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If You Have 3 Days
Start a tour of the Outer Banks by driving to the Northern Beaches. Get an early start on your first morning in Corolla. While there, visit the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the Whalehead Club. After a late lunch, head south through Kitty Hawk and stop at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devils Hill or at Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head. Spend that night in Manteo so that on day 2 you can visit Roanoke Island's lush Elizabethan Gardens, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, and/or the local branch of the North Carolina Aquarium. That evening, take in a performance of The Lost Colony. Spend the third day along Cape Hatteras National Seashore visiting sights on Hatteras Island and take the ferry to Ocracoke Island for the afternoon to see the Ocracoke Pony Pen and Ocracoke Lighthouse.
If You Have 5 Days
stay on Ocracoke Island and catch an early run of the ferry to Cedar Island, which takes 2½ hours plying Pamlico Sound. From Cedar Island, follow Route 12 south to U.S. 70, which brings you to picturesque Beaufort. After lunch, visit the Beaufort Historic Site, and either explore the historic district and waterfront or head for the North Carolina Maritime Museum. This area easily deserves an additional day, which would allow time for the History Place museum in Morehead City and/or Fort Macon State Park at the east end of Bogue Banks. If you choose to depart, continue west on U.S. 70 to the river town of New Bern. Visit the grand Tryon Palace, stroll through the huge historic district, and stay at one of the many fine downtown B&Bs.
If You Have 7 Days
If you have a full week, extend the five-day itinerary to include the Cape Fear Coast. From New Bern, follow U.S. 17 south to the port city of Wilmington for nights six and seven. The charming and historic riverfront downtown has shops and museums like the Victorian-era Zebulon Latimer House. Drive across a river bridge to the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial, where you can learn what life was like on these immense wartime vessels. The lush, subtropical Wilmington also has arboretums, parks, and gardens. On Day 7 you can take a day trip south from the city to Fort Fisher State Historic Site or the North Carolina Aquarium at Kure Beach, then hop a ferry to the historic neighborhoods and antique shops of Southport.
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