Best Places to Visit in the Outer Banks
The Bund is a seemingly endless stream of sun, sand, and waves. The list of the best places to visit along the Outer Banks of North Carolina is extensive, and determining where to go requires some travel pre-planning to get the most out of your time and see everything on the list.
Stretching more than 100 miles along the Atlantic coast, the barrier islands are connected by a series of bridges and towns that are popular vacation spots. Many visitors to the Outer Banks (OBX) make annual pilgrimages to places like Duck, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Rodanthe, and Hatteras to take advantage of the many vacation rentals and accommodations.
Wherever you live, take a leisurely drive along the two-lane North Carolina Route 12 along the Outer Banks to explore the shops and scenery, from the rough waves of Cape Hatteras National Seashore to the tranquil Pea Island National Wildlife Sanctuary.
Learn about the important maritime history of the Outer Banks at the Chickamacomico Lifesaving Station Historic Site and the Atlantic Cemetery Museum; Here you can also find out how the region serves seafarers before vacationers visit the islands.
“Everyone knows our post, and The Outer Banks checks many boxes for the classic family vacation many Americans crave to take from childhood. If you’re more into couples, head to a beach with a soft nook rhythm and Bund Public Affairs Manager Aaron Tuell says, You may want to visit us in the spring or fall when the best are open and less crowded and you can explore the Cape Hatteras National Seashore on your own,” said the Tourist Office.
The Outer Banks Welcome Center on Roanoke Island has easy-to-read shoreline maps you can keep in your car for reference. To narrow down your options, have a look at our list of the Best Places to Visit in the Outer Banks and make your trip enjoyable.
10 Best Places to Visit in the Outer Banks
Let’s explore the top 10 Most Beautiful and Best Places to Visit in the Outer Banks:
1. Wright Brothers National Memorial
The Wright Brothers National Monument in Kill Devil Hills commemorates the birthplace of flight. In December 1903, the Wright Flyer took off from the sands of the Bund for 12 seconds, then landed and changed American aviation forever. Learn how Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first powered flight changed traffic, and check out a full-scale replica of the Wright Flyer.
The visitor center has interpretive programs, exhibits, and sculptures dedicated to this historic moment. Plan some time to visit all the exhibits and explore the grounds on your way to First Flight Boulder, which shows you exactly where the plane left the ground during its maiden flight. Admission is paid, but free if you have a national park card.
Address: 1005 N. Croatan Highway, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
Official website: https://www.nps.gov/wrbr/index.htm
2. Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Take off your shoes and plan an unforgettable hike on the highest active natural sand dunes on the East Coast at Jockey Ridge State Park. Mammoth Dunes can reach heights of up to 100 feet depending on wind gusts. Going further in the never-ending mirage, the vast landscapes seem otherworldly. You can see people gliding through the dunes as it is home to the largest glider school in the world.
From the top of the mountain, you can see the sea on one side and the Roanoke Canal on the other, and the landscape is constantly changing. Everyone experiences the Great Sand Dunes in their own way with a picnic, hike, a whirlwind in the wind or a romantic kiss on the hill.
The visitor center explains how the natural dunes were formed over the years, and the adjacent boardwalk is an educational way to learn about dune ecology and wildlife. If you are in the dunes, plan to bring water and sunscreen with you.
Address: 300 W. Carolista Drive, Nags Head, North Carolina
Official website: www.ncparks.gov/jockeys-ridge-state-park
3. Jennette’s Pier
While Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head is one of the must-see piers during your stay, a few of them might catch your attention with their unique features. Jennette Pier stands out because it is driven by the wind, as evidenced by the windmill above. The massive pier stretching 1,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean is a popular fishing pier and aquatic education center operated by the North Carolina Aquarium, with regular public shows.
Other Outer Banks piers worth seeing or watching the sunset are the Nags Head Pier, where you’ll see 4x4s off-road under the pillars; Rodanthe Pier, a fishing spot with fishing charter; Avalon Pier; and Avon Pier.
Address: 7223 S. Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head, North Carolina
Official website: http://www.ncaquariums.com/jennettes-pier
4. Lounge on the Beaches
The main reason people go to the Bund is to enjoy the world-class beaches. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, these wide beaches stretch for miles and offer endless opportunities for relaxation and entertainment. A special feeling comes over you as you cross the long bridge that leads from the mainland to a place full of sun and sand.
It’s okay to find your own piece of sand to do your thing here. Whether in the city center or on a more remote beach, the beach is easily accessible via a boardwalk or footpath that winds through the dunes. However, parking can be difficult on the busiest weekends.
Surfing, bodyboarding, swimming and playing in the waves are some of the regular pastimes. Shore fishing and shellfishing are other options. Adrenaline-pumping kitesurfing is also popular here for those seeking a more adventurous spirit. At night, watch the sunset over a beach bonfire (with permission) while listening to the waves roll.
Kitty Hawk, Nag’s Head, Duck, Rodanthe, Avon, Waves and Hatteras are lively summer beach towns that have everything you need for a great vacation. You’ll find great restaurants with outdoor terraces, surf shops, bike rental shops and a well-stocked grocery store with everything you need for a delicious barbecue.
Some of the best beaches are along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore at the southern end of the Outer Banks. The area stretches for more than 70 miles along the coast, and along North Carolina Route 12, you’ll find plenty of on-street public parking with beach access. Many access areas feature restrooms, changing buildings, and scenic views with important visitor and swimming information.
The first beach along the National Seashore, Coquina Beach has convenient public amenities, paved parking, ADA ramps, and summer lifeguards.
The Outer Banks have five lighthouses that most visitors love to check out on their must-do lists: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Body Island Lighthouse, Roanoke Swamp Lighthouse, Currituck Beach Lighthouse, and Ocracoke Lighthouse. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is considered a tall tower because, at over 150 feet, it is the tallest brick lighthouse in North America with a spiraling black and white stripe along with its 208-foot tower.
Hatteras Point Lighthouse was moved back half a mile in 1999. You can walk along the path to see the original location – now a wave-covered beach and a popular spot for surfers. The Bodie Island Lighthouse, also known as the High Tower, is still operational and guides ships ashore with a 19-mile beam. The lighthouse, which is 156 meters high, draws attention with its horizontal lines.
For those who love visiting lighthouses, the Roanoke Swamp Lighthouse on Roanoke Island Manteo is a small but interesting place. It is a replica of the original lighthouse from 1877 and is smaller than other lighthouses on the Bund. The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is a 158-foot tower popular during seasonal hours, and the Ocracoke Lighthouse (75 feet) is the second oldest lighthouse in the United States. Most lighthouses, with the exception of the Ocracoke Lighthouse, are open for climbing from April through Columbus Day.
Official website: www.nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/lighthouseclimbs.htm
6. Camp Near the Beach
One of the best ways to experience the Outer Banks without breaking your bank account is to camp in the Outer Banks. The campgrounds here are just a short walk from the surf and are well equipped to make your experience memorable. Depending on where you camp, your days may be full of sun and sand, while your evenings may be spent peacefully by a roaring beach fire.
Whether you’re in the smallest tent or the largest trailer, the Outer Banks Campground has you covered. Camping options range from fantastic national parks with limited amenities but great locations to commercial campsites complete with pools, hot tubs and dog parks at event centers.
If you really want to camp on the beach on a nearly deserted island, book a ferry to Portsmouth Island and find your place among the dunes. Maybe camping next to the lighthouse is more fun? In that case, check out the Cape Point Campground. If ocean fishing is your thing and you have a boat, be sure to stay in Oregon Bay.
Collect all your beach stuff and go! It is possible to camp up and down the Bund.
7. Boat Tour of the Outer Banks
Most visitors to the Bund can’t wait to get on the water somehow, which is why boat tours are so popular. From adventure tours and sunset sails to boat tours and even fishing charters, boat tours are available for just about any interest.
One of the most popular boat excursions is deep sea fishing, as Hatteras is one of the best fishing acts off the coast of North Carolina. The best starting points for any boat tour are Pirates Cove, Oregon Bay, and Hatteras.
If you’re coming from Hatteras Pier, don’t forget to start the day with dinner at Dinky’s on the pier, where you can taste the freshest seafood. You’ll find a local operator in each city, or drop by the Outer Banks Welcome Center to get a brochure on regional operators.
8. OBX on An Eco-tour
Eco-conscious OBX (Outer Banks) vacationers and those who enjoy exploring the natural landscape in depth will enjoy taking one of the many types of ecotours. Many ecotours are conducted outside the Crocodile River National Wildlife Refuge just north of the Manteo Outer Banks near Mans Harbour.
Canoes and canoes through the shelter are popular because the waterways are clearly marked. The 150,000-acre sanctuary is free to visit and can be explored on your own or with a guided tour. Guided ski tours are paid. Other tours include red wolf howl tours, black bear tours and sanctuary tours.
9. North Carolina Aquarium
The Outer Banks are great for the outdoors, but in case it rains or gets chilly in the sun, it’s best to have an indoor option like the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. See rescued sea turtles and learn about their habitat on the Atlantic coast at the STAR Center.
Explore the many exhibits and educational research run by aquarium scientists, or plan to attend one of the free daily animal feedings and programs. You can arrange diving with aquarium sharks for a unique visit… if you dare. While on Roanoke Island, stop for lunch at O’Neal’s Sea Harvest, where you can sample seafood fresh from the ship. O’Neill serves seafood to local restaurants but has a small dining area where you can try dolphin baskets and even watch the boats spin to unload the day’s catch.
Address: 374 Airport Road, Manteo, North Carolina
Official website: www.ncaquariums.com/roanoke-island
10. Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station Historic Site
The Chicamacomico lifeguard station in Rodante is one of the Bund’s greatest treasures. This top attraction is also a historical site and museum that will truly change your perception of the place and provide important context for your visit. The lifesaving station is one of 271 stations in the country and was established in 1871 to locate and rescue sailors in distress. This form of sea rescue was eventually replaced by the Coast Guard when helicopters made sea rescue easier than manual rescue by boat.
There are several buildings in the Chicamacomico complex to visit, displaying real life-saving artifacts and tools. Local efforts prevented the site from being demolished, and donations are accepted to keep it operational. It is now one of the only surviving lifesaving stations and the only station in North Carolina to operate as an educational museum. The best time to visit is at 2 pm on a Thursday to experience a demonstration of the life-saving exercises.
Address: Rodent, North Carolina 23645 NC Highway 12
Official website: www.chicamacomico.org
Hope you like our choice of the best places to visit in the Outer Banks. If you think there are some more beautiful places to visit in the Outer Banks, we should cover them. Write us below in the comment box.