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Roanoke Island Attractions & Manteo Attractions

Roanoke Island’s world-class attractions are what lure many people here. Many of the attractions focus on Roanoke Island’s history as the site of the first attempted English colonization of America. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, The Elizabethan Gardens, The Lost Colonyoutdoor drama, the Elizabeth II sailing ship, Roanoke Island Festival Park, a series of Elizabethan plays and others pay homage to this heritage. There are other Roanoke Island attractions, too, that you will not want to miss, like the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, the performances at the beautiful outdoor amphitheater, the North Carolina Maritime Museum and the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse. With all these attractions and the many sites that capture Roanoke Island’s history, you’ll find that a day trip is never enough.

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

Milltail Road, off U.S. Highway 64
(252) 473-1131

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is a 154,000-acre refuge on the mainland portion of Dare and Hyde counties. It was established in 1984 to preserve and protect a unique wetland habitat type, the pocosin, and its associated wildlife species. Pocosin is a Native American word meaning ‘‘swamp-on-a-hill’’ and is characterized by poorly drained soils high in organic material. The Refuge's diversity of habitat types includes high and low pocosin, bogs, fresh and brackish water marshes, hardwood swamps and Atlantic white cedar swamps. Plant species include pitcher plants and sun dews, low bush cranberries, bays, Atlantic white cedar, pond pine, gums, red maple and a wide variety of herbaceous and shrub species common to the East Coast.

The Refuge is one of the last remaining strongholds for black bear on the Eastern Seaboard, and it is the only place in the world where endangered red wolves exist in the wild. It is home to concentrations of ducks, geese and swans, and its wildlife diversity also includes wading birds, shorebirds, American woodcock, raptors, American alligators, white-tailed deer, raccoons, rabbits, quail, river otters, red-cockaded woodpeckers and neotropical migrant song birds.

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge has great paddling trails, a wildlife drive, two wildlife trails and all types of wildlife and habitat for you to explore. The staff offers several programs throughout the year, including Tram Tours, Canoe Tours, Red Wolf Howling Safaris and the Bear Necessities program about black bears.

The refuge is open year round during daylight hours.

To learn more about Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center. The center’s exhibits offer information about Alligator River and 10 other refuges in northeastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia. This Visitor Center is located on the north end of Roanoke Island, about a quarter-mile past the entrance to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. The staff that manages Alligator River Refuge also manages Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on Hatteras Island; see our Hatteras site’s Recreation chapter for more information.

Elizabethan Gardens

1411 National Park Drive (off U.S. Highway 64) next to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
Manteo
(252) 473-3234

Designed by two of America’s foremost landscape architects to pay tribute to America’s first English colonists, The Elizabethan Gardens is a rare treasure on the Outer Banks. It’s a haven of verdant, flourishing growth and natural prosperity. The gardens are in bloom year round with azaleas, dogwoods, roses, camellias, daphne, a variety of annuals and herbs and much more. Adding exquisite touches are ancient stone fountains, garden ornaments, a waterfront gazebo, benches, statues, an expansive lawn and some of the most amazing live oaks you’ll ever see. The large shade canopy overhead provides a cool oasis even on the sunniest summer day. The Garden Gift Shoppe sells books, gifts, herbs and plants. This is a trusted plant source for many locals, as the garden staff nurtures their plants with such care.

Elizabethan Gardens offers outstanding workshops, classes and day camps almost all year round. The Gardens' art classes, plant sales, gardening workshops, kids' outdoor-oriented classes and summer programs are listed on the Gardens' website as well as www.outerbanksthisweek.com. The Gardens' Easter Eggstravaganza, Virginia Dare's Birthday, Harvest Hayday (near Halloween) and WinterLights festivities are great fun.

The Gardens open at 9 a.m. seven days a week throughout most of the year and at 10 a.m. December through February. Closing time varies according to the season. Admission is $9 for adults, $6 for youth ages 6 to 17 and $2 for children age 5 and younger — plus tax. Admission for groups of 20 or more is at a reduced rate of $8 per person with advance notice.

The Gardens make a beautiful setting for bridal luncheons, weddings and receptions. Choose from a variety of backdrops for an unforgettable day. The Gardens are also perfect for organizational retreats or group meetings. An on-site Reception Hall, tent and Rose Garden accommodate parties large and small. Call for more information.

First Friday

Downtown Manteo
Manteo

First Friday is a family-oriented downtown festival held in the evening from 6 to 8 p.m. on the first Friday of every month from April through December. Downtown Manteo’s sidewalks come alive with a wide variety of musical performances and festive activities for all ages. Individual shops and restaurants frequently do their own celebratory activity such as live music, special sales, refreshments and hors d’oeuvres. The Dare County Arts Council Gallery always hosts an opening reception during First Friday. Costumed interpreters walk the streets, clowns perform magic tricks and Kitty Hawk Kites sometimes brings its climbing wall for the fit and daring to test themselves. It’s a great time to explore all that downtown Manteo has to offer.

 

Island Farm

1140 N. US Highway 64
Manteo
(252) 473-6500

A living history site, Island Farm interprets daily life on Roanoke Island in the mid-1800s. Visitors feel as if they’ve stepped back more than 150 years as they explore the farm and see interpreters dressed in period attire carrying out the daily activities of the time – tending animals, blacksmithing, hoeing corn, doing laundry, making corn cakes. Hands-on activities and demonstrations may include woodworking, textile work, cooking demonstrations, ox-drawn wagon rides, 19th-century toys and games and farm and garden work. Visitors take self-guided tours of the Etheridge House and Farm, interacting with interpreters along the way. Activities vary daily and by season and are weather dependent. Special events are held in the Spring and Fall. Standard admission costs $6 per person with children 5 and younger admitted for free. After opening day for the season, which was April 2, 2014, hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, until closing day on November 30. Note that they're closed on Thanksgiving Day. 

Lost Colony

Waterside Theatre, 1409 National Park Drive, Waterside Theatre, off U.S. Highway 64
Manteo
(252) 473-6000

More than 400 years ago, 117 men, women and children sailed from Plymouth, England, in an attempt to settle on Roanoke Island. They vanished just two years later. The only clue left behind was the word “CROATOAN” carved in a tree. <i>The Lost Colony</i> is their story. This outdoor drama is the Outer Banks' most long-standing attraction, celebrating its 77th season in 2014!

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green, <i>The Lost Colony</i> is performed summer nights by a company of more than 100 actors, dancers, singers and technicians in the historic outdoor Waterside Theatre. Come see epic battles and Indian dances. Experience the sorrow and heartbreak of tragedy and loss. Witness the pageantry of the queen and her court, and celebrate the birth of Virginia Dare. There is music, laughter, romance and dance, and Outer Banks locals and visitors have loved it for 77 years.

Manteo

General Information
Manteo
(252) 473-2133

Manteo, the only incorporated town on Roanoke Island and the Dare County seat, is a small island town complete with a picturesque waterfront, a safe harbor, welcoming docks and a charming downtown historic area. 

Manteo’s waterfront downtown is an attraction in itself, with shops, art galleries, eateries, a lighthouse, a waterfront boardwalk, a park and children's playground and boats sitting in the harbor of Shallowbag Bay. It’s also the home of Roanoke Island Festival Park, one of the Outer Banks’ most popular attractions.

The Manteo historic district is full of restored homes and bed and breakfast inns that make for great sightseeing or overnight stays. It is perfect for exploring on foot or by bicycle. Park the car and walk around; the town is quite pedestrian friendly. 

The main corridor of Manteo is U.S. Highway 64. This road is lined with shops, galleries, restaurants, service businesses and places to stay. A bicycle/multi-use path runs parallel to U.S. Highway 64 for the northern half of this picturesque island. If you have a bicycle handy, we highly recommend using this path to explore Roanoke Island. The path ends at a beautiful soundfront park. Also on the island are the attractions of Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, The Lost Colony’s Waterside Theatre, The Elizabethan Gardens, the North Carolina Aquarium, Island Farm and the fishing village of Wanchese.

Manteo Self-Guided Walking Tour Book

Manteo
(252) 473-1111

Manteo is much more than a modern vacation resort. It’s a place with an interesting past. In the downtown and waterfront area, you can see remnants of days gone by — and a great way to experience this history is with One Boat Guides’ <i>Manteo Walking Tour</i>. The book features an easy-to-follow map and format that guides you through Manteo, showing historic photographs, pointing out historical details and landmarks and relating anecdotes along the way.

OneBoat Outer Banks also features walking and driving tours to Corolla, Nags Head, Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Village. The books are available on the Outer Banks in bookstores, gift shops, grocery stores, attractions and specialty shops. Or you can call (252) 473-1111 to order a copy in advance of your visit and have it shipped to you. Look for their distinctive covers with historic photographs. Have fun exploring the history of the Outer Banks!

North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

374 Airport Road
Manteo
(252) 475-2320
Toll Free
(800) 832-3474 x4

The North Carolina Aquarium is one of the most popular attractions on the Outer Banks. Yes, it's perfect for a rainy day, but you will also appreciate the cool, quiet enviroment when you've had enough of the sun. Explore the “Waters of the Outer Banks” through aquariums and interactive exhibits. Watch fishes in the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" exhibit. This 285,000 aquarium also features a one-third scale replica of the civil war ironclad USS <i>Monitor</i>. Explore aquatic habitats from grass flats to Gulf Stream waters. Gently stroke a stingray or touch a hermit crab in their “Close Encounters” Gallery. See daily dive shows, alligators, otters, turtles, Operation: Sea Turtle Rescue and their new Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center. Enjoy some of the best views on the island as you stroll down their Soundside Pier and learn about the area's history and environment. Dive with sharks in their Aquarium Shark Dive program -- open to certified divers only. Make your family’s island experience truly “fin-tastic” by participating in one of their special activities or programs, where fun and learning meet! Pre-registration is required.

The Aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Admission is $10.95 for ages 13 to 61; $9.95 for ages 62 and older; $9.95 for members of the military; $8.95 for children ages 3 to 12; and free for children 2 and younger, pre-registered North Carolina school groups and North Carolina Aquarium Society members. For information on renting the Aquarium for special events such as weddings or receptions, purchasing tickets and registering for programs online, visit www.ncaquariums.com. The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is a Member Site of the Historic Albemarle Tour.  

Roanoke Island Festival Park

1 Festival Park, Across from the Manteo Waterfront
Manteo
(252) 475-1500

Did you know that the first Roanoke Island settlements predate the Jamestown settlement of 1607? The Roanoke Island settlements took place 20 years earlier, between 1585 and 1587. Though the Roanoke Island colonies didn’t prove successful as far as longevity, they were the foundations of English-speaking life in America and provided much-needed information about the New World that helped the later colonies succeed. Roanoke Island Festival Park is one place to learn about these first English settlements and the impact they had on the Native Americans who were already residing here in the 16th century. The state-run park and cultural center is just across the bridge from the downtown Manteo waterfront on its own 25-acre island. Be prepared for a day of fun, as there is a lot to do and see here.

<i>Elizabeth II</i> -- The centerpiece of the park is the 69-foot <i>Elizabeth II</i>, a 16th-century sailing ship. It’s a representation of a particular 16th-century English merchant ship, <i>Elizabeth</i>, one of seven in Sir Walter Raleigh’s 1585 expedition to establish England’s first New World colony. Costumed interpreters speaking Old English greet visitors to the ship with sea tales, legends and historical facts and answer questions about 16th-century seafaring. Kids love walking around on the decks and crawling down below to see what life was like on the ship. The <i>Elizabeth II</i>’s tender, <i>Silver Chalice</i>, is 24 feet long and carries up to 15 crew members.

Settlement Site – The Settlement Site is where guests get to interact with costumed interpreters portraying the colonist men and women as they settled into life in the New World. Visitors can try their hand at blacksmithing, woodworking, 16th-century games and more. See how the first English settlers lived when they arrived in the New World. Try on some of their armor, learn some 16th-century warfare techniques and some of the arts and crafts needed to make life tolerable on Roanoke Island more than 400 years ago.

American Indian Town  – Explore coastal Algonquian culture and history in the American Indian Town. The town represents an American Indian community similar to what the English explorers investigated and surveyed during their voyages to Roanoke Island and the surrounding area in the late 16th century. Visitors follow paths that wind through the park. Homes, agricultural areas and work shelters line the paths. Two longhouses represent the historical homes of American Indians from the region. One of the longhouses stretches more than 30 feet long and interprets the home of a leader from the community. A smaller and partially completed longhouse includes an interactive component that invites visitors to help complete the structure. Both areas contain interactive exhibits that focus on the developing relationship between the American Indian and English people during the late 16th century. The ceremonial dance circle is also located here. The exhibit has a planting and harvesting area where visitors can learn the advanced nuances of American Indian farming techniques. Three work shelters include activities like cordage (rope) making, mat and basket weaving, net mending, food preparation, tanning hides, fishing, boat building and gathering.

Fossil Search — Find ancient treasures, including shark’s teeth and coral, from a time long before the colonists arrived.

The Adventure Museum —The newly renovated Adventure Museum features highly interactive, multi-sensory, hands-on exhibits fun for the entire family. Try your hand at pulling cargo on and off a 16th-century ship using your strength to go up and down with the ropes! Find the costume trunk and be part of Colonial Life. Bring the camera! Learn how 16th-century sea captains made the most of wind and water currents as they sailed to the New World. See the routes they took to Roanoke Island. Visit the touch screens and read theories of what happened to the 1587 Roanoke Island Colony — and then decide what <i>you</i> think happened! Revisit the legend of Blackbeard and dress up like a pirate. Live the life of a soldier in their Civil War exhibit, and discover the Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony.

Pavilion — The Outdoor Pavilion and surrounding grounds offer a perfect place to enjoy a picnic and concert. Events are scheduled year round. It is also rented as a wedding venue.

Film Theater — The film <i>The Legend of Two-Path</i> is shown several times a day in the 242-seat Film Theater. It tells the Native Americans’ perspective of how the arrival of the colonists changed their lives. Special performances are also held here year round.

Boardwalks & Grounds — Enjoy wildlife in a natural setting while walking the Boardwalk that runs throughout the park. Along the landscaped walks, native shrubs and flowers thrive in the sound and marsh. The Boardwalk joins the Roanoke Voyages Trail, which bisects Roanoke Island. 

Outer Banks History Center — The Outer Banks History Center, (252) 473-2655, is a public research facility with a friendly staff that is willing to help you find historic photographs and documents, research information and more. Their gallery features a history-related show each year, and their reading room offers scores of up-to-date periodicals. See the separate listing for the center for details.

The cost for admission to Roanoke Island Festival Park, which includes all venues, is $10 for adults and $7 for ages 6 to 17. Children 5 and younger get in free. Tickets are good for two consecutive days. 

Special events are ongoing at Festival Park all year. See www.outerbanksthisweek.com for details.