Nestled away right at the northern tip of Cape Cod is the peaceful and picturesque Provincetown. A very popular place to visit, it offers everything from awesome art galleries and epic whale watching tours to centuries-old historic sites and spellbinding swathes of sand.
Formerly a fishing and whaling center, it transformed into one of America’s earliest art colonies in the late nineteenth century. To this day, dozens of eclectic art galleries and atmospheric studios can be found about town with cultural events, exhibitions and festivals are things to do in Provincetown throughout the year. Thanks to its open attitude, Provincetown is one of the most popular LGBT destinations in the Northeast of the States.
While the Massachusetts’ town has thriving arts, culture and nightlife scenes to delve into, its secluded setting and scenic nature are just as special. Add in all its superb restaurants, cozy BnBs and lively yet laidback vibe and it is no wonder P-town attracts so many people every summer.
16. Old Harbor Lifesaving Station
A charming and quiet place to stop by, the quaint Old Harbor Lifesaving Station can be found at the beautiful Race Point Beach. Inside, you can see artifacts and exhibits with exciting and educational live-saving demonstrations taking place in summer.
Originally erected in 1897 at the entrance to Chatham Harbor, it was impressively and painstakingly moved by barge to its current location in the seventies. Since then, visitors have snapped photos of the lovely National Historic Landmark and toured its old buoys, surfboat and other lifeguard-related memorabilia.
Aside from taking in all its arresting architecture and learning about the Cape’s shipwrecked sailors and stormy seas, you can also watch thrilling live-saving demonstrations. As these are conducted in the style of the early twentieth century, they make for very interesting viewing.
15. Province Lands Visitor Center
Just inland from the small museum is another seaside spot that is well worth checking out. At the Province Lands Visitor Center, you can learn more about the area’s history and nature, enjoy divine views of the coast and hike its scenic trails.
Only open from May through to October, the center contains exhibits, photos and short film clips on Cape Cod’s ecosystems, animals and human history. From its lofty observation deck, you can drink in 360-degree panoramas of the dunes, beach and ocean with whales even spied from time to time.
Afterwards, you can take guided ranger tours through the dunes or cycle along its pretty paths which meander their way through pristine marshes, forests and alongside ponds.
14. Long Point Beach
Isolated and idyllic, the Long Point peninsula and its breathtaking beach of the same name make up the extreme tip of Cape Cod. Often called the ‘End of the Earth, it gently curves back on itself with its sandy shores and rugged rocks protecting the vast Provincetown Harbor.
Remarkably enough, a small village once occupied the secluded spot until fed-up fishermen placed their houses on rafts and actually floated them across the harbor. Now all that remains is its lonely lighthouse and the ruins of a Civil War-era artillery battery that was derided by residents as ‘Fort Useless’.
As hiking out to the beach can take hours, many people prefer to take the ferry with kayaking and a water taxi being another option. Once you arrive, you can enjoy its soft sands, stunning scenery and phenomenal views with barely another soul in sight.
13. Beech Forest
Another attractive outdoor area to hit up is the bird-filled Beech Forest. Lying along the road to Race Point Beach, not far from the Province Lands Visitor Center, it has loads of leafy trails for you to peacefully stroll along.
Sprawling across a huge area, its verdant woods and plentiful ponds present quite the contrast with all the rolling dunes located nearby. As you walk along its shady boardwalks, you’ll see all kinds of fantastic fauna and flora with over 250 bird species to be sighted amidst its dense undergrowth.
Besides hiking and bird watching, nature lovers can take pictures of all its fragrant flowers and colorful plants. Some informative plaques and viewpoints are also dotted about here and there.
12. Provincetown’s Art Galleries
As the town and indeed the whole of Cape Cod is known for its amazing art galleries, no trip is complete without stopping by at least a couple of them. In the center, there are dozens and dozens to discover with almost all of them being set alongside Commercial Street.
Provincetown’s East End is known as the gallery district as over forty of them are clustered quite close to one another. Impressively enough, it has been known as an artist’s haven for well over a century ever since the Cape Cod School of Painting opened in 1899.
As each has their own look, feel and identity, you can enjoy incredible collections of photos, prints and paintings in some and striking ceramics and sculptures in others. Each Friday night, you can sip wine and discuss all the art with the artists themselves and gallery owners at their weekly opening.
11. Go Whale Watching
While Provincetown is renowned for its extensive array of excellent art galleries, it also boasts unforgettable whale watching tours. From the harborfront, you can take scenic sightseeing trips around the Cape’s waters with the massive and majestic mammals often spotted nearby.
Whereas much of the town’s economy was once based on whaling, it is now thankfully tourists who benefit from their breeding grounds nearby. From April to October, fin and humpback whales can be spied swimming and spouting alongside other species, seals and seabirds.
Numerous companies and sea captains run excursions from Provincetown with close up glimpses of the humongous mammals almost being guaranteed. As you skip across the shimmering surface, you can bathe in brilliant views of the ocean and coast while the expert crew teach you more about the wonderful whales.
10. Provincetown Town Hall
Back on dry land is another of the seaside settlement’s top attractions and most arresting buildings: the terrific Provincetown Town Hall. Situated just a short stroll from the marina, it showcases some refined Victorian architecture with a pretty entrance, facade and cupola all featuring.
Still home to the town’s seat of government, it was completed in 1885 after an earlier edition burnt down. While recent renovations have modernized its exterior and interior, the impressive National Historic Landmark retains its character and charm.
Inside are dozens of fabulous portraits, paintings and murals to check out with exquisite furnishings and grand rooms on show wherever you go. Aside from exploring its elegant interior and lush grounds, you can also attend one of the numerous concerts, community events and festivals held in its hall.
9. Go on a Dune Tour
As the small town is surrounded by such delightful dunes, it would be a shame to visit and not take a tour around its sublime sandscapes. Part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, the unique yet fragile ecological system is fascinating to explore and is home to all kinds of amazing fauna and flora.
While some tours see you bounce about the large dunes in a jeep, others involve you hiking, biking or kayaking about their scenic confines. Many include tasty lunches on the beach and relaxing boat trips before you sit down and enjoy a spectacular sunset over the ocean.
One of the most popular companies to book is the fun and friendly Art’s Dune Tours which has been in the business since 1946. Now run by Art’s son Rob, the interesting and engaging tours are sure to provide you with lasting memories of the shimmering sand dunes.
8. Provincetown Library
Just up Commercial Street from the town hall you can find the brilliantly bright white Provincetown Library. Located in a former church, it has countless artifacts, exhibits and bookshelves for visitors to peruse with stupendous architecture featuring throughout.
An unexpected surprise for many, its light and airy interior contains a marvelous half-scale model of a 1905 schooner. While the splendid ship is certainly its standout sight, the library has more than 40,000 or so other interesting items to explore that cover the town and cape’s history and heritage.
Just as appealing as its vast collection is the beautiful building itself which dates to around 1860. As well as attractive Italianate-style architecture and a tall tower, the library boasts gorgeous staircases, vaulted ceilings and cozy nooks and crannies where you can read peacefully.
7. MacMillan Wharf
Jutting out into the sparkling waters of the harbor is the 1,450-foot-long MacMillan Wharf. Aside from setting off on ferries and sightseeing tours, it is a picturesque spot to amble along and gaze out over the bay, boats and coastline.
Since 1873, the prominent pier has lain at the heart of the town’s thriving fishing industry with loads of larger trawlers and smaller sailing vessels still lining its jetty. Some atmospheric art shacks, small shops and the superb Shark Center can be found here next to marinas and watersport rental points.
Besides enjoying the relaxing ambience and refreshing sea breeze, locals and tourists alike can fish in its waters or take photos of Provincetown behind them. From the historic wharf, you can embark on epic whale watching tours and sightseeing cruises around the cape.
6. Provincetown Art Association & Museum
If you want to learn about how the town became one of the country’s first art colonies, make sure to visit the excellent Provincetown Art Association. You can also see loads of exquisite artworks at its museum which is home to numerous rooms full of intriguing installations and exhibits.
One of Cape Cod’s most important, prestigious and popular institutions, it dates to 1914 when local artists and business people established it. For over a century now, its galleries have displayed works by area artists with some 2,500 paintings, drawings and sculptures on show.
Very much a living and breathing part of the community, the association puts on a wealth of classes, talks and workshops each year. With temporary exhibitions, concerts and performances taking place all the time and three sculpture gardens outside; there is always something new and exciting to see and do at the museum.
5. Herring Cove Beach
Another picture-perfect spot if you’re looking to immerse yourself in nature are the sweeping sands, dunes and tidal marshes of Herring Cove Beach. Set on the bay side of the Cape, it lies a short drive from the center and offers up some fantastic sunbathing, swimming and views.
Although it is also part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, it has gentler waves and warmer waters than the other beaches which face the Atlantic Ocean. Due to its remote setting, its broad sands are usually very calm and quiet with it also being one of the only clothing optional beaches in the state.
In addition to lounging about and exploring its shallows and tidal pools, you can also enjoy sublime sunsets here with seals and whales sometimes spotted offshore.
4. Province Lands Bike Trail
A wonderful way to see more of the town’s surroundings is to set off on a scenic cycle ride along the Province Lands Bike Trail. Meandering its way through the nearby dunes, forests and marshes, the pretty path takes you on a lovely loop around Cape Cod’s northern tip.
Stretching almost 5.5 miles in length, it passes not just the Beech Forest and Province Lands Visitor Center but connects you to both Race Point and Herring Cove beaches too. Quite hilly in places, the paved trail winds its way by ponds and viewpoints with cranberry bogs and groves of pines dotted here and there.
Impressively enough, it was the first bike trail built in a national park in 1967. Since then, it has proved hugely popular thanks to its delightful route and all the magnificent scenery and nature lying alongside it.
3. Pilgrim Monument & Provincetown Museum
Certainly the town’s standout symbol and sight, the massive Pilgrim Monument towers dramatically above the center far, far below. From atop of the hulking great granite campanile, visitors can drink in divine panoramas of the town, harbor, coast and ocean.
Built between 1907 and 1910, the enormous and iconic landmark commemorates the first landing of the Mayflower pilgrims at the cape in 1620. Modeled on a similar structure in Siena, Italy, it reaches a huge 252 feet in height with President Theodore Roosevelt having laid the first cornerstone.
At its base, you can find the equally fascinating Provincetown Museum which shines a light on the seaside settlement’s maritime history, heritage and culture. Aside from examining important people and events, it has a brilliant collection of artifacts and exhibits for guests to peruse.
2. Race Point Beach
After all the cycling and sightseeing, soaking up some sun and splashing around in the sea is the perfect way to relax and unwind. Regularly ranked among the best beaches in Massachusetts, Race Point Beach lies just north of Provincetown, facing the endless Atlantic.
Named for its fast rip tides, the beach’s stupendous sands and shallows are backed by rolling dunes, charming cottages and atmospheric old shacks. Another major point of interest is its historic 1816 lighthouse and the ships, seals and whales that are sometimes spied along the coast.
Despite its beauty, the beach’s secluded setting means you’ll often have its idyllic tidal pools, dunes and sands almost entirely to yourself. This makes visiting even more memorable with sunsets here being particularly striking and colorful.
1. Commercial Street
The heart and soul of life in town, Commercial Street runs right through the center of Provincetown, parallel to the waterfront. Lots of fun to walk along and explore, it is home to almost all of P-town’s main businesses, bars, boutiques and BnBS.
As it is lined by a myriad of interesting art galleries and attractive old houses, the lively yet laidback street really is a treat to amble along. Everywhere you look there are cool shops, cozy cafes and cute cottages to check out with amazing public artworks and men in drag often spotted here and there.
Besides taking in the atmosphere and people-watching, you can shop for souvenirs, explore some of its art galleries or stop for a bite to eat and drink. Plenty of welcoming guest houses and inns can be found along Commercial Street as can seafood restaurants, snack stands and ice cream stalls.