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    Outer Banks: let's discover the fascinating barrier islands of North Carolina

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    Martí Micolau

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    Le Outer banks are a long series of narrow islands which, at varying distances from the mainland, extend for about 160 kilometers flanking the North Atlantic coast of the North Carolina, once an ideal outpost for pirate raids. Their morphology of "barrier islands" makes them particularly interesting in terms of territory and natural environment. In fact, these “barrier” islands have the characteristic of having two distinct faces: the one in west side, more wild and lonely with brackish waters and the one on the eastern slope facing the Atlantic Ocean with pristine waters and white sand coasts.

    Most tourists arrive here in the summer, undoubtedly the classic period for enjoy the beach, then in the remaining months the climate cools more and more leaving room for those who love nature, sea and coast from another point of view: for many a beautiful experience. A peculiarity of this area is the defined meteorological phenomenon "Cannons of Seneca", very strong sounds similar to the blast of a cannon that develop off the coast, caused by strong currents even if in part still inexplicable. Those who have heard them report that they are frightening and at the same time suggestive but during our stay they did not manifest themselves; in a certain way perhaps we would have liked to hear them.


    • How to Reach the Outer Banks
    • What to see in the Outer Banks
      • Currituck Banks
      • Bodie Island
      • Roanoke Island
      • Hatteras Island
      • Ocracoke Island
    • Where to shop
    • The events of the Outer Banks
    • Where to eat
    • Where to sleep on the Outer Banks
    • Tours available

    How to Reach the Outer Banks

    The Outer Banks are connected to the mainland by due ponti, one at Kitty Hawk and the other at Nags Head, and precisely these connections made at the beginning of the 20th century, have opened the doors to visitors, especially in the area between Corolla, Nags Head and Manteo where they are the rise of accommodation, entertainment, catering, commercial and hospitality structures.

    Keep in mind that in several stretches of the long strip it is compulsory to use a four-wheel drive vehicle therefore it is advisable to have that type of vehicle during the car rental phase so as not to complicate the holiday and not to miss spectacular places. We report beautiful beaches in the locations of Duck (even dogs without a leash), Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head.

    To reach the Outer Banks with internal flights we refer to the national airport Ronald Reagan of Washington DC (1 Aviation Circle). Minor airports are also located in North Carolina at Morrisville between Raleigh and Durham (2400 John Brantley Blvd.) and Charlotte (5501 Josh Birmingham Pkwy).

    What to see in the Outer Banks

    The geographical definition of this area often gives rise to confusion regarding the coastal strip off Southern Virginia; for this reason, once we arrived on site, we inquired and we had confirmation that the Outer Banks are those of the North Carolina. However, regardless of this clarification, if someone wanted to move from one state to another along the external coastal strip on four wheels, he could not do it without bypassing the law as a gate makes the passage to vehicles inaccessible, this to prevent horses savages living in the area go beyond their borders.


    Having as a reference the north end of the coastal strip, the islands follow one another in groupings in this order, each with its relative towns:

    • Currituck Banks (Carova, Corolla),
    • Bodie Island (Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head)
    • Roanoke Island (Manteo, Wanchese),
    • Hatteras Island (Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, Hatteras),
    • Ocracoke Island (Ocracoke).

    Let's find out in detail what each of these barrier islands has in store for us.

    Currituck Banks

    We know the area of Corolla it will hold us pleasant surprises; it's a place with good restaurants, shops, spas, art galleries, vacation rentals but what we're looking for is the wildest charm of the northern Outer Banks and let's get started right away. Who doesn't like horses? The Wild Horse Museum (520 B Old Stoney Rd.) Is dedicated to wild horses, in particular to the mustangs that run free in the area called Currituck, specimens of true beauty, grace, speed but also resistance and with coats of various colors.

    Regardless of how interesting the exhibition sections of the museum can be, what attracts visitors most is the encounter with horses through spectacular tours on a 4 × 4 vehicle along the beach and with beautiful scenery around. The summer period or in any case the warm season is the most dense of activities and events. In summer the museum is open from 10 to 17 from Monday to Friday and on weekends from 10 to 16, in the remaining months from Monday to Saturday from 10 to 16 and on Sundays until 14.

    Route 12 now ends, leaves room for a short stretch of the Ocean Trail and becomes Sandpiper Road. The great museum of natural history Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education (1160 Village Ln.) Is nestled in an oak forest where you can trace the history and learn about the biodiversity of the state's wildlife through a series of displays, a large aquarium, a turtle nesting program, other projects and activities. The center is free and the visiting hours, from 9 to 17 from Monday to Friday, are changed according to the season, sometimes including Saturdays.

    Then a typical site of the coastal strips awaits us, always suggestive and scenographic, a lighthouse with a brick facade, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse (1101 Corolla Village Rd.) 49 meters high and with 220 steps, a place that should not be missing among the must see in the area. There is also a big one beach ideal for a walk or for moments with the family.

    Il Currituck Banks National Estuarine Book (Hwy 12) is a protected corner of nature, accessible all year round, a beautiful walk through the maritime forest with the only warning not to disturb the snakes that are occasionally seen around. It is a special place for those who love walking in the midst of nature through swampy paths, beautiful oaks, observing many types of flora but also doing excellent birdwatching. Many animal species live here: owls, hawks, herons, bald eagles, raccoons, possums, deer, squirrels and gray foxes, but it is not easy to see them during the day, apart from squirrels. The path that develops from the small parking lot leads to a remarkable overlook facing the canal and the marshes.

    Our next destination is the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge, a park with swampy areas, dunes, bushes, mangrove and maritime forests. Inside you can spot deer, sparrows, swans, bald eagles, reptiles but above all wild horses; this is a true paradise for naturalists. With four-wheel drive vehicles it is accessible from sunrise to sunset, two spectacular moments to photograph the fauna.

    Bodie Island

    Here we are in fact a Duck, a place where you immediately feel at ease among natural corners and locations where you can turn your gaze to the ocean but here we can also dedicate some of our time testing the local cuisine and browsing among the commercial activities. And if we had more time we could also spend a few hours in a wellness center, but this is not the case because our destination is the Duck Town Park (1200 Duck Rd.), A park accessible 24 hours, with an amphitheater, gazebo, play area, picnic shed and kayak dock. Its position is strategic because from here you can admire splendid sunsets and you have access to the boardwalk, a pleasant wooden complex on stilts for strolling on the sea and stopping in the shops and restaurants; really a great set, what more could you ask for?

    Coming from I-158, we cross the bridge and take Route 12 southbound which takes us to Buxton Woods Reserve (983 W. Kitty Hawk Rd.), A reserve open all year round, between wooded areas, marshes, paths for cycling and horse riding, with the possibility of spotting birds, ducks, kingfisher and osprey, gray foxes and deer.

    From here arrive in the town of Kitty Hawk it's a moment and one of the things we want to do here is a walk along the pier (5353 N. Virginia Dare Trail) where, surrounded by the immensity of the sea, one feels tiny, almost in awe. And for those who love surfing the beauty beach Cittadella is the ideal spot. Kitty Hawk is a hospitable reality where it is also pleasant to do some shopping by exchanging a few words with the store managers.

    We continue our descent towards Kill devil hills. We are in the most populated town of the Outer Banks (just over 7.000 inhabitants) known for Wright brothers national memorial (1000 N. Croatan Hwy.), An 18-meter granite tower that recalls Wilbur and Orville Wright's feat in December 1903: the first flight on a motorized vehicle. The memorial is located right on the hill at the Flyer launch point. The two brothers, strong in their passion for flight, associated with the knowledge of the winds, continued to fly and create new versions of the aircraft. The Visitor Center was also built on this site and houses a museum dedicated to the two pioneers of flight and more; we find models, tools and machinery used by the brothers but here above all inventiveness and the desire for adventure are celebrated. Open every day from 9am to 17pm for $ 10 for ages 16 and up.


    In the immediate vicinity, First Flight Airport is a public airport famous for being the site of the many experiments of the Wright brothers. Even the plaques and some local coins remind us of history through the slogan "First in Flight". From air to water the step is short; for those who love fishing we recommend the pier Avalon Fishing Pier (2111 N. Virginia Trail) also features a snack bar and a shop with items dedicated to this hobby. A small fee is required to fish on the dock. The beautiful beach town is also popular for surfing.

    Greenery, kayaking swamps and towering oak trees are the beautiful scenery of the Nags Head Wood Preserve, one of the largest maritime forests still intact on the east coast. We reach the homonymous town and from there our journey continues to Jockey’s Ridge State Park (300 W. Carolista Dr.) where the tallest sand dune on the East Coast awaits us, we are told mainly composed of quartz. Sandboarders do not seem to fear the 34 meters of the sand wall at all and throw themselves headlong, we just wait for the sunset from this privileged point. In this green area of ​​almost two square kilometers, pines, oaks and red cedars grow and a museum dedicated to the history of the park has also been built. (from Monday to Friday $ 6, weekend $ 7).

    Our itinerary continues at Bodie Lighthouse (8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse), another spectacular lighthouse, this time with wide horizontal black and white stripes, 48 ​​meters high with 214 steps. Our visit to Nags Head concludes in the broad beach; there are some people but they are not rowdy and this gives us moments of total relaxation and contemplation of the ocean.

    Roanoke Island

    In the pleasant town of cloak we begin the visit of the center near the waterfront where we notice pretty houses with gardens, restaurants, shops and art galleries. Here is also the Pioneer Theatre (113 Budleigh St.) in Tudor style, active all year round. The waterfront has its own marina but also boasts the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse (300 Queen Elizabeth Ave.), a replica of a lighthouse that stands atop a small cottage, all 11 meters high. The display of objects and images inside the building is about the lighthouse and the history of the area. It is open in spring, summer and early autumn from Tuesday to Saturday from 9am to 17pm.

    Near the waterfront, in the George Washington Creef Boathouse floating building, is the Maritime Museum with boats that represent the history and maritime culture of the region, a real "gem" for enthusiasts. Exhibitions are also held here and restoration projects are carried out. It is open from Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 17pm Roanoke Island Festival Park (1 Festival Park) is a beautiful reality that boasts an ancient settlement of Indians and settlers, a 16th century boat, an area history museum and a gallery displaying works by artists from the Outer Banks and North Carolina. The park is open every day from March to December from 9am to 17pm. Tickets valid for two consecutive days cost $ 10 for adults, $ 9 for seniors and $ 7 for ages 3 to 17.

    Nature flourishes in the true sense of the word ai Elizabethan Gardens(1411 National Park Dr.), a garden with many seasonal plants including camellias, magnolias and roses inserted in a context that also includes statues and fountains. They can be visited practically all year round with seasonal opening hours. Tickets cost $ 9 for adults, $ 6 for ages 6-17 and $ 2 for under 5s.

    Hatteras Island

    The village of Buxton it houses a historical symbol of 1870 that stands at almost 60 meters: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (46368 Lighthouse Rd.), America's tallest lighthouse and the tallest brick in the world. To reach the top, you climb the beauty of 257 steps. The external structure is painted in a white and black spiral, very particular. Next to the lighthouse is theHatteras Island Visitor Center and Museum of the Sea which deals with the history, nature and maritime culture of the Outer Banks and, of course, the lighthouse. It is open from mid-March to October from 9 to 17, while during the rest of the year it is open from time to time. This area is a "mecca" for windsurfing and kitesurfing which attracts fans and champions from all over the world.  

    Always along the route 12 we reach Frisco, a small village of 200 inhabitants, which is home to the Frisco Native American Museum (Hwy 12) whose finds and artifacts relate to the history of the natives of North America and the inhabitants of the Hatteras group of islands with finds and artifacts. The museum is open from Thursday to Sunday from 10.30 to 17 while in winter it is active on Saturdays and Sundays. Admission costs $ 5, while for seniors it costs $ 3. There beach di Frisco is ideal for those who enjoy boating, fishing, surfing and kateboarding.

    About three kilometers from the town of Hatteras it is a popular tourist spot mainly for its pristine beaches and fishing. From this moment it happens that highway 12 momentarily stops and, if desired, we continue with ferries and barges to the other Outer Banks, much less populated but for the benefit of a greater symbiosis with nature.

    Ocracoke Island

    A Ocracoke we are at the panoramic terminus of the Outer Banks; from this isolated but still inviting village with restaurants, inns and shops. If you like lighthouses, and all those encountered so many along our path were not enough for you, you cannot miss a visit to theOcracoke Lighthouse. If you have time, take a relaxing walk along the beautiful Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach. History lovers should not miss a visit to the little one British Cemetery of Ocracoke which houses the graves of four British sailors who perished during World War II while patrolling the American coast to protect it from German submarine raids.

    From here you can take a pay ferry that goes north to Swanquarter or south to Cedar Island, in mainland North Carolina. Even if it is not part of our itinerary, it is good to know that from Cedar Island you can take route 12, then the I-70 and approach the communities of the Crystal Coast via the bridge to Atlantic Beach, a location whose strengths can be summed up in four words: fishing, surfing, sand and sun. The center of Pine Knoll Shores it is also interesting for the Aquarium (1 Roosvelt Blvd.) with many "guests" including sharks, sea turtles and the possibility to touch a ray as well as to witness the moment in which the fish are fed.

    Where to shop

    After hours of outdoor activities, the Outer Banks are also a pleasant destination for it Shopping. In Corolla we point out the shopping center TimBuck II Shopping Center (785 Sunset Blvd.) with 60 shops and 18 food and beverage outlets including restaurants. Times vary according to the season.

    In Duck, in addition to the shopping that can be done along the boardwalk, the shopping complex Waterfront Duck (1240 Duck Rd.) Overlooking the water, includes 28 boutiques, eateries and restaurants. Due to its position it is a pleasant location in which to linger bearing in mind that each business has its own schedules. The Cottage Shop (1201 Duck Rd.) Deals with gift items inspired by the coast, home furnishings and clothing. From Life is Good (1216 Duck Rd.) You will find clothes and accessories plus gift items.

    In Nags Head we point out two outdoor malls, Tanger Outlets (7100 S. Croatan Hwy.) With its 23 shops (Mon to Sat 9 am-21pm, Sun 10 am-17pm) and Jockey’s Ridge Crossing (3933 S. Croatan Hwy.) With 8 shops. Cloud Nine (3022 S. Croatan Hwy.) Sells the materials needed to create jewelry, rhodium silver jewelry, tableware, paintings, prints, works of art by local and regional artists. Summer hours are from Monday to Sunday from 10.30 to 20.30 and in winter until 18.

    In Manteo at the Christmas Shop & General Store (621 S. Hwy. 64) you can buy Christmas decorations but also objects for the home, jewelry, sweets and snacks. It is open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 18pm and Sunday from 12pm to 17pm. In the nearby town of Waves, a sports shop is Real Watersports (25706 NC 12 Hwy.) Which deals with surfing equipment, kiteboarding, waterproof suits, items for outdoor activities but also casual wear for men, women and children. Sports items can be hired. Inside, Watermen's Bar & Grill is a waterfront restaurant that also features live music. The restaurant is open every day from 9 to 21.

    The events of the Outer Banks

    Scattered around the various locations of the Outer Banks, various events and events take place throughout the year. We report some appointments month by month. In March at various points on the Outer Banks the Taste of the Beach with tastings of food and wine, culinary demonstrations and, if desired, the possibility of enjoying a multi-course menu from the best restaurants in the area. Of course, the cost varies according to the type of tasting. In May, during the Columbus Day weekend, Duck takes place on Duck Jazz Festival, a free event that features that kind of music surrounded by other initiatives scattered around the country.

    From fine May in half September in Corolla it takes place every Friday from 15 to 19 pm Whalehead Wednesdays (Corolla Park-1100 Club Rd.) With live music, activities for the whole family, wine and beer tasting for $ 15. Near the Real Watersports store (25706 NC 12 Hwy.) In Waves takes place in June il Wind Voyager Triple-S Invitational, an event where the best kiteboarders in the world perform. In August at the waterfront (207 Queen Elizabeth Ave.) of Manteo is held the New World Festival, an event with works by East Coast artists: paintings, photographs, ceramics, sculptures, jewels, wood and leather works.

    In the middle August Kitty Hawk takes place on Pirate Festival in the area next to Jockey's Ridge State Park, an event that reproduces the invasion of Blackbeard's crew who once frequented the area, all in a realistic 18th century setting. Buccaneers also make appearances in some restaurants. The same festival also takes place in Nags Head at the mall Jockey’s Ridge Crossing (3933 S. Croatan Hwy.). Presso l’hotel Hilton Garden Inn (5353 N. Virginia Dare Trail) di Kitty Hawk in September takes place theOuter Banks Arts & Crafts Festival when local artists exhibit paintings, photographs, jewelry, pottery, glass works and fabrics.

    Also in September, in the beach next to Jennette's Pier (7223 S. Virginia Dare Trail) at Nags Head the event Eastern Surfing Championships sees the best surfers competing in one of the country's top races for the sport. L'Outer Banks Seafood Festival (6800 S. Croatan Hwy.) Takes place at Nags Head in October to honor the coast's maritime culture and community. Food tastings from some of the best local restaurateurs and works of art and crafts are appreciated during the event. Admission costs $ 5 for ages 12 and up. In Manteo in December the Christmas in Manteo, evocative moments in which the whole town is illuminated and decorated, the Christmas tree is in great evidence and a parade is also held.

    Where to eat

    We report some in some of the most popular places restaurants where to enjoy good food. Starting from the north, in a great location on the waterfront, The Village Table & Tavern (1314 Duck Rd.-Duck) serves lunch and dinner pappardelle with parmesan, tomato and basil, linguine with shellfish, sliced ​​pork with vegetables and low to medium priced sandwiches in a casual atmosphere. Live music appointments can be consulted online.

    We also recommend the Colington Coffee (1029 Colington Rd.-Kill Devil Hills) which offers mid-priced local recipes for lunch and dinner. For the little ones you can consult the kid's menu. The restaurant is in a Victorian house surrounded by a beautiful oak garden just over a mile from the beach. In a room with a porch and overlooking the water, from Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafè (7623 S. Virginia Dare Trail-Nags Head) fish is the medium-priced main course, but here everything is good, fresh and enhanced by the herbs that are grown in the restaurant's garden. Brunch is served on Sundays and there is also a children's menu.

    At The Inn at Pamlico Sound (49684 NC Hwy. 12-Buxton) we suggest the Cafè Pamlico overlooking the waterfront with breakfast and dinner in a casual-chic setting. Dinner is served five evenings a week from November to mid-March and seven evenings in the other months. Reservations are highly recommended for dinner and recommended for breakfast if you are not staying at the hotel. Filet Mignon with vegetables, shrimp and crab soup, pasta with sausage, shrimp, vegetables and scampi broth are some medium to high cost delicacies that can be tasted. The dates of the entertainment organized by the venue can be checked online.

    Where to sleep on the Outer Banks

    White Doe Inn Bed & Breakfast

    It is definitely worth stopping in the area for a few days. Here are some tips on accommodation facilities. L'Hampton Inn & Suites Outer Banks (333 Audubon Dr.-Corolla) is a two-story hotel facing the beach. The rooms and suites have free wi-fi, microwave, refrigerator, and some have a panoramic view. The hotel, whose rate includes breakfast, has parking, swimming pool, business center, snack shop and mini market.

    Il First Colony Inn (6715 S. Croatan Hwy.-Nags Head) is close to the beach which can be reached by following a walkway. The rooms are equipped with refrigerator, microwave and coffee maker. Some rooms have a porch, living room, kitchenette and Jacuzzi. The structure includes breakfast, consumption of drinks, cheeses and sweets from 15 to 17 pm, there is an outdoor swimming pool (active from mid-May to October) and from the veranda you can admire the sunset.

    Five minutes from downtown, the White Doe Inn Bed & Breakfast (319 Sir Walter Raleigh St.-Manteo) is a beautiful building from 1910, on three floors and with a veranda. Each of the antique-style rooms has its own furniture, fireplace, sitting room and private bathroom. The cottage can accommodate up to six people and is pet friendly. The structure is equipped with free wi-fi, gift shop, equipment for bicycles and the beach, dinner by reservation from 18 to 20 and from 15 to 18 pastries and drinks are offered.

    THEInn on Pamlico Sound (49684 Hwy.12-Buxton) is a waterfront accommodation with charming rooms each decorated differently, equipped with wi-fi and private bathroom. The property includes breakfast, use of computers and printers, has a swimming pool, restaurant, bicycles, and has studied romance packages for couples. L'Anchorage Inn & Marina (205 Irvin Garrish Highway-Ocracoke) has patio rooms, some with water views, refrigerators, coffeemakers, TVs, and free wi-fi. The property features free on-site parking, a swimming pool open in good weather, a garden, a solarium and an area set up for picnics and barbeques.

    We also report a couple of campgrounds in the locality of Frisco: il Frisco Woods Campground (53124 hwy 12) and the Frisco Campground (53415 Billy Mitchell Rd.) With spaces for tents, cabins and RV pitches with attachments.

    Look for a hotel on the Outer Banks

    Tours available

    We suggest clicking the link below to choose from the many outdoor activities that can be undertaken in this particular area of ​​the United States.

    Tour delle Outer Banks

    In this group of islands dotted with small peaceful villages we have tasted a real holiday in a relaxed atmosphere where nature is sovereign; here people really know how to stay calm and a world of their own size has been created where the houses face the magnificence of the ocean, the kids run on the beach or on the dunes with kites and golfers' greens, visitors enjoy walks , boat trips and sunsets. In every season there is always something to do because the beaches and nature have a different charm in every month of the year, not to mention the museums, shopping and restaurants with a view.

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