The Thrifty New England Traveler is a blog of VisitingNewEngland.com, the travel site for New England.

Here Are Five Islands in New England You Must Visit

When thinking of islands, Aruba, Jamaica and all those other tropical places mentioned in that Beach Boys song come to mind. The good news is, you don’t have to travel to a tropical destination to get a taste of island life.

Entering New England.

What? New England, you mean that region of the United States with Pilgrim and Revolutionary War attractions, Green and White Mountains, that historic city named Boston and the ocean? Oh wait, ocean — that’s right, many islands have that kind of location. In this case, New England will not disappoint. Some of the nicest islands in the United States have a New England address. While summer reigns as the best time to visit these islands, parts of fall and spring will do just fine, also. And, in one, case, it’s perfectly fine to visit a particular island in New England any time of the year.

In addition, each island can be enjoyed without having to spend a lot of money. Don’t be tempted to stay at the most expensive hotel or go to places that charge $17 for a sandwich. Go on a picnic or dine at the townie restaurants and enjoy the beaches, walking paths and amazing coastal scenery.

With that in mind, here are five islands in New England that you just have to visit…

Nantucket Harbor, Nantucket, Mass.

Nantucket Harbor.

Nantucket (Massachusetts)

Located about 30 miles south of Cape Cod by ferry, Nantucket might be small in size at about 48 square miles (a little bigger than Middleborough, Mass.!), but somehow manages to jam pack everything good about coastal New England within virtually every step. The tree-lined cobblestone streets, seafood restaurants, historic inns, cedar-shingled buildings, steepled churches and beaches with dunes reveal just the beginning of Nantucket as a fun, memorable island vacation destination. The more than 80 miles of beaches sets the tone for a day in the sun, but most people love strolling the historic downtown with mostly locally-owned shops including boutiques and galleries.

Twilight on a cobblestone street at Nantucket., Massachusetts.

Twilight on a cobblestone street at Nantucket.

Also, be sure to check out the Whaling Museum that wonderfully captures Nantucket’s former presence as the whaling capital of the world from the mid-1700s to mid-1830s. Nantucket does have a reputation for being expensive, however, but no worries. You can find ways to travel on a budget even here, especially if it is a day trip. If spending more than a day at Nantucket, your biggest expense will be the ferry and lodging, but after that, it’s not all that difficult to keep the costs down. OK, maybe it is difficult but far from impossible! Check out these ideas to save money during your Nantucket vacation.

Find a place to stay at Nantucket. When landing on the page, click “Price lowest” to find great deals on Nantucket hotels.

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.. Photo source: Massachusetts Office of travel & Tourism flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/masstravel/7109654931/sizes/l

Martha’s Vineyard. Photo source: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/masstravel/7109654931/sizes/l

Martha’s Vineyard (Massachusetts)

Many prefer Martha’s Vineyard to Nantucket simply because it is closer to the mainland. The ideal situation would be to visit both islands but if that is not possible, Martha Vineyard will more than suffice. Also located south of Cape Cod by ferry, Martha’s Vineyard has a reputation as a celebrity destination. From former President Barrack Obama to actress Reese Witherspoon, the chance to do some celebrity sighting is prominent here. But you don’t have to be a celebrity to enjoy Martha’s Vineyard. Every day common folk can enjoy the island, too.

Start with picturesque harbor towns like Edgartown and Oak Bluffs for dining, shopping and leisurely strolling nirvana. Quaint Oak Bluffs is my preferred choice that comes with added bonuses: the beautiful, one-of-a-kind Carpenter Gothic cottages — or Gingerbread houses, as most know them — and the old-time Flying Horse Carousel.

Gingerbread houses at Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard. Photo source: Massachusetts Department of Travel & Tourism - https://www.flickr.com/photos/masstravel/9390787755/sizes/l.

Gingerbread houses at Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard. Photo source: Massachusetts Department of Travel & Tourism – https://www.flickr.com/photos/masstravel/9390787755/sizes/l.

Then, head out to out of the several public beaches (many, however, on the Island are private beaches, so please be respectful of that) for some sand, stunning ocean views and salt-sea air. Along the way, the farmland often juxtaposes wonderfully with the sea. Also be sure to check out Edgartown Lighthouse, one of the most iconic and photogenic lighthouses in New England!

Read more about Martha’s Vineyard

Find a place to stay at Martha’s Vineyard. When landing on the page, click “Price lowest” to find great deals for Martha’s Vineyard hotels.

Block Island, Rhode Island. Photo by Timothy J. Quill via Wikimedia Commons.

Block Island. Photo by Timothy J. Quill via Wikimedia Commons.

Block Island, R.I. (Massachusetts)

The Nature Conservancy describes Block Island as “one of the 12 last great places in the Western Hemisphere.” We would say The Nature Conservancy is an organization with a knack for being extremely accurate.

Far less commercial and high profile than Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, Block Island serves as a tremendous, lower-cost alternative to those two islands. Twelve miles south of the Rhode Island mainland and just 21 square miles, Block Island delights with its stunning scenery. Sure, the area just off the ferry landing has a decent number of shops, restaurants and places to stay (and also the Empire Movie Theater) but that’s not the reason people visit this scenic little island. Spectacular oceans views — some from dramatic high cliffs — remain a big draw, as well the harbor views, rolling green fields, big farms, picturesque lighthouses and abundant plant and wildlife.

It’s best to use a bike, motor scooter or taxi to traverse Block Island. If you do, make sure to visit every publicly accessible nook and cranny of this fantastic island! Read more on Block Island here

Find a place to stay at Block Island. When landing on the page, click “Price lowest” to find great deals on Block Island hotels.

The Cliff Walk, Newport, Rhode IslandAquidneck Island (Rhode Island)

Most people have never heard of Aquidneck Island. You’ve surely heard of Newport, however, and that is the main travel draw to Aquidneck Island. This busy island in Narragansett Bay looks more like part of the mainland from some perspectives but the coastal beauty of the area ultimately overrides everything else. Clearly, Newport is the main place to visit. It’s an absolutely fascinating little city that looks more like a town. The scenic splendor of The Cliff Walk, Ocean Drive, Easton’s Beach and Fort Adams State Park surely have a place in “the best of New England travel” memory book. Of course, the spectacular gilded age mansions are a must-visit.

Thames Street in Newport, Rhode Island.

Thames St.

The downtown bustles with several blocks of shopping, dining and lodging. It’s all pleasant, though, and not one of those phony, contrived tourist destinations. Thames St. offers different looks from its cobblestone street in the heart of the downtown to a more Bohemian, funky shopping and dining district that goes on longer than expected. For seasonal events, The Newport Jazz Festival, held in August, has gained international status through the years headlining famous and up-and-coming jazz musicians. Held at Fort Adams State Park and the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the Newport Jazz Festival  is known as the “granddaddy of American Music Festivals.”

If you have any doubts that this is one of the best islands in New England, here’s some proof to refute that: The Readers of Condé Nast Traveler once named Aquidneck Island as the sixth-best island in the United States. More good news: Newport is a great destination for all four seasons. The many residential neighborhoods, year-round hotels and relatively better weather than northern New England help keep the city thriving 12 months a year!

Read more on Newport

Find a place to stay at Newport. When landing on the page, click “Price lowest” to find great deals on Newport hotels.

Cadillac Mountain at Mt. Desert Island, Maine.

Cadillac Mountain at Mt. Desert Island, Maine.

 

Mount Desert Island, Maine

Mt. Desert Island is the farthest away for most people in relation to the islands mentioned in this story but arguably the best of them all. With an unusual, unforgettable mix of ocean and mountains, Mt. Desert Island thrills at virtually every step of the way. Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor stand as the most popular destinations on Mt. Desert Island. Acadia is best known for the 26-mile Loop Road. Beginning at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center (near Route 3 on the northern side of the island), the Loop Road spectacularly connects the lakes, mountains, forests and rocky coast. Driving through and seeing all the sights fulfills the experience quite well but better to get out of the car and do some walking, hiking or sunning at the beach.

Sand Beach at Acadia National Park, Mt. Desert Island, Maine.

Sand Beach.

Bar Harbor is Mt. Desert Island’s commercial center. The downtown offers a nice mix of water views, shops, restaurants and places to stay. Bar Harbor can get a bit busy in the summer but it’s all so nice and interesting that any overcrowdedness doesn’t matter that much. If looking for more quiet places to stay at Mt. Desert Island, try Southwest harbor or Northeast Harbor. Both communities represent small-town America and have quaint downtown districts, made that much better by nearby water views.

Some highly recommended stops along the way: Sand Beach, Cadillac Mountain and Jordan Pond.

Read more about Mt. Desert Island

Find a place to stay in Bar Harbor. When landing on the page, click “Price lowest” to find great deals on Bar Harbor hotels.

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Where to enjoy island life in New England...

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