Can’t Miss Attractions in the Outer Banks

While the Outer Banks of North Carolina may be known for its sprawling sandy beaches, that’s not all it has to offer. Along the shores of these barrier islands, you’ll find towering lighthouses, centuries-old historical sites, stunning outdoor gardens, scenic hiking trails, and so much more. 

There is no shortage of adventure on this chain of barrier islands on the Carolina Coast. In fact, you may just want to extend your vacation rental after checking out this list of can’t miss attractions in the Outer Banks!

Nags Head 

Nags Head has long-standing been one of the most popular spots on the Outer Banks. It offers a quintessential coastal charm with its soundfront views and sprawling oceanfront.   

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Photo Credit: refrina

Home of the tallest sand dunes in the Eastern United States, Jockey’s Ridge State Park is a 427-acre state park filled with hiking trails and towering dunes. The Visitor’s Center serves as a museum with exhibits about the cultural and natural history of the area. There is also a soundside access popular with fans of hang gliding, stand-up paddle boarding, kiteboarding, and even sand surfing! 

Jennette’s Pier

Photo Credit: Chansak Joe
  • Address: 7223 South Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head, NC 
  • Open: May to October, 6 am to 10 pm; December to March, 9 am to 5 pm; November to April, 7 am to 9 pm
  • Website:

Jennette’s Pier is a 1,000 foot long pier off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Inside the pier house, you’ll find a variety of exhibits about coastal and marine life and a small aquarium. Fishing is allowed off the pier with the purchase of a pass. There is also a gift shop that has rod rentals and bait. 

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Photo Credit: anthony heflin
  • Address: 8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Road, Nags Head, NC
  • Open: Daily, 9 am to 5 pm
  • Website:

This 164 ft tall lighthouse is known for its crisp horizontal black and white stripes. This stately structure casts a beacon of light that is visible for 19 miles along Oregon Inlet and across the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The lighthouse is open to climb during the summer months. 

Kill Devil Hills

Tucked just above Nags Head, you’ll find Kill Devil Hills. From the beautiful maritime forests that first occupied the land to the rolling dunes that set in motion the wheels of modern aviation, there is no shortage of history in this oceanfront town.  

Wright Brothers National Memorial

Photo Credit: wayfarerlife
  • Address: 1000 North Croatan Highway Kill, Devil Hills, NC
  • Open: Daily 9 am to 5 pm
  • Website:

This National Park honors the pioneers of modern aviation, the Wright Brothers. Among outdoor grounds, you’ll find a number of incredible statues and monuments, one of which is an impressive 60-foot monument commemorating the first flight. Inside the Visitor’s Center are several exhibits and displays, including a full-scale replica of the original Wright Flyer. 

Nags Head Wood Preserve

Photo Credit: Kenneth Keifer
  • Address: 701 West Ocean Acres Drive, Kill Devil Hills, NC
  • Open: Daily, dawn to dusk
  • Website:

This 1,000+ acre preserve is a natural sanctuary for the East Coast’s largest remaining maritime forest. Here you’ll find miles of hiking trails exploring the coastal ecosystems of the Outer Banks. You’ll find a bit of it all along these trails, from marshes to forests to beaches. 


Manteo is located in the center of Roanoke Island and is home to an abundance of OBX attractions. It’s also the origin of one of the nation’s most famous unsolved mysteries.  

Roanoke Island Festival Park

Photo Credit: Cvandyke
  • Address: 1 Festival Park, Manteo, NC
  • Open: March 15 to December 31; Tuesday to Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm
  • Website:

This historic site is a step back in time to Colonial life. You can step aboard a colonial voyage ship, explore their Adventure Museum, or interact with their abundance of other indoor and outdoor exhibits. There is also a beautiful outdoor amphitheater and a quiet boardwalk trail bordering the Roanoke Sound. 

Elizabethan Gardens

Photo Credit: Jason Schronce
  • Address: 1411 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC
  • Open: Check the website for seasonal hours. 
  • Website:

These beautiful gardens serve as a living memorial to the Lost Colony, whose disappearance remains a mystery to this day. Originally designed to entertain Queen Elizabeth upon her visits, the gardens span across 10 acres. Throughout the gardens, you’ll find beautiful statues, babbling fountains, and your own private floral oasis.

The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama

  • Address: 1409 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC 
  • Open Summer; check the website for the schedule. 
  • Website:

If you’re looking for a theatrical experience while staying around the OBX, you won’t find a better one than the Lost Colony play at the historic waterside theater. This symphonic drama combines music and theater to tell the story of the early Colonists and island life at the time. It’s a great place to take a date for the night!

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

Photo Credit: William Silver
  • Address: 1500 Fort Raleigh Road, Manteo, NC
  • Open: Daily 24 hours
  • Website:

Fort Raleigh was created to preserve some of the original locations of the New World Settlements. With origins estimated as early as 1584, this settlement was once home to the Lost Colony of Roanoke. 

Later this area served as a safe haven for newly freed slaves searching for protection from the Union Army during the Civil War. Visitors can tour the expansive grounds, hike trails located on the property, or visit the waterside theater.   

Alligator River National Wildlife Rescue

The Alligator River National National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1984 to protect and preserve local species. The Visitors Center has many exhibits, including a virtual helicopter ride. You can enjoy the preserve by hiking its scenic wildlife trails, driving down Wildlife Drive, or even by a scheduled open-air tram tour. If you’re lucky, you might glimpse the native black bears and endangered red wolves. 

North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

Photo Credit: Francisco Blanco

This aquarium is full of fun educational exhibits about marine life. Inside you’ll find a  massive Open Ocean exhibit that is home to the largest collection of sharks in the state. There’s also a large Close Encounters touch bay and a Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center where you can observe the staff interacting with these beautiful creatures. This is the perfect educational excursion for families with kids. 

Hatteras Island

Hatteras Island contains 70 miles of the sweeping Cape Hatteras National Seashore coastline. It’s also home to several fascinating museums and historical sites and a lot of potential for kayaking, paddleboarding, and jet skiing. 

Chicamacomico Life Saving Station

Photo Credit:
  • Address: 23645 N.C. Highway 12, Rodanthe, NC
  • Open: Monday to Friday, 10 am to 5 pm
  • Website:

In 1871, the federal government authorized seven life-saving stations to be built along the NC coast. This station housed the staff of the U.S. Life-Saving Services, who rescued travelers in danger off the coast of the Outer Banks. Today the building is a tribute to those men and the approximate 175,000 lives they saved. There is a museum and guided tour available on the premises. 

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Photo Credit: Stephen B. Goodwin
  • Address: 46379 Lighthouse Road, Buxton, NC
  • Open: Outdoor access is available 24/7
  • Website:

Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in the United States. Standing at 210 feet tall, this impressive lighthouse has bold black, and its white diagonal stripes create a stark contrast with its coastal backdrop. You’ll find several walking trails scattered across the grounds. There’s also a small museum and gift shop on the premises. 

Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

Photo Credit: Cvandyke

This uniquely shaped museum offers a peek into the rich maritime history of the Outer Banks. It details the numerous shipwrecks that have occurred off the coast due to the dangerous shifting sandbars that line the OBX. These sandbars gave the Outer Banks the nickname the Graveyard of the Atlantic” due to the almost 2,000 wrecks that occurred along the shores.

Northern OBX: Duck,  Southern Shores, Corolla

The Northernmost end of the Outer Banks has a few timeless treasures. From restored mansions to Spanish mustangs, this stretch of the OBX offers plenty to see and do in Duck, the Southern Shores, and Corolla. The OBX is known to have some of the biggest waves on the Eastern Coast. This area is also one of the best to rent a surfboard and hit the Duck Pier. 

Wild Horses of Currituck and Corolla

Photo Credit: glenda
  • Address: Beach access starts at the end of Hwy 12 in Currituck
  • Open: 24/7, 4WD access only
  • Website:

The wild horses of the OBX are another must-see. The horses are confined to the top part of the Currituck and roam the beaches of Carova freely. You must drive on the beach to see them, so a four-wheel drive vehicle is needed. If you don’t have a 4WD vehicle, plenty of local tours provide up-close views of these stunning Spanish mustangs. 

Whalehead in Historic Corolla Park

Photo Credit: Cvandyke
  • Address: 1100 Club Road, Corolla, NC 
  • Open: Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm
  • Website: Historic Whalehead

This restored, historic mansion has a long history in the Outer Banks. Originally the dream home of wealthy industrialists, Whalehead later served as a bunker for the U.S. Coast Guard and later as a school for boys. 

Afterward, this stately manor was even used as a rocket fuel test site. In 1992, the mansion was purchased by the county and restored to its original splendor. Whalehead is now a popular site for weddings and tourists alike. 

Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Photo Credit: Felix Mizioznikov

Built using the same design as the infamous Bodie Island Lighthouse, the brick exterior of the Currituck Lighthouse was left unpainted to distinguish it from the rest of its Outer Banks neighbors. Standing at 162 feet tall, this stately lighthouse protected ships from the dark shoreline and sweeping waters of the Gulf Stream. 

The lighthouse is open to climb seasonally and offers panoramic views of the Currituck Sound. 

Ocracoke Island

Only accessible by ferry or boat, Ocracoke is one of the more isolated locations on the Outer Banks. However, this small island is still home to some can’t miss attractions!

Ocracoke Pony Pens

Photo Credit: Liz Albro Photography

Due to increasing traffic after Hwy 12 was built, the Ocracoke ponies were no longer allowed to roam free for their own safety. As a result, the National Park Service created the Ocracoke Pony Pen in 1959 as an 188-acre, fenced sanctuary. The Pony Pens also have a platform overlook where you can frequently catch the ponies hanging out, waiting for their next feed. There is also a short walking trail by the pens and beach access across the street. 

Ocracoke Island Light Station

Photo Credit: MH Anderson Photography
  • Address: 360 Lighthouse Road, Ocracoke, NC
  • Open: Outdoor access is available 24/7
  • Website:

The smallest of the Outer Banks lighthouses, Ocracoke Lighthouse is the oldest in North Carolina. This 65-foot-tall lighthouse has a beautiful white brick exterior. Unfortunately, unlike its neighbors to the north, you cannot climb the steps of this lighthouse. There is also no museum or gift shop, though there are plenty of shops on the island to purchase souvenirs.  

There’s No Shortage of Fun on an Outer Banks Vacation

If you’re planning your getaway to the shores of the OBX, you’ll have no shortage of things to do. Between this list and the many other activities offered in the area, you’re sure to stay busy.So book your vacation rental and get started planning your Outer Banks vacation. Adventure awaits!

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