Don’t miss a trip to Nantucket in the winter! While most think of Nantucket as a summer destination, for a whole different experience, visit Nantucket in the winter. When the temperature drops and most of the tourists head home, the pace of life changes on Nantucket. Busy tourist spots – like the lighthouses and wharf – fall quiet and suddenly the island looks a lot more like it did a century ago. A trip to Nantucket in the winter can feel like a trip back in time, to before the island was one of the country’s top vacation destinations. The stark beauty of Nantucket in the winter is quiet, but there are still lots of great things for tourists to do on Nantucket in the winter!
So, what can you to do on Nantucket in winter? Here are 10 off-season bucket list items:
9 Things to Do on Nantucket in the Winter
1. Take in a late sunrise or early sunset on Nantucket in the Winter
While it gets dark early on Nantucket in the winter, it also means that you don’t have to wake up super early to catch a sunrise on Nantucket in the winter months! On the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, sunlight doesn’t arrive on the island until after 7:00 AM. Check out Sconset Beach on the east side of Nantucket, the quintessential location to catch the sunrise on the island. In the off-season, you’ll have the whole place to yourself. So bundle up, grab a warm drink, and settle in to watch a spectacular winter sunrise.
If you’d rather stay in bed, don’t fear. You can catch a stunning winter sunset early in the evening. Madaket Beach is one of the island’s most serene beaches, especially in the off-season. This long stretch of sand is located on the west side of Nantucket, where the surf is highest – occasionally, a few brave surfers will even take to the winter waves here. Sunset can be as early as 4:15 PM in winter, so visit before then to see festive colors come alive over the Atlantic Ocean.
2. Explore the island’s empty coastline on Nantucket in the Winter
In winter, the Nantucket coastline has a rugged beauty that, among other things, makes you appreciate the difficulty of early life on the island. While many coastal areas are harder to access during on Nantucket in the winter months, Great Point is a must see if your vehicle is up for it. The off-season also brings two new species of seals, harp and hooded, to the island’s coastline. Enjoy a walk on the beach, the chill in the air, and the quiet that can only be found on Nantucket in the winter.
3. Take holiday photos at the lighthouses on Nantucket in the Winter
It’s time to up your holiday photo game. The off-season offers a rare opportunity to capture photos of popular spots like Brant Point Light and Sankaty Head Light without the usual crowds of tourists. The town always decorates Brant Point Light with a huge wreath for the holidays, making this picturesque lighthouse the perfect backdrop for your next Christmas card. There’s something special about a lighthouse decorated for the holiday season, especially on Nantucket in the winter.
Or check out the other festive photos ops around the decorated historic downtown and the many Nantucket holiday events that take place throughout the month of December.
4. Take part in the Nantucket Christmas Stroll
Nantucket hosts a Christmas Stroll down Main Street on the first weekend of every December. During the stroll, Main Street shuts down to cars, and opens up for live performances, exhibitions, food vendors, and a craft show. The festivities also include costumed carolers and holiday meals hosted by local restaurants. Santa even makes an appearance, arriving on the wharf via Coast Guard Cutter!
5. Keep an eye out for migratory birds on Nantucket in the Winter
Many species of northern birds winter in Nantucket, since the coastal climate is more temperate. The presence of migrating species like long-tailed ducks, which nest in the arctic, make Nantucket one of the best places for winter birdwatching in New England. You can also find new species of migratory gulls in the stretch between Hoicks Hollow and Low Beach in Siasconset.
6. Ski or snowshoe after snowstorms on Nantucket in the Winter
There isn’t usually enough snow to ski or snowshoe on Nantucket in the winter, so make sure you’re ready to go when it does come down. Don’t miss the rare opportunity to explore nature preserves like Middle Moors during the winter. You can access the moors – and its network of wide dirt roads and smaller bike paths – from the parking lots at the Windswept Cranberry Bog or Land Bank.
7. Visit the Nantucket Whaling Museum
If a cold snap is keeping you indoors, be sure to check out the Nantucket Whaling Museum. This historical museum is located in a former spermaceti candle factory, where workers once converted sperm oil into candles. The factory building now contains artifacts from whaling vessels, portraits and photos of sea captains, and the skeleton of a massive sperm whale.
During the winter, the museum also hosts a special exhibit of Christmas trees in honor of the Nantucket Historical Association’s Annual Festival of Trees. Every year, the exhibit showcases dozens of Christmas trees adorned with unique decorations selected by local designers.
8. Curl up with a copy of Moby-Dick
Embrace the slower pace of wintertime life on Nantucket by picking up a book at the island’s historic library, the Nantucket Atheneum. You might want to reach for Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick, which begins during a Nantucket winter long ago. In the book, Melville writes:
Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away offshore, lonelier than the Eddystone lighthouse. Look at it—a mere hillock, and elbow of sand; all beach, without a background…
9. Enjoy food and drink on Nantucket in the Winter
If you’d rather stay indoors, cozily tucked away from the stiff sea breezes, consider enjoying some of the great food and drink available on the island. The options for dining may be less in the winter, but the restaurants and breweries that remain open are loved by locals and worth a stop. Consider a trip to Cisco Brewers or Triple Eight Distillery on Bartlett Farm Road, and be sure to check out some of the restaurants open on Nantucket in the winter and support the local businesses in the off-season.
Nantucket has two sides: its lively summer side and its quiet winter one. It’s worth getting to know both, especially if you already know you like summer on the island. Discover the lesser known Nantucket by exploring its winter coastline and taking part in local holiday events.
Please feel free to share your favorite Nantucket activities with our audience!
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