Manteo, Home of American History's Mystery

Manteo, Home of American History's Mystery

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse in Manteo

Situated on Roanoke Island, the town of Manteo wraps around the waters of Shallowbag Bay between the Outer Banks and the North Carolina mainland. Signals from the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, part of the North Carolina Maritime Museum, still guide boats to its picturesque harbor.

Long before settlers came to Jamestown and Plymouth, the island became home to the first English-speaking colonists in America. They arrived in the so-called New World in 1587, a group of 117 men, women and children, including a mom-to-be who gave birth to Virginia Dare, the first English child born on American soil. Unfortunately, the governor of the new colony, sailing separately with life-supporting supplies, was delayed by war. When he arrived in 1590, the colonists had vanished, leaving only the word "CROATAN" carved on a nearby tree.

What happened to these "lost" colonists is more than one of history’s biggest mysteries. It’s also a big part of modern-day Manteo. From the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site to the lush English greenery of the Elizabethan Gardens to a waterfront restaurant named for the year 1587, Manteo’s spirit of adventure and exploration lives on.

You can also see remnants of the area’s role in the Civil War. The North Carolina Aquarium Graveyard of The Atlantic exhibit features a one-third scale replica of the ship Monitor, which sunk off the Outer Banks in 1862. The site of the Roanoke Freedman’s Colony has put Roanoke Island on the National Underground Railroad "Network to Freedom" list of historic sites.

Here are some other not-to-be missed experiences in Manteo and on Roanoke Island.

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
In addition to seeing The Lost Colony, the nation’s oldest outdoor symphonic drama, at the Waterside Theater, you can enjoy the nature trail, go to the Visitor Center, and learn more about England’s first home in the New World at interpretive programs.

The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama
With a professional company of more than 100 actors, dancers, singers and technicians, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green’s The Lost Colony recounts the historical events leading to the disappearance of the English colonists who settled on Roanoke Island over 400 years ago. Enjoy performances May 31 through Aug. 23, as well as backstage tours.

Island Farm
Visit a living history site interpreting daily life focused on fishing and farming on Roanoke Island in the mid-1800s.

Roanoke Island Festival Park
Celebrate the first English settlement in America aboard a representational ship, the Elizabeth II, and visit American Indian Town, an exhibit with true-to-scale structures, role-play environments, and places to explore, plant, dance, build and play. Closed January through March 1.

Downtown Manteo
Park and explore the town’s waterfront boardwalk and marina with lots of locally owned shops laden with jewelry, art, and coastal gifts and decor. Events such as First Fridays and the Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival amplify the fun.

Pirate’s Cove Marina
Here’s where you gain access to “The Billfish Capital of the World.” The peak for blue marlin is in June, while white marlin and sailfish are most plentiful in August and September. You can catch yellowfin tuna year-round. Take a day trip, join headboat fishing or sail away on an evening cruise.

Village of Wanchese
Explore the center of Dare County’s commercial fishing industry and site of the Wanchese Seafood Industrial Park on the southernmost end of Roanoke Island.

OBXjetpack Flight Center
Blast off in a jetpak and join the thrill of flight that brought the Wright Brothers to the Outer Banks. The adventure begins with a shuttle boat ride across the harbor, followed by flight training on the Jetlev R200.

Places to eat

  • Ortega’z Southwestern Grill
  • Full Moon Café & Brewery
  • 1587 Restaurant
  • Darrell’s Restaurant
  • Striper Bar & Grill

Places to stay

  • Tranquil House Inn
  • White Doe Inn
  • Roanoke Island Inn
  • Scarborough Inn
  • Pirate’s Cove Vacation Rentals

For more information about Manteo and Roanoke Island, click here.

Malia Kline

Request your Travel Guide

Download or order FREE guides and maps

Discover Project Project 543

Explore unique spots across North Carolina

See all of our videos »

Close X