Manteo, North Carolina is the hidden gem of the Outer Banks. This maritime town is rich with historical culture, being the birthplace of English colonization in America. Many have heard of the lost colony of Roanoke – disappearing sometime between 1587 and 1590. Today, Manteo celebrates and centers itself around the stories of those early settlers, and the culture of the eastern coast. Be prepared to find dozens of attractions in this quaint seaside town of Shallowbag Bay.
No matter the group size or age range, there is an activity for everyone. Spend a day taking in stories from back in time, learn about the local wildlife, or enjoy a seaside dining experience. It is perfect for a day trip, but vacationers can make the case to stay for weeks or even a month! There’s no shortage of experiences to be had in Manteo. This list has been compiled to offer ideas for every kind of visitor.
One of the most recommended things to do in Manteo! For a leisurely afternoon activity, walk through the charming and beautiful streets of downtown. Stroll by the lovely gardens, antique stores, waterfront restaurants, and art galleries. For great coastal views of the Outer Banks, stop by a local tour company to take out a kayak or go on a boating cruise.
Opened in 1998, the museum showcases the rich maritime culture of the town. Stop by while exploring the waterfront downtown to see a relic east coast shad boat, developed by George Washington Creef in the late 1800s. Designed to confront the turbulent weather conditions of the surrounding waters, the shad boat is known as the pick-up truck of the sea. Learn about the construction of the famous Elizabeth II, the vessel that originally brought settlers to the island. The museum offers several activities and programs for visitors and locals alike, so check their Facebook page to plan a tour!
40 yards into the Roanoke Sound is the 1857 Marshes Lighthouse. Little is known about the single-story building, but it has a classic aesthetic and can be enjoyed while strolling along the wooden boardwalk. Stop by during your downtown exploration for a great photo backdrop!
Manteo’s old-school single-screen theatre shows a film every night! Even though it’s been around since 1918, the family-run operation offers newly released movies at 7:00 pm nightly for a $7 admission. Enjoy a relaxing evening at this vintage theatre.
The island’s 25-acre adventure park recreates the first English settlement in America. Visit to go back in time as interpreters retell stories of Roanoke’s history. Board an immaculate replica of the 16th century Elizabeth II ship that originally brought settlers over, and watch a docudrama about the Native Algonquin peoples that first inhabited the island. Explore the beautiful nature trails with piers into the sound and panoramic views. You can also admire the indoor theatre and waterfront pavilion that often host concerts, weddings, and public events. Plan at least 2 hours for the visit, and don’t forget to wear good shoes!
This site was established in 1941 by the National Park Service to preserve the heritage of the Native Americans, European and African Americans that had made the island their home. Sometime between 1587 and 1590, the first colony disappeared when supply ships came too late. No survivors were found and it remains a mystery to this day. 3 miles from the town of Manteo, visit the Freedmen’s Colony Monument, the reconstruction of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Fort, and learn about early Roanoke Island history. Walk the Thomas Hariot Trail to be immersed in the maritime forest, the grounds of the Algonquin people, and the later English settlers. Plan 2 hours for this visit with free admission!
Every summer, the Waterside Theatre hosts the nation’s longest-running outdoor musical drama. Enjoy an entertaining reproduction of historic battles, the pageantry of the Queen, and traditions of the Algonquin set on a stage that rivals Broadway! Over 120 actors, technicians, and designers work together every year to bring the story to life. This show is produced by the Roanoke Island Historical Association, a non-profit organization celebrating the first English colonies in the country. The show runs from May to late August and is about 2 hours long. Don’t miss it if you are in Manteo for the season, and be sure to check out the stunning Waterside Theater regardless!
Adjacent to the beautiful Waterside Theater, take a step back in time to the elaborate grounds made to commemorate Queen Elizabeth I. The 10-acre park is a true cultural and historical experience. Walk the park’s 2.5-mile trail to see the abundance of remarkable plants and masterful sculpture gardens, leading to the Croatan Sound where Civil War forts once stood. Take a picnic lunch to the Elizabethan Gardens for the afternoon! There is a nominal fee to visit, but parking and nature trails are free.
Acquired in 1997 by the Outer Banks Conservationists, the Island Farm had been previously owned by the Etheridge family for over 200 years. This site is a piece of living history, originating pre-civil war. Bring the whole family to interact with interpreters who recreate an experience from 150 years into the past. Take a tour through the farmhouse, grounds, kitchen garden, 19th-century windmill, barns, and blacksmith shop. Play a 19th-century game, try your hand at traditional woodworking, and take an ox-drawn wagon ride. The Farmstead is open from April through November with a small admission fee. Wear appropriate shoes for full enjoyment!
Located in the historic 1904 courthouse of downtown Manteo and named after Virginia Dare, the Council art galleries have sponsored a variety of creative programs for more than 35 years. The gallery features work in many mediums, including pottery, fabrics, photography, metal-smithing, and realist, abstract, and impressionist painting. Visit to see how the Council uplifts local artists and provides a creative outlet for the community!
On a rainy day, check out the aquarium to learn about local sea life, the wetlands, and the ocean waters of the island. Their mission is to conserve and promote appreciation for the wildlife of the outer banks. See conservation in action while visiting turtles, otters, snakes, and alligators. Encounter and interact with stingrays, horseshoe crabs, bamboo sharks, urchins, hermit crabs, and sea stars. Dive with sharks and other aquatic creatures in the Graveyard of the Atlantic if you’re SCUBA certified! The aquarium was designed to be kid-friendly and offers a variety of programs and special exhibits on a weekly basis. Visit for $12.95 adult admission and $10.95 for the kids.
If you’re looking for a captivating outdoor experience, check out the Wildlife Refuge 3 miles north of Manteo. Take a guided tram tour or drive your own vehicle through over 35 acres of preserved land and see the highest concentrations of wildlife along the “Inner” Banks. Go fishing, kayaking, or embark on the hiking trails for observation platforms and boardwalks. Keep an eye out for wild turkeys, waterfowl, birds of prey, alligators, red wolves, and even black bears. The Visitor Center is open every day for entertainment and local wildlife education. Take a virtual airplane ride, check out an interactive exhibit, or pick up a souvenir in the gift shop!
If you’re craving a birds-eye view of the banks, you can book a 1942 open-cockpit biplane ride or a Cessna OBX plane tour. See dolphins, shipwrecks, the lighthouse, and maybe even a sea turtle from above. Prices range from $60-$80 for 10 minutes up to $499 for an hour. Choose your adventure.
For outdoor activities, take a sunset cruise on a chartered sailboat! Hop on the Downeast Rover, a 55-foot topsail schooner, to explore the Roanoke Sound. Reserve 2 hours of your trip for a truly memorable experience out on the water. You can book a daytime, sunset, or private charter with prices ranging from $35 ($25 for the kiddos) to $40 per person.
Board Captain Johnny to take a ride into the Outer Banks on a Guaranteed Dolphin Watch. Average pricing is $30-$35 and $20-$25 for kids. Learn about the native bottlenose dolphins from May to October, with tours taking off 3 times a day Monday through Friday. Private rides can even be booked on the weekend!
Have you ever wanted to try your hand at crabbing on the Atlantic coast? Fishing charters are a real part of the eastern seaside’s culture, and this family-owned company can take you out to catch some seafood of your very own! Get ready to see beautiful native birds, dolphins, otters, and enjoy the ride. Private bookings range from $80-$150 per hour, depending on if you prefer to catch crabs or shrimp.
16 minutes from Manteo live two of the East’s tallest active sand dunes, in the beach town of Nags Head. The most visited park on the Atlantic Coast, the sand dunes draw over a million visitors each year. Take a mini trip here for kite flying, sunset watching, and sightseeing. The sound side of the park offers a plethora of activities including sunbathing, wading, water sports, paddling, a mile-long nature trail into the wetlands, and hang gliding lessons from the top of the dunes! The visitor center museum has a 360-foot long boardwalk and arcing view of the ocean to the Roanoke Sound. Admission to the park is free.
A rustic fishing village 4 miles south of Manteo, this is the only other town on the island. Make a trip to check out their bustling marina that boasts a wide variety of watercraft from fishing boats to luxury yachts and cabin cruisers. This is the perfect spot to watch boats come in from their fishing charters, and HGTV’s Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks is filmed on these docks! Stop by a local fresh seafood dive for lunch and try the catch of the day.
If you’re a rum aficionado, you won’t want to miss the custom batches produced by the Outer Banks Distilling company. The island’s first distillery to be opened legally, it creates a variety of white, gold, and spiced rums refined from the Atlantic graveyard. Try their Kill Devil Rum in the Wheel House Lounge, tour the historic building made in 1946, learn of pirate legends, and be sure to ask about the candied pecans!
Most likely the oldest grapevine in North America, the Mothervine is thought to have been planted by Croatan Native Americans or settlers of the Lost Colony. Make a visit to pick and eat scuppernong muscadine grapes from the 400-year-old vine. The state fruit of North Carolina, these grapes produce Mothervine Wine, a slightly acidic and sweet beverage full of antioxidants. They are also used to make a variety of health products, which the Mothervine organization sells to raise money for Outer Banks Conservationists!
Enjoy seasonal seafood overlooking the docks of the Manteo waterfront. The mission of the Blue Water Grill is to provide every guest with an amazing and sensory dining experience, as they take pride in their philosophy that each patron should be treated like a celebrity! Here, enjoy a delicious plate of fresh seafood while taking in the seaside views.
Right next door, enjoy live music every Thursday through Sunday on Pirate’s Cove Marina. Named for the boat that caught a 1228.5-pound marlin during the 2008 Billfish Tournament, the hut honors the family’s matriarch, Miss. Karen (also known lovingly as Mimi by the grandchildren).
Ask any local for a spot to grab lunch, and almost everyone will tell you to head over to Poor Richard’s. The inside of the restaurant is stylized to look like the hull of a ship, and you’ll be sure to experience the nautical vibes. If you’d rather stop by during the evening time, be sure to check out the pub for some imported beer while catching some live music.
Enjoy meals prepared with local ingredients and southwestern flare in a bright, family-friendly atmosphere. Eat-in one of two dining rooms or at the wine bar on the covered patio, where locals and vacationers alike gather for a cold drink or a quick meal.
Wright Brothers National Memorial
Explore the Wright Brothers National Memorial just up the road in Nags Head. In 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright’s achievement at Kitty Hawk forever changed the course of human history. Today, you can stand in their footsteps—and experience your own mind-bending sense of flight—at Wright Brothers National Memorial.
This memorial is located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a location central to the Wrights’ testing and early flight experiments.
While it’s possible to enjoy a day packed full of coastal adventure and historic culture on the national seashore, you might find yourself wanting to stick around and soak it all in. Manteo is full of sweet Bed and Breakfasts and vacation rentals, so indulge in planning an extended vacation!
The Atlantic is full of treasures, and Manteo, North Carolina is certainly one of them.