Catch an explosion of color on a road trip to the Nantucket Daffodil Festival

Beat the crowds by visiting the iconic vacation spot in April.

Photo by Mark Wilson/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Blooming spring flowers are the ultimate release from New England’s winter misery, but few communities lean into this seasonal awakening quite like Nantucket. From early April, millions of yellow daffodils transform the island into a painted landscape worthy of Monet, and for nearly half a century, the Nantucket Daffodil Festival (April 22-24) brought together islanders and visitors to celebrate the arrival of spring. The streets of the island are generously decorated with freshly harvested daffodils while festival-goers enjoy floral parades, picnics and town parties. Now in its 46th year, after two festival cancellations due to the pandemic, the Nantucket Daffodil Festival returns in full thriving glory, and there’s still time to make plans to experience this one-of-a-kind showcase of Cape ecology. Cod. Add a night in a seaside B&B, nourishing cuisine and extended detours through coastal gardens, and it’s a road trip! Note: We have scheduled a Friday departure, but if you can get to Hyannis before 8:00 a.m. for a Saturday ferry, you can still enjoy most of the festivities.

BOSTON > NANTUCKET: 72 miles by car, 1.5 hours (plus 1-2 hour ferry ride)

the festivities kicking off a Friday night with the Flower Power Party at the Nantucket Whaling Museum (6-8:30 p.m.) where guests win prizes for best “flower” outfits while enjoying hearty appetizers artwork and flower displays next to whale skeletons and harpoons.

Nantucket Ferries operated by the Steamship Authority and Hy Line Cruises depart several times a day—with their last boats leaving Hyannis at 8 p.m. and 8:50 p.m. respectively—and you can make reservations for peace of mind. But leaving your car in Hyannis can also be a smart option, especially if you’re up for exploring the tiny island on foot and by bike (bike rentals are available on the island at the Nantucket Bike Shop and Young’s Bicycle Store.)

DOWNTOWN NANTUCKET: 1-3 miles by car, foot or bike

Wake up or drop off your luggage at your chosen Nantucket Base Camp. 21 Wide offers sleek urban digs and a lush outdoor patio with a fire pit, while the Cliff Lodge Bed and Breakfast combines classic Yankee decor with freshly baked pastries every morning. Both joints are less than a mile from Center Street and children’s beachwhere the party kicks into high gear on Saturday morning.

Try your hand at designing a dazzling floral headpiece at the 10 a.m. Daffodil Festival Hat Contest (hosted by the Children’s Beach Bandstand.) Then, head to Center Street and find a good pick-up point. sight for the parade of vintage cars and motorcycles, which begins at noon and features vehicles richly draped in daffodils. Coupled with the yellowing buds of downtown trees, it’s a burst of springtime color as jalopies and helicopters head to the fishing village of Sconset for a tailgate picnic. But before you follow the festive masses, take a brief detour to Children’s Beach for the Daffy Dog Parade (from 12:45 p.m.) during which leashed pooches decked out in flowery costumes cross the sand, playing good sports and earning their treats the afternoon.

EXPLORE NANTUCKET: 3-17 miles by car, foot or bike

Get yourself a hearty lobster salad sandwich at something natural or a bowl of spicy ahi tuna from Island cuisine and drive or cycle to ‘Sconset to attend the tailgate picnic. Or leave the crowds behind and head out to the breezy, brackish expanse of Nantucket for an intimate afternoon rummaging through the island’s forests, beaches, and salt marshes. 35 km of cycle paths cobweb across the island, putting destinations such as Madaket Beach, Triple Eight Distilleryand the ‘Sconset Bluff Walk at hand. And while you’ll notice bright daffodils in bloom across the island, the finest curated showcase of Nantucket’s definitive spring flower descends inside the greenhouses at Bartlett’s Farmwhere the Nantucket Garden Club (the founders of the festival) will organize an ocean of daffodils under the theme “Island Treasures”.

Dinner reservations are a must this weekend – try Dunes for farmed New American dishes, or Cauldron Company for freshly caught seafood with a French twist. But leave room for a dreamy walk at sunset Point Brant Lighthouse, which overlooks Nantucket’s sheltered harbor (it should sport a wreath of daffodils, like other local landmarks.) Who knows? You might have secluded Brant Point Beach to yourself if you go at dusk.

NANTUCKET > FALMOUTH > BOSTON: 100 miles by car, 2.5 hours (plus 1-2 hour ferry ride)

When you light up the next morning with a macchiato at Cafe Handlebar, consider avoiding the mass exodus from Nantucket by taking a midday ferry to Hyannis. You’ll still have time to shop for flowers and homemade treats at the Daffodil Festival Bazaar on Main Street (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), but leaving the island before late afternoon will make the return trip less hectic. And coming back to the mainland doesn’t mean your floral weekend is over.

From Hyannis Port, drive 20 minutes west to Administrator Lowell Holly Reservation and see another dimension of Cape Cod flora as you admire rhododendrons, mountain laurels, and American hollies from wandering trails. Continue southwest to Falmouth for another 25 minutes and lose yourself among 400 acres of gardens and conservation lands at Highfield Hall and Gardens, a restored Victorian estate once inhabited by Boston Blue Bloods. And keep in mind that April isn’t just the dawn of flower season along the Cape. In many places, it also marks the return of fried clam season. So grab a big order of crispy golden bites from Sam’s with seafoodtake your lunch to the quiet sands of Old Silver Beach and, as you snack, imagine the sunburnt hordes that will follow in your footsteps in June.


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