Located 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Nantucket is a small island known for its pristine beaches, fantastic seafood, picturesque cottages, and diverse history. The island of Nantucket offers the ultimate summer escape from city life. Whether you’re here on a family vacation or enjoying a romantic getaway, there is plenty on Nantucket Island to see and do to keep everyone happy. However you spend your time, these are the prettiest Nantucket towns that you need to add to your must-see list, Nantucket the town and Sconset.
The word Nantucket can be confusing.
Not only does it refer to the island of Nantucket, but also Nantucket county (which includes Nantucket and two neighboring islands), and the town of Nantucket (the town located at the Western end of Nantucket Harbor facing Nantucket Sound).
The county of Nantucket is the only combined town and county which works as a county in Massachusetts.
In fact, the Nantucket Historic District designation covers the whole island of Nantucket making all of it a National Historic Landmark District.
Nantucket Island has a total area of 105 square miles which is large enough to have 2 zip codes. Stretching long and thin, Nantucket Island is 14 miles long and up to 3 1/2 miles wide. So there are miles of coastline!!
Similar to its neighbor Martha’s Vineyard, there is a population boom during the tourist season.
With year-round residents of about 12,000 people, the island’s population balloons in the summer months to over 50,000 people.
The island was settled by the Native American tribes of the Wampanoag people solely until the English settlers arrived in the 17th century mostly fleeing the strict Puritan control exerted by the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
English navigator, Mathew Gosnold is credited with having first spotted Nantucket for the Europeans.
The Towns in Nantucket
Nantucket Town is the larger of the two touristy areas located of Nantucket. Beautiful, with cobblestone streets and historic streets, Nantucket has a small town feel.
Siasconset, or Sconset as everyone calls it, is for those who want more a more rustic, escape from it all.
Technically it isn’t incorporated as a town so it’s a village.
So, actually Nantucket the town, is the only town on Nantucket Island.
There is easy access to Nantucket from Nantucket Town. For example, ferries come in from Oak Bluffs in Martha’s Vineyard, Hyannis and Harwich Port on Cape Cod and New Bedford Massachusetts.
Located three miles from the town center of Nantucket, Nantucket Airport is actually the second busiest airport in Massachusetts (after Logan International in Boston!)
To start your time in Nantucket Town, take a stroll through the cobblestone streets of the Historic Downtown District. The traditional architecture adds to the quaint atmosphere.
Nantucket Town is great for shopping in boutique stores, exploring art galleries, and basking in the city’s well-kept charm.
The island’s maritime history is also well-documented in Nantucket Town.
Nantucket had a lucrative whaling industry in the 18th century when whale oil was used to light lamps.
Main Street in downtown Nantucket is a picture perfect street that is an introduction to the over 800 historic buildings that dot this island.
The Whaling Museum will take you back in time and teach you about the town’s rich history through a variety of artifacts, art pieces, and even a 46-foot sperm whale skeleton.
Before you leave the Whaling Museum, make your way to the observation deck for stunning views of the harbor.
Other great museums in Nantucket that are fascinating include the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum (sailors used to make baskets to pass the time at sea) and a branch of the Museum of African American History that is also in Boston. (Nantucket had a settlement of African Americans because the Quakers were opposed to enslavement of peoples.)
Nantucket Town is also close to some nice beaches. Jetties Beach is easy to get to via a short bike ride or shuttle bus. It’s the perfect spot for a quick dip, kayaking, and windsurfing. The water is calm and the beach is family-friendly. There’s the convenient Sandbar restaurant if you get hungry.
There are plenty of other sandy beaches in the area as well, such as the North Shore beaches of Steps Beach and family-friendly Children’s Beach with its calm waters.
On your way back into town, stop at the historic site of Brant Point Lighthouse at the entrance to Nantucket Town from Nantucket Sound!
If you want to get out onto the water, go kayaking or take a boat tour. You can choose between relaxing harbor tours, oyster farm tours, eco-tours, sunset cruises, cocktail cruises, fishing trips, and more!
Siasconset aka Sconset Village
‘Sconset’, is a charming, rustic town, where you’ll find quaint cottages and elegant homes clad in vibrant flowers and verdant ivy.
Sconset really is one of the most picturesque places we have ever seen. In this quiet town, time seems to have stopped in its tracks.
Resting on the East side of Nantucket, Siasconset overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. Sconset Village is a short drive or a longish 1 hour bike ride on a scenic bike path from Nantucket Town. Biking to Sconset is actually feasible on even a day trip to Nantucket.
The area that forms Sconset was inhabited by the Wampanoag people until 1641. In the 17th century, the town was known for its whaling industry and later as a fishing village.
The area is great for biking and you can easily spend a whole day here at beautiful Sconset beach.
Don’t forget to take a stroll along the Sconset Bluff walk checking out the idyllic homes and blooming gardens.
There are a handful of restaurants and cafes in Sconset. We are big fans of Claudette’s Sandwich Shop (try the Meatloaf sandwich!).
Alternatively, head to the Sconset Market to gather some fresh produce, snacks, and fresh baked goods for a picnic.
The Sankaty Head Lighthouse is another must-visit destination near Sconset. Built in 1850, this Nantucket lighthouse is an island landmark. Nearby Altar Head is the highest point on Nantucket Island.
Similar to Aquinnah Lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard, the Sankaty Head lighthouse needed to be moved away from the bluff in 2007 due to cliff erosion.
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