Roanoke Island: Manteo and Wanchese

Roanoke Island, NC, is a tiny island located directly across from Nags Head, NC, on the Outer Banks (OBX). Despite only having two towns, Manteo and Wanchese, the area offers a rich history and many things to do. Vacationers looking for historical and outdoor fun will enjoy this area of OBX.

Roanoke Island has drawn visitors for decades with its quaintness and considerable history. You will find no shortage of outdoor activities with charming sites like Wanchese’s fishing village or the quiet, sleepy Manteo. Visit Roanoke Island for a peaceful vacation getaway.

Roanoke Island gives you many options, whether you want to be near modern attractions or immerse yourself in nature. History fanatics will also find themselves at home. The island features:

  •   Historic sites, aquariums, museums, and educational centers
  •   Notable parks and wildlife reserves
  •   Restaurants, breweries, a distillery, and several lodging options
  •   Plenty of things to do

Manteo, NC, the biggest town on Roanoke Island, lies on the north side. People come to Manteo for its breathtaking views of Shallowbag Bay, waterfront activities, and history. If you desire a relaxing vacation spot or an OBX fishing adventure, Manteo is the place to be.

Wanchese, NC, sits at the opposite end of Roanoke Island and has a drastically different atmosphere. This village and fishing mecca maintains its old-world feel. Visitors come to Wanchese for its delicious, fresh seafood and abundant wildlife.

On Roanoke Island, you’ll always find beautiful views and other top attractions no matter where you go.

Popular Things To Do on Roanoke Island

Roanoke Island offers many attractions and exciting things to do. Whether you want to visit the area’s historical sites, learn about the Lost Colony, hunt, fish, hike, or shop, it’s possible on Roanoke Island. With restaurants and lodging, you have everything you need.

Visit the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and stand in the very places America’s first settlers lived. Not far from the site, you can watch The Lost Colony a famous play reenacting critical moments in the settlement’s history. 



Stay around Manteo for the most activities and fun for the whole family. In addition to visiting the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, you can learn more about the area’s history of fishing and farming at the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum and Island Farm. Get up close with Roanoke Island’s boating scene at the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse or watch dolphins at sunset.

Manteo features other outdoor attractions such as the beautiful Elizabethan Gardens, an extensive botanical garden. Photograph the picturesque Virginia Dare statue among the trees, or capture the area’s ocean views and flowers. Then, stop by the garden while exploring the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.

Dining in Manteo is creative, fresh, and varied. While many local restaurants focus on seafood, you’ll also find Mediterranean, American, and other cuisines. Grab a bite at Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop or get a craft brew or barrel-aged rum from Outer Banks Distilling.

Go across the water to Roanoke Island Festival Park to catch a glimpse of the original colonists’ daily life. You’ll find fully costumed actors replicating activities and wearing the attire of the 16th century. The park is also home to the area’s yearly festivals.

The Manteo Boardwalk on the north end of the island allows you to enjoy some of the town’s most notable attractions with a peaceful walk. Start at the sound, and you’ll find yourself at these locations on the way to the Roanoke Island Festival Park:

  •   Manteo Waterfront Marina
  •   Manteo’s downtown
  •   Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse


Travel south to Wanchese, and the atmosphere changes drastically. The quiet fishing village is a sight to behold, being home to North Carolina’s Seafood Industrial Park. Wanchese enjoys plentiful fishing, with shrimp and flounder being common daily catches sent directly to NC’s coastal eateries and U.S. manufacturers.

While there isn’t much to do in Wanchese’s tiny village, its offerings are tasteful. Consider purchasing fresh seafood, eating a hot meal at O’Neal’s Sea Harvest, and then hiking through the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge before heading north. Wanchese is also a short drive from Bodie Island Lighthouse, the OBX Aquarium, and many other attractions.

Throughout Roanoke Island, hunting and fishing are popular. Hike or bike through the area’s forests, explore nature up close, or hunt in the Roanoke Island Marshes Game Land with a valid North Carolina hunting license and tags.

Plan your visit today or explore some of the most popular activites in Wanchese!

What Makes Roanoke Island Unique

With origins deep in the first American settlements, a unique sound, no beach access, and Victorian-style architecture, Roanoke Island’s characteristics make it an excellent outdoor playground. Whether you prefer learning or being active, Roanoke Island makes it easy to do both. Roanoke Island is unique due to its:

  •   Rich American history dating back several hundred years
  •   Unique and drastically different geographical structure from the other OBX islands
  •   Unique lodging options with traditional European architecture

The Lost Colony of Roanoke Island serves as the area’s most obvious talking point. The colony and its disappearance prove intriguing attractors that bring historians, teachers, vacationers, and schools to the island. With so many museums, statues, and references, you can immerse yourself in the mystery as well.

Explore Nature

Roanoke Island’s geographical and environmental characteristics distinguish it from other parts of the Outer Banks. Unlike the dunes of Nags Head or the Hatteras Island seashore, Roanoke Island offers a shady and peaceful retreat. Its wildlife reserve is home to wild hogs, waterfowl, red wolves, and alligators.

Albemarle Sound lies at the north of the island, a unique sound transforming into miles of waterways ideal for kayaking, boating, and enjoying North Carolina’s nature. The majority of this water is fresh as freshwater rivers feed into it.

Unique Lodgings

A unique aspect of staying on Roanoke Island is its architecture. This island departs from modernity and remains true to its old-time roots. Whether you lodge in Wanchese or Manteo, you’ll find Victorian-style homes and OBX’s largest selection of inns and B&Bs instead of towering hotels.

Popular lodging options include the Roanoke Island Inn and Tranquil House Inn in Manteo and the Island House in Wanchese. No matter where you stay, you’ll receive generous hospitality, be surrounded by nature, and be a short distance from your planned activities.

No beach access may be an inconvenience for some, but this is for a good reason. Roanoke Island sits just minutes away from the beautiful, pristine beaches at Nags Head, Rodanthe, Kill Devil Hills, and beyond. If you want to enjoy the sand on Roanoke Island, visit the Roanoke Sound or bike along the island’s perimeter.

To save money on your trip, ask your bed and breakfast about the best places for gear and attractions to consider. They will offer some of the best advice. Some rent out equipment themselves, while others can direct you to the local shops to rent a paddleboard, bike, fishing gear, and more.

Roanoke Island History

Roanoke Island history boasts North Carolina’s first historical moments. The Lost Colony serves as one of the first examples of settlement in the area. Since the colony’s mysterious disappearance between 1587 and 1590, Roanoke Island has been an attraction for history fanatics.

Manteo and Wanchese each get their names from the Native Americans that lived in the area during the 16th century. Manteo, incorporated in 1899, is named after Chief Manteo, while Wanchese’s name comes from Chief Wanchese. John White, a British governor, met these chiefs on his 1585 expedition.

The Lost Colony of Roanoke makes up a significant portion of Manteo history.

  •   The Lost Colony was settled in 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh.
  •   Governor John White sailed back to England in 1587 to fight Spain.
  •   Upon his return to Roanoke three years later, the colony was gone.
  •   The letters “CRO” carved into a tree are the only evidence hinting that the area’s Croatan tribe wiped out the colony.

After the Lost Colony’s disappearance, Roanoke Island grew with the help of other explorers. In 1941, the U.S. government began preserving the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. Since then, the island’s towns have grown as vacationers, sailors, and retirees find the area suitable for settling down.

Today, Roanoke Island’s history brings travelers from all locations. Whether history or nature fascinates you, there’s something for everyone at Roanoke Island, Outer Banks, NC. Consider visiting if you’re interested in learning about Roanoke Island and the Lost Colony’s history or want to explore the area yourself.