Nantucket is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and popular summer destinations in New England for a beach vacation, and while I agree that the warmer months are an ideal time to visit, a winter getaway on the island may just be a great idea for your next trip. In fact, I always think Nantucket is a good idea 😉
Winter is the true off-season for Nantucket, so it’s a very quiet and serene time of year for a visit, but the trade-off to fewer crowds is that you’ll run into some business closures, and potentially have some unexpected issues with the ferry service during inclement weather. There are definitely some pros and cons to visiting during this season you’ll want to consider, and you’ve come to the right place to find out what they are!
I’m excited to share that I enlisted help from Georgie Morley for this post to give you the inside scoop on the island during the off-season. Georgie is a full-time Nantucket resident and photographer on the island, and was kind enough to share her insight into visiting in the winter season. She also provided some of the beautiful photos you’ll see in this post to illustrate the island in the off-season.
Between both our suggestions, you’ll feel ready to plan a winter visit to Nantucket after reading this post. With that, let’s get started.
Is Nantucket Worth Visiting In The Winter?
In a nutshell, it certainly can be, but there are some things to consider. Generally, I love coastal New England destinations in the winter, and Nantucket is no exception. As long as you come prepared for the weather, and know what to expect, this is a great time of the year to experience the island.
But since I don’t live on the island full-time, let’s get Georgie’s insight into what Nantucket is really like in the winter. She says:
“By the end of October, the island slows down in many ways. Most of the shops and restaurants close for the season, there are fewer visitors and the days get darker and cooler. Parking is abundant, Stop and Shop feels more manageable, and you end up bumping into more year-rounders, and having the time for a catch-up while you get coffee in the morning.
“There’s a decent handful of restaurants and coffee shops that do stay open year-round largely as a service to the community. If you know where to look there are still a decent amount of community events, gatherings, and opportunities for connection even in the quietest days of February.“
The winter season, like anywhere along the coast in the Northeast, is such a wonderful time to escape the crowds and have popular places all to yourself. In fact, I travel through the coast of New England quite a bit in the winter and enjoy that everything is at its slowest pace. But as mentioned, the weather can be tricky, and not everything is open. That said, Nantucket has over 14,000 year-round residents, so restaurants, some shops, and select hotels are still open on the island in the winter.
And honestly, many of the absolute best things to do on the island are outdoors, so if you bundle up and dress appropriately, the beaches, lighthouses, historic houses, harbor, and gorgeous scenery are all there waiting for you – even in the winter. You’ll just have to forego the full Nantucket experience, but you’ll still get to see a lot of what makes the island special.
The best part of visiting Nantucket in the off season, though? Hotel prices are far cheaper. Nantucket is a notoriously expensive destination, and spring, summer, and fall hotel rates can be out of reach for many people. However, I’ve found that you can get a hotel room on the island January-March for a fraction of the summer rates.
What About Nantucket Winter Weather? Does It Snow?
Believe it or not, winter weather on Nantucket probably isn’t what you think. It doesn’t get a ton of snow like other places in New England, and the average temperatures aren’t typically frigid. But when you do get snow on the island, it feels extra special – even magical.
Georgie says, “Temperatures bounce between 30’s and 40’s most days but feel much colder with fierce winds and the ocean air.” If you take one thing away about the weather during the winter season, just know that it’ll probably feel a bit colder than the weather apps are saying.
On average, Nantucket sees about 20-25 inches of snow a year, which is one of the lowest accumulation rates in Massachusetts. It’s more likely that the stronger winds will impact your visit versus a significant snowfall.
To stay warm, you’ll want to pack a winter parka, hats, gloves and scarves, and of course, warm footwear and socks.
Things To Do On Nantucket In December
1. Experience The Nantucket Christmas Stroll
Nantucket is one of my favorite Christmas towns in New England, and that’s due largely to the island’s Christmas Stroll event, which is one you won’t want to miss if you’re planning a festive holiday getaway.
The entire weekend is packed with fun events, holiday markets for shopping, caroling, Santa’s arrival by boat, and so much more. This is truly one of my favorite ways to celebrate the holidays in the region, and whether you come over for the day, or the entire weekend, the Nantucket Christmas Stroll is always so worth it.
Psst! I have an entire post on the Nantucket Christmas Stroll if you’d like more information, as well as my tips for visiting and what to do.
2. Admire The Gorgeous Holiday Decorations
Even if you can’t get to the island for Stroll, the Christmas decorations stay on throughout December, and this is one of the best things to experience on the island in the winter.
My favorite place for decorations is Main Street, where dozens of Christmas trees line the sidewalks, and are timed to switch on just after sunset, making this such a magical spot (and one of the best places to see Christmas lights in Massachusetts!).
But really, all of Nantucket’s town center is proudly decorated with wreaths, garlands, and window boxes. Store fronts also put up inspiring window displays, and it’s such a treat to just walk around and admire the beautiful decorations during the holiday season.
Things To Do On Nantucket In The Winter
Once the holidays are over and the true winter season sets in, this is the quietest time on the island, but there’s still some great things to check out. Here are my suggestions of things to fill your itinerary with during a winter visit to Nantucket.
3. Head To Cisco Brewers
One of the most fun places on the island in the summer is also open year-round, and that’s Cisco Brewers. Creators of craft brews, canned cocktails, wines, and spirits, the original location on Nantucket feels more like a campus than just a regular bar, and even in the winter, they have lots of fun ways to enjoy the season.
With trivia nights, parties in December, comedy nights, and of course, opportunities to try all their beverages, this is a great way to enjoy a wintery afternoon or evening on the island.
It’s good to know that Cisco’s Nantucket location does have abbreviated hours in the winter, and are typically closed during some weekdays. Their website does a great job updating their calendar with events, food trucks, and hours, so be sure to check that before making a special visit.
Cisco is also located outside of town center, so you’ll need to get an Uber, taxi, or take their shuttle service to get there. And as always, please drink responsibly and be safe!
4. Enjoy Gorgeous Sunrises And Sunsets
One of my favorite things about the winter season is how easy it is to catch a sunrise or sunset since the days are shorter, and Nantucket is such a fantastic destination for both. And did you know that winter sunsets are extra special because the cold air will often illuminate the sky with pink and purple hues? So really, a winter sunset is something special, made even better by the island’s beautiful scenery.
For sunrises on the island, Sconset Beach is a great spot, as it’s facing East. Great Point and even Brant Point (the latter of which is convenient to downtown), are also nice spots for a sunrise.
For sunset, my personal favorite spot is Madaket Beach because the scenery is just spectacular. But for a more convenient location that’s walkable from downtown, Step’s Beach is also really great.
5. See The Lighthouses
One of my favorite things to suggest to everyone year-round on Nantucket is visiting the lighthouses, and these are definitely worth checking out in the winter, too. Nantucket is home to 3 lighthouses, and each of them are unique and special.
The easiest lighthouse to visit for most folks is Brant Point, which is walkable from downtown. This is also the lighthouse you’ll see as you approach the harbor on the ferry right before docking. The footbridge and the harbor scenery make for great photos, and it’s a can’t-miss spot to visit on the island.
Next, I suggest making a visit out to Sankaty Light in Sconset, which is even more spectacular after a light snowfall (if you’re lucky!). The red and white stripes on the lighthouse are so iconic, and the open fields around it are incredibly peaceful. Afterward, you can walk around to admire all the gorgeous homes in the area, and tackle the Bluff Walk if there’s not too much snow.
Finally, Great Point is such a special place to visit, and the lighthouse here is incredibly beautiful. This is the hardest lighthouse to get to, and requires some planning, but I’ll get into that down below because you can use this opportunity for some special wildlife viewing in the winter 😉
6. Tour The Whaling Museum
Nantucket’s Whaling Museum is open year-round, and the winter season is the perfect time to explore this gem on the island. I’ll admit, it took me a while to visit this museum, and I finally did during a trip to Nantucket in December, and it was such a great way to escape the chilly weather while learning so much about the whaling history in the area.
If you happen to visit in December, the museum is transformed into a winter wonderland of decorated Christmas trees, but many of the museum’s historical exhibits are still on display. And the most exciting thing to see is the skeleton of a sperm whale, which spans over 40 feet.
Be sure to also find your way up to the rooftop, which provides sweeping views of the town, and distant views of the harbor.
7. Have The Beaches All To Yourself
Nantucket is home to some of my personal favorite beaches in all of New England, and I think many of them are also the most beautiful in the Northeast. Even on a chilly winter day, there’s nothing quite like a walk on one of the region’s most beautiful sections of coastline.
As mentioned previously, I really love Madaket Beach, so if you arrive just before sunset, you can not only enjoy watching the sun go down over the horizon, but also the beautiful scenery around the beach beforehand.
Some of my other favorite beaches on Nantucket are Surfside, ‘Sconset, Miacomet, and Cisco. And the overlook at the top of Step’s Beach is always a must! The latter is walkable from downtown, which is a bonus.
8. Feel Inspired At The Nantucket Green Market
The Nantucket Green Market is such an inspiring space, and I’m so happy to share that they’re open in the winter season for a well-needed pick-me-up. Equal parts specialty boutique, coffee shop, café, and farm (which is off-site on the island, of course), this cozy little spot offers locally-made products, and yummy foods for the perfect afternoon pitstop.
But my favorite part of the Green Market is their space – it’s beautifully curated and styled, and it’s hard to not feel inspired during your visit. It feels like a little ray of sunshine during the very grey days of winter.
9. Visit Nantucket Looms
Not only is Nantucket Looms also an incredibly inspiring space that’s fun to visit year-round, it’s also the place to splurge on a little luxurious gift for yourself after the holiday season. Specializing in hand-loomed textiles made right on the premises, their luxury throw blankets, scarves, table linens, and rugs are such a special keepsake from your time on the island – and one that you’ll actually use year-round.
But the boutique has much more than just textiles, and you’ll find beautiful home décor pieces here, too.
During your visit, be sure to head upstairs to their weaving studio for a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to create each piece. If you’re lucky, you may even get to watch an artisan at work.
10. Rent A Jeep To Explore Great Point Wildlife
Okay guys, so Great Point is probably my most favorite thing I’ve ever done on Nantucket, and while it does require some extra effort and planning, it’s so worth it – even in the winter. While exploring this area, you’ll be driving on the sand along the coastline out to Great Point Lighthouse, and feel like you’re at the end of the world.
The extra bonus to visiting Great Point in the winter is the possibility of spotting wildlife, including seals and the snowy owl. Snowy owls are often spotted along the Massachusetts coastline in the winter season, and the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge, which is where Great Point Light can be found, is one of the places known to have snowy owls. While it’s not guaranteed you’ll see one, as they’re hard to spot, it’s definitely worth a try.
Gray seals are often spotted along the coast in this part of the island in the winter, too. While the harbor seals usually migrate further south in the winter, the gray seals often stay year-round. You may even spot some laying around on the sand.
To get out to Great Point, you’ll need a four-wheel drive vehicle that can handle driving over-sand, and be familiar with deflating and inflating tires. I recommend renting a Jeep from Affordable Rentals on Nantucket, which is open year-round, and has really great prices. When we rented with them to head out to Great Point, their Jeeps came with the over-sand permits we needed, as well as a tire gauge, and the cars were in great shape.
Once you’ve rented your car, you’ll need to buy your permit to the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge online, as they’re not sold at the entrance. Deflate your tires before heading out, and enjoy the scenery!
This excursion is best done on a more mild day, as the winds will be even stronger out by Great Point. But during any winter visit, be sure to bundle up, pack a thermos with a warm beverage, and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife.
Tip: Whenever you spot wildlife of any kind, it’s imperative you respect their space, and admire them from a distance. For this reason, I recommend bringing a pair of binoculars with you.
11. Take In A Show At Nantucket Dreamland
The Dreamland Theater & Cultural Center on the island is a great way to plan a winter night out during your visit. While January’s showings are more limited, there’s typically a wonderful line-up of shows in February, most of which are family-friendly.
In January and March, there are still some great shows to catch on Sunday evenings, with some special DJ nights on Saturdays, featuring a cash bar.
12. Enjoy Fresh Scallops
Nantucket is famous for its scallops, and November through March is scallop harvesting season on the island. These winter months are actually when you can enjoy the freshest scallop catches at the restaurants.
An awesome place to check out that’s open in the winter, and serving up fresh scallops is Sayle’s Seafood. This is a casual eatery offering to-go food only, but you’ll get super fresh scallops here.
Additionally, many restaurants that are open in the winter will offer up scallop specials, as they buy them from the local fishermen. So if you see a scallop special on the menu this time of the year, definitely consider getting it.
13. Have A Photo Session With Georgie!
Last but not least, book a photo session with Georgie! Specializing in both wedding and lifestyle photography, Georgie knows the island well, has the best suggestions for locations, and she really makes you feel comfortable in front of the camera. My husband and I did a session with her in the fall season during a trip, and the photos from that session are some of our favorites we’ve ever taken.
For winter sessions, one benefit Georgie pointed out is that you won’t have to deal with the crowds, so this is an ideal time to get some amazing photos without people around, which is especially great if you’re not used to being in front of the camera.
Her favorite spots to shoot in the winter season are downtown, Brant Point, and Moore’s End Farm during Christmas because they sell Christmas trees (which is perfect if you happen to visit in December).
To book a photo session with Georgie in the winter (or any time!), click here to visit her photography website.
Where To Stay On Nantucket In The Winter
With the days pretty short in the winter season, you’ll definitely want to choose your hotel wisely if you’re planning an overnight visit – it’s especially nice to come back to a cozy room after exploring in the chilly weather all day. In fact, winter is usually one of the times I suggest booking a nicer place to stay if you’re able.
While many hotels are closed for the season on the island, here are a few suggestions of wonderful options that are open and welcoming visitors.
Greydon House: Located in the heart of downtown, this historic inn was once owned by a sea captain, and has been lovingly maintained to highlight the building’s character, while also infusing modern design and elements. They also have retro-inspired instant cameras for guests to use during their stay for a fun touch!
More Great Options:
Cliff Lodge: Also in the heart of downtown, this historic building was once a whaling master’s home, and feels both homey and cozy. Amenities include daily breakfast delivery, and a rooftop with harbor views.
Hotel Pippa: In a great location downtown that’s walkable to everything, this boutique hotel is designed with mid-century modern elements, and is a vibrant and fun place to retreat back to after a day of exploration.
Best Month To Visit Nantucket In The Winter
December is truly the most magical of the winter months on the island, and as mentioned, the Christmas festivities and decorations around town are sure to fill pretty much anyone with holiday cheer. Stroll typically takes place the first weekend in December, and this will be the most crowded time to visit during December (and you’re not likely to find great hotel deals, either). But for ultimate Christmas celebrations, this is the best weekend to visit.
For a more quiet and relaxed vibe, anytime after the New Year through March is when you’ll find the fewest crowds in the winter. Nantucket would also make for a romantic Valentine’s getaway in February if you’re looking for a more affordable time to visit the island.
Georgie also has one tip to share on a time to avoid visiting in the winter: “The one week that most resembles a ghost town on the island is the school vacation week in February. Almost all the businesses that stay open year-round do take a break that week or month, and many families leave for an escape from winter.”
February winter break on the island is usually late in the month, and the school’s calendar can be found online. This is probably the one time you’ll want to avoid visiting, unless you’re renting a house on the island and can cook all your own meals.
How To Get To Nantucket In The Winter
The only way to get to Nantucket is by ferry or plane, and most arrive on the island via ferry, as it’s much cheaper.
In the winter season, it’s important to allow some flexibility with the ferry, as extreme winds or severe weather could impact your sailing time, or cancel it all together.
The easiest and most popular ferries depart from Hyannis on Cape Cod, and they are Hyline Cruises and Steamship Authority. Keep in mind that Steamship Authority is the only one that truly runs year-round, as Hyline stops service in mid-January until it re-opens in the spring.
Restaurants That Are Open On Nantucket In The Winter
Georgie recommends checking out these places that are open in the winter season:
- Via Mare
- The Beet
- Corner Table
- Meat & Fish Market
- Bartlett’s Farm
- Brotherhood of Thieves
You may also enjoy:
- Winter In Massachusetts: All The Most Fun Things To Do
- Best Time To Visit Cape Cod, Nantucket & Martha’s Vineyard
- Things To Do On Cape Cod In The Winter
- Ultimate Guide To A Nantucket Day Trip
- A Guide To Visiting All 3 Of Nantucket’s Lighthouses
That’s A Wrap On Enjoying Winter On Nantucket
And there you have it – the inside scoop on experiencing winter on Nantucket. This quiet, serene time of the year isn’t the most popular to visit, but you’ll still get a full dose of its natural beauty, charm, and of course, save a few bucks on your overnight stay, making it an underrated time to visit. Come prepared for windy weather, and enjoy the island like a local!