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Nantucket is the spitting image of New England Charm with its Cape Cod-style homes, blooming hydrangea bushes, cobblestone streets, and local artist boutiques. Not to mention the delicious seafood and coastal beauty of its beaches and stunning bluff walk.
With its relatively small size, Nantucket Island makes a fantastic day trip from mainland Cape Cod. There are plenty of things to see and do in Nantucket that could easily fill a long weekend, but if you are looking to save some money on the pricey accommodations, a day trip is the perfect alternative.
In this post, I’m sharing the exact biking and walking itineraries I’ve perfected over the past few years of visits to the island. If you are looking for information to plan your own itinerary, check out my Guide for Planning the Best Nantucket Day Trip. It offers a little more variety in terms of things to do, transportation, and dining options.
How to get to Nantucket
Passenger Ferries are the best way to arrive in Nantucket from Cape Cod. There are multiple options during the high season from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Steamship Authority runs seasonal passenger-only fast ferries (1 hour) or traditional ferries (2 hours+) from Hyannis to Nantucket.
Hy-Line Cruises runs high-speed ferry (1 hour) routes from Hyannis.
Freedom Cruise Line offers seasonal daily service from Harwich Port.
Although advance tickets are not required for traditional ferries, I recommend purchasing your preferred time at least a few days in advance to ensure availability.
Advanced reservations are required for the high-speed passenger-only ferries as the fast ferry often reaches its capacity during summer.
How to get around Nantucket
The best way to get around the island is by bike! There are plenty of rental shops conveniently located near the ferry ports. If you don’t want to ride a bike, walking in combination with the WAVE bus is another ideal way to explore the island without a car.
You can also rent a car for about $200-$300 a day in high season. However, parking in summer (the high season) is very limited and costly. This can be a huge inconvenience when spending only a day on Nantucket. I recommend visiting the island in the shoulder season (September & October) when crowds are fewer, costs are lower, and parking is readily available if you have your heart set on renting a car.
The one reason to rent a car (a 4×4 jeep) is to visit Great Point lighthouse. Its remote location in the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Reserve on the tip of Nantucket requires a beach permit and 4×4 capability. You can visit on foot, but the hike is 7 miles one way through sand, so it is not recommended, especially on a day trip to Nantucket.
One Day on Nantucket Biking Itinerary
Take the early ferry
I always recommend taking an early ferry, arriving by 8-9 am at the latest, and and evening ferry back, usually around 7 pm. You should plan to arrive by 9 a.m. because that is when the bike shops open, and rentals can sell out fast during the high season.
Rent a bike
The first thing to do once you arrive on the island is to rent a bike. There are a few different bike shops only a 3 min walk from the ferry port along Broad Street.
Most day rentals end at 5 p.m., so plan to take a ferry back after 6 p.m. You’ll want to give yourself enough time to walk back to the ferry port and maybe do some last-minute shopping. I usually return my bike a few hours before my ferry leaves to give myself time to walk around the historic district and my favorite street on Nantucket, the Old Wharf.
Grab a morning snack
There is coffee and snacks on the ferries, but I love Handlebar Cafe. They have a great ambiance and unique daily specials. There is also a Coffee Roasters along Broad Street, very convenient to the bike rental shops.
Either way, make sure to fuel up before your first bike ride of the day.
Village of Sconset
After you have a morning snack and rent your bike, head east through town to Milestone Road and take the bike path to Sconset.
The village is about a 40-minute bike ride from Broad Street and a great way to start the morning. Going first thing helps to avoid the intensity of the sun later in the day.
Once you reach the village, stop at the Sconset Market for specialty foods, baked goods, ice cream, or coffee. There is a public restroom in town as well.
Sankaty Head Lighthouse
Make sure to pedal down Broadway and Front Street to enjoy some of the best Cape Cod cottages and blooming flowers.
Continue pedaling towards Sankaty Head Lighthouse. Spend some time walking around the grounds and enjoy ocean views from the bluff.
Now, it’s time for a decision.
The Buff Walk is located off of Front Street. The 2 miles, out and back walk offers lovely views of the shoreline and beautiful homes while crossing through private property.
Bikes are not allowed along the Bluff Walk. The trail is very narrow, wide enough enough for a single file line, so walking your bike is not recommended.
There is no official place to secure your bike at the trail’s start or end, so I recommend biking back to Saconset Village and using the bike racks there. The start of the Bluff Walk along Front Street is only about a 5-minute walk from the Sconset Market.
I love the Bluff Walk, but depending on how hungry and tired you are, you may want to skip it. It takes 30-40 minutes to complete and another 45 minutes to bike back to Nantucket Town for lunch. So the choice is yours!
Head Back to Nantucket Town
After exploring all the sites in Saconset, start pedaling back towards Nantucket Town.
You can go the way you came along Milestone Road or take a slightly longer route back using Polpis Road. I usually do the latter to have different views of the island, although there is not much to see on either route. Polpis Road is about 3 miles or 15-20 minutes longer.
Nantucket Shipwreck and Life Saving Museum
If you love maritime history, you may want to stop at the Nantucket Shipwreck Museum along Polpis Road. It is about 6 miles or a 30-minute bike ride from Sconset Market.
On your way back to Nantucket Proper, visit some historic sites such as the Old Mill, the Old Jail (Old Gaol), Hadwin House, or the First Congregational Church.
If you visit on Thursday or Friday, climb the church’s tower for stunning views of Nantucket.
It is probably well into the afternoon at this point, which means it is time for lunch.
You will have a handful of lunch options, including The Charlie Noble for a casual setting and traditional New England dishes; The Lemon Press, an all-day cafe; or, The Whale for globally inspired dishes.
Some eateries are not open every day of the week, and a good chunk of establishments are open for dinner service only starting around 5:30.
I usually end up at Charlie Noble for lunch. They have a lovely outside dining area, and the food always tastes great.
If you love seafood, you might want to head to Jetties Beach and dine at the Sandbar in its casual beachfront setting. It’s about a 5-minute bike ride from Nantucket Town and in the same area as the next spot on this itinerary.
Brant Point Lighthouse
After lunch in town, bike to Brant Point Lighthouse, America’s 2nd oldest lighthouse. This light is the one you see coming into port. It is located on a sandy point that makes a great spot to watch the ships come in and is only a 5-minute bike ride from town.
Bug Light and the Shoe
From Brant Point, ride down Hulbert Ave enjoying the Cape Cod-style homes. The road ends at Jetties Beach, but make sure to turn left on Pawguvet Lane for a look at Bug Light and The Shoe. Two historic lighthouses that have been moved and rebuilt over the years. It’s a charming little spot perfect for a photo op if you love lighthouses like I do. Read about their complicated yet intriguing history in this article.
Next up, if you have time, enjoy an easy walk from Jetties Beach along the coast to Steps Beach Path. This stretch of beach is wide, with clean sand and magnificent homes peeking over the dunes.
If you dined at the Sandbar on Jetties Beach, you’ll want to change the order of your last few stops on your day trip to Nantucket. Follow the order below after lunch so not to backtrack.
- Jetties Beach to Steps Beach Path to the road
- Walk to Bug Light
- Pick up your bike and cycle to Brant Point Lighthouse
Return your Bike Rental
It should be time to return your bike and enjoy the last few hours of your day on Nantucket.
If your ferry doesn’t leave until 7 ish you will have time to do some shopping at the local boutiques along Nantucket cobblestone streets and stroll down the scenic Old Wharf.
If you are in the mood for a snack, try one of the island’s best Ice Cream spots, The Juice Bar or my favorite, Jack + Charlie’s Ice Cream.
Head Back to the Mainland
When walking on the ferry, I usually get to the ferry about 15-20 minutes before departure. 30 minutes is ideal but if you are not concerned about where you will sit, 15 minutes before departure is fine (but no less).
One day on Nantucket Walking Itinerary
Most of the stops are the same as the biking itinerary, but I recommend visiting them in a different order. You might run out of time to see some historic sites or go shopping, but you will still enjoy a day full of fun with some of the best experiences on Nantucket.
- Arrive at Nantucket port by 9 a.m.
- Grab a morning snack
- Stroll Down Old Wharf
- Walk to Brant Point Lighthouse
- Walk to Jetties Beach and the Sandbar Beach Bar
- Walk from Jetties Beach to Steps Beach Path to get back to the road
- Walk to Bug Light and The Shoe
- Walk back to the downtown historic District
- Enjoy some shopping in Nantucket Town
- Walk around the Historic District
- Historic Sites to See:
- Whaling museum
- Jared Coffin House (now a restaurant and Inn)
- First Congregational Church
- Hadwen House
- Jethro Coffin House (Oldest House on Nantucket)
- Have lunch in Downtown
- After lunch take the WAVE bus to Siasconset.
- Catch the bus at the WAVE Depot. There are three different routes you can take; the most direct route is the Green Route; Sconset via Milestone Road.
- Once in Siasconset, head toward Front Street to the start of the Cliff Walk, enjoying the beautiful summer cottages along the way.
- If you have time, at the end of the Bluff Walk, walk another 15 mins to the Sankaty lighthouse. It is about a 40-minute walk back to the Siconset bus stop from the Lighthouse.
- Take the bus back to town.
- Do some last-minute shopping or grab a sweet treat before catching your ferry back to Hyannis.
This walking itinerary covers about 7-9 miles, with the longest trek at the end of the day to and from the Sankaty Lighthouse but it is a beautiful light and well worth the walk if you have time.
These itineraries will take you through a full 9-10 hour day. If you want to slow it down, skip Siasconset and stay in town enjoying the harbor, historic district, beaches, boutiques, and fresh seafood. You won’t need a bike for town so stick to a walking itinerary instead.
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