Nantucket is located 30 miles south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The island is 14 miles long and 3 1/2 miles wide. Nantucket Sound lies to the island’s north while the Atlantic Ocean lies to the south.
Translated from an Indian term believed to mean “Faraway Land”, Nantucket was settled by the English in 1659, and the Native American Indian population, the Wampanoags, declined over the next century. In the early 1700s, the island became a haven for Quakers fleeing from religious persecution, and by the end of the century, Quakers were the predominant denomination.
From the mid-1700s to the late 1830s, Nantucket was the whaling capital of the world. The island’s fortunes changed after petroleum replaced sperm oil for lighting, and the island’s population plummeted. Over time, commercial shipping was replaced by recreational boating, and the island began its long tradition as a summer retreat.
Today over 40% of the island is conservation land with numerous pristine beaches for all to enjoy. Visitors can choose from resorts, inns, hotels, seasonal rentals, cottages, bed & breakfasts and hostels at all price points. Restaurants, charming shops on cobblestone streets and galleries are abundant.
Nantucket is home to several world-class museums, including the Whaling Museum and the Maria Mitchell Association, which features two observatories. Walking tours highlight the island’s significant history and architecture.
While its population grows from 10,000 to over 50,000 in the popular summer months, Nantucket is also a welcome retreat in other seasons. The island holds a Daffodil Festival Weekend every spring to celebrate the over three million bulbs that bloom from early April to mid-May. In December, the highlight of the
month-long Noel celebration is the Christmas Stroll Weekend, featuring Victorian carolers, bell ringers and other musicians. Cozy shops and remain open late to entice holiday shoppers.
Interesting Nantucket Facts
- Herman Melville was a resident of the island, and the ill-fated Pequod in “Moby-Dick” departed from Nantucket.
- A large number of pre-Civil War structures have been preserved.
- The SS Andrea Doria luxury liner sank off the shores of Nantucket in 1956 after a collision with another ship. While 1660 passengers were rescued, 46 people died in the well-publicized disaster.
- Vikings are rumored to have spotted the island in the 11th century.
- Benjamin Franklin’s mother, Abiah Folger, was born on the island.
- The first graduate of the US Military Academy, Joseph Gardner Swift, was from Nantucket. Swift became a Brigadier General.
- Famous residents have included Jack Welch, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, John Kerry and Teresa Heinz, Tommy Hilfiger, David Halberstam, and Peter Benchley, the author of “Jaws”.
Getting to Nantucket
Nantucket is easy to get to via air or boat. The popular Nantucket airport on the south side of the island features three runways and is the second busiest airport in Massachusetts after Logan Airport.
The Steamship Authority operates year round and is the most economical ferry service to the Island. Seasonal options are the Freedom Cruise line, which operates out of Harwichport on the Lower Cape, and Hy-Line cruises, which operates out of Hyannis on the Mid-Upper Cape.
Getting Around Nantucket
Shuttles, limousines, taxis, and car rentals are all available. The island’s beautiful scenery, maintained bike paths and relatively flat landscape make it a particularly attractive cycling destination, and bicycle rentals are available seasonally.
Nantucket’s island location is a moderating influence, and summers are usually cooler and winters are usually warmer than those on the mainland. Temperatures usually don’t exceed the mid-70s even in the summer. While temperatures do dip below freezing during the winter months, rain is more typical, and snow tends to melt quickly.
Photo credits: The picture of Main Street on Nantucket is by Bobak Ha’Eri from the Wikimedia Commons. It is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License. The Christmas Stroll Weekend picture is courtesy of the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce.