15 Best Things to Do in Roanoke Island, NC

Roanoke Island, NC
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North Carolina’s coastal area is teeming with hidden gems and smalltown charms, especially the Outer Banks that offer a unique flair for visitors who want to explore this place.

One of the most sought-after places in The Outer Banks is Roanoke Island.

This island is rich in history, culture, and mystery.

Among the attractions to check out on this island is The Lost Colony, where you'll learn the mystery through various historical sites and its famous stage play.

In addition, Roanoke Island has literally dozens of exciting things to do, from visiting museums, gardens, old forts, charming coastline to having close encounters with marine animals.

If you’re seeking a great place in North Carolina for a quick family vacation, you should consider Roanoke Island.

It’s a perfect place to unwind and escape the city stress.

Historically, Roanoke Island is one of The Outer Banks’ three islands discovered by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1587, along with fellow English explorers who ultimately settled in the region.

However, their colony disappeared, leaving everyone baffled.

To this day, Roanoke Island is still embedded in this mystery until today.

From a visitor’s perspective, this island is full of adventure, and to keep you excited, here are the 15 best things to do in Roanoke Island, North Carolina:

Appreciate the Elegant Beauty of the Elizabeth Gardens

Entry way to the Elizabeth Gardens with paved brick path and plants on both the sides
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It would be ideal to visit the Elizabeth Garden, which encompasses more than 10-acres of a beautifully landscaped botanical garden.

The garden is nestled next to the Waterside Theater, where the highly-popular “Lost Colony” stage play happens yearly.

The garden is a beautiful place to visit, especially for those who love flowers and other exotic plants.

Statue of Queen Elizabeth at Elizabeth Gardens
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This garden is known for its wide array of flowering plants, trees, and shrubs that changes seasonally.

In addition, the garden also has a butterfly house, a discovery cottage, Italian renaissance sculptures, a top-notch camellia collection, and other exotic plants.

Whether you’re a plant and flower enthusiast or simply want to visit a beautiful place, there is something astonishing waiting for you at the Elizabeth Gardens.

Beautiful fountain at Elizabeth Gardens
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Browse through the Exhibits of the Outer Banks History Center

If you want more history, you should drop by the Outer Banks History Center, which houses an extensive collection of the region’s information dating back 400 years ago.

It’s a riveting place for historical enthusiasts that want to discover more of the Outer Banks’ rich history by browsing the facility’s exhibits.

It's a popular place for historians, educators, journalists, and scientists to learn about The Outer Banks' history.

Within the facility’s walls are more than 300,000 items, including photographs, books, manuscripts, negatives, maps, newspapers, periodicals, oral histories, public records, videos, and audio that details the history of The Outer Banks.

You will likely spend hours browsing through interesting historical information and facts that give you a clearer picture of why this region is historically fascinating.

Get Up Close with Marine Animals at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

Statue of fishes on the fountain at North Carolina Aquarium
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The North Carolina Aquarium is one of the top attractions to visit on Roanoke Island.

It boasts a 68,000-square-foot facility that houses a wide array of aquatic life, making it a wonderful place to visit, especially with children and those young at heart.

It is located along the Airport Rd in Manteo in Roanoke Island.

Art piece, a school of fishes hanging at the North Carolina Aquarium
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Its huge aquarium is home to many marine animals, such as sea turtles, stingrays, sharks, and prehistoric horseshoe crabs.

In addition, the Graveyard of the Atlantic is a must-see exhibit in this place as it houses the remnants of the USS Monitor Ironclad.

The North Carolina Aquarium is more than an educational attraction but rather the best place to discover what the underwater world looks like.

Tortoise at North Carolina Aquarium
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Get Spooked Out with OBX Ghost Tours

It’s always common for historical places to have urban legends and spooky stories that make it more interesting to visit.

The Outer Banks is no exception, so you need to experience the OBX Ghost Tours in Manteo in Roanoke Island.

Explore Manteo’s streets by night as OBX Ghost Tours takes you to the most haunted places in this town in Roanoke Island.

OBX Ghost Tours is one of the groups offering this kind of activity on Roanoke Island.

It’s scary but a fun-filled experience you should not miss in Roanoke Island while discovering various historical places with spooky stories to tell.

To sign up for OBX Ghost Tours’ spooky adventures, you can visit their office along Sir Walter Raleigh St. in Manteo.

Learn Interesting History at the Roanoke Island Festival Park

A ship harboured at Roanoke Island Festival Park
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The recently re-opened Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo is an interactive family attraction that encompasses 25-acres, highlighting the first English colony in America.

The focal point of this park is the English Ship, Elizabeth II, a replica of one of the seven-ship fleet of the famous Roanoke Voyage back in 1585.

Amazingly, you can climb and explore the Elizabeth II docked on the Roanoke Island Festival Park.

A wooden bridge above the marshland at Roanoke Island Festival Park
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In addition, you can visit the settlement site of the former colony and explore the old huts that once became the houses of the first settlers in America.

As you tour through the park, you’ll come across a 16th-century blacksmith that displays old iron wares that are fascinating to see.

Overall, the Roanoke Island Festival Park highlights the 400 years of history of the European Americans and Native Americans that settled in the Outer Banks and North Carolina.

A boat docked on the marshland at Roanoke Island Festival Park
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Pour a Glass of Fine Wine at the Vineyards on the Scuppernong

The Vineyards on the Scuppernong boasts one of the finest wines in North Carolina.

This vineyard in Manteo specializes in growing and producing fine wines using the Muscadine Grapes.

It also has a winery and tasting room, featuring its finest signature collection like the Simply Scuppernong, Jack Ass Red, Catawba Bell, and Black Beary.

Pour a glass of any of these wines in its tasting room to reward yourself after a tiring day touring around Roanoke Island.

Or perhaps, buy a bottle or two as your souvenir from your trip to Roanoke Island.

Its tasting room has a cozy and welcoming vibe that complements perfectly with its fine wines.

For an afternoon relaxation, head to the Vineyards on the Scuppernong.

Celebrate Arts at the Dare County Arts Council

Dare County Arts Council with christmas decorations and lights
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The Dare County Arts Council along Queen Elizabeth Avenue in Manteo, Roanoke Island, houses an eclectic collection of fine artworks from local and regional artists in the region.

For 40 years, the Dare County Arts Council culminates the rich culture and arts in The Outer Banks and North Carolina.

The gallery is housed in the old Dare County Courthouse built back in 1904, making this place historically significant.

Whether you’re an art enthusiast or a simple tourist, you should check out Dare County Arts Council and appreciate the beautiful artworks from its exhibits and galleries.

Dozens of artworks ranging from paintings, sculptures, pottery, photography, fiber arts to wood designs are displayed there.

In addition, the Dare County Arts Council also offers various workshops and classes focusing on visual arts, literature, and music.

Go Fishing at Jennette’s Pier

Jennette’s Pier during twilight
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If you’re through with history, head to Jennette’s Pier to lure your lines in this world-class fishing facility, located in Nag's Head Island, a 10-minute drive west of Roanoke Island.

Many anglers visit this place to catch some of the most popular native fish species, also seen at the facility’s sizeable aquarium.

There are plenty of fishing spots at its 1,000-foot-long ocean pier that also serves as the boardwalk where you can stroll and see nature's beauty.

Waves crashing on the pillars of Jennette’s Pier
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The most common native species you can catch are croaker, flounder, spot, blues, drum, pompano, and many more.

If you forgot to bring your fishing gear, there’s a tackle shop you can drop by to grab fishing essentials.

In addition, Jennette’s Pier also has a beautiful white-sand beach, excellent for swimming and other waterborne activities aside from fishing.

Bird's eye view of Jennette’s Pier
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Experience Colonial Life at Island Farm

Island Farm is a historical site in Manteo in Roanoke Island that lets visitors experience what life was like back in the colonial age in the region.

This place is a wonderful historical attraction for the entire family for its interactive way of telling the story of the first settlers of the Outer Banks.

Island Farm is situated in the historic Etheridge farmhouse and outbuildings built back in the mid-1800s when Roanoke Island was still known as Logtown.

The farm, which covers 125 acres, emphasizes the daily life of the early settlers in the Outer Banks.

The guides dressed with period attires tour you through the farm and let you experience hands-on daily works such as feeding, planting, woodworking, harvesting, ox-drawn wagon rides, sheep shearing, and many more.

In addition, kids can enjoy various activities and even play with 19th-century toys and games.

The Island Farm offers a one-of-a-kind family experience involving history and heritage worthy of visiting while you're in Roanoke Island.

Explore the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

Open air theatre with the view of a ocean behind the stage at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
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The first thing you need to do in Roanoke Island is explore the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.

It's one of the best ways to get familiar with the island’s fascinating history, including the story behind the famous “Lost Colony.”

The entire fort was known as the bastion of England’s first “New World” settlements in the late 1500s.

In addition, it’s where Raleigh’s fellow explorers and colonists establish their settlement.

Today, the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site serves as a big open-door museum.

It preserves all the heritage of the European Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans that settled in Roanoke Island.

Furthermore, the fort is home to numerous attractions to visit throughout your Roanoke Island travel adventure.

It’s a must-visit attraction in Roanoke Island for its fascinating history, mystery, and beautiful sights to see.

Learn Aviation History at the Dare County Regional Airport Museum

The Dare County Regional Airport Museum in Manteo is where you’ll find the artifacts and memorabilia of the famous Wright Brothers.

In addition, the airport also served as a training site during World War II for the United States Air Force.

Today, the airport remains operational while featuring a two-room museum that displays the rich aviation history of Dare County.

Its exhibits let you browse through the fascinating stories of the Wright Brothers, Dave Driskill, Lt. Sheldon R. Beacham, and Kitty Hawk Kid.

In addition, the exhibit also features the famous Coastal Patrol Base 16 on Roanoke Island, established during the height of World War II.

This museum displays artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, videos, audios, and much more worth exploring with free admission.

Drop by the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

Picturesque view of Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse surrounded by dark blue water
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The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse along Queen Elizabeth Avenue in Manteo may not be that tall.

However, it offers a beautiful view of Shallowbag Bay and nearby Nag’s Head Island.

In addition, the lighthouse is not as crowded as other attractions in Roanoke Island because of its small stature and remote location, but it’s definitely worth visiting.

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse during sunset
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However, it’s easily accessed when you’re in Manteo, especially if you’re coming from the downtown area, which is a few meters away from each other.

The lighthouse has a simple structure with a red shingled roof and black shutters.

It contrasts its prim white exterior, highlighting a classic coastal appeal, while its wooden boardwalk offers you a fantastic view of Shallowbag Bay.

Overall, the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse may lack in size, but its beauty and scenery speak a lot.

Front view of Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse
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Rub Elbows with Locals at the Manteo Downtown Market

The Manteo Downtown Market along Fernando Street is open every Saturday from May to September.

This weekly affair is where most locals buy fresh produce, baked goods, arts and crafts, and other products worth trying out.

If you want to immerse yourself with Roanoke Island’s locals, this is the best place to visit.

It has a lively atmosphere filled with music and activities for all ages, making your shopping there more memorable.

You won’t just enjoy buying freshly-harvested vegetables, seafood, and meat; you can also purchase freshly-baked pastries and locally-made preserves such as honey and jams.

It’s a great experience you shouldn’t miss while you’re on Roanoke Island.

Watch the Lost Colony Stage Play

Back view of the alligned chairs at Waterside Theater in Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
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Your Roanoke Island travel adventure isn't complete if you miss the Lost Colony Stage Play at the Waterside Theater in Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.

The Lost Colony has been entertaining locals and visitors in Roanoke Island for the past 85 years featuring more than a hundred actors performing the backstory of the first settlers in The Outer banks and the mystery behind the Lost Colony.

It’s a fantastic theatrical performance you shouldn’t miss because of the immersive experience featuring enhanced theatrical direction, enhanced musical production, and amazing choreography.

It’s a must-watch stage play that isn’t just entertaining but also a way to preserve the historical value of the Lost Colony.

Bring Your Kids to the Jumpmasters Trampoline Park

Since Roanoke Island is a great family vacation destination, it would be proper to let your kids enjoy and make fond memories.

With that in mind, take them to the Jumpmasters Trampoline Park in Manteo.

This wholesome indoor adventure trampoline and obstacle park give not just kids but adults a fun-filled experience.

The entire facility spans 14,000 square feet featuring dozens of trampolines, a ninja obstacle park, a dodgeball court, foam pits, a climbing wall, battle beams, and a lot more.

Kids will surely grow bored visiting historical sites in Roanoke Island, so make sure to bring them to this awesome place to have fun.

In addition, the Jumpmasters Trampoline Park has an ax-throwing range for those who want to test their marksmanship skills.

Final Thoughts

Roanoke Island is full of mysteries and along with it are hidden gems waiting to be discovered.

It’s one of the most fascinating places in the United States that’s always overlooked by most tourists.

So, seize the opportunity to discover this charming island while it’s not as crowded yet.

When you’re ready to travel to Roanoke Island, don’t miss out on visiting the places listed on this post!