Manteo, NC – Historic Yet Modern
Manteo, NC, incorporated in 1899 and declared the Dare County seat in 1870, is a small island town complete with a picturesque waterfront, a safe harbor and welcoming docks and a charming downtown historic area. Located on the northern half of the 8-mile-long and 2-mile-wide Roanoke Island, Manteo on the Outer Banks is known as a center for arts, a stronghold of Outer Banks attractions and a tight-knit community where families that have lived here for generations share space with the newly arrived and visitors. On the other end of the island is Wanchese, a village oriented to providing fresh seafood to dinner plates far and wide – and a real education to visitors as to what a working harbor looks like.
Manteo, NC, vs. Roanoke Island
Many visitors (and locals, to be honest), use the name Manteo, NC, to refer to the entirety of Roanoke Island, but if we're being technical, Manteo is simply the incorporated town that sits in the middle of the island. Wanchese, on the southern end, is not incorporated. Within the town limits of Manteo is where the majority of the B&Bs, shops and restaurants are found, but outside those specific town boundaries are plenty of other such places too. And, the most popular "Manteo" attractions are actually located on Roanoke Island since they are not within the town limits; rather, they're mostly on the northern end of the island. For visitors, those town limits are not a real delineation. Mostly, visitors tend to consider the waterfront area as the town and most the other parts as Roanoke Island. While that's not specifically correct, it's close enough!
Manteo, NC - Shopping Fun and Arts Central
The downtown waterfront is a major calling card for Manteo, with a waterfront boardwalk, a park, a playground, picnic areas and boats sitting in the harbor of Shallowbag Bay, creating picturesque water views that linger in the memories of visitors. Shopping in Manteo's waterfront area takes you on a leisurely stroll around town where locally owned shops will keep you happily retailing for several hours. There are no chain stores in the downtown area (and only a scant few along the highway that runs through Manteo, U.S. Highway 64), so shopping here is more interesting. You'll find a bookstore that you'll want to spend a long time browsing, antiques shops, a candy store, several clothing boutiques where the buyers have excellent taste, a handy general store selling a great selection of wine and beer along with staples, a jewelry store featuring amazing estate and modern-day pieces, several specialty gift stores and several that offer handmade pottery, hand-crafted treasures made of driftwood and more. Then there are the art galleries. Manteo is the arts central for the Outer Banks, made especially so with the presence of the Dare County Arts Council located right in the middle of the waterfront area in the old county courthouse. The arts council's monthly shows bring in appreciative consumers. But in addition, other galleries offer original artwork from local, regional and national artists. Annually in August, the New World Festival of the Arts helps punctuate the arts presence in Manteo with a two-day event that showcases juried pieces. On Highway 64, you'll find perfunctory shops such as grocery stores, discount chains and drugstores. But you'll also find another amazing art gallery run by a husband and wife team that creates original, exquisite jewelry.
Manteo, NC, Restaurants - It's All Good
Manteo, NC, restaurants are reasons on their own to visit this lovely island. One of the top-rated restaurants on the entire Outer Banks is here! In the downtown area alone, there are six choices offering a wide range of options. Three of them are entirely pet friendly too – a huge plus for many locals and visitors – since you can dine outdoors. Manteo can also boast one of the smallest breweries in North Carolina, and let us tell you: The beer is fantastic! BTW, we also have a rum distillery in Manteo that gives regular tours. And, when you need an early morning or mid-afternoon coffee break there are four coffee shops in Manteo proper! A secret that locals know is that, even on summer nights, the wait at most these Manteo restaurants is either super short or nonexistent, making it a lot faster (and sometimes less stressful) than many of the beach restaurants, which on most summer nights are very full. Out on U.S. Highway 64, you'll also find several great restaurants serving BBQ, seafood and more plus a few chains for those who insist.
Manteo, NC, Attractions
Manteo, NC, attractions are a central feature of what brings people to this island. Again, here we make a distinction between the attractions in the Town of Manteo proper vs. those that are located on Roanoke Island outside the town limits. To visitors, that doesn't really mean much so long as you understand that, once you're on Roanoke Island, there's the subset of the town's boundaries where some attractions are located. But, overall, we could talk interchangeably about Roanoke Island and Manteo attractions.
The Manteo, NC, attractions are all located in the waterfront area except for one. Roanoke Island Festival Park is the flagship, and this is where you'll find the Elizabeth II, a representative ship of the one that brought the 1585 voyage that included men, women and children who became the so-called Lost Colony. You can go on board and interact with the interpreters who stay in the character of a member of that voyage. Also at Festival Park are villages where you can learn about the lives of the early colonists and of the native Algonquian population. An interactive museum is also a big draw. On the grounds is an outdoor amphitheater where events, such as the annual Bluegrass Festival in September, take place. You can spread a blanket and take it all in. Also on the waterfront is Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, a replica of the screwpile-type beacon that once stood in Roanoke Sound. Next door is a location of the North Carolina Maritime Museum where you can watch boats being built and learn about the rich history of the boat-building industry on the island. Of course, the boardwalk that encircles the downtown area is also a draw. Across Highway 64, down Sir Walter Raleigh Street (turn at Ace Hardware), you'll find the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum. This cookhouse was moved from the original Pea Island Lifesaving Station, a station that was manned by an all-black crew who saved hundreds of lives.
On the north end of Roanoke Island is a concentration of five more of the most popular Outer Banks attractions. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and The Lost Colony’s Waterside Theatre both serve to bring to life more than 400 years of history, starting with England’s first attempt to colonize the New World right at this site. The Lost Colony is the oldest-running outdoor symphonic drama in the country and tells this story. Also onsite is a commemoration of the Roanoke Island Freedman’s Colony where thousands of freed slaves created a thriving community during and after the Civil War. Next door, The Elizabethan Gardens are a wonderland all year with constantly changing blooms and festivals that bring sparkling lights and seasonal fun to locals and guests. As you might expect, the Gardens are also a very popular venue for Roanoke Island weddings. Another very popular Roanoke Island attraction is the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, where all ages are wowed by the shark exhibits, touch tanks, varied aquariums, otter habitat and more. The gorgeous soundfront location provides cool breezes on the hottest summer days and a perfect location for picnics.
Another Roanoke Island attraction is the Island Farm, a living history site that lets you experience life as it was in the mid-1800s on Roanoke Island. The grounds contain the old homestead, chicken coop, slave cabin, cookhouse, smokehouse, dairy, barns, woodshed, outhouse and a blacksmith shop. The windmill is in the process of being restored and will soon grind grain again. You can visit with the sheep, cow, Banker ponies and ox as they lazily graze the pastures. Kids adore this place and learn while they’re having fun.
The newest Roanoke Island attraction is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Visitor Center, where you can learn about the creatures and environment of the Outer Banks and sign up for programs at the regional National Wildlife Refuges.
Manteo, NC, Things to Do
Manteo, NC, 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, NC, U.S. Highway 64, is bordered with a bicycle/multi-use path that runs the length of the northern half of this picturesque island. If you have a bicycle handy, we highly recommend using this path to explore Roanoke Island. Many of the B&Bs on the island provide bikes to their guests, and there is a bike rental shop for those not staying in a Manteo inn. The path ends at a beautiful soundfront park on the north end of the island.
Since Manteo, NC, is on an island, one might assume – correctly – that Manteo things to do center around water. Kayaking, sailing, standup paddleboarding and motor boating are all popular. Dolphin and sailing tours are plentiful. To view Manteo from the water during a quiet, warm summer sunset is to see an exquisite blend of human hand and natural art. Enthusiasts of skateboarding successfully lobbied for a skate park in town too! This Manteo recreation tends to draw mostly young people, and we've witnessed many of the teens at the park helping the young ones get the hang of the sport.
Marathoners, triathletes and other racers also know Manteo as the site for annual sporting events. The Outer Banks Marathon ends in Manteo and brings thousands of participants and their families to the island the second weekend of November every year. The Outer Banks Triathlon (swim, bike and run) happens mid-September each year. And other smaller races are frequent Manteo recreational events throughout the year.
Where to Stay in Manteo, NC
The Manteo, NC, historic district is full of beautiful old restored homes and bed and breakfast inns that make for great sightseeing or overnight stays. More and more visitors are discovering the charms of the town, and Manteo hotels and inns are often filled to capacity during the summer and fall seasons. In the waterfront area, guests can choose from three B&Bs and a 25-room inn with an award-winning restaurant attached. On Highway 64 running through town, there are two hotels.
Manteo, NC, Frequently Asked Questions
How did Manteo get its name?
Manteo was the name of the Native chief of the Croatan tribe that had lived on Roanoke Island for many years before the English settlers arrived here in 1584.
What’s Manteo’s weather?
Yes, it does snow in Manteo, but typically it’s no more than a few inches at a time, and it’s melted with a day or two. Every now and then, as in the winter of 2018, we’ll get 5-10 inches at a time (which happened twice in that year!).
One interesting statistic is that the pollution index for the Outer Banks is 90% better than the national average!
Average rainfall per year is about 50 inches.
Here are the monthly temperature averages:
January – High 52 Low 36
February – High 54 Low 38
March – High 60 Low 43
April – High 69 Low 52
May – High 77 Low 59
June – High 84 Low 69
July – High 87 Low 73
August – High 86 Low 72
September – High 81 Low 68
October – High 72 Low 58
November – High 64 Low 49
December – High 56 Low 40
What are the Manteo attractions?
The Town of Manteo’s attractions are many! You’ll find Roanoke Island Festival Park that includes the representative ship, Elizabeth II, the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, a branch of the North Carolina Maritime Museum, the Pea Island Cookhouse and the waterfront boardwalk and town.
On Roanoke Island (of which Manteo is the only incorporated town but where Wanchese, a working fishing village, is also located on the southern end) is home to most of the most popular Outer Banks attractions. Here you can visit The Elizabethan Gardens, The Lost Colony, The North Carolina Aquarium, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Island Farm and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Visitor Center.
What’s the difference between Manteo and Roanoke Island?
While many people use the term Manteo to refer to the entire island, that name actually belongs specifically to the incorporated town – and county seat of Dare County – that’s located on Roanoke Island. Roanoke Island itself is about 8 miles long and only 2 miles wide (less so in some places) and is bordered by the Roanoke, Croatan and Albemarle sounds. Manteo is located in the middle of the island.
How do you get to Manteo?
Manteo, located on Roanoke Island, is reached from the west via the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge. At 5.3 miles, it’s the longest bridge in the state and was meant to mostly take the place of the traffic that used to cross the William B. Umstead Bridge (2.8 miles long). The Umstead Bridge is still in use, but it’s mostly local traffic. Another bridge, the Washington Baum Bridge, takes you to Nags Head.
How long does it take to get from Manteo to other Outer Banks locations?
Note that summer traffic might make these average travel times longer. On summer weekends, the traffic on Duck Road, which visitors to Duck or Corolla must take, can proceed at extremely slow speeds for hours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Nags Head – 7 miles, average of 10 minutes
Kill Devil Hills – 15 miles, average of 22 minutes
Kitty Hawk – 18 miles, average of 25 minutes
Southern Shores – 23 miles, average of 35 minutes
Duck – 26 miles, average of 39 minutes
Corolla – 41 miles, average of 1 hour
Rodanthe – 28 miles, average of 34 minutes
Avon – 46 miles, average of 55 minutes
Hatteras Village – 62 miles, average of 1 hour 20 minutes
Ocracoke Island – 62 miles to reach the free ferry that takes you (and your car) to Ocracoke. Ferry run time is about an hour, then once you’re on Ocracoke, it takes about 20 minutes to drive the 13 miles to the village. Plan for a good 3 hours for this trip.
Are there beaches in Manteo?
Since Roanoke Island, the island on which Manteo is found, is a true island – not just by name – it’s surrounded by sound waters. The only true public beach where you can easily access the sound and put your chair in sand is found on the north end of the island at the foot of the Umstead Bridge (the old one that goes to Manns Harbor). But, with the plethora of Nags Head public beach accesses, you can leave Manteo and be on the beach in about 15 minutes.
What are things to do in Manteo?
You could stay in Manteo for a week and still have things you’d like to do. The North Carolina Aquarium is here, as are The Lost Colony, The Elizabethan Gardens, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Island Farm, Roanoke Island Festival Park, the North Carolina Maritime Museum and Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse. In addition, the waterfront town of Manteo is a walkable, fun area (with a boardwalk edging most of the downtown area) with restaurants, pubs, shops and galleries. The Dare County Arts Council is in Manteo in the old county courthouse and hosts art exhibits, plays, classes and more. You can also sail, kayak, take a dolphin tour, SUP, ride bikes, play tennis, walk or run the island neighborhood roads or the stem-to-stern bike path, ride the skateboard park and more. The oldest movie theater in the country run by one family is also in Manteo, and there’s a nice playground right on the waterfront.
Holidays are big here too. Manteo’s 4th of July festivities include a spectacular fireworks display at the end of an old-fashioned gathering downtown where pies and the best-decorated bike are judged. The first weekend in December brings hundreds of people to town for Manteo’s Christmas celebration that includes a pageant and tree lighting on Friday night and the parade and a holiday tour of homes on Saturday. And Halloween in Manteo is like you might remember it from years gone by with close to 1,000 kids and parents all dressed up and skipping door to door for treats then heading downtown for more festivities.
Where is there to stay in Manteo?
Manteo has lots of lovely bed and breakfast inn, guest homes, a larger inn, a motel and a larger hotel with an indoor pool and fitness center. This is B&B central for the Outer Banks.
Why would I stay in Manteo vs. the beach area?
Most people who love staying in Manteo do so because of the slower pace and beauty of the town. It gets busy in summer but nothing like the beaches. Most things you want to do are walkable or bikeable from the inns and hotels, so you’re not tied to your car. There’s a good range of restaurants (mostly without much of a wait for dinner, even in summer!), easygoing nightlife and lots of shopping.
Is Manteo cut off from the beaches?
No! Manteo residents think nothing of driving to the beach (Nags Head is the first town you get to over the bridge) to go grocery shopping, to the gym or to head to the beach. The only thing that separates Manteo from the beaches island is a bridge. Locals see Manteo and the beach towns as all one Outer Banks.
What are Manteo restaurants like?
The downtown area of Manteo is where most the restaurants are located, and there’s a range from laid back and fairly inexpensive to one of the most highly regarded restaurants on the entire Outer Banks. You can go fancy or you can arrive in shorts and flip flops. On the highway coming into Manteo, there are also several other great restaurants, some featuring seafood, some barbecue, some country cooking. You’ll also find a McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Subway and a Chinese take-out place. In Wanchese, on the south end, there are several great seafood restaurants/markets and a super cool lunch place with great homemade food.