Virginia Beach vs. Outer Banks

Being so close to each other, you might think Virginia Beach and Outer Banks are the same. However, both entice sunseekers, families, and active vacationers with their unique personalities. With Virginia Beach being the more active vacation choice, Outer Banks calls to laid-back travelers more. But if you’re still on the fence on which is a better fit for your vacation, read on.
Virginia Beach vs. Outer Banks

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The Outer Banks, or OBX for short, has a charm not even Virginia Beach could rival. And that includes its beaches and famous Soundside Boardwalk.

But on the other hand, Virginia Beach is unmatched when it comes to those seeking a place with more action. In other words, it’s safe to say that Virginia Beach’s extravagant day-to-night activities far suit adventurous souls.

What’s the better pick for your beach jaunt? It depends. Are you going for nightlife, activities, and beaches? Or are you after a more meaningful, peaceful vacation with the family?

Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach is one-third beach city, one-third party town, and one-third haven for families. The coastal city aims to charm tourists to its shores not solely for its beach vibes, but for its diverse offerings.

You might’ve heard that Virginia Beach is famous for its boardwalk. A legendary attraction where vacationers can relax, dine, and even bike around for an absolutely tranquil afternoon. However, the city’s boardwalk and relaxing vibes are only one-third of the city’s must-visit reasons.

There’s plenty to keep kids entertained throughout the day. From historical aviation museums to massive aquariums and dolphin kayak tours. For young adults, the city’s upbeat and affordable nightlife satisfies all who crave a party.

Unlike most beach towns, Virginia Beach extends its attractions far beyond sun and sand. But if you’re simply after the beaches, Croatan Beach is the city’s well-kept secret. Be it for swimming activities or a romantic beach picnic, this beach is a favored gem to all.

Need more? There’s North End Beach, perfect to spend a day in solitude. Sandbridge Beach if you’re after a family-oriented beach. And Chic Beach if you’re looking for water activities. Think kayaking, jet skiing, and parasailing. Plus, it’s well-known as one of the safest beaches for small children.

Altogether, why visit Virginia Beach?

Many will say it’s so you can enjoy a peaceful vacation without any hassle. But at the same time, you’ve come to visit if you’re after an adventurous trip. Whether that’s inland, on water, or partying till the wee hours of the morning.

And lastly, as a family vacation, Virginia Beach counts as one of the best places to enjoy with kids.

What Makes Virginia Beach Unique?

Nightlife Extravaganza

Just how extravagant is Virginia Beach’s nightlife? Think of it this way. You have 50+ options to spend your evenings. And it’s not just limited to clubs, strobing lights, and dance floors too.

Sky Bar lures adults looking for an open-air nightspot and chill session. Their VIP igloo lounges are the bar’s highlight for anyone in need of a private get-together. But if you’d rather spend your evenings socializing, Peabody’s Nightclub hits the spot. DJs, happy hour, and special events. What more could you ask for in an entertaining evening, right?

Cocktail lover? Repeal Bourbon & Burgers is a smashing hit when it comes to specialty cocktail concoctions. And burgers. Mouthwatering, worth-drooling-over burgers. Esoteric is a cocktail bar that’s just as excellent when it comes to its cocktail and food selection. In addition, it’s one of the best bars for beer lovers.

Last but not least, Bay Local and Twist Martini and Associates are bars you don’t want to miss. What do these places have that others don’t? Oceanfront vibes paired with great drinks and a killer scenic view.

Still need more options? Head to Hot Tuna if you want to meet locals and enjoy live music. Murphy’s Irish Pub if you want a drink + grub combo. What’s more, the bar hosts trivia nights for a fun evening with friends. Orion’s Roof for an upscale treat of Asian fusion food, rooftop views, and excellent drinks.

This list could keep going, and it goes to show how diverse Virginia Beach’s nightlife is. If you prefer to spend your nights listening to live music, the city is flooded with options too:

  • Catch 31
  • HK on the Bay
  • Taste Unlimited
  • Calypso Bar & Grill
  • Back Bay Brewing Co.
  • Commonwealth Vibez
  • Waterman’s Surfside Grille

An Abundance of Cultural Sites

When you’re not partying or exploring new places, there’s plenty to keep you entertained during the day. You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy Virginia Beach’s cultural sites. Be it a photogenic opportunity, a time with family, or a much-needed break from the crowds, each site is worth visiting.

Starting off from the list of impressive cultural sites is none other than the Old Cape Henry Lighthouse. Its towering stature offers more than simple admiration. For all the finer things in life, Old Cape Henry has a charm you can’t resist. It’s a photogenic site no matter the time of the day but is even more alluring during a sunset.

From there, make your way to another one of the city’s most popular attractions, the Harrison Opera House. Built in 1943 during World War II, this opera house isn’t simply a cultural site. Here, you can enjoy fine champagne and witness a stellar show of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

Only for classical lovers, you say? Far from it. This is a place even kids can enjoy. Speaking of which, the Nightmare Mansion Haunted House is a great attraction for children. Fan of horror? The Nightmare Mansion in Virginia Beach is one of the oldest haunted house attractions on the East Coast.

For art fanatics, the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art is home to an extensive collection. There are over 1,500 artists’ works here, and even a Boardwalk Art Show that happens every October.

One of the top cultural attractions worth visiting is also the Military Aviation Museum. Boasting the biggest collection of World War I and II aircraft, kids will love it here. If you’re looking for a historical tour to do with family, the Lynnhaven House is one of the most popular.

It’s not your average walking tour either. What makes it unique is being able to dress in 18th-century-style clothes. The tour only lasts for about 50 minutes.

Finally, those who love local brews and spirits should swing by The Tarnished Truth Distilling Company. Founded in 2013, the local brewery offers guests a chance to sample some of the best spirits in town. Even 3-year-old straight bourbon whiskey. Tasting hours are from Thursday to Sunday every 2 pm to 6 pm.

A Haven to Relax, Unwind, Let Loose, and Reconnect

Popular slogans say, “if you’ve come to Virginia Beach, you’ve come to relax and have a good time.” This much is true.

Aside from the city’s exciting nightlife and family-friendly activities, there are a lot of places for you to unwind, slow down, and above all, let loose of all your troubles.

A place to get away from all the noise and bustle? The Great Dismal Swamp. About 50 mins away from Virginia Beach, this swamp is home to hundreds of flora and fauna. Not to mention a boat tour perfect for reconnecting with nature.

But if a long trip doesn’t appeal to you, make your way to the Virginia Beach Boardwalk. There’s always something here to entertain visitors. But mostly, you’re getting gorgeous ocean views and tons of restaurant & cozy café options.

Ever wish you could sip coffee watching a sunset in peace? The Virginia Beach Boardwalk is the place for that. In fact, you can even rent a bike and cruise along the area.

For the adventurists that want a break and change of pace, here’s something worth mentioning – the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. If you want to take it all in, do a scenic drive through this attraction. There are several stops along the way too. So if you wanted a day to spend just by yourself or with your romantic partner, this activity ranks as one of the best to do.

Other ways to reconnect with yourself and experience absolute solitude? Go on a kayak nature tour or take any of the walking trails in Mount Trashmore Park.

Where exactly can you do a kayak nature tour? In several places: Blackwater River, Knotts Island, and the Dismal Swamp River, to name a few. If you’re looking for more things to do than just kayak, head to any of these spectacular spots:

  • False Cape State Park
  • Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

In either of these places, you can go kayaking, hiking, wildlife spotting, and even camping. Be sure to check out these trails in Mount Trashmore Park too:

  • Lake Trail
  • Perimeter Trail
  • Mountain Trail

Note these trails are all suitable for all ages and are friendly even for kids. Last but not least, a must-visit is the Norfolk Botanical Garden and Spirit of Norfolk Cruise. These are bucket-list-worthy places for nature lovers and serenity seekers.

27 Miles of Beaches

It’d almost be a crime to visit Virginia Beach and not explore its beaches. Yes, that’s plural for plenty. Because in truth, Virginia Beach is a 27-mile (43.5 km) coastline of several beaches.

And if you’re looking for a go-to spot for a quiet beach experience, Croatan Beach tops the list. Not only is it famous for vacationers seeking seclusion, but it’s also popular among surfers.

After stunning views and a tiny slice of paradise to bask in? There’s no better place than Chic Beach. Also known as Chick’s Beach, this small beach haven is a must for sunseekers.

Those in need of a semi-active beach vacation that includes lounging and hiking will find it at First Landing Beach. While also a great resting spot, First Landing offers 22 miles (35.4 km) of trails perfect for strolling long distances or even biking.

Virginia Beach Oceanfront is perhaps the most iconic of all. More than just a sandy shore, this beach has plenty to offer tourists. From its many restaurants and bustling nightlife to year-round events and various entertainment.

Finally, family-friendly beaches are abundant all over the city. Choose from any of the following:

  • Little Island Park
  • Sandbridge Beach
  • The North End Beach
  • Chesapeake Bay Beach

Outer Banks

Just as beachy as Virginia Beach? Think again. Some say Outer Banks (OBX) is even better. Mainly for its unspoiled beaches, natural beauty, and less touristy vibes.

Outer Banks stays true to its name, being hailed as the “graveyard of the Atlantic.” This is by no means a negative definition, by the way. It’s only to praise the beach destination for its 3,000 shipwrecks worth exploring. Be it scuba diving or snorkeling.

Although popular for its beaches, OBX attracts adventurous souls too. Windsurfing, wildlife watching, and mini-golf are just some of the many adventurous activities in store.

Last but not least, there’s a unique quality that so many fail to mention about this pristine beach destination. And that’s its cornucopia of history. From the mysterious Lost Colony to the last battle fought by the pirate Blackbeard. In addition, OBX is home to several lighthouses and rugged dunes that offer their own charm.

Thinking about the city’s nightlife? You won’t find it to be as vibrant as Virginia Beach. However, there are a few casual spots for a chill night out session.

What Makes the Outer Banks Unique?

Natural Beauty All Around

A visit to the Outer Banks wouldn’t be complete without venturing through its many naturistic paradises. Take Jockey’s Ridge State Park as a prime example.

This 172-hectare (426 acres) state park features the largest natural dune system in the Eastern US. Suited for all ages, Jockey’s Ridge State Park allows tourists to do any of the following activities:

  • Fly kites
  • Have a picnic
  • Watch the sunset
  • Hiking across the dunes
  • Do a hang gliding session

From there, make your way to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a national seashore where panoramic views captivate all that visit. This natural landscape is home to sea turtle nesting grounds and a variety of wildlife refuge trails. Not to mention, you can choose among four different campgrounds to spend the night in.

Truth be told, it’s a bucket-list experience first-time visitors should never miss out on. And the Instagram-worthy views are breathtaking.

Animal lover? You can go horseback riding along the beach or better yet, book an off-road safari tour. The highlight of the tour is getting the chance to see wild mustangs in action. Catching a glimpse of these wild beauties is a unique experience and definitely one worth saving for the books.

Still looking for more natural landscapes to explore? Take your pick. You can kayak along the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. 62,321.6 hectares (154,000 acres) of wetland habitats, featuring all kinds of wildlife. From a diverse array of birds and turtles to alligators and black bears.

Alternatively, there’s also the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. A sanctuary for those who enjoy birdlife watching. Ospreys, falcons, oystercatchers, you name it. Even those who aren’t fond of birdlife watching will enjoy this experience.

All in all, OBX is an oasis of natural beauty encompassing the land. From wildlife spotting and camping adventures to scenic dune explorations, this city is a beloved treat for all.

Unspoiled and Breathtaking Beaches

When it comes to beach destinations, beach quality ranks as one of the top factors. And in the Outer Banks, finding a gorgeous beach is a foregone conclusion.

One of the most attractive beaches you’ll find is Nags Head. Why it’s so popular? Apart from its gorgeous looks, it’s also home to the longest public pier in the entire state. Jennette’s Pier has always been a stop for visitors in OBX. And why so many that return still choose to come back is also for Nags Head’s unbelievable sunsets.

However, Nags Head is no match for Kitty Hawk if you’re looking for a beach adventure. It’s a magnificent beach, yes. But even more than that, Kitty Hawk offers beach lovers and adventurists some of the largest waves. Care to surf? What about skimboarding?

Or if you’re more of an inland adventurous soul, the beach is also home to Kitty Hawk Woods. It’s a 186.6-hectare (461 ac) maritime forest full of walking trails and ideal for wildlife watchers.

Now if you prefer a more family-oriented beach, be sure to visit Kill Devil Hills. In contrast to its name, this beach is best for families traveling with the little ones. The beach itself has a magical allure that persuades families to stay the entire day.

Around the area, you’ll also find a great number of things to do, including Paradise Fun Park. There, you can opt for mini-golfing, go-karting, or even riding bumper cars.

Vacationers bringing an extra furry member along will also love Duck. Being the most pet-friendly beach in the city, what better way to spend a day with your companion than out in the sand? Lastly, Corolla Beach also deserves a mention.

The beach is most popular for its unique attraction: wild horses gliding gracefully along its shores. What’s more, the beach also features several vacation rentals in the area. Plus, you have easy access to maritime forests and calm waters perfect for a soothing kayak adventure.

Duck Town Park and Boardwalk

Also referred to as the Soundside Boardwalk, this one attraction deserves an entire section. In fact, the boardwalk has become so popular that it stays open from dawn till 1 am.

To note, these are actually two separate places: Soundside Boardwalk and Duck Town Park. But because both are situated right next to one another, it’s often mentioned as one big attraction.

At Soundside Boardwalk, picturesque views aren’t enough to justify the beauty you’ll experience here. If you want to discover the essence of OBX’s natural beauty, the boardwalk is the place to go.

And right beside it? Duck Town Park features 4.5 hectares (11 acres) of unspoiled landscapes. There are maritime forests, crushed bluestone walking trails, open green spaces, and willow swamps. Along the willow swamp is also a bluestone trail embraced by red maple trees and huge Carolina willows.

That’s not all.

While Duck Town Park gives tourists access to stunning natural landscapes, it’s not the only attraction. You’ll also find the following around the area:

  • Gazebos
  • Playgrounds
  • Amphitheater
  • Picnic shelters
  • Piers for fishing
  • Public kayaks/canoe launch
  • Oceanfront vacation rentals
  • Dozens of waterfront shops, restaurants, boutiques, cafes, and more

Some of the best restaurants are found in Duck Town Park, by the way. And it’s also an ideal place to find everything all in one place. Whether that’s shopping, entertainment, relaxing, eating, or even finding a place to stay. Don’t forget to grab a map of the entire town too!

A Delight for Family-Friendly Adventures

You’ve probably already seen a glimpse of all the family fun the Outer Banks offers. Duck Town Park, for example, is one place guaranteed to give families all the fun they need on their trip.

And that doesn’t even include Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Or the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Pea Island Wildlife Refuge. Not to mention, OBX’s many family-friendly beach spots.

But as a matter of fact, there’s still even more for families to do around the city. For instance, the North Carolina Aquarium located in Roanoke Island has the largest collection of sharks. You could sit here for hours and never get tired of it.

For something more historical, the Wright Brothers National Memorial is a highly-rated spot. Along with the Island Farm and Roanoke Island Festival Park.

The Wright Brothers National Memorial features the first-ever successful airplane flight in history. The park features an open-air landscape and is also pet-friendly. Kids are free to roam around and explore the park. As for the adults? Aside from the educational experience, you can enjoy the panoramic views this park offers.

Also worth mentioning is Island Farm, a place to learn more about OBX during its early days. The farm is also home to a dairy farm, gardens, smokehouses, and more.

Is Virginia Beach Better Than Outer Banks?

Virginia Beach is better than the Outer Banks in a number of ways. The reverse is also true. For one, Outer Banks is a more family-friendly destination. Mostly in regard to families traveling with younger kids.

Duck Town Park alone is an excellent reason why Outer Banks wins in the family-friendly category. From playgrounds and walkable trails to dozens of entertaining activities, OBX takes the lead.

When it comes to nightlife, Virginia Beach offers more variety and evening fun. Bars, live music, clubs, and even concerts. You’ll find it all in Virginia Beach.

Now, what about the beaches?

It depends on what you’re looking for in a beach vacation. Virginia Beach boasts an expansive coastline of beaches, giving beach lovers a ton of options. But if unspoiled, pristine quality matters to you most, Outer Banks is the better choice.

Plus, you’ll find more beachfront properties in OBX, overall.

At the end of the day, Virginia Beach is better for those looking for more action during their trip. Whether that’s activities during the day, nightlife till dawn, or beach activities in the afternoon.

Outer Banks is better for families and vacationers seeking an unspoiled, peaceful beach vacation. The city does have a fair amount of nightlife too. But it’s nowhere near as upbeat as what you’ll find in Virginia Beach. Think of OBX’s nightlife as relaxing and chill, along with scenic oceanfront vibes.

In terms of touristy concerns, Virginia Beach tends to have more touristy vibes. With its prominent nightlife, you’re bound to see larger crowds here in Spring Break than in Outer Banks. That being said, it also goes to show how you have more things to do in Virginia Beach than in OBX.

Finally, the accommodations you’ll find in both destinations are superior. However, there is one critical difference. And it’s that Outer Banks has more lodging options with direct beach access.


Is Virginia Beach Part of the Outer Banks?

Virginia Beach is not part of the Outer Banks, but both are situated close to each other. According to Google Maps, the distance between the two is 126 miles or 202.8 kilometers.

Is Virginia Beach Connected to Outer Banks?

Virginia Beach is connected to the Outer Banks via the US-158 E route.

Virginia Beach to Outer Banks

The best way to get to Outer Banks from Virginia Beach is via car. Taking a plane might be an alternative option, but it’s also costly. Not to mention, it takes far longer than simply driving from one destination to the other.

Can You Drive From Virginia Beach to the Outer Banks?

You can drive from Virginia Beach to the Outer Banks, which has a total distance of 126 miles (202.8 km). On average, the total travel time from Virginia Beach to Outer Banks takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes. If you make a few stops along the way, it may take about 3 hours and 10 minutes.

Can You Drive on the Beach From Virginia Beach to the Outer Banks?

You cannot drive on the beach from Virginia Beach to Outer Banks. Not only is this prohibited, but it’s also impossible because there’s no proper route via the beach.

Virginia Beach to Outer Banks by Ferry

There are no public ferries you can take from Virginia Beach to Outer Banks. It might be possible to charter a private boat or yacht, however, it’s not a common option for travelers. For the most part, vacationers will most of the time drive from Virginia Beach to Outer Banks.

Virginia Beach to Outer Banks by Boat

There are no boat services offered to travel from Virginia Beach to Outer Banks. Most of the boat services offered in Outer Banks are to access its secluded areas. For example, if you wanted to get to an off-the-map destination like Knotts Island. This includes other islands like Ocracoke Island and Portsmouth Island.

If you own a private boat or manage to charter a private yacht, it might be possible to travel via boat.