“Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever.” It's a line spoken by Ishmael in Herman Melville's classic novel “Moby Dick,” and it seems a fitting way to describe a winter visit to Nantucket when the season's few-and-far-between visitors can unwind in the solitude of an island oasis. Its sights and sounds can easily be captured over the course of a weekend getaway.

Melville's book was inspired by the tragic story of the Nantucket whaling ship Essex, which is the focus of a permanent exhibit at the Nantucket Whaling Museum. The museum remains open through December before shutting down for the worst of the winter and reopening in the spring. It's a must-visit attraction for visitors interested in Nantucket's rich but short-lived history as the whaling capital of the world.


The island, just 14 miles long and 3.5 miles wide, sits in Nantucket Sound, roughly 26 miles southeast of Cape Cod and about 35 miles east of Martha's Vineyard, and visitors can get there by plane, from Boston or Hyannis, or by ferry from Hyannis or Martha's Vineyard.

Nantucket is the ancestral home of the Wampanoag Native American Tribe and was settled by the English in the mid-1600s. Today it's a summer paradise that attracts more than 80,000 visitors to a destination that just 14,000 year-rounders call home. While summer is the island's prime tourist season, Nantucket in winter offers a sublime, unique experience for those willing to brave chilly temperatures. A smattering of hotels, inns, and restaurants remain open all year. Lodging is easier to book during the off-seasons since rates will be substantially lower than in summer, and minimum-stay rules will have eased.

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Enjoy The Solitude Of Nantucket's Beaches In Winter

Like other island destinations, Nantucket offers a wide variety of beaches, including calm, low-surf ones that attract families with children in the summer. But in winter, the wild and often windy expanses of the heavy surf beaches on the island's south coast can be more exciting and romantic. For that kind of experience, weekend visitors should check out Madaket, Stone's, Cisco, or Ladies beaches.

Nantucket in winter makes for great sunrises, and the best part is that visitors won't have to wake up too early to see one since late December and January sunrises don't happen until after 7 a.m. Visits to the lighthouses Brant Point Light and Sankaty Head Light will make for enjoyable excursions, and they're great for selfies, too.

Winter visitors looking for exercise can bundle up and head out onto the island's biking trails or explore some of Nantucket's great hiking routes, such as the Middle Moors area, which offers more than 3,000 acres of undeveloped land. The entire region is operated by the Nantucket Conservation Foundation and includes what is locally known as Nantucket's Serengeti. According to the foundation, the nickname for this 400-acre expanse was inspired by its low-growth vegetation that's reminiscent of the Tanzanian grasslands of Serengeti National Park.

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Those who choose a December weekend to visit Nantucket will find plenty of holiday cheer as the island hosts its annual Nantucket Christmas Stroll, when the local chamber of commerce and island businesses in Nantucket town sponsor tree decorating contests and Santa's Village, with entertainment for children, plus holiday theater performances, concerts, book signings, and lots of other holiday-inspired events.

Whaling Museum Offers A Glimpse Into Nantucket's Past

Visitors can learn all they wish to know about the wildly lucrative 18th-century whaling industry at the Nantucket Whaling Museum. It's a highlight of a Nantucket trip, and it's managed by the Nantucket Historical Association.

The skeleton of a 46-foot-long sperm whale hangs from the ceiling in the museum's Gosnell Hall, along with a 28-foot whaleboat, illustrating the difference in the sizes of the two displays. The boat exhibit includes the equipment used in whale hunting, such as harpoons.

A scrimshaw exhibit is on view as well. These are finely detailed ivory engravings created by the men who worked on the whaleboats. Making decorative artwork, and sometimes jewelry, was a way to pass the time, and today scrimshaw is considered one of the earliest mediums of American folk art.

The museum's Discovery Center sports the theme of Historic Nantucket and is a space where families can play interactive games, do crafts, watch movies, and enjoy other activities, such as watching the 25-foot model Nantucket Railroad.

Other displays include Neptune’s Grotto, an exhibit of what the historical association calls an evocative assembly of curiosities from the sea, and the Hadwen and Barney Oil and Candle Factory, an 1847 whale-oil candle factory. The space also displays signs from 18th and 19th century Nantucket businesses.

Museum visitors also can climb its circular staircase, or take an elevator, to Tucket's Roofwalk, which offers a panoramic view of Nantucket Harbor.

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The museum, located on Broad Street in downtown Nantucket, is open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and adult entry costs $23. A guided walking tour through historic downtown Nantucket costs $20. Visitors will learn about the island's history as a whaling center, its emergence as a major tourism hotspot, its architecture, and about how its residents' lifestyles through the centuries.