Roanoke Island will forever be known as the site of an ill-fated 16th-century expedition to colonize the New World. Visitors are fascinated by the story and it has maintained its intrigue for over 500 years. Today, the small island that lies between Nags Head and the mainland is a quaint area with multiple attractions that showcase history and will delight the entire family.
Delve into the Mystery of the Lost Colony
The story that has endured for centuries about the lost colonists of Roanoke Island can be explored at the site where the mystery began. In 1587, 115 colonists arrived safely to start a new colony. John White, the Governor of the fledgling colony, departed for England that year in order to procure additional supplies. When he was finally able to return three years later, there was no sign of the original colonists including his wife, daughter and granddaughter—Virginia Dare, who was the first English baby born in the New World. The only clue to their whereabouts were the letters CRO carved into a tree. At Fort Raleigh, step on the same plot of land where the colonists once lived and see the land that was re-formed in modern times to appear the same way it was when it served as an earthen fort in the 16th century. An informative museum explains the history of the site and tells the story of the people who seemingly vanished. Another way to wrap yourself in the history of the region is to visit Roanoke Island Festival Park and see reproductions of life from the late 1500s including the ship the colonists used to traverse the ocean, the Elizabeth II. During the summer, be sure to catch the outdoor drama, The Lost Colony. It has been an ongoing production for 80 years and should not be missed.
Interact With Plants and Animals
While in the area, a visit to the Elizabethan Gardens to walk among the flowers and manicured bushes will reinvigorate the soul. The gardens are located at Fort Raleigh and were established in 1951 to reflect the era of Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth. European royalty often entertained themselves in the lush gardens that adorned palace greens. Visitors to the Outer Banks can do the same at the Elizabethan Gardens, where flowers and plants are in bloom even into the winter months. The camellia garden is particularly beautiful when most other plants lie dormant. During the spring and summer, the garden truly comes alive and is a beautiful spectacle to behold. To furthur your exploration of the natural world, visit Island Farm is a wonderful place to take the family for an afternoon. Here, guests will feel as if they have stepped back in time to experience life as it was in the mid-1800s. Children will delight in seeing chickens roam free, as well as a sheep, cow, ox and two banker ponies.
See Life Under the Sea at the NC Aquarium
The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is a wonderful place for both kids and adults to explore. The aquarium houses numerous land animals and hundreds of aquatic species that can be found in and around the waters of the Albemarle. Peer into the tanks to see fish, sharks, rays, and more swim gracefully in environments that replicate the local waterways. Alligators and otters can be found in the exciting wetlands exhibit, while gentle sea creatures can be pet and held at an interactive exhibit, “Sea Senses.” Not only does the aquarium showcase these remarkable beings, but it also works to preserve local sea life. The S.T.A.R. Center specifically works to save sea turtles and features an exhibit that explores the conservation efforts that are being taken to support these pre-historic reptiles. So not only is the aquarium fascinating and entertaining, but the money raised from admission sales helps support the facility so that countless people can enjoy it. Proceeds also go towards protecting and saving local wildlife that could use a little love and a helping hand.
Scope Out the Towns
Two distinct areas on Roanoke Island offer opportunities to shop at boutique stores, enjoy a fabulous meal and have fun on the waterfront. At the southernmost end of Roanoke Island is the old fishing village of Wanchese, a quaint working community of commercial fishermen. Looking out over the marinas and fish houses, you are bound to get a glimpse of fishing vessels of all kinds and a real taste of this village tucked away on Roanoke Island. You’ll find the rewards of the fishermen’s hard work served in its local restaurants and throughout the Outer Banks. If you’re on the northern part of Roanoke Island, visit the picturesque town of Manteo. Steeped in small-town charm, Manteo is beloved by locals and tourists alike because it offers unique restaurants and shops in a beautiful waterfront setting. Walk throughout the town, stopping to explore interesting businesses before meandering to the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse or the children’s play area. You’ll find many scenic spots that are wonderful backdrops for a keepsake family portrait.