Spotlight on Manteo: Small-Town Vibe, Big-Time Fun in the NC Outer Banks

Spotlight on Manteo

It covers less than two square miles, with a population right around 1,500. Yet Manteo, North Carolina, is one of the liveliest spots in the entire Outer Banks.

No matter when you visit, you’ll find plenty to see – from the famous Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse to the vibrant downtown, busy marina, pristine shoreline, scenic parks, quaint shops, and lush botanical gardens.

Four Centuries of Living History

Named after a 16th-century Croatan Indian who aided the early settlers, Manteo sits on the upper east coast of beautiful Roanoke Island, right near the site of the legendary Lost Colony. For over 400 years, it’s been home to a wide variety of colorful characters – daring explorers, brave Native warriors, hardy seafarers, swashbuckling pirates, stalwart fishermen and shipbuilders.

Today, you can still see vivid reminders of Manteo’s fabled past, along with  modern attractions that showcase its contemporary appeal.

For starters, check out…

“The Lost Colony,” America’s Longest-Running Outdoor Drama

No doubt you’ve heard about the Lost Colony, the early British settlement, founded in 1585, that disappeared within five years leaving hardly a trace behind.

At Manteo’s ocean-view Waterside Theatre, you can relive the drama and mystery of this chapter in Outer Banks history. Each evening at 7:45 sharp, gifted professional actors reenact the Lost Colony’s story on an outdoor stage three times as large as most Broadway theatrical stages.

It’s an extraordinary production, featuring eye-popping pageantry, rich Elizabethan costumery, lively dance and music and more. Arrive early for optimal seating. Then relax in your plush cushioned seat… and enjoy the show that’s been wowing theatergoers since 1937.

First Friday Street Festival

Each first Friday of the month, April through December, Manteo hosts its popular First Friday street festival, featuring two full hours of toe-tapping live outdoor music. Come to Historic Downtown between 6 and 8 p.m., stroll along the picturesque waterfront, and take in the whole dazzling scene… as skilled magicians perform sleight-of-hand, expert artisans showcase their crafts, and trained actors in period costumes portray real historical figures. Shop for unique merchandise – from books and apparel to gifts and collectibles – at charming downtown boutiques. Plus, stop in at one of several waterfront eateries to sample everything from scrumptious seafood to savory ethnic fare.

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

Just east of downtown you’ll find the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, an authentic reconstruction of the square cottage-style lighthouse that once guarded Croatan Sound. Open from spring through fall – usually between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. – it offers a vivid glimpse into Manteo’s maritime heritage.

Inside, you can browse a wide array of fascinating historical exhibits, including a fourth-order Fresnel lens on loan from the US Coast Guard. Outside, you can stroll along the long wooden boardwalk, explore the perimeter decks, relax on a waterfront bench, and enjoy stunning sound-side views. (Be sure to bring your camera – the sunsets are spectacular!)  

Roanoke Island Adventure Museum

Nearby, inside the George Washington Creef Boathouse, you’ll discover the Roanoke Island Adventure Museum featuring:

  • An actual working boat shop, where you can watch as skilled local artisans build historically authentic watercraft
  • Intriguing displays and exhibits, which guide your through 400 years of Outer Banks maritime history
  • A real 19th-century shad boat, built in 1883 and lovingly restored more than a century later
  • Fascinating educational programs – such as kid-pleasing performances by Stumpy the Pirate and fun hands-on workshops where you can hone your own boat-building skills

Elizabethan Gardens

Love flowers? You’re in luck. You’ll find blossoms in bloom all year ’round at Elizabethan Gardens, right next to Waterside Theatre and Fort Raleigh National Historic Park.

Covering 10.5 scenic acres, this public botanical park boasts over 500 different species of plants, including roses, camellias, hydrangeas, herbs, and numerous coastal flowers. Floral displays change seasonally, so there’s always plenty of color. In fact, the Gardens are so gorgeous they’re often used as a wedding venue.

Festive Seasonal Events

Family fun never ends at Manteo. Come for special festivities such as:

  • Dare Day (first Saturday in June), a free annual festival, complete with delicious food and live entertainment
  • Independence Day (July 4), offering games, contests, and tournaments, topped off by a splendid fireworks display
  • The New World Festival of the Arts (mid-August), a two-day outdoor waterfront art show
  • Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament (mid-August), an annual fishing competition that draws boats and teams from all around the world
  • WinterLights at Elizabethan Gardens (December through early January), a holiday wonderland sparkling with festive displays
  • Annual Christmas Parade and Christmas Tree Lighting, always in early December
  • New Year’s Eve Celebration in Historic Downtown, with family-friendly live entertainment, children’s games, and delectable food

Not to mention outdoor concerts, sailing excursions, farmers’ markets, boat shows, an annual regatta, and more. It’s all waiting for you here in Manteo in the NC Outer Banks, along with waterfront playgrounds, child-friendly parks, and even an old-fashioned weather tower that’s still operational today. Head to the OBX and see for yourself!

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