Most major carriers offer service to Boston's Logan Airport, and from there it's a quick half-hour commuter flight on Cape Air to Hyannis or Provincetown (about $220 round-trip), or the islands (to Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket, about $350 round-trip).
It's also easy to shuttle in from New York's LaGuardia Airport. Nonstop flights from either LaGuardia or Newark to Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket take about 1 hour and 15 minutes and cost around $500. Connections are also available between these airports and New Bedford, and private charters are easy to arrange.
Comparison-shopping can pay off, as preliminary research will help you find the best deal. For example, Continental offers a seasonal service from Newark Airport to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. US Airways services Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket from both Logan and LaGuardia. Cape Air is the only airline currently offering service from Logan Airport to Provincetown.
Among the larger airlines serving Logan Airport are American Airlines (tel. 800/433-7300), Continental (tel. 800/523-3273), Delta (tel. 800/221-1212), United (tel. 800/241-6522); and US Airways (tel. 800/428-4322).
Cape Cod’s main airport, Barnstable Municipal Airport, is in the Mid-Cape town of Hyannis. Flights from New York City via Jet Blue take about an hour; from Boston’s Logan Airport it’s even quicker, half an hour. Cape Air flies from Boston, while Nantucket Airlines (www.nantucketairlines.com) flies back and forth to Nantucket Island (see chapter 7). Jet Blue and Cape Air also fly from Boston to Provincetown Municipal Airport, at the tip of the Cape; the trip takes about 30 minutes and costs $358 to $405 for a round-trip.
Flying to Nantucket from Hyannis takes about 20 minutes, depending on the weather; costs about $138 round-trip; and is a great way to avoid the hectic ferry scene. Island Airlines and Cape Air make the most frequent trips from Hyannis to Nantucket. These two air carriers alone operate more than 50 flights per day, and both offer charter flights.
The commuter flights have their own little fare wars, so it's worth comparing costs. And though flights may lessen in frequency during the off season, fares sometimes descend as well.
Getting into Town from the Airport -- Visitors to the Cape and islands who are flying into Boston's Logan Airport or T.F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, can rent a car and drive to Cape Cod in about 1 1/2 hours (from Boston) or an hour (from Providence). Driving maps are generally available at car rental locations.
The major route from Boston's Logan Airport is I-93 S. to Route 3, which ends at the Sagamore Bridge. The Sagamore Bridge is best used to access all the Cape towns and the island of Nantucket, but not Falmouth or the island of Martha's Vineyard. For those destinations, plus parts of Bourne, the best route from Logan Airport is I-93 to Route 24 to I-495, which turns into Route 25 near the Bourne Bridge.
From Providence, Rhode Island, take I-195 all the way to Route 25 and the Bourne Bridge.
The average visitor to Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket won't need a car, but some rent cars or jeeps in order to drive on certain beaches.
From Boston, Peter Pan Bus Lines stops in Bourne, Falmouth, Woods Hole, and Hyannis. It’s about a 1 1/2-hour trip from Boston’s South Station to Falmouth (one-way adult fare $31). Frequent Plymouth & Brockton buses from Boston stop at Sagamore, Barnstable, and Hyannis; changes buses at Hyannis to get to several Lower Cape towns en route to Provincetown. It takes 1 3/4 hours from South Station to Hyannis (one-way adult fare $21).
Greyhound buses (www.greyhound.com) from New York City to Hyannis cost $34 to $61 and take anywhere from 6[bf]3/4 hours to 9 hours; service continues on to Provincetown, which takes over 9 hours but costs as little as $25.
From Logan to Hyannis takes about 2 hours on the P&B; to Provincetown it's about 3 1/2 hours (including the transfer in Hyannis).
The proliferation of cheap intercity bus services in the Northeast (Bolt Bus; Megabus; and various Chinatown bus companies) means that you can catch a bus from almost every major city in the Northeast to Boston, sometimes for as little as $15, and from there pick up the P&B to the Cape.
The fare from Logan to Provincetown on P&B is $63 round-trip, $35 one-way; it's $52 round-trip and $29 one-way from South Station in Boston. To Hyannis it's $45 round-trip from Logan, $25 one-way; $34 from South Street Station round-trip, and $17 one-way.
Note: If you plan to catch a ferry, don't count on the bus arriving on time (there's no telling what the traffic may do). Plan to take the second-to-last ferry of the day, so you have a backup -- and even so, schedule your arrival with an hour to spare.
Visitors from the south (New York, for example) will approach the Cape Cod Canal via I-95 to I-195 to Route 25 and over the Bourne Bridge. There are two routes to Cape Cod: from Boston and the South Shore via Route 3; and from everywhere else via I-495 or coastal I-195, which both feed into Route 25 for the last few miles. Route 3 crosses into Cape Cod via the Sagamore Bridge; Route 25 enters over the Bourne Bridge. Traffic at both bridges slows to a hellish crawl (if that fast) at the start and end of every summer weekend. You’ve been warned.
The bridges are only 3 miles apart, with connecting roads on both sides of the canal, so either bridge will do. The best option will depend on where you're going. If you're planning to head south to Falmouth or take a ferry to Martha's Vineyard, you'll want to take the Bourne Bridge and follow Route 28 about 10 miles to Falmouth. If you're heading farther east of the Sagamore Bridge to any of the other 14 towns on the Cape or to Nantucket, you'll want to travel over the Sagamore Bridge and take Route 6 or its scenic sidekick, the meandering Route 6A, which merges with Route 28 in Orleans. From Orleans the main road is Route 6 all the way to Provincetown.
Those traveling to Nantucket should take the Sagamore Bridge and drive down Route 6 until reaching exit 7. From there you can follow signs to one of the two ferry terminals (Steamship Authority or Hy-Line), both on Hyannis Inner Harbor.
The big challenge, actually, is getting over either bridge, especially on summer weekends, when upward of 100,000 cars all try to cross at once. Savvy residents avoid at all costs driving onto the Cape on Friday afternoon or joining the mass exodus on Sunday (or Mon, in the case of a holiday weekend), and you'd be wise to follow suit. Call SmarTraveler (tel. 617/374-1234, or cellular *1) for up-to-the-minute news on congestion and alternate routes, as well as parking availability in the pay-per-night parking lots that serve the island ferries.
Traffic can throw a major monkey wrench into these projections, but on average, driving time from New York to Hyannis is 5 hours (with no traffic) to 7 hours; and to drive from Boston to Hyannis is 1 1/2 to 2 hours. It'll take about a half hour to 45 minutes more to drive all the way to Provincetown.
Traffic can be a nightmare on peak weekends. Cars are enough of a bother on the Cape itself: If you're not planning to cover much ground, forego the "convenience" and rent a bike instead (some B&Bs offer "loaners"). On the islands, cars are superfluous. Cars are expensive to ferry back and forth ($200 one-way to Nantucket in season, and that's if you manage to make a reservation months, even a year, in advance or are willing to sit in "standby" for many hours). They'll also prove a nuisance in the crowded port towns, where urban-style gridlock is not uncommon. Should you change your mind and decide to go motoring once you arrive, you can rent a car or jeep (for off-roading) on the islands for less than the cost of bringing your own vehicle over.
If you do come by car, have a mechanic check it out beforehand. If you're a member of the American Automobile Association (AAA; tel. 800/222-4357) or another national auto club, call beforehand to ask about travel insurance, towing services, free trip planning, and other services that may be available.
For listings of the national car rental agencies with branches on Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket,
International visitors should note that insurance and taxes are almost never included in quoted rental car rates in the U.S. Be sure to ask your rental agency about additional fees for these, as they can add a significant cost to your car rental.
Many rental car agencies require drivers to be 25 years old. Drivers between 21 to 25 years of age will pay an additional daily "age differential" fee.
Fuel Costs -- The cost of U.S. gasoline (also known as gas, but never petrol), varies widely. Cape Cod has some of the highest prices in the country, swinging up in recent years to $4 per gallon -- and even higher on the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Taxes are already included in the posted price. One U.S. gallon equals 3.8 liters or .85 imperial gallons. Fill-up locations are known as gas or service stations.
A Word About Traffic -- Cape Cod traffic is nothing if not predictable. You do not want to be driving over the Bourne or Sagamore bridges onto the Cape on a summer Friday between 4 and 8pm. Saturday between 10am and 3pm is an equally bad time to arrive. Most of all, you do not want to try to get off the Cape on a Sunday or a holiday Monday between 2 and 8pm, when traffic can back up nearly 20 miles from the Sagamore Bridge. If you find yourself in one of the infamous Cape Cod traffic jams, there are options. Here are my personal traffic-beating tips.
1. The Bourne Bridge is almost always a less crowded route than the Sagamore Bridge. You can connect to Route 6 from the Bourne Bridge via the canal road, or see number 3 below.
2. When heading off the Cape on Route 6, turn off at exit 5. Take Route 149 south to Route 28. At the Mashpee Rotary, take Route 151 to Route 28 in North Falmouth. Take Route 28 to the Bourne Bridge.
3. To get onto the Cape to points east of Yarmouth, follow step 2 above in reverse.
4. If you are traveling to Nantucket and plan to park your car in Hyannis, watch the signs on Route 6 to see which parking lot is open. If the Brooks Road lot is open, there is no need to drive all the way to the ferry terminal. Instead you will park your car at the lot, which is off Route 28, and take a free shuttle bus to the terminal. Knowing in advance which lot you will park in will save you a lot of time in the long run.
5. If you are heading to Martha's Vineyard from points south, such as New York or Connecticut, consider taking a passenger ferry from Rhode Island or New Bedford. Otherwise be alert to the signs on Route 28 about parking lots. These signs are accurate. If they say the lot is full in Woods Hole, you will not be allowed to park there, so don't bother driving down to check it out. Follow the signs to the open parking lots, and a free shuttle bus will take you to the ferry.
Launched in 2013, the Cape Flyer (tel. 508/775-8504) train runs summer weekend service to Hyannis from Boston; the trip from South Station to Hyannis takes 2 hours and 20 minutes, and costs $22 one-way, $40 round-trip; kids 11 and under ride free, seniors pay half-price. The sleek trains have free Wi-Fi and a cafe car, and passengers can bring bikes and pets on board for free.
Arriving by water to Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, or even Provincetown gives you a chance to decompress from city worries, while taking in glorious views both coming and going. All the ferries are equipped to carry bikes, for about $12 round-trip.
From mid-May to Labor Day, Bay State Cruises runs high-speed (90 min.) and conventional (3 hr.) ferries from Boston to Provincetown; a one-way adult fare is $60 to $63 for the fast ferry, $30 for the regular ferry. Boston Harbor Cruises also operates a 90-minute fast ferry service from Boston to Provincetown; the one-way adult fare is $61, round-trip $93. Reservations are a must on this popular boat.
To Martha's Vineyard -- The three "down-island" ports of Martha's Vineyard are hooked up to the Cape and mainland in various ways. Oak Bluffs has the busiest harbor in season. It's served by the Hy-Line from Hyannis or Nantucket (tel. 800/492-8082), the Island Queen from Falmouth Harbor (tel. 508/548-4800), and the state-run Steamship Authority car ferry from Woods Hole (tel. 508/477-8600).
Edgartown is serviced by the Falmouth Ferry Service, a passengers-only ferry called the Pied Piper (tel. 508/548-9400), which leaves from the west side of Falmouth Harbor and makes a 1-hour crossing (six crossings a day in season). It costs about twice as much as the other ferries to the Vineyard. Vineyard Haven welcomes Steamship Authority car and passenger ferries from Woods Hole year-round (more than 20 crossings a day on weekends in season). If you want to bring your car, you'll need a reservation (tel. 508/477-8600), although limited standby space is available for those willing to wait around, except during peak-demand stretches in summer. Car-free passengers do not need a reservation.
From Falmouth, the Island Queen makes the quickest crossing, in about 35 minutes.
Round-trip fares from Falmouth or Woods Hole to Martha's Vineyard range from about $16 to $40, depending on the distance, and the round-trip rate for cars in season is $135 to $155. Parking costs $12 to $30 per day, depending on the ferry company. Including all of the ferry services, there are dozens of crossings a day from the Cape to the Vineyard in summer.
Hy-Line runs a year-round high-speed ferry to Martha's Vineyard from Hyannis in 55 minutes. In season there are five trips a day, and the round-trip fare is $71 for adults and $48 for children. The traditional ferry makes the trip in season only once per day, takes 1 hour 35 minutes, and costs $45 for adults for round-trip tickets. Children 12 and under are free.
From New Bedford, Massachusetts, the fast ferry MV Seastreak travels to Martha's Vineyard in 1 hour. It makes six trips a day in season, 7 days a week. A ticket costs $70 round-trip for adults; $40 round-trip for children 12 and under; and $62 round-trip for seniors. Contact New England Fast Ferry for details (tel. 866/683-3779).
From North Kingstown, Rhode Island, to Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard, the company Vineyard Fast Ferry runs its high-speed catamaran, Millennium, two to three round-trips daily from mid-June through October. The trip takes 90 minutes. Rates are $81 round-trip for adults, $57 round-trip for children 4 to 12. The ferry service can also set up shuttle service between Providence Airport or the nearest Amtrak station and the ferry terminal starting at $18 each way. Reservations for the ferry and/or the shuttle can be made by calling tel. 401/295-4040 or visiting their website at www.vineyardfastferry.com.
To Nantucket -- Two competing high-speed ferries shuttle between Nantucket and Hyannis; both are passengers-only and take 1 hour. The MV Grey Lady, Hy-Line's high-speed catamaran, costs $75 round-trip, $39 one-way for adults; $51 round-trip, $29 one-way for children (tel. 800/492-8082).
The Steamship Authority runs its own high-speed catamaran, the Iyanough, which costs $67 round-trip for adults and $34 round-trip for children (tel. 508/477-8600).
Both the Steamship Authority and Hy-Line also run slow ferries (2 1/4 hr.) to Nantucket. The Steamship Authority charges $33 round-trip, and Hy-Line charges $43 round-trip. Incidentally, transporting a car costs an astronomical $400 round-trip in season -- which makes it pretty silly to bring a car when you consider that the island is only 3 miles wide and 15 miles end to end. A bike (bring your own or rent on-island) will more than suffice.
Ferries also travel to Nantucket from Harwich Port by the Freedom Cruise Line (tel. 508/432-8999), which makes three trips a day in season and one trip a day in spring and fall. It costs $74 round-trip for adults, $51 for children.
Certain frenzy usually accompanies the ferry departures, but if you arrive about an hour early, you should have plenty of time to drop off your luggage at the pier beforehand, so you won't have to lug it around. Call SmarTraveler or listen to radio station 1610 AM to find out what's up and whether traffic is clogged. The Steamship Authority boats offer a luggage trolley, which often fills to capacity a half-hour or more before departure, so it pays to get there early. The Hy-Line staff cheerfully attends to all the loading of luggage and bikes. It's a lot less hassle.
Note: See the note on bus-ferry connections under "By Bus," above. The same holds true for return journeys: Ferry arrival times tend to be more reliable, but give yourself plenty of time, and don't take a chance on the last bus of the day.
Travel Times to Cape Cod & the Islands
New York to Hyannis (by bus or car) 5-7 hours, depending on traffic
Boston to Hyannis 1 1/2 hours, with no traffic
Sagamore Bridge to Orleans 45 minutes off season; up to 2 hours high season
Sagamore Bridge to Provincetown 1 1/4 hours, with little traffic
Hyannis to Sagamore Bridge 30 minutes; Sunday afternoons in season, 2 hours
Bourne Bridge to Woods Hole 35 minutes; Friday afternoons in season, 1 1/4 hours
Hyannis to Nantucket by plane 20 minutes
Hyannis to Nantucket by Steamship Authority or Hy-Line high-speed catamaran 1 hour
Hyannis to Nantucket by slow Steamship Authority or Hy-Line ferries 2 1/4 hours
Woods Hole to Martha's Vineyard aboard the Steamship Authority ferries 45 minutes
Falmouth to Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, aboard the Pied Piper 1 hour
Falmouth to Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard, aboard the Island Queen 35 minutes
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.