If you’ve never been to the Massachusetts coast before, it can feel really overwhelming to decide if you should stay on Cape Cod or Nantucket during your trip because both of these destinations are famous for amazing beaches and coastal charm. But good news! I’ve been to both countless times in different seasons, and I’m here to share everything I’ve learned over the years to help you decide.
So, are you ready for the ultimate Cape Cod vs. Nantucket comparison? This post breaks down the biggest differences between the two, insider information on where to stay, and so much more. With that, let’s get started!
Biggest Differences Between Cape Cod And Nantucket
The biggest difference between Cape Cod and Nantucket is size and location. Cape Cod can easily be accessed from the mainland and is much larger than Nantucket. Nantucket is an island off the coast of the Cape, and is much smaller in size.
For that reason, you’ll find a lot more to do on Cape Cod than you will on Nantucket. Cape Cod is comprised of 16 towns, each with their own character, beaches, and restaurants. Nantucket also has so many wonderful things to do, but not nearly as much as Cape Cod.
Another big determining factor is cost, as Nantucket is much more expensive than Cape Cod, and it’s very difficult to do on a budget. Most hotels and vacation rentals will be at least 3 times the cost of places on Cape Cod. And while Cape Cod is typically an expensive place to visit in the summer (because any coastal New England destination usually is!), you can still do it on more of a budget with some effort.
Lastly, Nantucket is more idyllic than Cape Cod. There, I said it! For those who haven’t followed me for a while, one thing to know about me is that I love Cape Cod. I’ve been going since I was a kid, and I go a few times a year, every single year. That’s a testament to how much I truly adore it. That said, Nantucket has a very magical quality to it. I often describe is as stepping into a coastal New England postcard, and everywhere you go, there’s something even more charming to see.
Cape Cod also has that quality, but it’s more spread out, and there are parts of the region that are more traditional and residential. Lots of places have that postcard-worthy scenery, like Chatham and Provincetown, and it’s very easy to find it all over. However, it’s less concentrated. Nantucket just has that something about it that you have to see with your own eyes, including rose-covered cottages and cobblestone streets.
Are Cape Cod And Nantucket Similar?
Yes! Both Cape Cod and Nantucket have a lot of similarities, including amazing beaches, lots of charm, wonderful restaurants, a quaint town feel, lighthouses, and things to do. As mentioned above, Nantucket just has all that on a smaller scale (but possibly, in a slightly more idyllic setting).
So, Is Cape Cod Or Nantucket Better For YOU?
Most people consider cost to be the biggest determining factor because, as mentioned, Nantucket is more expensive. You also have to consider the cost of getting to the island (flying in, or taking the ferry), and if you’re okay with only having the island to explore during your trip. I don’t think most people will have a problem finding things to do on Nantucket, even for a week, but if you tend to get antsy, this may be something to at least consider.
For first-timers, I usually suggest you stay on Cape Cod, and take a day trip to Nantucket. Ferries for Nantucket depart from Hyannis and Harwich Port on the Cape, and it’s easy to do as a day trip. This will allow you to see all the top sites and beaches on Cape Cod, and also gives you a taste of what Nantucket has to offer.
If you’ve been to Cape Cod before and are considering staying on Nantucket, I do highly suggest it. It’s truly such a wonderful experience for those who haven’t been, but have also explored Cape Cod already.
However, if you’ve never been to either, but Nantucket is just calling to you, go with your gut!
Again, both are amazing, and I really don’t think you can go wrong with either.
Where To Stay On Nantucket
Nantucket is home to some truly gorgeous and special hotels and vacation rentals, and it’ll be hard to narrow down your choice! But here are the places I recommend booking for your trip to Nantucket:
The Wauwinet For Ultimate Luxury: This oceanfront hotel is honestly perfect. While it’s a bit outside of town, they offer free shuttles to downtown, and they have on-site dining, a spa, gorgeous rooms, complimentary bicycles, and private beach access.
Union Street Inn For In-Town Romance: Walkable to everything downtown, this cozy inn is perfect for a romantic getaway, and offers an amazing cooked-to-order breakfast with each stay, on-site dining, beautiful rooms, and a truly special and cozy atmosphere. It was also rated the No. 1 small hotel in the U.S. on TripAdvisor!
The Faraway For The Coolest Vibe: In the heart of downtown, this hotel is a newer addition to Nantucket, and most definitely has the coolest vibe. Included with your stay is the use of the awesome outdoor courtyard, instagram-worthy rooms, and on-site dining.
Where To Stay On Cape Cod
Recommending places to stay on Cape Cod is a bit more complicated, as it’s a much bigger area.
To get started with some great hotel suggestions, here’s where I recommend staying on Cape Cod:
The Chatham Bars Inn For Luxury: This is regarded as the top luxury resort on the Cape, and you’ll find private beach access with beach cabanas here, as well as gorgeous rooms, options for on-site dining, a spa, and a great location that’s walkable to Main Street.
Inn On The Beach For A Casual Beachfront Getaway: One of my favorite beachfront hotels, this cute little place is right on the beach with private beach access, and is walkable to Harwich Port’s Main Street with shops and restaurants.
The Wellfleet Motel For A Great Budget Getaway: This is an excellent option for those on a budget, and you’re close by some wonderful beaches, great restaurants, and fun attractions.
If you need help deciding which town to stay in, the region can generally be defined this way for visitors:
Chatham – Where to stay with lots of charm and idyllic scenery.
Truro, Wellfleet, Eastham – Where to stay for a quiet, relaxed atmosphere and best beaches.
Provincetown – Where to stay for a lively beachy vibe, and nightlife.
Harwich Port, Dennis, Brewster, Orleans – Where to stay for pretty much anyone.
Yarmouth, Dennis – Where to stay with kids.
Falmouth, Sandwich – Where to stay closer to the mainland.
Still not sure? I’ve got you covered! I have an entire post that goes into a detailed breakdown of the different towns, and my picks for hotels and vacation rentals in each town. Click the link below to check that out.
Can You Do Both Cape Cod & Nantucket In The Same Trip?
Yes! In fact, if you’re really torn between the two, and you have 5 days or more, I would suggest you break up your trip and stay a few nights on Cape Cod, and a few nights on Nantucket.
I do only suggest this, though, if you have at least 5 days, just because it’ll offer a more relaxed itinerary with time to enjoy both without feeling rushed. In an ideal world, I would suggest 4 nights on Cape Cod, and 2-3 nights on Nantucket for a week long vacation. But of course, adjust based on your preferences!
Does Nantucket Or Cape Cod Have Better Beaches?
I honestly love the beaches on Nantucket and Cape Cod equally. I do find that Nantucket beaches can be less crowded in the summers, so that’s something to consider. You really can’t go wrong with the beaches in either destination.
To help you plan, here are a breakdown of the prettiest beaches in each place.
Best beaches to check out on Cape Cod:
- Coast Guard Beach in Eastham
- Cahoon Hollow Beach in Wellfleet
- Race Point Beach in Provincetown
- Nauset Lighthouse Beach in Eastham
- Nauset Beach in Orleans (not to be confused with Nauset Lighthouse Beach!)
Best beaches to check out on Nantucket:
- Step’s Beach (great view from the top, and calm water)
- Madaket Beach (awesome sunsets and scenery)
- Surfside Beach
- ‘Sconset Beach
- Tom Nevers Beach
How Far Is Nantucket From Cape Cod?
Nantucket is about 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, and as mentioned earlier in the post, the only ways to get there are to fly into the airport, or take the ferry. See more information on the ferry options later in the post!
Is It Easier To Get To Cape Cod Or Nantucket?
It’s easier to get to Cape Cod, simply because the trip to Nantucket requires you to drive to the Cape anyway to catch the ferry. And then from there, you have the extra journey on the ferry. Or, you’ll have to catch a connecting flight from Boston to get to Nantucket’s airport.
One thing to note, too, is that traffic getting onto Cape Cod is always rough. I don’t like to sugar coat it for people 😂 Summer traffic getting across either the Sagamore or Bourne Bridge is always congested, especially on Fridays and weekends. Outside of the summer season, it’s not as bad, but if you’re planning to drive in anytime between Memorial Day and Labor Day, plan for traffic getting across the bridge!
*You’ll only have to cross one bridge, and which one you cross just depends on where you’re coming from.
Getting Around Cape Cod vs. Nantucket
To see Cape Cod, you really need a car. One exception is to stay in Provincetown, which is very easy to get around without a car. However, the public transit system on the Cape isn’t efficient for visiting tourist sites and beaches, so you really need to have a car.
On Nantucket, it can go either way, honestly. The Wave bus system is very good for getting to beaches and attractions around the island, and I’ve actually never rented a car or moped for more than a day when there.
If you’re on Nantucket for more than 3 days, I would say you may want to consider renting a car or moped for a day to explore some other parts of the island on your own time. Renting a Jeep to get out to Great Point is also a wonderful idea! If you’re on Nantucket for a week or longer, maybe consider renting a car for 2-3 days for convenience, and plan to maximize your time while you have it.
But if you’re there for just a few days, it’s very easy to get around on foot or with the buses, and still see a lot. There is also Uber on Nantucket, but it can add up quickly, and service at the beaches is spotty.
Pro Tip: Parking on Cape Cod is never really an issue (unless you get to a popular beach in late morning or early afternoon!). However, parking on Nantucket can be an issue, which is why it’s only nice to have a car for longer trips when you really want to explore the island on your own. Parking downtown on Nantucket is difficult, and not all hotels offer on-site parking, so this is something to consider.
Can You Drive From Cape Cod To Nantucket?
No, the only way to get to Nantucket is to fly, or take the ferry. There is no bridge from Cape Cod to Nantucket that allows you to make the trip by car.
How Long Is The Ferry From Cape Cod To Nantucket?
Depending on the ferry you choose, it can range from 1 hour to over 2 hours.
The quickest ferry is either the Hyline Cruises or Steamship Authority high-speed ferry, which takes 1 hour. Steamship Authority also offers a traditional ferry, where you can bring your car aboard, and that takes 2 hours and 15 minutes. All of these ferries depart from Hyannis.
There’s also a ferry that departs from Harwich Port called the Freedom Ferry, and that takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Is Cape Cod Or Nantucket More Crowded?
While both can feel busy in the summer season, I have generally found Cape Cod to be more crowded. That’s likely due to the fact that it’s more budget-friendly, and easier to get to.
But that doesn’t mean Nantucket will feel empty in the summer season! You’ll still find crowds on Nantucket, but it’s definitely not quite as much as on the Cape.
But also keep in mind that Cape Cod is bigger, and has more room to spread out. Yes, it’s crowded in the summers. Especially on holiday weekends. But I also don’t think it’s unmanageable. In fact, I tend to dislike crowded places during peak season, but I love summers on both Cape Cod and Nantucket. 🙂
More posts you may enjoy:
- Is Nantucket Or Martha’s Vineyard Better For A Day Trip?
- How Many Days Do You Need On Nantucket? + More Things To Do!
- Is A Day Trip To Nantucket Worth It? The Ultimate Guide
- How To See All 3 Of Nantucket’s Lighthouses
- Best Time Of Year To Visit Cape Cod, Nantucket & Martha’s Vineyard
- Visiting Cape Cod For The First Time: The Best Things To See & Do!
And here are guides to Cape Cod towns you may find helpful:
- Best Things To Do In Wellfleet, MA
- Best Things To Do In Harwich, MA
- Best Things To Do In Dennis, MA
- Best Things To Do In Falmouth, MA
- Best Things To Do In Brewster, MA
- Best Things To Do In Provincetown, MA
- Best Things To Do In Chatham, MA
- Best Things To Do In Sandwich, MA
That’s A Wrap On Cape Cod vs. Nantucket!
And there you have it! Hopefully you now have a better idea if Cape Cod or Nantucket is better for your next trip. In the end, you really can’t go wrong with either, and both destinations are absolutely gorgeous. While Nantucket has that magical charm that feels like a postcard, Cape Cod has tons of coastline, various towns to explore, and tons of attractions to see. Whether you land in one place, or you visit both in the same trip, it’s going to be spectacular.