The Getaway
Can't-Miss Things to Do on Your Outer Banks Vacay

The Outer Banks is a long ribbon of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. It's an ideal location for lazy beach days and water sports, but with miles of natural parks and tiny towns to explore, there's always something fun and exciting to do. This popular tourist hot spot still manages to feel like a remote getaway. The Outer Banks is a perfect vacation destination for families, adventure junkies, beach bums, and history buffs alike.

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01 Roanoke Island Festival Park

Roanoke Island Festival Park lets you experience what life was like for the first English settlers here in 1585. You'll see how they dressed, worked, and played. Visit the Adventure Museum and American Indian Town for hands-on interactive exhibits the kids will love, then climb aboard the Elizabeth II, a replica of one of the tall ships that brought the settlers across the Atlantic centuries ago.

02 Jockey Ridge

person hang gliding

Jockey Ridge State Park on Nags Head is home to the tallest living dune system on the East Coast. You'll find sweeping panoramic views of Roanoke Sound and the Atlantic Ocean here. At Jockey Ridge, you can stroll along the nature trail and boardwalk or get your adrenaline pumping by hang gliding or flying a replica of the Wright Brothers glider from 1902. This park is also a great place for kids, especially if they like hunting for beach glass.

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03 Whalehead Mansion

Whalehead Mansion is in Corolla and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's a gorgeous 1920s mansion that has been fully restored, and a visit will take you back in time. A wealthy couple, Edward Collings Knight Jr and his wife, Marie Louise, built the mansion as a hunting lodge because Marie Louis was not allowed in many male-only hunting clubs. Today, you can see it as it was in its glory. Rumor has it that the Whalehead Mansion is haunted, so you may even smell Edward's cigar smoke in the dining room.

The Whalehead Mansion in historic Corolla Park on the Outer Banks of North Carolina is a major tourist attraction. Cvandyke / Shutterstock

04 Cape Hatteras

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is perfect for a relaxing beach day, and it's an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Camp out on the beach, try your hand at kite flying, or go kayaking, sailing, or fishing. If you're a little more adventurous, try 4x4 riding over the dunes. You'll also find three historic lighthouses, two of which are open for self-guided tours. And here's something for the history buffs: Cape Hatteras is also where the Wright Brothers took their first flight.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse wbritten / Getty Images

05 Jennette's Pier

If you're looking for somewhere to fish in the Outer Banks, look no further than Jenette's Pier on Nags Head. This pier stretches 1,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean, making it an ideal spot to fish for dogfish, skate, and trout. Not into fishing? Jennette's Pier also offers panoramic views and a vast public beach. You may even spot a dolphin, jellyfish, or stingray. To see the pier in all its glory, stick around to watch the sunset.

Jennette's Fishing Pier in Nags Head North Carolina at sunrise. Chansak Joe / Getty Images

06 Elizabethan Gardens

Elizabethan Gardens features ten acres of gorgeous flowers and statues paying homage to the history of Roanoke Island. The gardens are part of the North Carolina Birding Trail, making it an exciting spot for bird watchers. There's also a butterfly house, children's play area, stunning water views, and Italian Renaissance sculptures. Flowers vary seasonally, and you can visit any time of year, including over the holidays, for a WinterLights display.

07 Nags Head Woods

Nags Head Woods is an ecological preserve with the best hiking trails in the area. Here, you'll find more than 150 different types of birds, 550 species of plants, and 50 amphibians and reptiles. You may even spot an otter or two! In the 1930s, this area was a residential community, and you can take an audio tour of the trails to learn more about the stunning landscape and history of Nags Head Woods.

08 North Carolina Aquarium

There are plenty of things to do in the Outer Banks when it's sunny, but what if the weather isn't cooperating? Head to the North Carolina Aquarium! There are many exhibits to choose from, and there's a lot more to see here than fish! Check out the Wander Through the Wetlands exhibit, where you'll see alligators, turtles, and river otters, and explore the grounds from the Southside Pier. You can also learn about sea turtle conservation, walk through a sunken ship, and learn about the history of the U.S.S. Monitor.

09 Currituck Sound

Currituck Sound is a great place for the whole family because it has something for everyone. There are miles of sunny beaches where you can relax, read a book, swim, or go fishing. But if you're looking for a little more excitement, try taking a kayaking tour or signing up for surfing lessons. At the end of the day, head to one of the local vineyards for dinner and a glass of wine.

10 Portsmouth Village

Portsmouth Village allows you to travel back in time on the Outer Banks. This settlement was established in the 1750s and was once a busy town, with a general store, school, post office, and Methodist Church. It was abandoned in 1971, and today you can take a guided tour or audio tour to learn about the history of this old seaside village. Just be sure to check the ferry schedule carefully. You can only get to Portsmouth Village on a ferry from Ocracoke.

11 Outer Banks beaches

Aerial view of coastline and sand dunes of Ocracoke Island at sunrise, North Carolina, USA.

Beyond the wild beauty of Cape Hatteras, the Outer Banks boasts over 100 miles of accessible beaches, each with its own charm. From the family-friendly shores of Duck, known for its calm waves and quaint boardwalks, to the secluded sands of Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferry and famed for its pristine condition and wild ponies, there's a stretch of sand for every type of beachgoer. Remember, while some beaches offer lifeguard services, others do not, so always swim with caution.

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12 Wright Brothers National Memorial

Step into the shoes of pioneers at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. This site commemorates the area where Wilbur and Orville Wright conducted the first successful powered flights in 1903. An interactive museum, full-scale replicas, and the towering monument atop Kill Devil Hills offer a hands-on history lesson on aviation and the undying spirit of innovation. It's a place where you can truly feel the breeze of history on your face.

The Wrights Brothers National Memorial at sunset. Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

13 Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Aerial view of Currituck Beach Lighthouse at sunset near Corolla, North Carolina (Outer Banks)

Climb to new heights at the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla. Unlike its Outer Banks siblings, this lighthouse's bricks remain unpainted, showcasing a striking red facade that has guided ships since 1875. The 220-step journey to the top rewards climbers with breathtaking views of the Currituck Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, making it a must-visit for anyone looking to capture the true essence of the Outer Banks from above.

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14 North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

Aquarium Jellyfish of North Carolina

Dive deep into the marine life of the Outer Banks at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. With exhibits ranging from the Graveyard of the Atlantic to a hands-on touch tank, the aquarium offers an immersive look at the local aquatic environment and its inhabitants. It's an ideal spot for families looking to engage with nature, learn about conservation efforts, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of a mermaid or two during special events.

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15 Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site

Celebrate the courage and dedication of the U.S. Life-Saving Service at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site. This well-preserved station allows visitors to step back in time and explore the history of maritime rescue on the Outer Banks. From thrilling tales of daring rescues to the daily routines of the life-saving crews, the site offers a unique glimpse into the heroism that characterized the Outer Banks' coastal life.

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