Nantucket must-sees are not going to be the same for everyone, but we've tried to focus on the things that we think would be of interest to most visitors.
Nantucket is such an amazing place to visit. For such a small island, there really are a lot of fun and interesting things to see and do.
Unfortunately, my first visit was only for one short day, and I had no idea how little I would get to see, or more importantly, just how much there was to see.
Here are our must-see recommendations for things that are uniquely Nantucket.
Nantucket art galleries feature exceptionally talented local artists and offer amazing collections of landscape and coastal paintings. Of, course you’ll also find many other works by some of today’s preeminent contemporary artists. Many of the galleries are located near the harbor, so take a stroll, visit some galleries, and enjoy Nantucket! What a lovely way to spend an afternoon! For information on some of our favorite galleries: Nantucket Art Galleries
Beaches, Beaches, Beaches
Of course this goes without saying. One of our favorite things to do! With 82 miles of coastline, you’ll find some of the most beautiful, pristine beaches in the world. Swim, surf, hunt for shells, or just bask in the sun. There are several popular beaches with lifeguards and restrooms and some have food service.
Beach lovers will want to check out as many of the beaches as they can. Each is unique and the sand, shells, waves and views vary from beach to beach depending on location. If you don’t have much time, Brant Point Beach and Jetties Beach are within walking district from the downtown/harbor area.
To learn more about Nantucket's must-see beaches and why each one is so special, check out:
Best View of the Island
For a bird’s eye view of the town, harbor and beyond, you MUST visit the Tower of the Old North Church, located at 62 Centre Street. There are 92 steps, but the spectacular views are worth the effort.
First Congregational Church
Brant Point Light
Easily one of the most photographed and recognizable attractions on the island, Brant Point Light is one of my favorite lighthouses and a definite must-see. Every time I round Brant Point on my way to the island, the sight of the lighthouse, the harbor and the village simply take my breath away. No wonder we find it so special. Brant Point was the first lighthouse on Nantucket and the second lighthouse built in the colonies, the original Brant Point Light was a simple wooden structure erected about 1746. The current lighthouse was built in 1901. Today Brant Point houses modern equipment including an automated modern optic. The red light flashes every 4 seconds and is visible for 10 miles.
Directions: You can’t miss it! From Steamboat Wharf, go west on Broad, turn right on South Beach Street and then right on Easton St. You will pass the 1856 Brant Point Light on the way to the present lighthouse. Continue to the end of the road to the 1901 light. The tower is not accessible, but the surrounding beach is open to the public.
When you’re leaving the island, remember to drop a coin off the side of the ferry as you round Brant Point and make a wish for a safe return home. Of course, by the time I pass the lighthouse, I’m fighting back the tears, and the only thing I’m wishing for is a return to Nantucket!
For more information on the island's three lighthouses:
Nantucket Historic Lighthouses
Discover Nantucket's architectural treasures. Take a self-guided tour through the historic district or consider a guided tour offered by the Nantucket Historical Association or the Nantucket Preservation Trust.
If you don’t have much time, at least take a stroll down Main Street. Some of the most elegant historic homes will be found on Main and Orange Streets where the wealthy sea captains, ship owners and merchants lived. Many of these homes feature widows walks with panoramic views of the harbor and horizon beyond. Although most homes were built of wood, many brick mansions were built during Nantucket’s golden era. Perhaps the most famous are the three located side-by-side at 93, 95 and Main Street. The “Three Bricks” were built by wealthy Joseph Starbuck for his three sons between 1837 and 1840.
Some of the most architecturally and historically significant must-see homes on Main Street include:
Joseph Swain House, 84 Main Street (c. 1762)
Hadwen-Wright House, 94 Main Street (c. 1847)
Swain-Macy House, 99 Main Street (c. 1770)
Starbuck House, 105 Main Street (c. 1690)
These are just a very few of the amazing homes you’ll find in the
historic downtown area. Nantucket boasts more than 800 pre-Civil War
era homes. For more information on Nantucket's historic homes and
Nantucket Historic Homes
Nantucket Architectural Treasures
Love history? There is a lot more to see than just historic stately mansions. The entire island of Nantucket has been designated a historic landmark – historic sites are everywhere you look.
The following list contains a few of Nantucket's must-see historic sites. All are owned and maintained by the Nantucket Historical Association. These properties are open to the public or available for guided tours during the summer months.
Oldest House (Jethro Coffin House)
Sunset Hill (c. 1686)
Oldest residence on Nantucket
15 Prospect Street (c. 1746)
Oldest operating windmill in the country. Still grinds corn in the summer!
15 Vestal Street (c. 1806)
Nantucket jail from 1806-1933
Quaker Meeting House
7 Fair Street (c. 1838)
The building was purchased from the Friends in 1894, and became the NHA's first museum. Quaker meetings are still held here during the summer months.
Fire Hose-Cart House
8 Gardner Street (c. 1886)
The last remaining nineteenth century firehouse on the island. Displays some of the rare fire-fighting equipment related to the historic 1846 fire.
To learn more about these sites and obtain information on tours, visit the NHA website: NHA Historic Sites
To learn about other historic sites, Nantucket's Historic Sites
By the 1670’s Siasconset, or 'Sconset as it is better known, was one of four fishing “stands,” or stations on the island where fisherman lived during the spring and fall cod-fishing seasons. The fishermen built small cottages to accommodate the five men fishing crews, but these were not the picturesque cottages you see today. Rather, these were little more than one-room wooden shacks with shingled roofs and dirt floors. Many of the seasonal fisherman decided to make ‘Sconset their permanent home and began expanding their tiny dwellings to provide year-round shelter for their families. Rather than tear down the shacks and start from scratch, additions were made using odds and ends including old doors and windows, and sometimes even parts of wrecked ships. 'Sconset began to take on the appearance of a small village.
During the early 1900s, 'Sconset’s remote location attracted a sizeable actor’s colony and many famous Broadway actors made Nantucket their summer home.
Many of the fishing shanties turned cozy cottages still stand today. Prized for their historical and architectural uniqueness, most visitors would never know that these quaint rose-covered cottages started out as fishing shacks.
'Sconset is eight miles from Nantucket Town and easily accessible by shuttle (seasonal), bicycle or car. There are limited accommodations, but there are three excellent restaurants, beautiful beaches and breathtaking views, so it’s worth the trip, and a wonderful way to spend a day.
Take a Tour
If you're really short on time, consider a bus tour of the island. It's a great way to see the best of Nantucket in a relatively short time. Most of the tour guides are Nantucket residents who love sharing their knowledge of the island with visitors. Most will pick you up at your hotel.
For recommended tour guides:
Watch a Sunset
Sunsets are incredible from anyplace on Nantucket, but the very best place to watch the sun go down is Madaket Beach at the far western end of the island. The surf can be heavy so be careful when swimming. There are some lifeguards and restrooms but no food service, so bring a picnic or visit a nearby restaurant. Madaket Beach is accessible by bike via a 5.5 mile paved bike path, or take the NRTA shuttle bus (seasonal). For more information on Nantucket’s other must-see beaches: Nantucket Beaches
13 Broad Street
Last but not least! Whether you’re on the island for one day or a week, this really is a must-see for a great overview of Nantucket’s maritime history.
Restored in 2005, the Nantucket Whaling Museum features a restored 1847 candle factory, changing displays and exhibits, priceless art and artifacts, world-class scrimshaw, the skeleton of a forty-six-foot sperm whale, and a stunning view from the rooftop observation deck.
Be sure to check out the Museum Shop at 11 Broad Street.
Nantucket boasts several other wonderful museums. For more information: Nantucket Museums
These suggestions for Nantucket must-sees are just the tip of the iceberg. If you have a lot of time on your hands or just interested in finding out about more things to see and do, check out: Things To Do
Here's to hoping you find some must-sees of your own!