For such a tiny island, Nantucket has an impressive collection of fans. Many summer visitors return year after year for generations. But there’s something to be said for exploring someplace new. For those of you who are less familiar with the island, we’re going back to the basics. Read on to learn more about Nantucket’s location and history, along with you can expect to find on your first visit!
Where is Nantucket?
Part of what makes Nantucket so special is it’s location. 14 miles long by 3-5 miles wide, the island lies 30 miles off of the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Nantucket Sound lies between our island and the mainland, while all our other shores are bordered by the Atlantic. Head east for long enough, and you may not hit land again until Europe!
It’s not easy to get to, which means that everyone here has made a sincere effort to land on its shores. Travel by plane and land at Nantucket Memorial Airport, the second busiest airport in the state! You can find our airport code ACK adorning bumper stickers all over the world. Alternatively, enjoy the ocean breeze and travel by passenger ferry from these ports: Hyannis, MA, New Bedford, MA, New York City, NY, Highlands, NJ, Harwich Port, MA and Martha’s Vineyard, MA. More information on ferry routes and travel times can be found here on our blog.
How did we get here?
Many years ago, Nantucket was formed by a massive glacial ice sheet. When the glacier reached its maximum eastward advance, it deposited rocks and other sediment at its edge, or terminal moraine. Once the glacier melted and sea levels rose, the familiar island shape we see today was left behind!
This glacial history is why we see such beautiful dunes (technically known as coastal banks) surrounding our beaches. If you’re interested in learning more about the island’s formation and composition, check out this quick video from our Nantucket Field Station.
What’ve we been up to?
For nearly a century, Nantucket was the whaling capital of the world. That’s no small feat for a 100 square mile strip of sand! In the early 1700’s, Nantucketers began to travel overseas in search for the sperm whale. By early 1800’s, they were embarking on voyages as long as five years. Whale oil was incredibly valuable and essential for lighting homes during this period. As a result, men who survived many voyages often went on to become wealthy whaling captains.
19th century Nantucket also had a rich female-driven economy. While the husbands were away, Nantucket wives took charge of local businesses and Centre Street was dubbed “Petticoat Row”.
Today, you can walk on the same cobblestone streets, stay at the home of a former whaling captain, go shopping on Petticoat Row, or visit the Whaling Museum. Many early Nantucket settlers and whalers were Quakers, and you can find the old Quaker Meeting House on Fair Street.
Why should you visit?
Nantucket boasts three lighthouses and over 80 miles of beaches. And all of them, with the exception of the Cliffside Beach Club, are public! So grab a book and a chair and when it gets toasty, take a dip. More adventurous vacation-goers can pick up a Nantucket Beach Permit, deflate their tires, and head out on a narrow spit of sand to Great Point, our island’s northeast tip.
We also have an impressive collection of shops and restaurants, many just steps away from the historic cobblestones of Main Street. For a thorough (and growing) guide to island commerce, check out our Nantucket Business Directory. So whether you’re looking for fish, a tan, or some retail therapy, Nantucket has a little something for everyone.
If you’re ready to make your island visit into a reality, check out our rental listings page. From ‘Sconset to Town to Madaket and back, our agents can connect you with the property that is right for you. We can’t wait to see you here!