Roanoke Island Attractions & Manteo Attractions

Explore Every Roanoke Island Attraction

World-class Roanoke Island attractions are what lure many people here. Many attractions celebrate Roanoke Island’s history as the site of the first attempted English colonization of America such as Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, The Elizabethan Gardens, The Lost Colony outdoor drama, the Elizabeth II sailing ship and the Roanoke Island Festival Park. There are other Roanoke Island attractions, too, that you will not want to miss like the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, musical events such as the Shallowbag Shag Beach Music Festival or the Mountain Music by the Sea bluegrass festival at the beautiful outdoor amphitheater, the North Carolina Maritime Museum and the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse. You can also step back to the mid-1800s at Island Farm or to a more simple time in Manteo's history by just walking or biking the streets and looking at the restored homes. With all these attractions and the many sites that capture Roanoke Island’s history, you’ll find that a day trip is never enough. In part due to these Roanoke Island attractions, more and more visitors are choosing this island as their vacation destination.

Roanoke Island Attractions by Location or Category

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

Milltail Road, off U.S. Highway 64, Manteo
(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. This wild Outer Banks attraction will put you in touch with parts of nature that city-bound people don't often have a chance to experience.

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge has great Outer Banks things to do — 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 Things to Do section 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 and a beloved Outer Banks attraction. 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 and classes 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 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.

The Elizabethan Gardens offers these fun events week days (free with paid admission) during the summer. For 2015, here's what you can look forward to:

Minty Tuesday: Looking for a refreshing afternoon adventure? Children aged 6 to 12 years will enjoy a one-hour “minty” adventure searching for and learning all about mint in The Gardens. Young learners will make mint rubbings and plant mint to take home as well as enjoy mint cookies and mint ice cream. This event is limited to 30 participants and is indoors and outdoors, June 10–August 19, Tuesdays 2-3 p.m. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Storybook Wednesdays: It’s story time in The Gardens! Children of all ages, accompanied by an adult, are invited to gather in air-conditioned Odom Hall and enjoy a garden-inspired story, snack and hands-on activity. After story time, root a plant to take home to your garden. This program is indoors and outdoors, weather permitting, June 18–August 20, Wednesdays, 10-11 a.m. Storybook Wednesday is sponsored by Duck's Cottage Downtown Books; enjoy a discount at the downtown Manteo bookstore when you mention your visit to The Gardens.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit: Hop over and meet the lovable, adventure-seeking Peter Rabbit and the devoted gardener Mister McGregor. This one-act musical play is designed to keep young audiences engaged and entertained with a great lesson to be learned too! Come early and enjoy a stroll through The Gardens prior to the performance. Performances are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30-10:15 a.m., June 11 to August 21, inside air-conditioned Odom Hall in The Elizabethan Gardens.

Tea with the Queen: Have an audience with Queen Elizabeth I and members of her court in the beautiful setting of The Elizabethan Gardens where you will enjoy her Majesty’s sumptuous desserts and other delicious treats, refreshing iced tea and delightful antics. Tea is held from 2 to 4 p.m. on Thursdays, allowing time to visit the queen and visit The Gardens too. The queen’s tea also includes admission to The Gardens — 24-hour advance reservations are required. Tea is served June 19 and 26; July 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31; and August 7 and 14. Tickets are $26/adults, $14/youth (ages 7-18) and $10/children (age 6 and younger).

Self-Guided Tours: Take a tour at your leisure, anytime during regular hours of operation year round.

For more information on general admission, tickets or any of these individual events, call (252) 473-3234 or visit

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 to this popular Outer Banks activity 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 such as Sheep Shearing Day, Pumpkin Patches on Saturdays in October, Evening Latern Tours: Draped in Black in November and Christmas celebrations in December. Standard admission costs $8 per person with children 5 and younger admitted for free. They are open April through November. Note that they're closed on Thanksgiving Day. 

Lost Colony

1409 National Park Drive (off U.S. Highway 64), Waterside Theatre, Manteo
(252) 473-2127

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. The Lost Colony is their story. This outdoor drama is the longest-standing Outer Banks attraction, celebrating its 78th season in 2015!

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green, The Lost Colony 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 78 years. Seeing the play is a quintessential Outer Banks activity.

An Outer Banks tradition and cultural treasure, The Lost Colony educates, enriches and entertains — don’t leave the Outer Banks until you see it.

The 2016 season runs from May 26 through August 20, Monday through Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. Ticket Prices are $30 for adults, $28 for seniors (62 and older), $10 for children ages 12 and younger and free for kids 5 and younger. Ask about the VIP package at $40 per person. Advance reservations are recommended. For tickets, call (252) 473-6000 or purchase online anytime at Backstage tours are $10.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays on the Outer Banks means Family Fun Night at The Lost Colony. Character Dinners are offered prior to the performance on these evenings throughout the summer. Meet the cast before the show and have the kids’ photos taken with the actors. It’s a night of memories that will last a lifetime, and there’s no fighting traffic or rushing at the restaurant to get to the theater on time. At 2 p.m. on these two days, both kids and their parents will get a kick out of the show Stellaluna.

Throughout the year, other events are presented at Waterside Theatre. Psychopath brings screams during the Halloween season, the summer Live at the Waterside concert series presents top notch musicians, Ghosts of the Lost Colony tours introduce you to ghosts of Roanoke Island's past residents and guests of the Comedy Tonight series laugh their way through evening shows.

A trip to The Lost Colony also offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy a restaurant on Roanoke Island. Roanoke Island restaurants are less crowded than the beach restaurants on summer nights.


(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.

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 at this interesting Outer Banks activity and popular Roanoke Island attraction.

Elizabeth II — The centerpiece of the park is the 69-foot Elizabeth II, a 16th-century sailing ship. It’s a representation of a particular 16th-century English merchant ship, Elizabeth, 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 Elizabeth II’s tender, Silver Chalice, 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 you 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 The Legend of Two-Path 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 and 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. And no matter when you visit, be sure to check out The Museum Store where you can pick up a variety of souvenirs such as toys, jewelry, books and other collectable memorabilia. The Museum Store is open Tuesday through Saturday year round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and a selection of their best-selling items are available in Ticket Sales daily. See their separate listing for more details. 

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