12 Best Things to Do in the Outer Banks: Must-See Attractions

by Xaviera
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Are you looking to visit the Outer Banks in the near future? Here are some of the most fun and unique things to do in the Outer Banks. These breathtaking sights, activities, and attractions are sure to make for a memorable vacation experience.

The Outer Banks—a stretch of paradise where the Atlantic Ocean kisses the shores of North Carolina. This destination down south is a blend of natural beauty and rich history that’s hard to find elsewhere. Whether you’re interested in exploring things to do in the Outer Banks or simply savoring the sound of waves crashing against the sand, it’s an experience that rejuvenates the soul.

From the iconic Wright Brothers National Memorial to the untamed beauty of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the Outer Banks is a treasure trove of adventures waiting to be discovered. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker looking to ride the wind through hang gliding or a history buff eager to walk in the footsteps of pirates and pioneers, there’s something for everyone.

But wait, there’s more! The Outer Banks is also a foodie’s haven, offering mouth-watering seafood that’s as fresh as the morning dew. And let’s not forget the charming small towns like Manteo and Duck.

So, pack your bags and put on your explorer’s hat because we’re about to dive into the ultimate guide to the best things to do in the Outer Banks. Trust me, you’ll want to read this before you plan your next coastal getaway. Here’s everything you need to know about these fun things to do in the Outer Banks.

The top places to visit in Outer Banks right now
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Best Places to Visit in the Outer Banks

Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do in the Outer Banks? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this scenic vacation spot in NC. So keep reading to discover all these unique Outer Banks places to visit.

Are you looking to engage in water sports like surfing and kayaking, and explore the coastal ecosystem through wildlife viewing and hiking? Or would you prefer immersing yourself in the rich history and culture by visiting lighthouses and museums? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees in the Outer Banks can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions in the Outer Banks that you should know about.

1. Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Ever dreamt of flying like a bird, feeling the wind rush past your face as you soar over stunning landscapes? Well, your dream can come true at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, one of the best places in the Outer Banks for hang gliding. With the largest natural sand dune on the East Coast as your launch pad, you’ll experience the thrill of a lifetime.

The park offers lessons for beginners, so don’t worry if you’ve never done this before. The instructors are certified professionals who ensure your safety while making the experience unforgettable. And the views? Absolutely breathtaking! You’ll glide over the Roanoke Sound, catching glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean and the charming towns below.

Thinking of the Outer Banks things to do if you’re seeking an adrenaline rush? Hang gliding at Jockey’s Ridge should definitely be on your list. It’s not just an activity; it’s an experience that will leave you with memories to cherish for a lifetime.

Sandy dunes, endless skies, outdoor adventures at Jockey's Ridge State Park
Sandy dunes, endless skies, outdoor adventures at Jockey’s Ridge State Park

2. Roanoke Island

Ah, Roanoke Island, a place shrouded in mystery and steeped in history. Ever heard of the Lost Colony? This is where it all happened. A perfect place in the Outer Banks to dig deep into America’s past, Roanoke Island offers a captivating blend of history, culture, and natural beauty.

Start your journey at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, where you can explore the earthen fort and learn about the English settlers who mysteriously disappeared. Then, head over to the Elizabethan Gardens, a stunning 10-acre oasis that pays homage to the first English colonists. The meticulously maintained gardens are a sight to behold, especially during spring when the flowers are in full bloom.

But that’s not all. Roanoke Island is also home to the North Carolina Aquarium, a must-see for families. From local sea creatures to exotic species, the aquarium offers an educational and fun experience for visitors of all ages.

What are the coolest activities in the Outer Banks, you ask? Solving the mystery of the Lost Colony on Roanoke Island should be high on your list. It’s a day well-spent, filled with intrigue, beauty, and a touch of the unknown. Is this island among the top things to do in the Outer Banks? You bet!

Roanoke Island: History, Culture, Nature – A Perfect Blend of Exploration
Roanoke Island: History, Culture, Nature – A Perfect Blend of Exploration

3. Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

If you’re a fan of maritime history and lore, then the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is among the Outer Banks attractions you shouldn’t miss. Situated in Hatteras Village, this fascinating museum is a tribute to the hundreds of shipwrecks that lie off the coast of North Carolina. You’ll be captivated by tales of pirates, naval battles, and tragic storms that have shaped the region’s history.

The museum features an array of artifacts, from shipwreck remnants to antique diving equipment. Don’t miss the exhibit on Blackbeard, the infamous pirate who once terrorized these waters. You’ll also find interactive displays that are perfect for kids, making it a great family outing.

But the real gem? The museum’s location. It’s right by the water, offering stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. Take a moment to stroll along the adjacent beach, where you might even spot some seashells or driftwood that have their own tales to tell.

Curious about unique things to do in the Outer Banks? Exploring the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is a journey through time and tide that you won’t want to miss. It’s a captivating experience that combines education, adventure, and natural beauty in one unforgettable package.

Discover maritime history at Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum on Hatteras
Discover maritime history at Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum on Hatteras

4. Duck Donuts in Duck, North Carolina

Curious about where to go in the Outer Banks that offer a delightful culinary experience? Duck Donuts in the quaint town of Duck, North Carolina, is a standout. Perched among boutique shops and just a stone’s throw away from the serene Currituck Sound, this donut haven is a local gem that captures the essence of the Outer Banks.

What makes Duck Donuts a must-visit? It’s not just a donut shop; it’s a Duck institution. The shop allows you to customize your donuts from scratch. From classic vanilla and chocolate to adventurous flavors like lemon icing with raspberry drizzle, the sky’s the limit.

But the experience doesn’t end with the last bite of your donut. The shop’s location offers an exceptional advantage. After indulging, take a leisurely stroll along the nearby boardwalk that overlooks the sound. The views are breathtaking, especially during sunrise and sunset, making your donut adventure a multi-sensory experience.

Wondering about the best places to go in the Outer Banks for a memorable morning? Duck Donuts in Duck, North Carolina, offers more than just mouth-watering treats; it offers an experience that’s quintessentially Outer Banks, from the flavors to the picturesque setting.

Delicious donuts await at Duck Donuts in Duck, North Carolina
Delicious donuts await at Duck Donuts in Duck, North Carolina

5. Ocracoke Island

Are you on the hunt for unique places in the Outer Banks? Set your sights on Ocracoke Island. Accessible only by ferry, this secluded paradise offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. As you disembark from the ferry, you’ll immediately sense the island’s laid-back vibe and natural beauty.

Ocracoke Village, the island’s heart, is a charming area filled with historic buildings, local shops, and cozy eateries. Don’t miss a visit to the Ocracoke Lighthouse, one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the United States. Its white facade against the blue sky makes for an Instagram-worthy moment.

But the real allure lies in Ocracoke’s pristine beaches. Stretching for miles, the sandy shores are perfect for sunbathing, beachcombing, and even horseback riding. The waters are equally inviting, offering opportunities for kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing.

Those coolest things to do in the Outer Banks often involve the ocean, but Ocracoke Island takes it to another level. Whether you’re exploring the village, climbing the lighthouse, or simply enjoying the beach, Ocracoke offers a tranquil retreat that’s unlike any other destination in the Outer Banks.

Ocracoke Island, a quaint village with peaceful coastal paradise
Ocracoke Island, a quaint village with peaceful coastal paradise

6. Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Ah, Cape Hatteras National Seashore—a stretch of unspoiled coastline that’s a dream come true for nature lovers. Picture this: miles of sandy beaches, towering dunes, and the rhythmic sound of waves crashing against the shore. It’s not just a destination; it’s a sanctuary for your soul.

Famed for its iconic lighthouse, Cape Hatteras is more than just a pretty view. It’s a haven for outdoor activities. Surfing, kiteboarding, and windsurfing are just a few of the must-try activities in the Outer Banks you can indulge in here. And if water sports aren’t your thing, the area offers excellent fishing opportunities, both offshore and on the pier.

But let’s not forget about the wildlife. From sea turtles to migratory birds, the biodiversity here is astounding. Take a guided tour to learn about the local flora and fauna, or simply grab your binoculars and go bird-watching.

Is it a must-see in the Outer Banks? Absolutely. Cape Hatteras National Seashore is not just about the beach; it’s about experiencing the raw beauty of nature in a setting that’s as tranquil as it is exhilarating.

Endless shores, iconic lighthouse, and pristine nature at Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Endless shores, iconic lighthouse, and pristine nature at Cape Hatteras National Seashore

7. North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

Thinking of what to do in the Outer Banks if you’re a marine enthusiast? North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is a must-visit. Situated amidst the lush greenery of Roanoke Island, this aquarium is a world of its own. From the mysterious depths of the ocean to the vibrant ecosystems of local waters, the exhibits here offer a deep dive into aquatic life.

The aquarium features a variety of marine habitats. Walk through the “Wild Wetlands” exhibit to meet alligators and river otters, or explore the “Sea Treasures” section to marvel at exotic fish and coral reefs. For those interested in hands-on experiences, the aquarium offers touch tanks where you can feel starfish and other sea creatures.

The experience is educational yet fun, making it among the Outer Banks things to do that is perfect for families. Interactive displays, educational talks, and even dive shows keep visitors of all ages engaged.

Thinking about where to visit in the Outer Banks for a family-friendly day out? The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is your answer. It’s not just an aquarium; it’s an educational adventure that offers a glimpse into the mysteries of the deep.

Explore marine wonders at North Carolina's aquatic haven
Explore marine wonders at North Carolina’s aquatic haven

8. Elizabethan Gardens

Elizabethan Gardens is a hidden gem that offers a tranquil escape from the beach crowds. Nestled on Roanoke Island, these gardens are a living tribute to the first English colonists. As you wander through the meticulously designed landscapes, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a different era.

The gardens feature an array of flora, from blooming roses to towering oaks. Sculptures and fountains add an artistic touch, while the butterfly garden is a hit with the younger crowd. Whether you’re a gardening enthusiast or simply appreciate natural beauty, there’s something here for everyone.

For those looking to delve deeper, guided tours are available. These tours offer fascinating insights into the history of the gardens and the plants that call them home.

Elizabethan Gardens tops the list of cool destinations in the Outer Banks. It’s more than just a garden; it’s a sanctuary where history and nature coalesce into something truly magical.

Elizabethan Gardens timeless flora and tranquility in Roanoke's historic oasis
Elizabethan Gardens timeless flora and tranquility in Roanoke’s historic oasis

9. Outer Banks Scenic Byway

Imagine cruising down a road with the ocean on one side and serene marshlands on the other. That’s exactly what you get when you take a drive along the Outer Banks Scenic Byway. This 138-mile stretch of road offers some of the most breathtaking views you’ll ever see.

The byway starts at Whalebone Junction and ends in Beaufort, passing through charming villages and crossing multiple bridges along the way. Each turn reveals a new vista, from expansive beaches to historic lighthouses. It’s a photographer’s dream and a nature lover’s paradise.

For those who love to fish, there are numerous spots to pull over and cast a line. You might even spot some local wildlife, like deer or waterfowl, as you drive.

A drive along this scenic byway is an experience that captures the essence of the area—natural beauty, history, and a sense of freedom that’s hard to find elsewhere. It’s indeed one of the unique things to do in the Outer Banks you shouldn’t miss.

Scenic Byway coastal vistas, endless horizons, and Outer Banks' natural wonders
Scenic Byway coastal vistas, endless horizons, and Outer Banks’ natural wonders

10. Wanchese Fish Company

Ah, the joy of biting into freshly caught seafood! At Wanchese Fish Company, you’re not just having a meal; you’re partaking in a culinary adventure that’s deeply rooted in Outer Banks tradition. Located in the historic fishing village of Wanchese, this spot is a must-visit for foodies.

The menu is a seafood lover’s dream, featuring everything from succulent crab cakes to mouthwatering shrimp. And let’s not even talk about the oysters—so fresh, they practically taste like the ocean. Pair your meal with a local craft beer, and you’ve got yourself a feast.

What sets this place apart is its commitment to sustainability. All the seafood is locally sourced, ensuring not only the freshest flavors but also a reduced carbon footprint.

Looking for the Outer Banks places to go for a gastronomic experience? Wanchese Fish Company is your answer. It’s not just about the food; it’s about savoring the essence of the Outer Banks in every bite.

11. Wright Brothers National Memorial

Wright Brothers National Memorial is more than just a monument; it’s a tribute to human ingenuity and the birthplace of aviation. Situated in Kill Devil Hills, this iconic landmark is where Orville and Wilbur Wright achieved the first successful powered flight.

The visitor center is a treasure trove of historical artifacts, including a life-sized replica of the Wright Flyer. You can even stand on the exact spot where the first flight took off, a moment that will give you goosebumps.

For those who love panoramic views, a climb up Kill Devil Hill offers a sweeping vista of the surrounding area. It’s a perfect spot for a selfie, or simply to take in the beauty of the Outer Banks.

Searching for the coolest activities in the Outer Banks? This is it. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is an experience that will leave you inspired and awestruck.

Monument to innovation: Wright Brothers National Memorial, the birthplace of aviation
Monument to innovation: Wright Brothers National Memorial, the birthplace of aviation

12. Nags Head

If you’re a fan of the ocean, Nags Head is your paradise. This beach town is the epitome of surf culture, offering some of the finest waves on the East Coast. Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or a newbie looking to catch your first wave, Nags Head has something for everyone.

Surf shops line the streets, each one more inviting than the last. You can rent a board, take a lesson, or even just sit back and watch the pros do their thing. The atmosphere is electric, filled with the scent of saltwater and the sound of crashing waves.

But it’s not all about surfing. Nags Head is also home to Jennette’s Pier, a fantastic spot for fishing or just enjoying the ocean views. And if you’re into photography, the sunsets here are absolutely to die for.

Learning to surf in Nags Head should be on your bucket list. It’s not just a sport; it’s a lifestyle, a way to connect with the ocean and yourself, and one of the best things to do in the Outer Banks.

Nags Head offers serene coastal beauty with sandy shores and ocean views
Nags Head offers serene coastal beauty with sandy shores and ocean views

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in the Outer Banks

Looking for more content on the top things to do in the Outer Banks? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to the Outer Banks:

What’s the best time to visit the Outer Banks?

The best time to visit the Outer Banks is in the shoulder seasons of spring (April to June) and fall (September to November). During these times, the weather is pleasant, and crowds are smaller. Summer offers warm beach weather, but it’s busier, while winter can be chilly with limited attractions open.

Are the Outer Banks family-friendly?

Absolutely! The Outer Banks is a family-friendly destination. It offers a range of activities and attractions suitable for all ages, including beautiful beaches, water sports, historical sites like the Wright Brothers National Memorial, and family-oriented events. The calm waters and scenic landscapes make it a great choice for family vacations.

How do I get around the Outer Banks?

Getting around the Outer Banks is primarily done by car. Renting a car or driving your own is the most convenient option. The area has well-maintained roads and highways connecting the islands. There are also bike rentals, trolleys, and taxis available in some areas for shorter trips and local exploration.

Outer Banks charm: Currituck Beach Lighthouse stands tall, guiding coastal wanderers
Outer Banks charm: Currituck Beach Lighthouse stands tall, guiding coastal wanderers

What is Outer Banks best known for?

The Outer Banks is best known for its stunning barrier islands, pristine beaches, and rich history. It’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering activities like surfing, fishing, and kite flying. The area is also famous for the Wright Brothers’ first flight and the mysterious Lost Colony of Roanoke.

Do the Outer Banks have a good nightlife?

The Outer Banks offers a laid-back nightlife scene that complements its beachy vibe. While it’s not a party hotspot, you’ll find a variety of bars, pubs, and live music venues where you can unwind. Seasonal events and beach bonfires add a unique charm to OBX evenings.

Is it worth visiting the Outer Banks?

Absolutely, visiting the Outer Banks is well worth it. The area offers a unique blend of natural beauty, outdoor activities, and historical sites. Whether you’re into water sports, beach relaxation, or exploring maritime history, the Outer Banks provides a diverse and enriching experience that appeals to all ages. Stay a beautiful vacation home overlooking the coastline, and you’ll see why the Outer Banks is so appealing.

How many days is enough in the Outer Banks?

The ideal duration for a trip to the Outer Banks (OBX) in North Carolina depends on your interests and how much of the area you want to explore. However, for most visitors, 3 to 7 days is a good range to get a comprehensive experience. Here’s a suggested breakdown:

3 Days in Outer Banks:

  • Day 1: Explore Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, and Kitty Hawk. Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial, Jockey’s Ridge State Park, and enjoy some beach time.
  • Day 2: Head to Roanoke Island. Visit the historic town of Manteo, the Roanoke Island Festival Park, and the Elizabethan Gardens. If interested, also check out the North Carolina Aquarium.
  • Day 3: Drive south to Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Visit the Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and spend time on the pristine beaches.

5-7 Days in Outer Banks:

  • Day 4: Explore the northern beaches like Corolla and Duck. If you have a 4×4 vehicle, drive on the beach and see the wild horses.
  • Day 5: Take a ferry to Ocracoke Island. Explore the Ocracoke Village, Ocracoke Lighthouse, and relax on the island’s secluded beaches.
  • Day 6: Engage in water activities like kayaking, paddleboarding, or kiteboarding. Consider taking a dolphin-watching tour or a sunset cruise.
  • Day 7: Dedicate this day to relaxation. Enjoy the beach, do some shopping, and savor local seafood at one of the many restaurants.

Is there a lot to do in the Outer Banks?

Yes, the Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina offers a wide range of activities and attractions for visitors. Whether you’re interested in history, nature, adventure, or relaxation, there’s something for everyone. Here are some of the things you can do and see in the Outer Banks:

  1. Beaches: The Outer Banks is renowned for its pristine beaches, perfect for sunbathing, swimming, beachcombing, and surfing.
  2. Lighthouses: Visit iconic lighthouses like the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Bodie Island Lighthouse, Ocracoke Lighthouse, and Currituck Beach Lighthouse.
  3. Wright Brothers National Memorial: Explore the site where the Wright brothers made their first flight in Kitty Hawk.
  4. Roanoke Island: Discover the history of the Lost Colony, visit the Roanoke Island Festival Park, and stroll through the Elizabethan Gardens.
  5. Jockey’s Ridge State Park: Experience the East Coast’s largest sand dunes and try hang gliding or sandboarding.
  6. Wild Horses: See the wild Spanish mustangs in Corolla and Carova Beach.
  7. Water Activities: Engage in water sports like kayaking, paddleboarding, kiteboarding, jet skiing, and parasailing.
  8. Fishing: The Outer Banks is a popular destination for fishing, whether it’s off a pier, on a charter boat, or surf fishing from the beach.
  9. Ocracoke Island: Accessible only by ferry, this island offers a quaint village, beautiful beaches, and a unique laid-back vibe.
  10. Dolphin Tours: Take a boat tour to see dolphins in their natural habitat.
  11. North Carolina Aquarium: Located on Roanoke Island, this aquarium offers a glimpse into the marine life of the region.
  12. Historic Sites: Explore historic sites like the Whalehead Club, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.
  13. Nature Reserves: Visit places like the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge to see local wildlife and birds.

Is three days enough in the Outer Banks?

Three days in the Outer Banks (OBX) is a relatively short time, but it’s enough to get a taste of what the area has to offer. While you won’t be able to explore every nook and cranny, you can certainly hit some of the major highlights and enjoy a few relaxing moments by the beach. Here’s a suggested itinerary for a 3-day visit:

Day 1: Northern Beaches

  • Morning: Start your day in Corolla. If you have a 4×4 vehicle, drive on the beach and see the wild Spanish mustangs.
  • Afternoon: Visit the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the historic Whalehead Club.
  • Evening: Head to Duck for dinner. The town is known for its waterfront dining and boutique shopping.

Central OBX (Day 2)

  • Morning: Explore the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, where the first flight took place.
  • Afternoon: Visit Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head. Climb the East Coast’s largest sand dunes and enjoy the panoramic views. If you’re adventurous, consider trying hang gliding.
  • Evening: Dine in one of the many restaurants in Nags Head or Kill Devil Hills.

Day 3: Roanoke Island & Cape Hatteras National Seashore

  • Morning: Take a short drive to Roanoke Island. Explore the historic town of Manteo, visit the Roanoke Island Festival Park, and learn about the Lost Colony.
  • Afternoon: Head south to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Visit the Bodie Island Lighthouse and, if time allows, continue to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
  • Evening: Relax on the beach or enjoy a seafood dinner in one of the local restaurants.

Concluding Thoughts on Exploring the Outer Banks

So there you have it, folks! A comprehensive guide to the best places in the Outer Banks that will make your trip unforgettable. Whether you’re an adventure seeker, a history buff, or someone who just wants to soak up the sun, the Outer Banks has something for everyone. It’s a place where you can write your own story, create your own adventure, and make memories that will last a lifetime. Must-see in the Outer Banks? Honestly, it’s all a must-see. So pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready to fall in love with this coastal wonderland.

The top things to do in the Outer Banks for all types of travelers
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