Lay of the Land
“Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone lighthouse.”~Herman Melville
Nantucket is just fourteen miles long and three and a half miles wide. Unlike Martha’s Vineyard, which has six distinctive towns, there are really only two regions in Nantucket, town—where the ferries arrive and most of the restaurants and shops are located—and the rest of the island. The villages of Siasconset (pronounced “Sconset”) and Madaket frame it on the eastern and western shores, respectively. The island’s strict zoning laws have preserved a 19th-century feel, and most of the homes are gray-shingled cottages that have not changed much since those days when Nantucket was one of the East Coast’s whaling capitals. Particularly town, with its white church steeples and mansions with widow’s walks looks much like the setting described by Herman Melville in Moby-Dick, which was partially set here. The rest of the island is made up of moody moors and sprawling cranberry bogs, plus miles of sandy beaches, nearly all of which are open to the public.
If you go off-season, the easiest way to get around is with a car, unless you plan on staying put in Nantucket town, where almost everything is within walking distance. In the summer, the traffic in town is utterly congested, so it’s best to bike or park in a lot on the edge of town and walk. For those looking to explore the entire island, renting a car or Jeep is the best way to get around without relying on shuttles.
When to Go
During the summer, the population of Nantucket swells from around 10,000 to 50,000 people, and traffic can be a nightmare. A better time to go is the late spring and fall, particularly June, September and October. It’s wise to avoid Memorial Day weekend, when the annual Figawi sailboat race turns the island into a rowdy college party.
There are direct flights to Nantucket from Boston, Cape Cod and New York, all of which take under 45 minutes. There’s also the speedy and reliable Hy-Line ferry service (www.hy-linecruises.com), which regularly departs from Hyannis, Cape Cod; and, during high season, there’s a high-speed ferry between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, which takes a little over an hour. For a faster and more scenic option, book a flight with CapeAir (www.flycapeair.com). The nine-person propeller plane ride takes fifteen minutes and gives you a striking aerial introduction to the islands. Fog, however, can be a problem and cause significant flight delays.
Staff Quotable: “Whether it’s one’s first or fiftieth time on-island, all visitors are made to feel like Nantucket is their little own personal escape. Just 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, the island feels a world away from all life’s stresses.” ~Missy Weil, Travel Specialist