into your budget, take a fast ferry, especially for a day trip. When we went to Nantucket for a few days, we took the traditional ferry to save money because we weren't in a huge rush to get there. But when you only have a day, every hour counts. They are a bit more money, though, and if you're going with an entire family, the cost of the ferry tickets will add up fast, so do what's best for you.

You can book your reservation same-day, even during peak season, but we suggest at least 1-2 days in advance to make sure you have good weather for your day trip and secure your spot on the ferry. Freedom Ferry is smaller, and fills up faster, where as the ferries out of Hyannis are quite large and hold hundreds of people. This past year when we went, our ferry was sold out on the day of our trip, so something to consider.

You absolutely do not need a car while on Nantucket. See "Getting Around" section below for more information.

Hy-Line and Freedom ferries will dock at Straight Wharf Street, which is pretty much smack dab in the middle of the town. You'll pull into the wharf and be greeted by floating Cape-shingled cottages over the water, lined with white fences. You'll also be right at the beginning of all the shopping. When you get off the ferry, just follow the crowds - there's really only one way to go, and that's away from the water and into town. If you need to use a restroom, turn left off the ferry and walk towards the water and keep an eye out for signs. There are about two different (and clean) facilities you can use, but I sadly don't have exact directions. They are very easy to find, though.

One of the first things you'll see when you dock. This little lobster cottage makes makes my heart flutter
because I know a great day is ahead of us. 

Overview of what you'll see when you dock.

Steamship will dock a little further away on Broad Street, but also pretty much right in town. Your arrival won't be as scenic because once you walk off the ferry because you have to cross a big parking lot space before you get into town, but it's minimal walking, and after about a block, you're in town.

If you get off the Steamship dock, follow Broad Street and you'll run into Young's Bike Rental on your left (if you hit Juice Bar, you've gone too far). This is the best place to rent bikes and mopeds, but more on that in a sec.

There are four main ways to get around Nantucket, and one of them is by foot. If you don't want to leave the main town area, you really don't need more than your legs to get you around. I love spending time in town, but I do suggest getting out and seeing at least one more area of this beautiful island.

A typical side street in Nantucket's main town area.

If you do decide to explore, the other three main transportation methods are bicycle, moped or The Wave transit system. We've done all three and recommend all of them. The one thing we don't recommend? Renting a car or bringing your car with you, especially for a day trip. Parking is a bit tough in town, especially during peak season, and it will become a nuisance. Plus, Nantucket is gaining popularity and the amount of people walking in the streets will be an obstacle for you as well.

Young's Bicycle Shop is our favorite place to rent bikes and mopeds. Their bikes were in great condition, and their helmets were super clean. You also get a basket on your bike if you want it. We have rented a double moped scooter from them as well and they made us feel really comfortable riding it with a quick lesson beforehand.

A bike is a great way to see 1-2 other parts of Nantucket. Bike trails are well-paved and easy to navigate, especially to 'Sconset and Madaket. If you do a bike rental, to keep it easy, I would recommend a few hours for renting the bike, and doing the flat bike path from town to 'Sconset. Then you can drop off your bike back into town, and enjoy the rest of your afternoon walking the streets and visiting the shops. If you really love biking, you can tack on a ride out to Madaket as well. It's a lot of biking for a day trip, and will eat up a good chunk of your time, so keep that in mind, especially if it's your first time to the island. But, if you're an avid cyclist and this is your thing, you'll have a great time.

With a moped, you'll be able to see a large part of the island in a day trip. We never felt unsafe getting around this way, and everything was very easy to navigate. It's something I'd love to do again, but since they're a little pricey to rent for the day, we've only done it the once.

The Wave public transit system is also great, especially if you're going to the main towns on the island. You can click here for more information, and route maps to get you where you need to go. They also have a Beach Express shuttle that make trips to and from town and Jetties beach, one of the most popular and kid-friendly beaches on the island.

Walk around town & shopping
The main town is really the heartbeat of the island in many ways. It's where most of the restaurants, the main grocery store and many of the hotels are. Basically, it's where most everything is. The shopping on Nantucket is a lot of fun. But just keep in mind, it's very expensive. Nantucket is a pricey destination in general and because it's so down to earth and relaxed, you sometimes forget the wealth that exists there. But I still love going into the shops to look around and get ideas, but I rarely can buy many of the things I see. I love Blue Beetle for jewelry and accessories, Nantucket Looms to drool over their throw blankets that I will never be able to afford and the Lion's Paw to, well, drool over everything. By the wharf where the ferries drop you off, I also love visiting the BeautyCounter pop-up shop which sells more natural/organic cosmetics and skin/body care products. If you decide you love Nantucket as much as I do, before you board the ferry to leave for the day, pop into Abigail Fox Designs (last shop down closest to the water at the wharf where you board the ferry), and pick up a tote that says, "Nantucket, I Love You." She has them every year, and the designs are different from season to season. My favorite place for Nantucket sweatshirts and such is Annie and Tees, located around the corner from the Whaling Museum. You can spend hours visiting the stores, though, and I always recommend you budget a few hours at least to meander through the cobblestone streets of the town because I've barely scratched the surface of mentioning all the beautiful storefronts.

Inside the Lion's Paw.

Inside the Lion's Paw.

Abigail Fox Designs.

Brant Point Lighthouse
You'll see it as you pull into Nantucket, and you'll wave goodbye to it as you leave. And you really need to go see it up close. It's an easy 15-20 minute walk from the wharf, and offers some lovely views of the water, and you can also walk right up to the lighthouse for some great photos.

"Mom, that's enough with the photos." 

Cisco Brewery
They offer a free shuttle from town during peak season because it's not walkable from town, but we biked there when we last visited. This place gets super popular and busy, so I would suggest going shortly after they open to experience it before the crowds set in (although, I hear that it's pretty much crowded as soon as they open, now, too, which is why it's not at the top of my list to visit each year). You can try their beer, wine and spirits in different indoor buildings, or grab a drink from one of the bars and snacks from the food trucks and sit outside their main area that's lined with picnic tables. Josh really loved visiting the distillery tasting room, and honestly, the whole vibe here is kind of worth it to experience the atmosphere. Even if only just once. Just prepare yourself for the crowds.

Madaket is the closest area to the main town, and there isn't much to do here besides the beach, that said, I can't recommend visiting it enough. It may be my all time favorite beach of life. The coastline here is stunning, and the water is somehow slightly more turquoise, and I just love it. The WAVE shuttle bus will take you here via the Madaket line (just take it to the very last stop and walk a few feet to the entrance of the beach), and plan to either just sit and enjoy, or go for a swim. It's very wavy here, so those with young children should be on alert (but I love it for that reason). Last time we went, it was even too wavy for me, and Josh decided to go in anyway despite my protests. Two minutes after he dove in, the lifeguard came walking by me and said, "Is that one yours?" and strongly suggested Josh come back to the shore. Lesson learned: if no one else is in the water, it's probably a good idea to just admire it from the sand.

The next closest area to the main town is 'Sconset. Actually named Siasconset, but most people call it 'Sconset. We took the moped out here during a day trip and loved it. Again, not much to do (a theme for all the areas outside the main town because it's all pretty residential), but the Bluff Walk is a must if you make it out here. We used this guide to find the entrance to the path because it seems like the Bluff Walk shouldn't actually be open to the public. You'll be pretty much walking along the cliffs overlooking the ocean in people's backyards. But it is, indeed, an actual public walking path. We loved this and you get such incredible views (and also a peek into the backyards of some insanely expensive beach-front mansions).

A cute little bridge crossing in 'Sconset.

One of the beautiful views from the Bluff Walk. 

One of my favorite things about the houses in 'Sconset was that many of them were covered in rose vines.

Sankaty Head Lighthouse is also in 'Sconset and totally worth the trip if you enjoy lighthouses. It sits amongst an open grass field, and it's just so beautiful and relaxing there.

Whaling Museum
We've only visited the Whaling Museum once during the Christmas Stroll when it was decked out in Christmas trees, but we had a great time. I'll admit, I'm not really a museum person (I'd much rather be outside doing something else other than reading plaques in a building), but because the history here is rooted in the Maritimes, I did find a lot of it to be interesting. If you love history, or maybe if the weather isn't the best when you visit, this could be a great stop for a few hours.

Tip: Go all the way up to the rooftop deck for a great view of the island.

Those suggestions will keep you more than busy for just a day trip. Nantucket, of course, has way more to offer, but for visiting for the day, those are my top picks to get you acquainted with the island.

Nantucket has some really beautiful beaches, and if you want to spend a full day on the island, a great way to spend a few hours is to head to the ocean.

You've already heard about Madaket and why I love it so much.We've also visited Step's Beach, which has a beautiful view from the top before you take quite a few stairs to get down to the water. Step's Beach is just okay, in my opinion. It's very small and just didn't have that "wow" factor, but I really do love the view from the top!

View from the top of the entrance at Step's Beach.

Walking onto Step's Beach.

Because I don't consider myself an expert of Nantucket beaches, I highly suggest visiting this website for detailed information about all the beaches to pick the one that suits you the most.

Because we mostly have visited for the day, we usually eat a casual lunch while on the island, and maybe a few snacks. For day visits, we don't really take the time to sit down at a wait-service restaurant because we want to be out exploring as much as possible. But when we visited in September for a few nights, we were lucky enough to experience some really great restaurants, and I'll including everything here.

For a casual lunch, grab a sandwich at either Provisions, Fresh or Something Natural, with the latter being our favorite. Something Natural is a little outside town, but still walkable from the main area (it's a steep uphill walk on Cliff Road, just FYI). But it has the absolute best and humongous sandwiches ever. They fill us up so much we usually don't need anything else for the rest of our day trip. They have outdoor seating, which is what we typically do, but a lot of people do take-out for beach picnics. Keep in mind it's very popular and gets busy around 12p (we usually try to avoid the rush by getting there around 11a).

Sandwich from Something Natural.

Fresh and Provisions are both right in town and also offers some really tasty sandwich fare. We've eaten at both and recommend them, but slightly prefer Something Natural. Can't go wrong with any of 'em, though.

We haven't been here, but locals recommend the Nantucket Pharmacy right in town on Main Street for sandwiches and such as well. They have a cute old-fashioned counter with a blackboard listing all their menu items, and everyone we've talked to has said it's the best place to go. It's on our list to check out next time.

For an upscale dining experience (while still being pretty chill and casual) I love Sea Grille. I actually discovered this restaurant from a book I read that was based in Nantucket, and I was dying to try it after they described their lobster bisque with a dill puff pastry. I really loved the rustic/nautical/slightly farmhouse feel to the inside, and the service was fantastic. The food was also incredible - we both loved it here. It's kind of walkable from town, but I would suggest an Uber to get here because there aren't a lot of sidewalks along the roads in this general area.

For a casual sit-down meal, we really enjoyed the Brotherhood of Thieves. I really loved their outdoor patio area, and their lobster bisque was also great. Right in town and very walkable (in fact, you'll likely pass by it a few times while shopping).

Outdoor area of Brotherhood of Thieves. 

Lobster bisque at Brotherhood of Thieves.

If you do venture to Madaket, you're in luck because it's home to one of my favorite restaurants on the island called Millie's. They have great drinks and their lobster quesadillas are amazing.

They have a lot of picnic tables out back so you can sit outside.

I think about the lobster quesadillas at Millie's more than I care to admit.

For ice cream, you must, must, not leave Nantucket until you've been to the Juice Bar. Right on Broad Street, pretty much across from the Whaling Museum, is this amazing little ice cream shack. It might be my all-time favorite ice cream (tied with Sundae School on the Cape), and their waffle cones are definitely the best I've ever had. I've had a lot of flavors from here, but I love their strawberry in a waffle cone with chocolate sprinkles. Josh always goes for the Crantucket flavor.

To get back to the mainland, just go right back to where your ferry dropped you off. We usually try to get there around 30 mins before the departure time to hop in line to get a good seat (I'm really picky and want to sit on the roof deck of the Freedom Ferry to watch the sunset). But even if you arrive back to the dock about 10 mins before leaving you should be okay. If you do stay for a full day, and leave when the sun begins to set, I will say, you get some beautiful views of the island covered in a warm amber glow.

The color of the sky during this Nantucket sunset is one I will never, ever forget.

Rooftop deck of the Freedom Ferry during our 7p departure ride back to the mainland in July. To time your ferry ride
with a sunset, research departure times against sunset times for your month and day. 

- While I'm usually a "let's see all the things!" kind of person whenever I travel, I really do recommend that for a day trip, just pick a few things to do, and really enjoy your time here. Take a stroll down by the wharf, visit all the shops because all of them (for the most part, with a few exceptions) are independently owned and unique to the island, take some time to visit a beach. Just enjoy Nantucket and don't try to cram too much in, especially if it's an option to go back each year.

- Think hard about spending a full day here (8a to 8p). Walking around in the sun all day takes more out of you than you realize, plus then you still have to factor in your transit time there and back. For day trips where we don't spent a lot of time at the beach, we usually arrive around 9a, and take the 4:10p ferry back to the mainland and grab dinner somewhere after getting back. By then, we're ready to go back because we've been on our feet all day. For trips where we spend time at the beach, we will take a 7p ferry back. Definitely plan a longer day if you want beach time so you can also explore the main town and restaurants a bit.

- If you need a restroom while out and about in town, there's a really nice public bathroom inside the Dreamland movie theater on S. Water St. You have to actually go inside the theater lobby (all the way to the back), but the bathrooms are open to the public, and they're very, very clean and nice. There's also a water fountain side to refill a water bottle.

- Nantucket is pretty dog-friendly! They are allowed on the ferries while leashed, and we brought Emma with us this year and had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the beaches in July/August, but the rest of the year, they are.

- Be sure to pack the usual day trip essentials like a reusable water bottle, sunscreen, comfortable walking shoes and maybe a larger tote bag if you plan to do some shopping to hold all your purchases. I will usually wear a pair of sneakers or walking shoes to the island, which I learned the hard way after getting severe blisters from wearing sandals the first two years we visited. But I do usually also throw a pair of flip flops in our day pack just in case my feet get hot, or we visit beaches.

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