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Panorama of the shoreline of Outer Banks, North Carolina taken from on top of Big Kill Devil Hill at the First Flight Memorial. Image credit: Fritzmann2002 via Wikimedia Commons

The Outer Banks

The Outer Banks is a chain of islands lying at the extreme East of North Carolina and it’s steeped in history: from the site of the pirate Blackbeard’s first battle to that of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight. These days it is more well known for its large population of hundreds of feral horses. Generally known as ‘banker ponies’, these feral horses are thought to be descendants of Spanish Mustangs that were brought to the area’s shores after a shipwreck 100 or so years ago.

With its miles of sandy seashores, Outer Banks offers a number of outdoor activities that you can enjoy on your stay in the islands, such as fishing, windsurfing, surfing and wildlife spotting. For history buffs there is a wealth of sites to explore, both on land and underwater: there are 3,000 shipwrecks that can be discovered by scuba diving.

  • General Advice
Outer Banks receives a great deal of visitors during summer, so the best times to visit are the shoulder seasons of March to May and September to November when the weather is still good but the crowds are thinner and rates drop. There are many great swimming beaches across the islands, but be aware that the Atlantic currents can be strong, so only swim at beaches where a life guard is present and pay attention to warnings.
  • Getting There & Getting Around

Closest major airports to North Carolina's Outer Banks

Norfolk International Airport is three miles northeast of downtown Norfolk, an independent city in Virginia. It is owned by the city of Norfolk and operated by the Norfolk Airport.

Authority: a bureau under the municipal government.
Address: 2200 Norview Ave, Norfolk, VA 23518
IATA Code: ORF
Elevation: 25.92′
Phone: (757) 857-3351

Raleigh–Durham International Airport, locally known by its IATA code RDU, is the main airport serving Raleigh, Durham, and the surrounding Research Triangle region of North Carolina. It is located 4 ¹⁄₂ miles northeast of the town of Morrisville in Wake County. The airport covers 5,000 acres and has three runways.

Address: 2400 John Brantley Blvd, Morrisville, NC 27560
IATA Code: RDU
Phone: (919) 840-2123

Wright Brothers National Memorial
Wright Brothers National Memorial (image credits: Yuming Huang)

Once arrived you can hire a limo service at either airport, or hire a taxi or black car service to take you to the Outer Banks, which are connected to the mainland by the I-64. A taxi from Norfolk airport to the Outer Banks will cost up to $300. Driving, the Outer Banks are around two hours from  Norfolk, six hours from Charlotte, and five hours driving from Washington DC.

There is a public ferry service with various routes around and between the islands, however by far the best way to explore Outer Banks’ spread out attractions is by hiring a car or bringing your own if possible.

  • Outer Banks Attractions & Activities

Common water pursuits in Outer Banks include jet snowboarding, ocean and also sounds water-skiing, diving, parasailing, kite boarding and wind surfing. Its many beaches also make great spots to simply swim, too. There are multiple tour operators offering sailing tours around the area, including romantic night-time tours under the stars.

Organizations throughout Outer Banks that provide sightseeing cruises include Bodie Area Adventures, Downeast Rover, Nags Brain Dolphin Observe, Pirate Adventures and Outside Banks Voyages. Looking to cool off in the warm summer months? As well as ocean swimming, there are also several public swimming pools run by the Outer Banks YMCA.

Outer Banks also offers a great range of land-based activities such as golf, camping, horseback riding, cycling, running, and roller skating. You might also enjoy theatrical performances from the Lost Colony Outdoor Drama. With around 400 bird species, Outer Banks also has great bird watching sites such as the Pea Area National Wild Animals Refuge. This park also acts as a winter sanctuary for Snowfall Geese, North American Geese, Tundra Swans and 25 species of ducks.

You can even learn more about the history of the Outer Banks at its various historic sites including the Civil War Trail, Pea Area, Cook Home, Wright Bros National Memorial, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and Chicamacomico Lifesaving Historic Site.
  • Accommodations & Food

As a popular vacation destination for many years, Outer Banks has a comprehensive selection of hotels, bed & breakfasts and resorts, many just steps from the beach. Some of the best are Sanderling Resort, White Doe Inn and Cypress House Inn. Check Tripadvisor for current rates and availability.

For a more authentic (and cost-effective) experience, consider renting a cottage or beachfront house. Particularly if you plan on staying more than a few days, this type of accommodation will really let you relax, cook your own meals, and feel at home.

Fresh seafood with Southern flavors is the local specialty – and you won’t be disappointed! Try locally owned restaurants Blue Moon Beach Grill in Nags Head or I Got Your Crabs Seafood Market & Steam Bar in Kitty Hawk. If staying in self-catering accommodation, visit one of the seafood markets for the freshest local seafood you can cook for yourself!

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