View of the town of Manteo's waterfront marina at daybreak in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

8 Oldest Founded Towns To Visit In the Outer Banks

The Outer Banks is a chain of barrier islands in North Carolina, each of which boast breathtaking coastlines and a plethora of charming and inviting small towns. Known as the OBX, the area houses a number of unique attractions, including the Wright Brothers National Memorial, Roanoke Island Festival Park, and five historic lighthouses that offer views of the sparkling Atlantic Ocean.

The OBX is also home to a rich and interesting history, having been settled by European powers around the 17th century, acting as a hotbed for piracy in the 18th century, and playing a unique role in the Civil War with the capture of Roanoke Island, which allowed the Union Army to take over many of the surrounding small towns and villages. With so much unique history, these eight oldest-founded towns reveal a glimpse into the past, while still boasting their own beauty and attractions.

Kitty Hawk (early 18th century)

Aerial view of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, via Ant DM /
Aerial view of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, via Ant DM /

Kitty Hawk is one of the best OBX towns for a summer vacation, founded sometime in the 18th century as "Chickahawk". The public beach is a great spot to have fun in the sun, spending hours swimming, sunbathing, or building sand castles with the kids. Wander through the trails of Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve, where you might spot wildlife such as otters and turtles. The Sandy Run Park is a great place to enjoy a picnic or explore the boardwalk's shops and restaurants, while Kitty Hawk Pier to the north offers fantastic views of the Atlantic Ocean as well as plenty of fishing opportunities. Visitors also enjoy the Kitty Hawk Pier House, which boasts scenic views and makes a great venue for weddings, celebrations, and other events.

Rodanthe (mid to late 1700s)

Aerial View of Beach Homes in Rodanthe, North Carolina
Aerial view of beach homes in Rodanthe, North Carolina

Founded in the mid to late 1700s, Rodanthe is a charming and friendly town situated in the northernmost point of Hatteras Island, considered one of the "Tri-Villages" alongside Waves and Salvo. Surfers and beach-loving vacationers flock to the town for its scenic beaches and sandy shores, though the town manages to maintain a quiet and cozy atmosphere, perfect for a relaxing escape. Rodanthe boasts a gorgeous and exciting main street, with plenty of locally owned shops and restaurants scattered throughout. Enjoy a stay in one of the coastal cottages, grab a surfboard, and head out for a day of fun on the water. A visit to Rodanthe feels straight out of a romance novel, especially since it was the scene of Nichols Sparks' novel and film, "Nights in Rodanthe." 

Ocracoke (1715)

Ocracoke Lighthouse in Ocracoke , North Carolina at sunset
Ocracoke Lighthouse in Ocracoke , North Carolina at sunset

Founded in 1715, Ocracoke is one of North Carolina's most charming beach towns, situated on Ocracoke Island and boasting 16 miles of coastline. Though it is not accessible by road, the ferry offers easy access to the island and it is just a short ride back to the mainland, making for a remote and secluded vacation. The 1823 Ocracoke Lighthouse overlooks the village and surrounding area, while the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum, set in a house from the 1900s, offers a glimpse into the town's history. Enjoy a visit to Silver Lake and its harbor, discovering new water sports and activities, as well as the collection of stores and restaurants that line the shore. There are plenty of beachfront vacation rentals throughout the area, perfect for those in search of a trip with a focus on the water.

Hatteras (1846)

Colorful houses in Hatteras, via
Colorful houses in Hatteras, via Hatteras Village, NC | Ferries, Museums & Vacation Rentals (

Situated on its namesake island, Hatteras was founded in 1846 and is a popular spot for fishing and is well known for the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, which documents a maritime history of pirates, Civil War battles, and of course, fishing. The pristine beaches of the area are ideal for a summer vacation, whether visitors choose to bask in the sun, dive into the water, or head out on a boat to enjoy some water sports. Windsurfing, kiteboarding, canoeing, and kayaking are all popular in the area. Hatteras Landing sits right on the shoreline, offering access to the marina, as well as plenty of shops, restaurants, and galleries. Many travelers extend their stay in the area at one of the many resorts or beachfront rental opportunities. Though the island is not accessible via car, the Hatteras-Ocracoke Ferry makes for easy transportation to and from. 

Kill Devil Hills (1952)

Aerial view of Kill Devil Hills looking north
Aerial view of Kill Devil Hills looking north

Founded in 1952, Kill Devil Hills is a charming town in the Outer Banks, but it is also the geographic center. It houses the Wright Brothers National Memorial, offering information on the brothers, as well as an opportunity to visit the site of the first flight. The memorial overlooks the town, sharing scenic views of the surrounding area, and it is also easy to spot from all over, especially at night when the floodlights around the base of the memorial shine. Vacationers enjoy the beachfront access, with plenty to do in and out of the water. Visitors are also spoiled with choices when it comes to finding a place to stay, with options ranging from bed and breakfasts to inns and resorts, as well as rentals right on the shore.

Avon (1883)

Houses in Avon, North Carolina
Houses in Avon, North Carolina

Avon, founded in 1883, sits in the center of Hatteras Island, boasting views of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Visitors also find the unique water tower with "Kinnakeet" written on it, which was once the town's name, an Algonquian word meaning "that which is mixed" in reference to the "mixing" of Indigenous peoples and European settlers of the area. Aside from its interesting landmarks, Avon is most popular for the Avon Fishing Pier, which is the best spot for both sport and casual fishing. Of course, travelers enjoy wandering through the charming shops scattered throughout the town and spending days relaxing on the shore or in the water, indulging in all kinds of water sports and activities.

Buxton (1873)

Aerial View of homes right on the shoreline in Buxton North Carolina
Aerial View of homes right on the shoreline in Buxton, North Carolina

Buxton, founded in 1873, is another small town situated on Hatteras Island and houses the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which is nearly 200 feet tall and protects travelers and ships from the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" or the Diamond Shoals, where many ships have been taken underwater. There are a few campgrounds scattered around the lighthouse, situated near Cape Point, where many choose to take part in a more rustic adventure. Surfing is very popular in the area, as are fishing and beach-going. Visitors also enjoy shell-hunting, horseback riding, and kite flying along the picturesque landscape. There are also a few maritime forests in the area, ideal for hiking trips, nature walks, and escaping the warmth of the sun. 

Manteo (1873)

Downtown Manteo showing a popular bookstore in North Carolina, via Wileydoc /
Downtown Manteo showing a popular bookstore in North Carolina, via Wileydoc /

Founded in 1873, Manteo is one of the most underrated towns in the Outer Banks. Nestled in Roanoke Island, the small town offers a welcoming charm, as well as access to the tranquil Shallowbag Bay. A trip to Manteo promises an exciting fishing experience, beachfront relaxation, and fresh seafood with plenty of restaurants and pubs from which to choose. Plus, the marina waterfront houses the replica Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, which is the fourth recreation of the original, and still a gorgeous addition to the landscape. Roanoke Island Festival Park is just across the bay, home to a number of fun festivals and events throughout the year, and also the Adventure Museum, which documents over 400 years of history in the area.

Enjoy the OBX

The Outer Banks is the ideal vacation destination, housing gorgeous scenery and a rich history that makes for an exhilarating and inviting getaway. Whether you choose to road trip for a day and visit each of the five lighthouses, stay in the charming beach homes of Buxton, or head out on a fishing trip in Kitty Hawk, there is something unique to discover in each town. Plus, there are plenty of museums to learn all about the past, as well as adventures and excursions to indulge in the beauty of the present day.

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