If you’re looking for fun things to do with the family during your vacation in the Outer Banks, you don’t want to miss a visit to the Roanoke Island Festival Park. Located across from Downtown Manteo and the Manteo Waterfront attractions, this excursion includes something for everybody.
The park is near the site where some of the first English settlers tried establishing a colony in North Carolina in 1585. It functions as a living history museum that invites you to step back into the 16th century and learn what it was like to be a sailor and settler hundreds of years ago.
There is a lot to see at this interactive museum, so we’ve put together a guide below to point you to all the best activities you don’t want to miss. You’ll also find helpful information like how to get tickets and when the seasonal museum is open.
Visiting Roanoke Island Festival Park
- Address: 1 Festival Park, Manteo
- Website: https://www.roanokeisland.com/
- For Upcoming Events: https://www.roanokeisland.com/upcoming-events
Located along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Roanoke Island was to be the site of the first English settlement in North America a couple of decades before the Jamestown settlement was established.
A rough outpost was set up here in 1585, and the first families arrived on a ship in 1587. However, after being cut off from supplies during a war between England and Spain, the community disappeared without a trace and is now known as the lost colony of Roanoke.
Today, Roanoke Island Festival Park tells stories of this era and the boating and fishing legacy of coastal North Carolina at a 27-acre historic site with costumed interpreters and first-hand interactive elements.
Visitors can hop aboard a replica 16th-century ship to learn skills like raising the anchor and setting the sails. They can also wander through the Settlement Site to see how the first explorers would have lived and worked on the island.
A visit to the American Indian Town is a great way to learn the customs and traditions of the people who lived here long before the English boats arrived.
The site is packed with engaging exhibits. We’ve rounded up some of the best hands-on experiences below.
- Try your hand at planting seeds in a heritage garden.
- Learn the ceremonial dances of the Coastal Algonquian.
- Swab the wooden deck of a ship with a costumed pirate.
- Watch a blacksmith heat and hammer metal.
- Walk through life-sized dwellings that mimic what the American Indian and English settlers would have lived in.
Tickets and Admission Prices
There is a reasonable admission fee to visit Roanoke Island Festival Park. Admission to the park includes entrance to the Settlement Site, American Indian Town, Elizabeth II ship, and Adventure Museum.
The park sometimes runs coupon sales online, so check website pricing before buying your ticket. There are also special events listed regularly on their website with different pricing.
- Free entrance for kids ages two and under
- Senior citizens and military members are eligible for discounted admission
Hours and Dates of Admission
Roanoke Island Festival Park is open seasonally from mid-March through December.
- Visiting hours are 9 AM to 5 PM
- The park is closed on Sundays and Mondays, and some holidays
Things To Do at Roanoke Island Festival Park
Climb Aboard the Elizabeth II Ship
Designed to mimic a 16th-century English merchant vessel, the Elizabeth II welcomes visitors onboard to discover what life was like during the 1585 Roanoke Voyage. Floating in the Shallowbag Bay, the ship flies English flags from the Tudor period above the wooden decks with brightly painted sides.
Once you climb aboard, you can explore every nook and cranny of the sailing ship, test out the straw beds, and search for treasure in chests and barrels.
Costumed crew members are on hand to play games and teach skills like swabbing the deck, cooking in cast iron pots, firing the sling gun, raising the sails, navigating with old-timey tools, and dropping the anchor.
Explore the Settlement Site
After experiencing the Roanoke Voyages to North Carolina aboard the Elizabeth II, head to the Settlement Site to experience life in a 16th-century colony. Set up like the community the early soldiers and sailors established here long ago, the settlement has canvas tents, campfires, blacksmith irons, and even a wooden imprisoning pillory where you can snap photos.
Interpreters in costumes set the scene at the settlement and demonstrate woodworking and blacksmith skills for guests.
Visitors can join in on Elizabethan games, try on a soldier’s armor, learn old English from a settler, and explore the goods hidden in the canvas shelters.
Visit the American Indian Town
Long before the English settlers surveyed this area, the Coastal Algonquian lived and worked along the shores of North Carolina. The American Indian Town at Roanoke Island Festival Park displays what a Coastal Algonquian community may have looked like in the 1500s.
Along a village pathway, you will find a large longhouse set up and adorned like the home of a community leader, a second incomplete longhouse that visitors can help finish building, and a ceremonial dance circle. Further along, agricultural gardens display planting and farming techniques of the time.
Like other areas of the park, the town is full of hands-on activities like basket and rug weaving, rope making, cooking, fishing and net mending, and canoe building in work shelters.
Discover the Roanoke Adventure Museum
After visiting the ship and interpretive communities, the Roanoke Adventure Museum at Roanoke Island Festival Park is the perfect activity to delve further into the area’s heritage.
Covering some 400 years of North Carolina Outer Banks history, the museum takes you from the Roanoke Voyages of the 16th century through to 18th-century pirates, Civil War history, and more recent boating and fishing culture.
The timeline starts with stories, portraits, and journals from the early explorers of the lost settlement and the history of the indigenous residents who came before them. Your kids will love trying on the 16th-century costumes for dress-up games!
In the pirate section, you can hear tales of the infamous 18th-century raiders, listen to jokes from Stumpy the Pirate, and discover fascinating shipwreck stories that gave this area the name the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”
The museum also displays a restored shad boat from 1887 and teaches guests about the boatbuilding and fishing traditions that helped establish this area and the tourism industry that continues to develop it today.
Watch the Legend of Two Path Film
Pop by the Roanoke Island Festival Park auditorium to watch the documentary-style drama film “Legend of Two Path.”
It plays on the hour, every hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and tells the story of the Roanoke Voyages from the perspective of the local Native Americans.
Stroll the Park’s Boardwalks
When the weather is nice, you can extend your visit to Roanoke Island Festival Park and spend some more time outdoors.
The park’s waterfront boardwalk is the perfect spot to enjoy the surrounding scenery and look for seabirds flying or nesting nearby. Running along the Shallowbag Bay, the trail is less than a mile long, so it’s an easy and family-friendly path.
The outdoor pavilion grounds are also open for walking when there aren’t any events on the schedule. The sidewalk loops make for an easy and smooth stroll with views of the Roanoke Sound and island trees.
Shop at the Museum Store
Before wrapping up your visit, pop into the Museum Store to shop for local gifts and souvenirs.
If you’re looking for some mementos from your trip, you’ll find lots of park memorabilia, but the store also carries specialty items like wind chimes, home decor, ceramics, and books from North Carolina authors.
Enjoy a Picnic With a View
Since you’ll want to spend at least half a day at the Roanoke Island Festival Park, you may want to bring along a picnic to enjoy at the shady picnic tables near the parking lot and Museum Store.
The park doesn’t have a restaurant or cafe, but there are vending machines for drinks and snacks.
Book Your Stay Near Roanoke Island Festival Park
Roanoke Island Festival Park is one of the best museums in the Outer Banks and a great place to learn more about the local history in a fun and interactive environment.
It makes the perfect day trip from your Outer Banks vacation rental, and you can easily spend several hours exploring all the villages and museums at the park.
If it is your first time in the area, don’t forget to check out our guides on the best historical sites, museums, and where to eat along the way throughout the barrier islands in the Outer Banks area!