Nantucket is widely known for its vibrant summer months, characterized by sailboats, stunning beaches, and dazzling sun. But what happens during the winter on this island? Do most of the shops in downtown Nantucket close, and crowds of visitors return home?
Well, you get the island all to yourself in the winter months. Most tourists are long gone at this time of the year. Also, the windy and wild expanses of the island’s south coast beaches are romantic and thrilling. Moreover, you will likely get more desirable accommodations thanks to the low traffic.
A trip to the island in winter may feel like a trip down memory lane. From participating in the Christmas Stroll weekend to walking down snow-filled cobblestone streets, there are lots of fun things to do in Nantucket in the off-season. Here’s how you can make your winter vacation on the island memorable:
1. Participate in the Nantucket Christmas Stroll
The Nantucket Christmas Stroll is a yearly holiday ritual that usually begins a day after Thanksgiving. At the onset of this ritual, expect to see hundreds of Christmas trees lighting up Nantucket streets.
Main Street remains closed to traffic on Stroll Saturday, setting the stage for roving costumed carolers and performers. The street also opens up for a craft show, exhibitions, and food vendors. As this action takes place, you can get warm treats such as hot cocoa or mulled cider from the nearby shops.
One of the highlights of the Christmas Stroll is the magical appearance that Santa makes. Santa arrives on the dock through the Coast Guard Cutter.
2. Catch Late Sunrises or Early Sunsets
The winter solstice is undeniably the shortest day in Nantucket since the sun rises after 7 AM. On this special day, you can witness the late sunrise from Sconset Beach, which lies on the island’s east side. Grab a warm beverage and enjoy the beach in a less crowded setting.
If you are not a morning person, you may want to catch the early winter sunset at 4:15 PM. Get a glimpse of the stunning sunset from Madaket Beach, which has a serene atmosphere surrounding it. The beach lies on the island’s west side and is a great surfing spot.
3. Take Holiday Pictures at the Nantucket’s Lighthouses
For picture lovers, Nantucket has several spectacular sceneries to up your photo game. The winter season offers a unique opportunity to take pictures of the island’s popular spots without large tourist crowds. These spots include Sankaty Head Light and Brant Point Light.
Make these lighthouses the perfect backdrop for your festive photo ops. You can feature the photos in your next Christmas card or share them with friends and family.
4. Explore the Empty Coastline on Nantucket
Nantucket has some of the most pristine and beautiful shorelines in the country. During summer, north shore beaches like Brant Point, Jetties, Dionis, and Steps Beach are perfect for gentle surfing. South shore beaches like Cisco, Madequecham, Nobadeer, and Surfside Beach are worth visiting for surfing in colder water.
But the summer season isn’t the only time you can visit the Nantucket coastline. Winter months are also great for exploring this natural beauty. In particular, the coastline boasts a rugged appearance reminiscent of early life in Nantucket.
Though most coastal areas on the island are difficult to access in winter, the few accessible ones offer breathtaking sights of the surrounding flora and fauna. Expect to see two species of seals (hooded and harp seal) on Nantucket’s coastline at this time of the year. You can also take a walk on the beach and immerse yourself in the ambient atmosphere for a relaxing afternoon.
5. Go Ice Skating
Ice skating is a healthy way to exercise your body in winter. You can learn proper skating techniques with the right training to maximize your exercises and avoid injury. The sport also helps build muscle and improve balance in your core and legs.
One of the best ice skating rinks on the island is Nantucket Ice Rink, run by a non-profit organization. The ice rink offers a healthy recreational environment for families, adults, and children to enjoy ice skating and build a community spirit.
6. Watch out for Migratory Birds
Nantucket’s climate is favorable for different species of birds. The conserved undeveloped lands and moderating Atlantic waters surrounding the island give birds a convenient spot for battling the winter.
You can participate in the Nantucket Christmas Bird Count, an annual bird-counting event held by the National Audubon Society. Nantucket is usually split into eight different sections on each counting day. The last bird count revealed that 128 bird species featuring more than 35,000 individual birds were observed on the island.
Nantucket is home to thousands of nesting shorebirds, including the American Oystercatcher and the Piping Plover. These birds tend to migrate to favorable grounds after a nesting season. Expect to see them flocking, resting, and feeding together in the same coastal habitat.
Catch a glimpse of these migratory birds from New England. You may also find new species of these birds in Siasconset between Low Beach Road and Hoicks Hollow Road.
7. Visit the Nantucket Whaling Museum
The Nantucket Whaling Museum is a popular winter attraction on the island. It’s a great place to discover Nantucket’s amazing whaling past. Whether you are in the company of friends or family members, you can find something to do at the museum.
With a climate-controlled structure, the museum features priceless artifacts, elegant art, and a 46-foot sperm whale skeleton. It also offers guests a mix of modern architectural designs combined with tradition and history.
The Nantucket Whaling Museum hosts a special exhibition of Christmas trees in the winter. The exhibit helps honor the Annual Festival of Trees, an event organized by the Nantucket Historical Association. Get to see several Christmas trees paired with incredible decorations made locally.
8. Snuggle up with a Great Book Like Moby-Dick
The winter months in Nantucket are less favorable for outdoor activities. So, one of the pass-time activities you can engage in is snuggling up with a book. Check out bookstores like Nantucket Bookworks and Mitchell’s Book Corner for books to add to your reading list.
You may also visit the Nantucket Atheneum, a historic library on the island, to stock up on books. While checking out their book selection, you may want to add Moby-Dick, a classic novel by Herman Melville, to your reading list.
Moby-Dick vividly tells a story about Nantucket’s whale-fishing community. In the book, Melville talks about the ambition of the whaling sailors and expresses his admiration for the people who inhabit the island. He also compares the whaling sailors to other world conquerors and explorers.
9. See Nantucket’s Cobblestone Streets Covered in Snow.
A walk in the streets of Nantucket can take you back in time. For instance, Main Street is a work of art, from the humble cobblestones to the grand houses owned by whale-oil vendors. Nantucket’s cobblestone streets convey a sense of antiquity and authenticity that add character to the island. They also offer a great opportunity to learn about local history.
If you thought the island’s cobblestone streets were only spectacular in the summer months, get a glimpse of them in winter. In the off-season, the low volume of tourists in Nantucket gives a great opportunity to explore the area surrounding the cobblestone streets.
Watching the snow falling on Main Street is incredibly soothing. The snow spreads across the cobblestones like a fluffy white blanket, making for a spectacular view.
Like other popular island destinations, Nantucket boasts a wide variety of sceneries you can enjoy all year round. During the winter, most of the island’s attractions have a nostalgic, calm, and relaxing feel. As long as you keep warm, you can immerse yourself in this natural beauty and make memories during your winter vacation in Nantucket.