Pirates, lighthouses, surfing, oh my! Few destinations offer the wide range of activities that one can find on North Carolina’s picturesque barrier islands, affectionately known as the OBX. Only here can you kayak while bear-watching, go sandboarding, observe wild horses, and learn to kitesurf, all in one weekend.
Getting from one vibrant coastal town to the other is easiest with a van rental from Greenvans. Not only can you invite more of your favorite people, but you’ll also have enough space to fit your surfboards and your golf clubs. With so many things to do in Outer Banks it can be hard to narrow down, so read through our suggestions of 20 things to do, pick up your Richmond van rental and set out for the OBX!
1. Go fishing on Jennette’s Pier
Stretching 1,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean, Jennette’s Pier, also known as Nags Head Fishing Pier, is one of the top things to do in OBX. From here you can catch an unobstructed view of the coastline, take fishing lessons, and go stargazing at night. The pier house offers activities like shopping and marine wildlife viewing at the indoor aquarium, so both kids and adults will be happy.
Make your road trip to the Outer Banks unforgettable by exploring places to go fishing along the way!
2. Take a wild horse tour in Corolla
The charming coastal town of Corolla might have pristine beaches, picturesque landscapes, and a rich history. Yet, there is something far more enticing here — wild Spanish Mustangs roaming freely in their natural habitat. To ensure a safe and educational experience while observing these enchanting creatures, check out guided tours with Wild Horse Adventure Tours or Corolla Outback Adventures, which offers off-roading adventures to remote spots where they often graze.
Corolla isn’t the only place to catch stallions! Discover more wild horses in Ocean City, Maryland.
3. Visit Roanoke Island
In 1587, a group of English settlers disappeared without a trace shortly after arriving at Roanoke Island. To this day, no one knows what happened to the Lost Colony, though historians have tried to solve the mystery for centuries. The good news is, no one has disappeared since, and Roanoke Island’s captivating past lends itself to an equally charming present.
Check out Roanoke Island Festival Park, a living history museum offering interactive exhibits, recreated historic structures, and live performances. Adjacent to the park lies the Elizabethan Gardens, a botanical paradise inspired by the Elizabethan period.
4. Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial
There are many inventions that have changed the course of history, and the airplane is undoubtedly one of the most innovative. Dive into the development of this groundbreaking accomplishment with a visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Catch a glimpse of the daily lives of Orville and Wilbur through immersive exhibits and replicas of their early gliders. The centerpiece is a breathtaking full-scale replica of the iconic Wright Flyer, a great background for a family photo!
5. Explore Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Stretching for miles, the untouched shorelines of Cape Hatteras are tranquil and scenic. In the cape, you can spend a morning kayaking, paddleboarding, surfing, or kiteboarding and then an afternoon discovering the charming Outer Banks lighthouses that dot its coastline. A quirky but popular pastime is beachcombing — perhaps you’ll be the lucky one to uncover a long-lost treasure.
6. Go hang gliding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park
The East Coast’s tallest sand dunes rise majestically in Jockey’s Ridge State Park, a playground for adrenaline seekers. Soar through the sky from atop the dunes with hang gliding lessons or experience the thrill of sandboarding down the steep slopes. Sunsets here are spectacular, the perfect way to wind down after an active day.
7. Explore the town of Duck
Imagine a small, unpretentious town with pretty beaches, a cute boardwalk with boutique shopping, and live music in the sand. For these reasons and more, Duck is a must on your OBX to-do list and one of our favorite suggestions of things to do for couples. There are endless opportunities for kayaking, paddleboarding, and surfing, as well as more laid-back activities, making it an ideal stop for any kind of traveler.
8. Visit the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
Countless shipwrecks have occurred off the treacherous Outer Banks coastline and this museum pays homage to many of them. Get a fascinating glimpse into the perils faced by seafarers throughout history through immersive exhibits and artifacts from the wrecks themselves. This is one of the most unusual things to do in Outer Banks and well worth a visit.
Don’t miss a photo opp at the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. A historic landmark that stands tall, guiding ships through the waters of the Atlantic.
9. Enjoy beach days at Nags Head
For a family-friendly getaway in the sun, Nags Head is the perfect destination. Its pristine shoreline is ripe for swimming and sunbathing or, for the adventurous crowd, taking surf lessons. One of the most popular local activities is kite flying. Whether you choose to participate or not, it’s a beautiful scene to sit back and enjoy with your loved ones.
10. Play at premier Outer Banks golf courses
A golfer’s utopia awaits in Outer Banks. From the elegant fairways of the Currituck Club to Nags Head Golf Links, you’ll be challenged on the course and rewarded with epic views of the Atlantic Ocean and rolling dunes. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner, there are options for all skill levels. Take advantage of lessons and clinics to help improve your game.
11. Take a ferry to Ocracoke Island
A stay on Ocracoke Island just might be the most chill experience of your life and one of the Outer Banks activities that we enjoy the most. Think flip flops, golf carts, undeveloped beaches, and live theater, all packed into a tiny island accessible only by sea or air. There are no resorts, golf courses, big brand names, or chain hotels.
Ocracoke is laid-back coastal living at its finest — the hardest thing about being here is leaving! Check out the local artisan shops in the village for great souvenirs and stop for a photo at the island’s lighthouse, the second-oldest in the country.
12. Discover the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
If you like birdwatching, you cannot miss a trip to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. With over 365 species of migratory and endangered birds, including egrets, herons, osprey, and falcons, the refuge offers a remarkable opportunity to see a vast diversity of fowl. Dig deeper with a guided tour through the 13-mile strip of protected land.
Pro-tip: Come for the birds. Stay for the sunset.
13. Visit the Bodie Island Lighthouse
Get your steps in with a climb to the top of Bodie Island Lighthouse. This is a characteristic black-and-white striped beacon of safety for ships sailing through the Atlantic Ocean since 1847. The views are sweeping at 150 feet high, showcasing the shimmering sea, the Bodie Island shoreline, and Pamlico Sound.
Looking to extend your memorable coastal road trip? Add to your adventure by exploring these New England lighthouses.
14. Try water sports in Kitty Hawk
Kitty Hawk is the place for water sports of all kinds: enjoy the exhilaration of an afternoon jet skiing and parasailing, or opt for something more tranquil like paddleboarding. Local rental shops like Kitty Hawk Watersports and Kitty Hawk Kites provide top-notch equipment for these activities, ensuring a safe and fun experience. If you’re new to aquatic recreation, there are instructional classes available.
15. Explore historic Manteo
With unique attractions, a historic downtown of cozy cafes and boutique shopping, and community events throughout the year, Manteo is the place to be. The waterfront offers beautiful views of the Roanoke Sound, where you can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk or embark on a scenic boat tour. Lighthouse lovers can’t skip a visit to the tiny Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, a replica of the original 1877 beacon that once guided mariners into the inlet.
16. Go bird watching at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is a natural gem, home to more than 200 species of birds. From bald eagles to swallow-tailed kites to the rare prothonotary warbler, it’s a Garden of Eden for wildlife lovers. Take a tour with a knowledgeable guide for a chance to see another one of the refuge’s most prominent guests — the black bear. The refuge is open for walking, biking, and even kayaking, a unique way to discover North Carolina’s incredible wetland ecosystem.
17. Attend the Outer Banks Seafood Festival
Seafood fans might want to plan a road trip to the Outer Banks in October and check out Nags Head’s annual Seafood Festival. From morning to night, snack on fresh catches and sip some craft beer while live concerts boom in the background. Learn about the intricate fishing process through educational talks and displays of the many boats, including crabs, bowpickers, and shads, required to transport local fish from the ocean to your dinner plate. It’s a delightfully delicious way to spend a day.
18. Take a kiteboarding lesson
Known as the “Kiteboarding Capital of the East Coast,” the Outer Banks’ steady winds, temperate weather, and rolling waves provide an ideal environment to zip along the open sea.
If you have your own gear, pack it into the back of your spacious Greenvans van rental. If you prefer to rent equipment or would like to take some lessons, check out providers like Kite Club Hatteras or Cape Hatteras Kiteboarding, with trainers that help anyone of any age pick the sport up quickly and safely.
19. Visit the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island
Looking for things to do in the Outer Banks with kids? How about a visit to the aquarium? Home to all kinds of marine life, the stars of the show at North Carolina Aquarium are sharks and sea turtles. Watch nurse sharks and sand tiger sharks slither through the water and hear about their daily habits from onsite marine experts. Observe giant sea turtles up close and learn exactly what it takes to rescue and rehabilitate them.
Children will love the interactive exhibits, giving them the chance to touch different textures, such as the smooth skin of a stingray or the rough shell of a sea turtle, and making the experience feel less like school and more like an adventure.
20. Enjoy local cuisine and shopping
If you like good food, you’ll love Outer Banks. The main attraction is fresh local seafood served up in a variety of ways, like oyster stew, she crab soup, and soft shell crab. The area is also known for its flavorful, pork-based BBQ, hearty enough to rival anything you’d get in Texas. For those with a sweet tooth, don’t skip a visit to Duck Donuts, a now-national treat that started right here in Outer Banks and draws lines out the door.
After fueling up, it’s time to shop. Outer Banks is a haven for art enthusiasts and souvenir hunters. There are numerous galleries showcasing the works of regional artisans who create everything from pottery to paintings. The towns along the coast offer a mix of quaint boutiques, surf shops, and souvenir stores, so you won’t go home empty-handed.
Prepping for your Outer Banks road trip
Now that you know there is so much to see on this tiny string of barrier islands, it’s important to know how to arrive at each destination — if you’re going to make the trip to the OBX, you might as well see it all, right? A Greenvans rental van is a safe, convenient, and entertaining way to move your group from town to town, offering you an unforgettable road trip experience with the people you love most. Here’s what you need to do.
What to pack for your OBX road trip
You probably want to know what to pack for your OBX road trip. We suggest being prepared with:
- Beach essentials: swimsuits, towels, chairs, sunscreen, and toys if you’re with kids. Don’t forget a portable speaker and a good book, too.
- Nature essentials: hiking boots, activewear, a hat, water bottle, and bug spray.
- Water essentials: If you’ve got the gear, pack up your surfboard, kiteboard, and even your kayak. Otherwise, bring a sturdy swimsuit (or two!) and sun protection.
- On-the-road essentials: Create a playlist, download an audiobook, pack snacks, a cooler for drinks, a first-aid kit, and pillows for passengers to feel comfy on the ride.
Our vans come equipped with Apple CarPlay & Android Auto, USB ports, Bluetooth, SiriusXM, and a tow hitch in case you need extra space, so you can bring it all!
Planning your route
Planning your route in advance will increase the chances of a smooth, stress-free road trip. Driving straight from Richmond to the Outer Banks takes approximately four hours, but you’ll miss out on some really great destinations along the way. Consider stopping in Colonial Williamsburg or Virginia Beach, and detouring for more scenic routes along the Chesapeake Bay.
When planning your time in the OBX, take a look at the map of the islands before arrival so you understand the lay of the land. Schedule visits to your “must-see places” to avoid peak traffic and large crowds. Wondering if you should rent a passenger van for your road trip?
Enjoy the Outer Banks from your Greenvans rental!
A vacation in the Outer Banks will recharge you like nowhere else. Spend your mornings on the water, your afternoons climbing lighthouses, and your evenings laughing over a fresh seafood feast. Want a casual getaway by the shore? A fancy escape to a high-end golf resort? The OBX quite literally has it all. From bear-watching to kitesurfing, you can indulge in every activity as long as you have the right transportation. Rent a Greenvans van for the space, the comfort, and the security. Get a load of unforgettable memories.