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20+ Fun Things to Do in Manteo and Nearby!

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on April 4, 2024.

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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!

Read More: 50+ of the Best Things to Do in The Outer Banks (The OBX NC Bucket List)

Where is Manteo?

Dare County North Carolina incorporated and unincorporated areas Manteo highlighted Rcsprinter123 CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Rcsprinter123, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Manteo is one of two gateways to the Outer Banks, and is typically the way people enter from Raleigh and other parts of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

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. 

Manteo is close to many of the largest OBX towns and also some interesting places on the mainland in Eastern NC. Here’s a breakdown of destinations within an hour’s drive from Manteo:

You can visually plan your trip to Manteo and everywhere else on the Outer Banks with the following travel maps:

The History of Manteo

Things to Do in Manteo NC

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.

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

Visiting Manteo Today (and Where to Stay)

Tranquil House Inn Manteo NC Places 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.

Economy options include the Hotel Manteo (814 US-64, Manteo, NC) and the Island Guesthouse and Motel (706 US-64, Manteo, NC) Here are some places to stay close to the waterfront:

Annual Events in Manteo 

The Lost Colony Play Things to Do in Manteo NC Summer

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!
  • 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.

Follow the NC Tripping Events Calendar

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

Downtown Manteo

Manteo NC Waterfront Things to Do by NC Tripping

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!

Local Shops

Downtown Books Manteo NC Things to Do

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:

Read More: 10 Ways to Support Amazing Local Businesses in NC Today

Manteo Downtown Market

Address: 106 Fernando St, Manteo, NC 27954
Website

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
Website

Manteo NC Roanoke Island Festival Park Elizabeth II Ship

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

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse Manteo NC Things to Do

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. 

Read More: The 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse in Edenton, NC (History and How to Visit!)

Roanoke Island Maritime Museum

Address: 104 Fernando St, Manteo, NC
Website

Roanoke Island Maritime Museum

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
  • Wanchese

Boat Tours

Things to Do in the OBX Dolphin Tours

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:

Dare County Airport

Address: 410 Airport Rd, Manteo, NC
Website

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

Elizabethan Gardens

Address: 1411 National Park Dr, Manteo, NC
Website

Elizabethean Gardens

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.

Read More: 30+ of the Most Festive Christmas Lights Displays in North Carolina

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

Address: 1401 National Park Dr, Manteo, NC
Website

Fort Raleigh Manteo

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.

Read More: Cape Lookout National Seashore (How to Get There + the 10 Best Things to Do!)

Island Farm

Address: 1140 US-64, Manteo, NC
Open Seasonally from March
Website

Things to Do in the Outer Banks NC Island Farm

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.

Read More: 16 of the Most Beautiful Botanical Gardens in North Carolina

The Mother Vine

Address: 263 Mother Vineyard Rd, Manteo, NC

OBX Attractions Mother Vine Manteo North Carolina

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.

Read More: 25 of the Best North Carolina Wineries and Vineyards

North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

Address: 374 Airport Rd, Manteo, NC

NC Aquarium Roanoke Island

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.

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

Wanchese

Wanchese NC

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. 

Read More: How to Explore the NC Oyster Trail (10+ Adventurous Ways!)

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. 

Read More: 30 Amazing Outer Banks Restaurants for Your Next Beach Trip!

Where to Drink in Manteo

Outer Banks NC Things to Do Lost Colony Brewery and Cafe Image
Lost Colony.
  • 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. 

Read More: 80+ Tasty North Carolina Breweries (The Best of the Best!)

More Things to Do Near Manteo NC

US 64 Murphy to Manteo Manteo Sign

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

North Carolina State Parks Pettigrew State Park Phelps Lake
Phelps Lake.
  • 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

OBX NC Things to Do Jennettes Pier Nags Head North Carolina
  • 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:

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