The Outer Banks is a string of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, but they can be difficult to get to. The last time I drove from near Raleigh-Durham Airport, it took me 5 hours to reach Kitty Hawk even though GPS said 3.5 hours.
If you’re flying, it can be tricky and will require a bit of planning.
The closest large airport to the Outer Banks is Norfolk International Airport.
Driving time is anywhere from 1 to 3 hours to reach the Outer Banks from Norfolk Airport depending on where you’re going and the time of year. If you’re heading to a town further down the Outer Banks, like Rodanthe or Hatteras, it will take longer.
Your best bet is to rent a car and drive yourself. It’s the most economical and you’ll want the convenience of being able to get around in the Outer Banks.
Closest Major Airports to the Outer Banks
There are 3 airports served by professional carriers within 5 hours of the Outer Banks.
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Norfolk International Airport (ORF)
Norfolk International Airport, situated in Norfolk, Virginia, is a major gateway to the Outer Banks. Located approximately 80 miles northwest of the Outer Banks, the drive takes around 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on traffic. However, in peak season, it can take as long as 3 hours.
This airport offers a range of services, including rental cars and ride-share options, making it a convenient choice for travelers. There are shuttles you can book ahead of time from Norfolk Airport to the Outer Banks. These will be about $300-$350 one-way.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU)
Raleigh-Durham International Airport, positioned in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, is another viable option for those heading to the Outer Banks. Approximately 200 miles southwest of the Outer Banks, the drive takes around 3 to 5 hours. The last time I drove to Kitty Hawk from Raleigh, it took me about 5 hours and that was during the off-season.
Like Norfolk International Airport, RDU provides rental car and ride-share services.
Coastal Carolina Airport (EWN)
Coastal Carolina Airport, located in New Bern, North Carolina, is about 140 miles southwest of the Outer Banks. The drive takes approximately 3 hours. While this airport is smaller than the international hubs, it still offers rental car services and limited ride-share options for added convenience.
The airport is closer to the Ocracoke Ferry terminals and Cape Lookout for anyone visiting those areas.
Regional Airports Servicing the Outer Banks
If you have your own plane, or want to consider booking a charter flight, you can get a lot closer to the Outer Banks. Keep in mind that it may not be faster because you’ll have an additional layover, and the cost may be prohibitive.
Pine Island Airport (NC66)
Pine Island Airport in Corolla, NC is a private airfield, and you’ll need to contact Atlantic Realty of the Outer Banks for permission to use it.
Dare County Regional Airport (MQI)
Located in Manteo, NC, this is the largest regional airport in the Outer Banks. The airport offers rental car services, taxis, and ride-shares which makes it convenient and easy.
First Flight Airstrip (FFA)
First Flight Airstrips is a public airfield inside the Wright Brothers Memorial and is operated by the US National Park Service.
Billy Mitchell Airport (HSE)
Located in Frisco, NC, near the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, one of 12 National Park Sites in North Carolina, the airport is managed by the Us National Park Service. It is open to private and charter flights, but hours are limited to a half hour before sunrise and a half hour after sunset. If you arrive outside those hours, you’ll be re-routed.
Currituck County Regional Airport (ONX)
The airport is in Maple, NC, technically outside the Outer Banks. But, it’s less than 45 minutes from Kitty Hawk which makes it convenient for the area. Rental car services and rideshares are available.
Ocracoke Island Airport (W95)
Located in Ocracoke, NC, this is a small airport and mainly for those flying their own planes.
Charter Flights Available to the Outer Banks
Outer Banks Aviation is the main charter flight company serving the Outer Banks. They offer tours, but also have charters from some of the nearby major airports including Norfolk and RDU.
To give you an idea on pricing, one-way from RDU to Dare County Regional Airport in Manteo is about $1900 one-way. They have a standing charter from Norfolk to Dare County which is $925 one-way.
Getting from the Airport to the Outer Banks
If you’re flying into Norfolk, RDU, or Coastal Carolina airports, you can rent a car, book a shuttle, or request a ride share.
A rental car is your best option in terms of convenience and cost. Shuttles, often less expensive than a taxi or ride share, are around $330 each way from Norfolk airport.
You’ll also find it convenient to have a car in the Outer Banks. It will be easier to enjoy the restaurants, grab groceries, or go shopping.
How long it’s going to take you to drive depends on where you’re going. The Outer Banks is a long strip of barrier islands, and you’ll need to get to and cross a bridge. Kitty Hawk and Nags Head are close to a bridge, so they’ll take less time.
If you’re heading all the way down to Hatteras, get ready for a 5 hour drive on two-lane roads that vary from 35 to 25 mph speed limits. And if you’re heading to Ocracoke, you’ll have to get on a ferry at either Cedar Island, or Hatteras.
Be wary of times you see online. While researching, I noticed a lot of random times from location X to the Outer Banks and, as a North Carolina local, I can tell you they are way off. The last time I drove from near RDU airport, it took me almost 5 hours to reach Kitty Hawk which should have been a 3.5 hour drive.
There’s a lot of road construction going on, especially on I-64 in Virginia. Cars have to merge into a single lane. A good workaround is 460, but regardless, leave yourself time.
Your best bet is to try and visit either during the off-season, or during the week. Sundays are usually not bad, but Fridays and Saturdays will require a lot of patience.
Wrap Up: Closest Airport to the Outer Banks
While you have a lot of options, your best bet is to fly into Norfolk Regional Airport, or book a charter flight to one of the regional airports.
Regardless, you’ll want a rental car. The Outer Banks is not a walkable area and you’ll enjoy the convenience of having a car. Plus, it’s the most economical way to get from the airport to the Outer Banks.
Driving time depends on where you’re going. Kitty Hawk and Nags Head will be your closest cities and with a 1.5 to 3 hour drive from Norfolk airport. Rodanthe and Hatteras will add an additional 2 hours.