Everybody has a travel wish list, right? Big (and sometimes) little things that you SIMPLY MUST DO. Well seeing the hydrangeas in bloom on Nantucket has been on mine for a long time.
And since this seems to be the summer of making things like that happen, I researched and plotted and finally scheduled a trip for what I thought would be the perfect time.
Planning trips around natural phenomena is so fun ; )
The hydrangeas bloom around Cape Cod and the islands (Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard) for most of July, but there are also climbing roses that get started in June and fade away by mid July, so it seemed like the first week of July would be the best chance of seeing them both.
Since I had never been to Cape Cod before (this was my first trip to New England!), and I wanted to see as much as possible, I decided to just do a day trip to Nantucket.
Here’s how it went…
Day Trip to Nantucket
Like I said, this was part of a larger trip to Cape Cod where I “glamped” at the AutoCamp in Falmouth. Read about my whole trip here.
Ferry to Nantucket
During the summer months (mid June through Labor Day), there are a handful of companies that offer public ferry service to Nantucket. Most options are from Hyannis, but there’s also a ferry that runs from New Bedford (Seastreak) and one from Harwich Port (Freedom Cruise Line).
Hy-Line Cruises and Steamship Authority are the two fast ferry options (1 hour) from Hyannis. Steamship Authority also has a traditional ferry (2 hours) that you can take your car on ($$$), and their passenger fares are about half the price as the fast ferry.
But if you’re going on a day trip, your best option is going to be the fast ferry from Hyannis to Nantucket.
I booked the trip with Hy-Line Cruises a couple days before our trip (most of the morning times were sold out each day if you waited until the day before) since we were traveling during the peak summer season.
The ferry cost $89/adult round trip ($54/child ages 5-12). I booked the 9:30 AM ferry since we were staying about 45 minutes from Hyannis and I didn’t want to have to rush around too much in the morning.
When I bought the tickets, I paid for the off site parking option and we were able to find the lot and jump on the ferry pretty easily.
We got to the port with plenty of time so we grabbed breakfast sandwiches at the little cafe and got a spot in line.
And it was a smooth hour long ride over to Nantucket!
Nantucket works so well for a day trip for a couple of reasons 1) it’s a pretty small island with only one big “town” and 2) that’s right where the ferry docks.
So you can get off the ferry and spend a pretty leisurely day just walking around exploring the town, shopping, eating, etc.
But the island isn’t that small so if you’re wanting to leave “downtown” Nantucket, you’re going to need a plan.
I really wanted to go to Sconsett to see the houses with the climbing roses along the Bluff Walk, but it’s about 7 miles from downtown and I couldn’t find any island tour options that seemed like my style. And I wasn’t interested in renting a car for the day.
I had tracked Lyft and Uber for a few weeks before I went and it seemed like it might be doable (but expensive) to go that route. I waited about 30 minutes after the ferry docked (it’s a madhouse for a while after the ferry unloads) and tried to call a Lyft but after about 30-45 minutes with no luck, I gave up and we just decided to enjoy the day downtown.
So what I’ve learned is you’ve got two good options if you want to see the island beyond “downtown”: 1) Sign up for an organized tour. All of the options I found before just loaded people into a big van and drove them around the island which was not appealing to me, but might work for you. I still think though after some research there must be SOMEBODY doing private tours around the island in a cute Jeep. 2) Rent electric bikes downtown and cruise around. In hindsight this is probably the best option. You could easily ride over to Sconset and do the Bluff Walk and then ride back to the lighthouse and some of the beaches closer to town.
With the ferry times I chose, I ended up being on the island from 10:30 to about 5 so I could have either extended those times a bit (come over an hour earlier, went back an hour later) and had plenty of time to explore the island a bit more, OR spent less time shopping in town ; )
It really depends on how you want to spend your time on the island. Downtown is pretty concentrated with cute shops and restaurants, so you can pretty easily just spend the day there.
But if you’ve never been before and you want to explore downtown AND go to Sconsett, you’ll just have to manage your time.
How I Spent the Day on Nantucket
So here’s now I spent the day in downtown Nantucket…
We got off the ferry about 10:30 AM and walked around town for a bit while we waited for the crowd to dissipate.
First we walked over to the Old South Wharf and went to the shops on that stretch.
There were a lot of boxes of hydrangeas in this area and they were probably the best ones we saw on the island.
We walked up the main street back into town and looked around while I tried to figure out if we could get a Lyft over to Sconset.
Once that seemed like a no-go I decided to go find the other spot I HAD to see on Nantucket.
If you’ve spent any time on social media, you’ve seen photos of the little clapboard house on the water that’s covered with climbing roses and hydrangeas. The name of the house is “Constitution” (all the houses here have names) and it’s on the Old North Wharf.
I didn’t realize this is a whole stretch of historic homes that look like they’re about 200 years old.
This is one of the most picturesque and idyllic places I’ve ever been.
If you’ve been galavanting around Europe looking for charming little villages, but you haven’t been to Nantucket, you’re missing out!
The Old North Wharf is right on the water in town, but it still feels a little tucked away so it’s not mobbed with people. It’s not unknown though and there are plenty of people there walking up and down the street, taking pictures in front of the cottages. But it is a place where people actually live so remember to be respectful and there is a point on the wharf where you’re not allowed to go any further unless you’re staying there.
We spent some more time walking through the streets and going to shops.
There are two book shops downtown: Mitchell’s and Nantucket Bookworks.
This also just happened to be the day that Taylor Swift released Speak Now: Taylor’s Version so pretty much every shop we went in was playing the album and these precious girls had a bracelet stand set up in front of a shop that was absolutely buzzing.
I’m sure there are way better places to eat on Nantucket, but we stopped at the Nantucket Tavern. It’s right off the wharf so it has a good view and honestly the food was pretty good!
B-ACK Yard BBQ was recommended, but being from Oklahoma, I wasn’t super excited about New England BBQ ; ) Maybe next time though! Provisions is a good spot to grab sandwiches to go if you’re going to the beach or you’re going to ride your bike over to Sconsett.
And the Lemon Press had a line out the door when we first walked by.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around more shops (Current Vintage had the most immaculate collection of vintage dresses), and then stopped for ice cream at Jack & Charlie’s before we got in line for the ferry back to Hyannis.
So we really just spent the whole day walking around downtown, taking pictures (I took THOUSANDS), shopping, and eating. And it was lovely.
Is a Nantucket Day Trip Worth It?
What makes Nantucket a popular day trip is that you can really see the best of the island right when you get off the ferry.
Yes, you can make plans and do more but if you just want to hop off the ferry and spend the day wandering around town, it’s a pretty good place to do it.
If I had this day to do over again (and honestly I’ll probably go back to the area because I liked it so much), I would go over on the 8:30 AM ferry and rent an electric bike first thing.
From downtown Nantucket it’s less than 8 miles (along a pretty direct route) to Sconset. I’d do the Bluff Walk there and stop for sandwiches in town.
From there I’d ride back through town and go to Jetties Beach and then ride down around the point to see the lighthouse.
From town out to Sconsett, it’s only about a 45 minute ride. So going out there and back, to the beach, and to the lighthouse should be really doable and still have plenty of time to walk around town, shop and eat before you catch the ferry back. There’s a 7:05 PM ferry that would be really easy and even a 9:20 PM ferry if you wanted to stay for a later dinner and sunset.
Even without “doing” much, I still think a day trip is 100% worth it. Nantucket has to be one of the most charming and quaint places in the US (in a way that only big $$$ and planned development can produce) and it’s just so culturally unique to any place I’ve ever been.
I know a lot of people who visit the Cape Cod area are more local, but I think it should be a destination for travelers coming much further.