Nantucket is among the most popular summer getaways in New England.
And for good reason – it boasts some of the most serene white sand beaches on the East Coast, has an absolutely charming downtown, and nothing says “summer” quite like Nantucket’s uniform gray shingled cottages.
Maybe you’ve heard of Nantucket in a book, movie, or TV show. Or come across Nantucket Nectars juices in the grocery store, seen shorts described as “Nantucket Red” or stumbled upon a Nantucket basket handbag.
Wherever you’ve encountered “Nantucket” you may be wondering where Nantucket is located. And the next logical question is how do you get to Nantucket?
Where is Nantucket located?
Nantucket is an island about 30 miles offshore from Cape Cod in Massachusetts. It’s directly south of what’s known as the Mid-Cape which includes the towns Hyannis, Hyannis Port, and South Yarmouth.
The island, which is about 14 miles long and 3 1/2 miles wide, experiences a different climate than neighboring areas due to its location.
Nantucket’s weather is heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean which produces a moderating effect. As a result, the island’s winter climate is warmer than mainland New England and its summers are cooler. Temperatures in Nantucket rarely go above 81°F or below 14°F.
Nantucket is also east of the other prominent Massachusetts Island, Martha’s Vineyard. The distance between these two popular summer getaways is roughly 20-30 miles. However, the exact distance can vary as there are multiple channels and passages separating the two islands.
How do you get to Nantucket?
Now that you know where Nantucket is, you’re probably wondering how visitors travel to the island.
Since Nantucket is relatively far off shore it’s not easy to get to. Visitors have three options – private boat, ferry or airplane.
Because arriving by private boat requires personalized instructions, we’ll focus on traveling to Nantucket by ferry or airplane.
Most visitors to Nantucket arrive by ferry.
Ferries are constantly arriving and departing the island during the summer season. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind when deciding which ferry is best for you.
First, it’s important to know there are two main ferry companies that travel to Nantucket – The Steamship Authority and Hy-Line Cruises. Both of these ferries operate out of Hyannis which is in the middle of Cape Cod (often called the Mid-Cape).
These companies’ ports are close in distance (less than a 1/2 mile apart) but they are distinct. Since traffic can be heavy in this section of Hyannis Port be sure you type the right one into your GPS before driving.
Next, it’s also important to know that there are both high-speed and slow Nantucket ferries. While Hy-Line Cruises only operates high-speed ferries, Steamship Authority operates both. Here’s the difference:
- High-speed ferries: These ferries will get you to Nantucket in one hour. They are more expensive and while it’s possible to bring a bike on the ferry (for an extra fee) it’s not possible to bring your car. These ferries book up quickly so make reservations online.
- Slow ferries: These ferries take two hours, however, they’re also less expensive, are often less crowded, and have space for cars. If you bring your car you’ll need to make reservations weeks or months in advance in the summer months.
While it’s possible to purchase tickets at each port, it’s better to book in tickets advance as space fills up quickly – especially during summer months.
If you find yourself making last-minute plans and have arrived at the port to discover all tickets sold, know that standby tickets may be available. These tickets may be sold closer to where the ferry is docked. A ticket agent can help.
Two other ferries also travel to Nantucket. Freedom Cruise Line leaves from Harwich Port which is further east on the Cape, and takes 80 minutes. And Seastreak, a high-speed ferry, departs from New Bedford on the south shore of Massachusetts and is a two-hour trip.
The other common way to get to Nantucket is by plane.
While this method can be more convenient for some travelers, it also tends to be more expensive.
Flights to Nantucket leave from the following airports throughout the year: Boston, Westchester/White Plains, Hyannis, New Bedford, and Martha’s Vineyard. Seasonal flights also leave from New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports, Newark, and Washington D.C., Charlotte, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
And these are the primary airlines that service Nantucket (ACK):
As the name suggests, Cape Air is a small regional airline with numerous flights to Cape Cod and the islands throughout the year. Its flights originate in Boston, New York’s JFK, New Bedford, Hyannis, and Martha’s Vineyard.
Jet Blue is also a popular choice for flights to Nantucket. It provides seasonal service from Boston, Washington-National, and all regional New York City airports.
Delta, United, and American Airlines also provide seasonal service to Nantucket. Flights leave from New York City (JFK & LGA), Newark, Washington (Dulles and National), Charlotte, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
How to get to Nantucket from Boston
If you’re traveling to Nantucket from Boston, you have a few options.
The easiest and most hassle-free way to get to the island is to fly. While this method is more expensive, it means you won’t have to spend hours sitting in traffic waiting to cross the Bourne Bridge into Cape Cod. On average, a flight from Boston to Nantucket takes only 30 to 40 minutes.
If flying to Nantucket isn’t an option, your next choices are to take the train (only available in the summer), a bus, or to drive. With each of these options the first step is to get to Hyannis and then from there, catch a ferry to Nantucket.
The Cape Flyer provides train service from Boston’s South Station to Hyannis from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. It only operates on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Stops along the way include Braintree, Brockton, Middleborough/Lakeville, Wareham Village, Buzzards Bay, and Bourne.
Once you arrive at the Hyannis Transportation Center, a ferry shuttle or trolly should be available to take you to one of the ferries.
A major advantage to taking the train is that you won’t be stuck in traffic but can instead relax and take in the scenery along the way.
An alternative way to get to the Hyannis Transportation Center is to take a bus. Both the Peter Pan and Plymouth & Brockton Bus lines provide service from Boston to Hyannis. From the transportation center, you can take a ferry shuttle or trolly to one of the ferry docks.
The advantage of taking a bus is that you’re not the driver, however, you’ll still be stuck in traffic (especially if it’s a summer weekend).
Unlike the Cape Flyer, buses also travel throughout the week, and not just on weekends.
The least desirable, but often most practical way to get to Hyannis from Boston is by car.
Traffic to Cape Cod is notorious for being backed up in the summer months, sometimes for hours, as vehicles navigate their way through the roundabout that leads to the Bourne Bridge (essentially the northern entrance to Cape Cod).
This means that if you do choose to drive, you’ll not only have to sit in traffic, but you’ll also need to allow plenty of time to arrive at your ferry.
Note too that both Hyannis ferries charge for parking, which adds to the expense.
About Kerry Flatley
Kerry Flatley has lived in New England for the past 26 years. She has roots in Maine & Massachusetts, family in New Hampshire, and grew up close to the Connecticut border. She loves all that this region has to offer – the ocean, mountains, islands, history, villages, and cities. When she’s not writing about New England, she’s relaxing at home in the Boston suburbs with her two teenage daughters and husband.