Last Updated July 7, 2021 7/7/2021

7 Best Things to Do in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

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The area in North Carolina known as the “Outer Banks” is made up of a 200-mile long string of barrier islands between the Atlantic Ocean and the mainland. Because of their subtropical temperatures and expansive beaches, they are also a popular tourist spot for visitors from all over the world. With so many over-commercialized, bustling beach towns, the beaches of the Outer Banks give guests a welcome refuge with a more relaxed, laid-back environment with quaint oceanfront hotels. Plus, there’s a wide variety of things to do, whether you want to take part in sports, visit museums, lay on the beach or just eat good food.

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Eat a Duck Donut
Duck Donut in Duck

Eat a Duck Donut

What Is It? If you’re going to visit the Outer Banks, you must make a stop at the original location of Duck Donuts, the popular nationwide chain that serves up fresh, made-to-order donuts. 

Why Do It? This isn’t your mama’s donut shop. But a unique spot where they begin with a fresh, warm vanilla cake donut and then you let your imagination run wild as you choose what toppings, frostings and drizzles you want to top it with. 

Good to Know: You can also choose from a selection of featured donuts like maple bacon or key lime pie. Or if you’re feeling really adventurous, go for a donut sandwich or a donut sundae!

Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial
See where the Wright Brothers took flight at the national memorial in Kitty Hawk.

Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial

What Is It? The Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk is a must-see attraction. 

Why Do It? From the massive, 60-foot granite monument and visitors’ center with full-size reproductions of the Brothers’ flying machines, to the replicas of their living quarters and hangar, and markers of their first successful taking off and landing points, there is plenty to do and see here. 

Good to Know: The newest attraction at the Memorial, the Centennial of Flight Museum, features exhibits that celebrate the history of aviation, as well as look ahead to its future.

Take in the View from Jockey's Ridge in Nag's Head
Jockey’s Ridge State Park – Nags Head, North Carolina, U.S.A.

Take in the View from Jockey's Ridge in Nag's Head

What Is It? Jockey’s Ridge is the tallest natural sand dune on the East Coast. At approximately 68 feet high, you can take in a spectacular view and watch a beautiful sunset. 

Why Do It? You can also participate in a variety of recreation activities at Jockey’s Ridge including sandboarding, hang gliding and kite flying. Because the temperatures of the sand are usually 10-20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature though, it is always recommended that you wear sandals or shoes while on the dunes.

Good to Know: Although overnight camping is not allowed, there are eight shelters with tables and grills, so you can bring along a picnic!

Climb the Tallest Brick Lighthouse
Bodie Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Climb the Tallest Brick Lighthouse

What Is It? The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in America, at 193 feet. 

Why Do It? Although the original lighthouse was built in 1803, it has been replaced twice over the years. The current lighthouse with its signature black and white stripes was completed in 1870. Now, visitors from all over the world come to visit and climb the 257 steps to the top. 

Good to Know: But be forewarned, the climb is equal to climbing a 12-story building and there is no air conditioning or elevator, so use discretion when deciding whether or not to make the climb.

Take a Stroll Through the Elizabethan Gardens
The Elizabethan Gardens

Take a Stroll Through the Elizabethan Gardens

What Is It? If you’re a nature or plant lover, you’ll definitely want to visit the Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. 

Why Do It? The 10-acre site houses hundreds of species of plants and wildlife, from both the local region and some varieties from all over the world. Depending on what time of year you visit the gardens, you’ll see different blooms including beautiful crepe myrtles, magnolias and hydrangeas. 

Good to Know: In fact, with over 20 different areas to explore, you are sure to find your favorite flower or plant somewhere in the gardens. Children will especially like to visit the Children’s Garden and the Butterfly Garden.

Learn About Blackbeard the Pirate
Blackbeard exhibit at Teach's Hole

Learn About Blackbeard the Pirate

What Is It? There’s a lot of pirate history in the Outer Banks since Blackbeard actually sailed the waters in this area and even holed up on Ocracoke Island for a while. 

Why Do It? Kids of all ages can learn all about him at the Blackbeard Museum at Teach’s Hole. In addition to having the largest collection of pirate-related paraphernalia in the Outer Banks with more than 2,000 items.

Good to Know: Teach’s Hole also has scale ship models, a life-size figure of Blackbeard, an educational documentary and a gift shop.

Watch a Historic Outdoor Drama
The Lost Colony

Watch a Historic Outdoor Drama

What Is It? America’s longest-running outdoor symphonic drama is located in the Outer Banks. 

Why Do It? “The Lost Colony” in Manteo portrays historical events that led up to the disappearance of the first English colonists in the Roanoke Island area through epic battle scenes, vibrant Indian dances, romance, pageantry, laughter, and music. 

Good to Know: The drama, which is performed during the summer months, takes place on the same land where the actual events took place.

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