Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Manteo, NC

  • Published 2022/03/16

Make it Manteo if you’re planning a pleasure trip to one of the islands of North Carolina on the Atlantic Coast.

This beautiful town is the county seat of Dare County and one of the popular destinations in Roanoke Island at the scenic Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Manteo hasn’t lost its laid-back, island-town atmosphere, which has been its character since the town’s foundation in 1865.

The goodwill that Manteo extends to its visitors recalls the Croatan Native American Tribe chief from whom the town got its name.

This Native American figure, Chief Manteo, acted as a liaison between his people and English colonizers in the 16thcentury.

He even traveled all the way to London with a compatriot, Wanchese, to help pave the way for English settlements not only in Roanoke but also in the Carolina mainland.

This historical vignette is but a small fragment of the charm of this town, so to learn more, pan out wider on the following list of the best things to do in Manteo.

Find the Lost Colony at the Waterside Theatre

Chairs and stage of Waterside Theatre

William Silver /

A visit to Manteo will not be complete without watching the musical the Lost Colony at the outdoor venue Waterside Theatre at the Ft. Raleigh National Historic Site off US Highway 64.

This long-running and Tony award-winning theatrical production tells the story of 120 English settlers of Roanoke Island who mysteriously vanished between 1587 and 1590.

View of the Waterside Theatre's seats

Fredlyfish4, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Lost Colony production depicts epic battles, Native American dances, as well as the pageantry of England’s queen and court, plus the celebration of the birth of Virginia Dare, believed as the first English child born in America.

Notably, there is a monument of Virginia Dare at the F. Raleigh National Historic Site, which also features an amenity-rich visitor center.

This Visitor Center offers various immersive exhibits, including the displays on the Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony and the Civil War Battle of Roanoke Island.

Watch Sharks at the North Carolina Aquarium

The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is located on Airport Road in Manteo.

It is a 68,000-square-foot complex with a 285,000-gallon tank touted as having the largest shark collection in the state.

One of the aquarium’s sections, Wetlands on the Edge, features alligators, various fish species, turtles, and the iconic North American river otters.

The aquarium also has an interactive feature in its Close Encounters exhibit where you can touch a white-spotted bamboo shark, a stingray, or a sea star.

If you’re an open-water certified diver, join the shark dive program of the aquarium to swim with sharks in its Graveyard of the Atlantic exhibit.

Visit a Queen’s Garden

A statue surrounded by flowers at Elizabethan Gardens

Jason Schronce /

The Elizabethan Gardens, located in the Fort Raleigh National Historical Site, is one must-visit in Manteo.

This project of the Garden Club of North Carolina spreads over 10 acres just next to the Lost Colony’s Waterside Theatre.

A statue in the middle of a garden at Elizabethan Gardens

Jason Schronce /

It features several unique sites, each with its own theme rendered as The Sunken Garden, The Great Lawn, The Gazebo, and The Queen’s Rose Garden.

Scenic view of Elizabethan Gardens

Jason Schronce /

The Elizabethan Gardens also boast museum-quality Italian Renaissance sculptures and a children’s area for educational play.

You can explore the gardens across dapple-shaded baths and enjoy breathtaking water views that can provide full satisfaction to nature-loving visitors.

Pathway and trees at Elizabethan Gardens

Zack Frank /

Step Back in Time at the Roanoke Adventure Museum

Featuring interactive displays, this museum is located in the Roanoke Island Festival Park, accessible via Ananias Dare Street.

Visitors of the Roanoke Adventure Museum go on a self-guided tour that takes them through the 400-year historical past of Roanoke Island and its surrounding areas.

Kids visiting this museum can get an added delight wearing 16th century period costumes.

The displays in the museum not only include portraits of the first English explorers.

During its tour, you can also try these explorers’ old way of navigating through an astrolabe referenced through sightings of the North Star.

The museum also features displays on 16th-century North America and the indigenous inhabitants of Roanoke Island, including a miniature version of their longhouse.

Here, you will also learn about the birth of North Carolina and the names of its first settlers from England.

In addition, the Roanoke Adventure Museum will usher you back to the 18th century when pirate ships roam the waters of the Outer Banks.

As parting shots, the museum offers tales about the lost Freedmen’s Colony and the Battle of Roanoke Island during the Civil War.

Dig Deeper into the Past at the Outer Banks History Center

Researchers and scholars who need a comprehensive study about North Carolina can find a rich resource in the Outer Banks History Center.

This facility is also located at the Roanoke Island Festival Park and just steps from the Roanoke Adventure Museum.

The Outer Banks History Center holds regional archives on the history and culture of the North Carolina coast and its adjoining areas.

Many of the materials in this history center are the only copies in existence and are therefore treasured pieces of evidence of the past.

The Outer Banks History Center welcomes researchers to visit and use its archival facilities.

Visit the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

Front view of the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

Dave Allen Photography /

This small lighthouse is a replica of an 1877 lighthouse built on the southern end of the Croatan Sound in the village of Wanchese on Roanoke Island.

Decommissioned in 1955, this old lighthouse was lost to the waters of Croatan Sound when an attempt was made to relocate it.

Far view of the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

Victor N. Overton /

The current Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, located on Fernando Street and is accessible via a pier, contains historical and educational exhibits.

The displays in this screw-pile lighthouse include a Fresnel lens tracing back in time to the 1800s and loaned to the Town of Manteo by the US Coast Guard.

Visiting this lighthouse will make you wonder how local fishermen and sailors could navigate a safe passage to the island just with the beacon from this small lighthouse.

Sunset view at Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

Cvandyke /

Join Captain Johnny’s Dolphin Tours

A visit to Manteo will be more memorable if it includes an encounter with the charming dolphins around the Outer Banks’ waters.

For a guaranteed dolphin watch cruise, hop aboard the boat Captain Johnny which has a dock near the Manteo Waterfront Marina off Queen Elizabeth Avenue.

Piloted by Captain Jamie Wescott, his boat cruises for two hours in the protected waters off the Outer Banks where pods of dolphins abound.

On this cruise, you will not only see breathtaking sights but also enjoy the captain’s narrations about the bottlenose dolphin common along the Atlantic Coast.

On many of Captain Johnny’s cruises, dolphins mating and birthing can be observed.

Tour the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum

This museum is the centerpiece of the George Washington Creef Boathouse on Fernando Street.

Nestled alongside the downtown Manteo waterfront, the Boathouse is named after George Washington Creef, the builder of the iconic Shad Boat in the 1870s.

Notably, North Carolina designated the Shad Boat as the State Boat in 1987 largely because of the exceptional durability of its construction.

Shad Boat construction halted in the 1930s, but many of those built even before then remained seaworthy because of their robust construction.

The Roanoke Island Maritime Museum exhibits several small watercraft, including an 1883 Shad Boat, showcasing the local maritime heritage.

Dock at the Manteo Waterfront Marina

Houses and boats reflecting on Manteo Waterfront Marina waters

Cvandyke /

Visitors of Manteo arriving by boat or with watercraft in tow will find great facilities at the Manteo Waterfront Marina off Queen Elizabeth Avenue.

The superb location of the Manteo Waterfront Marina opens easy access not only to the Roanoke Sound but also to the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean.

This marina is relatively small, with just 53 slips, but it offers a deep and well-protected anchorage.

Sunset at Manteo Waterfront Marina

Cvandyke /

Manteo Waterfront Marina, a Clean Marina-designated facility, can accommodate boats of up to 150 feet long and offers many excellent amenities.

Aside from the marina, good anchorage between the Roanoke Marshes and the Waterfront Gazebo is available to water vessels visiting Manteo.

The town also provides free overnight boat tie-up on a “space available” basis but with no services at its waterfront.

Sunset relfecting on Manteo Waterfront Marina's water

Cvandyke /

Get Airborne at Jumpmasters Trampoline Park

This amusement center is located on US Highway 64 and promises fun for all ages in its

14,000-square-foot indoor adventure park.

Billed as the only beachfront trampoline park, it ably disguises heart-pumping fitness routines as a fun experience.

Besides bouncing on trampolines, the patrons of this amusement park can enjoy its ninja warrior course, foam pits, and climbing wall.

For those more competitive in spirit, they can engage in jousts on the battle beam, as well as dodgeball.

The other attractions of Jumpmasters Trampoline Park include fitness classes, toddler time, camps, tumbling classes, and team-building courses.

Explore Island Farm

This 19th century Manteo farm is located off US Highway 64 and stands out as a living museum.

Island Farm offers period-attired interpreters leading visitors to hands-on activities like blacksmithing and cooking demonstrations.

The young visitors of the farm will enjoy interacting with farm animals as well as playing with old-fashion toys and games like hoop and stick, tug of war, and quoits.

The farm also holds special events like its October pumpkin patch, offering a straw bale maze, corn husk doll-making, weaving, and cider-making.

Sheep-shearing is the farm’s main offering for spring, a time for visitors to see and participate not only in the hand-shearing of sheep.

They will also enjoy seeing the wool-making process from washing the wool, spinning yarn, and weaving.

Bid on a Painting at Dare County Arts Council

Exterior of Dare County Arts Council

Cvandyke /

This council advocating art development in Dare County features an art gallery in its headquarters on Queen Elizabeth Avenue.

Among the special events the Dare County Arts Council hosts is a fund-raiser art auction called “The Great Art Heist” where outstanding creations of local artists are up for bidding.

The council also hosts the family-oriented and fun-filled First Friday festival held April through December in Manteo’s downtown.

An art auction is also among the activities during this event, featuring an interactive music show for kids.

A kids’ art festival and lectures by renowned Dare County art disciples are also among the council’s pet projects.

Enjoy Wine-Tasting at the Vineyards on the Scuppernong

Manteo is home to the main tasting room of the Vineyards on the Scuppernong, a mainland North Carolina winery just outside the small town of Columbia, Tyrell County, west of Manteo.

The winery, located on the banks of the Scuppernong River, produces wine from six grape varieties.

The winery’s Manteo tasting room is on Budleigh Street, just across Tranquil House Inn.

The tasting room of the Vineyards on the Scuppernong offers free wine samplings and sells by glass and bottle.

Wine accessories and specialty foods are also among the offerings at the Vineyards on the Scuppernong.

Counting as one of its bestsellers is the Tropical Somerset white wine infused with a touch of coconut and key limes.

Salute Lifesavers at the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum

This unique museum, located on Sir Walter Raleigh Street, commemorates the service and dedication of African American lifesavers who manned the Pea Island Lifesaving Station.

The station’s most dramatic rescue operation involved the lifesavers coming to the aid of the three-masted schooner E. S. Newman which ran hard aground the Outer Banks in 1896.

The original cookhouse building, once part of the Pea Island Lifesaving Station, was repurposed as Cookhouse Museum.

The museum’s displays include the E.S. Newman’s original signboard and a Lyle gun that the Pea Island Lifesaving Station rescue crew used.

Artifacts, relics, memorabilia, photographs, and other records and information about the station and the African Americans who served there are also on display at the museum.

Feel the Adrenaline Rush with Skydive OBX

Many adventurous souls who want to tick skydiving on their bucket list choose to do it up in the sky of the Outer Banks.

Here, they can easily join the sky jumps of Skydive OBX on Airport Road in Manteo.

A member of the United States Parachute Association, Skydive OBX takes pride in its highly experienced tandem skydiving instructors with excellent safety records.

Skydiving in Outer Banks can be truly memorable, as this was the area where Wright Brothers piloted the first human flight in 1903.

Their feat thus earned for Outer Banks the catchphrase “First in Flight,” a fitting slogan too for those on a trip to Manteo craving for an adrenaline rush in a maiden sky dive.

Final Thoughts

Manteo should come out as an easy pick for those planning a relaxing island vacation.

The beauty of its Roanoke Island locale has remained unspoiled despite its long history of settlement dating back to the early English colonists.

The island’s pioneers, moreover, have left Manteo an everlasting legacy that further makes this town an exciting place to visit.

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