Sankaty Head Lighthouse is a brick structure built in 1850 painted white and red

Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket? 5 Tips To Help You Choose Your Cape Cod Island

With sun-soaked beaches, pristine scenic views, and charming villages, both Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket make for a relaxing island vacation off the coast of Cape Cod. Although only 30-miles of water separate them, these two Cape Cod islands couldn’t be any more different. They each have their own unique atmosphere, which can help you decide which Cape Cod Island is perfect for you. Here are some of the key differences to take into account when you are trying to decide between Nantucket vs. Martha’s Vineyard.

Nantucket vs. Martha’s Vineyard: Size

Clocking in at 96-square miles, Martha’s Vineyard is more than twice the size of the island of Nantucket. You could easily spend an entire week on Martha’s Vineyard and still find plenty of things to see and do. However, you’ll likely need to bring your car or book a bus tour if you want to explore the southern part of the island.

Parked bicycles on the beach in summer.
Cycling is an easy way to get around Nantucket Island.

Compared to Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket is relatively small. It’s 14-miles long and 3 1/2 miles wide, which means it’s much easier to explore on foot or bike. Although there are only two towns on the island (compared to the six towns on Martha’s Vineyard), there is still no shortage of restaurants, shops, and attractions to see during your visit.

Tip!  You can bike across Nantucket in a couple of hours and drive across the island in about half an hour. Cycling Martha’s Vineyard takes about 4+ hours.

Nantucket vs. Martha’s Vineyard: Tourist Season

During the summer season, Martha’s Vineyard’s population increases from 17,000 to an astounding 150,000 people. That’s an over 800% increase in people on the same island.If you’re planning a vacation during the summer (or during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays), you should book your accommodation far in advance.

Harbour House in dramatic Stormy Summer Sunset in Nantucket Island
Sunset over Harbor House in the Nantucket harbor

While Nantucket also has a busy season, the island is less touristed than Martha’s Vineyard. There are roughly 10,000 permanent residents that live there year-round. During the summer, this increases to about 50,000 people. That’s a 400% increase in summer tourists! Nantucket only has a handful of hotels and inns, so it’s also important to book your accommodation as soon as possible.

NB! For budget accommodation, there is a HI Hostel on Nantucket but there is no campground. The police are stick in enforcing the anti-camping rules.

Nantucket vs. Martha’s Vineyard: Geography

With rolling hills and rocky cliffs, Martha’s Vineyard is an outdoor lover’s paradise. There are also several beaches and harbors where you can spend the day enjoying the sea breeze. However, it’s important to note that some Martha’s Vineyard beaches are private and may only be accessible to visitors with permits allowing them to do so.

Nantucket has great surfing beaches – check out Surfline for a surf report and forecast for Nantucket surfing.

Nantucket’s geography is much flatter compared to Martha’s Vineyard. While you don’t get the diverse cliffs and hill that you’ll find on Martha’s Vineyard, you will find sandy beaches and quaint towns. Nantucket is also famous for its three distinct lighthouses.

Sankaty Head Lighthouse is a brick structure built in 1850 painted white and red
The Sankaty Head Lighthouse is a brick structure built in 1850

VRBO

When it comes to Martha’s Vineyard vs. Nantucket, both islands offer plenty of activities for beachgoers, outdoor enthusiasts, and families alike. You can spend the day cycling along the coast, visiting the Flying Horse Carousel, or admiring the colorful Gingerbread Houses in Oak Bluff. You can also make a quick day trip to neighboring Chappaquiddick Island for an afternoon of golf or sunbathing.

Since 1963, the Nantucket Conservation Foundation owns about 30% of the land on the island which helps to prevent overdevelopment of the island. Martha’s Vineyard has similar conservation minded-efforts at the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank and the Vineyard Conservation Society.

Nantucket also offers a mix of cultural and outdoor events for all types of travelers. Take a leisurely stroll along Sconset Bluff Walk, hop on a boat for an afternoon harbor tour, or visit the Whaling Museums in the heart of downtown Nantucket. You can also rent a bike and explore one of the 30 or so public beaches lining the island’s coast.

Nantucket, Massachusetts. Exhibition inside Nantucket Whaling Museum, a museum dedicated to the history of whaling and originally a candle factory
The Nantucket Whaling Museum celebrates the island’s history as a whaling port.

Nantucket vs. Martha’s Vineyard: Atmosphere

Martha’s Vineyard’s laid-back vibe and relaxed atmosphere make it a desirable destination for those looking to escape the city. While the island is a hotspot for celebrities, musicians, and politicians, the overall feeling is casual and laid back. Everyone may be in shorts but some of those swimshorts are Vilebrequin.

Nantucket, Massachusetts: Carved wooden sign at the Brotherhood of Thieves 1840's Whaling Bar
The Brotherhood of Thieves is a restaurant named after a pamphlet written on Nantucket against slavery in the USA. Nantucket had a large Quaker population who were fervent abolitionists.

On the other hand, Nantucket has more of an upscale vibe. While it’s perfectly acceptable to hit the town in flip flops and shorts, the vibe is preppy chic.

Both of the Cape Cod Islands have plenty of gourmet restaurants where you’ll spot some of the most affluent vacationers in the world from Wall Street, government and Hollywood.

 

Booking.com

Martha’s Vineyard vs. Nantucket

We know families in London who have homes in Nantucket but we knew this Cape Cod island was not the choice for us. Too small, too conservative.

Martha’s Vineyard has an affluent African American community and quite a few mixed-race families like us. We also loved Martha’s Vineyard for its cosmopolitan liberalism, artsy flair, and intellectual leanings.  When you know, you know.

Getting to Nantucket

Nantucket definitely has less ferry services and airlines flying to it.

How to Get From Martha’s Vineyard to Nantucket

Getting to both Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket is relatively easy. Martha’s Vineyard is only seven miles off the mainland, which means a ferry ride from Cape Cod only takes about 35-minutes. Nantucket is a bit further (30-miles from Cape Cod) and takes anywhere from one to three hours, depending on where you’re departing from.

ferry to Nantucket harbor passing by Brant Point Lighthouse
Ferry to Nantucket passing by Brant Point Lighthouse

You can take the ferry from Martha’s Vineyard to Nantucket if you’d like to see both islands on your trip. Operated by Hy-line Cruises, this inter-island ferry between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket takes one hour and leaves three times a day during tourist season.

How To Get To Nantucket from Cape Cod

The Steamship Authority runs car ferries from Hyannis in Cape Cod to Nantucket which takes a little over 2 hours. There’s a passenger only catamaran from Hyannis to Nantucket that cuts the time down to an hour.

You can fly from Hyannis to Nantucket on Nantucket Airlines in about 15 minutes. You can also take Cape Air from JFK in New York or Logan in Boston directly to Nantucket in about 1 hour or, 1/2 hour, respectively.

Choosing between Nantucket vs. Martha’s Vineyard comes down to your personal taste and vacation style. Both islands have their personal devotees who wouldn’t consider living on the other island!

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Sankaty Lighthouse on Nantucket in clouds with the words why you’ll want to visit Nantucket Island
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