A Printable, Downloadable, PDF version of this itinerary is available for purchase. Includes Places to Stay in proximity.
ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:
Travel south from Boston-to the coastal villages and fishing harbors of Cape Cod, out to the enticing islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, on to the gracious mansions of Newport-and back to Boston. Along the way, you have ample opportunities for antiquing, and you’ll come to love the weathered architecture that gave its name to the “Cape” style of building. The north shore of the Cape along Route 6A is my favorite. It’s much quieter, less populated, and much less commercial than the towns along Route 28 to the south, and there is a real sense of community here. In the warm months, flower gardens thrive on Cape Cod, especially roses, which seem almost to engulf the houses in early June.
Recommended Pacing: This itinerary can be comfortably followed in its entirety in six or seven nights, though you can, of course, adapt it to fit your individual interests. On day one, head south along the coastal route, visit Hingham, Duxbury, Plymouth, and stay overnight in Duxbury. On day two, cross the Sagamore Bridge and stay overnight in Sandwich. On day three, drive along the north side of Cape Cod to the Cape Cod National Seashore and the artist community of Provincetown, spending the night in Orleans, Eastham, or Chatham. Day four takes you south along the coast to Hyannis, where you take the ferry or fly to the islands of Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. One day (minimum) on each of these islands provides time to see the villages and to absorb the culture of the seafarers who arrived as early as the 18th century. On day six, a flight or boat trip back to Hyannis and a drive to Newport, Rhode Island provide an opportunity to see the grand summer cottages of the “rich and famous” residents, built in the first quarter of the 19th century. Spend the night in Newport, and then a second night, if your interest in touring the mansions of Newport has absorbed an entire day. From Newport, head north back to Boston, stopping off en route to explore Providence, the capital of Rhode Island.
The Cape Cod Canal is only an hour’s drive from Boston if you take the Southeast Expressway out of Boston and pick up Route 3 to the Cape. The bridge onto Cape Cod can also can be reached via the winding Route 3A, a slower road, which takes you through the coastal communities whose history and charm will make their way into your heart. (Note that the towns located along the 3A and Cape Cod are best and most easily visited outside commuter hours.) From Boston, follow signs onto the Southeast Expressway (I-93) to Quincy; and then take either the faster Route 3, or the more leisurely Route 3A, to the Sagamore Bridge and the beginning of the Cape.
On Route 3A, the towns of Quincy, Cohasset, Duxbury, and Plymouth are quaint: their main streets have been traveled for the last two centuries by horse, carriage, and now sport utility vehicle. Quincy, previously referred to as Braintree, was the birthplace of John Adams, our second president, and his son, John Quincy Adams who served as our country’s sixth president. What was their birth home, as well as a home purchased later that was much grander and more appropriate to his station in life, are now part of the National Park Service. It’s worthwhile to stop in Plymouth at the historical sites of Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims first landed and see the replica of Mayflower II, the ship that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth in 1620, and Burial Hill, the graveyard where many of the first settlers are buried. It is interesting to note that the fear of Indians at the time was so great that in order to disguise their dwindling numbers, settlers were buried in the dark of the night. The last gravestone dates to 1620. Take a stroll down Leyden Street, the oldest street in New England, and look across to Clark’s Island, where the sick were once quarantined. Handsome, old homes still line the street, seemingly very little has changed from days gone by. You can almost envision someone walking down the street with a lantern, signaling the island that the mail and supplies are on the way, and to meet the boat at the halfway point. There are two museums, the Mayflower Society Museum and the Pilgrim Hall Museum.
Located three miles north of town on the Plymouth waterfront, the Plimouth Plantation is an absolutely incredible, living history museum that is a “must-see” and warrants no less than a half-day’s visit. A re-creation of a 1627 Pilgrim village with homes, storehouses, animal pens, and fields planted for harvest stretch up the hillside from the water’s edge and also includes the neighboring Wampanoag Indian community-Hobbamocks Homesite. To give you a perspective of time, the Mayflower landed seven years earlier than the date of this village, and Boston would not be founded for another three years after. If you have had an opportunity to visit Sturbridge or Williamsburg, they would not be settled for another 100 years. The docents that live and work at Plimoth Plantation are not just day actors, but rather, termed Time Travelers, who have dedicated years to studying a particular character. Admission to Plimoth Plantation is to experience their world. Talk with them about their passage, their hardships, their battles, their joy, and their lives. I promise you will believe you have traveled back in time. Note: It is possible to purchase an admission ticket valid for the Plantation, the Homesite and the Mayflower II. For more information, visit www.plimoth.org.
The Sagamore Bridge spans the Cape Cod Canal, which is used by shipping and pleasure craft to avoid circumnavigating the entire Cape on journeys between Boston and the coasts of Rhode Island, Connecticut, and states to the south. This is your entrance onto Cape Cod with its scenic character and unique charm. Almost immediately after crossing the bridge, exit Route 6 (the continuation of Route 3) onto Route 130, then 6A to the town of Sandwich, an excellent place to stop for the night (be sure to make advance reservations in season). The town is a charming one for wandering the streets and has two outstanding museums. The Sandwich Glass Museum (closed in January) displays the glass produced in Sandwich between 1825 and 1888-lamps, candlesticks, tiebacks, doorknobs, vases, and much more, which have become collectors’ treasures. The Heritage Plantation Museum, founded with the generous contributions of the Lily family, has collections of early-American historical artifacts and folk art. There are extensive collections of firearms, cars, as well as folk art and an old-fashioned carousel. On the museum’s grounds is an extensive rhododendron garden, which blooms each year from mid-May to mid-June-a “must” if you have an interest in gardening.
Leaving Sandwich, get onto Route 6A, the northern route along the upper coast of Cape Cod. It’s a delightful road to follow as it winds its way through the lovely, historical towns of Barnstable, Yarmouth Port, Dennis, and Brewster. These old seafaring communities with their lovely main streets, beautiful homes, and colorful harbors make for a wonderful day of browsing, antiquing, and for just absorbing the atmosphere of the Cape. Continuing north through the towns of Orleans and Eastham, you come to the Cape Cod National Seashore, where you can take a fabulous dunes tour from April through October-a perfect way to see the ever-changing face of the sand dunes of this portion of the Cape. Farther on, at the tip of the Cape, is the artist community of Provincetown. Chatham, protected by the sandy, offshore barrier of Nauset Beach, remains an active fishing port.
Head south and travel along the south shore of Cape Cod on Route 28, which brings you into the more commercial area of the Cape-more traffic, more shops, and more restaurants, but also many inns and places to visit. Hyannis is the major shopping center for Cape Cod’s residents and also the summer home of former president John F. Kennedy, where there is a small museum of photographs of the Kennedy family on summer vacations.
Before you return to the mainland, take the time to visit the enchanting islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Leave your car in the parking lot at any one of the various departure points (Hyannis, Woods Hole, Falmouth, or New Bedford) from which airplane or ferry services (but not necessarily both) are available. Some ferries are catamarans and make very fast trips. The frequency of both air and ferry service depends on the season and the weather (on the day I was to go to Nantucket, fog prevented me from flying and I ended up taking the one-hour ferry from Hyannis). You can fly to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard from Hyannis (the best and most frequent service), Providence, and Boston with Cape Air (800-352-0714), Island Airline (508-228-7575), and US Airways (800-428-4322). Ferries to Nantucket run from Hyannis (alternative departure points include Harwich Port and Martha’s Vineyard). Hy-Line (508-778-2600) has a one-hour, high-speed catamaran, and the Steamship Authority runs a high-speed catamaran and other boats that take somewhat longer (508-495-FAST).
Ferries to Martha’s Vineyard leave from Falmouth, Hyannis, Woods Hole, New Bedford, and Nantucket. I suggest that you ask the staff at the inn where you are planning to stay for their recommendation of the best and fastest routes.
The two offshore islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard were major whaling industry seaports from 1740 to 1830. The wealthy tradesmen who were associated with this very profitable venture built many of the magnificent homes along the streets of the seafaring ports of both islands.
Nantucket is perfect for exploring on foot or by bicycle (bicycles may easily be rented from one of the many shops near the ferry landing). The Nantucket Historical Association sells combination tickets to the historic houses and museums it manages, which include the Whaling Museum, the Old Mill (a 1746 windmill still being used to grind corn), Old Gaol (the original jail with its four cells), and the Oldest House on the island. Tickets are available at any of these locations. Along the town of Nantucket’s cobblestoned, elm-shaded Main Street are many shops, art galleries, and very good restaurants, the latter specializing in the locally caught seafood. Of particular note are the Three Bricks, three stately mansions built by a wealthy merchant for his three sons. Nantucket is one of my all-time favorite places-I have been there in the summer; I have enjoyed a vacation in a rented cottage in October; and I have spent a New Year’s weekend there. Each occasion was very special. Nantucket is simply one of those destinations whose ambiance and charm vary with the mood of the season-it is improved only by your having more time to spend there.
When it comes time to leave Nantucket, go on to Martha’s Vineyard by boat or by plane, or return to the mainland.
Martha’s Vineyard has a greater number of villages, so unless you are going to restrict your visit to the village where the ferry docks, you will either have to rent a car (my suggestion if you are planning to make more than just a brief visit) or take taxis to reach the various parts of the island. Of course, you can also rent a bicycle, but remember that the villages, which appear to be so close together on the map, are really several to many miles apart. If you fly to Martha’s Vineyard, you will need to rent a car since the airport is some distance from the island’s points of interest.
The ferry (from Wood’s Hole, Hyannis, Falmouth, or Nantucket) will bring you into one of the three principal townships on Martha’s Vineyard. Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown are distinctly different from one another, although they are all fishing villages. Vineyard Haven, the principal entry point to the Vineyard and a source of rental cars or bicycles for touring the island, has a group of shops and restaurants, but very quickly changes into a rural landscape stretching along the coast with homes built in the 19th century. There is particular charm in the settlement of Oak Bluffs, a meeting place for Methodists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Around the meeting ground and the tabernacle that was built for these religious gatherings, a colony of small, wooden cottages decorated with gingerbread (Victorian lace-like) trim were built and painted in wonderfully vivid colors. Edgartown was the seaport from which the whalers left to hunt the elusive whale, and the island’s mansions were built in this area. Be sure to visit Gay Head with its clay cliffs, which have stood high above the sea for the last 100 million years-their colors and majesty are memorable.
Returning either by boat or by plane to the mainland, drive west on Route 28 through Falmouth, picking up Route 25, which in turn connects to I-195. Look for the exit to Route 136 south and then Route 114 into Newport, Rhode Island. The homes built there in the 19th century for the wealthy to escape the oppressive summer heat of the south became the center of a social life never seen before or since. Today many of these homes are open to the public and tours give you a glimpse of the opulence of a bygone era. You can tour many of these homes. If you plan on visiting several, purchase a ticket that will allow you to visit two or eight of them. Among the “must-visit” mansions are: The Breakers, home of Cornelius Vanderbilt, The Marble House, built for William Vanderbilt, The Elms, and Rosecliff, used for the filming of The Great Gatsby. For details and tickets call 401-847-1000.
Take a bracing walk along the oceanfront, which hearkens the image of those halcyon days. This is a very special experience and you should plan to take an hour or several hours (perhaps as I did with a bottle of wine, some cheese, and a loaf of good bread) to enjoy this oceanfront path. With the ocean on one side and the fabulous homes on the other, this is a memorable experience. Today, many festivals take place in Newport including a music festival during the summer months.
Leaving Newport, head back north on Routes 114 and 136 to I-195 into Providence. With a concerned effort to bring back the ambiance of yesteryear, Providence is quickly becoming one of New England’s most popular cities because of its historical charm. This is the capital city of Rhode Island. Three rivers weave a course through the heart of town and segment the key districts: the university quarter, the business, convention center and mall, and the seat of government with its Capitol Building and State House. The educational institutions of Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design are located in a tree-shaded, residential neighborhood where there are many small cafés, bookstores, and little shops. At the Rhode Island School of Design, there is a museum with collections ranging from medieval to contemporary pieces; and in the nearby John Brown House, you can take a guided tour of this 18th-century brick museum with its fabulous collection of furniture belonging to the family. Business is the focus at the heart of town with the convention center, larger hotels, principal shopping mall and the Capitol Building dominating the northern hillside. If your visit falls on a weekend night in summer, you will be fortunate to experience Waterfire. A crowning tribute to Providence’s renaissance, Waterfire is a living sculpture. An award-winning creation by sculpturer, Barnaby Evans, Waterfire pays homage to the importance of fire in human civilization as depicted in Greek mythology. Volunteers, clad in black, act as fire tenders and ply the waters of the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck Rivers in boats named after the gods, traveling from one of the 42 braziers to the next, igniting the wood set in the sculptures, sparking bonfires that crackle above the water passage. With a backdrop of enchanting music and the aromatic fragrance of wood smoke, this is a hauntingly memorable experience.
Leaving Providence, drive north on I-95 to Route 128, the circumferential route around the city of Boston, and follow the signs to Boston. This is about an hour’s drive, unless you hit rush hour.
If you plan to connect with another of the itineraries in the southern part of New England, drive southwest from the Providence area on I-95 along the coast of Connecticut into the area of the Connecticut River Valley.