13 Best Things to Do in the Outer Banks in Winter (& Christmas!)

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Are you planning that out-of-season trip and looking for the best things to do in the Outer Banks in winter? If so, read on!

Are you planning your trip to the Outer Banks last minute?

If you’re traveling to the Outer Banks last minute, you want to ensure you have lodging and tours ahead of time! Below are some of our top picks in OBX!

Best Places to Stay in OBX:

  1. Island Motel OBX (Manteo)
  2. Hilton Garden Inn Outer Banks (Kitty Hawk)
  3. Saltaire Cottages (Kitty Hawk)

Best tours in OBX:

  1. Wild Horse Tour in the Outer Banks (stops after NYE for a bit)
  2. Hang Gliding Lesson for Beginners (top-rated but stops Jan-Apr!)

🚗  Looking for the best way to get around OBX? Click here to check rental car rates for North Carolina!

Not many people think to spend winter in the Outer Banks. I mean, the summers are pretty dang perfect there… so why plan a trip in winter?

There are plenty of reasons! While some places shut down seasonally and the beaches are far less enticing when you need to wear a sweater, it is the best time of the year to truly see some of the best Outer Banks attractions and sites!

This guide details a bit about the weather in the Outer Banks in winter as well as some of the top things to do (including things to do during Christmas in the Outer Banks).

Best things to do in the Outer Banks in winter
Best things to do in the Outer Banks in winter

Did we miss anything to do in the OBX in winter? Let us know in the comments!

Outer Banks Winter Facts

Outer Banks Winter Temperatures

The winter season in the Outer Banks lasts from December until March. During this time period, the temperatures tend to range in the mid-50s. 

Wild horse during winter in the Outer Banks
Wild horses in the Outer Banks

Here is a breakdown of the average temperatures per month:

  • Outer Banks in December: high 55°F, low 40°F
  • Outer Banks in January: high 51°F, low 36°F
  • Outer Banks in February: high 54°F, low 37°F
  • Outer Banks in March: high 60°F, low 43°F

Does it Snow in the Outer Banks?

While it is possible to see snow in the Outer Banks, it is pretty rare, so don’t plan on seeing any during your trip. But, sometimes you get lucky!

Snow in the Outer Banks
Snow in the Outer Banks

Usually, winters are on the mild end, with temperatures ranging in the 50s. Much colder weather is a rare phenomenon (but happening more and more these days).

Best Things to Do in the Outer Banks in Winter

1. Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial

Once in the Outer Banks, you should visit The Wright Brothers National Memorial, which honors Wilbur and Orville Wright for the first successfully conducted airplane flight in Kitty Hawk.

Here you’ll get a chance to walk where history was made. You’ll see the spot where Wilbur and Orville first took their flight and the place where they landed.

The reconstructed hangars will let you get an idea of how the brothers lived in the camps during the four years of scientific experiments.

Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial
Wright Brothers National Memorial

You will find the Wright Brothers’ Monument on the top of Kill Devil Hill, where the brothers did their gliding experiments.

To the south, from the hill, you can see the artistic representation of the moment of the first flight.

At the end of your tour, you can stop at the newly renovated National Historic Landmark, where you’ll get info about the park and the brothers through interactive exhibitions.

Address: 1000 N Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948

2. See the WinterLights at the Elizabethan Gardens

The 10-acre botanical wonderland was founded almost 400 years ago in order to entertain Queen Elizabeth I or, as she is sometimes referred to, the Virgin Queen.

Besides beautiful seasonal botanicals, you can also see outstanding sculptures in the garden. However, the Elizabethan Garden is the most enchanting during the holiday season.

The illuminated garden with incredible decorations and the crackling open-air fire will make you feel like you’re in a Christmas wonderland.

The Royal Exchange Gift Shop in the garden will allow you to shop for seasonal plants or Christmas gifts for your loved ones.

The Elizabethan Garden also hosts live events, so if you want to attend one, you can check the schedule beforehand.

The Winter Lights in the Garden are open on select dates from November 17 to December 30, 2023. Adult tickets cost $18, student (6-17) tickets are $14, child (2-5) tickets are $8, kids under 2 are free, and, if you choose to bring your dog, dog tickets are $6. 

Address: 1411 National Park Dr, Manteo, NC 27954

3. Check Out the Christmas Shop and General Store 

Christmas is not Christmas without visiting the famous Christmas shop in the Outer Banks for locals, while it’s a whole new experience Christmas for tourists.

The privately owned business has spread the Christmas spirit already for 50 years.

However, contrary to its name, the shop has different sections for different holidays, such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Easter.

Besides the numerous decoration options, you can find outstanding gifts for your loved ones, personal care items, professional sports items, and even gourmet and specialty foods and candies in the general store section.

The store famous for its Christmas spirit is not just a shop but an experience that will complete your Christmas mood.

Thus, plan for a 1-hour stroll around the 2,300 square meters when deciding to make a visit to the ‘house of Christmas.’

Address: 621 US-64, Manteo, NC 27954

4. Go Back in Time at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site has an essential meaning as it preserves the location of Roanoke Colony, which is the first English settlement in the present-day United States.

At the visitors center, you will find info regarding the Algonquian tribe, famous for beads making, as well as the English settlers and African Americans.

Watching the 17-minute dramatic video in the center will let you discover more about the interactions between the Algonquians and the British.

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
Inside the visitor center at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

On-site, you will have a chance to see the 1896 monument commemorating the first English child’s birth in North America.

You will also explore the archeological evidence regarding earthwork and metallurgical activities in the 14th century.

Afterward, you can walk via Freedom Trail, explore the beautiful forest, and watch a small performance called The Lost Colony in the Waterside Theater, the nation’s first and longest-running outdoor symphonic drama.

There’s no entrance fee for the park and the visitors’ center.

Address: 1401 National Park Dr, Manteo, NC 27954

5. Go Stargazing

Who said that stars are not really visible during the wintertime? The Outer Banks shores covered with the darkest night skies will convince you the opposite.

When the moon does not light up the skies, one can observe the famous Milky Way having an exceptional stargazing experience around the Outer Banks beaches.

On a given clear night, one can also spy on some planets beside thousands of stars.

Stargazing in the OBX
Stargazing in the OBX

Don’t forget to check the tide’s map during your trip to the Outer Banks, so you can also enjoy the magnificent view of the moon rising over the ocean when relaxing on the cool sand of the shore.

Outer Banks’ location is perfect for watching rocket launches if you’re lucky enough and NASA or SpaceX planned a launch during your stay there.

Don’t forget to make a wish when you see a shooting star!

6. Visit the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

Note: The museum is temporarily closed due to construction on new exhibits. Estimated reopening is early 2024.

If you love discovering the history and its secrets, then your visit to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum will become one of your favorites during your tour of the Outer Banks.

The museum with exciting construction opened in 2002 and is located in Hatteras. There’s no entrance fee, and you can wander around the Museum from Monday to Saturday.

There you can marvel at more than a hundred remains of ships that were sunk due to wars, piracy, or weather.

Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum - Cvandyke - Shutterstock.com
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum – Cvandyke – Shutterstock.com

Among the many artifacts, you will also find the famous German Enigma machine from the German submarine U-85 that was sunk during WW2.

In the museum, one can also observe the exhibits of underwater heritage. At the end of your visit, make a stop at Meekins Chandlery to get some nice stuff as a memory.

A ship’s chandler is the retail merchant who supplied boats and their crew before they went to sea, and the Meekins is one of the oldest in the Outer Banks.

Address: 59200 Museum Dr, Hatteras, NC 27943

7. Enjoy the Christmas Parade in Downtown Manteo

Christmas in Manteo is another level of holiday celebration. Starting on the first Saturday of December, you’ll have a chance to attend the annual Manteo Christmas Parade.

During the holiday season, even stores participate in a contest called  “Making Storefronts Bright” and decorate their storefronts with the brightest and loveliest ornaments.

The Christmas Parade starts from the Manteo High School and runs down to the other part of the town. This year’s parade will be held December 2, 2023 at 10:30am.

You will find local school bands performing during the parade, vintage cars, and dancing troupes during the parade.

Santa Claus boat arriving in Manteo for Christmas
Santa Claus boat arriving in Manteo for Christmas

Different parade floats will pass through the streets of Manteo to spread the Christmas spirit in the surroundings, and one of them will become the year’s winner.

The hero of the parade remains Santa Claus, who arrives on a fire truck, bringing joy and smiles to the parade attendees.

8. Check Out the Lighthouses

Every city near the ocean shore has a lighthouse. Outer Banks is not an exception, and it stands out with a number of exciting lighthouses that have guided travelers and mariners for more than 200 years.

During your stay at the Outer Banks, you can visit the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which is 208 feet tall and considered the tallest in the Outer Banks and perhaps the tallest brick lighthouse in the world.

Another beacon worth visiting is the Bodie Island Lighthouse.

Lighthouses in the Outer Banks are a must visit!
Lighthouses in the Outer Banks are a must-visit!

Here you have a chance to climb up to the top and marvel at the view of the gorgeous natural surroundings of Bodie Island, the Atlantic Ocean, and Pamlico Sound.

You can also visit the Ocracoke Island Lighthouse, which is distinctive in the Outer Banks for being the smallest and oldest lighthouse that still operates in the state.

9. Take Hang Gliding Lessons

Enjoy an incredible hang gliding experience during your stay in the Outer Banks, where you will have a chance to take a flight just a few miles from where the Wright Brothers flew their first aircraft.

The 3-hour-long activity will start with a “Ground School” interactive lesson. The introductory course will take 30 minutes. Afterward, you will get some time for a break and gearing up for the most exciting part of the lesson.

You will receive a helmet and harness and will head to the sand dunes to complete the flights.

Go hang gliding in the OBX!
Go hang gliding in the OBX!

The remaining 2 hours will be dedicated to the training part as every student will receive five opportunities of flying and enjoying freedom in the air.

You’ll return to the Hang Gliding School when everyone is done and wrap up what you’ve learned. The course fee starts at $130 for adult participants.

>> Check here for rates and availability

10. See the Dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Once in the Outer Banks, one does not need to miss the chance to visit the largest sand dune on the East Coast.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is impressive with its living sand dune and is perfect for flying a kite or just enjoying sunsets.

In the park, you can hike up to the top of the dune, which will take 10-15 minutes, or just gather for a picnic in a lovely natural environment.

Jockey's Ridge in winter
Jockey’s Ridge in winter

There are no fees for visiting Jockey’s Ridge State Park. However, fees are charged for specific activities and events available in the park.

You can also find paid kite-flying and hang-gliding lessons taught by professionals in the park, which will make your visit to the park even more unforgettable.

In the end, you can visit the park’s museum and discover the park’s cultural and natural history, including sand dunes, plants, and wildlife.

Address: 300 W Carolista Dr, Nags Head, NC 27959

11. Have a Coffee at Morning View

If you ask for a hint of an authentic coffee house from travelers who have been to the Outer Banks, then Morning View Coffee will be the name the majority of them will tell. It is a locally owned coffee house that is managed by women.

Here you will find a wide variety of coffee beans that will be freshly roasted to guarantee the best coffee experience.

Except for delicious coffee made with beans from Brazil, New Guinea, or Mexico, you can taste loose-leaf tea here or a wide selection of bagels and pastries.

In the shop, you can also check their house specialty drink called “frou frous.”

If you are in a hurry but don’t want to miss your chance to have great coffee, you can order online and pick up your cup later.

After enjoying the warm and welcoming atmosphere at the cafe, you can also purchase your favorite beans and take them home with you.

Address: 2707 S Croatan Hwy, Nags Head, NC 27959

12. Experience the New Year’s Eve Fireworks in Manteo

If you plan to greet the New Year in the Outer Banks, then here are some insights about the magic you can expect there.

The town of Manteo organizes the most enchanting New Year’s Eve event in the city downtown on the waterfront.

This family-styled event hosts a number of food vendors that provide the best food for both adults and kids.

Famous DJs and music bands perform on the stage decorated with lights and ornaments. So, you can sing and dance carelessly, celebrating the last day of the year.

Manteo in winter
Ringing in the New Year in Manteo

Numerous activities will be available for kids and adults, from frying marshmallows near the fire to playing various games.

The magicians around and the neon lights will convey a great mood you would like to record to make your friends jealous on social media.

In the end, colorful fireworks on the shores of Manteo will bring smiles to the attendees and hint about new beginnings.

13. Go Beachcombing in the OBX

If you are fond of beachcombing and seeing shells and stuff the ocean washes up, then the Outer Banks’ shores will be your paradise.

Here are the best shores where you can stroll, breathe the fresh ocean air, and find the most beautiful seashells (just please don’t take them home with you).

Cape Lookout National Shore is one of the best beachcombing sites because of its proximity to the Gulf Stream.

Only accessible by boats, Shackleford Banks is another hot spot for shelling and beachcombing.

Photographing shells in the Outer Banks
Photographing shells in the Outer Banks

While beachcombing on the 9-mile-long shore, you will also see more than 100 wild Banker horses that stroll around the island freely.

On Sand Dollar Island, you will be able to see impressive sand dollar seashells and take photos of them!

However, you have to keep in mind that the island is accessible only during low tides, so before planning your visit, you have to check the timing of the tides.

Did we miss any amazing things to do in the Outer Banks in winter? Let us know your seasonal tips in the comments!

More Outer Banks Travel Guides

Pin this Winter in the Outer Banks Guide

Looking for the best things to do in the Outer Banks in winter? This guide covers the best Christmas activities, cafes, and more for a winter trip to OBX! | Winter in the Outer Banks | OBX winter | Outer Banks in December | Outer banks in January | Outer banks in March | Outer banks in February | Nags Head winter | Kitty Hawk winter | Hatteras winter | Manteo winter | Duck NC winter | Corolla NC winter | Kill Devil Hills winter

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