Last Updated on September 8, 2021
Last Updated on September 8, 2021
If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.
If you’ve never visited this excellent section of North Carolina‘s coast, now is the time to go. A fascinating history, fun things to do, tons of places to explore, and beautiful scenery all around are just a part of the fun here.
Our guide will share all of that and more of our favorite things to do in The Outer Banks. Here’s how we’ve organized this guide because there’s a lot to unpack before you go:
- When to Visit (Anytime)
- Where to Stay
- Where to Eat (the Best Outer Banks Restaurants)
- Things to Do in the Outer Banks (Throughout)
- Things to Do in the Outer Banks (From Corolla to Ocracoke)
- More Things to Do in the Outer Banks (Related Posts)
When to Visit (Anytime)
Here’s why we think the Outer Banks is among the best winter getaways in North Carolina.
Some places may not be open, and temperatures may be cooler than during the rest of the year, but the scenery won’t change too much, and fewer people are vying for those incredible views.
Give it a thought, and if you’ve ever visited the Outer Banks during winter, we’d love to know what you think.
We created an off-season guide to The Outer Banks to convince you further that any time of year is excellent for a trip there. Also, we included a couple of spots in the Outer Banks in our guide to winter things to do in North Carolina!
Where to Stay
Many people choose Duck or Corolla in the north for relative seclusion and Kill Devil Hills or Nags Head for convenience. On Hatteras Island, Buxton and Avon are a couple of great spots, and then there’s Ocracoke, all on its own across the water to the south.
For a more thorough breakdown of where to stay, check out our guide to Outer Banks towns.
Where to Eat (the Best Outer Banks Restaurants)
Some pretty incredible places to eat in The Outer Banks remain open throughout the year, no matter when you’re visiting. Start by grabbing a pencil and marking up your order at Duck Donuts.
And be sure to pick a colorful variety for the photos you’ll take before eating. Lighthouse Bagels in Corolla and Stack em’ High in Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills are some great places to grab breakfast in The Outer Banks.
OBX Trio in Kitty Hawk serves up delicious food to go along with an almost countless variety of beer, wine, and cheese.
If you’re looking for eats in a specific area, check out our guide to Outer Banks restaurants, broken down by particular towns.
Things to Do in the Outer Banks (Throughout)
Hang Out at the Beach
There are so many Outer Banks beaches to explore. One thing to remember is that public parking can be limited in some places, especially on weekends.
Nags Head is one of the busiest beaches, and you’ll see why. Its gorgeous wide spaces are the first indicator. Personal favorites also include the beaches of Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, and Duck.
In our opinion, the best Outer Banks beach sits down on Hatteras Island, near Hatteras Lighthouse. We also think it’s one of the best beaches in North Carolina.
People come from all over to go surfing in the Outer Banks. That’s largely thanks to some of the best waves you’ll find on the East Coast.
The Eastern Surfing Association likes the waves here, too, and hosts its Mid-Atlantic Regionals each year in Nags Head.
Got a not-too-secret spot to share for surfing in the Outer Banks? Let us know about it!
Explore the Sounds
The first of many people’s things to do in the Outer Banks is to relax on the beachside, but don’t forget about the area’s sounds on the other side of the islands.
While there are no waves to surf on the sound side, we love that the sound’s waters are relatively calm and warmer than the beach. A couple of great spots to enjoy the sound’s waters are at Jockey’s Ridge State Park or the KOA in Coinjock.
While it’s one continuous body of water, they’ve been divided into five named sounds, from the northern Currituck Sound down to the Pamlico Sound that meets the Pamlico River.
We won’t include the Core Sound further because that area to the south is typically known as the Crystal Coast.
Catch a Sunrise (or Sunset)
One of our favorite things to do in the Outer Banks is to see the day start and end with beautiful sunrises and sunsets. But, of course, the best place to watch the sunrise is from your balcony if you’ve booked a rental on the beach.
If you can’t wake up early enough for a beach sunrise (it is vacation, after all!), then catch a sunset on the sound side. There are many Outer Banks sunset spots, including Duck Boardwalk, Miller’s Waterfront Restaurant in Nags Head, and anywhere on the sounds.
Fly an Airplane!
Visit All the Lighthouses
There are five lighthouses in the Outer Banks, and each is unique.
Bodie Island Lighthouse and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse are the two you might recognize from travel guides and postcards. Both, along with Ocracoke Island, are managed by Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
These lighthouses form an essential piece of maritime history in The Outer Banks, North Carolina, and the United States.
Hike these Outer Banks Trails
Hiking Nags Head Woods is one of our favorite things to do in the Outer Banks and one of our favorite hiking trails in North Carolina. It sits between Jockeys Ridge and the Wright Brothers Memorial with more than five miles of trails.
Other great hiking trails include Kitty Hawk Woods and Sea Breeze Trail Through the Hatteras Village Park. Our guide shares them and more!
Not only can you stare at the water and enjoy the beaches here, but the Outer Banks is also an excellent spot for fishermen and -women.
You can fish from piers, on the surf, or from a chartered boat and enjoy many more angling opportunities.
Support Local Breweries
The Outer Banks also has a few breweries worth any day of the week or weekend. Of course, you can find a few of them at any Brew-thru, but we think any NC beer lover should check them all out in person.
Weeping Radish is North Carolina’s oldest microbrewery, and its current location in Grandy offers a pub, butchery, and brewery open to tours. Owner Uli Bennewitz shared his story with us on NC Travel Chat from its beginnings to today.
And then there’s Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills, the first wind-powered brewery in the US. Step inside and order from their massive tap list, food throughout the day and evening, and enjoy their jam-packed events calendar.
We included Lost Colony among our favorite breweries in North Carolina. What’s yours in The Outer Banks?
Things to Do in the Outer Banks (From Corolla to Ocracoke)
Search for Wild Horses
Important Note: If you get to see them, please don’t approach the horses and touch them.
Historic Corolla Village
Corolla Village sits just a few miles south of the 4X4 beach access and where the wild horses roam. Walking around this historic collection of shops, residences, and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is one of the best things to do in the Outer Banks.
Walk Duck Boardwalk
Duck’s sound side boardwalk stretches about a mile along the Currituck Sound, with Duck Town Park at its center. Sunset is the best time for a walk here, but you can enjoy gorgeous views throughout the day.
If you brought your boat or kayak, there are two slips at either end and one public kayak launch accessible near Duck Town Park.
The Wright Brothers National Memorial
If you ever wondered why North Carolina license plates read “First in Flight,” the Wright Brothers National Memorial will show you why. You can walk around outside and see the spot where the “first flight” occurred.
There’s a reconstructed camp to show where and how the Wright Brothers lived and a monument to commemorate this historic site.
The visitor’s center is pretty nice, too, with tributes to the Wright Brothers, their creations, and many other pioneers and trailblazers in the sky.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
The dunes and wind at this state park will take you away to another planet. However, seeing a beautiful sunset there will remind you that it’s still earth. You can also fly kites or hang glide here, and more info about those two activities is available here.
We could name all the piers in the Outer Banks but want to give a shoutout to the ever-photogenic Jennette’s Pier. You can visit this popular pier for fishing but also for a stroll away from the shore.
There’s a small aquarium (affiliated with NC Aquariums) inside, along with shops for gear and souvenirs. You can hang out here for hours, staring out at the water or along the beach. Just make sure you get down to the beach and grab some photos of it, too.
Tour and Taste at Outer Banks Distilling
Learn about the rum’s history in the area at Outer Banks Distilling in Manteo during any week spent in the Outer Banks. The owners are genuinely great guys, too.
And hopefully, you’ll come away inspired to the tune of looking into following your passions as they did. So pick up a bottle of rum (aka Kill Devil. Hence the name “Kill Devil Hills”) and some candied pecans.
Explore the Waterfront in Manteo
And speaking of Manteo, this town is a nice change of pace from the rest of The Outer Banks, even though things aren’t too chaotic elsewhere.
We like coming here for the Waterfront, but the Roanoke Island Museum and the other places we’ve already mentioned make this a must-visit when staying in The Outer Banks.
Visit NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island
Occasionally, you might run into bad weather during your visit, but don’t worry! There are some great indoor places to go and things to do.
The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island is where you should start, full of fun for families and anyone interested in learning about North Carolina’s aquatic wildlife and habitats.
Not only is NC Aquarium on RI one of the awesome things to do in The Outer Banks, but it’s also one of our favorite North Carolina museums.
The Lost Colony of Roanoke
Spending time at the Lost Colony of Roanoke at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is one thing you really must do when in Manteo.
Explore Cape Hatteras National Seashore
If you want to feel like you’re really on the edge of the United States, take a drive down NC Highway 12 through Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It’s also known as the Outer Banks Scenic Byway, one of our favorite roads to drive in North Carolina.
Seeing the water on both sides of the road is a remarkable thing. There are some fun places to stop along the way, too.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
After Bodie Island Lighthouse, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is one of the first things to do in the Outer Banks on Hatteras Island. It’s definitely worth a stop for the short walk, with tons of bird-viewing opportunities and beautiful views awaiting.
Visit the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station
While driving through Rodanthe on the Outer Banks Scenic Byway, you’ll come upon the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station. Chicamacomico was the first life-saving station along North Carolina’s coast, commissioned in late 1874.
Here, you can learn about America’s only life-saving station crewed by African-Americans. It’s one of many important places to visit and learn about Black history in North Carolina.
One notable feat of heroism came in 1896 when the surfmen rescued all nine passengers of the ES Newman while battling a hurricane.
Learn at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
Before hopping on the Hatteras-Ocracoke Ferry, spend some time at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. Exhibits inside honor the area’s maritime history and culture.
Wars, piracy, and ghost ships are just a few of the topics covered at one of our favorite museums in North Carolina.
Ferry to Ocracoke
And if you’re around in October, definitely check out Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree!
Check here for ferry schedules to and from Ocracoke.
Onward to Portsmouth, Cape Lookout, and Shackleford Banks
You can keep going south if you have a boat and visit Portsmouth Island, which is relatively isolated and south of Ocracoke. In addition, you can ferry from Ocracoke or Atlantic in the Cedar Island area in Carteret County, near Morehead City.
The islands south of Portsmouth are part of Cape Lookout National Seashore. This area is more commonly known as the Crystal Coast and is more accessible to reach via Harkers Island or Beaufort in Carteret County.
At the southern end of those protected lands are Cape Lookout Lighthouse and the Shackleford Banks across the water. At Shackleford, you can relax on the beach and, on a good day, watch the wild horses as they live their best lives.
Ready to Dig Into these Fun Things to Do in the Outer Banks?
So we’re pretty hooked on this part of our state and can’t wait to get back there. Among these fun things to do in the Outer Banks, which ones are your favorites?
Is it the beach, the fun things to do beyond the water, or something else? We’d love to know about your favorite things to do in the Outer Banks.
If you haven’t visited yet, please feel free to share your first experience with us here or in our Facebook Group!