While I grew up driving through Manteo and stopping for lunch, as it was halfway between my hometown and Ocracoke, I had never spent a night in Manteo until recently. It is every bit as charming and lovely as I had expected in my head, perhaps even more so, with its quaint downtown district that boasts a sip and stroll!
I became fascinated with Manteo growing up because of its historical significance in North Carolina. Honestly, for my generation especially, all our North Carolina history courses included the story of the Lost Colony, Virginia Dare, and Sir Walter Raleigh. While this makes Manteo pretty darn special, its importance to shipping and trading for the colony and the fact that it separates the mainland from parts of the Outer Banks is also significant to its past and present story as well.
After seeing all there is to do, the great restaurants, and the places to stay, you will be adding Manteo to your travel list, too! It is absolutely worth it to make a weekend trip here, or at the very least, a stop on the way to visit the Outer Banks.
What to Do in Manteo, NC
Grab a Bevvie to Sip n’ Stroll the Waterfront
There are several spots to grab a drink, though our favorite is Nouvines. We had a great conversation with the one of owners of the wine shop, who is originally from Buffalo, and we learned that the bar and the fixtures behind the bar are from Al Capone’s yacht from when he picked up moonshine from Buffalo City, NC. The Sip n’ Stroll option is a great way to check out the waterfront.
Find Your Beach Read at Downtown Books
I will never turn down the opportunity to walk through an independent book store and Downtown Books sparks all kinds of joy. It has a great selection of new and used books, a shop dog (!!!!), and great gift ideas.
Pick Up Home Wares at Sam & Winston
I could have spent all day exploring the collections at Sam & Winston. There were so many unique pieces for the home, an expansive selection of coffee table books, fine artwork, and jewelry.
The screw-pile lighthouse is filled with educational and historical exhibits, including a Fresnel lens dating back to the 1800s loaned to the Town of Manteo by the US Coast Guard. This little lighthouse may be small in stature but it is a big part of the local maritime history. It stretches out 40 yards into Shallowbag Bay and was completed and dedicated in 2004 as a replica of the 3rd version of the lighthouse that was originally built in 1877.
Book a Boat Cruise
Check out one of the dolphin cruises, a sunset cruise, or a cruise of the entire sound on a half-day cruise all the way to Oregon Inlet and back.
Cheer on the Home Team at an OBX Scallywags Game
If there is a local baseball team for us to attend, David and I will absolutely do that. We thoroughly enjoyed cheering on the Scallywags at Manteo High School’s baseball field.
Attend a Showing of The Lost Colony
My first trip ever to Manteo included watching the Lost Colony at the historic waterside theatre. The Lost Colony offers a refreshed production of Paul Green’s original symphonic drama. Set on the sound front on Roanoke Island, enjoy this 86-year-old Symphonic Drama under the stars. Become immersed in the story of the discovery of a new world with newly enhanced musical and theatrical direction and dynamically stunning choreography. Witness the pageantry of Queen Elizabeth I and her court and celebrate the birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America, and the experiences of Native Americans, all while preserving the historical importance of America’s oldest mystery. An Outer Banks experience not to be missed!
Learn Local History on a Walking History Tour
There are a variety of options for walking tours, including history tours and ghost walks to get to see a bit more of the island while learning local history.
Check Out the North Carolina Aquarium
Visit the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island for the “Waters of the Outer Banks” with conservation efforts for Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center, an alligator, sharks, sting rays, and otters. Reservations are required, so be sure to book your tickets in advance. The aquarium is open 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Tickets are $12.95 for adults, $11.95 for seniors and military, and $10.95 for children ages 3-12.
Spend Time in the Beautiful Elizabethan Gardens
Fanciful and elaborate gardens were designed to entertain Queen Elizabeth I during her reign. Our garden was created for your enjoyment and as a living memorial to the time when Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost colonists lived in this very place over 400 years ago. Horticultural collections and annual colors planted every season give The Gardens a different perspective throughout the year. Tickets are $12 for adults, $3 for dogs, $8 for children 6-17, and $4 for children 3-5.
History Comes Alive at Roanoke Island Festival Park
Roanoke Island Festival Park is a history lover’s dream. 23 years before the Jamestown settlement, the dream of an English-speaking nation began on the shores of Roanoke Island in 1584. Learn about this important part of our nation’s history and the fascinating role Roanoke Island has played in other periods of time during your visit.
Take a tour of the Elizabeth II where the interpretive staff of sailors gladly answers questions about the ship, the historic Roanoke Voyages, or any other inquiry guests have about the beginnings of English-speaking America. Explore Coastal Algonquian culture and history in American Indian Town, which includes interactive exhibits. Tour the settlement site for more hands-on history, and tour the Adventure Museum to discover 400 years of Outer Banks history in the interactive Roanoke Adventure Museum.
This site preserves the cultural heritage of the Native Americans, European Americans, and African Americans who have lived on Roanoke Island. There are three phases this site, including Roanoke Island in the 1500s, the Civil War and the Freedmen’s Colony, and Fort Raleigh in the 20th Century. There is no entrance fee unless you are watching The Lost Colony drama or the Elizabethan Garden.
Make Plans to Attend First Friday Festival
First Friday is a fun-filled, family-oriented event held the first Friday of each month, April through November from 6pm to 8pm, in historic downtown Manteo. The sidewalks pulse with live music, magic, artisans, and much more. You could make a day of it by visiting attractions, shops, and art galleries before finishing the evening celebrating downtown.
Operated by The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, this conveniently located center provides information on attractions, events, and directions. The center also offers an accommodations reservation center, restrooms, public phones, and a picnic area.
See the Process of Building Ships at Roanoke Island Maritime Museum
At the Museum, an NC Shad boat and early commercial fishing exhibit feature the 1883 Shad boat Ella View, as well as exhibits on regional boat building. Education programs focus on the use, construction, and celebration of traditional watercraft and related maritime activities.
Shop Local at Charlotte’s
For 27 years Charlotte’s has been a trusted women’s boutique in downtown Manteo. Charlotte’s sells fine apparel, jewelry, shoes, and accessories. The very friendly staff will help select just the right clothing and the perfect accessories to pull it all together. You’ll also find a few bath and body products and baby gifts. This shop is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where to Eat in Manteo, NC
1587 has been on my list of North Carolina restaurants to try for a few years now. Unfortunately, when we were in town, the restaurant and lounge were closed, so we are due for a trip back so I can try this out!
This restaurant came highly recommended to us by friends and family, and unfortunately, was also closed the days we were in town as well. It is mostly open for lunch; though, seasonally, may be open for dinner on Fridays. Be sure to check their website for updated hours.
Overlooking the docks at Pirate’s Cove Marina, Blue Water Grill offers a delightful dining experience with a delicious-looking coastal menu! It is open for lunch and dinner and you can bring your own fresh catch for them to prepare for you as well!
Ortega’z has a great covered porch, really fun signature cocktails, and a casual menu with a southwestern flair! Be sure to check their social media for the most up-to-date hours.
Located downtown, Poor Richard’s has been a staple in Manteo since 1984. I really enjoyed the crabcake sandwich for dinner and the Greek wrap for lunch. It is a casual dining spot with indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the water. There may also be live music, so be sure to check out their social media for updates on that.
Where to Stay in Manteo, NC
The Tranquil House Inn is located on the beautiful boardwalk in the heart of Manteo. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here, with its breezy porches, comfortable spaces, modern amenities, and ease of access for checking in and checking out. The bed linens were so soft, there is a coffee maker in the room, and there is a continental breakfast in the mornings until 10:00AM.
Ideally located on Roanoke Island in historic Manteo, North Carolina, our waterfront luxury hotel boasts breathtaking views of Shallowbag Bay from each of the twelve unique guest suites. Every room offers a waterfront view. And also comes with fully equipped kitchenettes, a continental breakfast is served daily. There is also a complimentary water equipment should you wish to kayak or paddleboard. There is also a daily sunset wine and charcuterie hour as well!
Best Time to Visit Manteo, NC
Manteo was bustling when we visited for an overnight stay Tuesday through Wednesday in July. Lodging rates drop and crowds are spare March through May and September through November. I personally prefer North Carolina beaches in the fall because it is still warm, yet not crowded. Another great time to visit Manteo is during the holiday season when the first weekend in December is full of Christmas cheer with the lighting of the town tree, the town Christmas parade, and more!