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51 Best Things to do in Outer Banks, North Carolina

51 Best Things to do in Outer Banks, North Carolina

If you’re planning things to do in the Outer Banks for an upcoming beach vacation or weekend getaway, you’ve surfed to the right place. We’ve got the lowdown on all the highest-rated and most favored activities and attractions for families, couples, and single travelers.

The East Coast barrier islands known as the Outer Banks consist of a slim sliver of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck, Albemarle, and Pamlico Sounds. It’s nearly 175 miles long in a north-south direction.

The area features a wide range of sandy beaches, surf shops, a massive sand dune, historic lighthouses, national parks, outdoor activities, wild horses, and some of the most pet-friendly beaches you’ll find (though, pets do need to be leashed during certain times).

Hollywood even has its hand in the OBX spotlight. The 2008 Nicholas Sparks novel-turned-movie (starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane), Nights in Rodanthe, was filmed along these barrier islands. The famous, blue-shuttered house can still be seen and even rented. It’s known as the Inn at Rodanthe.

Fishing fans may have heard of the National Geographic Channel’s Wicked Tuna: North vs South (the boats leave out of the OBX Marina). The Netflix series Outer Banks is set there (but obviously filmed elsewhere).

If it’s good enough for Gere, it’s good enough for us. Let’s get started!

TLDR;

  • Most Significant Landmark in Outer BanksCape Hatteras Lighthouse
  • Best Park in Outer Banks – Jockey’s Ridge State Park
  • Best Free Activity in Outer Banks – The Hatteras – Ocracoke ferry
  • Best Activity for Kids in Outer Banks – Kite flying and crab hunting
  • Best Activity for Adults in Outer Banks – Live music at Fish Heads
  • Best Food in Outer Banks – Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café
  • Best Nightlife in Outer Banks – Karaoke Night at the Jolly Roger
  • Best All-Around Accommodation in Outer BanksRamada Plaza by Wyndham Nags Head Oceanfront

Fun & Best Fun Things to Do in Outer Banks, North Carolina

Corolla

The Corolla Beach section is the northernmost region of the Outer Banks chain. It’s along the northern shores, which are north of Duck and just south of the 4WD beaches of Carova. Corolla Beach is a more secluded area than some of the more southern areas of the region.

1. Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Visit the 162-foot-tall Currituck Beach Lighthouse to climb its 220 steps for panoramic views. Or stay on the ground and look up. Either way, don’t forget your camera!

The red brick lighthouse was first lit in 1875 and is always a fun stop on any Outer Banks vacation.

2. Whalehead in Historic Corolla

Whalehead Scenery

Built in 1925 the historic home of Whalehead (now an event venue) is a 24,000-square-foot mansion with a copper roof and mahogany doors. The interior is a stunning display of art nouveau-style décor, antique furnishings, and Tiffany glass.

The bright yellow Whalehead mansion sits on 39 acres along Currituck Sound in historic Corolla Park. On the National Register of Historic Places, it’s a popular spot for anniversaries, receptions, birthdays, wedding ceremonies, and other special events.

See Related: Best Beaches in the US to Visit

3. Wild Horse and ATV Dune Tours

Wild Houses in Outer Banks
images by Sandy Allen

Gather the whole crew and book wild horse tours or ATV, 4-WD, and off-road dune tours. This is one of the most fun things to do on the North Carolina coast. Tours travel to the four-wheel drive areas of Corolla and Carova beach.

Experienced, knowledgeable, and sometimes hilarious tour guides know where the wild horses hang out. The Corolla wild horses live on a 7,544-acre wild horse sanctuary and can be seen around private homes and on the beach.

See Related: Best Warm Winter Backpacking Destinations

4. Wild Horse Museum

Wild Horse Museum Building Front
image by BrevisPhotography is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Operated by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, the Wild Horse Museum features information and interactive displays on the Colonial Spanish mustangs that live on the island. You’ll find it in the Old Corolla Village.

5. Kilmarlic Golf Club

Kilmarlic Golf Club Scenery
image by Management/TripAdvisor

For the golfers in the group, the Kilmarlic Golf Club has previously been rated by Golfweek as the #14 Best Courses you can Play in North Carolina. Tee off and practice your swing along coastal ponds, lakes, and scenic natural hazards.

Looking for a hotel in the Corolla area?

The Hampton Inn & Suites Outer Banks/Corolla has an indoor and outdoor pool, a hot tub, meeting facilities, a fitness center, and a convenience store.

Guests can enjoy daily continental breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and patios or balconies at this beachfront hotel. Some rooms have kitchenettes and extra living areas.

See Related: Cheap Places to Travel

Duck

Quiet and quaint, the small town of Duck offers a beautiful sandy beach, high-end and casual restaurants, shopping, and the Duck boardwalk. It got its name from its duck hunting history.

6. Soundside Duck Boardwalk on Currituck Sound

Sunset on Duck Boardwalk
image by ITRE NCSU is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

You won’t find the bustling entertainment avenues of boardwalks in Virginia Beach, Ocean City, or Myrtle Beach in the Outer Banks. Instead, the mile-long Duck Boardwalk offers a relaxing place to enjoy the view or watch the sunset.

7. Scarborough Lane Shoppes

Trail in Scarborough Lane Shoppes
image by Laura A/TripAdvisor

Scarborough Lane Shoppes is a two-story complex filled with toy, jewelry, apparel, candy, and even Christmas shops. Head across the street for home décor, souvenirs, surf apparel, and more at The Farmer’s Daughter and Surfside Casuals waterfront shops.

See Related: Most Beautiful Valleys in the US

8. Duck Doughnuts

Box of Duck Doughnuts
image by Sandy Allen

Duck Doughnuts, at Osprey Landing Sound Front Shops, is one of those can’t miss treats. Fresh and made-to-order circles of goodness are a staple of every OBX visit.

Cake doughnuts are drizzled with flavored toppings that include blueberry, lemon, strawberry, and peanut butter icing. You can even get a bacon-topped one.

There are several other Duck Doughnuts locations around the Outer Banks, including Nags Head and Hatteras Island.

9. AQUA Restaurant & Spa

AQUA Restaurant & Spa
image by Management/TripAdvisor

For live music, entertainment, and a delicious meal with a sunset view, AQUA is a top spot in Duck. The sound side restaurant is open for lunch and dinner with a menu of specialty dishes like roasted French cut chicken breast, seared duck breast, crab cakes, shrimp and grits, and other local seafood and farm-fresh produce.

The on-site full-service spa offers facials, Swedish and aromatherapy massages, waxing, manicures, and pedicures.

See Related: Best Honeymoon Destinations in the World

Southern Shores

Again with the beautiful beaches, you won’t find a lot of restaurants and shopping in the Southern Shores community of Outer Banks, North Carolina. It’s a more residential area of the Outer Banks. Located just south of Duck, it’s within easy access to other towns around the Outer Banks.

There’s a paved walking and bicycling path between this area and Duck. This is a great spot for those who like a natural and secluded setting but still want to be close to attractions and activities.

10. Ghost Crab Quest

Yellow Crab

This super fun and unique activity is a hit with the kids. You’ll join a tour guide who will take you on a nighttime hunt for Atlantic ghost crabs. This is ecotourism at its best as you and the youngsters search for and discover all there is to know about these sneaky creatures.

You can also learn about birdwatching, astronomy, pirate history, and other ocean critters on these fun tours. Bring the whole crew!

11. OBXscape Rooms

OBXscape Escape Room
image by pawlover/TripAdvisor

Looking for an indoor Outer Banks activity?

Escape rooms are all the rage these days, and the OBX has a fun one.

Located in the Southern Shores Crossing shopping center, the gist of the experience is to solve riddles, search for clues, and escape the room before the time’s up. Themes include a cold case murder mystery, a lab meltdown, a speakeasy, a prison, a ship mutiny, and more.

See Related: Best South Carolina Beaches

Kitty Hawk

This town is home to parks and nature reserves and is famous for those two guys from Ohio, the Wright Brothers. They found that the soft Kitty Hawk beach sand was the perfect landing spot for flight practice (though, the actual flights took place in Kill Devil Hills).

12. Pier Fishing

Outer Banks Fishing

Many OBX anglers like to fish from the beach or on an offshore boat charter. If you prefer to cast from a pier, head to the Avalon Pier at milepost 6. There is a fee, but it’s an excellent spot for teaching the kids to fish and sunrise viewing. There’s an arcade, a snack shack, a sandy beach, and the Stonefish BeachBar.

Hilton Garden Inn Kitty Hawk Building
image by Booking.com

If you happen to be staying at the Hilton Garden Inn Kitty Hawk, you can use their pier (which used to be the Kitty Hawk Pier before the Hilton purchased it).

The pet-friendly Hilton has two pools, a fitness center, banquet rooms, on-site dining, and a game room. Guest rooms have a mini fridge, a microwave, balconies or patios, and beach access.

13. H2OBX Waterpark

H2OBX Waterpark Slide
image by Management/TripAdvisor

Pirates, dunes, and wild horses are the themes at H2OBX Waterpark. While not technically in the Outer Banks, this fun water park is within easy access (about 13 miles away in Powells Point) and makes a great day trip from Outer Banks beaches.

Enjoy colorful slides, water obstacles, a Flow Rider surf simulator, and a meandering lazy river.

See Related: Best Places to Travel in Your 20s in the US

14. Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve

Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve Scenery
image by cyberbren/TripAdvisor

Search for otters, turtles, and other animals. The 1,890-acre area is located along Albemarle Sound and Kitty Hawk Bay. It’s a great place for hiking, kayaking, and nature watching. Sandy Run Park, which runs through the reserve, has a boardwalk, nature trails, picnic areas, and a basketball half-court.

Habitats include a deciduous forest, an interdune forest, and a maritime swamp forest. Along with animals, you might also notice orchids, rare plants, and birds such as the great blue heron, laughing gulls, hummingbirds, starlings, and more.

15. Monument to a Century of Flight

Monument to a Century of Flight Scenery
image by Sandy Allen

The Monument to a Century of Flight, located in Memorial Park near the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, is a unique tribute to the first flight of the Wright Brothers – the first powered flight in human history.

It features 14 stainless steel pylons that range in height from 10 to 20 feet. Aviation history milestones are printed on the pylons.

The pylons form a length of 120 feet rotating around a bronze dome on the ground, which symbolizes the earth’s continents. The Wright Brothers’ first flight on December 17, 1903, while a huge leap in terms of human engineering, was a mere length of 120 feet.

See Related: Best Islands to Visit Around the World

16. Sea Scape Golf Links

Sunset at Sea Scape Golf Links
image by Sandy Allen

Built into the natural beauty of the Outer Banks, Sea Scape Golf Links is a premier golfing destination. There’s a pro shop, club rentals, and the Sandtrap Tavern restaurant.

Baymont by Wyndham Kitty Hawk Outer Banks Room
image by Booking.com

Located near the Wright Brothers Memorial and Sea Scape Golf Links, the Baymont by Wyndham Kitty Hawk Outer Banks is a mid-range Outer Banks hotel option. Enjoy a complimentary breakfast, an outdoor pool, and free Wi-Fi. Guest rooms have a mini-fridge and a microwave.

See Related: Best Restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina

Kill Devil Hills

About four miles south of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills offers a variety of activities for beachgoers and families. Among the many attractions in Kill Devil Hills are historic landmarks, entertainment options, mini golf, and other activities.

17. Wright Brothers National Memorial

Wright Brothers National Memorial Skyline
image by Sandy Allen

One of the most well-known stops in the Outer Banks, the Wright Brothers National Memorial pays tribute to the research, planning, and test flights that took place along the soft OBX sands in the early 1900s.

Check out the Wright Brothers Visitor Center at the Wright Brothers National Memorial to see interactive exhibits and displays on aviation history and the achievements of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Other sites on the Kill Devil Hills property include reconstructed 1903 camp buildings, a sculpture depicting the 1903 flight, and the actual commemorative 60-foot-tall monument itself (located at the top of Kill Devil Hill where the gliding tests took place).

See Related: Where to Stay in Asheville, North Carolina: Best Areas & Neighborhoods

18. Brew Thru Drive-Through Convenience Store

Brew-Thru Drive
image by Management/TripAdvisor

You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced the cool factor of a drive-thru beverage and convenience store. Yes, really. It’s like pulling into a car wash. Except you need your window down to let attendants know what you want.

Here you can buy beer, wine, soft drinks, and a bunch of other items. They’re all lined up in refrigerators along the sides of the drive-thru. Don’t forget to pick up a t-shirt – each year is a new design! But remember, just because you purchased it from your car doesn’t mean you can drink it in your car!

Brew-Thru isn’t just a Kill Devil Hills institution. There are several locations in the Outer Banks, including Nags Head.

Ramada Plaza by Wyndham Nags Head Oceanfront Building
image by Booking.com

Conveniently located between Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, the Ramada Plaza by Wyndham Nags Head Oceanfront makes a terrific beachfront address to anchor your OBX vacation.

Free Wi-Fi, an indoor pool (Yay, winter OBX visits!), a hot tub, an on-site restaurant and tiki hut, indoor and outdoor event space, a business center, and that beachfront view are all winners in our opinion. It’s also pet-friendly, so bring those fur babies along! 

Shutters on the Beach Aerial View
image by Booking.com

Shutters on the Beach is another conveniently located Kill Devil Hills hotel with beach access along Outer Banks beaches. Guests can enjoy the outdoor pool, an indoor pool, a hot tub, a fitness room, a complimentary daily breakfast, and free Wi-Fi as they relax at this beachfront location.

See Related: Best Vacation For A Group Of Friends

Nags Head

The central portion of the Outer Banks, Nags Head is a popular vacation destination for families and groups of all sizes. If you hear travelers say they’re “going to Nags Head,” they don’t necessarily mean the town of Nags Head.

They may simply mean anywhere along the Outer Banks (but not Hatteras Island). The name is just so well known that it’s just the first thing out of a person’s mouth. You can take that from the horse’s mouth!

19. Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Jockey’s Ridge State Park and Sunset
image by Sandy Allen

The most interesting of the state parks, Jockey’s Ridge State Park is made up of a gigantic sand dune (they’re the tallest active sand dunes in the eastern U.S. in case you were wondering). There are also trails and a sound side beach area and nature trail, but really, it’s all about the sand dunes.

The 427-acre area is popular in the evenings for kite flying and sunsets (that sand is HOT during the day).

Hang gliding lessons and “sand-surfing” (careening down the dunes on either a boogie board or your body – typically done by the younger set) are also popular. Hang gliding lessons are offered by Kitty Hawk Kites. There’s a visitor’s center, a museum, and a 360-foot boardwalk for viewing and learning.

Holiday Inn Express Nags Head Oceanfront Room
image by Booking.com

The Holiday Inn Express Nags Head Oceanfront, an IHG Hotel (formerly known as the Nags Head Inn) is right on the soft sand of the beach near Jockey’s Ridge State Park. 

There’s an indoor heated pool, a complimentary buffet breakfast, a business center, and a fitness center. Spacious rooms have a mini-fridge, a Keurig machine, a microwave, and free Wi-Fi. Some guest rooms have a sofa bed.

20. Bodie Island Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse and Skyline
image by Sandy Allen

Built in 1872, the horizontal black and white stripes on the Bodie Island Lighthouse give it a distinctive look. The Bodie Island Lighthouse is 156 feet tall and shines a beacon that reaches 19 miles off the national seashore.

Climb the 214 steps to the top (for a small fee) for panoramic views of marshland, Bodie Island, the Atlantic Ocean, maritime forests, and saltwater ponds.

The Bodie Island Lighthouse is located on the Roanoke Sound side of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Bodie Island has a visitor center, a museum, and the Bodie Island Lighthouse.

See Related: Most Famous Historical Landmarks in the USA

21. Reel ‘em In

North Carolina Offshore Fishing
image by Sandy Allen

Book a North Carolina offshore fishing charter for your whole family or large group. There are a wide array of charter fishing boats that leave out of various places along the Outer Banks.

The Fishin’ Fannatic, a 53-foot Viking Sportfisher, leaves out of Wanchese Marina and heads about 40 miles offshore. Spend the day casting a line for mahi, wahoo, yellowfin tuna, and billfish.

Everything is provided on this full-day charter (you do need to bring your own lunch and beverages) on Hatteras National Seashore. The boat has an air-conditioned interior for when that Outer Banks sun comes on strong (and it does). A built-in box to store the day’s catch.

For pier fishing, check out the Outer Banks Fishing Pier at milepost 18.5. There’s a tackle shop, rod and reel rental, boat rental options, and video games.

Located by the 600-foot pier, Fish Heads Bar and Grill is one of the most popular places for nightlife. Enjoy live music and drinks right on the beach.

22. Nags Head Golf Links

Nags Head Golf Links Scenery
image by Management/TripAdvisor

The 18-hole championship golf course blends the dunes, sea grass, and coast of the OBX with a traditional Scottish design. The course fronts Roanoke Sound and is an excellent idea for Nags Head things to do.

See Related: Best Golf Bachelor Party Destinations to Visit

23. Souvenir and Surf Shopping

Shop on Outer Banks
image by Sandy Allen

The Kitty Hawk Kites shopping complex at Jockey’s Ridge Crossing, across from Jockey’s Ridge State Park, is one of the most popular spots for surfing, surf shops, ice cream and fudge stands, souvenirs, and more. 

For a side trip you can book a surfing lesson on the Outer Banks.

24. Carolina Cuisine

Restaurant in Outer Banks
image by Sandy Allen

Pay a visit to some, or all (Hey, you’re on vacation, calories don’t count, right?), of these OBX favorites. Not in your Sunday best? No worries. There’s no such thing as Sunday best in the OBX. It’s as beachside casual as you can get.

The Food Network’s main man, Guy Fieri, has filmed several episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives among the eclectic eateries dotting the OBX seascape. Check out Tortuga’s Lie, Ortega’z Southwestern Grill & Wine Bar, The Weeping Radish, The Black Pelican, and The Outer Banks Brewing Station.

Other Outer Banks restaurants include:

  • Rundown Café
  • Sooey’s BBQ
  • Hurricane Moe’s Beachside Bar and Grille
  • Barefoot Bernie’s Tropical Grill & Bar
  • Surfin’ Spoon
  • Sam & Omie’s
  • Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café
  • Tale of the Whale
  • Sugar Creek Seafood Restaurant
  • Dirty Dick’s Crabhouse
  • The Colington Café
  • Mama Kwan’s Tiki Bar

See Related: Best Girls Trip Destinations Around the World

25. Seaside Art Gallery

Seaside Art Gallery Building
image by Tobyotter is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Whether you’re looking for nautical, animals and wildlife, abstract, contemporary, or animation art (or just browsing), Seaside Art Gallery is your place to be. There’s also estate jewelry, art shows, and a gift shop at this North Carolina art gallery.

26. Pier fishing

Jennette’s Pier Scenery
image by Sandy Allen

Cast a line at Jennette’s Pier or the Nags Head Pier. Both are excellent spots to spend a leisurely time enjoying the wind and water. The Nags Head Pier has a restaurant, tiki bar, and a tackle shop with rod and reel rentals.

Jennette’s Pier, located at milepost 16.5, has a pier house with science exhibits and a 3,000 lb. aquarium. Outdoors, there are 1,000 feet of concrete pier to wander. The pier was originally built in 1939 and is the oldest in the OBX. You can’t miss it with those cool wind turbines spinning above the water.

See Related: Best Fishing Spots in America to Visit

27. Bumper Boats at Kitty Hawk Watersports

Bumper Cars at Kitty Hawk Water Sports
image by Management/TripAdvisor

Get competitive (or just plain silly) on water bumper boats. Two-person boats float around in a pool and feature steering wheels and super soaker-like nozzles to spray, splash, and all-out soak your friends, family members, or complete strangers.

28. Watersports around Nags Head

Watersport
image by Gamma Man is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

If there’s a watersport you’ve always wanted to try, the Outer Banks is the place to try it out. You can take lessons and eco-tours with Nags Head Watersports, Kitty Hawk Watersports, and others around the area.

Already know how to manage these activities but just don’t have the space in your vehicle to bring everything?

You can rent kayaks, canoes, surfboards, SUPS, and more from a wide range of businesses in the OBX. Don’t forget to book a Nags Head kayak tour too.

See Related: Best Sabbatical Destinations

29. Full Throttle Speedway Go-Karts

Go-Kart in Throttle Speedway Go-Karts
image by MagikalMyth/TripAdvisor

Channel your inner speed demon as you zip and zoom around the go-kart track. Two tracks can hold up to 20 cars at a time. Double and single cars are available. There’s even a track just for the little ones.

After the race, fill up on ice cream, cotton candy, and pretzels before heading back to the Outer Banks beaches.

30. OBX Laser Tag

OBX Laser Tag
image by Management/TripAdvisor

Convince the whole gang to run around in the dark zapping each other with lasers is a fun idea. It is, trust us!

OBX Laser Tag has two levels and more than 20 different laser games. There’s also an arcade for those who prefer old-school entertainment.

See Related: Fun, Exciting Month-Long Vacation Ideas

31. Live Like a Pirate!

Pirate Cosplay

The Outer Banks Pirate Festival takes place at Kitty Hawk Kites round about the second week in August (the 2022 event was held August 9 -11). Learn about all things piracy, whether real or folkloric. This is a favorite among kids of all ages.

If you’re looking for hotels in this section of the Outer Banks? The oceanfront Colonial Inn is a great choice for families.

Colonial Inn Room
image by Booking.com

It offers rooms with a mini-fridge, a microwave, and a flat-screen TV. Some rooms have a full kitchen, which is nice for an extended vacation. There’s an outdoor pool, oceanfront deck seating, and direct access to the beach.

Prefer the comfort and convenience of an Outer Banks beach cottage?

Check out Seaside 58. This beach vacation rental sits in a cul-de-sac in a quiet neighborhood. With five bedrooms, four full bathrooms, and one-half bath, it can accommodate 16 guests.

It’s in the Village at Nags Head community. Visitors can use the Village Beach Club’s oceanfront pool, kiddie pool, and tennis courts.

Roanoke Island

Famously known as the site of the first English settlement (and perhaps the biggest mystery of the New World), Roanoke Island has a fishing village vibe among its harborside restaurants, shops, and attractions.

32. The Manteo Waterfront

Manteo Waterfront Scenery
image by Sandy Allen

The Manteo, North Carolina waterfront is always a fun spot for an evening stroll. Go boat-gazing, visit the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, or just sit and relax as the sun sets and the kids get out some energy on the playground in the town park.

See Related: Best Mancation Destinations Around the World

33. Elizabeth II Replica Ship

Elizabeth II Replica Ship and Skyline
image by Sandy Allen

As you’re enjoying the Manteo waterfront, you’ll probably notice a ship across the way. That would be the Elizabeth II. The 69-foot square-rigged sailing vessel was built in Manteo to represent the vessels that sailed in 1584 through 1587.

It was built as part of America’s 400th birthday celebration in 1985. It’s named after one of the original ships that sailed (in the 1585 expedition), not the current Queen Elizabeth II.

There were three voyages and a total of seven ships. Sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh, the was charter issued by Queen Elizabeth I – whom the ship is named after (phew!).

Encounter costumed 16th Century costumed sailors, learn how to use an astrolabe, check out the quarterdeck, and raise the anchor.

34. Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse and Skyline
image by Sandy Allen

This small cottage-like lighthouse sits in Shallowbag Bay on Roanoke Sound. Educational exhibits inside include an 1800s Fresnel lens and other pieces of North Carolina maritime history. It’s one of our favorite Outer Banks attractions.

35. Roanoke Island Festival Park

Ship at Roanoke Island Festival Park
image by Ken Lund is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Outer Banks History Center, the Adventure Museum, and the American Indian Town are located within the Roanoke Island Festival Park on Roanoke Island.

This walk-through Outer Banks exhibit displays the life and times of the 16th Century through exhibits on harvesting, hide tanning, weaving, net making, canoe making, boat building, and more. It’s located at Roanoke Island Festival Park just across from the Manteo harbor.

Roanoke Island is also the site of an annual Outer Banks bluegrass festival. For a side trip, book a Manteo Historic Walking Tour.

See Related: Most Beautiful Places in America to Vacation

36. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site Trail
image by Ken Lund is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

This is the actual site of the Roanoke Colony, the first English settlement in the U.S. in 1587. There’s no fee to enter the park. You can explore the visitor center and Raleigh National Historic site grounds as much as you like.

Two popular sites at the park do require a fee, and that’s the Elizabethan Gardens and the Lost Colony outdoor drama performance.

37. Get Lost in History at the Lost Colony

Lost Colony Show
image by Management/TripAdvisor

The waterfront Lost Colony, performed at the Waterside Theatre, is the longest-running outdoor symphonic drama in the nation. Through comedy, drama, music, dance, and romance, you’ll learn the story of the people who settled in the area in the 1500s

It was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green and first performed on stage in 1937.

A bit of trivia; Former Manteo, North Carolina resident Andy Griffith performed with the Lost Colony in the early part of his career!

See Related: Best Things to Do in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

38. Elizabethan Gardens

Elizabethan Garden Scenery
image by Captain-tucker is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Also located at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, the Elizabethan Garden features elaborate botanical displays. Italian marble statues and art are mixed in among the flowering plants, trees, and shrubs.

There’s a bronze sculpture of Queen Elizabeth I and Virginia Dare (the first child born in the New World) at this Outer Banks attraction.

See Related: Best Wedding Destinations in the US

39. North Carolina Aquarium

North Carolina Aquarium Shark Sculpture
image by Sandy Allen

Whether it’s raining or you need a break from the Outer Banks sun along Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the North Carolina Aquariums is a great way to spend some time.

Habitats and exhibits at this Atlantic museum include wetlands, rivers, the sea, and shipwrecks. Visit with otters, stingrays, jellyfish, sharks, alligators, and other marine life while learning about sea turtle conservation and local coastal waters and ocean waves.

40. OBX Parasail

Parasailing

Motor out of the Manteo, North Carolina waterfront as you soar high above the Outer Banks sound on a parasail. This is an excellent (albeit fear-inducing for those hesitant of heights) Outer Banks activity to get in a good view of the area.

41. Get with the Ghosts

Elizabeth II Replica Ship
image by GetYourGuide

Book an Outer Banks Ghost Walking Tour to learn all about Manteo’s history, folklore, and pirate past. You’ll tour downtown by lantern light on this two-hour tour. Meet at 105 Sir Walter Raleigh St. beside Ortega’z Southwestern Grill and Wine Bar and Reynolds Barber Shop.

See Related: Best Holiday Destinations for Couples

42. Sunset and Dolphin Watching Tours

Pair of Dolphins

After a day in the sun and sand of the Outer Banks, a leisurely boat ride sounds just about right. Tours leave out of Pirate’s Cove Marina. Of course, you’re not guaranteed to see dolphins, but these captains know where to find them. Even a traditional sunset cruise can result in the viewing of dolphins.

Hatteras Island

Hatteras Island – which includes the towns of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras Village – sits along a secluded stretch of Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Many OBX travelers swear Hatteras National Seashore is the best region of the Outer Banks barrier islands. For seclusion, long stretches of beach, and a nature lover’s ambiance, they have a valid point for choosing Cape Hatteras.

42. Oregon Inlet Fishing Center

Sunset in Oregon Inlet Fishing Center
image by Jed_Record is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Live out your favorite Wicked Tuna: North vs South episodes aboard a sportfishing charter as you cast or troll for Spanish mackerel, bluefish, flounder, trout, and more along the shores of the Outer Banks.

The largest charter fishing fleet on the East Coast, Oregon Inlet Fishing Center has a full-service marina and a fleet of serious offshore fishing vessels.

For Outer Banks pier fishing, check out the Avon Fishing Pier.

See Related: Best Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina

43. Chicamacomico Life Saving Station

Chicamacomico Life Saving Station
image by Runder is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The Chicamacomico Life Saving Station, located in Rodanthe, is one of the most complete life saving stations in the nation. It’s dedicated to preserving the history and sacrifice of members of the U.S. Life Saving Services.

Buildings at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Chicamacomico Life Saving Station include an 1874 life saving station, an 1892 cook house, a 1911 cook house, a 1911 life saving station, and an 1897 boathouse.

44. The Futuro House Photo Op

Futuro House and Skyline
image by Sandy Allen

Roadside oddities put the interest in any vacation. And the Outer Banks has an excellent one for you. The prefab Futuro structure, designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen, makes the perfect photo op. 

Shaped like a flying saucer, and sitting on a barren-looking spot of Outer Banks land, cardboard aliens peek out the window. You can’t go inside, but you’re welcome to walk around and admire this site, one of the unique things to do in Outer Banks.

The original concept of the Futuro house was to design a portable house that could be constructed on any type of terrain. They were built in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. We think it fits right in. It’s located along Highway 12 in Frisco.

See Related: Romantic Destinations in the World

45. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Skyline
image by Sandy Allen

The tallest brick lighthouse in the country is also one of the most historic lighthouses on the Atlantic coast.

The black and white spiral striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, located in the town of Buxton, was built in 1870. It’s 198.49 feet tall and has 200 steps. You’ve got to be invested to make that climb.

The east coast area guarded by the lighthouse is one of the most dangerous on the Atlantic coast, resulting in the nickname Graveyard of the Atlantic. One of the best things you can enjoy on your visit is the book Cape Hatteras Kayak Adventure in Rodanthe.

46. Hatteras Island Horseback Riding

Hatteras Island Horseback Riding and Rainbow
image by Management/TripAdvisor

If you’ve always dreamed of trotting across the sand on horseback, you’ve found your chance on Cape Hatteras. Hatteras Island Horseback Riding takes riders along the southernmost part of the Hatteras beach area.

You’ll be able to see the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the Atlantic Ocean, Pamlico Sound, and other beautiful views on your ride.

See Related: Best Tourist Destinations in the World

47. Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum Building
image by Management/TripAdvisor

The waters surrounding Cape Hatteras and the Outer Banks are known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic due to the shipwrecks beneath the surface. Discover all there is to know about OBX maritime history at the Graveyard of the Atlantic museum.

The North Carolina Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum features exhibits on pirates (Blackbird and his cronies hung out here), the ghost ships sunk around the coast, Civil War battles, and the commercial fishing industry on Hatteras.

This charming oceanfront cottage in Avon is perfect for an Outer Banks vacation along the Graveyard of the Atlantic. It has four bedrooms, and three bathrooms, and can accommodate eight guests.

There’s Wi-Fi, an outdoor shower, a screened porch with a table and chairs, a rooftop seating area (all the better to watch the sunrise), and a charcoal grill.

Ocracoke Island

For seriously secluded beaches and dunes, the fishing village town of Ocracoke Island, North Carolina is a winner. You’ll have to take the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry to get to Ocracoke Island. There are a couple of hotels, restaurants, and small shops for souvenirs, arts and crafts, t-shirts, and the like. 

Stop into local restaurants such as Howard’s Pub and Raw Bar, Ocracoke Oyster Company, Helio’s Hideaway, SmacNally’s Waterfront Bar & Grill, Ocracoke Coffee Company, Back Porch Seafood, Old Salt Sandwiches and Such, and Sorrella’s Pizza and Pasta.

There are taco, slushy, and ice cream stands to appease the snack attacks.

48. Ocracoke Island Lighthouse

Ocracoke Island Lighthouse Sunset

If you’re keeping up, this is our fifth Outer Banks lighthouse on this list. The white brick Ocracoke Lighthouse, built in 1823, is 75 feet tall. The grounds are open to visitors, but the lighthouse isn’t open for climbing. While it’s the smallest lighthouse in the Outer Banks, it’s the second oldest in the U.S.

See Related: Most Beautiful Places in the World

49. Ocracoke’s Lifeguarded Beach

Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach Scenery
image by DiverM/TripAdvisor

Ocracoke’s Lifeguarded Beach, voted #1 by Dr. Beach in 2007 and 2022, is a stunning stretch of the North Carolina coast to relax, build sandcastles, and search for seashells.

What makes this beach really great for families is that there’s a restroom, outdoor showers, a boardwalk to the beach, and lots of parking. Per the name, there are lifeguards from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

50. Ocracoke Ghost & History Tour

Ocracoke Sunset Scenery

Learn all about Outer Banks island lore such as the Phantom freighter and the ghost of the Ocracoke Harbor Inn. You’ll explore either the Creekside or Point area. Tours are about a mile and a half long and last 90 minutes.

OBXscape Rooms Building
Image by Booking.com

For Outer Banks hotels on Ocracoke, consider Captain’s Landing Waterfront Inn, Anchorage Inn & Marina, Silver Lake Motel & Inn, Ocracoke Harbor Inn, Pony Island Inn, or Blackbeard’s Lodge.

Book an OBX Ghost Tour now.

See Related: Best Father Son Trips & Vacation Ideas

51. Further Afield

Methodist Church, Portsmouth
image by Jarek Tuszyński is liecnsed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Portsmouth Island, also known as North Core Banks, is your next point of (very isolated) land after Ocracoke Island. Portsmouth Island is further south across Ocracoke Inlet (in between Ocracoke and Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Part of Cape Lookout, it’s about 16 miles of the uninhabited island protected by the National Park Service. Beach camping is allowed but there are no facilities.

See Related: Best Places to Travel in December on a Budget

Getting Around Outer Banks

If you’re intent on exploring the Outer Banks (and especially if you’re going to hit up everything on this list) you’ll find it much easier if you drive. Do yourself a favor and get squared away with a rental from somewhere like Kayak ahead of time.

Croatan Highway/158 is the main road into the Outer Banks. Highway 12/Virginia Dare Trail (or simply the Beach Road) runs parallel to it along the beachfront from Corolla and Duck, through Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, and all the way to Hatteras Island.

Hotels, beach cottages, vacation rentals, hotels, and attractions can be found along these two roads.

You’ll definitely want a vehicle to be able to navigate around the area and visit all the different towns and attractions, which are spread out. If you plan to head to the northern beaches of Corolla for the thrill of driving on the beach, you’ll want a 4-wheel drive vehicle.

At Hatteras Island, on the southern end of the chain, you’ll have to board a ferry (your car is allowed) to get to Ocracoke Island. After disembarking the ferry, it’s about six miles to the town of Ocracoke. Along the way, you’ll pass beaches, sand dunes, sound side inlets, and marshland.

FAQ

What are the best tourist attractions in Outer Banks?

The Outer Banks is popular for historic attractions and landmarks like the Wright Brothers National Memorial, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the North Carolina Aquarium, and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse.

What are some fun things to do in Outer Banks?

For many visitors, Jockey’s Ridge State Park is an Outer Banks staple. Flying kites, walking the trails, watching the sunset, and tumbling down the dunes are all fun things to do. Additionally, you can book wild horse tours, parasailing adventures, and fishing charters to round out the OBX adrenaline rush.

What is the best thing to do with kids in Outer Banks?

Besides the beach, there are lots of things to do with kids in the Outer Banks. Fun attractions and activities include mini golf, laser tag, kayaking, and paddleboarding adventure to take. Don’t miss sliding down the sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

What are some things to do in Outer Banks when it’s raining?

When it’s raining in the Outer Banks, many folks head to the stores, a gift shop, or the outlet shopping center. Outlets Nags Head features stores such as American Eagle Outfitters, a Gap Factory Store, Polo Ralph Lauren, and more.

Check out the Scarborough Faire Shopping Center in Duck or a variety of other Outer Banks beach and surf shops.

On the other hand, you might want to find a beach bar or ice cream shop and relax with a cold drink. Awful Arthur’s, Tortuga’s Lie, the Surfin’ Spoon Frozen Yogurt Bar, and Hurricane Mo’s are popular spots.

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