The idyllic Cape Cod vacation guide, MA

  • Post last modified:September 6, 2023
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A Cape Cod vacation lets you explore mile after mile of untouched Atlantic coastline. Far away from the hustle and bustle, the historic seaside towns of Cape Cod look like they always have. On the idyllic Massachusetts peninsula, it sometimes feels like the time stands still. Without any distractions, a vacation in Cape Cod is a great recipe for inspiration.

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Cape Cod vacation guide

What to expect when visiting Cape Cod

Cape Cod, also known as just the Cape, stretches out into the Atlantic Ocean from the southeastern corner of Massachusetts. In a heavily populated area of the United States, just roughly an hour from Boston, the peninsula has managed to remain untouched.

Above all, it’s the peaceful and friendly ambience that defines a Cape Cod vacation. As soon as you cross Cape Cod Canal from the mainland, you start to feel recharged.

Everywhere from the base of the peninsula to the Outer Cape tip, there’s stunning Atlantic surroundings to admire. However, Cape Cod National Seashore is the part that best captures the timeless landscape on the peninsula.

In addition to the Atlantic nature, the peninsula’s historic seaside towns add a dimension when you vacation in Cape Cod. Among the 15 welcoming Cape Cod towns, it’s incredibly hard to pick a favorite.

Cape Cod National Seashore, MA
Welcome to Cape Cod.

Cape Cod areas and towns

Cape Cod is divided into four areas: Upper Cape, Mid Cape, Lower Cape and Outer Cape. The Upper Cape is the area located closest to the mainland, and the Outer Cape is the part furthest away. Together the peninsula’s areas are home to 15 charming seaside towns to get to know on your Cape Cod vacation.

Upper Cape

In the very western part of Cape Cod, you find the bridge connections to the Massachusetts mainland. The towns Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth and Mashpee are located in the Upper Cape.

Most notably the Upper Cape and Falmouth is where you find the quickest ferry connection to Martha’s Vineyard. With a travel time of just 35 minutes across the Vineyard Sound, the nearby island is within very easy reach on a Cape Cod vacation.

  • Upper Cape towns: Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth & Mashpee.

Mid Cape

In order from the mainland, the Mid Cape is the second part of Cape Cod. The Mid Cape towns include Dennis, Yarmouth and Cape Cod’s biggest town Barnstable.

Cape Cod’s most populated town is home to the historically interesting JFK Musuem. From Barnstable high-speed ferries also take you to Nantucket in only roughly an hour.

  • Mid Cape towns: Dennis, Yarmouth & Barnstable.

Lower Cape

Further from the mainland, across Bass River, the Lower Cape is the third Cape Cod area to get to know. The towns in the Lower Cape are Orleans, Brewster, Harwich and Chatham.

The Lower Cape is both central and offers easy access to the biggest natural gem in Cape Cod. From the towns in the Lower Cape, you effortlessly reach the impressive Cape Cod National Seashore.

  • Lower Cape towns: Orleans, Brewster, Harwich & Chatham.

Outer Cape

If you want a secluded vacation in Cape Cod, there’s no better location than the Outer Cape. In the remote area furthest from the mainland, the Cape Cod towns Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown are located.

Above all the Outer Cape area is home to the celebrated Cape Cod National Seashore. But Wellfleet is also where you find the peninsula’s iconic drive-in theater, and Provincetown offers a surprising liveliness.

  • Outer Cape towns: Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro & Provincetown.
Beach and waving American flag in Chatham on Cape Cod
Chatham in the Lower Cape.

The best things to do in Cape Cod

From the beaches to the history, it’s easy to find inspiration when you take a Cape Cod vacation. The best things to do in Cape Cod are like balsam for your soul.

Hit the Cape Cod beaches

With 560 miles (901 km) of coastline, there’s no shortage of incredible beaches to visit when you vacation in Cape Cod. On Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, there are beaches for every traveler.

Often the Cape Cod beaches on the Atlantic Ocean are mentioned among the very best beaches in America. Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, Nauset Beach in Orleans and Race Point Beach in Provincetown are Cape Cod attractions of the highest level.

Although the Cape Cod Bay beaches don’t get the same attention, they offer a welcome contrast. The Cape Cod Bay is perfect if you like the idea of a more protected environment than the open Atlantic coastline.

Cape Cod boardwalk, MA
Sunny Cape Cod boardwalk.

Find peace at Cape Cod National Seashore

Cape Cod National Seashore extends for roughly 40 miles (64 km) along the peninsula’s eastern coast. The area of flawless Cape Cod shoreline including woods, ponds and beaches is known as one of the most stunning stretches of the entire Atlantic coast.

When you visit on a Cape Cod vacation, the area appears to have frozen in time. The presence of endless sand dunes, powerful waves and playful seals showcases the untouchedness that Cape Cod offers.

The wild environment of Cape Cod National Seashore makes a visit one of the best things to do in Cape Cod. It’s easy to find a visit inspirational no matter if you hike, bike or just hang out on the dunes.

Cape Cod National Seashore is also a highlight on the Cape Cod itinerary around the year. Although colder, the unique Cape Cod National Seashore is certainly as impressive a crisp day of winter as a hot day of summer.

Cape Cod National Seashore, MA
The wild Cape Cod National Seashore.

Explore the legacy of JFK

The educational JFK Museum is the perfect opportunity to learn about the legacy of one of the most celebrated US presidents ever. At the museum in the heart of Hyannis, you get to walk in the steps of John F. Kennedy on your Cape Cod vacation.

During his days, the former US president used to frequent the shores of Cape Cod. In the peaceful setting on the sandy peninsula, he could unwind with family and close friends.

At the Hyannis museum you can indulge in the history of the former president. Highlights as you explore the life of JFK, with a focus on his Cape Cod years, include intimate photographs not published anywhere else.

With such an historically important story to tell, it’s easy to see why the museum is one of the most popular attractions in Cape Cod. The JFK Museum is nicely set up and certainly a must on the Cape Cod itinerary for history buffs.

Enjoy movies under the stars

In the Outer Cape area, the peninsula provides the perfect scene for movie hungry visitors. Without question the most classic way to enjoy a movie when you vacation in Cape Cod is the Wellfleet drive-in theater.

The venue from 1957 looks just like it did back in the glory days of drive-in theaters. It’s hard not to be nostalgic when you see the large outdoor screen, designated parking area and cute concession stand at the iconic Cape Cod attraction.

Movies under the stars is a proud Cape Cod summer tradition, and one of the best things to do in Cape Cod for the whole family. A movie, tasty snacks and the old time vibe is an experience that people of all ages can enjoy together.

Far away from the rushed everyday life, the drive-in movies include a traditional snack break. The intermission offers the perfect time for a refill or to stretch your legs. At the timeless venue, you also just might have to double-check on the movie ticket what year it really is.

Cape Cod drive-in theatre in Wellfleet
A proud Cape Cod summer tradition.

Cape Cod wildlife viewing

The untouched landscape in Cape Cod is enjoyed by all kinds of wildlife. In particular, more than 450 animal species call Cape Cod National Seashore their home.

A highlight on a trip to Cape Cod is to observe the seals that inhabit the Cape Cod waters. Often when you walk along the serene Cape Cod beaches, you can spot them in the water.

Another fascinating wildlife activity to participate in as you vacation in Cape Cod is whale watching. Whalewatcher cruises depart from Provincetown, offering remarkable views of those huge marine mammals.

Cape Cod wildlife viewing, MA
Jumping whale in the Cape Cod waters.

Wake up at an idyllic New England hotel

The best way to begin a day on a Cape Cod trip is to jump out of your bed at one of the many charming and historic Cape Cod inns. With accommodations that goes hand in hand with the serene setting, you make the most of your Cape Cod vacation.

All over the peninsula you find delightful inns ready to make your Cape Cod trip extra memorable. At the genuine and often smaller properties, you find the warm and peaceful ambience that you associate with Cape Cod and New England.

A prime choice for a quintessential Cape Cod stay is Chatham’s Old Harbor Inn. Everything from the facade and the garden to the furniture and pretty details inside just breathes Cape Cod.

Cape Cod lighthouse hopping

Cape Cod is home to numerous lighthouses. The representative structures are both important pieces of history and some of the best Cape Cod photo opportunities.

Nauset Light is with its red and white colors one of the most iconic lighthouses on Cape Cod. Located within the Cape Cod National Seashore, it’s also an easy one to add to the Cape Cod itinerary.

Just a short walk from Nauset Light, but much more hidden, the Three Sisters Lights stand. The more humble trio of lighthouses used to be part of the Nauset Beach Light Station before time caught up with them.

Three Sisters Lighthouses on Cape Cod, M
Three historic Cape Cod sisters.

See if Martha’s Vineyard lives up to the hype

The expression Cape Cod and the islands is often used to describe Cape Cod and the surrounding islands. One of the most renowned Cape Cod islands is Martha’s Vineyard.

Only a few miles from the southwestern part of Cape Cod Martha’s Vineyard floats. Checking if Martha’s Vineyard lives up to the hype is an unforgettable extension to a Cape Cod vacation.

The idyllic island, in the waters off Cape Cod, is one of the very largest islands on the East Coast of the US. Only Mount Desert Island Island, closely associated with Acadia National Park, and Long Island are bigger. With a land area of almost 100 square miles, there’s a lot to explore on Martha’s Vineyard.

Its historic towns, white beaches and quiet harbors clearly explain why the island is such a popular summer colony. The classic summer destination can be visited as a day trip from Cape Cod, but it’s also easy to motivate a longer stay on the island.

With six towns to choose from, including the elegant Edgartown and quirky Oak Bluffs, there’s something for everyone on the popular island off Cape Cod. The best Martha’s Vineyard hotels appeal to the most hard-flirted travelers out there.

Harbor view on Martha's Vineyard
Harbor view on Martha’s Vineyard.

Discover Nantucket

Nantucket is another of the most prominent islands included in the Cape Cod and the islands area. Just like Martha’s Vineyard, it’s a blissful island to include on a Cape Cod vacation.

Its 82 miles (132 km) of stunning shoreline are like made for relaxation. Whether you prefer a lively or a quiet beach, you find it on Nantucket.

As a bonus, the whole island of Nantucket is also designated a National Historic Landmark. In particular as you walk the island’s main town area, you can enjoy the many well preserved houses from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Conveniently so you also find several tasteful Nantucket hotels in and around the district filled with history.

It’s hard to believe so when you visit the nowadays fancy summer escape, but Nantucket used to be a pretty rough working place. The island near Cape Cod once was the very epicenter of the world’s whaling industry. A great way to learn about the past of Nantucket and Cape Cod is to visit the Whaling Museum.

Golden beach on Nantucket
Golden Nantucket beach.

Where to stay

From the peninsula’s base, the Upper Cape, Mid Cape, Lower Cape and Outer Cape are different options for where to stay in Cape Cod. Spread out across the areas, Cape Cod offers exploration of 15 different towns.

What all the areas and towns have in common is an idyllic ambience and a strong love for the ocean. Although with slightly different characteristics, there are no bad bases on Cape Cod.

But keep in mind that the driving times on Cape Cod shouldn’t be underestimated. The 79 miles (127 km) from Falmouth in the Upper Cape to Provincetown in the Outer Cape often takes roughly 2 hours to drive during the busy summer season.

Hyannis Travel Inn – A Mid Cape gateway

At Hyannis Travel Inn you have the best of Hyannis within walking distance. With restaurants, museums and ferries within easy reach in Cape Cod’s biggest town, it doesn’t get more convenient.

Old Harbor Inn – Quintessential pick in the Lower Cape

Only steps from Chatham’s downtown area, and neither far from Cape Cod National Sesahore, the Old Harbor Inn makes the most picky traveler happy. At the idyllic inn every minute of your Cape Cod trip is a true pleasure.

Breakwater Hotel – Conquer the Outer Cape

Not in the heart of Provincetown, but just a short drive or healthy walk away, the Breakwater Hotel sits. Its location right across the street from the water is nothing less but stunning.

House at Race Point Beach during sunset.
Sunset in Provincetown.

Use the booking tool below to find the perfect accommodation for your Cape Cod vacation. Browse the map for options in various areas, or click on the search button to get all options listed.

Cape Cod vacation guide FAQ

Here you find the answers to some frequently asked questions about visiting Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Where is Cape Cod located?

Cape Cod extends out into the Atlantic Ocean from the southeastern part of Massachusetts. The driving distance from Boston to the beginning of Cape Cod is just under 60 miles (97 km).

What is Cape Cod known for?

Cape Cod has always been an appreciated destination to escape the hustle and bustle. There are few better places to unwind than the Massachusetts peninsula. On top of the slow pace, Cape Cod is also famous for its untouched nature, including the extensive beaches in Cape Cod National Seashore.

What is the nicest place in Cape Cod?

If you ask locals where the nicest place in Cape Cod is, you get many different answers. All over Cape Cod, you find the signature ambience and beautiful seaside towns to explore.

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