Cape Cod is my absolute favorite summer destination in New England, but in this post, I’m going to share why you should also consider it for your next holiday or winter adventure. Here are 21 awesome things to do on Cape Cod in the winter.
Is Cape Cod Worth Visiting in the Winter?
Absolutely! While Cape Cod is a popular summer destination because of its 500 miles of beaches to explore, that’s also one of the best reasons to visit in the winter (think having wide open beaches with no one else there but you). Winter on the Cape is the true off-season, meaning you’ll experience the fewest crowds, best prices and have the most popular destinations all to yourself.
You’ll have to trade your t-shirt and shorts for a winter coat and boots, but all of the natural beauty that makes Cape Cod worth visiting in the summer is just as special in the winter. And if you get lucky, you may get to see everything covered in a beautiful blanket of snow, making it even more magical.
What is the Weather Like on Cape Cod in the Winter?
Since this is New England, you should be prepared for cold temperatures and snow. But, know that you’ll more than likely experience milder winter temperatures on the Cape (well, mild for New England, that is). The average winter temperatures on Cape Cod between December and March range from highs around 40°F and lows around 25°F. And of course, expect colder temperatures and higher winds by the water.
Best Things To Do on Cape Cod in the Winter
Now that you know what to expect during your trip, here are 21 of the absolute best things to do on Cape Cod in the winter.
Things To Do on Cape Cod in December
Most towns on the Cape have their own holiday celebrations, and what better place to see a tree lighting, grab a hot cocoa and do some Main Street shopping in some of the most picturesque seaside towns? Here are my suggestions for the best holiday celebrations on Cape Cod.
1. The Nantucket Christmas Stroll
Take a day trip to the island of Nantucket and experience the Nantucket Christmas Stroll. This is probably my most favorite way to celebrate Christmas on the Cape. Decorated Christmas trees line the main streets of town, houses and storefronts are perfectly decked out in their holiday best, and there are plenty of events such as craft fairs, Santa’s arrival and pop-up marketplaces to fill up a whole day, and then some.
To get to Nantucket for the Christmas Stroll, which usually takes place the first weekend in December each year, you’ll want to take the Hi-Line ferry from Hyannis. Ferry schedules can change each month in the winter, so it’s best to check the Hyline Nantucket route schedule here.
Ferry Price: $84 RT per adult, and $52 RT per child.
Tip: Book ferry tickets well in advance! Even though winter is off-season, December tends to bring more crowds for the holiday season. I suggest booking ferry tickets at least 2-3 weeks ahead of time, but a month would be ideal. I have personally experienced not being able to get ferry tickets for the Nantucket Stroll when booking a week ahead of time, so this is definitely something to note.
2. Gardens Aglow in Sandwich
Every December, the Sandwich Heritage Museum and Gardens puts on a light display throughout their gardens that has become one of the must-see activities during the holidays, and I guarantee it’ll bring you some holiday cheer.
Tip: It’s strongly encouraged by the museum to book your tickets ahead of time, as they have not been able to guarantee walk-ins at the door.
3. Visit the Provincetown Lobster Pot Christmas Tree
This Christmas tree, made entirely of lobster traps, began its tradition in 2004 as a way to celebrate all the fisherman in the region. It stands at the entrance of MacMillan Pier, just around the corner from The Lobster Pot restaurant. The tree has its own Facebook page so you can see when the first lighting is each year, and when it’ll be taken down. According to the past few year’s posts, it looks like its first lighting is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and it’s taken down right around Valentine’s Day, weather dependent, of course.
4. Day Trip to Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard
Christmas in Edgartown is a yearly holiday event on Martha’s Vineyard typically held the second weekend in December. Events you can participate in include a teddy bear scavenger hunt, horse-drawn carriage rides around Edgartown, special sales at the local shops and the lighting of Edgartown Lighthouse. The best thing about Christmas in Edgartown is that these events help raise money for local non-profit organizations on the island, so it’s also a great way to give back to the community while getting into the festive spirit of the season.
5. Celebrate New Year’s Eve With Chatham First Night
To ring in the New Year, the town of Chatham hosts First Night, a celebration of the arts that perfect for the whole family. During the day on December 31st each year, guests can expect over 70 musical performances and events, a town photo at Chatham Lighthouse and end the day with fireworks at the stroke of midnight on Oyster Pond.
Tip: Be sure to check their website for up-to-date information, as past events have been affect by the COVID-19 pandemic.
6. Board The Polar Express Train in Buzzards Bay
I can’t think of a more magical experience for the whole family than the Polar Express Train to the North Pole, which departs from Buzzards Bay. This experience lasts for an hour and half, and once on board, children are greeted by characters from the original book, as well as Santa and his elves. Each child gets to meet and spend time with Santa, and receive a special gift to take home, and everyone in the family can enjoy a reading of the book while sipping on hot cocoa and munching on delicious baked goods while riding to the North Pole.
Pricing: Tickets range from $39-$99PP, depending on ages, time of day, and ticket class. Visit Buzzards Bay Polar Express website for more information.
Museums & Tours
Take a break from the colder weather outside, and head indoors for a tour, or to explore a museum. There are actually quite a few museums on the Cape, but here are my favorite places to visit.
7. Tour the Cape Cod Potato Chips Factory – For Free!
Yes, you read that right, tours of the Cape Cod Potato Chips factory are completely free for everyone. And at the end of each tour, you’ll be able to sample the chips, also for free. So, if you’re looking for a budget-friendly activity for the whole family, this is a great option. Tours are self-guided, so you can take your time, or stop for a quick peek, depending on your schedule that day. Tours are held in the Hyannis factory, located at 100 Breeds Hill Road and the factory is open for tours on weekdays only.
Tip: As of February 2022, tours have been temporarily suspended due to an increase of production in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please check their website for the most up-to-date information.
8. See a Glass Blowing Demonstration at the Sandwich Glass Museum
Have you ever seen an in-person glass blowing demonstration? If not, you’re missing out! It’s actually a really intricate process that’s completely captivating to witness, and you can see one here at the Sandwich Glass Museum. In addition to the demonstrations, history buffs will enjoy walking through the museum to learn about how glass was introduced to Sandwich, the oldest town on the Cape.
Tip: This museum is closed during the month of January. Be sure to check their website for the most up-to-date information.
Pricing: $12 per adult, $11 per senior, $2 per child, and free for children 5 and under.
9. Visit the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History
Located in Brewster on 80-acres of land, this museum has two floors of exhibits showcasing both human and ecological history of Cape Cod. The museum itself is small, and you’ll likely be able to visit all the exhibits in an hour or two, maybe less. But each exhibit is thoughtfully curated, interactive and packed with information. The museum is also surrounded by over 300 acres of nature and walking trails that are open to the public.
Pricing: $12 per adult, $10 per senior, children 3-12 $6, children 2 and under free. Admission is also free for museum members, Massachusetts teachers (with card), active military and immediate family, and veterans (with card).
Tip: Jump to number 17 to see my favorite trail at the museum!
Taste Some Local Wine and Beer
Cape Cod is home to several wineries and breweries which make for great stops to warm up after a beach walk or nature hike, and definitely one of the best things to do on Cape Cod in the winter season. Here are my recommendations and tips for visiting the local wineries and breweries.
10. Sip On a Warm Drink at Truro Vineyards
You’ll also be able to do a wine tasting at the indoor bar at Truro Vineyards in the winter, but my favorite tip for enjoying this winery in the colder season is to keep an eye on their Instagram page and check for announcements on special winter drink offerings. They will often offer hot cider infused with their own rum from South Hollow Spirits, which is absolutely delicious, and can be enjoyed on their back patio surrounded by heat lamps. Be sure to grab a bottle of their signature wine in a lighthouse-shaped bottle for a lasting souvenir.
Cape Cod Winery, located in East Falmouth, is only open during pop-up events in the winter season. Be sure to check out their Instagram page for updates if planning a trip in the winter. First Crush Winery in Harwich is open, but has limited hours during the winter season. Pop on over to their website for the most up-to-date information.
11. Visit One of The Many Breweries
Cape Cod actually has quite a few breweries to choose from, and winter is the perfect excuse to pop in and go for a tasting. My personal favorite is Devil’s Purse, and I highly suggest you try their Stonehorse Citra IPA. You can also stop in for tastings or a pint at Barnstable Brewing, Tree House Brewing in Sandwich (after your visit to the Natural History Museum, of course), Hog Island Beer Co., and Cape Cod Beer Company.
Experience Cape Cod Without The Crowds
I love the lively buzz Cape Cod offers in the summer, but it can be challenging at times to navigate the crowds. My absolute favorite thing to do on Cape Cod in the winter is simply enjoy my favorite destinations and spots without any people. At most, you’ll maybe see a few other small groups, but you may get lucky and have entire places to yourself, especially on weekdays. Here are some of my favorite Cape Cod staples that are still amazing in the winter.
12. Go For a Quiet Beach Walk
With the chill of the wind hitting your face, and potentially a light snowfall around you, winter beach walks on Cape Cod are so invigorating. My suggestion is to visit the beaches that tend to be most crowded during the summer, and experience them in the off-season. My favorite winter beach walks are at Race Point in Provincetown, Coast Guard in Eastham and Nauset Beach in Orleans. Because the Cape has some of the most beautiful beaches in the entire Northeast, this is definitely at the very top of my list for best things to do in the winter on Cape Cod. Even in the cold, the National Seashore never disappoints.
Tip: Grab a cup of warm chowder right after your beach walk – it totally hits the spot! My favorite place for chowder that’s open in the winter is Captain Parker’s Pub in Yarmouth.
13. Walk the Sandwich Boardwalk
During peak summer season, you’ll have to pay $20-$25 to park at the two lots where the 1350-foot long Sandwich Boardwalk is accessible. During the off season? It’s free! I suggest you park on the Boardwalk Road entrance (type Boardwalk Road, Sandwich, MA into Google Maps, and it’ll bring you right there), and then walk the boardwalk toward the beach. The Wood Ave parking area will have you start closer to the beach, and walk in the opposite direction. You can’t go wrong with either parking spot, and the boardwalk is easily accessible from either.
Tip: As of Winter 2022, a large section of the Sandwich Boardwalk has been damaged by nor’easter storms, and there are plans to start to re-build the boardwalk in Fall 2022. Please do research on the current status before making a special trip.
14. Experience Winter Sunrises and Sunsets
One of the few benefits to shorter winter days is that you can catch sunrise at a reasonable hour, and witness a sunset before your dinner plans. My favorite place for a Cape Cod winter sunrise is Chatham Lighthouse Beach because you can park your car in the lot, which directly faces the sun, and watch it from the comfort of your warm car.
For a sunset, I love visiting Race Point Beach, West Dennis Beach and Skaket Beach. But, my absolute favorite place for a sunset is The Knob in Woods Hole. It’s extremely challenging to find a parking spot for The Knob is the summer months because it’s become very popular, but in the winter, it’s much easier.
Use 48 Quisset Harbor Rd in Google Maps for parking at The Knob, and follow signs for The Knob Path. When you arrive at the information board at the start of the path, take a sharp right onto the quickest trail to the end of The Knob (going left will get you there, but it will take longer). The walk should take you less than 10 minutes if you take the path on the right.
Tip: Did you know that winter sunsets actually put on a different show than summer sunsets? Because the air is drier with less humidity and water vapor, the sky will display different colors. That’s why winter sunsets are something special, and will often paint the sky with pinks and lavenders. This is also why I highly recommend catching a winter sunset while visiting Cape Cod in the winter.
15. Visit The Lighthouses
I’ve personally never found the lighthouses to be super crowded in the summer, but in the winter, I’m usually the only one there. I would suggest visiting Nobska Lighthouse in Falmouth, to combine with The Knob for a perfect evening of sunsets. These two destinations are less than 10 mins from each other and both offer great sunset views. I also love visiting Nauset Light in Orleans (the lighthouse featured on the Cape Cod Chips bag), and Highland Light in Truro.
Bonus: Jump to number 17 for an off-the-beaten-path lighthouse you can visit that also combines a relaxing winter beach walk.
16. Have a Beach Fire
This may seem crazy, but hear me out. Because Cape Cod winters can be mild, if you’re rewarded with a warmer day in winter with low winds, doesn’t hot cocoa and s’mores by a fire on the shoreline sound perfect? And while beach fire permits are hard to get in the summer because of the limited number given out, they’re incredibly easy to snatch up in the winter. Bundle up, grab some firewood, cozy blankets, a thermos of hot cocoa, all the fixin’s for s’mores, and cuddle up by the fire with the crashing waves in the background.
Tip: Many of the beaches where beach fires are allowed during the winter are located in the Cape Cod National Seashore, and will require a permit. These beaches are Nauset Light Beach (not be confused with Nauset Beach!), Coast Guard Beach, Marconi Beach, Race Point Beach, Head of the Meadow Beach, and Herring Cove Beach. For information on beach fire permits, and where and when to get them, visit the National Seashore’s website here.
17. Hit The Trails
Cape Cod has so many nature trails to explore, and winter is a great time to peel yourself away from the ocean shores and discover a new trail. One of my favorite trails in winter is located on the grounds of the Cape Cod Natural History Museum in Brewster, and it’s called the John Wing Trail. You’ll start by walking on a long boardwalk through a salt marsh, and end with amazing views of Cape Cod Bay. I love this one for winter because it’s short at 2 miles round trip, but the pay-off is amazing, and it’s completely free.
Please don’t park at the museum to walk the trail, and instead, park at the nearby Drummer Boy Park down the road. Once you’ve parked, walk back to the road where you came from, stay on the side of the road closest to the park, and go left on the sidewalk toward the museum. Just before you hit the museum, you’ll see signs pointing you toward the Wing Trail Head on your left.
Tip: It’s very important to check the tide schedule before walking the John Wing trail, as the boardwalk will be flooded during high tide. I use TidesChart when walking this trail, and always plan my walks here around the tides. You just need to be mindful of the tide schedules when you plan to walk the boardwalk, which will be the very beginning, and the very end of this walk. It won’t matter for the rest of the trail.
Another wonderful and relaxing trail for a winter walk is the Stage Harbor Trail at Hardings Beach in Chatham. This trail is just under 2 miles on a completely flat, sand-packed path that takes you directly to Stage Harbor Lighthouse, and the nearby beach. To walk this trail, park at the Hardings Beach parking lot (in the winter, there will be tons of available parking, so skip the overflow lot, which you will arrive at first, and keep going to the main lot. Park as close to the sand dunes at the end as you can. Facing the water, you’ll want to walk left toward the sandy paths and walk for just under a mile until you get to the lighthouse. Reverse your course back to the parking lot.
Tip: Stage Harbor Lighthouse is privately owned, so please respect the “No Trespassing” signs once you reach the lighthouse, and admire it from a distance. There will also be signs right at the lighthouse directing you to the beach paths, and I highly recommend following them for some amazing views. You can walk the beach shoreline right back to the parking lot if you wanted a different perspective for your walk back.
18. Visit the Main Street Shops
My favorite shopping destinations on the Cape are Chatham, Harwich Port and Provincetown. All have shops that are open in the winter, and many of them are usually running off-season sales. I once scored a really nice sweatshirt at Cuffy’s for $11 total in the winter! You can easily spend an entire afternoon wandering the shops and stopping for a nice lunch (preferably with a warm cup of chowder) in the winter.
Tip: To grab a warm drink and treat to walk around with, stop at the Chatham Village Cafe & Bakery on your drive into Chatham before parking your car. They’re open during the winter season, and they have amazing baked goods, coffee and hot cocoa. They’re located about a 12-minute walk from the edge of the Main Street shops as well, so you could also walk there and back if you were feeling up for it.
19. Catch a Movie at the Chatham Orpheum
This theater dates back to 1915, and is a special and unique place to take in a movie. Not only is it a non-profit theater, but they offer both new release screenings, as well as the occasional older movie (they’ve been known to re-release Jaws). They also have an in-house cafe and bar area that serves food that’s actually good (think restaurant-style). While the actual building is historical, the theater itself was recently renovated to offer modern comforts and amenities, and they even serve candy made locally down the street from Candy Manor. I can’t think of a better place to take in a movie on a cold, winter night.
Pricing: Adult tickets are $12 per person, and children and senior tickets are $9 per person.
Winter Pampering & Cozy Dining
If it’s especially cold outside, and you’re just not up for braving the chilly temperatures, then use that as a sign to stay in and get cozy. These are my suggestions for a perfectly cozy indoors afternoon or evening on Cape Cod in the winter.
20. Have a Spa Day
There are several day spas to choose from on Cape Cod, but if you’re looking for the ultimate pampering experience, the Spa at the Chatham Bars Inn is the place to go. In addition to their classic menu of services, they also offer special winter treatments that focus on revitalizing dry winter skin. And of course, you’re able to take advantage of their private steam showers and relaxation room as part of your service. Make a day of it, and also add lunch or dinner at the inn to your plans.
Tip: I’ve seen winter promos on their website offering mid-week treatments and massages at 30-40% off, which is a huge savings, especially for a luxury spa. Be sure to keep an eye on their website during the winter months (January, February & March) to see if you can catch a great deal. I, personally, haven’t seen special deals during the month of December, but you never know!
Other amazing spa options on Cape Cod that are definitely worth looking into are Le Petite Day Spa in Chatham, Solstice Day Spa in Hyannis and Shui Spa in Provincetown.
21. Cozy Up By a Fireplace or Heated Igloo
There are quite a few places on the Cape where you can grab a drink or meal by a warm fireplace, and some are now offering private greenhouse and igloo dining!
Scargo Cafe in Dennis offers both. Grab a drink at the bar by the fireplace, or reserve a private greenhouse for lunch or dinner that’ll keep you nice and warm while still feeling like you’re outdoors.
Tip: There’s no extra cost to reserve a greenhouse at Scargo Cafe, but a reservation and a deposit is required. The deposit is put toward your bill once seated.
Ocean’s Edge Resort in Brewster is home of the Frost Bar in the winter, and they recently added private, heated igloos outside to enjoy drinks and bites. You can even order special winter cocktails here like Mulled Winter Sangria, Ginger Hot Toddy or a Hot Cocoa Martini.
Tip: There’s no extra cost to reserve an igloo at Ocean’s Edge, but there is a minimum spend of $150 total (not per person) on evenings and weekends. No minimum spend is required for weekday lunch. Each igloo can accommodate 6 people, and there is a 90 minute limit.
Are Shops and Restaurants Open in the Winter?
They sure are! But, keep in mind that some will be closed. In my experience, it’s been about half and half – meaning that half of the shops and restaurants are closed, and half are open. Keep in mind that many people still live on Cape Cod year-round and need businesses to be open, so I was able to visit most of my favorite shops and restaurants during my stay in the winter season, and only ran into a few places that were closed. Largely, you can expect the seafood shacks to be closed for the season.
What Should I Pack For a Trip to Cape Cod in the Winter?
Even though winters can be more mild than the bitter cold temperatures you expect in a New England destination, it’s best to prepare for any kind of winter weather to ensure your comfort. And of course, double check the weather forecast before leaving to get an idea of what to expect during your visit. Here is a list of cold-weather staples that I recommend packing for a trip to Cape Cod in the winter (in additional to all your essentials, of course).
- Winter coat or parka.
- Lightweight/packable down jacket for milder days that are still chilly.
- Insulated and waterproof winter or duck boots for beach walks.
- Wool or synthetic wool socks to keep your feet warm and dry (if temperatures aren’t expected to be freezing, you can definitely get away with cotton socks).
- A warm beanie or winter hat (especially for windy beach walks).
- Gloves or mittens.
- A scarf if your jacket doesn’t protect your neck from winds and snow. Otherwise, this isn’t necessary.
- Sweaters or flannel shirts under your jacket should keep you plenty warm, unless weather is expected to be especially cold (less than 10°F) each day. No need for wool base layers!
- Regular jeans or pants will be fine. No need for wool base layers here, either!
What Hotels on Cape Cod are Open in the Winter?
While some hotels will be closed for the season, there are still plenty of options for hotel stays on Cape Cod in the winter. I personally suggest staying at a cozy inn or B&B to enhance your winter experience, but there are options from less expensive motels to luxury resorts still open in the winter season. Here are my picks for each different budget.
Luxury: Chatham Bars Inn in Chatham. With the Spa right on-site, this will be the ultimate, luxury winter getaway that’s also steps from the beach. You could stay inside the hotel and your room all day and not run out of things to do! And with it being off-season, you’ll be able to snatch up some great off-season rates.
Moderate: Dan’l Webster Inn in Sandwich. Winter prices start around $200 for a queen bed room, and on-site are a spa and four dining areas to select from, so you won’t have to go far for an evening by the fireplace. Some rooms also come with a fireplace and whirlpool tubs to add extra coziness to your winter getaway. Those rooms will come an an extra cost, of course, but the winter season is the best time to splurge on those amenities.
Moderate: An English Garden B&B in Dennis Port. Winter prices start around $130 per night, and include a full, cooked to order breakfast. Rooms are perfectly cozy, and some even have amazing balconies where you can watch those beautiful winter sunsets. This is a great value for this region!
Budget: Rodeway Inn in Orleans. Winter prices start around $85 per night for a Queen room. This is going to be your basic motel room, but also clean, comfortable and centrally located. If you plan to spend a lot of time outside and just need a place to shower and sleep, this is a great option.
What Is It Like on The Cape in the Winter?
In a word – peaceful. As I’ve said before, I absolutely love Cape Cod in the summer season, but the calm and serene vibe in the winter is a very welcomed change. According to local statistics, a little less than half of the summer population live on Cape Cod year-round, so there are far less people.
That said, because of the year-round population, it also doesn’t feel deserted, and there’s still a strong sense of community in the air. There is plenty to do to keep you busy for a weekend or longer while still feeling like you can move at a slower pace.
You may also enjoy:
- Christmas On Cape Cod: All The Best Things To Do
- The Nantucket Christmas Stroll: Everything You Need To Know
- Winter On Nantucket: Things To Do & Tips For Visiting This Time Of The Year
- Massachusetts In The Winter: Best Things To Do & Where To Go
- Best New England Winter Getaways
- Best New England Christmas Towns
- Where To See The Best Christmas Lights In Massachusetts
- Best Things To Do In Vermont In The Winter
- Best Things To Do In Maine In The Winter
- Best Things To Do In Portland, Maine In The Winter
- Best Things To Do In Newport, RI In The Winter
And here are guides to Cape Cod towns I’ve created that 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 Things To Do On Cape Cod In The Winter
There you have it – these are all my tips and suggestions for the absolute best things to do on Cape Cod in the winter. Whether you’re going for some extra holiday cheer or a restorative, relaxing winter getaway, the Cape really does offer so many different things to do that allow you connect with nature, or celebrate what this season is all about – cozy nights in by the fire and quality time together. I hope you’re now inspired to plan your perfect Cape Cod winter getaway.