The Outer Banks is a fantastic vacation spot. If you’re planning a trip to the Outer Banks, read the Outer Banks travel tips below before you go.
No matter how many places I’ve visited, the Outer Banks, North Carolina remains one of my favorite places in the world. The coastal landscape, laid-back atmosphere, and variety of activities make it a great vacation getaway.
I encourage everyone to experience the Outer Banks at some point in your life. It’s not just another beach. As I explain below, it’s so, so much more.
Check out my Outer Banks travel tips below to help plan your vacation. See you there!
Consider rental home, camping, and hotel options
When visiting the Outer Banks, most of your accommodation options are going to be rental homes or camping at designated campgrounds.
While there are hotels in some of the towns (especially in more populous towns like Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, and Kill Devil Hills), your hotel options are fairly limited in the Outer Banks.
There are a number of rental homes available in the Outer Banks. This is my favorite accommodation option in the Outer Banks. You’re staying in a home, so you feel like you’re part of the community. You also have the luxury of a kitchen to cook meals, a living room to play games, and the joy of indoor plumbing.
There are also many designated campsites throughout the Outer Banks. When I camped at the Outer Banks, I loved that the campsites had nice showers and community centers with pools and rec rooms. Plus, all the campers were super friendly. If you’re looking to make new friends and enjoy camping, then be sure to consider one of the Outer Banks camping sites!
Decide between populated and rural
Certain portions of the Outer Banks are much more populated than others.
Places like Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, and Kill Devil Hills are more populous (although still relatively small towns). If you’d like more “city-like” options like hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, etc., then these are the areas you’ll want to stay.
The rest of the Outer Banks is less populated. If you’d like to get away from the crowds and don’t mind driving a little bit to get to the nearest grocery store or restaurant, then head to these areas.
Choose sound front or ocean front
The Outer Banks is a narrow string of islands not far off the North Carolina coast. This creates the unique situation of having both a sound front to the islands and an ocean front to the islands.
If you’d like to have a view of the water from your accommodations, you’ll want to consider whether you’d like a sound front view or an ocean front view.
The sound front will provide calmer water and spectacular sunsets. The ocean front will provide waves and amazing sunrises. (Or so I’m told – you won’t be seeing me up in time for the sunrise!)
Know that the Outer Banks are looooong
When deciding where to stay on the Outer Banks, keep in mind that the Outer Banks are about 200 miles long.
Depending on which direction you’re coming from, you may add several more hours to your drive if you pick a location that’s at the opposite end of the Outer Banks.
Before booking your accommodations, I recommend mapping out how long it will take you to get there. That may lead you to consider other accommodations that are closer.
Plan on having a car
Unless you take advantage of the small airstrips on the Outer Banks, you’ll likely need to drive at least part of the way to the Outer Banks.
Once in the Outer Banks, a car will likely be necessary to go to restaurants and grocery stores. While you can (and should!) bike and walk to places near your accommodations, the Outer Banks is rural enough that not everything will be readily available within a short distance.
Prepare for traffic
If you’re coming from the north, there’s a good chance you’ll run into traffic driving south to the Outer Banks.
On a recent trip, a 6-hour trip became an 8-hour trip after we encountered a few accidents along the route and heavy traffic in the Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head area.
If you can, arrive in the Outer Banks on a day other than Friday or Saturday. If that’s not possible, take advantage of Google Maps or Waze to find alternative routes to the Outer Banks. This website also provides some great alternative routes.
Watch the sunsets (and sunrises)
I mentioned above that you can see spectacular sunsets from the sound side of the Outer Banks. While I have no personal experience with Outer Banks sunrises, I imagine those are pretty amazing, too. (I just will never be a morning person.)
These sunsets are so amazing that they warrant their own item on this list. When you visit the Outer Banks, make sure your schedule allows for time to take in the sunsets. Whether you’re sitting on a porch, eating a luxurious dinner, or participating in a sunset paddleboard, you’ll want to see these sunsets.
Look out for coastal storms
The Outer Banks are a prime target for tropical storms and hurricanes. Just be mindful of the weather in the days leading up to your trip to see if there are any storms projected to hit the Outer Banks.
If a dangerous storm is headed towards the Outer Banks, it’s very possible that people will be encouraged to evacuate the islands. Don’t be caught off guard by this type of situation. Monitor the weather in advance of your trip.
Pack the bug spray
The first time I visited the Outer Banks, I arrived just after sunset. My friend and I stepped out of the car to start setting up our tent for the night.
Within seconds, we were attacked by mosquitoes. It was so bad that we had to get back in the car and spray ourselves with bug spray before venturing outside again.
Bring the bug spray. You’ll need it.
Take it all in
The Outer Banks has so much to offer. Wild horses, historic lighthouses, and coastal sand dunes. Kite surfing, paddleboarding, and surfing. Shipwreck museums, deep-sea fishing, and Wright Brother flight locations.
I hope you use these Outer Banks travel trips to plan your own trip to the Outer Banks soon. I think you’ll love it as much as I do!