A cluster of barrier islands located off the coast of North Carolina, the Outer Banks is famed for its picturesque beaches, historic lighthouses, and lovely national parks where travelers can enjoy many outdoor activities like birdwatching, camping, and fishing. From the cute villages on Hatteras Island and Wright Brothers experiments on Bodie Island to the amazing Roanoke Island and its laid-back town of Manteo, there is plenty to discover when visiting the Outer Banks. To experience one of the most popular getaway destinations in North Carolina from a unique perspective, check out our list of the best things to do in Outer Banks.
1. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Stretching for nearly 80 miles from Ocracoke to Bodie Island, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the first national seashore in the country. Whether you wish to enjoy the fine Atlantic sands, go kayaking, or watch the sea turtles nest during the summer season, there is plenty to keep you occupied while paying a visit to this magical seashore. However, the biggest attraction here is the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse which is the tallest lighthouse in the US. The area is also home to plenty of wildlife including a wide array of birds.
2. Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site & Museum
If you are looking for unique things to do in Outer Banks, a visit to the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site & Museum should definitely be included in your travel itinerary. This incredible life-saving station can be found on the outskirts of the town of Rodanthe and houses 5 exhibit buildings where you can learn more about the history of maritime rescue. Self-guided tours of the facilities are available and it will take you about 2 hours to visit all of the attractions. If you are visiting in summer, you will have a chance to see rescue demonstrations.
3. Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Jockey’s Ridge State Park is without a double the most visited attraction on Hags Head. This lovely state park is home to a giant natural living dune and you can reach the top by either going on a mile-long trail or take the 360-foot boardwalk to reach the summit. Once you reach the top, enjoy outdoor activities such as kite flying, sandboarding, or hang gliding. It’s a great place to visit with the entire family and spend the day enjoying the picnic facilities, the on-site museum, and a small gift shop.
4. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach
No visit to Outer Banks is complete without paying a visit to the beach. Nicknamed as the Pearl of Outer Banks and considered as one of the best beaches in the US, Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach can be easily accessed from the Ocracoke Village. It is the only lifeguarded beach on the island and is great for swimming and surf fishing. To snap some cool photos of the make, head out to the viewing platform.
5. Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Home to some of the best beaches in the country and historic lighthouse, the Cape Hatteras National is a must-visit destination when exploring the lovely Outer Banks. Expect to see many historic shipwrecks here, as well as sea turtles and dozens of bird species. The area is also known as the graveyard of the Atlantic has several beach communities worth checking out.
6. Currituck Beach Lighthouse
There are many amazing lighthouses in Outer Banks, but the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla is probably one of the most interesting lighthouses in the area. To reach the lighthouse, you’ll need to climb around 200 steps. Once you reach the top, the most amazing views of the area await you. Keep in mind that Currituck Beach Lighthouse is closed when the weather is bad. There is also a small gift shop where you can score some cool nautical-themed souvenirs to take back home.
7. Wright Brothers National Memorial
Built as a tribute to Wilbur and Orville Wright, the Wright Brothers National Memorial is a place where travelers can explore a cool replica of the Wright Brothers airplane hangar and camp. The memorial is also home to the exact spot where the brothers launched the world’s first airplane flight back in 1903. Apart from the life-sized sculpture of the 1903 Wright Flyer, there is also a nice visitor center with a wide range of interactive exhibits. Many visitors say how the guided tour of the Wright Brothers National Memorial is informative and fun.
8. Duck Town Boardwalk
If you are searching for romantic things to do in Outer Banks, NC, we recommend heading out to the Duck Town Boardwalk which is one of the most popular Outer Banks boardwalks. Also known as the Soundside Boardwalk, this place in Duck, North Carolina is home to many excellent waterfront shops, nice restaurants, and cozy bars where you can unwind with a drink or two. Right next to the boardwalk, you will find the famous Duck Town Park where a lovely amphitheater, gazebo, and picnic shelter can be found. In case you get hungry, visit the Blue Point Restaurant that serves local cuisine and offers magical sunset views.
9. Outer Banks Kayak Adventures
Interested in kayaking while vacationing in Outer Banks? Meet Outer Banks Kayak Adventures, a company that offers unforgettable, reasonably priced, and relaxing kayak eco-tours. Both experienced kayakers and first-timers are invited to join a memorable family adventure and to experience the natural side of the area from a unique perspective. Besides kayaking, you can also try the paddleboard (SUP) eco-tours with Outer Banks Kayak Adventures.
10. Bodie Island Lighthouse
You will find the Bodie Island Lighthouse at the end of the national seashore. 156 feet tall, it is one of the last brick lighthouses in the US and dated back to the 19th century. Opened to the public 7 years ago, Bodie Island Lighthouse can be visited from April to May and visitors will need to climb approximately 200 steps to reach the top. It is worth mentioning that tickets are required and only 8 visitors are allowed on the lighthouse at a time. Once you reach the summit, you will have an opportunity to enjoy panoramic views of the neighboring islands and take some nice pics.
11. North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island
Roanoke Island is home to the fabulous North Carolina Aquarium, an ideal spot for the entire family to enjoy while visiting Outer Banks. The most famous attractions here are the Ironclad Sanctuary and Graveyard of the Atlantic exhibit. Expect to see a wide range of marine critters such as frogs, others, and alligators. There is also plenty of fish to be seen. If you are visiting with kids, make sure to check out the Sea Turtle Rescue exhibit where the little ones can come close and interact with the turtles. Although the museum is small in size, there are still dozens of animals and exhibits to look forward to.
12. Jennette’s Pier
Seasoned travelers will tell you how Jennette’s Pier is definitely the most famous attraction in Outer Banks. It is the area’s oldest fishing pier that survived numerous storms and is located on the Nags Head Beach. Whether you wish to enjoy fishing off this large pier or visit the on-site educational center that features everything from live animal exhibits to educational programs, there is something for everyone to enjoy at the lovely Jennette’s Pier. Add spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and a perfect seaside setting, and you got yourself an unforgettable experience.
13. Elizabethan Gardens
A 10.5-acre public garden located on Roanoke Island, the Elizabethan Gardens is a great spot to get away from it all and enjoy nature. With hundreds of different species of plants including everything from historical herbs to camellias that have nearly 100 varieties, it’s easy to see why nature lovers usually fall in love with this place. There is also the spectacular rose garden, as well as the ancient live oak. The landscaping of the Elizabethan Gardens is beautiful and worth exploring.
14. The Lost Colony
Established in the 16th century, The Lost Colony in Manteo was an English colony that existed for less than 3 years. No one knows what exactly happened to this colony, but ever since 1937 there is a historical outdoor drama which runs from May to August at the Waterside Theater in Manteo. In case you wish to see this amazing performance by an experienced theatrical team, make sure to buy your tickets in advance.
15. Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education
Located on the grounds of Historic Corolla Park, the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education is one of North Carolina’s nest natural history destinations. Opened 14 years ago, the center allows visitors to discover the diversity of wildlife in North Carolina. Dedicated to exploring natural history, heritage, and wildlife in the country, Life by Water’s Rhythm’s’ is the theme of this wildlife educational center. There is also a nice display of vintage outboard motors, as well as the Banks the Bear attraction which is a stuffed black bear in the lobby that the kids are just crazy about.
16. Whalehead in Historic Corolla
Corolla’s historic Whalehead is not to be missed when exploring Outer Banks. A nicely restored Art Nouveau-style mansion from the 1920s, the Whalehead used to be home to Edward Collings Knight Jr. and his wife, Marie Louise. Nowadays, the house is open for guided tours which include a visit to most parts of this iconic 21,000 square foot building.