19+ Fun Things to Do on Roanoke Island NC
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Roanoke Island is a small, twelve-mile island in Dare County, bordering the Outer Banks in North Carolina. This little island holds two towns, Manteo and Wanchese. Roanoke Island makes for a beautiful summer vacation, and it is one of the most fascinating historical towns in the Outer Banks.
You may have heard of the “Lost Colony of Roanoke” in the old history books, the eerie tale that holds an important moment in America’s early history. In 1587, just over 100 of the first English settlers stumbled across Roanoke Island to establish themselves and begin their new lives. However, three years later, ships bringing supplies found the colony completely deserted and abandoned, with no one to be found.
Today Roanoke Island is far from abandoned, though the community will never forget its rich history through museums, dramas, and more. Over the years, Roanoke Island has become an exciting place to spend a beachy vacation with many outdoor activities, fabulous restaurants, and thrilling events. There is a little something for everyone on the unique island of Roanoke.
Things to do on Roanoke Island NC
Headed down to the Outer Banks for your summer vacation? Roanoke Island is the perfect place to kick back, relax, and enjoy some beautiful things the Outer Banks (OBX) offers. Here is a complete guide to all the best things to do on Roanoke Island.
1. North Carolina Aquarium
Address: 374 Airport Rd, Manteo, NC 27954
The North Carolina Aquarium is the best and most popular aquarium in North Carolina. The large facility houses thousands of species of ocean life, including sharks, turtles, jellyfish, sea otters, reptiles, amphibians, and so much more.
The aquarium also holds several exciting indoor/outdoor educational programs for kids to get involved with animals and science. These programs include things like fishing, kayaking, behind-the-scenes tours, aquarium tours, and live feeding shows.
You don’t want to miss out on the North Carolina Aquarium on your trip to Roanoke Island! Everyone of all ages will have a blast.
2. Elizabethan Gardens
Address: 1411 National Park Dr, Manteo, NC 27954
The Elizabeth Gardens is a historical site and replica of the gardens made for Queen Elizabeth the First. These botanical gardens feature seasonal blooms of plants, shrubs, and flowers and bring an array of wildlife.
As visitors tour the gardens, they’ll find several themed gardens, such as the sunken garden, a butterfly garden, a woodland garden, a rose garden, and more. After your walk, you must visit the Royal Exchange Gift Shoppe for plant sales and to find beautiful trinkets, souvenirs, garden decor, and art.
3. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site / The Lost Colony
Address: 1401 National Park Dr, Manteo, NC 27954
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site preserves the land on which Sir Walter Raleigh’s attempted colony started their settlement. The site also protects the cultural significance of the Native Americans and African Americans who also lived on Roanoke Island. The park has plaques, artifacts, walking trails, and educational programs.
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is also the location for The Lost Colony, a symphonic drama production of the event of the first settlers on Roanoke Island. This drama takes place in a large outdoor theater called the Waterside Theatre and has been running since 1937, making it the longest-running outdoor symphonic drama in history.
4. Roanoke Island Festival Park
Address: 1 Festival Park, Manteo, NC 27954
If you ever wondered what life was truly like for the first settlers in 1585, then you must visit Roanoke Island Festival Park. This 27-acre park is where history comes to life, and visitors are able to experience history firsthand.
The park features a replica of the “Elizabeth II” ship, history lessons at American Indian Town, and hands-on activities at the Adventure Museum. There are also live demonstrations, shows, exhibits, stores, and more.
Roanoke Island Festival Park is also the place in town for festivals, concerts, and live shows that are held at the main stage. If you are looking to catch an event, this is where you’ll want to be!
5. Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse
Address: 104 Fernando St, Manteo, NC 27954
Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse is one of the five lighthouses that are located on the Outer Banks. Visitors are welcome to explore the house on the bottom that holds a small maritime museum with artifacts and exhibits. This is a must to add to your list of things to do on Roanoke Island.
Climbing to the roof of the lighthouse is prohibited for safety reasons. We have more information on this lighthouse and the other lighthouses in the Outer Banks in another article, 5 Great Lighthouses in the Outer Banks.
6. Island Farm
Address: 1140 US-64, Manteo, NC 27954
The Roanoke Island Farm is a living, historical farm that shares what life was like on Roanoke Island in the 1850s. The farm has fun live demonstrations like blacksmithing, feeding animals, traditional agriculture, and other farm jobs.
You will also be able to join in a number of hands-on activities. This is a lovely experience for people of all ages to learn more about Roanoke Island’s history, and you can’t leave without trying some of their delicious homemade apple butter!
7. Jumpmasters Trampoline Park
Address: 728 US-64, Manteo, NC 27954
Jumpmasters Trampoline Park is one of the newest attractions on Roanoke Island. The large indoor park has all kinds of activities like trampolines, ninja warrior courses, dodgeball, climbing walls, axe throwing, and more. The whole family can enjoy Jumpmasters, even the little ones who can participate in toddler time every Wednesday from 10 am-12 pm.
8. Coastal North Carolina Refuges Gateway Visitors Center
Address: 100 Conservation Way, Manteo, NC 27954
The Coastal Refuges Gateway is over 152,000 acres of nationally preserved wetland habitats. Hundreds of species, including black bears, alligators, bird species, and fish, make this area their home.
The Gateway Visitors Center acts as a hub for the other nine refuges in Coastal North Carolina. Trained staff volunteers are very knowledgeable and can answer any questions and direct you to the places you’d like to explore. Inside the visitors center, you’ll also find interactive exhibits, 37 critters, including a red wolf den, photographs, and more.
9. Manteo Waterfront Park
Address: 207 Queen Elizabeth Ave #14, Manteo, NC 27954
Just a short walk from Manteo’s Waterfront Marina is the exciting Waterfront Park which has a playground, picnic tables, benches, and access to the boardwalk. The park is the perfect place to enjoy lunch by the sea or to set up a picnic on the lawn. There is also a gazebo that makes a great spot for pictures.
10. The Mother Vine
Address: 263 Mother Vineyard Rd, Manteo, NC 27954
The Mother Vine is a beautiful 400-year-old grapevine, estimated to be the oldest grapevine in America. The vine is currently on private property, but anyone is welcome to come to see the vine and marvel at the intricate root system. Grapes still grow on the vine, and the owner often makes jelly to share with family and friends.
11. Roanoke Island Maritime Museum
Address: 104 Fernando St, Manteo, NC 27954
Roanoke Island Maritime Museum is located inside the George Washington Creef Boathouse along the downtown waterfront. The Boathouse is a working boat shop where volunteers take on projects, build designs, and work on boats. The famous Elizabeth II (at Roanoke Island Festival Park) was built here.
Visitors are welcome to explore the grounds and see exhibits inside the boathouse. Everyone working is happy to answer questions, talk to guests, and share their knowledge.
12. OBX Axe Throwing
Address: 728 US-62, Manteo, NC 27954
OBX Axe Throwing is the first axe-throwing venue in the Outer Banks. Axe throwing is a fun, interactive activity that has become extremely popular in the past few years. It is a great way to celebrate an occasion or get out and do something different. OBX Axe Throwing also has a small concession with drinks, and there are usually food trucks parked outside.
13. Dare County Regional Airport Museum
Address: 410 Airport Rd, Manteo, NC 27954
The Dare County Regional Airport Museum is located at the Dare County public airport and can be found in the old operations room from the WW2 era. The museum has artifacts, documents, photographs, and uniforms from World War 2 and more local historical information.
✅ OBX Helicopter Tours
From the Dare County Regional Airport, visitors can take an exciting helicopter tour to see OBX attractions from the air. It is the best way to experience all of the Outer Banks, free from crowds and with a friendly, knowledgeable guide.
✅ OBX Airplanes
An air touring service where guests can take a ride in a red, open-cockpit biplane. They also offer flight training and banner towing.
14. George Washington Creef Memorial Park
Address: 104 Fernando St, Manteo, NC 27954
The George Washington Creef Memorial Park is a small waterfront park located in front of Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse. George Washington Creef was a Roanoke Island native and famous boat builder. The park is a lovely place to stretch your legs and enjoy a picnic while looking out onto the ocean.
15. Dare County Arts
Address: 300 Queen Elizabeth Ave, Manteo, NC 27954
Dare County Arts is a nonprofit arts organization that shares the artwork of local artists. The gallery is open to the public and has a variety of art, including paintings, fiber arts, metalwork, pottery, mixed media, photography, and more.
16. Collins Park
Address: 622 Sir Walter Raleigh Street, Manteo, NC 27954
A small town park featuring the Herbert M. Collins Boathouse Museum. Herbert M. Collins was the last keeper of the Pea Island Life Saving Station, America’s only all-African-American U.S. Coast Guard Station.
17. Explore Downtown Manteo
Downtown Manteo is a quaint, beachy downtown strip with lovely restaurants and over 30 different shops to explore. Here are some of our favorite stops in downtown Manteo.
✅ Downtown Books
Downtown Books is an independently owned bookshop just one block from the waterfront. They have wall-to-wall shelves full of books and any genre you can think of. They are also strong supporters of the Dare County Schools and contribute as much as they can to the young readers of today.
NouVines is an exciting wine bar that carries small-batch wines from around the world. Guests are welcome to try new wines, enjoy special food pairings, join in trivia night, see live music, and simply enjoy good company with delicious glasses.
✅ Manteo Historic Walking Tour
Manteo’s beloved retired Chief of Police takes visitors on beautiful candlelit walking tours of historic Manteo. There are over 400 years’ worth of fascinating stories, ghost stories, and interesting facts that Francis D’Ambra knows by heart, and if you’re lucky, he’ll even share some of his own thrilling tales.
Tours run from April-October and start at 7 pm, generally going for about an hour and a half. If you’ve ever been interested in Manteo history or want to know more, this is the perfect way to dive in.
✅ Olde Town Creamery
Olde Town Creamery is an old-fashioned-style soda shop that serves ice cream, hot dogs, pizzas, and more. They have a lovely outdoor patio and are a great place for a sweet treat and a quick bite.
✅ Manteo Farmers Market
Manteo Farmers Market is a seasonal event that takes place every Saturday at George Washington Creef Park. There is fresh produce, baked goods, crafts, vendors, and music.
✅ The Gourmet Olive
The Gourmet Olive is a unique store with gourmet oils, vinegars, jams, locally made spices, and spreads. Anyone is welcome to come in and try samples and purchase unique items they may not find anywhere else.
✅ Laughing Lollipop
The Laughing Lollipop is the sweetest store in Manteo! This little mom-and-pop candy store has all your favorite nostalgic candies and everything else you can think of, including ice cream, homemade cotton candy, and sweet gifts.
✅ Charis Coffee Company
Charis Coffee is a locally roasted coffee company with the freshest ground beans and delicious coffee drinks. Each month a portion of their profits go to an organization to make the world a better place.
✅ Outer Banks Distilling
Outer Banks Distilling is the first legal distillery in the Outer Banks. They specialize in small-batch rums that have a beachy, nautical flare and are unlike anything you’ll ever try. Tours are available of the facility, where you can also purchase your very own bottle of their award-winning rum.
18. Secotan Market
Address: 2868 NC-345, Wanchese, NC 27981
Secotan Market is a farmers market in Wanchese that runs all year long. The market features fresh produce, vegetable ferments, pastured raised meats and cheeses, mushrooms, baked goods, plants, handmade items, and lots more. The market goes every Saturday from May-October, every Wednesday in the fall, and every 1st and 3rd Saturday during the cool months.
19. Harbor Star Dolphin Tours
Address: 4457 Mill Landing Rd, Wanchese, NC 27981
Harbor Star Dolphin Tours takes off from the Wanchese Marina and gives guests the dolphin experience of a lifetime. The two-hour cruise takes place on a 50-foot cruise boat, and allows guests to watch wild dolphins swim and play.
Drinks and Restaurants on Roanoke Island
We cannot include everything on our list, but here are some great places to check out for your things to do on Roanoke Island.
✅ Lost Colony Tavern
Address: 208 Queen Elizabeth Ave, Manteo, NC 27954
Located in the heart of Manteo is this bustling local tavern and restaurant. Named after the Lost Colony, the tavern brings old-world flavors like British-style beers and many ingredients imported from the United Kingdom and Ireland.
✅ Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop
Address: 305 Queen Elizabeth Ave, Manteo, NC 27954
Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop has been a staple of Roanoke Island since 1984. Their delicious sandwiches are made using imported Boars Head meats and cheeses, and they have a large menu with all your sandwich favorites, like Reubens, Italian subs, cold wraps, and more.
✅ Hungry Pelican Deli
Address: 205 Budleigh St, Manteo, NC 27954
The Hungry Pelican Deli has been serving delicious foods for over 30 years in Manteo. They have a large menu with soups, salads, hot and cold sandwiches, daily specials, and delicious homemade desserts.
✅ Blue Water Grill & Raw Bar
Address: 2000 Sailfish Dr, Manteo, NC 27954
Blue Water Grill & Raw Bar is a very popular seafood restaurant with views overlooking Pirate’s Cove Marina. It is a casual restaurant with five-star food and live music during the summer. Reservations are highly recommended.
✅ Darrell’s Restaurant
Address: 521 US-64 #264, Manteo, NC 27954
Since 1960, Darrell’s Restaurant has been serving those who come to Roanoke delicious breakfast and some of the best fried oysters in town. Guests can enjoy generous portions of homestyle meals and desserts in their casual, comfortable eatery.
✅ Olives A Greek Kitchen
Address: Waterfront Shoppes, 207 Queen Elizabeth Ave 1st Floor, Manteo, NC 27954
Olives is a lovely little restaurant located in the waterfront shops area of Manteo. They serve authentic Greek food from family recipes, and food can be enjoyed on their lovely outdoor patio.
✅ Ortega’z Southwestern Grill & Wine Bar
Address: 201 Sir Walter Raleigh St, Manteo, NC 27954
Ortega’z brings a flare of southwestern-style food and drinks to the coast of North Carolina. They have a delightful menu of authentic Mexican foods, a large wine selection, and handcrafted cocktails.
✅ Stripers Bar & Grill
Address: 1100A S Bay Club Dr, Manteo, NC 27954
Stripers is a must-visit on any trip to Roanoke Island. This three-floor, award-winning restaurant serves the freshest locally caught seafood, housemade desserts, and more. The first floor is the outside dining area with live music, the second floor is more of a family-style dining experience, and the third floor could be considered the romantic part of the restaurant with jaw-dropping views and another outside deck.
✅ Wanchese Marina- Landing Grill & Seafood Steam Bar
Address: 4457 Mill Landing Rd, Wanchese, NC 27981
For breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the Landing Grill has become one of the most important restaurants in Wanchese. From feeding the fisherman for every meal to serving locals and visitors, you can bet on getting some of the most delicious food here, and you can enjoy it in their waterfront dining room.
Things to do near Roanoke Island
There is so much to explore on Roanaoke Island, but here are some other fun things you can add to your list while visiting.
✅ Alligator River Wildlife Refuge
Address: Miltail Rd, East Lake, NC 27953
The Alligator River Wildlife Refuge is located on the Albemarle Peninsula, just under an hour from Roanoke Island. The refuge was created to protect the rare wetlands that grow in the area, as well as support the black bears, alligators, river otters, and other wildlife that make this area their home. This is a great area to kayak or paddle around, and fishing and hunting are allowed with restrictions and permits.
✅ Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Address: 300 W Carolista Dr, Nags Head, NC 27959
Jockey’s Ridge State Park is the number one most visited state park in North Carolina and for a good reason! This 427-acre park contains the tallest active sand dune system on the East Coast and is the premier hang gliding spot in the Outer Banks.
Visitors can explore the mile of hiking trails, walk along the dunes, enjoy the kayak or boat launches, have a picnic, or try hang gliding, sandboarding, and kite surfing.
✅ Wright Brothers National Memorial
Address: 1000 N Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
The Wright Brothers National Memorial celebrates the world’s first powered flight and draws many people from all over the world to the area.
Inside the memorial, you’ll find a 60-foot granite monument built in 1932, and guests can stand at the very place where the plane first took off. The 400-acre area has walking paths, other historical plaques, and picnic areas.
Annual Events on Roanoke Island
Here are some of the most exciting communal events happening this year on Roanoke Island.
✅ Dare Day Festival (June 3, 2023)
Address: 407 Budleigh Street, Manteo, NC 27954 (downtown Manteo)
A fun, family event that kicks off the summer season each year. There will be a variety of vendors, including crafts, food, art, games, music, kid-friendly games and activities, obstacle courses, and more. This is a family event you don’t want to miss!
✅ Outer Banks Seafood Festival (October 21, 2023)
Address: Soundside Event Site (Nags Head, NC)
The Outer Banks Seafood Festival is the biggest food and seafood festival in the Outer Banks. Well over 150,000 people attend for a day of great seafood, music, games, family activities, and more. Apart from great food and amazing cooks, guests will also be able to see the fantastic display of boats on which the seafood comes in and to meet the fishermen themselves!
✅ Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival (October 19-21, 2023)
Address: Roanoke Island Festival Park
The Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival is one of the most popular events of the year! Musicians and music lovers from all over come together to celebrate bluegrass, good food, and fun. Big names like Sam Bush, Leftover Salmon, and the Kitchen Dwellers are just some of the amazing musicians joining in the excitement.
✅ Dirty Heads – Island Glow Tour (August 6, 2023)
Address: Roanoke Island Festival Park
The Dirty Heads have been coming to the Outer Banks for the past three years. This year they are putting on a spectacular music show with Lupe Fiasco, Bikini Trill, and more.
✅ July 4th Celebration Music & Fireworks
Address: 407 Budleigh St, Manteo, NC 27954 (downtown Manteo)
The Fourth of July is possibly the biggest beach celebration in the Outer Banks. All across the coastline, there are exciting events, games, food, and spectacular fireworks shows. The town of Manteo holds one of the most popular Fourth of July celebrations in the area that goes on all day and ends with stunning fireworks.
The streets of downtown Manteo will be lined with vendors, kids’ games, face painting, food trucks, music, parades, and more. Then head over to Roanoke Island Festival Park for a concert and a good place to watch the fireworks. The Manteo Waterfront Park is another great place to set up to see the fireworks show.
✅ OBX Pridefest (September 8-10, 2023)
Address: Roanoke Island Festival Park
OBX Pride is the biggest pride celebration on the North Carolina coast. For two days in September, anyone is welcome to come to celebrate life, love, and community! There will be drag shows, bands, live performers, food trucks, drinks, games, and more in this safe, friendly environment.
Each day holds different activities like drag brunch, sunset booze cruises, and DJ dance parties. The main event, on Saturday, is free and family-friendly.
✅ Surfalorus Film Festival (September 18-21, 2023)
Address: Jennette’s Pier (Nags Head, NC)
Those who share a love for film, surfing, and nature must attend this exciting event happening in September. For the past 11 years, local filmmakers and filmmakers from across the country have been coming together to share their surfing and nature documentaries, ocean movies, and more. There will also be live performances, food trucks, and other festivities.
✅ The Lost Colony Wine & Culinary Festival (April 15, 2023)
Address: Fort Raleigh Historic Site
As we mentioned above, Roanoke Island is home to the oldest grapevine in America, and this is an entire day to celebrate that and the wine grown in North Carolina. The Grand Tasting is the main event that takes place at the Waterside Theatre. Regional chefs will provide decadent meals to pair with the wine, and there will be live performances, music, a silent auction, and more.
✅ Outer Banks Watermelon Festival (August 3, 2023)
Address: Kitty Hawk Kites (Nags Head, NC)
The Outer Banks Watermelon Festival is the perfect kid-friendly event that has been taking place for 11 years. There will be watermelon-themed competitions, tye-dying, arts and crafts, splash zones, lawn games, drum circles, face painting, food trucks, and so much more!
✅ Outer Banks Pirate Festival (August 9-10, 2023)
Address: Kitty Hawk Kites (Nags Head, NC)
Do you have what it takes to be a pirate? Well, come find out at the Outer Banks Pirate Festival! This kid-friendly event is totally nautical, pirate themed, and guests can join the pirate school to learn the pirating ways. Costumes are encouraged.
✅ Christmas on North End (November 27- December 3, 2023)
Address: Island Farm
Just after Thanksgiving, the Roanoke Island Farm goes all out to begin the Christmas holiday spirit. For the whole week, there will be traditional holiday games, food, clothes, and the entire farm gets decorated with authentic Christmas decor.
✅ Wings over Water Encore (December 8-10, 2023)
Address: Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, Alligator River Wildlife Refuge, Swanquarter Wildlife Refuge, and Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge
This weekend-long event celebrates the hundreds of migrant birds and waterfowl arriving to make homes for the winter. Those who love birds or those who simply wish to see the magic of hundreds of birds flying together will get to witness species like ducks, swans, geese, and more.
Where To Stay on Roanoke Island
📍Island Motel OBX – This beachy-themed motel is the perfect, inexpensive way to spend your vacation. The motel sits just minutes away from popular attractions like Waterfront Park, Roanoke Island Marshes, and beachfront access. The rooms are clean and comfortable and even offer apartment-style kitchenettes for longer stays. With a beautiful outdoor patio and a great location, the whole family will love this motel.
📍Sailfish Point Villa 5201 – Thinking about splurging a little for your next vacation? The Sailfish Point Villa is an upscale marina-front condo with ocean views, a neighborhood pool, a hot tub, sports courts, organized kid-friendly activities, and is just minutes away from the beach and historic downtown. This spacious three-bedroom, three-bathroom beach condo will not only make your vacation wonderful, but it will also make you feel right at home.
Roanoke Island: FAQs
📌 What is Roanoke Island known for?
Roanoke Island is known for having some of the most popular attractions in the Outer Banks, such as the North Carolina Aquarium, the site of the Lost Colony, Roanoke Island Festival Park, and the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse.
📌 Do you have to take a ferry to Roanoke Island, NC?
No. The only way to get to Roanoke Island is by driving over one of the two bridges to and from the island.
📌 Does Roanoke Island have beaches?
Roanoke Island has a beautiful coastline, although it isn’t technically an ocean coastline or ocean beach. Since Roanoke is separated by sound, there are only sound beaches, meaning no crashing ocean waves as you would see at most ocean beaches.
📌 What is the mystery of Roanoke Island, North Carolina?
The mystery of Roanoke Island is of the Lost Colony that went missing in the late 1500s. Over 120 English Settlers vanished practically without a trace. Some believe the area went through a major drought, which forced the settlers to move away from their established colony and live with Native Americans.
📌 Why is Roanoke Island famous?
Roanoke Island is famous for being the settlement of the Lost Colony.
You can’t visit the Outer Banks without making a stop on Roanoke Island. So much of the Outer Banks’ history, flair, and excitement takes place on the small but special island, and no one should miss out on it!
Whether you are looking for fun events, live music, delicious restaurants, ocean tours, or anything else your heart desires, all of that can be achieved on Roanoke Island.