Are you trying to plan your perfect getaway to the Outer Banks of North Carolina? You’ve come to the right place. No matter what time of year you’re going, or who you’re traveling with, we’ve got the most comprehensive list of the best things to do in the Outer Banks that everyone will enjoy!
From the famously stunning Outer Banks beaches to historic sites and exciting family adventures, there are so many fun things to do here! We’ve got you covered with food to eat, things to see, spots to relax, and experiences that the whole family can enjoy. Activities are hosted by each of the prettiest towns in the Outer Banks, so no matter where you find yourself, there is plenty to enjoy on an Outer Banks vacation.
16 Best Things to Do in the Outer Banks Everyone Will Enjoy
Cape Hatteras has been designated a National Seashore, and is one of the best places to visit in the Outer Banks. Whether you are looking for a lazy day sunbathing on the beach, or a more active adventure kayaking the sound or fishing straight from the ocean waters, a day at Cape Hatteras is sure to be a joyful one.
For outdoor enthusiasts, camping spots are available that accommodate tents, trailers and motor homes. You can sleep listening to the sounds of the waves! Off-road vehicles are also allowed for visitors to explore the beach through driving. Ramps accessing the beach are located up and down the seashore, but make sure you have a permit to operate your vehicle in the area before you start your journey.
Kite flying is a popular pastime for guests on Cape Hatteras. After all, this is the seashore where the Wright Brothers flew the first airplane those many years ago. For history lovers, there are three historic lighthouses located within the National Seashore Park. Bodie Island Lighthouse and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse are both open for self-guided tours. The Ocracoke Island Lighthouse is not open for climbing but can be viewed and explored from the outside grounds.
With so many fun activities to enjoy, you can see why Cape Hatteras is one of the best things to do in the Outer Banks.
North Carolina Aquarium
If you’re traveling to the Outer Banks, chances are you’re looking for an outdoor adventure. But what if it rains? Well, we’ve got you covered there, too. For one of the best indoor things to do in the Outer Banks, look no further than the North Carolina Aquarium.
With four unique aquarium locations, no matter where you are in the Outer Banks, there’s an aquarium visit nearby, just waiting for you to explore. Spot sharks swimming mere feet away, feel the skin of a stingray swimming beneath your fingers, and marvel at the adorable otters splashing in the waterfalls.
The North Carolina Aquarium also boasts a variety of experiences and tours to fully immerse guests in their visit. If you’re visiting on a sunny day, try the “What’s the Catch?” fishing experience or “Let’s Go Crabbing!” to learn about the biology of the blue crab. Both programs are family friendly, open to children ages five and up. For an indoor day, makes sure to stop by the “Sea the Change” exhibit that highlights the different habitats where our wetland neighbors live, and get an up close view of how these creatures navigate the waters.
If you’re wondering what to do in the Outer Banks on a rainy day, the North Carolina Aquarium is the top spot to be!
The Lost Colony
If you’re visiting the Outer Banks in July, make sure to take in a performance of The Lost Colony in Manteo. The Lost Colony is the longest-running outdoor drama in the United States. Written by celebrated North Carolina playwright, Paul Green, this adventure-filled theatrical experience has been staged annually since 1937, making it one of the most fun things to do in the Outer Banks.
The play was written to engage in the history of the Roanoke settlement charted by Queen Elizabeth I. The settlement flourished for a time and even saw the birth of the first English child on American soil, but settlers soon faced many challenges as they navigated life in the new world. Mysteriously, the settlers vanished around 1590 and were never heard from again.
The events of this story told through song and dance, have become one of the most celebrated pieces of American theatre. Franklin D. Roosevelt took in a performance during his presidency, and roles in the production helped to launch the careers of popular actors Andy Griffith, Terrence Mann, and costume designer William Ivey Long.
For an unforgettable night of live theatre, don’t miss The Lost Colony, one of the best things to do in the Outer Banks!
Wright Brothers National Memorial
Love to fly? You won’t want to miss the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, which celebrates the history of the first flight and those who made it possible. With so much to explore on-site, this is one of the best attractions in the Outer Banks.
Start your visit by checking out the Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center for all the information you’ll need to make the most of your visit. Interactive exhibits and films will educate you on the Wright Brothers’ story, from how they took their dreams of flight and made them a reality. Next, stopover at the First Flight Boulder and Flight Line to witness the very spot where Orville and Wilbur Wright made their dreams come true with their first flight.
Built on the location where the Wright Brothers lived during their test and experimentation period, the Reconstructed 1903 Camp Buildings showcase to visitors what life was like for the Wright Brothers during their time at Kitty Hawk. The reconstructed hangar and living quarters are both open for viewing. The Wright Brothers Monument is located at the top of Kill Devil Hill, a popular place for Orville and Wilbur to test out their gliding experiments. It is an outstanding celebration of their achievements that changed the world.
The Elizabethan Gardens
Opened in 1960 as a way to further enhance the beauty of Roanoke Island, the Elizabethan Gardens are a unique and lovely place to spend an afternoon in the Outer Banks.
The Elizabethan Gardens are open year-round with an ever-changing array of flowers and plants in bloom depending on the season. Take a light stroll through the gardens as you marvel at the canopy of trees and delight in the surrounding nature. This is one of the most excellent spots for bird watchers to gather, as the gardens are part of the North Carolina Birding Trail.
In addition to its stunning landscape, the Elizabethan Gardens also hosts some exquisite sculptures that pay homage to the history of the area. The gardens, named for Queen Elizabeth I, feature a bronze statue of the British monarch in all her power and detail. Visitors can also view a statue of the child Virginia Dare, the first known English child born in America. She and her parents were part of the Roanoke settlement that mysteriously vanished around 1590. Aged three at the time, no one knows exactly what became of Virginia or her family.
If you’re in the Outer Banks for the winter holidays, a visit to the Elizabethan Gardens for their WinterLights display is a must-do! The gardens transform into an illuminated winter wonderland, with sights and sounds to entertain guests of all ages. This very special winter event makes the Elizabethan Gardens one of the best places to visit in the Outer Banks.
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is a North Carolina Maritime Museum commemorating the explorers and their ships that sailed the ocean many years ago. An indoor experience, this museum provides the perfect outing for a rainy afternoon with children, making it one of the most family-friendly things to do in the Outer Banks.
Featuring a new ship-based exhibit annually, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is consistently offering new programs to give visitors a glimpse into the life of a sailor. For some extra special family fun, compete in the museum’s scavenger hunt that will have you searching for items as you explore the various exhibits – collect them all and you get a prize!
Their Salty Dawg series that runs through the summer celebrates all things maritime, from food to music, from history to culture. Also featured in the summer months are opportunities to make maritime crafts as mementos for yourself or to share with someone you love.
Enjoy special events such as the Underwater Heritage Symposium in April, British War Graves ceremonies in May, and Holidays on Hatteras during the winter months.
Only accessible by boat, Ocracoke Island is one of the best places to visit in the Outer Banks. Because of its separation from the rest of the Outer Banks, Ocracoke Beach has a one-of-a-kind feel that is sure to welcome you for a wonderful day outdoors.
There are 15 miles of natural beaches that can make guests feel like they’re enjoying their own exclusive beach adventure. After searching for shells or fishing on the beach, make your way over to the Ocracoke Lighthouse to explore a piece of the island’s history. For more outdoor exploring, make sure to stop at Springer Point Nature Preserve to meander the trails through Ocracoke’s lush forests and marshes.
If history is what you’re after, a visit to the Ocracoke Preservation Society is essential. A museum filled with maps, artifacts, stories, and legends that document the island’s abundant history, this is a wonderful spot to learn about the olden days in the Outer Banks.
One of the most famous attractions that Ocracoke Island has to offer is the Ocracoke Pony Pen – an enclosure of wild mustangs that roam the area. The ponies arrived on the island after nearby Spanish shipwrecks during the early settlement of the area. These mustangs have flourished on the island over the centuries, making them one of the truly unique features of this very special place.
OBX Taste of the Beach
If you happen to visit the Outer Banks in March, you won’t want to miss the OBX Taste of the Beach, an exciting food festival celebrating local restaurants and dishes that you can only find in the Outer Banks. Whether your interest is food or wine (or both), this festival features a variety of culinary experiences and cuisines, sure to leave you hungry for more. As you enjoy the best food OBX Taste of the Beach has to offer, you’ll leave feeling that this is one of the most fun things to do in the Outer Banks.
OBX Taste of the Beach spans all things food. With events that feature all kinds of food from BBQ to breakfast to seafood to multi-course dinners, there is truly something for everyone to enjoy. If spirits are more your thing, make sure to check out special events like Beer Yoga, Toast the Coast, where you’ll sample North Carolina’s finest wines and cheeses, and Vine Dining, enjoying food trucks in a local vineyard.
Traveling with kids? They’ll be happy at OBX Taste of the Beach, too, loving events like Crab Happy Lunch – a Study in Crabs or Barking Brunch, where your furry friends are welcome at the table, too!
You can even learn more about the source of your food with behind the scenes tours and education series like the Wine and Brine OBX Oyster Tour. With so many offerings to satisfy all kinds of appetites, it’s clear why this is one of the best things to do in the Outer Banks in March.
Located in the historic village of Corolla, Whalehead Mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, preserving this beautiful 1920’s Art Nouveau-style home. A visit to this special place will transport you back in time to another era of grandeur, truly one of the best places to visit in the Outer Banks.
Construction began on the historic Whalehead Club in 1922, when nearby Corolla was only barely inhabited. The Whalehead served as a hunting lodge for wealthy hunters looking to take advantage of the area’s abundance of waterfowl. A husband and wife hunting duo, the Knights, built the Whalehead because Mrs. Knight was not welcome in all-male hunting clubs, so her husband set out to create a space that was accepting of her and her love of the hunt. It was the first building in the Outer Banks to include an elevator and a basement, among other amenities.
Now open to guests for tours, legend has it that the Whalehead is haunted. People have reported smelling and seeing cigar smoke in the dining room near Mr. Knight’s portrait – smoking cigars in that very room was one of his favorite pastimes. The elevator is also locked because it would suddenly run to the basement without any provocation. If you’re particularly interested in the Whalehead’s haunted history, Legends, Lore, and Ghost Tours are run at select times.
Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve
If you’re looking for the best hiking trails in the area, look no further than the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve, one of the eco-friendly things to do in OBX. Defined as one of the largest maritime forests on the East Coast, Nags Head Woods is a rare feature of our country’s ecosystems due to the increasing development of the coastline.
During a hike in Nags Head Woods, take in the thriving natural surroundings featuring over 550 species of plants, 150 species of birds, and 50 species of reptiles and amphibians. Eagle-eyed guests might also catch the rare glimpse of a mammal, like an otter splashing in the water.
Nags Head Woods was established as a residential community in the 1930’s, which featured typical village amenities including a gristmill. To learn about the full history of the area, pick up an audio tour at the trail entrance to take with you on your hike.
Nags Head Woods was established as a National Natural Landmark in 1974 and boasts some of the most stunning natural landscape that the Outer Banks has to offer.
Outer Banks Kite Festival
For autumn visitors to the area, there is still much excitement to be found, even as cooler weather moves in. Kitty Hawk Kites hosts the Outer Banks Kite Festival every September and it’s a great way to bring in the fall in the Outer Banks.
Bring your own kites to Jockey’s Ridge State Park to fly alongside the pro’s giant kites as they take to the skies. Interested in learning some kite tricks of your own? Stunt lessons, including work with power kites, are given by the professionals to guests who want to improve their kite flying skills.
Enjoy daring kite performances from some world’s best fliers, in addition to kite flying set to music, and synchronized kite displays. If you’re looking for what to do in the Outer Banks in September, this is a great choice. You won’t want to miss this one-of-a-kind event you can only find in the Outer Banks!
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Jockey’s Ridge State Park is home to the tallest sand dune on the Atlantic coast, and is host to the Outer Banks Kite Festival, mentioned above, due to its ideal conditions for flight. For some of the best sunsets around, this area is one of the most stunning places to visit in the Outer Banks.
When visiting Jockey’s Ridge, start your trip at the park’s visitor center to learn about the dune’s ecology and experience a grand entrance into the vast landscape. Because the dune is so flight friendly, hang gliding lessons are offered for guests wishing to take to the skies. Experienced hang gliders may go on their own excursions with their own equipment, but permits must be obtained at the visitor center before take off.
On the southside of the park, guests can find a one-mile nature trail that winds through the areas of marshy wetlands. For some family fun, sunbathe on the beaches, play games on the sand, and bring a picnic for a memorable day out on the dunes.
On a visit to Currituck Sound, there are plenty of attractions to keep you busy as you explore some of the most fun things to do in the Outer Banks. From miles of sunny beaches to water sports and other activities, this is one of the best places to visit in the Outer Banks for an energetic vacation.
There are over 20 miles of remote beaches on Currituck Sound for you to enjoy. Relax with a good book, take a swim, or enjoy some fishing – all are encouraged on a trip to this enchanting piece of the Outer Banks. If exploring the local wildlife is something you’d enjoy, check out EnvirOBX Island EcoAdventure, a guided tour teaching guests about the preservation and safety of the local land. For water sports fun, stop over to Kitty Hawk Kayaks and Surf School, where you can take the whole family on a kayak tour or sign up for daily surf lessons. Equipment is available for rent if needed.
For avid golfers, there are plenty of opportunities to hit the links on Currituck Sound. The Pointe Golf Club, Kilmarlic Golf Club, and OBX Golf Travel are just a few of the many courses waiting to welcome golfers for a day on the green. Wine aficionados will appreciate the two vineyards open for a tasting. Try Sanctuary Vineyards and Martin Farm Winery for the best Currituck has to offer!
Roanoke Island Festival Park
Roanoke Island Festival Park is a 25-acre historic site that allows visitors to fully engage in the life and traditions of the English settlers to Roanoke Island in the late 1500s. Costumed performers are present throughout the site to demonstrate and showcase the various aspects of life in the settlement.
For more interactive exhibits highlighting the history of the area, visit the Elizabeth II ship to learn about maritime travel of that era, and the American Indian Town and Adventure Museum for exhibits celebrating the culture of the native peoples who lived in the area prior to the English settlement. Special concerts are also known to pop up in the park, so you might be treated to some great music while you explore Roanoke history.
The park is also a popular destination for weddings if you are looking for a special Outer Banks location to host your big day. With miles of nature trails for hiking and impressive views from the nearby piers, Roanoke Island Festival Park is truly a destination that has it all, making it one of the best things to do in the Outer Banks.
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
With many activities to offer, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful place to explore the wildlife of the Outer Banks. Hunting, fishing, and wildlife photography are all popular activities within the refuge, but the many guided tours offered by the refuge are sure to be the highlight of the trip.
With programs catering to guests of all ages (including pre-schoolers), there is sure to be something that piques your interest. A variety of guided tours via canoe, van, and open-air tram immerse guests in the ecology of the area. Red Wolf Howling focuses on the lives of the endangered red wolf, who live on the refuge, and Wings Over Water is an annual festival that celebrates the magnificent birds who nest and hunt right on the water.
If you’re looking to explore on your own, the refuge offers many diverse and short nature trails for hikers of all experience levels. Make sure to check out Murphy Peterson Wildlife Drive in your personal vehicle to see multiple species of plant and animal wildlife in their natural habitat. Best to come in early morning, or at sunset, to see the many animals that want to say hello! With so many ways to adventure into the wild, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is truly one of the most fun things to do in the Outer Banks!
Portsmouth Village, located on the Cape Lookout National Seashore, is another chance to travel back in time on a visit to the Outer Banks. Portsmouth Village was once a busy seaside town during its initial settlement, but has since been abandoned and is open for visitors to explore what an early Outer Banks village looked like. The village was established in the 1750s and operated with residents up to its abandonment in 1971.
The community spirit is still very much alive when you walk through buildings like the Salter House (which is also the visitor center), the School, the Post Office and General Store, and the Methodist Church. Guided tours are available to take you further into the history of the village, though audio tours are also accessible if you wish to tour on your own.
Before you visit, make sure to check the ferry times from Ocracoke. Portsmouth Village is only accessible via ferry and you may need to make a reservation in advance. If you wish to extend your stay on Cape Lookout, camping is available on the beaches nearby, though you won’t find any other accommodations on the island. For history lovers, this is sure to be one of the best things to do in the Outer Banks.
Whether you’re looking for outdoors galore, or want to dive into the rich history of the Outer Banks, there is something for everyone here…and more! Rain or shine, winter or summer, there are plenty of things to see and do (and eat) year round in the Outer Banks.
With multiple beaches fit for relaxing or surfing the waves, plenty of museums and wildlife centers, not to mention opportunities to learn something new, you’ll never wonder what to do in the Outer Banks. It is a place well worth exploring!