The Outer Banks in North Carolina, also just known as OBX, feels like a world away from the mainland hustle and bustle. In the relaxing setting, you find stunning beaches and proud lighthouses. But where to stay in the Outer Banks for the best experience?
Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills & Nags Head are the best places to stay in the Outer Banks if you want a central location – add to that a fun vibe and a wide array of restaurants, shops and bars.
However, further north and south, you find more secluded areas. Consider Corolla, Hatteras Island or Ocracoke Island if you look for that really quiet escape.
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If you want to get away from it all, it’s easy to like what Corolla offers. Far away from mainland distractions, Corolla is the northernmost option for where to stay in the Outer Banks.
In Corolla, pronounced KA-RAH-LA, you find mile after mile of beautiful and uncrowded beaches to enjoy.
Above all, it’s the peacefulness that makes Corolla such a popular place to stay in the Outer Banks. Up here, it’s easier than ever to unwind.
A good way to enjoy both the quintessential ambience and iconic Outer Banks attractions is to walk the cozy Corolla Park.
Most eye-catching is the park’s red-brick Currituck Beach Lighthouse, proudly extending towards the North Carolina sky – there’s truly something special about the (5) lighthouses in the Outer Banks.
Another highlight in the park is the historic Whalehead mansion, once home to a rich New England couple. Join a mansion tour for an interesting glimpse into the past.
On the northern Corolla beaches, you find the legendary Outer Banks horses. Especially in the Corova Beach area, only accessible by four-wheel drive, these unlikely animals descended from Spanish mustangs roam freely.
Corolla’s soothing environment appears to rub off on the local establishments. Top your day off with some retail therapy, maybe looking for an Outer Banks souvenir, and a meal at a refreshingly down-to-earth restaurant.
Pick Corolla for: Seclusion.
Best hotels in Corolla
- Hampton Inn & Suites Corolla – The beach is the best part of the Outer Banks, and at Corolla’s Hampton Inn, you stay right on it. If you book a room with ocean view, you even can hear the crashing waves from your own balcony.
- The Inn at Corolla Lighthouse – When it comes to location, it’s certainly hard to beat the Inn at Corolla Lighthouse. On the Currituck Sound, it offers both easy access to Corolla Park and some of the best sunsets on the East Coast.
The town Duck is located south of Corolla but north of the center of the Outer Banks. It’s an alternative for where to stay in the Outer Banks that offers a great compromise between tranquility and convenience.
Once famous for its bird hunting scene, Duck was named for the area’s many ducks. Although you still find ducks in the Outer Banks surroundings, most visitors today come for entirely other reasons.
With its long beach and calm ambience, Duck is an excellent North Carolina destination for travelers who need to recharge. In the untroubled setting, Duck is the kind of beach town where visitors often feel at home within days.
An appreciated feature in the heart of Duck is its homey park and boardwalk. There, in the front row for sunsets on the Currituck Sound, the town also offers several tasty eateries and fun shops to browse.
But if you’re after more things to see and do, you have much more action within easy reach.
From Duck, you effortlessly get further south to the busier towns of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head. It’s less than 10 miles (16 km) from Duck to Kitty Hawk, where you always find something going on.
You also easily get from Duck to the northernmost town Corolla. From Duck, it’s 15 miles (24 km) up to the historic Corolla Park.
Pick Duck for: A convenient yet tranquil base.
Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills & Nags Head
Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head are the three adjacent towns that make up the heart of the Outer Banks. This area is the most central option for where to stay in the Outer Banks.
One bridge directly connects Kitty Hawk with the mainland, and further south, two bridges connect Nags Head to the mainland via neighboring Roanoke Island. These are the only mainland connections in the Outer Banks.
Although Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head are different towns, they over time have grown together. Where one of the them ends, the next one begins (and you likely won’t notice any difference).
With a more concentrated area comes a bigger selection of hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. The vibe is relaxed all over the Outer Banks, but these central towns is where you go for some nightlife action.
A favorite attraction in Kill Devil Hills is the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The extensive memorial commemorates the Wright brothers and their historic first flight, which took place in the Outer Banks in 1903.
Another highlight in this central area is Jockey’s Ridge State Park. In Nags Head, the park offers the tallest living dune on the Atlantic coast of the US. Tip: It’s also one of the best sunset spots in the Outer Banks.
Pick Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills & Nags Head for: Centrality.
Best hotels in central Outer Banks
- First Colony Inn Nags Head – Southern hospitality is real. Come to Nags Head’s First Colony Inn and experience it for yourself, with private beach access, delightful common areas (don’t miss the library) and comfy rockers, of course.
- Surf Side Hotel – Sleep like a baby in your spotless room, start the day with a complimentary breakfast and then unfurl the towel on the adjacent dunes — the beachfront Surf Side Hotel knows how to make guest get into vacation mode. If it’s a special occasion, opt for an ocean view room with balcony.
- Marriott KDH – Sure, this is a “boring” big-chain hotel. However, the comfort of the Marriott in Kill Devil Hills is undeniable.
Need space? 50-mile (80 km) Hatteras Island is by a margin the longest island in the Outer Banks and one of the longest islands in the entire continental United States. From north to south, several different towns spread out here: Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and, of course, Hatteras.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore has protected the island from development. So no matter where on Hatteras Island you base yourself, you find an untouched setting to enjoy – perfect for a relaxing vacation.
But pay attention to that the distances between the Hatteras Island towns are significant. From Rodanthe, the northernmost town, it takes roughly an hour to get to Hatteras, the southernmost town.
This means that the northern Hatteras Island towns offer good access to the livelier heart of the Outer Banks, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, while the southern communities are situated further away from the buzz.
Pick Hatteras Island for: Never-ending beaches.
Best hotels on Hatteras Island
- Cape Hatteras Motel – While Cape Hatteras Motel is low key, it offers luxurious ocean views. Prepare for a quintessential Outer Banks experience with Hatteras Islands’ seemingly endless sand dunes right on your doorstep.
Want to be wowed by the sheltered environment that only a non-road-connected island can provide? Then hop onto the Ocracoke Island ferry either from Hatteras Island (northeast), Cedar Island (southwest) or Swan Quarter (mainland).
Ocracoke Island has a population of under 1,000 people, and it really feels like time stands still here. Because of its isolation, the distinctive English Hoi Toider accent has managed to survive and can be heard on Ocracoke Island to this day – will you be able to understand it?
There’s just one town on Ocracoke Island, Ocracoke. Dotted with a few delightful restaurants and hotels, it has just the right size for a relaxing, walkable Outer Banks vacation.
Be sure to check out the 1823 Ocracoke Island Lighthouse, North Carolina’s oldest operating lighthouse and one of America’s oldest. Although the white structure may feel like a mere landscape decoration nowadays, it still fills an important function keeping the treacherous waters of the Outer Banks safe for seafarers.
Any horse lovers out there? Ocracoke Island is the home of an irresistible herd of Ocracoke banker ponies, descendants of Spanish mustangs believed to have been left behind by 16th-century explorers.
Pick Ocracoke Island for: Island isolation.
Best hotels on Ocracoke Island
- The Ocracoke Harbor Inn – The Ocracoke Harbor Inn offers passionately refined rooms and suites overlooking Silver Lake, functioning as Ocracoke’s harbor. From the water views to the friendly ambience, this hotel is a great place to be.
- Pony Island Inn – Just off North Carolina Highway 12, Pony Island Inn takes pride in offering top convenience. Walk to the harbor in under 10 minutes, or hit the highway north for an endless spectacle of pristine beaches (and happy ponies).
Final words about where to stay in the Outer Banks, OBX
The appealing alternatives for where to stay in the Outer Banks are many. Locals call it paradise on earth, and after your visit — you most likely will too.
If you prefer to be in the heart of the region, check in at a hotel in Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills or Nags Head. To find a quieter ambience, bed down either to the north or south.
For day trips, have the extensiveness of the Outer Banks in mind. It takes over two hours to go by car from Corolla in the north to the southern tip of Hatteras Island, where ferries run to Ocracoke Island.
Where to stay in the Outer Banks FAQ
There are several great options for where to stay when visiting the Outer Banks. Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head make up the lively heart of the area. The further north or south you go from there, the more seclusion you find; go for Corolla, Hatteras Island or Ocracoke Island if you really want to get away from it all.
The central area, encompassing Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, is best for liveliness. However, look either north or south — towards Corolla, Duck, Hatteras Island or Ocracoke Island — if you prefer something quieter.
Both Corolla and Duck are popular places to stay in the Outer Banks. Corolla is located further north and with that comes increased seclusion. Duck is, in contrast, situated closer to the area’s busy heart, offering better access to central and southern attractions.
Picture yourself listening to crashing Outer Banks waves, from your very own balcony. To experience just that, check in at Cape Hatteras Motel, offering dramatic ocean views that leave you in awe. As appreciated oceanfront hotels, Nags Head’s Surf Side Hotel and Corolla’s Hampton Inn put you in a tough yet thankful spot to be in.
With spacious rooms and top access to Outer Banks ponies, Ocracoke Island’s Pony Island Inn is one of the best places to stay in the Outer Banks with family. A strong contender, the delightful Marriott in Kill Devil Hills provides large family rooms and splashing swimming pools.
Steeped in history, First Colony Inn (on the National Register of Historic Places) sets an unmatched scene for history-interested couples. Other romantic places to stay in the Outer Banks include the oceanfront Cape Hatteras Motel and Surf Side Hotel, both allowing you to listen to the ocean sounds from your room together.
The wild Outer Banks horses are famed and to see them adds a dimension to a visit. Even though you find the unlikely animals in several places along the coastline, Corolla is an unbeatable option for where to stay in the to see wild horses. On the remote northern Corolla beaches, accessible only by four-wheel drive, the wild horses roam freely.
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