Martha’s Vineyard vs Nantucket: Which Island to Visit?

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by Olivia Ellis

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If you’re looking for the perfect island escape off the coast of Cape Cod but are short on time, then you’re likely trying to compare Martha’s Vineyard vs Nantucket. As two of New England’s finest and most popular travel destinations, both islands will most likely be on your radar for a trip to the region.

Both Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard offer a classic New England charm, gorgeous natural scenery and are perfect for either a longer getaway or a short day trip from Cape Cod.

In general, choose Martha’s Vineyard for its beautiful nature, laid-back vibe and an easy-to-reach day trip destination. On the other hand, Nantucket is great for those after charming small towns, an upscale feel and lots of local history.

However, there is a lot more that sets these two small islands apart and should be considered when determining which one is more suitable for your trip.

Martha’s Vineyard

The larger island of the two and just 7 miles away from the Massachusetts coast, Martha’s Vineyard is known for its striking and well-varied natural beauty, delicious food, a bohemian, relaxed atmosphere, and a wide array of things to do while visiting; from hiking and spending time in nature, to beach-going and visiting the charming towns that encompass the island.

Iconic Houses on Martha's Vineyard
Iconic Houses on Martha’s Vineyard


Although Martha’s Vineyard is just a short distance from the mainland, there’s no bridge connecting the two, so the only transportation options to reach the island are by ferry or plane. Nonetheless, it’s a fairly easy island to reach.

If you prefer to travel by air, there are a handful of airlines that offer direct seasonal routes to Martha’s Vineyard Airport from Boston, Washington DC, or New York City. Additionally, year-round flight options from the Massachusetts mainland are available through CapeAir and Tradewind.

The most common way to reach Martha’s Vineyard is by ferry ride, due to the convenience of being able to transport your car with you, and having typically cheaper fares. Multiple ferry companies operate to/from mainland Massachusetts (such as Hy-Line, SeaStreak and Island Queen) as well as other major cities on the East Coast.

The speed and frequency of the ferries mean taking a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard from Cape Cod is a great option if you’re short on time.

With that being said, the ferries are extremely popular and sometimes fully book up to a year in advance, so it’s imperative to book far in advance if you would like to travel by ferry and have your car with you.

As for getting around the island, it’s hard to deny that having a car while on the island is the most convenient way to get around, yet there are alternative transportation options available for those who prefer not to drive or choose to leave their cars behind. You can browse car hire options here.

The Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority operates a comprehensive bus system that serves various parts of the island, including popular tourist destinations such as Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, and Aquinnah.

Additionally, taxis and ride-sharing services are available for shorter trips or when you need a bit more flexibility with transportation.

Biking is also a popular choice for exploring the island, with numerous bike rental shops offering a convenient way to explore the island’s scenic trails and coastal roads.

Finally, you can also organise an organised tour from Boston or, a group island tour or a private tour once you arrive on the island.

Sailing near Martha’s Vineyard
Sailing near Martha’s Vineyard


Considering expenses such as activities, transportation, and dining out, there’s no denying that Martha’s Vineyard is the more affordable option of the two. This is particularly attractive for budget-conscious travelers who are trying to decide between Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket.

Martha’s Vineyard boasts an array of attractions, many of which are outdoor activities like its scenic beaches, hiking trails, and historic sites. These natural gems offer plenty of opportunities for either no-cost or low-cost entertainment and exploration.

When it comes to dining, Martha’s Vineyard has a more laid-back atmosphere compared to the slightly more upscale atmosphere of Nantucket, hence, dining costs tend to be lower on the island.

Here, you’ll discover a diverse culinary scene with a wide range of restaurants and costs, ranging from local diners and casual eateries to mid-range restaurants and even high-end Michelin-starred restaurants.

Furthermore, Martha’s Vineyard is in a much more convenient location, and in turn, ferry and flight expenses are typically much cheaper compared to the costs associated with visiting Nantucket.

This advantage further increases the overall affordability of a trip to Martha’s Vineyard, making it a more accessible option for travelers seeking value without compromising on quality.

Town of Edgartown
Town of Edgartown

Things to do on Martha’s Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard is a diverse island with a wide range of things to do, making it a great destination for just about any kind of traveler keen to enjoy a classic New England island vacation.

If you’re keen to explore the island’s history and culture, the historic Oak Bluffs Campground is an ideal stop for a trip to Martha’s Vineyard. Its colorful Victorian cottages, known as “gingerbread houses,” date back to 1859 and offer a unique glimpse into the island’s and Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association’s past.

One of the sure symbols of Cape Cod and its islands are lighthouses, and while on Martha’s Vineyard, an important stop is at the iconic Edgartown Lighthouse. Standing valiantly along Martha’s Vineyard’s coastline and serving as an emblem of the island’s maritime history, the lighthouse is a stunning element of the island and climbing to the top offers beautiful, panoramic views of the Atlantic.

Martha’s Vineyard is known for its natural beauty, and at the island’s western tip lies the breathtaking Aquinnah Cliffs, showcasing vibrant hues of red, orange, and gold against the Atlantic backdrop as well as the historic Gay Head Lighthouse.

If you’re keen for a hike while on the island, you’ll find plenty of scenic trails near the cliffs that offer incredible views, while the nearby Aquinnah Cultural Center celebrates the indigenous Wampanoag tribe’s heritage.

For an even further nature escape, make your way to Chappaquiddick Island for a more remote island experience while visiting Martha’s Vineyard. Accessible only by ferry, it boasts pristine beaches, secluded coves, and picturesque trails.

Gay Head Lighthouse
Gay Head Lighthouse

Where to Stay on Martha’s Vineyard

Summercamp – This historic, oceanfront hotel on Martha’s Vineyard is an excellent base on the island. There are beautiful views, several bright and spacious rooms to choose from, free parking and an excellent location.

Inkwell Beach Cottage – A charming bed and breakfast overlooking the Atlantic, they are located within 5 minutes from the ferry terminal, there is free parking on site, an exceptional breakfast and countless rooms, suites and apartments to choose from.

Private Rental – Those who want their own space will find lots of private rentals – such as this charming cottage – available on the island.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Martha’s Vineyard hotels!


While Martha’s Vineyard is the more laid-back, eclectic island of the two, Nantucket is certainly the more luxurious island, adorned with white sand beaches, quaint cottages, cobblestone streets, high-end boutiques and gourmet restaurants.

Nantucket is the ideal New England island destination for anyone seeking the epitome of sophistication and breezy days by the Atlantic.


Despite being further away from the mainland than its neighbor, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket is surprisingly accessible, at around 30 miles off the south coast of the Cape Cod peninsula. This means a day trip to Nantucket is definitely something in the cards if you’re up for it.

Getting to Nantucket is relatively straightforward, with multiple transportation options available.

While flying into Nantucket Memorial Airport, which offers frequent flights from major cities along the East Coast, is the most popular option for travelers, you can also reach the island by ferry from Hyannis, Massachusetts.

Ferry options vary from speedy 1-hour catamaran passenger ferries, to slower, traditional car ferries taking around 2 ½ hours. Similar to the Martha’s Vineyard ferries, tickets and car slots book up well in advance, so it’s important to reserve a spot on the ferry as far in advance as possible.

Once on the island, getting around is a breeze thanks to its compact size and well-developed transportation infrastructure.

Nantucket is known for its extensive network of bike paths, making cycling a popular mode of transportation for both locals and visitors. Biking around the island is easily the most enjoyable way to explore the island’s scenic coastline, charming villages, and historic landmarks at your own pace.

If you opt against cycling or bringing your own car to the island, Nantucket offers a variety of other transportation options. Rental cars, taxis, and ride-sharing services are readily available for those looking for convenience and flexibility.

Additionally, the island’s public transit system, known as The Wave, provides affordable and reliable bus service to the most popular areas and the gorgeous beaches on Nantucket.

Biking on Nantucket Island
Biking on Nantucket Island


Nantucket is an island renowned for its picturesque landscapes and upscale reputation. However, this charm often comes at a price, making Nantucket comparatively less affordable than its neighbor.

To start, transportation costs, including ferry or flight tickets, are notably higher in Nantucket compared to Martha’s Vineyard, which can significantly impact the overall travel budget for visitors to the island.

Activities costs on Nantucket are pretty on par with those on Martha’s Vineyard if you decide to spend most of your time on Nantucket soaking in the abundant, natural side of the island. Otherwise, Nantucket offers a wider variety of activities, historical sites, and museums, naturally making costs more expensive as these are typically activities that come with an admission cost.

When it comes to dining, Nantucket’s culinary scene reflects its upscale ambiance, with many restaurants catering to a more affluent clientele.

While there are certainly budget-friendly dining options available, such as casual cafés and seafood shacks by the coast, dining out (and nightlife by extension) on Nantucket can still be relatively expensive compared to Martha’s Vineyard.

Great Point Lighthouse on Nantucket
Great Point Lighthouse on Nantucket

Things to do on Nantucket

While Martha’s Vineyard boasts a significantly larger size, Nantucket offers an abundance of attractions and activities. On the island, you can explore numerous beaches, parks, and cycling/hiking trails, as well as delve into the rich history and culture through its historical sites.

For outdoor enthusiasts seeking natural beauty on the island, the Sconset Bluff Walk is easily the most popular trail on the island, offering stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. Amidst vibrant wildflowers and historic cottages, you’ll be surrounded by Nantucket’s picturesque landscapes and a fresh Atlantic sea breeze.

A visit to the renowned Whaling Museum is a great way to gain a deeper insight into the deep-rooted history of the whaling industry. Housed within a historic candle factory, the museum showcases artifacts and interactive exhibits that educate visitors on Nantucket’s maritime heritage.

For those visiting the island that are keen to be immersed in the island’s natural beauty, the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge, spans over 16 miles of coastline and offers a rugged coastal environment with plenty of opportunities to witness local wildlife either by driving or enjoying a scenic hike in the wildlife refuge.

To experience the quintessential Nantucket charm, a leisurely walk through Nantucket Town is a must. Its cobblestoned streets are lined with upscale boutiques and cozy shops offering everything from designer clothing to locally made crafts.

In addition, Nantucket’s renowned food scene is epitomized in Nantucket Town, where you’ll have an abundance of opportunities to savor delicious New England classics and fresh seafood sourced from the Atlantic.

Spotting seals on Nantucket
Spotting seals on Nantucket

Where to Stay on Nantucket

Brass Lantern Inn – This charming inn has lots of lovely, classic rooms to choose from, a great breakfast each morning and lots of museums, shops and restaurants within easy walking distance.

Blue Iris – A beautiful luxe estate, there are several gorgeous rooms and suites to choose from here. Well-located, there is also a great breakfast and a good location for exploring all Nantucket has to offer.

Private Rental – Properties like this harbor view cottage are widely available throughout the island – there are lots of options to suit all group sizes and travel preferences!

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Nantucket hotels!

Nantucket Island
Nantucket Island

Nantucket vs Martha’s Vineyard: Which is Better to Visit

While Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are both islands worth visiting for a wide variety of reasons, quite a few things set them apart, making it easier to distinguish which island is better for your vacation.

If you’re hoping to get the most out of your budget, Martha’s Vineyard is an easy winner as costs come out significantly cheaper in just about every category, from food and dining, to accommodation and transportation costs.

As Martha’s Vineyard has much to offer when it comes to activities on the island, most of them are nature activities. So if you’re hoping to visit museums, galleries, and other varied locations to learn more about the island, Nantucket is your best bet as there is a larger cultural significance on the island in comparison to Martha’s Vineyard.

Ambiance and the general atmosphere of a location are important factors for many people. If you fall into this category, the two islands can be easily categorized. Martha’s Vineyard is best suited for those seeking a more laid-back, small-town ambiance, while Nantucket is better suited to those who enjoy a lavish and more upscale environment.

If you’re hoping to do a Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard day trip from the mainland, or hope to tack on one of the islands to a Cape Cod itinerary, Martha’s Vineyard is likely the better option as it’s much closer to the mainland, as well as much more affordable to reach if you’re hoping to just visit for a day.

For those looking to plan a trip as a family, Martha’s Vineyard is typically known to be more of a family-friendly island than Nantucket, with the combination of cheaper costs and more kid-friendly activities compared to more formal activities on Nantucket.

Ultimately, which island you choose to visit depends on your preferences, budget, and desired vacation experience. Both offer distinct charms and attractions, promising a memorable and enjoyable getaway for all types of travelers.

Are you deciding between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Olivia is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from Michigan, USA, she is currently living in Athens, Greece exploring Europe and filmmaking. When she’s not travelling or writing, Olivia can be found cooking delicious new recipes from around the world, reading, and spending time outdoors.

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