15 Best Things to Do in Elizabeth City, NC

Elizabeth City, NC
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In the Historic Albemarle region of northeastern North Carolina, right on the Pasquotank River and the Intracoastal Waterway, lies Elizabeth City.

Elizabeth City serves as the cultural, economic, and educational hub of the Historic Albemarle region.

Elizabeth City’s nickname is the Harbor of Hospitality, and it’s easy to see why: waterways surround the entire city, and this balance of land and water has shaped its culture and goings-on.

It was once named one of the 100 Best Small Towns in America, was proudly declared a Coast Guard City in 2015, and has been ranked one of the best places to live on the east coast.

Elizabeth City has beautiful old buildings, a rich history, a steady flow of attractions, outdoor recreations, and natural beauty aplenty.

This progressive and expanding city emanates deep waterfront and southern charm and hospitality.

Walking down its streets, you will view quaint shops, appealing restaurants, and informative museums;  feel the bustle of businesses and agriculture; and sense the presence of nature always nearby.

This combination of character, charm, and spirit is what keeps visitors drawn to the city’s heart.

If you’re among the many drawn to the appeal of Elizabeth City, here’s a list of the best things to do while you’re there.

Revisit History at the Museum of the Albemarle

Front View of Museum of the Albemarle
Ajsanjua, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Museum of the Albemarle in downtown Elizabeth City chronicles the ages-long history of the entire region.

It interprets and then celebrates the Albemarle, which spans 13 counties across northeastern North Carolina.

It explores the history of the people like Native Americans, craftsmen, watermen, farmers, and others who defined northeastern North Carolina, tracing to the Coast Guard people of the city today.

The museum houses illustrations, artifacts, and hands-on activities and shows a chronological overview of the region.

You can see artifacts and graphics sketching in the area’s ecological significance and views of its cultural development over ten thousand years.

View exhibits that tie together the community, state, and nation’s history, focusing on significant personas, old traditions, North Carolina characterizations, personal records, cultural icons, war memoirs, and more.

Get encouraged to reflect on your place in history and discover and preserve the past for future generations at this museum.

Relax at Waterfront Park

Waterfront Park is a place to walk and contemplate or take your family out for a stroll on a good day.

It is a place touched with history: here, decisive battles met their victories, the execution of notable persons took place, and the Wright Brothers tested with the ‘world’s first flight crew’ on experimental aircraft.

It is now an attractive and spacious place for relaxation with a boardwalk and pier along the Pasquotank River, big beautiful cypress trees around a picnic area, and a fabulous waterfront view to watch the River and the boats.

Its pavilion called ‘the Dome’ is one of the historical waterfront landmarks in Elizabeth City.

The park also has boat ramps to rent a kayak or a pontoon boat with your family and spend a day sailing in the River.

Waterfront Park is also the site of the city’s Fourth of July celebrations and plenty of other festivities year-round.

Bring Your Kids to Port Discover

Port Discover is a hands-on science center that teaches children all about science by involving them in interactive activities.

Here find exhibits like Forces, Fun, and Flight featuring the science and forces of flight; From Sea to Sink centering on hydrodynamics; and Lights, Laughs, and Liftoff putting them in an air traffic control role.

The Discovery Zone holds hands-on science experiments where kids do things like test gears at the magnetic station, do trial and error at a sink or float station, learn about 3D Printers, and create their personal wall murals.

There is also a study table where kids can read about their favorite science topics from books at the mini-library.

The center even holds unique Saturday STEAM (standing for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) sessions with experiments designed to lift the imagination.

Welcome your kids to the fascinating world of science at Port Discover.

Shop at Downtown Waterfront Market

Outdoor markets are always a meaningful way to check out the local flavor of a place, from its merchants to its original products.

Downtown Waterfront Market at Elizabeth City is certainly no exception: here, you will hold handmade crafts, spy homemade foods, hear live music, and mingle with the city’s local vendors.

This open-air market is at the Mariner’s Wharf Park by the water and has a host of vendors selling fresh produce, coffee, baked goods, flowers, jewelry, ornaments, and a lot more.

You may uncover unusual products: clothing for your furbabies, handmade kitchen utensils, varied sauces and condiments, tie-dyed clothing, all-natural skin creams, handcrafted candles, ceramic gnomes – you never know what might turn up until you’re there.

You will also see products sold for a good cause, with proceeds going towards the local senior citizen’s center and domestic violence shelters.

So if you’re interested in handicrafts, local goods, and fresh products, try dropping by at this market.

Appreciate Art at Arts of the Albemarle

Arts of the Albemarle, also known as AoA, is a non-profit organization committed to enriching its community in a diverse array of the arts.

It represents several counties, but its main base is in the heart of downtown Elizabeth City at The Center, a renovated historical building.

It has a top-tier facility that is home to the Jacqueline Jenkins Gallery, which hosts more than 250 craftsmen, artists, and photographers’ stunning works of art.

At their gallery, view lovely works from their thriving art community: landscape portrayals, realistic still lifes, surreal renderings, colorful dreamscapes, abstract figures, and lots of others.

Their Center Players and School of the Arts is a program for children and young adults who can perform and reinvent themselves as they get to know a wide range of the arts.

View performances at the Maguire Theatre, a 230-seat space that hosts regional, regional, and national acts such as plays, music, and festivals.

If you want works from artists, musicians, performers, and other creators in a single venue, Arts of the Albemarle has your back.

Have a Day Out at Charles Creek Park

Another beautiful park to visit in Elizabeth City is Charles Creek Park.

It’s located a block from the waterfront, a calm patch of green space in an otherwise busy neighborhood.

It is a small 3-acre park but packed with amenities: a volleyball court, outdoor games, boating, and fishing.

It also has a spacious picnic area with grills, tables, and electrical outlets where you can hold large-scale events and even big family gatherings.

Sit on the docks and toss out your fishing lines on the water, launch a skiff to tour the waterfront, or go on a scenic walk out on the boardwalk and catch a lovely Elizabeth City sunset.

Your kids can have a fun and energetic time at the small but imaginative playground with swings, slides, and a maze of clubhouses and tubes.

Charles Creek Park is an accommodating and conveniently located park where you can take your family for a sunny afternoon to exercise and breathe the fresh air.

Have Some Drinks at Ghost Harbor Brewing Company

Elizabeth City’s hometown brewery is the Ghost Harbor Brewing Company.

It is a family-owned microbrewery and taproom in downtown Elizabeth City located in historic Pailin’s Alley.

With its sea-inspired name and logo, it acknowledges the waterfront roots of the city, and the interior of its tasting room even brings to mind the decks of a pirate ship or an old-fashioned seaside tavern.

The brewery’s goal is to provide wonderful craft beer experiences for family, friends, and everybody in the city community.

Taste their classically styled craft beer, prepared with enthusiasm and gusto at their brewery, with a passion for detail and hope that their efforts are appreciated.

Beer options revolve depending on what they choose to brew at the moment, but they include sours, stouts, and pale ales, and you can get 32-ounce and 6-ounce glasses or a flight of 4-ounce glasses.

Also, make sure to attend their fun nights which feature themes like bingo, paint and sips, crafting, video game tournaments, trivia sessions, and enjoyable live music.

Relish your night of beers and downtown takeout at this lively location.

Read Books at Pasquotank County Library

While on your city vacation, stop by the Pasquotank County Library to feed your mind and imagination.

It has a quiet atmosphere in which to get thoughtful and productive, and it has plenty of books for your literary cravings.

On their first floor, see children’s books, fiction, audiovisuals, large prints, and new releases; on their second floor, there are teen books, non-fiction, periodicals, references, biographies, and local histories.

Take your kids to the children’s department with their scheduled Story Times, or attend their adult fiction and non-fiction book discussion club at their Reading Corner.

They have a mobile library designed to engage audiences, provide access to their resources, and enhance their presence in the Elizabeth City community.

Their interlibrary loans are also a great and seamless process, and the librarians and staff are always eager to help you seek what you need.

Stop by this comprehensive library and show appreciation for their stewardship of the written word.

Cool Off at Pelican Marina

In the heat of sizzling summer, the marina is the place to be to keep it cool.

Splash around at Pelican Marina, which has been serving transient boaters and the boating community since 1974.

They offer short-term, long-term, and transient slips to park your boat, and they also have a full-service store for marine supplies.

They have just about everything you need for boat repair and upkeep, and the friendly staff is there for the assistance you need.

If you don’t have your own boat, the marina has kayaks, standup paddleboards, sailboats, and pontoon boats for rent, and if you want to learn more on the water, they have experienced instructors who can provide private, in-depth boating lessons.

Enjoy the kayaking experience down the waterways with calm conditions and a fantastic downtown view.

Also, have fun with the fishing contests that the marina sometimes holds.

Most of all, relish the feeling of fellowship in the Elizabeth City community as you spend your day on the city waters.

Visit Elizabeth City State University

Elizabeth City State University or ECSU is a waterfront campus located at the narrows of the Pasquotank River, close to the Outer Banks beaches.

The university is one of 100 historically black colleges and universities in America, which today has an increasingly multicultural student body and faculty.

It offers over 30 programs of study: music, aviation, business, education, and others.

It commits to the highest quality education for everyone with its student activities and academic programs.

The university primes its students to join the global workforce and maintain a standard of academic excellence with liberal arts programs and integrated technology.

Come and visit ECSU, a lovely and spacious rolling green campus with well-structured buildings holding the promise of academic growth and knowledge.

You might even want to catch a show at Robinson’s Auditorium, such as a campus-based music performance by the department, or drop by Khan Planetarium to experience the wonders of astronomy and hear exotic stories of outer space.

Feel the Excitement at Dixieland Speedway

For a thrilling night with your family, don’t miss out on Dixieland Speedway!

It is the premier action track of northeastern North Carolina, and race fans everywhere in the area have converged here to watch exciting side-by-side races over the years.

It’s a 3/8 mile or 0.6-kilometer oval, and the tight turns and the long straightaways lead to many thrills on track.

The clay track is 55 feet wide with turns one and two banked at 12 degrees and turns three and four banked at 8 degrees.

It has five racing divisions on Friday nights, and you will find yourself enraptured by the speed at which the cars zip around the track.

Cars aren’t the only vehicles that race here: you will likewise see motorcycles and go-karts zooming at the oval.

Have a blast cheering in the stands as you discover the art of racing and how champions come to life on the racing track.

Follow the Elizabeth City Aviation Trail

Elizabeth City is a significant location in the history of flight, having a strong association with the Wright brothers, who built and flew the very first airplane.

Wilbur Wright traveled to Elizabeth City on his way to Kitty Hawk (which would eventually be the place for the brothers’ legendary first flight), and his brother, Orville, later joined him.

With their dreams of taking flight, the brothers visited Elizabeth City on many occasions to refill their goods and supplies, as it was then the nearest urban center in the 1900s.

On the Elizabeth City Aviation Trail, one can retrace their footsteps through the city: see the spot of their experimental aircraft, where they shopped for supplies to build the first plane, where they held interviews after the first flight, where newspapers reported their endeavor, and so on.

These historical markers weave their way across Elizabeth City and are an excellent way to get to know the downtown and absorb local history.

Walk the Civil War Trail

Another trail rich in Elizabeth City’s history is the Civil War Trail, where one can learn about the City’s past events.

Pick up a guide at the visitor’s center that shows you where to follow the markers on the Civil War Trail.

In 1862, the Union Navy captured Elizabeth City, and the Federal Army occupation lasted from 1862 to 1865, with the people split into pro-Union and pro-Confederate sympathizers.

This was a bloody and harrowing span of events now known as “the terrible time.”

On the trail, uncover places of decisive battles, catastrophe, imprisonment, executions, guerilla warfare, and rebellion.

These trail markers commemorate the atrocities and struggles of war, honor these lost historical events, and remember the brave people who lived in this time of divided allegiance.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Explore Dismal Swamp State Park

View of Dismal Swamp State Park
Constantine L / Shutterstock.com

About 25 minutes from the heart of downtown Elizabeth City, you will find Dismal Swamp State Park.

The Great Dismal Swamp is the largest remaining swamp in the eastern United States, and the park protects 22 square miles of this forested wetland.

It promises a unique wilderness in a land that has borne witness to Native American hunting parties, been subject to George Washington’s explorations, and was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

In this park, walk along a 2000-foot boardwalk and into a geological marvel, closely experience the lush swamp forest, and view the abundant wildlife.

View of Dismal Swamp State Park
Sharon Chapel / Shutterstock.com

Get ready for adventure on 20 miles of biking and hiking trails, or enjoy a leisurely paddle in a canoe or a kayak down the Dismal Swamp Canal.

Stop by the visitors’ center to view interpretive programs about wetlands ecology, witness the museum-type displays, and learn the history of the famous swamp and why George Washington called it a ‘glorious paradise.’

Find all this and more during your wilderness experience at Dismal Swamp State Park.

Catch Fish With Albemarle Fishing Charter

Elizabeth City is on Albemarle Sound, an estuary where freshwater and saltwater meet, putting it in the top ideal spots for fishing thanks to its brackish water.

Many anglers and nature lovers are fans of the diverse marine life, flora, and fauna in Elizabeth City’s waterways.

Albemarle Fishing Charters offers light tackle, inshore fishing trips on Albemarle Sound and its tributaries, including Little and North River, Perquimans, Chowan, and the Pasquotank.

For years, residents of Elizabeth City have been guided by Captain Jeff Onley, who has spent most of his life fishing these waters and always guarantees a trip to remember.

Captain Jeff is experienced at catching fish such as trout, crappie, flounder, croaker, largemouth bass, striped bass, white perch, and others.

Albemarle Fishing Charters doesn’t just cover fishing charters; it also offers boating and crabbing trips on the outer banks.

You are in for a great day on the water with a knowledgeable guide, whether you’re already a seasoned angler or a novice fisherman looking for your first trophy catch.

Final Thoughts

This quaint and coastal location has enough southern nautical hospitality to last a long time.

If you ever find yourself in northeastern North Carolina, make sure to visit Elizabeth City.

The streets and waterways of the city are rife with history and potential waiting to be uncovered.

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