9 Free Things to Do on Martha’s Vineyard (And Low-Cost Activities)

Free Things To Do In Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
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During my first visit to Martha’s Vineyard, I spent the weekend exploring historic towns like Chilmark and West Tisbury. I strolled through Edgartown – the island’s first colonial settlement and my best friend and I ended the weekend with a relaxing beach day at Oak Bluffs, a lively seaside town, home to over 300 preserved gingerbread houses.

Martha’s Vineyard is well-known for catering to the rich and famous. During their presidential terms, both President Clinton and President Barack Obama regularly spent their summers vacationing on the island south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

Back in 2014, Tripadvisor named Martha’s Vineyard one of the most expensive vacation destinations in the states. However, what headlines failed to mention is that you can have fun on the island without spending a small fortune. Despite its reputation, financially savvy travelers like myself can have a ball without spending a lot of money. There are plenty of free and low-cost activities for those on a budget including beaches, gardens, hiking trails, and more.

In fact, I didn’t spend any money on activities during our weekend getaway. When we arrived on the island, we grabbed a free copy of the “Welcome Martha’s Vineyard Guide” which helped us discover incredible free things to do on Martha’s Vineyard.

Before I recommend the best attractions when visiting Martha’s Vineyard on a budget, let me give you an overview, including location, when to visit, and where to stay.

Where is Martha’s Vineyard located?

Martha’s Vineyard is a Massachusetts island located just south of Cape Cod. This small island has 17,000 inhabitants and stretches 21 miles from East to West. There are six charming towns: Oaks Bluff, Edgartown, Vineyward Haven, West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah.

Before being colonized by the English in the 17th century, Martha’s Vineyard was inhabited by the Wampanoag people who called the island “Noape” which translates to “land amid the streams.”

Although Martha’s Vineyard may be small, the island has amassed a lot of wealth over the past three centuries, attracting the likes of presidents, actors, actresses and musicians. But what else would you expect from a state with an average household income of $96,505?

If you’re on a budget, don’t let this stop you from visiting Martha’s Vineyard. There’s a lot to do on the island if know where to go.

Read Next: Best Places To Eat in Cape Cod

When is the best time to visit Martha’s Vineyard?

The best time to go to Martha’s Vineyard is between May and September.

Since the island sits along the Atlantic Ocean, visiting Martha’s Vineyard during these months means that you can comfortably enjoy all that the island has to offer during the summer. Although things quiet down after Labor Day, locals say September is the best month to enjoy Martha’s Vineyard since the weather cools down and there’s less crowds.

If you plan to visit during the off-season, from late fall to early spring, expect some businesses to be closed due to the lack of tourism traffic.

Where to stay?

If you’re looking for cheap places to stay on Martha’s Vineyard, I recommend HI Martha’s Vineyard Hostel which is open from May to September annually. There are a range of room types from a private 2-person room up to 20-bed dorms.

There’s a bus stop conveniently right in front of the hostel, free breakfast and WI-FI, a spacious kitchen for cooking meals, and plenty of lounge areas both indoors and outdoors.

Address: 525 Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, MA 02575

Click here to book a stay at HI Martha’s Vineyard Hostel on Booking.com.

Search for Martha’s Vineyard hotels below.

How long should you vacation on Martha’s Vineyard?

Plan to spend anywhere from a weekend to seven days. For longer stays, I recommend house rentals, cottages, or an Airbnb equipped with a kitchen.

Best Things To Do On Martha’s Vineyard For Budget Travelers

1. Download Trails MV app

For hikes on Martha’s Vineyard download the Trails MV mobile app. Discover Martha’s Vineyard hiking trails, bike trails, public conservation properties, and the places to connect with nature. The app not only features properties but also upcoming events so you always know what’s happening around the island. See your real-time location on the trail no, wifi required.

2. Visit a Farm

Nearly100 square miles of Martha’s Vineyard is rural, ideal for farming. From flowers, fruits and vegetables to dairy products, poultry and baked goods, there are plenty of farms to visit like Morning Glory Farm and Mermaid Farm. Some farms like Grey Barn offer tours and cheese tastings.

3. Meet Alpacas at Island Alpaca: $8 per person

These playful creatures will bring a smile to your face. Whether you want to participate in Alpaca yoga, take an informative workshop, or a self-guided walking tour, Island Alpaca promises a fun outing for the entire family.

Open year round, seven days a week, admission costs $8 per person for children and adults.

4. Martha’s Vineyard Museum: Up to $18

Martha’s Vineyard Museum is a local history museum that houses thousands of objects that Vineyarders (folks from the island) have used or made. Here you can find historical records and books, interesting exhibits, photographs, paintings, early shipwrecks and more. The museum offers gorgeous views of the harbor and if you get hungry, grab a bite to eat at the cafe.

Museum Admission

  • Adults: $18
  • Seniors: $15
  • Children between the ages of 7-17: $5
  • Children 6 and under: Free

Helpful Tip: Visit the Martha’s Vineyard Museum for free on Tuesday evenings from 5-8 p.m.

Things To Do in Edgartown

Making up roughly a quarter of Martha Vineyard’s population, Edgartown is the largest Martha’s Vineyard neighborhood. Originally a major whaling center in New England, this historic town is one of Martha Vineyard’s major tourist attractions.

1. Federated Church: Free

The Federate Church in Martha's Vineyard

The Federated Church is the oldest church on Martha’s Vineyard. Built in 1828, it has a striking clock tower that you can see from anywhere in town. As the oldest church on Martha Vineyard, the Federated Church captures the colonial-Massachusetts’ feel.

Visiting this church made me feel like I stepped back in time. The church had old boxed pews, wooden chairs and a large bronze organ in the back. As I was about to leave, I noticed congregation members had name tags for Sunday service.

2. The Pagoda Tree: Free

The Pagoda Tree on Martha’s Vineyard is the oldest pagoda tree on the North American continent. 

The story of Martha Vineyard’s Pagoda Tree goes like this: Captain Thomas Milton, an English sailor, admired the pagoda trees from Asia so much that he planted a pagoda tree seed here in the early 1800s. This massive tree stands over 40 feet tall and shades South Water Street. 

3. Dr. Daniel Fisher House

Another must see in Edgartown is the Dr. Daniel Fisher House. What makes this mansion so special is its architectural style. Built in 1840, the Dr. Daniel Fisher House was built in the Federal style and belonged to… you guessed it, Dr. Daniel Fisher – a Massachusetts’ whaling tycoon.

Sometime between the 19th and 20th century, Senator William Morgan Butler purchased the Dr. Daniel Fisher House and made architectural and landscape improvements to the estate.

The Dr. Daniel Fisher House is one of the beautiful places on the island where you can have a scenic vineyard wedding or classy event.

Although I missed the guided tour, I explored the property on my own. The Fisher House’s lawn was immaculate. I adored the semi-circle veranda on the side of the house and I loved the hidden seashell path out back.

4. Vincent House

Vincent House in Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.

Just behind the Fisher House is the island’s oldest standing residence, The Vincent House.

Built in 1672, The Vincent House was owned by the Vincent family, a prominent Massachusetts family who owned the house for generations until 1940. The house was eventually donated to the Martha Vineyard’s Trust in 1977 by the MacKenty and Bigelow families and moved to its current location on the Fisher House estate.

The Vincent House is the oldest standing unaltered house on Martha’s Vineyard and it’s now a history museum that celebrates people living on Martha’s Vineyard for hundreds of years.

5. Lighthouse Beach

Not too far from Edgardtown is the Lighthouse Beach.

As the name might suggest, Lighthouse Beach is home to the Edgartown Lighthouse which overlooks the Edgartown Outer Harbor.

Since Martha’s Vineyard was once a historic whaling center, the island has lots of gorgeous lighthouses that look out into the Atlantic. For extraordinary views and fantastic photo opportunities, visit one of the five lighthouses found on the island:

  • Edgartown Lighthouse in Edgartown (built in 1828)
  • Gay Head Lighthouse in Aquinnah (built in 1796; open May through early October)
  • East Chop Lighthouse in Oak Bluffs (built in 1878; open only in the summer)

Things To Do in Oak Bluffs

1. The Campground: Free

What used to be a retreat site for practicing Methodists during the 19th century is now one of Martha Vineyard’s historic landmarks and most visited attractions.

Located in the neighborhood of Oak Bluffs, The Campground is a vibrant, historical community that is famous for its Gingerbread Cottages and iron Tabernacle. 

During the 1800s, the Methodists religious community migrated here and built temporary tents. Eventually they were replaced with small wooden gingerbread cottages. There are over 300 colorful gingerbread houses on the island. Many have whimsical names like “Pink House,” “Angel Cottage,” and “Sea Shrimp.”

2. Beaches: Free

Oaks Bluff Beach in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Relaxing at any of Oak Bluffs’ beaches is one of the best ways to enjoy a budget-friendly afternoon on Martha’s Vineyard.

South Beach (Katama Beach)

A three-mile-long barrier beach, South Beach (or Katama Beach) is one of the popular beaches to visit and one of the best things to do in Martha’s Vineyard. One side is ideal for surfing while the other is open to all, ideal for hanging out by the water.

Other Martha’s Vineyard beaches you may want to visit:

  • Inkwell Beach in Oak Bluffs
  • Menemsha Public Beach in Chilmark

3. Flying Horses Carousel: $3.50 per passanger

Take a spin around the nation’s oldest working carousel. Featuring 20 brightly-colored hand-carved wooden horses, this merry-go-round will set you back $3.50 for a 4-5 minute ride.

Address: 15 Lake Avenue, Oak Bluffs, MA

4. Aquinnah Cliff

Aquinnah Cliff is another one of Martha Vineyard’s must-see attractions. Views from these grandiose clay cliffs are stunning, making it a great place for hiking or watching the sunset.

Head to the lower beach to get upclose views of the cliffs and explore Moshup Beach.

Alternatively, take the upper trails for distant views of Elizabeth Islands and Newport Rhode Island on a good day.

Read Next: How Much Does a Trip To Martha’s Vineyard Cost

Free Things to Do in Martha's Vineyard
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What other things to do on Martha’s Vineyard would you add to the list? 

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