The Best Day Trip: Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard? 

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First off, you really can’t go wrong with a day trip to either of these charming New England islands. They both have a lot to offer and a very similar feel. But if you can only choose one, this post will help you narrow down their differences and choose the best day trip for you.

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What are the biggest differences between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard?

Overall, Nantucket is best for a tranquil and upscale getaway focusing on natural beauty and a quieter, more exclusive atmosphere. This island is perfect for those who want a refined and peaceful island experience, pristine beaches, and a connection to maritime history.

Martha’s Vineyard, on the other hand, is best for a more diverse and vibrant vacation experience. This island offers a lively cultural scene, diverse shopping, a range of dining options, and various activities between its six towns, all of which have a unique atmosphere. If you want a broader range of things to see and do, Martha’s Vineyard will not disappoint.

Nantucket:

Compared to Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket is a smaller, more remote island. It covers about 50 square miles and is known for its stunning beaches, historic architecture, and relaxed, upscale atmosphere. The island’s two largest towns are downtown Nantucket and Siasconset (also known as Sconset), which is more of a village than a town. Nantucket Town is known for its cobblestone streets, rose-covered cottages, and well-preserved 18th-century buildings, giving it a timeless feel. 

Formerly known as the “Whaling Capital of the World,” this island in New England is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, with sailing, fishing, and cycling opportunities. Regarding a Nantucket vs Martha’s Vineyard day trip, Nantucket has a quieter, more refined ambiance that feels more conservative, making it a preferred destination for those seeking a peaceful retreat.

Martha’s Vineyard:

Compared to Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard is a larger island, spanning roughly 100 square miles, characterized by its vibrant, eclectic atmosphere. This island is divided into six towns and additional villages, each with a unique personality. The island has a more liberal atmosphere than Nantucket and more things to see and do. 

The village of Oak Bluffs is famous for its colorful gingerbread cottages and lively nightlife, while Edgartown is known for its elegant homes and historic charm. Vineyard Haven serves as the primary entry point for visitors arriving by ferry. Martha’s Vineyard has a more diverse cultural scene and a slightly more bustling feel compared to Nantucket, making it a favorite for those looking for a lively and varied vacation experience.

Key Differences

Now that you have an overview of each island, here are some key differences to consider when choosing the best island for your day trip.

How large is each island?

Nantucket is the smaller island, covering almost 50 square miles. It’s about 14 miles long, with only one major town and two zip codes. Most of the main attractions and restaurants are located in downtown Nantucket.

Martha’s Vineyard is more extensive, spanning approximately 100 square miles. On this island, you’ll find 125 miles of coastline and six main towns, including Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven, Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury, which all have their own downtown areas, so there’s more variety in terms of attractions and places to explore.

Which island is the easiest to get to?

Both islands are easily accessible by high-speed ferry or car ferry from several ports including Woods Hole and Hyannis in Cape Cod. Both islands have a small regional airport as well, but the ease of access depends on your starting point.

There are ferries to Martha’s Vineyard from many locations in Cape Cod, Kingston, Rhode Island, and New Bedford, Massachusetts. Most passenger ferries are 1 hour to 3 hours. There is also a 5-hour Seastreak Ferry that leaves from New York City. Flights to Martha’s Vineyard are available as far south as Washington, D.C.

Flights to Nantucket are available from Hyannis, Boston, and New York. Some ferries leave from Hyannis, Massachusetts via Hy-Line Cruises or The Steamship Authority – you can choose between a car or passenger ferry, spanning 1 to 3 hours. Remember that the car ferries are booked months in advance, so you’ll want to plan ahead if bringing a car (not recommended during high season).

If you want to visit both islands, there is a 1-hour ferry between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard during peak season (in the summer). 

What is the best way to get around on each island?

Both islands offer taxis, bike rentals, car rentals, and public buses with routes all over the islands.

I do not recommend renting or bringing a car to either island as a day visitor during the busy summer season. Parking is limited, and prices are high.

If you like walking because of its smaller size, Nantucket is best for a walking day itinerary, but both islands are easily explored by bike. 

For bus routes, visit:

For biking route maps, visit:

Which island has the best bike paths?

When considering a Martha’s Vineyard vs. Nantucket day trip, you can rest assured that both islands are bike-friendly.

Nantucket is known for its well-maintained bike paths; there are over 35 miles of biking routes, providing excellent opportunities for cycling – this island is also very flat and relatively small, so you could easily get around on your bike for the entire day. 

Martha’s Vineyard also has bike paths, but the island is much more hilly (and larger!) than Nantucket, so getting around via bike only is a bit more challenging. You can get between three of the towns in Martha’s Vineyard via bike – Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown are all connected through a biking trail and can all be explored on a Martha’s Vineyard day itinerary.

What are the top things to see and do on each island?

In Nantucket, you can explore historic Nantucket Town on foot, visit the Nantucket Whaling Museum, and relax on pristine beaches like Jetties Beach, Sconset Beach, and Surfside Beach. In addition to swimming, there are plenty of outdoor activities like sailing, kayaking, and fishing.

While near Sconset Beach, walk the Sconset Bluff Walk, a lovely path showcasing adorable cottages, ivy-covered walls, and scenic ocean views. Don’t forget to check out one of the beautiful lighthouses, including Brant Point Lighthouse, Bug Light, and Sankaty Head Light.

On Martha’s Vineyard, you can enjoy the quaint towns and marvel at the Aquinnah Cliffs, incredible clay cliffs carved by glaciers millions of years ago. Visit the iconic Gay Head Lighthouse, jump off “Jaws Bridge,” and visit several cultural and art museums.

You can also explore the gingerbread cottages in the Oak Bluffs Campground. These homes originated in the 1800s when a group of Methodists would attend religious camp meetings in this town. Although these homes are now privately owned, you can visit the Cottage Museum to see a glimpse of the interiors. 

Martha’s Vineyard is also known for its fantastic beaches, like South Beach and East Beach. Many visitors also rent bikes for the day and enjoy a six-mile ride from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown, stopping for coastal views and photo ops along the way. When you get to Edgartown, you can visit the Edgartown Lighthouse, one of five lighthouses on this island.

girl in a pink dress on a beach

Which island is more expensive?

Both Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are home to some of the most expensive real estate in the United States, and most of the accommodation and dining options on both islands are catered towards high-end tourists. However, Nantucket is generally more expensive, with higher-end dining and accommodation options. Due to the size of Nantucket, it feels more exclusive than Martha’s Vineyard. Martha’s Vineyard is often considered more budget-friendly than Nantucket, with a wider range of accommodation and dining options suited for all budgets. 

On a day trip, plan to spend $60-$100 on a round-trip ferry ticket to each island from Cape Cod. Bike rentals on each island are around $40 a day for an adult bike.

Which island has the most variety of shopping?

With six different towns, Martha’s Vineyard offers more variety in shopping, with a broader range of boutiques, galleries, and shops fitting different budgets. Some of the best options include the iconic Vineyard Vines store in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury; Stephanie Wolf Designs in Oak Bluffs, and Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven.

Nantucket only has one shopping area, located in Nantucket town, but you can still find some great stores here on the main street, like Nantucket Clothing CompanyMilly & GraceMurray’s Toggery Shop, and Nantucket Bookworks

You’ll find more tourist shops selling souvenirs on Martha’s Vineyard (mainly Oak Bluffs) than in Nantucket, but both have a good mix of local boutiques and high-end shops.

What island has the best beaches?

Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are both top beach destinations, with soft sandy shores and blue water. However, all 30 beaches on Nantucket are public, making them much easier to access than some of the beaches on Martha’s Vineyard. Surfside Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Nantucket, with excellent surfing waves and a family-friendly atmosphere. Brant Point is another great option – you can watch the boats sailing along the water or bring your camera to snap a few pictures of the picturesque lighthouse. 

While Martha’s Vineyard has excellent beaches, many of them are private or are hard to access due to the lack of parking. Joseph Sylvia State Beach is one of the best public beaches in Martha’s Vineyard, with a sandy shore and shallow blue water. The gentle water makes this beach great for swimming or paddleboarding. This beach was also the filming location of the iconic movie Jaws.

Which island has the best nightlife?

Nantucket is the quieter of these two islands, so you won’t find many nightlife options here. Therefore, Martha’s Vineyard has a livelier and busier nightlife scene, particularly in Oak Bluffs, with bars, restaurants, and entertainment options. Check out the Sand Bar and Grille, with a fantastic beachside patio, a DJ, and an unbeatable atmosphere. There are also quite a few options in Edgartown – have a delicious dinner, sip on a few cocktails, and enjoy the live entertainment at Seafood Shanty.

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Which island has the best restaurants?

As you’re thinking about a Martha’s Vineyard vs. Nantucket day trip, you’re probably wondering which has the best food. Luckily, both of these islands are home to some great restaurants!

While Martha’s Vineyard has more food options, Nantucket is known for its incredible seafood and upscale dining scene – both are fantastic places for foodies!

Whether you’re in Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket, you won’t find any chain restaurants – you can find local eateries serving everything from diner grub to clam chowder and sushi. Visit Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company for its excellent namesake soup or l’étoile restaurant for upscale French cuisine. For fresh local food, try Beach Road or State Road. In Nantucket, you can grab a lobster roll at Nantucket Lobster Trap or sit down for an upscale seafood dinner at The Seagrille.

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Which island makes a better day trip?

Well, this is the million-dollar question we have been trying to answer- and the truth is, it entirely depends on you and your preferences. They are both equally fantastic options!

If you like to ride bikes, I suggest Martha’s Vineyard for its larger size and more diverse attractions. 

However, if you prefer walking or want a laid-back beach day with beautiful scenery and fresh seafood, Nantucket will not disappoint.

If you are visiting in the off-season, head to Martha’s Vineyard because more things stay open than on Nantucket.

If you love Victorian or Carpenter Gothic architecture, Martha’s Vineyard is the way to go.

Nantucket is known for its weathered grey shingle-style homes and rose cottages that are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

Both have multiple lighthouses to enjoy, plenty of bike paths, water sports, and beautiful beaches.

With so much charm between them, the best decision is to visit them both!

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Since you’ll want to visit them both, the real question is, which one to visit first- and there really is not wrong answer. To help with planning your day trips on both islands, here are a few more planning guides.

The Best Nantucket Day Itinerary | How to Plan the Best Day Trip to Nantucket | How to Plan the Best Day Trip to Martha’s Vineyard | 41 Fun things to do in Martha’s Vineyard

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