Massachusetts : Safety by City
- Cape Cod
- Fall River
- Martha’s Vineyard
- New Bedford
Barnstable, Massachusetts, is the largest city on Cape Cod and includes several smaller villages.
One of those is the well-known village of Hyannis, which is also the central business district.
Most of the hotels in this city are near Hyannis, and the entire stretch of Massachusetts Route 28 through Cape Cod is filled with traditional hotel options, while more inns and rentals are located closer to the shoreline or in the historic districts.
While Hyannis is the “favorite child” of the villages globally, mainly due to the popularity brought by the Kennedy family, there are six other villages with sightseeing opportunities:
- Barnstable Village
- West Barnstable
- Marston Mills
Again, all of those villages are part of the town of Barnstable.
They will all be less crowded than Hyannis or Hyannisport, especially during the busy summer travel season.
Consider the Cape Codder Resort and Spa for family travel, especially during off-season travel.
The indoor water park offers a great energy burn for the kids, and parents can relax at the spa without facing the winter elements.
Barnstable is flanked by Cape Cod Bay on the northern edge and the Nantucket Sound on the southern edge.
The Barnstable northern land is an outdoor coastal wonderland with marshes, beaches, and preserved nature and wildlife spaces.
Whale-watching cruises are one of the most popular activities across Cape Cod, and boats depart from Barnstable as well.
You can’t have a Cape Cod coastal town without a lighthouse, and the Sandy Neck lighthouse still stands after decades of torture from New England’s weather.
NOTE: We do have a separate article, “How Safe Is Hyannis for Travel?” on this website, so in this article, we’ll dive deeper into Barnstable-wide attractions and safety advice.
Warnings & Dangers in Barnstable
OVERALL RISK: LOW
Barnstable as a whole offers a low risk, but there are some parts in different villages that have elevated risks or specific safety advice. With so much to see and do, it's easy to find safe places to visit while using standard safety precautions to lower your risk even further.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority offers several year-round and seasonal options to explore the city and the whole peninsula. Taxis and rideshares are widely available. Having your own rental car is ideal, and even some of the ferries to the islands will transport your vehicle too.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
Surprisingly, just three pickpockets and purse snatchings were reported in 2021. I suppose I expected more in such a high-traffic, upscale community. Keep that risk low by carrying only what you need and limiting the amount of cash you bring. Don't wear valuables in crowded spaces.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
Cape Cod can be a beauty, but the weather here can be a beast. Each season brings a potential risk, from winter storms to summer hurricanes and thunderstorms in between. Flooding and storm surges are big risks in coastal communities. All the risks here come with plenty of warning and the Barnstable County Emergency Management Agency details safety and planning information on its website.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
Another surprising statistic from 2021 - just 10 robberies were reported in this city of nearly 50,000 people. Only two of those were highway robberies, which is the robbery of a person on a public street. While the risk is low, keep it that way by not walking around at night.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
Terrorists are known to target large population areas or major cyber/security departments, of which Cape Cod has none. The risk is low, but you should always be aware of the latest National Terrorism Advisory from the Department of Homeland Security.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
The typical nationwide scams happen here, mostly impacting residents. You can review the Better Business Bureau's list of common American scams anytime. Rental scams are another thing to watch out for, especially during the booking process. You'll pay a lot for a rental, which gets more expensive the closer you get to the water. A low price should be a first warning sign, and someone asking you to wire money should be the dealbreaker. Using a local travel agency helps you get a legit and verified listing.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: MEDIUM
In summer of 2022, a rash of the "date rape drug" was reported throughout bars in Hyannis. You should never take a drink from someone - always insist you get it from the bartender while watching it be poured. If you feel any unusual effects of a drink, even if you've drunk a lot, call the police or go to a hospital. If you are in an uncomfortable situation, ask the bartender for an "Angel Shot," and they'll know that's a cry for help.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations. The riskiest time for water quality concerns is during or after a flood. The city will alert through social media and emergency notifications if there is an issue.
Safest Places to Visit in Barnstable
Artsbarnstable.com is a tourism website that covers Barnstable and the seven villages within.
The organization has a Facebook and Instagram page with updated local events and seasonal attractions.
VisitCapeCod.com covers the entire region.
We’ll go through each village to look at the highlights.
Please note that not all attractions are open year-round.
Many have extended summer hours with limited hours or closures in the winter.
“The Season” is traditionally from May through October.
This community is on the northern edge of the town, with seaside and lighthouse views mixed in with historic tours and a port for whale-watching tours.
Here you can visit several places, including:
- Barnstable Historical Society Museum
- Coast Guard Heritage Museum
- Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary
- Ghost Tours
- Fishing Charters
- Millway Beach
This village surrounds Wequaquet Lake in a more residential part of Barnstable.
The Captain David Kelly House is a popular bed and breakfast inn built out of a former sea captain’s home.
Several more historic homes are available on a walking tour down Main Street and Old Stage Road.
Craigsville Beach is the popular slice of sand in this village and is popular with the college crowd.
It’s the shortest name and the smallest village of all seven, but it’s also a waterfront village on three sides.
This laid-back, casual town offers some of the best oysters you’ll ever find.
Cotuit Oysters are celebrated globally for “their unique briny flavor unlike any other.”
While more of a residential community on land, the city has four beaches, and Sampsons Island Wildlife Sanctuary is open seasonally but is only accessible by boat or kayak.
Strong swimmers could choose to swim across the water at low tide.
This is the downtown area of Barnstable and the entire region of Cape Cod.
The village is bustling with restaurants, shops, entertainment, and water activities.
The John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum and Kennedy Legacy Trail are two must-see locations.
We’ll go into more detail about this village in a separate article on this website.
This idyllic village is more rural, with historical mills dating back to the 1600s still standing.
Local parks offer extensive disc golf courses, but you won’t find any beaches in this landlocked village.
What you will find is the Cape Cod Airfield, with biplane and skydiving tours of Cape Cod.
Even if you don’t want to jump out of an airplane thousands of feet in the air, you can sit and watch others do so while historic planes take off and land.
If you’ve ever made a typo and felt bad about it (goodness knows this writer has), at least you didn’t change the map of a popular tourism destination.
Osterville was supposed to be named Oysterville, because of its abundant oyster harvest here.
Someone made a typographical error on a map, and the name Osterville stuck.
There’s a small downtown here with a historical museum, art gallery, and farmer’s market, but the beaches are also a big draw.
The village’s western side has several marinas where you can fantasize about owning one of the luxurious boats.
This small village offers something the others can’t – a long stretch of beach.
The other villages have small beaches tucked in and around private homes, but Sandy Neck Beach leaves plenty of room for everyone.
The beach turns into a barrier island, with Sandy Neck Lighthouse at the end.
Campgrounds and a marsh are included in this vast expanse of untouched nature.
Places to Avoid in Barnstable
You don’t have to avoid any villages in Barnstable due to crime, but you should choose the one that best suits your needs.
Hyannis will be packed in the late spring through early fall.
Most of the crime that happens in Barnstable is in Hyannis, but remember, the crime rates are either at or below average in all major categories.
I’m a huge lighthouse fan, so this pains me to write, but the Sandy Neck lighthouse is privately owned and not open for tours.
You can get to the public areas around the lighthouse, but you’ll need a four-wheel drive vehicle or be physically fit enough to walk six miles each way on a sandy beach to get there.
The best advice is to enjoy the view of it from Barnstable Village and explore another Cape Cod lighthouse that is open to tourists.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Barnstable
- Barnstable Police Department (BPD) provides law enforcement for the town and all the villages. You can read a daily crime log of arrests and call on the department’s website. To follow more current crime and safety tips, follow them on Facebook @BarnstablePolice.
- Barnstable uses CodeRED for emergency notifications, as do many communities on the South Shore and Cape Cod. Once you sign up, you’ll get emails or text notifications about impending weather, safety concerns, civil emergencies, or crime investigation impacts on certain parts of the city.
- It’s important you keep track of the weather, especially when large amounts of snow, rain, or wind are forecasted. If you look at BPD’s Facebook page from December 23, 2022, you’ll see just how much streets can flood during extreme weather events. Never try to cross a flooded roadway. With the tide rising, it could get much worse quickly.
- During winter, black ice can form on roadways and give a misleading appearance as to the safety of streets. Black ice is when the snow melts but then freezes overnight, or wet spots from rain freezing over can cause it. The roads look clear, but there’s really a thin layer of ice there. This is most likely to form early in the morning. If the temperature is at or below freezing, assume any wet roadway is actually black ice.
- Not all beaches in Barnstable are open to the public. Some are reserved just for residents. There are six public beaches and waterways, including Craigville Beach, Kalmus Beach, Hathaway’s Pond, Sandy Neck Beach, Keyes Beach, and Veteran’s Park Beach. If you rent a home here, you should confirm with your landlord if that comes with a beach sticker to get to resident-only beaches.
- The city of Barnstable issues weekly eNews reports that detail the latest happenings and advisories for all the villages. This includes upcoming road work, detours, or closures.
- To check road conditions on a larger scale, use Massachusetts 511. The real-time traffic map also details construction zones, accidents, and weather impacts while offering live camera views along major roadways. You can also report incidents during your trip to help other drivers.
- For those visiting Sandy Beach, you’ll need a permit to ride ATVs and reservations to go camping. You can learn more information about costs and processes on the city’s website under the Sandy Neck Park tab. An instructional video of off-roading safety is included.
- If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a travel safety writer, it’s that each region has its own devil-in-disguise form of a bug. In Cape Cod, that devil is the Greenhead fly. These coastal bugs thrive in saltwater marshes and are similar to a dragonfly. The real problem is that the females need blood to reproduce, and what better place to find blood than scantily-clad summer human tourists? The “season” for these bugs is from June through September, with late July and early August being the most dangerous. They don’t carry disease but do cause painful bites that can lead to allergic reactions.
- Anglers will need a fishing license from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. You can buy that license online and confirm that you’re getting the right license for the water you plan to fish – saltwater or freshwater. You’ll also need to know the tide schedules here to get the most out of your fishing trip.
So... How Safe Is Barnstable Really?
Barnstable and its villages have avoided the surge in violent crime that has gripped many American cities during and immediately after the pandemic.
Considering this town can triple in size daily during the summer, that’s no small feat.
If you run into reports that Barnstable and, specifically, Hyannis were among the most dangerous cities, that was from a few years ago and was due to a reporting error – not facts.
We have some specific information about safety in Hyannis and crime hot spots, including Main Street, homeless people begging for money, and drug dealing near Kalmus Beach.
You might not even notice it due to the large crowds, but winter guests might pick up on it more since the crowds are smaller.
Ocean Street in Hyannis gets a lot of patrols.
“We want that whole entire business district to be well-patrolled and safe for the residents and the tourists who are coming here,” Lt. Mark Mellyn, Barnstable Police Department Public Information Officer, emphasized.
Outside of Hyannis, crime is exceptionally low, if not unthinkable.
You should still follow your common safety steps, like locking car doors and rolling up the windows (to keep out the blood-sucking flies as well), as 23% of thefts are related to car burglaries.
You’ll need to respect the rules of residents vs. non-residents when it comes to beach access, street parking, and road access.
Cape Cod wouldn’t have its stellar reputation if crime became a bigger issue, so you can bet the police will do everything they can to keep it safe for you.
You’ll need to review ocean, marsh, and weather safety in this region as well, so you can responsibly enjoy the waterfront aspects of this wonderful resort destination.
How Does Barnstable Compare?
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You'll need a U.S. Visa or Visa Waiver, plus a valid passport no more than 6 months from expiration, to get through Customs and Border Patrol at the airport or port of entry. You should start the visa process at least three months ahead of time because it's an elaborate one.
The U.S. Dollar is the only currency you can use here, and credit cards are the best option for fraud protection. If you insist on getting cash, don't do so at a public ATM. In fact, getting currency converted before you leave home will have lower fees than stateside banks.
Winter visitors should be prepared for blustery, cold, and wet/snowy conditions. Temperatures can get bitterly cold, so bring gloves, hats, and scarves. Don't forget snow boots and thick socks. Spring and fall can be mild, with cool nights or mornings, so bring plenty of layers to choose from. Summers bring warm and sometimes hot weather, with still a chance of cooler nights that warrant a jacket or sweater. Bug spray and sunscreen are important from spring through fall.
Cape Cod Gateway Airport is in Hyannis and offers flights to Boston or New York City. You can also fly to Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard. If you're flying out of Boston Logan International Airport, prepare for a 75-minute drive.
Travel insurance protects against the worst disruptions in air travel and abrupt hotel displacements. It's a wise investment, especially in this area strongly prone to rapidly changing weather. You should look into supplemental health insurance, and most tours or boat rides you take will require waivers that release the tour companies from any accident or injury responsibility.
Barnstable Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Massachusetts - Safety by City