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Roanoke Island, NC

You can discover American History a short distance from your Outer Banks vacation rental on Roanoke Island.

Roanoke Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina includes the town of Manteo, as well as the village of Wanchese. It is steeped into interesting history, and is drawing more, more visitors to the area.

Manteo, North Carolina is known for the numerous unique Outer Banks art galleries while Wanchese is a quiet fishing village. Enjoy summer days at the waterfront shops, and the infamous outdoor drama, “The Lost Colony,” during the afternoon.

This little island is known as the home to the First English speaking colonies in America, long before Jamestown and Plymouth. In 1584, more than 100 men were established on the north end of the island; however, it was abandoned about a year later due to weather, lack of supplies, and poor communication between the Native Americans. Three years later another colony, including women and children, arrived to the island. The first English-speaking child in the New World, Virginia Dare, was born, and unfortunately more supplies was need at this time. Her grandfather was called back to England to retrieve the needed supplies. When he finally arrived back to the 'New World' there was no sign of his granddaughter, Virginia Dare, nor the other colonists. Today the disappearance of the colonies still remains a mystery.

Roanoke Island Attractions

The Lost Colony

The curtain first opened in 1937 on The Lost Colony’s passionate retelling of one of America’s oldest mysteries. Paul Green’s outdoor symphonic drama was the first in America and has wowed generations of Outer Banks visitors for years as the longest running outdoor performance. Talented actors expertly bring the mystery shrouding Roanoke Island to life. Adorned in elaborate, historically accurate costumes, actors immerse the audience in another time. The imaginative play is an exciting activity for the entire family and an Outer Banks must-see. The play performs throughout the summer from mid-May to mid-August at Manteo’s Waterside Theater. Find ticket information for The Lost Colony here.

Elizabethan Gardens

Next to The Lost Colony production, in the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is the exquisite Elizabethan Gardens. Over 500 species of plants are artfully tended on 10.5 acres of scenic waterfront property. This beautiful Outer Banks attraction was built in the mid 20th century to honor Queen Elizabeth I. Stepping into the Elizabethan Gardens is like stepping into a time machine. History buffs and horticulturists alike will enjoy the Renaissance statues hidden throughout the garden and the intricate Elizabethan-style buildings. The garden is open daily year round and holds seasonal events such as educational tours in the summer and holiday light displays in the winter. The attraction is also a popular Outer Banks wedding venue thanks to its romantic ambience and idyllic views. Explore the gardens for a small admission fee.

Roanoke Island Festival Park

Cross the bridge from downtown Manteo to Roanoke Island Festival Park, and you’ll find 25 acres of Outer Banks history and family friendly activities. The park is home to The Elizabeth II, a detailed replica of the ships that colonists used to cross the Atlantic. Costumed interpreters provide another level of authenticity to the park by reenacting traditional colonial roles at the settlement site. This interactive experience encourages visitors to dive into the world of 16th century settlement life. The Roanoke Adventure Museum adds context to the various Roanoke Island Festival Park attractions and is an interesting historical activity for the whole family. The open air theater holds events throughout the year like the Bluegrass Island Festival, which draws visitors nationwide.

North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

The North Carolina Aquarium has several branches along the states’ coast, one of which is located on Roanoke Island. The aquarium is home to many different species of North Carolina sea life and features several interactive experiences as well. Visitors can even dig for fossils or get up close with a pod of stingrays. This kid-friendly Outer Banks attraction offers plenty of activities that are sure to thrill your family. Find ticket information for the North Carolina Aquarium here.

Downtown Manteo

Roanoke Island is comprised of two towns: Manteo and Wanchese. In Wanchese, you’ll find a tight-knit fishing village and the source of most of the Outer Banks’ local seafood. Manteo is an idyllic waterside town overlooking the Shallowbag Bay. The quiet streets are lined with beautifully maintained historic homes, art galleries, unique shops, and delicious restaurants. Roanoke Island Festival Park is a short walk over the bridge and the Elizabeth II is visible from the waterfront. The town is also home to Outer Banks Distilling, the first legal distillery on the Outer Banks and the makers of Kill Devil Rum. Jutting out into the bay is the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, which is a replica of the original 1877 lighthouse in the same location. The lighthouse is often overlooked since it is smaller than the other Outer Banks lighthouses but it is a lovely spot to explore some of Manteo’s history and admire the surrounding waterfront scenery. The town hosts many events throughout the year like the farmers market in the summer and First Fridays, a family-oriented street festival held from April through December.