Discover the top attractions and activities in the Outer Banks, NC.

Outer Banks
Outer Banks

Known for its rich history, the Outer Banks is a famous vacation destination

Outer Banks history is rich: At Kill Devil Hills, Wright Brothers took their famous first flight, while Blackbeard fought his last battle at Ocracoke and the Lost Colony vanished somewhere near Roanoke Island.

Along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, there is no shortage of things to do, but to maximize your time and see everything you want to see, you should plan your trip ahead of time.
A series of bridges connect the barrier islands along the Atlantic Coast, making them a popular vacation destination. During their annual visit to the Outer Banks (OBX), many tourists make their way to places like Duck, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Rodanthe, and Hatteras, where a variety of vacation homes and lodging are available.

KNOWN FOR

  • More than 100 miles of beaches
  • National Seashore of Cape Hatteras
  • The Lost Colony
  • Water Sports & Kiteboarding
  • Four Lighthouses on the Coastal Highway
  • Wild Spanish Mustangs

The Outer Banks are famous for their sand dunes

Sand dunes in the Outer Banks
Sand dunes in the Outer Banks

If you decide to stay in one of the outer bank’s towns, take a leisurely drive along NC Highway 12 and explore the shops, as well as the scenery, which alternates from the rough Atlantic waves along Cape Hatteras National Seashore to the quiet Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

The Outer Banks have a rich maritime history. Visit the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station Historic Site and The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum to learn about the contributions of seafarers to the region before tourists ever arrived.

You can pick up a map of the coast at the Outer Banks Welcome Center on Roanoke Island, which is helpful for reference in your car. Find out what is on our list of the top attractions and things to do on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Lighthouses of historical significance

Historic Lighthouses
Historic Lighthouses
Five Outer Banks lighthouses are popular with visitors: Roanoake Marshes Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Bodie Island Lighthouse, Ocracoke Lighthouse, Currituck Beach Lighthouse.
At 208 feet, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which is considered a tall tower as it rises above 150 feet, is the tallest brick lighthouse in North America. It features spiralling white and black stripes up its 208-foot tower.
The lighthouse was moved back a half-mile in 1999, and its original location can now be seen – a sandy beach now covered with ocean waves and a favourite spot for surfers. With its beam of light of 19 miles, Bodie Island Lighthouse is still in operation, guiding boats to shore. This 156-foot-tall lighthouse is recognizable by its horizontal stripes.
The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse on Roanoke Island is a small but interesting attraction for lighthouse lovers. Lighthouse replica dating to 1877, it stands smaller than other ones on the Outer Banks. There is a 158-foot tower at Currituck Beach Lighthouse popular for climbers during season hours, and there are two remaining lighthouses in North Carolina: Ocracoke, standing 75 feet and Currituck Beach at 158 feet.
Except for the Ocracoke Lighthouse, most lighthouses are open to climbing from April to Columbus Day.

National Seashore at Cape Hatteras

Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras National Seashore offers some of the best beach scenery on the Outer Banks. It was established in 1953. Along its 70-mile stretch, it is home to over 300 beaches. Highway 12 has many beach access pull-offs along the roadside.

Several access points have restrooms, changing facilities, and scenic lookouts with information for visitors and swimmers posted. At Coquina Beach, public amenities are easy to find, paved parking lots are available, and well-trained lifeguards are stationed in the summer.

During the day, kite-surfers and swimmers enjoy the beach and shell-searching in the morning. There’s nothing more picturesque than the towering sand dunes at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Let your inner child loose and slide down a wispy sand dune, or go shell-hunting along the coast.

Corolla Wild Horses

Corolla Wild Horses
Corolla Wild Horses
In Corolla on North Carolina’s northern tip, where Highway 12 ends, you can see wild horses roaming the beaches.
This coastal area attracts painters, photographers, and writers who want to capture the unique beauty of the Spanish mustang descendants.
Since the Spanish settlers brought the mustangs to this area five centuries ago, they have been running free.
Many people consider seeing the wild horses one of the most memorable experiences in North Carolina. Since the area where the wild horses roam is off-road, planning is required to see them. Several companies in the area offer guided tours or you can drive a jeep on your own.

A few Other Attractions

  • Boat Tours of the Outer Banks
  • Eco Tours
  • North Carolina Aquarium

  • Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site

  • Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

  • Jockey’s Ridge State Park

  • Wright Brothers National Memorial

  • Duck Town Boardwalk

Jennette's Pier
Jennette’s Pier

Best Time of Year to Visit the Outer Banks

March to May or September to November are ideal times to visit the Outer Banks, when rates are lower and crowds dissipate. In the summer months, locals and tourists flock to the city when the temperatures are warmest.

The temperatures in the Southeast remain warm and humid during the summer months – with average highs in the upper 80s – until the winter when the weather dips into the 40s and 50s. It’s important to remember that some attractions, as well as restaurants and shops, may close or have shortened hours during the off-season.

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Foods to eat in the Outer Banks

A lot of vacationers who rent homes shop at the local grocery stores and seafood markets and cook most of their meals at home (the Dockside N’ Duck is a good place to start). In addition to fresh seafood, you can find southern-inspired dishes on the Outer Banks. In Nags Head, for example, you’ll find a place called Blue Moon Beach Grill and in Kitty Hawk, a place called I Got Your Crabs Seafood Market & Steam Bar.

The barrier islands also have casual and quick service restaurants, such as Bros Sandwich Shack in Avon on Hatteras Island and Eduardo’s Taco Stand in Ocracoke. The Blue Point in Duck might be a good option if you are looking for something a little more upscale.

The Duck Donut Company, which has stores in several Outer Banks communities, is a popular company for sweet treats. The chain originated in OBX and now has locations up and down the mid-Atlantic coast. It’s not uncommon to find a larger selection of restaurants in tourist-oriented communities like Nags Head and Kitty Hawk, but keep in mind that some establishments close off during the off-peak summer season.