Travel Rankings & Advice

Tips on What To Do in Outer Banks

Each island in the OBX has something slightly different to offer visitors, though they all share miles of coastline for watersports, activities and scenic views. The area has other attractions outside of the water as well, including nature preserves.

  • The area is a recreational playground, with 800 square miles of accessible water. Wind, water, and temperature conditions are right for ideal sailing from early spring until late autumn. And, as any windsurfer can tell you, the best conditions for sailboarding on the East Coast are along the Banks." -- Frommer's
  • Explore the underwater wrecks -- most of which lie at depths of 90 feet or more -- with expert guidance. Snorkeling trips are also available for those not deep-water-certified." -- Travel and Leisure


Year after year, visitors book their summer vacations in the Outer Banks mainly for the beaches. The pristine shores, fancy vacation homes and upscale restaurants of Duck attract affluent travelers, while Nags Head's comfortable hotels and modest restaurants appeal more to families. The southern islands in the OBX strip are sparsely populated and appeal to visitors looking for an escape from civilization. Fishing piers are also spread throughout the beaches.

  • Over the past two decades Duck has filled up with ambitious restaurants and vacation houses, but its wide beaches and wild oat-covered dunes are gloriously intact. … For true isolation, drive 90 minutes south to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, on the neighboring island of Hatteras." -- Travel and Leisure
  • You can get to North Carolina's more southerly beaches in leisurely fashion by taking the car ferry from Ocracoke to Cedar Island. You'll need to make a reservation for the 2 1/4-hour trip over the calm, sparkling waters of the Pamlico Sound." -- Frommer's
  • Gain public beach access in every town except for Duck and Southern Shores." -- Away.com
  • It's easy to overlook the flagpoles stationed along many area beaches; but if there's a red flag flying from one of them, it means the water is too rough even for wading. These are not a suggestion—ignoring them can mean hefty fines." -- Fodor's


Although much of Outer Banks sightseeing is confined to the coastline, the Outer Banks offer some other diversions, too. Recent visitors highly recommend both the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse located in Corolla. Farther north in an uninhabited part of Corolla is an animal sanctuary featuring wild Banker horses; visitors can see them on their own or as part of a guided tour.

Also, if you're in Manteo for a performance of The Lost Colony, be sure to check out the Roanoke Island Festival Park, a park modeled after 16th-century life in North Carolina and complete with an interactive museum, reenactments and even a ship.

  • Visitors solo with the help of a watchful instructor after a couple of hours of lessons. ... When you come back to Earth, tour the nearby Wright Brothers National Memorial to see replicas of the 1902 Wright Glider and the 1903 Wright Flyer." -- Southern Living
  • You can get in a high-flying spirit perhaps in memory of the Wright Brothers by taking a hang-gliding lesson from Kitty Hawk Kites, near the park visitor center. This is the world's largest hang-gliding school." -- Frommer's

Sports & Leisure

The biggest surprise about the Outer Banks might be that many travelers visit for the hang gliding. Recent travelers suggest catching a wave of air at Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head, where visitors can go gliding across hundred-foot sand slopes. Of course, visitors can also surf on actual waves or snorkel/scuba dive around numerous shipwrecks off the Outer Banks coast. In Hatteras Island, we recommend visiting the Cape Hatteras National Seashore to take in beautiful stretches of untouched seashore.

  • The highest sand dune on the East Coast, Jockey's Ridge, is the focal point of Jockey's Ridge State Park. With its smooth, sandy, 138-foot-high slopes and reliable winds, this is one of the best hang-gliding destinations in the United States." -- Frommer's
  • Explore the underwater wrecks -- most of which lie at depths of 90 feet or more-with expert guidance. Snorkeling trips are also available for those not deep-water-certified." -- Travel and Leisure
  • With more than 300 miles of ocean, wind and sand, North Carolina's Outer Banks is one of the premier surfing destinations on the East Coast." -- New York Times


The Outer Banks aren't known for their vibrant nightlife. However, if you're interested in a little history, you might take in a performance of The Lost Colony at the Waterside Theatre in Manteo on Roanoke Island. The beachside community at Wilmington, NC, located about six hours to the south, offers a much better nightlife scene.

  • On the night before Orville's birthday, the state's beloved outdoor drama, The Lost Colony, salutes the birth of Virginia Dare. ... Reserve a spot for a behind-the-scenes tour to meet the cast, see props, and view some of the 10,000 costume pieces used in each night's show. Queen Elizabeth's dresses each weigh 52 pounds and cost more than $25,000." -- Southern Living
  • Top Reasons To Go: The Lost Colony: In a mystery for the ages, 90 settlers, including the first European baby born in the New World, disappeared without a trace. Their story is presented both in historical context and dramatic entertainment in Manteo." -- Fodor's

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