Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on February 29, 2024.
Manteo, North Carolina, is an interesting historic town that serves as an intro to the Outer Banks and a showcase of the beautiful NC coast. Once home to the mysterious Roanoke colony and a welcoming small town today, you can find things to do in Manteo at your own pace.
Whether you want to head out on a boat, stroll around the waterfront, or relax at your downtown Manteo hotel or inn is up to you. We created this guide to help you do all the above and more in Manteo and its surroundings.
Here’s how we’ve organized this NC travel guide to Manteo, North Carolina:
- Where is Manteo NC?
- The History of Manteo
- Visiting Today (and Where to Stay)
- Annual Events
- Things to Do in Manteo This Weekend (and All Year)
- Things to Do Near Manteo (Outer Banks Attractions)
- More NC Travel Guides
Whether you’re a local, a new resident, or a frequent visitor, we’ve got you covered. If you live in the area and are wondering, “What are the best things to do in Manteo near me?” we know this NC travel guide will help you out!
Where is Manteo?
Speaking of the capital city, Manteo is a three-hour straight-shot drive from downtown Raleigh. The town is about 3-1/2 hours from Durham, making it the perfect weekend getaway from the Research Triangle.
US Highways 64 and 264 meet on the outskirts of town and take you through the mile-long Washington Baum Bridge to the Outer Banks.
- Outer Banks
- Wanchese (10 minutes away)
- Nags Head (15 minutes away)
- Bodie Island Lighthouse (20 minutes away)
- Jockey’s Ridge State Park (20 minutes away)
- Wright Brothers National Memorial (20 minutes away)
- Kill Devil Hills (25 minutes away)
- Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (25 minutes away)
- Duck (40 minutes away)
- Corolla (1 hour away)
- Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (45 minutes away)
- Pettigrew State Park, including Phelps Lake and Somerset Place State Historic Site (1 hour away)
You can visually plan your trip to Manteo and everywhere else on the Outer Banks with the following travel maps:
The History of Manteo
Every town has its history, but Manteo’s is extraordinary. To get the full taste of what you’re getting into when heading to Manteo, any trip should start at the beginning of Roanoke Island’s epic story.
- Archaeological remains of human inhabitants trace Manteo’s first residents to almost 8,000 B.C.
- At the time of the first European contact, Manteo’s inhabitants were the Croatan and Roanoke sects of the Algonquian People, who fished and trapped in the marshes, sound, and oceans surrounding current-day Dare County.
- Manteo is named after Native American Chief Manteo, a great friend to British colonists. Manteo traveled from North Carolina to England alongside Wanchese for a futile attempt at cultural exchange.
- Manteo learned enough English on the voyage to translate and serve as a peacemaker for British colonizers and local Indian tribes along the North Carolina coast.
- 117 British men, women, and children sailed to the shores of Roanoke Island for the first attempt at European colonization of the New World. The colony was officially founded in August 1585.
- Two years later, Virginia Dare became the first European person born on the continent.
- Delayed by a war between Spain and England, no resupplies or aid were sent to the colony between 1587 and 1590.
- When Captain John White finally returned at the end of 1590, all traces of the colony and Manteo were lost save for a crude inscription “CROATOAN.”
- Search parties fail to locate any trace of the lost colony of Roanoke, and they are never heard from again.
- Native American people continued to inhabit the island until settlers from the Jamestown Colony expanded their territory south, forcibly relocating indigenous people out of the Outer Banks area.
- European settlers slowly inhabited the island again after 1665, starting as a fishing stop and struggling to tame the brackish climate.
- For the next 100 years, Manteo settled into a small role as a commodity crop hotspot fueled by slave labor.
- In 1862, the Union Army captured Roanoke Island after two days of unfettered artillery fire.
- A southern stronghold for the Union Army, Roanoke Island became a contraband camp of African American escaped slaves fleeing the South in search of freedom.
- At the war’s end, former enslaved people continued to head to the island to form the Freedman’s Colony of Roanoke Island. The community lived self-sufficiently with a church and a school until President Andrew Johnson ordered the island’s return to Confederate owners in the Amnesty Proclamation.
- The area’s first federal post office put Manteo on the map in 1873 and became officially incorporated as a town in 1899.
- The first bridge to connect Manteo to Nag’s Head was constructed in 1924, becoming the only road connection to Roanoke Island for nearly 30 years.
Visiting Manteo Today (and Where to Stay)
Today, Manteo is a relatively quiet town that sees many visitors during the summer, late spring, and fall. We’ve found it much quieter than other Outer Banks towns, which is something to appreciate when traveling along our popular coast.
- Roanoke Island Inn (305 Fernando St, Manteo, NC)
- Tranquil House Inn (405 Queen Elizabeth Ave, Manteo, NC)
- White Doe Inn (319 Sir Walter Raleigh St, Manteo, NC)
- Check Manteo Hotel Availability
- Find Manteo Vacation Rentals
Annual Events in Manteo
These events are some of the best things to do in Manteo. The town is perfect to visit any weekend, but things start picking up in May, and here are some of the most popular events in Manteo:
- First Fridays (May to October): Manteo marks off each new month from May to October with outdoor activities galore. The fun includes live music, restaurant menu specials, local gallery openings, and book signings.
- Lost Colony (Summer Season): Lost Colony is a well-known play commemorating the first European colonists’ events. The play has been in production for many years, and a plaque indicates President Franklin D Roosevelt once attended a show.
- Fourth of July: The 4th in Manteo starts with apple pie contests and kids parades. Live music and after-dark fireworks right off the marina close things out with a bang!
- The New World Festival of the Arts (August): This free festival brings together watercolors, sculptures, wood-burning, oil painting, jewelry, and much more.
- Pirate’s Cove Fishing Tournaments (August): The biggest fishing week in Manteo is in August, with the ladies-only Alice Kelly Memorial followed by the Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament. Visitors and locals come together yearly to have a great weekend on the water and raise some serious cash for local charities.
- Outer Banks Bluegrass Island Music Festival (October): Enjoy a uniquely southeastern sound while looking out over the water at the Outer Banks Bluegrass Island Festival.
The Best Things To Do in Manteo NC This Weekend (and ALL Year!)
No matter the time of year, there are plenty of fun things to do in Manteo this weekend and throughout the year.
- Downtown Manteo
- Local Shops
- Manteo Downtown Market
- Roanoke Island Festival Park
- Roanoke Island Marshes Lighthouse
- Roanoke Island Maritime Museum
The Manteo Waterfront is a way of life for the local community, and as it has developed, downtown Manteo has shaped itself along the shore of the Croatan Sound.
You’ll have easy access to shops, restaurants, and the marina from the Manteo Boardwalk that traces the tranquil waters. This is also a great launching point for standup paddleboard (SUP) and kayak expeditions!
Between the waterfront and nearby US 64, there are shops galore to explore. Here are a few of our favorites, including an iconic shop off US-64, a bookstore, and more:
- The Christmas Shop & General Store (621 South Highway 64, Manteo, NC)
- Downtown Books (103 Sir Walter Raleigh St, Manteo, NC)
- Kitty Hawk Kites (307 Queen Elizabeth Ave, Manteo, NC)
- Roanoke Marshes Trading Co. (207 Queen Elizabeth Ave, Manteo, NC)
- Silver Bonsai Gallery (905 US-64, Manteo, NC)
- Sisters Boutique & Gifts (207 Queen Elizabeth Ave, Manteo, NC)
Manteo Downtown Market
Address: 106 Fernando St, Manteo, NC 27954
Rain or shine, Manteo takes their farmers market up a notch, combining fresh produce with local art, baked goods, and hand-shaped pottery. Over 50 vendors line the streets of downtown Manteo each Saturday morning to bring locals and visitors together.
Roanoke Island Festival Park
Address: Festival Park, Manteo, NC
This fun section of land is Manteo’s meeting point. In addition to serving as the town’s largest concert venue, the park is also a historical wonderland.
Home to a re-created American Indian Town, Roanoke Island Festival Park also has a museum that takes a first-hand look at the life of the first English settlers.
To take things up a notch, the park also includes plenty of interactive exhibits inside the adventure museum, an excellent choice for those rare, rainy days.
Roanoke Island Marshes Lighthouse
Address: 104 Fernando St, Manteo, NC
Unlike the towering fresnel lenses characteristic of NC’s coastal lighthouses, this cottage-style lighthouse stayed small in stature while bringing safe passage through the Croatan Sound.
The current-day lighthouse has been remodeled and decommissioned, serving as an educational center with an original fresnel lens from the 1800s.
Roanoke Island Maritime Museum
Address: 104 Fernando St, Manteo, NC
The Eastern Seaboard’s bulbous lumbar supply and good old-fashioned American ingenuity are preserved in the quaint Roanoke Island Maritime Museum, dedicated to broadcasting local ship-making legends and their contributions to sea travel.
The museum is a fully functioning boat shop providing space for small craft restoration, turning retired boats into exhibitions, and even new boat construction.
More Things to Do in Manteo on Roanoke Island
There are plenty of fun things to do in Manteo this weekend away from the Waterfront. Here are a few of them.
- Boat Tours
- Dare County Airport
- Elizabethan Gardens
- Fort Raleigh
- Island Farm
- The Mother Vine
- North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island
Whether you’re keen on cruising the coast on an old-fashioned schooner (or a sailboat if you prefer) or renting all sorts of water toys, you’ll find classic OBX waterfront options throughout Roanoke Island.
Here are some businesses that offer boat tours and equipment rentals for you to enjoy during your time on the Outer Banks:
- Captain Johnny’s Dolphin Tours (252-473-1475)
- Kitty Hawk Kites (877-359-8447)
- OBX Pontoon Man (252-619-7987)
- More Outer Banks Tours
Dare County Airport
Address: 410 Airport Rd, Manteo, NC
Roanoke Island saw extensive usage as a training ground for WWII pilots and the Navy, serving as a crucial anti-submarine patrol base.
The Dare County Airport has a vast museum dedicated to the thankfully underused command center, in addition to serving as a launching point for helicopter rides and seaplane tours of the wild outer banks.
Address: 1411 National Park Dr, Manteo, NC
The Elizabethan Gardens have been wowing crowds for more than 70 years. It’s located within the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (see next), hosting an extensive collection of hydrangeas, camellias, historic herbs, and native coastal species.
There’s also a live oak tree estimated to be alive since 1585.
We are huge fans of the Discovery Cottage, designed for kids to learn through play.
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
Address: 1401 National Park Dr, Manteo, NC
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site preserves the attempted English colony of Roanoke, famous for its mysterious disappearance in 1590.
The National Parks Site commemorates the colony’s history through exhibits and preservation efforts. Nature trails throughout the complex allow you to follow in the footsteps of the disappeared settlers.
As long as you stay on the designated trail, you should have no mysterious problems.
Address: 1140 US-64, Manteo, NC
Open Seasonally from March
Island Farm is a living history site that tells the story of the farmers and the enslaved people who lived on Roanoke Island in the 1850s.
The family that lived here experienced the impacts of the Civil War, performed rescues as members of the US Life-Saving Service, and assisted the Wright Brothers in their dream of achieving powered flight.
They did this while feeding chickens, fishing the sounds, growing corn, and grinding it at the windmill.
The Mother Vine
Address: 263 Mother Vineyard Rd, Manteo, NC
The Mother Vine is believed to be the oldest grapevine in North America. Nobody knows who planted the vine, but the Croatan Native Americans or Lost Colony settlers were likely responsible.
You can visit the 400-year-old Mother Vine in Manteo, but be mindful that you are entering private property. Thankfully, the property owners are kind enough to allow visitors for now.
North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island
Address: 374 Airport Rd, Manteo, NC
You might occasionally run into bad weather during your visit, but don’t worry! There are some great indoor things to do in Manteo, and the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island is where you should start.
We’ve been going here for years, as it’s full of fun for families and anyone interested in learning about North Carolina’s aquatic wildlife and habitats.
Manteo’s sister town at the other end of the island can sometimes feel like a different world. Far from the vacation home and fleshed-out beachfront vibe of most of the Outer Banks, Wanchese keeps on.
The town’s highlight is The North Carolina Seafood Industrial Park, a 53-acre property that spreads N.C. seafood nationwide.
Eat At These Manteo Restaurants
It’s no secret that one of the best things to do in Manteo is to eat! The town is filled with delicious modern options alongside traditional treats.
- Big Buck’s Homemade Ice Cream (207 Queen Elizabeth Ave, Manteo, NC): No trip to the beach is complete without a stop at the Ice Cream Shop, and Big Buck’s got the best in town – made fresh daily.
- Blue Water Grill (2000 Sailfish Dr, Manteo, NC): The world is your oyster, and the oyster is their world – this is Manteo’s best raw bar.
- The Hungry Pelican (205 Budleigh St, Manteo, NC): A great lunch stop for delicious sandwiches, baked goods, and fresh ice cream
- Ortega’z Southwestern Grill and Wine Bar (201 Sir Walter Raleigh St, Manteo, NC): Guy Fieri rolled out and checked Roanoke Island, stopping at Ortega’z wild fusion menu. The passionate owners are constantly trying out new dinner items and drink specials, so no two meals will be the same.
- Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop (305 Queen Elizabeth Ave, Manteo, NC): If you get lucky, you’ll snatch a picnic table out front of Poor Richards and enjoy the signature Rueben sandwich steps from Manteo Marina.
- Shaddai Chicken (112 US-64, Manteo, NC): Authentic Pollo a la plancha has arrived in Manteo and is delicious.
- Stripers Bar and Grill (1100A S Bay Club Dr, Manteo, NC): Three stories of seating serve up plenty of fried fish and waterfront views, and every Friday night is three hours of live music.
Where to Drink in Manteo
- Lost Colony Tavern (208 Queen Elizabeth Ave, Manteo, NC): Lost Colony’s smattering of locally themed beers goes quite well with the full menu of British pub fare, all complete with a kid’s menu to make a quality night out for all ages.
- Outer Banks Distilling (510 Budleigh St, Manteo, NC): Local Kill Devil Rum is constantly flowing here, with daily rum tastings and distillery tours operating in the thick of things in downtown Manteo. You can find this NC distillery’s creations at any ABC store in the state, but we think it’s more fun to sip OBX Distilling inside its cocktail lounge.
- 1587 Lounge (405 Queen Elizabeth Ave, Manteo, NC): The eclectic microbrew and craft cocktail selections, plenty of comfortable couches and loungers, and magnificent views from the waterfront make for a great date night.
More Things to Do Near Manteo NC
If you’ve driven from Murphy to Manteo on US-64 (or vice versa), you have plenty to explore on both the mainland side and along the rest of The Outer Banks.
Mainland Attractions Near Manteo
- Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge protects the rare pocosin wetlands habitat and its animal residents. Explore this refuge and see black bears, wild alligators, endangered bobcats, and red wolves.
- Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is spread throughout nearby Tyrrell County and Hyde County. This refuge also protects the pocosin wetland habitat. You can walk on a boardwalk through a pocosin at a visitor center in Columbia, about 40 minutes from Manteo along US-64.
- Pettigrew State Park is about an hour away from Manteo. This NC State Park protects the shores of Lake Phelps. The 16,000-acre lake is said to have the last old-growth forests in Eastern North Carolina. Somerset Place, a former plantation, is also here and free to enter.
OBX Attractions Near Manteo NC
- Nags Head: Cross the bridge from Manteo and head north; you’ll wind up in Nags Head in no time. Nags Head is one of the more developed sections of the OBX.
- Jockey’s Ridge State Park: Home to the tallest dunes on the East Coast, Jockey’s Ridge State Park is a 427-acre wonderland with 3 officially designated nature trails. Walking among the dunes is so much fun, but simply standing on one and watching the sunset over the sound is the best part.
- Jennette’s Pier: The ever-photogenic Jennette’s Pier is a popular fishing spot and an opportunity to stroll away from the shore. A small aquarium (affiliated with NC Aquariums) is inside with shops for gear and souvenirs.
- Wright Brothers National Memorial: Right before you hit Kill Devil Hills, take a detour to see some dunes that changed the course of humanity. The spot where the Wright Brothers completed the first airplane flight has been preserved and marked with a fascinating museum documenting Orville and Wilbur’s quest to take flight.
What Are Your Favorite Things to Do in Manteo NC?
As you see, we’re huge fans of Manteo. If you’re also familiar with this Outer Banks town, we’d love to hear about your favorite things to do in Manteo.
Is it the waterfront, the Aquarium, or something else that you love about this place?
Let us know in the comments and remember to share your OBX adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group! Photos are always welcome.
More Things to Do in Manteo NC (and Nearby!)
Our NC Travel Guides collection features many things to do in Manteo and nearby! Here are a few of them: