Off the Beaten Path Things to Do on the Outer Banks-Visit Roanoke Island

When you think of the Outer Banks, you probably imagine miles of large, beautiful beaches, amazing sunsets and watersports over the sound, sandy sheets, sun kissed skin and endless seafood. While these are the things that help make the Outer Banks truly memorable, there is so much more to this beautiful area than meets the eye. 

If you enjoy being near the water while shopping, eating, and taking in rich cultural history, the town of Manteo on Roanoke Island is the perfect excursion for a day trip for you & your family.

Downtown Manteo is located on the pristine waterfront of the Shallowbag Bay surrounded by boats, restaurants, shops, and even a lighthouse! 

The Roanoke Marshes lighthouse is often overlooked because of its small stature, limited visibility and remote location. Unlike its Outer Banks counterparts, this lighthouse is not an original. Three Roanoke Marshes Lighthouses preceded this replica, completed in 2004. The lighthouse is now operated by the maritime museum and is surely a beautiful beacon representing all that downtown Manteo has to offer.

If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a stand-up paddleboard or kayak and paddle along the scenic canals and marshes of Roanoke Island. 

After taking in the views, grab a coffee at one of the local shops; there are many that offer a wide selection and a pleasing ambiance. Lining the streets are boutiques, art galleries, bookstores, antique shops, candy and ice cream stores and more. Around every corner you will see something new and inviting! 

Restaurant options are no different. Whether you are looking for a sandwich, a burrito, a fresh catch or a filet mignon, downtown Manteo has got you covered. Enjoy a meal overlooking the water with a great view of the docks, Festival Park and the Elizabeth II just across the way. 

Festival Park is a 25-acre interactive historic site representing the first English settlement attempt in 1585. Visit the replica Settlement Site where guests of all ages try traditional woodworking, play Elizabethan games, or watch the blacksmith fashion his iron wares. Explore Coastal Algonquian culture and history in American Indian Town, and enjoy the interactive Roanoke Adventure Museum, where visitors discover 400 years of the region’s history.

It’s hard to miss the full-size, 69 foot representative 16th-century sailing ship. Designed and named after one of the seven ships used by Sir Walter Raleigh's fleet when he first brought colonists to Roanoke Island in 1585, visitors can board and tour the Elizabeth II while the interpretive staff of sailors gladly answers questions about the ship and the historic Roanoke Voyage.  

You will also find the Outer Banks’ first rum distillery, Outer Banks Distilling, in downtown Manteo. Visit the distillery for a tour, have a taste of their award-winning Kill Devil Rum, and learn about the area’s pirate and rum lore!

If you’re looking to take in a movie after a long day of exploring, be sure to visit the oldest family-run theatre in the country. Opened in 1918, the Pioneer Theatre has one showing a night and is famous for their inexpensive tickets and delicious popcorn. Don’t forget to indulge! 

Downtown Manteo is also home to ‘First Friday’ events, held April-December. The first Friday of each month includes music, crafts, activities for kids and other special events. 

Aside from downtown, Manteo has much more to offer visitors. Head north during the summer months to see the nightly live show ‘The Lost Colony.’ Performed on the same site where the actual events occurred, this retelling, featuring over 100 actors, dancers, singers, and technicians, recounts the story of 117 English colonists seeking permanent settlement on Roanoke Island who disappeared without a trace, remaining a mystery after nearly 450 years. 

Take a tour of the Elizabethan Gardens, located adjacent to The Lost Colony's Waterside Theatre. As a tribute to the first English colonists in the New World and located at the site of the original settlement, the Elizabethan Gardens seeks to create inspirational garden displays and provide educational opportunities that encourage an appreciation of the art of gardening. 

Check out the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, educating visitors on the state's many ecosystems and the animals inhabiting them. Featuring a 285,000-gallon exhibit housing the largest group of sharks in the state, you will also see alligators, turtles, fish and North American river otters, as well as touch stingrays, sea stars, a white-spotted bamboo shark and more. You can also visit the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center to see the turtle patients through viewing windows on the holding tanks and hear their recovery stories from the people who help them every day before they are released back into the wild!

Roanoke Island’s newest historic site, Island Farm, is a living history site where interpreters dressed in period attire carry out the daily activities of a Roanoke Island farm in the 1800s. The centerpiece of the site is the Etheridge farmstead, where Adam Etheridge built a house on land that had been farmed by his family since 1757. It is the oldest period restoration of a house on Roanoke Island, and includes 19th-century furnishings, some original to the house.

What are you waiting for? Start planning your Roanoke Island day trip today!