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.

nantucket daffodils

Photo by Mark Wilson/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The blooming of spring flowers is the ultimate release from the misery of New England winter, but few communities lean into this seasonal awakening like Nantucket. Starting in 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) has brought islanders and visitors together to celebrate the arrival of spring. The island’s streets are liberally decorated with freshly harvested daffodils as festival goers enjoy floral parades, picnics, and parties about town. Now in its 46th year, after two festival cancellations due to the pandemic, the Nantucket Daffodil Festival is coming back in full blossoming glory, and there’s still time to make plans for experiencing this one-of-a-kind showcase of Cape Cod ecology. Throw in a night at a seaside B&B, nourishing cooking, and lingering detours through coastal gardens, and it’s a road trip! Note: We’ve set this up for a Friday departure, but if you can make it to Hyannis by 8 a.m. for a ferry on Saturday, you’ll still be able to enjoy most of the festivities.

BOSTON > NANTUCKET: 72 miles driving, 1.5 hour (plus 1-2 hour ferry)

The festivities kick off on a Friday evening with the Flower Power Party at the Nantucket Whaling Museum (6 p.m.-8:30 p.m.) where guests win prizes for the best “blooming” outfits while enjoying hearty hors d’oeuvres and flower displays beside the whale skeletons and harpoons.

The Nantucket ferries run by the Steamship Authority and Hy-Line Cruises depart several times each day—with their latest 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 be a savvy option too, especially if you’re game for exploring the little island on foot and by bicycle (bike rentals are available on the island from the Nantucket Bike Shop and Young’s Bicycle Store.)

DOWNTOWN NANTUCKET: 1-3 miles driving, walking, or cycling

Wake up—or drop off your bags—at your chosen Nantucket basecamp. 21 Broad offers elegant urban digs and a lush outdoor deck with a fire pit, while the Cliff Lodge Bed & Breakfast pairs classic yankee decor with fresh-baked pastries each morning. Both joints are less than one mile from Centre Street and Children’s Beach, where the fest shifts into high gear Saturday morning.

Try your hand at designing a dazzling floral headpiece at the Daffodil Festival Hat Pageant at 10 a.m. (held by the Children’s Beach bandstand.) Next, zip over to Centre Street and nab a good viewing spot for the antique car and motorcycle parade, which begins at noon and features vehicles lavishly draped with daffodils. Paired with the yellowing buds on the trees downtown, it’s an explosion of spring color as the jalopies and choppers journey to ‘Sconset fishing village for a tailgate picnic. But before following the feasting masses, take a brief detour back to Children’s Beach for the Daffy Dog Parade (starting at 12:45 p.m.) in which leashed pooches decked out in flowering costumes traverse the sands, being good sports and earning their afternoon treats.

EXPLORE NANTUCKET: 3-17 miles driving, walking, or cycling

Pick up a hearty lobster salad sandwich at Something Natural or a spicy ahi tuna bowl from Island Kitchen and drive or pedal over to ‘Sconset to behold the tailgate picnic. Or leave the madding crowd behind and set forth into the windy, briny expanse of Nantucket for an intimate afternoon of poking around the island’s forests, beaches, and salt marshes. 35 miles of bike paths spiderweb across the island, putting destinations such as Madaket Beach, Triple Eight Distillery, and the ‘Sconset Bluff Walk within reach. And while you’ll notice bright daffodils blooming across the island, the finest curated showcase of Nantucket’s definitive spring flower goes down inside the greenhouses at Bartlett’s Farm, where the Nantucket Garden Club (the festival’s founders) will arrange an ocean of daffodils under the theme of “Island Treasures.”

Dinner reservations are a must this weekend—try Dune for farm-raised New American fare, or Company of the Cauldron for fresh-caught seafood with French flair. But leave some room for a dreamy sunset stroll over to Brant Point Lighthouse, which overlooks the sheltered harbor of Nantucket (it should be sporting a wreath of daffodils, like other local landmarks.) Who knows? You might just have the secluded beach at Brant Point to yourself if you go there around dusk.

NANTUCKET > FALMOUTH > BOSTON: 101 miles driving, 2.5 hours (plus 1-2 hour ferry ride)

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

From Hyannis port, drive 20 minutes west to the Trustees’ Lowell Holly Reservation and experience another dimension of Cape Cod flora as you admire rhododendrons, mountain laurel, and American Holly trees from wandering paths. Continue southwest to Falmouth for another 25 minutes and lose yourself amid 400 acres of gardens and conservation lands at Highfield Hall and Gardens, a restored Victorian estate once inhabited by Boston blue-bloods. And bear in mind, April isn’t just the dawn of flower season along the Cape. In several locales, it marks the return of fried clam season too. So grab a heaping order of the crispy golden whole bellied morsels from Seafood Sam’s, take your lunch to the quiet sands of Old Silver Beach, and as you munch away, imagine the sunburnt hordes that will follow in your footsteps in June.