Edenton in autumn feels like a cozy blanket that’s been handed down through generations. It’s a destination where you can curl up, relax and be heart-warmed in the present while connected to the past. Here, life seems to slow down. There are horse-drawn carriages, lantern-lit houses and a quiet harbor. From historic ghost walks to the fall harvest and the Chowan county fair, you’ll find plenty of small-town charm as you discover what’s new…and old.
Immerse yourself in U.S. colonial history in a place where the community has lovingly preserved buildings, heritage gardens and traditions of good old-fashioned hospitality. Located on Edenton Bay where the Chowan River meets the calm waters of the Albemarle Sound, bald cypress trees hold court at the water’s edge and seem to outnumber people.
“If you’re looking for a picturesque fall getaway, Edenton is the perfect place to experience the change of seasons,” says Chowan County Tourism Director Erienne Mizell. “Our vibrant fall foliage in October and pleasant 70-degree days presents a cozy alternative for those wanting to savor the charm of the season.” A walkable downtown, no shortage of restful wraparound porches, and fresh seafood are among the perfect ingredients for easing into the cooler months.
Here are a few ideas for things to see and do in Edenton. Be sure to check with individual venues for exact dates, availability or ticket information.
Take a Ghost Walk or History Tour. In this 300-year-old-town, some of North Carolina’s oldest homes are the stars. Many buildings survived the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and the peak days of industrial fishing and farming. Curious about what lurks inside these walls? Immerse yourself in history with a Ghost Walk or Evening Lantern Tours. For daytime visitors, fall is the perfect time to see blooms like autumn crocus, Arabian jasmine and cornflower thriving with a self-guided tour of the 1758 Cupola House gardens, a national historic landmark that was restored in 2022.
Enjoy Fall Colors From the Water. New in 2023, the highly anticipated Harbor Towns Cruises, based in Edenton, offers passenger rides among five Inner Banks towns, plus Manteo. “The surrounding waters have always been a defining characteristic of life in Edenton, so the initiative of Harbor Towns Cruises feels like a natural extension of our community spirit,” says Mizell. The outfit joins other guided boat trips on the Albemarle Sound, including the popular electric Edenton Bay Cruises, Albemarle Fishing Charters, and guided paddle excursions with Native Girl Kayaking.
Discover Picture-Perfect Picnics and Parks. Edenton is wonderful for lounging, picnicking, strolling, bicycle riding, birding and exploring trails like Cannon’s Ferry Heritage River Walk or Bennett’s Millpond boardwalk. You’re almost always in sight of the water, whether you’re grabbing a rocking chair on the porch of the Penelope Barker House Welcome Center for morning coffee, spreading out a blanket and snacks on the Courthouse green, stopping to admire the fall color that lines the bay from Queen Anne’s Park, or checking out the docks.
Mingle with Locals at a Fall Event. Shrimp By The Bay is an annual October fundraiser on the scenic courthouse green, a seafood buffet that is “a quintessential coastal celebration,” says Mizell, who also recommends the annual Chowan County Regional Fair in late September. Once a month, the Sunday Street Party Series transforms King Street into an all-ages block party with food trucks and live music. History lovers, visit on Oct. 25 for the Edenton Tea Party to mark the day on 1774 when 50 bold Edenton women protested British taxation.
Make the Most of a Rainy Day. Visit the Edenton Cotton Mill Museum of History at the complex that processed cotton from 1898 to 1995, now luxury condos. Take a cooking class with A Still Life/Cotton Gin Culinary, a collaborative interiors and kitchen space in downtown. Attend an arts workshop at the Chowan Arts Council, which expanded to a larger, 3,000 square-foot space in 2019. Or see some wildlife: kids love the small aquarium at the Edenton National Fish Hatchery.
Bring Your Golf Clubs. Three Edenton-area golf courses have stunning views of the Albemarle Sound. Links at Mulberry Hill is nearest to town; Occano is an acclaimed Arnold Palmer-designed course; The Sound Gold Links Course at Albemarle Plantation is part of a thriving retirement community.
Shop Local for the Holidays. With three dozen mom-and-pop shops lining three blocks, Edenton radiates small town vibes. Gregarious Goose has artistic gifts and crafts. Adventure gear outpost Surf, Wind and Fire opened in 2021, and in addition to selling tents and t-shirts, they offer beer, coffee and homemade sodas from a small in-store bar.
Discover These Eats and Sweets. Fuel up with a pumpkin-flavored latte, a pimento cheese breakfast sandwich or an apple fritter from Edenton Coffee House. Find Southern breakfast treats like buttermilk pan biscuits at family-owned Corner Baking Co., opened in January 2023. Edenton is also home to a number of expert chefs who serve a steady supply of fresh local seafood. At The Herringbone on the Waterfront, located in an 1800s icehouse, look for fresh fall produce on the menu along with seasonal catches like tuna and snapper, and don’t miss weekend brunch for brioche French toast or chicken and waffles. Edenton also boasts barbecue, and plenty of it, at Old Colony Smokehouse, offering counter service with outdoor picnic tables.
Make the Most of Waterfront Sunsets: Head over to Edenton Bay Oyster Bar on the marina to take in a multicolored Albemarle sunset over a plate of that day’s oyster harvest and a refreshing glass of wine. Or, cap an afternoon with a casual park hang near the lighthouse, where beer, wine, coffee and ice cream are served from a retired Edenton trolley that was restored and opened by The Herringbone’s owners in summer 2022. If it’s dancing you’re after, Friday nights at David’s New Red Barn on the Chowan River feature live country and bluegrass. At Edenton Bay Trading Company, tourists and locals gather on the rear patio to dance to classic records on “Sangria Saturdays.”
Pick a Perfect Place to Stay: Wake up to the soft garden sounds of an Edenton morning and the scents of authentic southern hospitality (fresh-baked bread or southern grits with bacon, anyone?) at Captain’s Quarters and Granville Queen Inn, both renovated in 2022. The Inner Banks Inn is a collection of four buildings including a rehabbed barn on 2.75 acres; a fifth building houses acclaimed farm-to-table southern restaurant The Table. With options as charming as these, you’ll be planning a return over the holidays to see Edenton in its winter splendor before you’ve even left.
Edenton is a fairly easy 1- to 2-hour drive from most places in Coastal Virginia. Consider combining a weekend trip to Edenton with a trip to the Outer Banks. Visit VisitEdenton.com for more information.
This article is part of a series on places to visit in the “Inner Banks.” Look for more day trip ideas for turning your attention inland in future issues.