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The Outer Banks: Most Popular Tourist Attraction in North Carolina

Updated on June 11, 2014
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Donna Campbell Smith is a published author, freelance writer, and photographer. She also specializes in horses.


North Carolina's Outer Banks has it all - pristine beaches, great fishing, history, museums, wonderful food and lodging, and entertainment. Whether you are looking for a romantic getaway or a vacation spot for the entire family, or even if you are traveling alone the coast of North Carolina has something for everyone.

Outer Banks Beaches are the Best

copyright Donna Campbell Smith
copyright Donna Campbell Smith

Roanoke Island was the site of England's first attempt at colonization in the New World. The outdoor drama, "The Lost Colony" tells the story of Sir Walter Raleigh's colony and its mysterious disappearance. It is the longest running outdoor drama in America. Don't miss it. Also on Roanoke Island in the town of Manteo is Roanoke Island Festival Park. Visitors can see the ship, Elizabeth II, an Elizabethan village, and museum. Manteo is a great place to shop. The waterfront is lined with quaint little shops, my favorite being Manteo Booksellers.

Also, in Manteo are a number of attractions including Fort Raleigh National Historic site, Elizabethan Gardens, and North Carolina Aquarium where visitors can learn about the ecosystem of the NC coast, pet a stingray, and learn about hurricanes and nor'easters in the Storms exhibit.

Crossing the bridge from Roanoke Island you enter Nags Head. The hardest part is deciding while way to go first. Travel south to Hatteras Island and choose fishing from several piers or take a charter boat, visit several light houses, sunbathing, swimming, shelling or surf fishing on one of the islands beautiful beaches, visit Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station and probably one of the best known landmarks in America: the Hatteras Lighthouse. Hatteras is also a popular surfing location. Since the island is a National Seashore visitors will find it less developed and moving at a slower pace than the northern beaches. Lodging ranged from camping to high-rise condos and modern beach houses. In between is the small mom and pop motels that have few frills but are clean and inexpensive. Visit the Frisco Native American Museum and attend their Pow Wow held every spring to learn about the people who lived there first.

Hatteras Light History Plaque

Pier Fishing on the Outer Banks
Pier Fishing on the Outer Banks
Surf Fishing at Oregon Inlet
Surf Fishing at Oregon Inlet

You can take a ferry from Hatteras Island to Ocracoke Island, which was a favorite stomping ground of the infamous pirate, Black Beard. He also met his untimely death off the coast of that island. The National Park Service takes care of a herd of horses descended from the horses of Spanish explorers in the 16th century. They used to roam free on the island and residents fenced them out of their gardens, but now they are fenced in a pasture area. Visitors can observe them from a tower built next to the "pony pens."

Should you go north from Nags Head you can visit Old Nags Head to see the grand, weathered beach houses, some built in the thirties. They have withstood the storms of the Outer Banks. New Nags Head has become the hub of the Outer Banks with restaurants, hotels, and shopping centers on the 156 bypass. But if it's a more leisurely route you desire take Hwy 12 along the beach. The quaint shops, shrimp burger joints, beach cottages, and sand dunes line hwy 12 and the speed limit is 35 mph since the road is shared with bicyclers, kids headed to the beach or ice cream shop, and folks walking their dogs.

Kill Devil Hills is the site of man's first flight. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is a focal point of the area. If it is adventure you want stop by Kitty Hawk Kites for a hang gliding lesson from Jockey's Ridge, tallest sand dune on the east coast. For the children there are put-put golf courses, go-cart tracks, and more.

Art galleries, wild horse watching, kayaking, dolphin boat tours, diving, hiking, cruising, biking and any kind of water activity imaginable you can do on the Outer Banks. There are festivals of all kinds all summer and into the fall. Fall and winter are favorite times for fishermen and bird watchers to visit the Outer Banks. It is also a good time of year for those who like the solitude of the coast. The tourists have gone home and the grownups have the beach all to themselves this time of year. Granted it can get cold and windy, but the weather can also be very pleasant in the fall. Contact the Outer Banks Visitor's Bureau by calling 877-629-4386 or the website and request The Outer Banks 2008 Official Travel Guide for tons of information on lodging, points of interest, events and more.

A markerNasgs Head, NC -
Nags Head, NC, USA
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A story about North Carolina's famous mystery, The Lost Colony


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      Dan Spaventa 8 years ago

      You've captured more great things to see. Thank you for the interesting article.