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How to Enjoy the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island (7 Important Tips!)

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on March 18, 2024.

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Roanoke Island on the Outer Banks is home to historical lore and legend. This island also features the spectacular NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island, one of four aquariums in the state system.

Visiting the NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island is one of the most family-friendly and among our favorite things to do in Manteo, a fantastic Outer Banks town.

If you’re looking for a non-beach activity on a rainy day—or even on a sunny day!—then this aquarium is for you. Here’s how we have organized this guide:

  • Where is the Aquarium?
  • History of the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island
  • Visiting Today
  • Ticket Info
  • Exhibits at the Aquarium
    • Outdoor Grounds
    • Inside
  • Programs at the Aquarium
  • Important Tips to Enjoy the Roanoke Island NC Aquarium
  • More Things to Do on Roanoke Island

You can skip ahead to any section or continue reading about how to find and how to enjoy this wonderful NC bucket list-worthy attraction!

Read More: 20+ Amazing Children’s Museums in North Carolina for All

Where is the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island?

Address: 374 Airport Road, Manteo, NC 27954
Phone: 252-475-2300

Map of Outer Banks NC Attractions

The Roanoke Island aquarium is located in Manteo, about nine miles from Nags Head and the Atlantic coast.

One important thing to know if you’re staying on the Outer Banks is that the attractions here are spread out! If you’re staying in Duck or Corolla and want to visit the NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island, that’s about an hour’s drive.

Read More: Map of Outer Banks NC Attractions (175+ Great Places Listed!)

History of the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island Manteo OBX Indoor

The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island was founded in 1976 as the NC Marine Resources Center. At this time, the two other facilities at Pine Knoll Shores (near Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach) and Fort Fisher (near Carolina Beach and Wilmington) were also constructed.

The three locations were renamed North Carolina Aquariums in 1986 and underwent significant expansion over the next few decades to become the educational experience it is today.

In 2011, the system was joined by Jennette’s Pier when the historic Nags Head attraction was rebuilt to include an aquarium.

Today, these four institutions comprise a marine research and education network focused on offering visitors an experience of “the Waters of the Outer Banks.”

Read More: 40+ of the Most Amazing Museums in North Carolina (for ALL Ages!)

Visiting the Roanoke Island NC Aquarium Today

NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island Manteo OBX Family Friendly

The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island is housed within a 61,000-square-foot building that sprawls over 16 acres overlooking the Croatan Sound. The aquarium is home to 2,200 sea animals, including sharks, sea turtles, fish, and more.

More than 280,000 visitors come to this location annually to learn more about the beautiful diversity of the Outer Banks and participate in the aquarium’s numerous educational programs and activities.

  • Hours: 9 AM to 5 PM
  • Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas

Read More: Off-Season in the Outer Banks: 10 Things to Do During the Colder Months

Roanoke Island NC Aquarium Ticket Info

Tickets to the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island must be purchased beforehand. Ticket prices are as follows:

  • Adults (Ages 13-61): $12.95
  • Children (Ages 3-12): $10.95
  • Seniors (Ages 62 and older): $11.95
  • Military: $11.95

Purchase NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

How to Become a Member

NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island Indoor Exhibit Area

One of our biggest secrets to lowering ticket prices is obtaining an aquarium membership. This membership is great if you live in the Outer Banks or are a frequent visitor.

Membership grants you free entry to any of the aquariums and many Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited institutions nationwide.

We at NC Tripping focus on supporting non-profits and facilities accredited by the AZA, as their standards of care and dedication to research ensure that they are worthy destinations to visit and promote. 

That’s why we continue to support and love all these NC Aquariums.

Read More: Why and How to Support Amazing Local Businesses Every Day

Exhibits at the NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island

This map is a great guide to visualize the Aquarium.

Outdoor Grounds

NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island Entrance Gate

Before discussing all the indoor exhibits at the NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island, a note must first be made for the beautiful outdoor grounds.

After the ticketing kiosk, a pond with a giant shark sculpture hints at what will come inside the facility. A short nature trail winds through the greenery and a Fossil Hunt crater where the kids can dig for shark teeth.

Finally, to the side of the aquarium is the long Soundside Pier where you can sit and enjoy the water.

Read More: 10+ Great Outer Banks Hiking Trails for Kids (and Adults, Too!)

Inside the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

We’ll cover the exhibits at the NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island in the order we think you should visit them! From the lobby, you’ll take a right to the Seven Rivers exhibit and then can explore the rest of the fantastic facility.

Seven Rivers

NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island Manteo OBX Seven Rivers

The Seven Rivers exhibit is a winding walkway featuring the biodiversity of the Albemarle Sound. Habitats containing amphibians, fish, snakes, and young alligators line the walls.

This exhibit snakes around the first stretch of the Aquarium. It’s a great introduction to the wonders that await you.

Read More: How to See Outer Banks Wild Horses (Tour Info, History, and More!)

Wild Wetlands

NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island Manteo OBX Wild Wetlands

The sprawling Wild Wetlands take up an entire wing of the Aquarium. It’s a bright and airy exhibit home to various species in the surrounding wetlands. Some of the faces you’ll see include alligators, turtles, and playful river otters.

After exiting this exhibit, stop by the green screen and take a group photo so you can never forget your trip!

Read More: How to Enjoy Dismal Swamp State Park (10+ Fun Things to Do)

Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (S.T.A.R.)

NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island Manteo OBX Sea Turtles

This aquarium is unique and admirable because of its Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (S.T.A.R.) Center. The Center is dedicated to sea turtle conservation and offers all visitors the chance to learn more about their work.

The adjoining gallery houses the interactive Operation: Sea Turtle Rescue.

Visitors can learn about the process of rescuing and rehabilitating sea turtles, tour the nursing facility to see some of the turtles and engage with what it means to be a sea turtle rescuer.

Read More: The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center (History + How to Visit)

Sea Treasures

NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island Manteo OBX Sea Treasures Corridor

One of the most elaborate exhibits of the Aquarium is the Sea Treasures corridor. The exhibit replicates a sunken ship and invites visitors to enter and witness a sunken ship at the bottom of the ocean floor.

There are tanks and decorations to mimic the darkness of the ocean floor, as well as short films to watch and treasures to search for.

Read More: Greensboro Science Center (Museum, Zoo, and Aquarium All in One Wonderful Place!)

Sea Senses Touch Tanks

NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island Manteo OBX Touch Tanks

Most people’s favorite aspect of aquariums is the touch tanks, and the Roanoke Island Aquarium does not disappoint. The Sea Senses are home to several stingrays, horseshoe crabs, sea stars, and more that adults and kids alike will love to interact it.

Delicate Drifters

NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island Manteo OBX Jellyfish

This aptly named exhibit is all about the delicate drifters of the sea—jellyfish! This aquarium section is dotted with funky bubble tanks and textured walls that create a futuristic environment.

Delicate Drifters is an incredible exhibit that feels like stepping into a new, deep-sea world.

Ironclad Sanctuary and Graveyard of the Atlantic

NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island Manteo OBX Graveyard of the Atlantic

An enormous marine-filled tank connects these separate exhibits, so we thought it was appropriate to combine the two. The Ironclad Sanctuary commemorates the USS Monitor, the first ironclad warship commissioned by the Navy during the Civil War.

The Monitor eventually sank off the coast of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and its wreck site is designated as the country’s first marine sanctuary. As such, the Ironclad Sanctuary exhibit delves into this history.

And finally, the Graveyard of the Atlantic features the crown jewel of the aquarium: the sharks! The large tank is filled with colorful marine life, including sharks.

Many species of sharks are found here, and you can see them up close and personal in this exhibit.

Read More: 125+ Important Facts About North Carolina You Should Know (History, Geography, and More!)

Programs at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island Manteo OBX Neptunes Theater

Events always happen at the aquarium, with programs geared toward kids, conservation education, and more.

The aquarium’s daily programs are displayed on a large monitor when you enter the building. Examples of programming can include films at the Neptune Theater or special demonstrations.

Beyond these are some pre-scheduled events that visitors can partake in for an extra fee.

  • Indoor Program Examples
    • Behind-the-scenes shark feeding
    • Animal health center tour
  • Outdoor Event Examples
    • Fishing or crabbing excursion
    • Kids’ camps
    • Special events throughout the year
    • Inclusive virtual programs

Read More: Jockey’s Ridge State Park (ALL to Know About Those Beautiful Sand Dunes)

Tips to Enjoy the Roanoke Island NC Aquarium

These important tips will help you enjoy the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island as we have on multiple occasions!

  • Plan to Arrive Early
  • Know Opening Hours
  • Become a Member
  • Use Your Membership here and Elsewhere
  • Visit all the Exhibits
  • Seek Out Programs to Enhance Your Fun
  • Keep Coming Back!

NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island FAQs

How long does it take to go through the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island?

It takes about 1 hour to 1-1/2 hours to walk through. However, you can take as long as you’d like as long as you’re visiting during open hours.

When is the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island Open?

The Aquarium is open 7 days a week from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. It is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

More Things to Do on Roanoke Island

Things to Do in the Outer Banks Lost Colony Manteo

Roanoke Island houses two historic towns, Manteo and Wanchese. Of these, Manteo is the only incorporated town and serves as the county seat for Dare County, which encompasses much of the Outer Banks.

Here are a few fun things to do in Manteo beyond the Aquarium:

  • A great thing to do in Manteo includes The Lost Colony, a production that commemorates the legendary lost colony of Roanoke. Founded in 1587 by John White, this colony is the first preserved English settlement in the country. The show runs in the summer months and is perfect for an informative yet light-hearted evening.
  • Speaking of the colony, this English settlement has been preserved by the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. The site is a national park and describes the colony’s history and other fun facts.
  • Finally, when in Manteo, we always stop by the Outer Banks Distilling and pick up a bottle of their delicious Kill Devil Rum. They’re one of our favorite North Carolina distilleries thanks to their award-winning drinks and cozy cocktail bar.

If you’re looking to explore more of the Outer Banks beyond Manteo, we’ve created many NC Travel Guides to help you out. Here are a few of them:

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