Top 10 Things to See in the Outer Banks

10 Fun Things to Do in the Outer Banks for a Perfect Vacation

Julia North Carolina Leave a Comment

The Outer Banks in North Carolina are best known for their expansive beachfront and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, but there is so much more to this beautiful area. If you’re planning on visiting the Outer Banks, you’ll want to take in some of the activities and attractions beyond just the beach. Here are 10 of the top things to do in the Outer Banks to make your trip complete!

Sunrise at the beaches of Duck, Outer Banks
Sunrise from the beaches of Duck

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What to See in the Outer Banks

The Outer Banks features a number of stunning beaches, but there is much more to see and do in this area.

If you’re trying to figure out what to do in the Outer Banks for a week, or even a weekend, I highly recommend trying to visit all of these top OBX attractions to get a true feeling for the area. I’ve listed them from north to south to make your trip planning easy.

The Wild Horses up in Carova Beach; One of the top things to see in the Outer Banks
Wild Horses up in Currituck National Wildlife Refuge

1. The Wild Horses at Currituck National Wildlife Refuge

Perhaps one of the most unique and exciting parts of the Outer Banks is the furthest north in the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. Here you’ll find beaches you can drive on (only accessible by 4×4 vehicles!), wild horses roaming the sand dunes, and whole communities of houses built directly into the sand, like Carova Beach.

If you have 4 wheel drive, you can drive yourself up to this area to check it out. If not, there are dozens of companies offering “wild horse tours” that will take you up to this area. It’s almost like a safari to find wild horses!

Please note that during the summer, you will need to get a parking pass to park on the Currituck County’s 4-wheel drive beach as it is one of the best places to go in the Outer Banks! Details can be found here and permits can be purchased from the Tourism Department.

Cost: Free to visit Currituck National Wildlife Refuge but if you don’t have a 4×4 vehicle, check into a tour!

Learn all about How to See Wild Horses in the Outer Banks!

2. Currituck Banks Reserve Trail & Currituck Banks Maritime Forest Trail

Get your hike on in the Outer Banks! Okay, it’s barely a hike, but you do have a couple of options for nature walking. The Currituck Banks Reserve Trail is a 0.6 mile boardwalk trail that offers unique scenery through the maritime forest to the Currituck Sound. It also offers the opportunity to spot wild horses, if you are lucky.

Or, if you want to go further, there is the 1.5 mile out and back Currituck Banks Maritime Forest Trail that branches off of the boardwalk. This offers additional opportunities for wildlife spotting.

Cost: Free

The red brick Currituck Lighthouse
Currituck Beach Lighthouse

3. Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Located in Corolla, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is still a fully functional lighthouse and one of the best attractions in the Outer Banks. It features a red brick exterior, so that it is easy to see from sea, with a light that can be seen for 18 nautical miles. It rotates every 20 seconds. When visiting, you can read the exhibits about the history and significance of the Currituck Beach lighthouse and its history, and you have the option to pay to climb the lighthouse.

Cost: Free to visit; $10 to climb the lighthouse tower

Sunset at the Duck Boardwalk in the Outer Banks
Sunset along the Duck Boardwalk

4. Duck Boardwalk

One of the can’t miss highlights of the Outer Banks is the boardwalk through the town of Duck. The boardwalk is almost 1 mile long along the Currituck Sound and takes you past all kinds of shops, restaurants, and stunning nature scenes.

As a plus, this Outer Banks attraction is pet friendly, similarly to most of the beaches! You’ll also be able to catch some stunning sunsets from the Duck boardwalk.

Cost: Free; Of course you may want to bring some money for snacks, drinks, or shopping!

The Wright Brothers National Monument in the Outer Banks
The Wright Brothers National Memorial

5. Wright Brothers National Memorial

The Wright Brothers National Memorial commemorates the site of Wilbur and Orville Wright’s first flight back on December 17, 1903. While they grew up in Dayton, OH (my hometown!), they came down to Kitty Hawk to test their airplane due to the high winds needed.

Here you’ll find a number of exhibits about the Wright Brothers and the creation and evolution of flight. You’ll also find a replica of their airplane and a monument erected in their honor. The rich aviation history made in this spot earns the Wright Brothers a well-deserved spot on the best things to do in the Outer Banks!

Cost: $10 for adults; Free for children 15 and under; Included with the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes

The sand dunes of Jockey Ridge State Park
The sand dunes of Jockey Ridge State Park

6. Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is one of the most visited state parks within North Carolina and features the tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic coast. It’s located in Nags Head making it a prime location for flying kites and hang gliding. In fact, there is a vendor located within the park that offers hang gliding lessons!

At Jockey’s Ridge, you can walk up the sand dunes or explore the soundside of the park which offers a nature trail with wetlands and grassy dunes. Whether you’re spending a week in the Outer Banks or simply a weekend, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Cost: Free to visit

Read more: Everything You Need to Know about Visiting Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Bodie Island Lighthouse and the surrounding marshland
Bodie Island Lighthouse

7. Bodie Island Lighthouse

Located in Nags Head, NC, just 7 miles south of “Whalebone Junction”, the Bodie Island lighthouse is a classic black and white striped lighthouse surrounded by surprisingly beautiful marshland.

When visiting, you can admire the stunning outside of the lighthouse, explore the original light keepers’ home, or climb the 214 steps to the top. This 156 feet tall lighthouse can be seen 19 miles offshore and rotates every 27.5 seconds. It’s also a well known spot for bird watching.

Cost: Free to visit; $10 for adults/$5 for senior citizens (62 and over), children under 12, and the disabled to climb

The Inn at Rodanthe
The Inn at Rodanthe

8. The Inn at Rodanthe

A slightly more underrated OBX attraction is The Inn at Rodanthe. Featured in the 2008 movie based on Nicholas Spark’s book, Nights in Rodanthe, the Inn at Rodanthe is located in the Outer Banks. And, this house has quite a story!

While it once sat with 400+ feet of beach in front of it, the erosion over the years ended up putting this house practically in the water, causing it to be condemned. To save this famed house, it was actually moved about 30 miles from its original location in 2010. It also was redone to more closely replicate the movie’s set inside and out.

If you’re a big fan of the movie, it’s worth noting that you can actually stay here.

Cost: Free to admire the outside; Weekly rental costs vary

9. Cape Hatteras National Seashore

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is one of the most well known things to do in the Outer Banks. It actually stretches over 70 miles from Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island, so visiting it is easy!

Whether you’re interested in lounging on the stunning beach, fishing, finding sea turtles or other wildlife, or maybe even camping near the ocean, there really is something for everyone here.

Cost: Free to visit; Some activities have additional cost – learn more on the official Cape Hatteras National Seashore website

A straight up view of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse; One of the most famous things to see in the Outer Banks
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

10. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Serving as the tallest brick lighthouse in the US, the Cape Hatteras lighthouse is also one of the most famous in the country, making it a must visit Outer Banks attraction.

It measures 198.49 feet in height with 269 steps to get from the ground up to the lens room, although visitors can only climb up 257 of them. The light within the lighthouse has a range of 24 nautical miles (a nautical mile is 6,080 feet) and a 7.5 second rate. It is worth a visit to learn more about the lighthouse and its fascinating “move” to be further inland due to erosion. And, when you climb it, you’ll get great views of the surrounding area!

Cost: Free to visit; $8 for adults/$4 for senior citizens (62 and over), children under 12, and the disabled to climb

Expand Your Trip to Other Nearby Islands

These 10 can’t miss sights in the Outer Banks will give you a break from the sun and beach and give you a real feel for the area. It will also keep you coming back again and again! But, if you’re looking for more things to see in the Outer Banks during your trip, check out the historic Roanoke Island or take a ferry across to Ocracoke Island.

These two islands make great day trips from the Outer Banks seaside towns and are definitely some of the top things to do in OBX.

Roanoke Island

Roanoke Island

The small island of Roanoke is located just 4 – 5 miles from the Outer Banks accessible by car. It was the site of the very first colony on North American ground back in 1584. To this day, it features great history and sights making it worthy of a quick stop, a full day trip, or even a whole weekend.

On Roanoke Island, you’ll find renown attractions like the North Carolina Aquarium and the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.

Ocracoke Island

Located 18 miles off of the coast of mainland North Carolina, Ocracoke Island can only be reached by air or water. From the Outer Banks, you can take the ferry from Hatteras Island to Ocracoke’s north shore.

This small OBX island features a small village, Ocracoke Village, wild ponies, and the Ocracoke Island lighthouse. It’s a great day trip from the Outer Banks or you can opt to spend a night or two on Ocracoke Island.

Discover the Best Hotels in the Outer Banks

Find Other Great Beach Destinations

Already visited the 10 best things to do in the Outer Banks? Or maybe you’re looking for something a bit more exotic that’s still just a quick flight away. I’ve got you covered. Check out some of these other idyllic beach destinations.

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Top Things to See for a Perfect Vacation in the Outer Banks
Top Things to See in the Outer Banks
10 Can't Miss Sights in the Outer Banks

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