Known as one of the premier Christmas festivals in New England, the Nantucket Christmas Stroll is a weekend-long tradition in December that transforms the already picturesque island into a holiday wonderland.
Each year, locals and visitors alike gather for a memorable celebration of festive merriment, marking the official kick-off of the holiday season on this little island 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod. Cobblestone streets are adorned with twinkling lights and garlands, the boutiques are open and offering special sales and goodies to munch on, and tons of holiday events take place throughout the weekend.
This post is your ultimate guide on how to visit Nantucket during the stroll from someone who’s been a few times as a visitor 😉 I’ll share how to get there, if it’s worth all the effort, best places to stay, and what to expect when you arrive. With that, let’s get started!
Is The Nantucket Christmas Stroll Worth It?
Yes! I think Nantucket is always worth it, though 😉 To make your Nantucket Stroll trip worth it, the island puts on so many events for both kids and adults, including visits with Santa, craft fairs, special shopping events, Victorian carolers on the streets, gorgeous decorations around town, concerts, parties, and tons more. So this is one destination that doesn’t disappoint when it comes to things to do.
One thing to keep in mind if you’re not familiar with the area is that Nantucket is an expensive destination – one of the most expensive in all of New England, actually. And even during the holiday season, hotels prices are high. That said, if it works with your budget and plans, then it’s a spectacularly memorable getaway to have! And there’s also the option to hop on a ferry and visit for the day instead.
When Is The Nantucket Christmas Stroll?
The Nantucket Stroll takes place the first weekend of December every year, and events take place Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with Saturday having the most festivities to enjoy.
While the official stroll happens on this weekend, you can also visit the island any time in December to enjoy the decorations and atmosphere. While there won’t be any special events outside of the Stroll weekend, the island has year-round residents, so shops and restaurants will be open. There may be more limited hours, and some hotels may have closed for the season after Stroll, but this is also an option.
Where To Stay On Nantucket For The Christmas Stroll
It’s good to know that not all hotels on the island are open for the Stroll event, as many places close down in late fall for the season. But don’t worry – you still have lots of options if you’re planning a weekend getaway on the island!
I do highly recommend staying in downtown Nantucket for Stroll, as that’s where pretty much all the action is, and it will save you from having to wait for a taxi or Uber to commute in. All of these suggestions below are located in downtown Nantucket, and walkable to all the main events, attractions, and shopping.
Best Luxury Option: The White Elephant
One of the most iconic places to stay on the island is the White Elephant, which is open in December, but only for Stroll! Located close to Brant Point Lighthouse, it’s also within walking distance to downtown. Rooms are gorgeous, and you’ll experience high-end amenities during your stay here.
Best Stylish Option: Faraway Nantucket
The Faraway is a newer boutique hotel on the island that’s also open through Stroll weekend, and offers Instagram-worthy accommodations worth the splurge. Location is right in the heart of downtown, make it super convenient, too.
Coziest Option: Union Street Inn
Named the No. 1 small hotel in the U.S. by TripAdvisor, this cozy New England-style inn that’s a short walk to all the action downtown is one of the best places to stay for Stroll! Plus, a cooked-to-order breakfast is included with your stay.
Best Budget-Friendly Option: Cliff Lodge
Also located steps away from the heart of downtown, Cliff Lodge is a great spot for those looking for a cozy place to stay that’s a bit more affordable. If you’re traveling alone or with one other person, their economical double and queen rooms are perfect!
*Please keep in mind that “budget-friendly” on Nantucket is in a whole other category compared to anywhere else in the U.S. 😂 As mentioned previously, it’s an expensive island to stay on, so you’ll have to adjust your budget expectations a bit, but Cliff Lodge generally has more competitive pricing than other places on the island.
Fun Things To Do During The Nantucket Christmas Stroll
While some events can change from year to year, many of them stay the same as a way to carry on the traditions of the Nantucket Christmas Stroll. While there are so many more events than what I list here, these are my personal favorites, and I also included some fun suggestions on ways to enjoy the island’s scenery when you visit during Stroll.
1. See Brant Point Lighthouse Decked Out In A Christmas Wreath
One of the first sites you see as your make your way into the harbor on the ferry is Brant Point Lighthouse, which gets adorned with a special Christmas wreath during the holidays!
It’s really fun to see it as you approach on the ferry (it’ll be on your right hand side coming in, and left going leaving the island), so it’s worth keeping an eye out while on the ferry.
But you can also walk right up to it! It’s an easy 20-minute walk from the ferry terminal, most of which is very scenic through town. If the weather is nice, it’s a lovely place to spend a few minutes to enjoy views of the water from the beach where the lighthouse lives, too.
2. Snap Photos Of The Easy Street Dory Boat Christmas Tree
On your way to Brant Point, you’ll likely walk along Easy Street, which is home to the famous dory boat that always cheerfully displays the cutest little Christmas tree in the harbor. If you don’t make your way out to Brant Point to pass this photo-worthy scene, definitely make a point to walk over during your trip to see it. It’s so worth it!
It’s not far from the center of town, so chances are, you’ll find yourself over in this area at some point, anyway.
3. Enjoy Dozens Of Trees Lining Main Street
Main Street is one of the prettiest places to be on Nantucket at Christmas, and while it’s beautiful during the day, it’s even more magical night. The street is lined with dozens of individually decorated trees, with the town’s main tree standing tall at the top of the street for a postcard-worthy moment.
4. Greet Santa As He Arrives By Boat
One of the biggest and most exciting events during Stroll is, of course, Santa’s arrival. And since Nantucket is an island, he makes his big entrance by coast guard boat. Be sure to check the time of his arrival, as it can vary a bit year to year, and be sure to get there early and find a good spot. Usually, he arrives at the Nantucket Basin in early afternoon.
Once Santa makes his way to solid ground, he’s escorted through town to the Jared Coffin House by the Town Crier, where he takes photos with all the kids.
5. Walk Around Downtown’s Side Streets To See All The Decorations
One of my personal favorite things to do during Christmas on the island is to simply walk toward the side streets from downtown, and admire all the decorations. So many people create beautiful window boxes on their homes, and string gorgeous garlands and wreaths, and it’s such a picture-perfect display of New England charm at Christmas.
6. Attend A Book Signing At Mitchell’s
Mitchell’s is my favorite bookshop on the island, and during the Stroll, they usually have famous authors for book signings, including the ever-popular Elin Hilderbrand, who’s an island resident.
Past year’s have included authors like Nancy Thayer and Nathaniel Philbrick, so keep an eye out for announcements to see who will make an appearance the year you plan your visit! Mitchell’s is located right in the downtown area amongst all the other shops, so it’s easy to swing in, too, to shop for gifts.
7. Shop The Christmas Markets & Fairs
There are pop-up Christmas markets and fairs that take place during Stroll, and these are some of my favorite events to scout out. At the markets, you’ll find lots of hand-crafted and artisan-made gifts that are unique finds, and they’re a great way to start shopping for everyone on your list, while supporting small businesses.
The biggest ones to check out are the Saint Mary’s Christmas Fair, the Christmas Market at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and the Yuletide Fair at Sherburne Hall.
8. Walk Through The Festival Of Trees At The Whaling Museum
The Whaling Museum is turned into an enchanted forest of twinkling Christmas trees, each one decorated by members of the community and local school children. And entry into the Festival of Trees also gets you access to the museum, too, so it’s a win-win!
During your visit, be sure to go to the top floor to take in views from their rooftop, and also see the giant sperm whale skeleton, which is one of the coolest exhibits at the museum.
9. Enjoy A Christmas Concert Or Special Show
There are so many special holiday shows and concerts to attend during stroll, and the hard part is just choosing which ones you want to see!
Year’s past have entertained visitors with performances of The Nutcracker, special holiday comedy shows, a reimagining of A Christmas Carol with a Nantucket twist, and holiday musicals. Be sure to check out this year’s program to see what’s being offered, and where you can get tickets!
10. Listen To The Victorian Carolers
At certain times during Saturday’s festivities, you can find Victorian carolers singing Christmas songs along Main Street for a truly heart-warming scene. It’s so fun to gather ’round and enjoy their beautiful renditions of Christmas favorites!
To catch the carolers in person, consult this year’s holiday schedule, but they’re typically around Main Street around 2pm, and 4:30pm, and sing for about 30 minutes.
There are so many more events to check out, though!
Additionally, you can find ugly sweater contests, cookie decorating, ornament making, historical walking tours, and so much more! Be sure to grab a program on the official Nantucket Stroll Website to check out the endless events going on all weekend long.
What’s The Deal With The Nantucket Stroll Scarves?
While researching the Stroll, or even while walking around once you arrive, you may see some people wearing specific Stroll scarves – and also hats and winter beanies. These are a yearly tradition for the event, and they’re sold by the Nantucket Boat Basin Authentic Shop.
The Boat Basin releases new styles and designs each season to commemorate that year’s stroll, and they can be purchased at their online shop, or at their store, which is just across from the Hyline Ferry Dock at Straight Wharf. If these special souvenirs are ones you want to get in person once you arrive on the island, I would recommend making that your first stop once you get off the ferry, as they can sell out quickly.
You can also buy them online via their website starting in mid to late November – they usually update their Facebook page when they start to sell these items.
Can You Do The Nantucket Stroll As A Day Trip?
Absolutely, and this is how I’ve always attended the stroll. It’s easy to take a ferry right from Cape Cod, so you can combine both destinations into one fun Christmas getaway!
For a day trip, it’ll be especially important to have a plan in place to maximize your time on the island, and I would recommend taking an early ferry to arrive by mid-morning, and that you stay until after sunset to enjoy seeing all the twinkle lights around Main Street and the rest of town – it’s worth it!
It’s important to remember that when you visit for the day, you’ll be outdoors quite a bit, so be sure to bring anything you’ll need to stay comfortable, including a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated, comfortable shoes that will keep your feet warm, and dress appropriately for the weather (but more on that later in the post 😉).
How To Get To Nantucket For The Stroll
The only way to get to Nantucket is by ferry, as there’s no bridge that connects the mainland with the island. So, your journey to Nantucket for the Stroll event does require a bit of planning and advanced arrangements.
There are two ferry services that take you from Cape Cod to Nantucket, and they are Hyline Cruises and Steamship Authority. Both of these ferries depart from the same terminal in Hyannis, and take about an hour each way to get to and from Nantucket. One isn’t really better than the other, so I usually base it off of which times work best with my schedule, but Steamship Authority has a bigger boat, and can hold more people.
When taking the ferry over to Nantucket, you’ll want want to be familiar with parking at the ferry terminal, as most people choose the economy lot – this lot requires a free shuttle service to the ferry terminal, as it’s over a mile away. The other option is to book on-site parking when you make your ferry reservation, which is more expensive (but may be worth it depending on your group and plans).
Regardless of which parking option you choose, be sure to book it in advance when you purchase your ferry tickets to avoid issues when you arrive, and plan to get to the terminal with plenty of time to park and make the ferry. On-site parking sells out fast the weekend of the Stroll, so you’ll want to book this well in advance if it’s needed for your group.
Tips For Taking The Ferry To Nantucket For Christmas Stroll
Book in advance! I can’t stress this enough – especially for Saturday. The first year I went to Nantucket for the stroll, I tried to book my ferry tickets 3 weeks in advance, and they were all sold out. Thankfully, I kept calling back and checking tickets online, and people made cancellations, and I was able to snatch them up. But for the best ferry times that work with your schedule, you’ll want to book at least 3 months in advance.
In fact, as of writing this in late September, three of the morning ferries on Hyline are sold out for Saturday during Stroll, and two of the return ferries are also sold out. Steamship has all options available, as their boat is a bit bigger, but I would suspect those will begin sell out within the next few weeks as well.
Both ferries have indoor seating, so don’t worry! You won’t be freezing during your ride.
There’s a little café at the Hyannis terminal, so if you plan to arrive early to park and get situated, you can grab breakfast here. It does get busy, but the food isn’t bad, and there are a good amount of options. There’s grab-and-go service, as well as a made-to-order service.
Bring your phone charger to juice up while on the ferry. If you plan to use your phone as your main camera and navigation system while on the island, you may drain your battery fast. You can charge while on your voyage over, and then also on the ferry back – most seats have outlets nearby.
What Is The Weather Like On Nantucket During The Stroll?
Weather can vary quite a bit – some years for stroll, it was in the mid-40’s°F and sunny during the day, and other years, overcast, cold and snowy/rainy. It’s best to check the weather just before you leave to get an idea of what the forecast is calling for.
Typically, though, Nantucket’s December weather averages 40°F during the day, and 27-30°F at night. Snow isn’t common on the island all winter long, but it’s been known to happen in December!
What To Wear For The Nantucket Stroll
If you’re coming just for the day, keep it casual and comfortable. You’ll likely need a winter coat, warm boots, and hats/gloves, especially if you stay until after sunset. I usually wear jeans, a sweater, a coat, ankle booties (like these Sorel Out N About boots).
You’ll want to wear flat, comfortable boots or shoes, as you’ll be outside all day walking on uneven cobblestone and brick streets.
If you’re planning to stay overnight during Stroll, you’ll likely follow the same suggestions as above, but if you’re planning to attend any special events or fancier dinners, you may want to pack a nicer outfit.
How To Get Around Nantucket For The Stroll – Do I Need A Car?
Definitely don’t bring your car over on the ferry for Stroll (or really, any time you visit Nantucket!). Parking downtown on the island, especially for a big event like this, is truly awful, and it will cause you way more stress than it’s worth. Pretty much all of the Stroll events take place downtown, which is completely walkable right from the ferry.
In fact, once you disembark the ferry, your first few steps on Nantucket are right in downtown where all the action is – it’s very easy to get around on foot.
Tips For Visiting Nantucket During The Christmas Stroll
Expect crowds. This is a popular event that people from all over the region attend, so it’ll definitely have a lively atmosphere with lots of people.
Book in advance. For the same reasons as above, hotels and ferries can and do sell out. As mentioned earlier in the post, the first time I went to stroll, ferry tickets were completely sold out, even 3 weeks in advance (thankfully some people cancelled and I got tickets a few days later, though!). So if you’re making a special trip just to attend the Stroll, you really need to book 3-4 months in advance – or earlier, if you can.
Have a plan. There are so many events to choose from, and once you arrive, you’ll want to have an idea of what events take place at what time, and where to go to make sure you get to experience everything. I would only wing it if you really don’t have a strong preference on what you get to see and do.
Make dining reservations. If you’re staying overnight on the island for Stroll, you’ll want to have an idea of what’s open for lunch and dinner, and make reservations for dinner if you can.
Dress appropriately if you’re doing a day trip. As mentioned previously, the weather can be all over the place, even in December. You’ll want to check the weather forecast that morning before taking the ferry, and dress accordingly to stay comfortable outdoors all day.
Wear those festive Christmas sweaters! Don’t be shy, lots of people will be wearing all kinds of festive things, from hats, antlers, scarves, and light-up necklaces – you should join in on the fun, too!
Editor’s Note: It’s also important that you understand the small risk of visiting the island in the winter season just for the day, as return ferries can, and have been, cancelled same day without much notice. This means there’s a slight chance you could be stranded on the island, and have to pay last-minute hotel rates for the night.
This happened to some folks during the 2022 Stroll event, as severe weather caused all the ferries to cancel their return trips once they were already on the island. While this is not likely or a common occurrence, I do recommend that you allow flexibility to cancel your plans last minute if there’s a chance that bad weather could leave you stranded on the island, and you’re not willing or able to pay for a hotel that night. I don’t say this to to scare anyone or deter you from visiting, but it’s just something to be aware of – I still highly encourage you to visit the island for the Stroll! Just consider cancelling if there’s bad weather in the forecast that day – ferry services will refund your tickets if you cancel before 5pm the night before!
You may also enjoy:
- All The Best Things To Do During Christmas On Cape Cod
- Ways To Enjoy Winter On Nantucket
- Magical Places To See Christmas Lights In Massachusetts
- Best Christmas Towns In New England
- Best New England Winter Getaways
- Fun Ideas To Celebrate Winter In Massachusetts
That’s A Wrap On The Nantucket Christmas Stroll
And there you have it – the inside scoop on the Nantucket Christmas Stroll! If you’ve been wanting to plan a magical Christmas getaway in New England, this is definitely one to have on your bucket list, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more dreamy holiday escape. Happy Planning!