Wondering what there is to do on the Outer Banks in December? The Outer Banks has its own unique celebrations and traditions. Plus, many attractions and businesses are still open until after Christmas. Here are 25 of our favorite things for Christmas on the Outer Banks, one for each day of Christmas.
Events with * next to them are available on more than one day. Be sure to check on alternate dates if it’s something you’re interested in. Plan a December visit and take part in these Christmas activities.
*The Poulos House
Also known as the Outer Banks Christmas House, this one of our longest running, and most special, traditions. Jim and Ann Poulos spend 12 weeks decorating their house to be ready by December. It has trains, a toy mountain, life sized Christmas scenes and decorations you might remember from your childhood. As for the lights, they have lights galore. Admission is free, but since it costs over $3,500 in monthly energy bills, please consider making a donation when you visit.
*A Holiday Horse Tour
Ok, so it’s just a regular horse tour. But there’s just something about a chill in the air, the horses’ shaggy winter coats and the possibly of snowflakes that makes this tour feel special. Horses don’t care that it’s December, they’ll be out, frolicking and eating like they always are. You might even get to see a foal or two. You can get 10% off your holiday horse tour with our Explore the Shore Pass.
2nd Annual Beach Food Pantry Holiday Chefs Challenge
Like Iron Chef? You’ll love the Outer Banks version where YOU are the judge. Chefs from 14 restaurants compete to create the best dish from items commonly left at food pantries. You not only get to sample the dishes, you also get to vote for your favorite with culinary coins. They are also serving heavy appetizers and drinks. And don’t miss the auction; there are all kinds of goodie baskets. A good time is guaranteed by all and the money raised helps the food pantry.
Festival of Trees Holiday Bizarre And Silent Auction
This is the first day of The Festival of Trees fundraiser. This day features a bizarre and silent auction. Different items have different times they go on sale. It’s a great way to stock up on some last minute shopping of some rather unusual presents. All proceeded go to Hotline, a domestic abuse shelter.
First Friday and Christmas Tree Lighting
On the first Friday of the month, Manteo has their First Friday celebration. This time of year, it’s combined with the Tree Lighting Ceremony where you can see them light the big Christmas tree in Downtown Manteo. Afterwards, you can pop into some of the shops, find unusual presents and sample some local fare.
The Manteo Christmas Parade
You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you watch our annual Christmas Parade. There are fancy cars, local celebrities and a good, down home Mayberry feel. It’s a reminder of a simpler time that you can share with your family for years to come. Santa even arrives on a firetruck. Santa and firetrucks, what kid wouldnâ??t love that? Even the leashed dogs are welcome. Afterward, you can dine at one of the local restaurants or check out a boutique or gallery.
Duck Christmas Parade
The Duck Christmas Parade is an afternoon of fun and frivolity. It starts with Emmie St. James and her Jazz Gentlemen. There are light snacks and hot drinks. Then, they light the Crab Pot Christmas Tree. The classic small town parade culminates in the the arrival of Santa. Afterwards, kids get one on one time with Santa while you snap a picture.
The Festival of Trees Auction
The Festival of Trees is Hotlines biggest and most fun fund raiser. Each Outer Banks business decorates a tree. The attendees bid on their favorite tree and it’s delivered to their home or office. But the real fun is what’s its decorated with. Each tree has something unique to the business. The Restaurant Association Tree has gift certificates to many restaurants. Festival Park’s tree is usually done in antique reproduction glass ornaments. But it’s more than just an auction, it’s a party with food, drinks, music and the Snow Princess.
These events are scheduled so you can do them all; morning, noon and night.
*Visit the Aquarium
Rated #19 out of the best aquariums in the country by Trip Advisor, the Roanoke Island Aquarium is a must see site. Shark tanks, a touch tank with rays and horseshoe crabs, turtles, otters, and a wide verity of fish await you inside. The Aquarium is also home to STAR Sea Turtle Rescue where you get to meet sea turtles and hear their stories. Kids can also participate in a simulated rescue. Thought the day, different programs ensure you’re your never bored. There are even special add on programs, such as fish crafts and behind the scene tours. You get one aquarium ticket free with our Fun N Sun Pass.
Holiday Red Wolf Howl
Red wolves are the rarest wolves in the world, with their numbers being less than 100 worldwide. Thanks to North Carolina’s aggressive conservation program, this state is the only place in the world that has red wolves. A howling is your chance to see them and howl at them. December’s a great time to unleash your wild side.
*Visit Festival Park
This unique living history experience shows you the history of the Outer Bank featuring the military settlement of 1585 preparing the way for ‘future’ Lost Colony. Costumed Historic Interpreters treat you to what life was like back then. There’s a life size replica composite sailing ship, a Native American village and a military encampment. There’s also an indoor museum talking about the Outer Banks history of piracy, the civil war and the 1920’s duck hunt exhibits where you get to ‘shoot ducks’. You get one Festival Park ticket free with our Fun N Sun Pass.
*Day in Duck
Duck is home to all kinds of cute shops, restaurants, and of course, the Duck Boardwalk. One part nature trail, one part functional footpath, the wooden Duck Boardwalk takes you over the sound where you can see a verity of different animals. It also connects you to all the sound front shops and restaurants. You can pop in and out them at will for a shopping/dining experience like few others.
*Trio Wine and Cheese
Trio is one of the most unusual restaurants and wineries on the Outer Banks. Not only to they boast a great sandwich menu, they have a very unique way to serve the wine. Instead of buying it by the glass or the bottle you purchase a wine card. Then you go around to different stations, swipe your wine card and decide if you want a quart, half or full glass of wine. It’s a great way to try all the wines you’ve never tried before. Gourmet cheeses are also available.
*Holiday Promenade in Rodanthe, Waves And Salvo
Take a short drive to the Southern Outer Banks and check out the Holiday promenade of the Tri-villages. Anyone is welcome to join in. You can participate on foot, bike, skate or more. Flashlights are recommended and they will be serving hot drinks and goodies. A good time is guaranteed.
Tram Tour at Alligator River
Running 9-12, this 3 hour Tram tour will introduces you to the wildlife of the Outer Banks. Some of the animals you have a chance of seeing include bears and cubs, red wolves, alligators, turtles, wild boar, frogs and more. Since this is a nature preserve, animals cannot be seen on command. Admission is free, but reservations are $10. If you’d like to drive your own car, you can come back any time and do that for free.
Islands Farm’s Christmas Past
See how an Outer Banks family lived in the 1800’s with this unique program. Help make candles, decorate the tree and get to know the farm animals. Later, you can warm yourself by the fire and wait for St. Nicolas’s arrival by ox-cart. Ox-cart rides with St. Nicolas are available.
Cape Hatteras Light Winter Climb
Up for a climb? This is your chance to climb the tallest brick lighthouse in the world for free. The view is spectacular, and at twelve stories tall, the climb is truly an accomplishment.
Dare County Candy Drop
A unique opportunity to see Santa. The Berlin Candy Bomber will be flying over Manteo airport, dropping 1,000 candy bars each with their own parachute. All children are welcome to catch a candy bar and enjoy other treats while waiting for Santa. Then, they can tell Santa what they want for Christmas. Adults get to view the inside of a C-54 and discover its role in World War II.
The Great White Fishmas
We’re back in Manteo, this time for the Aquariums annual Great White Fishmas. Enjoy holiday crafts with aquarium elves’, see Santa scuba diving with the sharks, decorate sweets with Mrs. Clause and celebrate Christmas under the sea. It’s also the last chance to see the ‘old aquarium’ before the renovation.
Ladies Night at The Gardens
Mondays are Ladies’ Night at The Elizabethan Gardens. This where you can socialize, shop and sip champagne, all in one fun, adult-themed evening. There are also some surprises. Ladies’ night helps you take the stress out of holiday shopping so you can leave feeling triumphant and rejuvenated.
The Art of Centerpieces
Christmas crafts, and food. What could be better? Have dinner at the Elizabethan Gardens while you create an elegant centerpiece for your Christmas table. While basic supplies are provided by the gardens, you are encouraged to bring whatever you like for your centerpiece.
*Take a Holiday Boat Ride
Though it’s true many dolphin tours will be closed that time of year, not all the boats are dry-docked. The Crystal Dawn is still open for business, as are many others. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could even rent your own boat for the day.
Wright Flight Day
It’s the anniversary of flight; The Write Brothers proved humans could fly on December 17, 1903. There’s always a big to-do on the Outer Banks of First Flight day, particularly at Wright Memorial, so be sure to check it out.
*The Winter Lights
In the summer, the Blooms of the Elizabethan gardens are stunning. In the winter, the gardens are just as stunning, but for a different reason; the Winter Lights. Lights, decorations and events are just part of this month long weekend spectacle. It’s a not to be missed event.
Winter Lights Dinner with Santa
Though the Elizabethan garden’s winter lights run all December, their dinner with Santa only happens once. For a flat price you get admission to the gardens, a great dinner and the opportunity for your little one to meet Santa. It’s an experience not to be missed.
Festivus Road Race 10K/5K , Jingle Jog 1 Mile and Little Elf 1/4 Mile
That’s right, we celebrate Festivus here, sort of. If you’re into running, this is the perfect stop for you. Depending on your fitness level, you can run 1 mile, a Â¼ mile or an entire 10k. It’s a great way to get your running fix.
*Shop Downtown Manteo
Downtown Manteo has more antique stores, boutique stores and galleries within walking distance than any other town on the Outer Banks (with the exception of Duck.) It’s a great way to get you holiday shopping done, grab a treat and enjoy a nice relaxing shopping day away from the hustle and bustles other chain stores.
*See the Sunset Over The Jockey’s Ridge Christmas Tree
Jockey’s Ridge is the highest natural sand dune in the country. All sunsets over it a great, but for Christmas, the park service places a large tree on its highest peak. This sight is sure to fill you with a sense of wonder and delight.
*Take a Family Portrait
Christmas is a time for making memories and that begins with family. A picture is the best souvenir you can take home from this experience. The Outer Banks is home to many talented photographers who can do everything from beach shoots to studio shoots. Next year, you can even use it as your Christmas card.
*Create a Critter
You’ve heard of Build a Bear? The Outer Banks has its own version call Create a Critter. So much more than bears, you can get just about any ‘critter’ stuffed. It’s a great way to give your little one both a great toy and a great memory. And since you’re doing it before Christmas, your special gift won’t get lost in the avalanche of toys a few days from now.
*Eat Out At Your Favorite Place
Many restaurants are closed Christmas Day. But they’re all open Christmas Eve. It’s a great time to enjoy that big dinner with family and friends. With a variety of restaurants to choose from, there’s sure to be something to please everyone. Best of all, there are no dishes after.
It’s time to open the presents, eat a big breakfast (and an even bigger dinner,) and watch the kids play with their presents. Later, everyone can gather around the flat screen TV to watch a holiday themed movie and snuggle around the fireplace sipping hot coco.
It’s time to celebrate, and there’s no better place than on the Outer Banks. And don’t forget to check out our pre-decorated homes so you don’t have to fuss with a tree. What? You say there are two more days at the bottom of this post? You’re right. Though I said 25 days, these two after Christmas events are worth celebrating.
Winter Lights Thank You Santa
It’s the Winter Lights with a twist. They are accepting thank you notes on Santa’s behalf. It’s one of the few ‘official’ drop off points. And donâ??t forget to thank the reindeer too. It’s a great way to keep the celebration going and teach children the art of the ‘thank you’ note.
Don’t take the tree down yet. It’s Old Christmas here on the Outer Banks. Rodanthe is the last village in the country to celebrate Christmas on January 6th (also called the Epiphany or Twelfth Night,) and one of less than 100 places left that celebrate it in the world. So if you’re down that week, stop on by, meet Old Buck, sing old fashioned carols, eat oysters and make memories you can’t find anywhere else.
Good Winter Solstice.
And Happy Holidays to anyone we forgot. We hope to see you soon.