Last Updated on May 11, 2021
Last Updated on May 11, 2021
Upon first glance, it’s easy to agree with Edenton, North Carolina‘s reputation as one of the South’s prettiest small towns. Beyond the mix of waterfront views and lovely historic homes that await, you’ll find plenty of fun and unique things to do in Edenton, too!
As the state’s first provincial capital, this small town of 5,000 remains among the best places to learn about history in North Carolina. You can learn about the Revolutionary and Civil wars here, but you can also experience small-town charm in the form of local shops, restaurants, and outdoor fun.
Before we get into those fun things to do in Edenton, there is some background to cover. Here’s how we’ve organized this guide:
- A Brief History of Edenton
- Things to Do in Edenton (Historic Sites to Visit)
- Things to Do in Edenton (Beyond History)
- Restaurants in Edenton
- Where to Stay in Edenton
This post is part of our series on all the awesome places to visit in Eastern North Carolina.
A Brief History of Edenton
As we mentioned, some background is required before digging into our favorite things to do in Edenton. Here’s a brief history of the town.
Edenton was incorporated in 1712, making it the state’s third-oldest town. You can learn about the oldest in our collection of facts about North Carolina.
Today, Edenton is the county seat of Chowan County and is located in a region known as the Inner Banks of North Carolina.
Since its beginnings, Edenton has been a place of wealth and community. Serving as the first provincial capital of North Carolina, the city has remained an industrial hub.
It’s also a fantastic example of colonial wealth in architecture.
The town was named after Governor Charles Eden, one of the town’s many prominent historical characters. Other famous Edenton natives include Declaration of Independence signer Joseph Hewes, Supreme Court Justice James Iredell, and Harriet Jacobs, an enslaved African-American author and abolitionist.
You can read more about Jacobs in our “Black History” section.
Things to Do in Edenton (Historic Sites to Visit)
From the first political demonstration organized by women in 1774 to the oldest home still in existence in North Carolina, the town’s abundant historic sites are the first of our favorite things to do in Edenton.
Penelope Barker House
Penelope Barker was the leader and activist who organized the first women-led political demonstration in America. Dubbed the Edenton Tea Party, this event in 1774 was a petition boycotting British goods and was signed by 51 women, an impressive feat for the time.
The statement was not well received in London, where a cartoon depicting the women as “bad mothers with loose morals” made headlines.
Today, Penelope Barker is celebrated in the restored 1782 house; a welcome center often referred to as “Edenton’s Living Room.” You can browse through the exhibits both downstairs and upstairs, as well as shop for goods made by local artisans.
The Penelope Barker House is also where you can purchase tickets for the Trolley, which we’ll mention shortly. You can enjoy at least a few moments in the rocking chairs on the porch that overlooks the waterfront.
The lawn is a great spot for picnicking as well!
1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse
Visiting the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse is one of the best things to do in Edenton! The last remaining screw-pile lighthouse in America, a design essential for sandy and muddy environments like the Roanoke River.
This iconic lighthouse is perfectly picturesque and can be seen from all angles. Walk across a former highway bridge to get a better view of the screw piles.
You can also purchase tickets to get a guided tour for the inside. Be sure to climb to the top for an excellent view!
Also notable: the playground at the Roanoke River Lighthouse is excellent! This may be a strange thing to note, but I tend to notice nice playgrounds as a parent of a small child.
This playground was one that had great equipment, accessible bathrooms, and was fenced in!
Built by Francis Corbin, the Cupola House is a beautiful example of 17th-century architecture and history. Constructed in 1758, the Cupola House was almost torn down in 1918.
Thankfully, the Edenton community banded together to save it.
Formal gardens and beautiful architecture decorate the outdoors while you can explore the inside through a guided tour.
The Candlelight Tour and Easels in the Garden are two annual events that take place here that you should not miss! For more info about them, check the Cupola House’s events page.
1767 Chowan County Courthouse
I’m sure a courthouse might not top your list of things to do in Edenton, but just hear us out on this!
The 1767 Chowan County Courthouse is the most intact Colonial courthouse in America that is still in use. The North Carolina Supreme Court still tries two cases a year in this location so it can keep its status.
Daily tours are offered at 10:00 am, 12:00 pm, and 2:00 pm.
While on the green by the courthouse, look for the green teapot honoring Penelope Barker. This teapot installation weighs more than 250 pounds and marks the location of where the original Penelope Barker House sat.
A stunning view of Edenton also awaits here.
Ride the Trolley in Edenton
There are several tour options and we recommend trying them all! Each tour tells a different story of Edenton, offering much insight into the history and culture of the area.
Ride the Trolley to learn more about local architecture and history and where to continue your explorations. Purchase tickets for the Trolley at the Penelope Barker House Welcome Center.
Tour the Waters with the Liber-Tea
You can’t leave Edenton without a boat ride along the waterfront. The Liber-Tea is a personalized boat tour with Edenton Bay Cruises.
Captain Mark Thesier is an absolute delight and enthusiastically shares the best of Edenton with his passengers.
Walking Tours of Edenton
If you are looking for a more in-depth or personalized tour, head to the Historic Edenton State Historic Site. They offer tours of the James Iredell House and Harriet Jacobs Tours that can only be experienced through the State Historic Site.
Explore Black History in Edenton
Harriet Jacobs was an enslaved person in Edenton who was the first to publish a narrative of the slave experience. Born into slavery, she was taught to read at an early age.
Jacobs eventually escaped slavery and spent seven years in hiding before making her way North in 1842.
In 1861, she self-published Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which is now considered the most comprehensive slave narrative written by a woman. A walking tour can be arranged through the Historic Edenton State Historic Site.
The Kadesh A.M.E. Zion Church is an important place to learn about Black History as it is considered the oldest African-American church in the United States. What was once a thriving space in the community for over 100 years was devastated by Hurricane Isabell in 2003.
While the building is no longer structurally sound, there is an ongoing $1.3 million campaign to restore this historic church and bring it back to the community as a cultural and education center for Edenton.
Things to Do in Edenton (Beyond History)
The Chowan Arts Council
The Chowan Arts Council is located in a bright red building near the Cupola House and is a wonderful thing to do in Edenton for those searching for some creativity. Featuring local wall art as well as functional art, the ever-changing gallery has something for everyone!
Browse the space and maybe even take something home.
Paddle Around Edenton
Transport yourself to a completely different world by kayaking in Edenton. Cyprus-lined narrow waterways weave along historic homes sprinkled with wildlife.
Boats can be rented at the waterfront and is a unique way of exploring this iconic North Carolina small town.
Connect, Shop, and Sip at Surf, Wind, & Fire
After you boat around the waterways, stop into Surf, Wind, & Fire. This outdoor sporting goods store has beer on tap and is a great place to meet lovely people from the community.
Bring your pets in for some shopping, too!
Browse the Gregarious Goose
After having a pint at Surf, Wind, & Fire, stop by The Gregarious Goose to browse through handcrafted and vintage gifts. Carefully curated and witty, take home something to remember from your Edenton trip while also supporting local artisans.
Peruse at Feathers on Broad Street
If you are looking for beautiful boutique clothing, Feathers on Broad Street is absolutely adorable. Check out their beautifully curated Instagram page before visiting to get an idea of the amazing things for sale here.
Enjoy a Night Out at Malcolm’s
The door may say Edenton Bay Trading Company, but all of the locals call it Malcolm’s! This is where the community comes together for an exciting night out.
Every Saturday night, the courtyard fills with music lovers for Vinyl Night. Add a track to the playlist and enjoy some of Debbie’s famous sangria for a night you’ll never forget.
Restaurants in Edenton
In-between the history, shopping, exploring, and more things to do in Edenton, you’ll want to nourish yourself. And Edenton has no shortage of excellent restaurants!
Here are a few of them.
Old Colony Smokehouse
The Soda Shoppe
Another delicious spot for lunch in Edenton is the Soda Shoppe. Serving up simple grill food at reasonable prices, it feels like stepping back in time. Get a cheeseburger and slurp down a handspun milkshake in this retro restaurant.
While there are many excellent dinner options in Edenton, we enjoyed a fantastic dinner at The Table which accompanies the Inner Banks Inn. This wonderful restaurant serves thoughtfully prepared, fresh dishes from a menu that changes daily.
Whether you’re dining indoors or on the garden patio, the ambiance is romantic.
Another favorite dining destination in Edenton is Waterman’s Grill. Seafood is the star here and you can enjoy it fresh, steamed, grilled, or fried. You can also kick back and enjoy cocktails at Waterman’s.
Where to Stay in Edenton
Being a small historic town, there are several beautiful Bed & Breakfasts in Edenton.
Captain’s Quarters Inn
One to note is the Captain’s Quarters Inn located on Queen Street with eight well-appointed and comfortable rooms. Built as a private residence in 1907, the Captain’s Quarters Inn is an excellent choice to rest your head!
Inner Banks Inn
Inner Banks Inn is another great option when searching for places to stay in Edenton. The inn is just a couple of blocks away from the waterfront and features four historic buildings of accommodations.
Sip tea on the front porch, enjoy complimentary breakfast from The Table, and make unforgettable memories.
You can read more about the Inner Banks Inn here before deciding to book!
The Cotton Gin Inn
If you are interested in staying outside of the historic district, check out the Cotton Gin Inn. Located on six private acres, the Cotton Gin Inn provides for a charming Southern bed & breakfast experience in a renovated historic home.
They also offer cooking classes that will perfectly complement your romantic getaway.
Mulberry Hill Inn
Searching for sound side accommodation in Edenton? Mulberry Hill Inn is a unique manor house that is listed as a National Registry Landmark.
This Bed & Breakfast sits along the Albemarle Sound and is also convenient for those looking to tee off at the Links at Mulberry Hill.
Ready to Explore Edenton?
We’ve fallen in love with this adorable small town and think it’s a fantastic choice for a coastal getaway. With plenty of fun things to do in Edenton, we think a visit here should sit near the top of your bucket list.
Come here for the history and beautiful Victorian architecture, but stick around for the small-town charm, great hospitality, delicious food, and much more.
In case you’ve visited before, we’d love to know about your experiences here. What are your favorite things to do in Edenton and what would you recommend to a first-timer?