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The Top 5 Holiday Activities on the Outer Banks in 2019

The Top 5 Holiday Activities on the Outer Banks in 2019

‘Tis the season for spending quality time with family and friends and for seeking out one-of-a-kind holiday festivities—and there’s no better place to experience the most wonderful time of year than the Outer Banks of North Carolina. From wildlife festivals and holiday light displays to Christmas parades and historical celebrations, you’ll find something for everyone to enjoy on the barrier islands this year.

So if you’re looking for some of the best spots to soak up the holiday spirit as 2019 comes to a close, you’re in luck. Here are the top 5 Outer Banks holiday activities you simply can’t miss this holiday season!

1. Winter Lights at the Elizabethan Gardens

alt="Bright Christmas lights and nutcrackers decorate the entry gate during the Winter Lights at the Elizabethan Gardens"
Photo: Resort Realty

Few holiday activities on the Outer Banks are as festive and famous as the Winter Lights at the Elizabethan Gardens. Held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on select evenings from late November to mid-January each year, this must-attend event features spectacular displays of holiday lights upon the trees, bushes, plants and pathways that can be found within the 10-acre gardens situated on Roanoke Island.

In addition to the tens of thousands of lights that you’ll find strung along the hedges, wrapped around tree trunks and decking out the tips of virtually every branch, when you visit the Winter Lights at the Elizabethan Gardens this season you’ll also encounter an open-air fire on the Great Lawn, as well as a wide array of holiday displays ranging from candy canes and gingerbread houses to reindeer and nutcrackers all along the walkways.

Photo: OuterBanks.com

When you’re finished wandering through the enchanting winter wonderland and soaking up the holiday spirit, step inside the gatehouse and reception hall, where you’ll discover an assortment of festive trees that are fully decorated for the season, as well as a gift shop filled with a variety of unique items that will help you get a head start on your holiday shopping this year!

IF YOU GO:

Dates: Nov. 30, 2019 to Jan. 19, 2020 (open Tuesdays through Saturdays in December; open Fridays and Saturdays in January).
Time: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Phone: 252-473-3234
Price: Adults $11, youth (ages 6-17) $9, child (ages 5 and under) $6. Winter Lights season passes are $17 for adults, $14 for youth and $11 for a child.

*NOTE: The Winter Lights will be closed on Dec. 24, Dec. 25, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. 

2. Wings Over Water Wildlife Festival

Photo: WingsOverWater.org

One of the most unique holiday activities on the Outer Banks is the Wings Over Water Wildlife Festival. Originally founded in 1997 by former refuge manager Mike Bryant, Wings Over Water is an annual fundraising event that takes place throughout six different wildlife refuges across eastern North Carolina. Since its inception 22 years ago, the popular event—which is billed as being one of the premier wildlife festivals on the East Coast of the United States—has grown from offering only a handful of activities to providing more than 90 activities that range from birdwatching and paddling to photography and art and history programs.  

Although the main portion of the event is held in October due to the potential for milder fall weather, a second session of festivities that focuses primarily on birdwatching—known as the Wings Over Water Encore—is held in December each year, when colder, late-season weather offers participants the opportunity to spot larger flocks of migratory birds traveling south along the Atlantic Flyway.

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Wings Over Water Wildlife Festival is sponsored by the Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support regional and national wildlife refuges. Funds raised during the 2019 Wings Over Water Wildlife Festival will be used for an important project taking place on Hatteras Island: raising the visitor center at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge by approximately 5 feet. Scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2020, the project is an effort to protect this spot where thousands of nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts gather each year until a brand-new facility can be constructed in a less-threatened location.  

For a full schedule of events and activities for the Wings Over Water Encore session, visit www.wingsoverwater.org.

IF YOU GO:

Dates: Dec. 6, 2019 to Dec. 8, 2019
Phone: 252-216-9464
Price: Varies per program/trip

3. The 116th Annual Celebration of the Wright Brothers’ First Flight

Photo courtesy of OuterBanks.org

To commemorate the 116th anniversary of the day in 1903 on which brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved the world’s first powered flight, the First Flight Society will hold a celebratory event on Dec. 17, 2019. Each year, the First Flight Society honors an individual or group that—like the Wright brothers—has achieved a significant “first” in the field of aviation and then inducts the honoree into the Dr. Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine.

This year, the organization will honor retired United States Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen, a 99-year-old World War II veteran who became known as the “Candy Bomber” thanks to his humanitarian efforts during the Berlin Airlift. Col. Halvorsen will be honored as a representative of the crews that flew their planes throughout the duration of the mission, which took place from June 27, 1948, to May 12, 1949.

alt="United States Air Force Colonel Gail Halvorsen is wearing his USAF uniform"
Retired United States Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen. Photo courtesy of the First Flight Society.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the completion of the famous humanitarian event that profoundly impacted the lives of thousands of people in West Berlin as more than 2.3 million tons of cargo were flown over and dropped into this Soviet-occupied zone in Germany whose roads and waterways had been blockaded by the Russians to prevent any food or supplies from reaching residents of the region, which the Soviet Union sought to take complete control of.   

In addition to an induction of Col. Halvorsen, the 116th Annual Celebration of the Wright Brothers’ First Flight will also feature a flyover and the display of a C-54 and a C-47 aircraft, courtesy of the Berlin Airlift Foundation. For a closer look at the First Flight Society’s upcoming celebration and the inspiring story of the man being honored, click here to check out our blog about Col. Halvorsen and the heartwarming efforts that earned him the nickname of the “Candy Bomber” during the Berlin Airlift 70 years ago.

IF YOU GO:

Dates: Dec. 17, 2019
Time: 8:30 a.m.
Location: Wright Brothers National Memorial, 1000 N. Croatan Highway, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
Phone: 252-441-1903
Price: Park admission fee will be waived for this event.

4. The Manteo Christmas Tree Lighting & Parade

Photo: OuterBanksThisWeek.com

When it comes to holiday activities on the Outer Banks, one tradition you can’t miss this season is the annual Manteo Christmas Tree Lighting. Part of the Town of Manteo’s monthly First Friday events, this year’s Christmas tree lighting will be held at 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. The tree lighting will kick off an evening full of family-friendly activities that will all take place in the heart of this historic town on Roanoke Island.

Join Outer Banks residents and visitors as the town’s spectacular Christmas tree is lit for the first time this holiday season. Then enjoy a cup of hot cocoa as you stroll along the quaint streets of the downtown area visiting local shops and listening to the sounds of holiday music being sung by children of all ages.

Photo: OuterBanksThisWeek.com

Head back to the Manteo waterfront on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, to take part in another popular tradition: the town’s annual Christmas parade, which will begin at 10:30 a.m. In addition to the parade, a wide array of other fun and festive events will be offered throughout the day, including a variety of themed contests and Outer Banks holiday activities designed to provide fun for the entire family!   

IF YOU GO:

Date: Dec. 6, 2019 and Dec. 7, 2019
Time: 6 p.m. on Dec. 6 for the Christmas tree lighting. 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 7 for the Christmas parade
Phone: 252-473-2133
Location: 207 Queen Elizabeth Avenue, Manteo, NC 27954
Price: Free

 5. The Poulos Family’s Outer Banks Christmas House

The Outer Banks Christmas House. Photo: Pinterest.

Nowhere on the entire Outer Banks will you find a more spectacular display of holiday lights at a private residence than the one that the Poulos family has been showcasing all around their property in Kill Devil Hills for the past 38 years. Ann and Jim Poulos purchased their house on Ocean Acres Drive in 1981, and beginning that year the family started a tradition that would soon make visiting their home during the holiday season a can’t-miss experience for everyone on the Outer Banks.

Thanks to the tens of thousands of brightly colored lights that cover virtually every corner of the property—plus the dozens of decorative displays that are set up all around the expansive lawn and even line the rooftop—the Outer Banks Christmas House quickly became famous among vacationers and locals alike. As you approach the property you will be greeted by the sounds of popular Christmas tunes playing on a stereo system, setting the stage for a unique place to get into the spirit of the season.

Photo: Clip.CookDiary.net

The Poulos family begins setting up the first round of decorations each year as early as August, and it typically takes as long as 12 weeks to put the finishing touches on this one-of-a-kind winter wonderland. The family’s intense efforts to transform their property into an experience that ranks as one of the top holiday activities on the Outer Banks has definitely paid off in the past. In fact, their home has been featured on HGTV, and it also earned the title of “Best Decorated House in America” by the Today show back in 2005.

When you’re in the mood to start taking in all of the festive scenes that the barrier islands of North Carolina have to offer this holiday season, make sure the Outer Banks Christmas House is at the top of your list! For more information about the Poulos Family’s Outer Banks Christmas House, click here to check out our featured blog from December 2018.

IF YOU GO:

Dates: Nov. 28, 2019 to Dec. 31, 2019 (nightly) 
Location: 622 Ocean Acres Drive, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948

The Outer Banks Christmas House – Experience the Poulos Family’s Spectacular Holiday Lights Display

alt="The Outer Banks Christmas House in Kill Devil Hills is decorated with thousands of brightly colored holiday lights by the Poulos family"
The Outer Banks Christmas House, 622 Ocean Acres Drive, Kill Devil Hills, NC Photo: Stephanie Banfield

When it comes to Christmas on the Outer Banks, few seasonal attractions are more festive—or more famous—than the Outer Banks Christmas House, a spectacular holiday lights display created each year by the Poulos family of Kill Devil Hills.

THE HISTORY OF THE OUTER BANKS CHRISTMAS HOUSE:

Featuring tens of thousands of lights and dozens of holiday-themed decorations that are sprinkled across the lawn, stationed along the roof and even strung throughout the tall trees dotting the property, the Outer Banks Christmas House has become a must-visit destination during the nearly 40 years since its inception. 

alt="Festive displays cover the yard of the Outer Banks Christmas House owned by the Poulos family in North Carolina"
Photo: Stephanie Banfield

Nestled along the northern edge of Ocean Acres Drive, less than a mile from the bypass, the house is owned by Ann and Jim Poulos, who purchased the property in 1981—and they’ve been lighting it up in a one-of-a-kind way ever since.

Setting up such a huge and intricate display is no easy task, and the couple often begins bringing out the first round of decorations as early as August. After about 12 weeks of stringing lights and setting up the 80-plus Christmas scenes that can be found in various locations throughout property, the Outer Banks’ most popular holiday lights display is typically ready to be lit for the first time each season around Thanksgiving.

alt="The front yard of the Outer Banks Christmas House in Kill Devil Hills is filled with holiday displays and lights the Poulos family decorates with"
Photo: Stephanie Banfield

EXPLORING THE OUTER BANKS CHRISTMAS HOUSE:

Unlike the vast majority of holiday light displays held at private residences, the Outer Banks Christmas House offers visitors a chance to hop out of their vehicles and explore the festivities on foot rather than simply driving by for a few short seconds.

A handful of parking spots are available directly across from the house, and visitors are invited to take a stroll and spend a considerable amount of time walking around the winter wonderland the Poulos family has created. A stereo system that sends the sounds of popular Christmas tunes across the property is sure to put you in the holiday spirit as you tour the amazing display of lights that been featured on HGTV and even earned the title of the Today show’s “Best Decorated House in America” back in 2005.

Whether you’re visiting the Outer Banks for the holidays or you’re a local resident in search of a little bit of holiday cheer, there’s no better spot to feel the Christmas spirit right here on the barrier islands than the Outer Banks Christmas House on Ocean Acres Drive. 

alt="The Poulos family of the Outer Banks have a home and yard covered in thousands of Christmas decorations and Christmas lights"
Photo: Stephanie Banfield

HOW TO GET THERE:

The Outer Banks Christmas House is situated in the heart of Kill Devil Hills at 622 Ocean Acres Drive, making it easily accessible for anyone wishing to stop by and experience the spectacular display.

You can access this must-visit holiday attraction by heading west on Ocean Acres Drive (turning at the stoplight at McDonald’s on the bypass). Follow the road through the neighborhood for about 3/4 of a mile. As you round a small bend, the road will turn to gravel, and you won’t be able to miss the thousands of bright lights and the assortment of festive decorations that lie right in front of you. So hop out of your vehicle and explore the Poulos family’s incredible Christmas display on the Outer Banks of North Carolina!

 

 

Experience a Winter Wonderland at the Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island

If you’re visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina during the Christmas season this year, there’s no better way to get into the holiday spirit and start feeling festive than taking a tour of the Winter Lights display at the Elizabethan Gardens.

Photo: North Beach Sun

From November 25, 2017, through January 20, 2018, the hedges, trees and plants that line the series of pathways that wind through this popular attraction on the northern tip of Roanoke Island are covered with string after string of bright and colorful lights, resulting in a spectacular display that every visitor to the barrier islands of the Outer Banks must experience at least once in their lifetime.  

Photo: Outer Banks This Week

Situated on the shores of the Roanoke Sound within the confines of the historic town of Manteo, the Elizabethan Gardens first opened to the public on August 18, 1960, the 373rd anniversary of the birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America. Since their gates first opened 57 years ago, they have welcome tens of thousands of people vacationing on the Outer Banks each season who year to enjoy more than just the sun, surf and sand during their stay on this slice of island paradise. The gardens—which comprise an area of more than 10 acres—are home to more than 500 different and unique species of plants and flowers that bloom at various times throughout the year, as well as several one-of-a-kind statues, sundials, bird baths, an ancient Italian fountain and so much more.

Photo: OuterBanks.com

Although the Elizabethan Gardens receives the vast majority of its visitors from Memorial Day to Labor Day, when the beaches are busy and tourist season is in full swing, the two months from Thanksgiving to late January each year—when the meandering walkways are decked with holiday décor and loads of spectacular light displays—are a highly anticipated time for locals and vacationers alike.

Photo: OuterBanks.com

From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on select evenings each week, visitors to the Elizabethan Gardens’ Winter Lights display will be greeted by a winter wonderland unlike any they’ve ever witnessed before. The garden pathways that weave through this Outer Banks landmark that has enchanted adults and children alike for more than half a century are illuminated with awe-inspiring lighting that is draped over the hedges and wrapped around the tree trunks, extending out to the tips of their branches. 

Photo: Outer Banks This Week

A fire crackles on the great lawn, marking the perfect spot to warm up with a cup of hot cocoa after touring the gardens and taking in all the scenery during your stroll through along the garden grounds. Holiday décor ranging from child-size gingerbread houses and lighted reindeer displays to colorful candy canes and life-size nutcracker cut-outs can be found along the walkways, providing the perfect opportunity for photos with friends and family, or for simply gazing in awe at the magical world that surrounds you in this stunning scene. 

Photo: Outer Banks This Week

Whether you are a local who has lived here for years, a first-time visitor to the area or you’ve been spending the holiday season vacationing on these beautiful barrier islands for decades, the Winter Lights at the Elizabethan Gardens is one winter tradition on the Outer Banks you won’t want to miss this season! For more information on the Winter Lights display or to purchase tickets, visit ElizabethanGardens.org.

 

 

 

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