Whilst the big-name themeparks may garner all the attention, The Sunshine State, aka Florida offers so many more amazing things to do: check out the vibrant arts scene in Tallahassee, hang out on the gorgeous beaches in Miami, spot crocs in the Everglades, gawp at legendary Cape Canaveral and of course, scream til you’re hoarse on the many almighty rollercoasters in the themepark capital of the world!
Disney World, Orlando – OK first up we have to mention the most famous themepark on earth – Walt Disney World. Whether old or young you simply cannot come to Florida and not check out Disney World - this is one of the most iconic things to do in Florida. Established in 1971, this themepark now received over 17 million visitors annually, this is the third most popular tourist attraction on the planet! The opulent Cinderella Castle forms the centerpiece, with each of the six specially themed lands offering almost unlimited rides, entertainment and characters. Divide your time between the 6 lands of Main Street, Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.
Florida Keys – Just two hours south of Miami are the beautiful beaches and islands of the Florida Keys. Famously temperate all year round, this is the place to come to for a spot of winter sun. The main attractions are the glorious beaches with their never ending stretches of powdery soft sand. There are also some interesting cultural sights such as the exquisite Kona Kai Botanic Gardens on Key Largo; the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum on Key West and breathtaking coral reefs, mangroves and bays of the Biscayne National Park. Don’t miss the delightful Saint Mary Star of the Sea church, the myriad of colourful creatures at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory and try a scuba dive to the famous Vandenberg Wreck.
Miami – The largest metropolitan area in Florida is best known for its intriguing Hispanic culture, glorious beaches and colourful nightlife. It's also been named the second cheapest city in the US. Don’t miss the European-inspired Vizcaya Museum and Gardens which is filled with period furniture and art inside, and ten acres of carefully manicured gardens outside. Catch a Major League Baseball game at Marlins Park, home of the Miami Marlins and wander the über trendy Miami Design District which is dedicated to innovative architecture, fashion and sumptuous dining experiences. Top beaches include the Lummus Park Beach and the Virginia Key Beach Park.
Discovery Cove, Orlando – The tropical oasis of Discover Cove is perfect for all the family, with plenty to do in a day. Experience the cornucopia of colour in the aviary, cool off at the waterfall ad gawp at the sting rays in the pool. Snorkel amongst the myriad of brightly coloured fish, float along the lazy river and enjoy the feeling of sand beneath your toes.
Saint Augustine – North Florida is home to historic St. Augustine, which is the oldest settlement in the USA. This jewel of a city is zinging with romantic ambience and the ancient streets are lined with Spanish style architecture. Cultural St George Street in particular is lined with lovely little boutique-style shops and fascinating art galleries. Don’t miss the intriguing Ximenez-Fatio House and museum, historic Flagler College and the haunted sites across St Augustine, including the fort of Castillo de San Marcos.
Fort Lauderdale – Dubbed the ‘Venice of America’ thanks to the network of canals, the city is known for its superb boating activities and luscious beaches, with 23 miles of beachfront in total. Sail along the Intracoastal Waterway, try people spotting along The Strip, aka Fort Lauderdale Beach and ride the traditional trams of the Fort Lauderdale Sun Trolley. The Greater Fort Lauderdale area is also dubbed the “Wreck Capital” of Florida and offers divers many unique sights to explore amongst the world class reefs.
Miami Beach – Actually a separate region to Miami, this is one of the most popular spots for a spring break party in the US. Miami Beach is trendy and happening, with a packed annual calendar of cultural festivals, entertainment and events. It’s also known for its exquisite Art Deco architecture – in total there are over 800 buildings within the Art Deco Historic District. Don’t miss the spectacular sunsets at South Pointe Park, take a moment at the Holocaust Memorial and people watch on the Miami Beach Boardwalk and you may even spot the odd celeb in South Beach!
Universal Studios, Orlando – Established in 1912 as a movie studio, Universal has evolved into a resort and themepark. There are themed rides and attractions based on its biggest films; Jaws, ET, Jurassic Park and King Kong. The phenomenal success of the movie-themed park has led to three other Universal parks opening in Hollywood, Japan and Singapore.
Naples – The small city of Naples lies along the Gulf of Mexico coast and has a great sports scene. Play a round of golf, go horse-riding on the powdery beaches, try buggy racing on the swamp and catch a trophy fish! There are also plenty of cultural activities; wander the beautiful Naples Botanical Garden, shop til you drop on fifth avenue and spot dolphins and manatees on a boat trip into the Gulf.
Tampa – The diverse city of Tampa is located on the Gulf of Mexico and is home to the famous Busch Gardens themepark. The vast 335 acre site is a nineteenth century animal park and zoo, themed around Africa and set in North Tampa. There are also a wealth of cultural sights, such as the interesting Tampa Museum of Art in the downtown area, the top-notch Lowry Park Zoo with its manatee hospital and Lettuce Lake Park, which always has something going on all year round.
Saint Petersburg – Billed as the more laidback alternative to Tampa, Saint Petersburg has plenty going for it. The Dali Museum has a superb collection of Dali’s surrealist works, hike the serene Weedon Island Preserve and spot endemic birds and wildlife and catch a Major League Baseball match when the local team, the Tampa Bay Rays bring the stadium to life.
Daytona Beach – Again this is another destination that will delights kids, both old and young. Daytona Beach is famous the world over as the home of NASCAR and indeed is dubbed the ‘World Center of Racing’. If catching the legendary Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway isn’t high on your must-do list, then you can while away the hours on the divine beaches – after all, they stretch for 23 glorious miles!
Cape Canaveral – Visitors to Cape Canaveral are here for one thing – the awesome Kennedy Space Center! This is the site of all the manned space launches in the United States and the huge informative visitor center is an absolute must. Wander the museums, watch the space mission movies and wader the rocket garden. Don’t miss the Air Force Space and Missile Museum and also the Air Force Space and Missile History Center.
SeaWorld, Orlando – As the name suggests, SeaWorld is based around a marine themepark. The main draw is the monstrous Kraken rollercoaster – which is the biggest in Orlando!
Ocala National Forest – One of the last remaining forests within Orlando (and the second largest in the US), the Ocala National Forest is known for its vast sand pines. Located in Silver Springs in Florida, visitors can camp, go swimming in Wildcat Lake, Clearwater Lake and enjoy a dip in the natural Juniper Springs and Silver Glen Springs.
Tallahassee – In the very north of the Sunshine State, lies the state capital of Tallahassee. As it’s in the Florida Panhandle region, the weather pattern can vary from the ‘typical’ Florida weather. It’s a university city and the vibe is very laidback, with a strong arts scene. Don’t miss the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge which has great walking and running trails; the interesting Museum of Florida History and the fabulous Tallahassee Antique Car Museum, where the Batmobile is the star of the show.
Everglades National Park – At the very southern tip of Florida, lie the Everglades which span over 1.5 million acres of swampland. The Everglades National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to thirty six different species of endangered animals, including the American crocodile, Florida panther and Atlantic green sea turtle.
Jacksonville - The cosmopolitan of Jacksonville is Florida's largest city and sits within the northern region of the state on the Atlantic coast. Head to the stunning gorgeous downtown region which spans the St. Johns River and offers sublime river walks. Catch the European and American paintings on display at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens and grab a slice of Atlantic Beach all to yourself. Watch the sun set over Neptune Beach and Jacksonville Beach and bag a bargain at the popular flea market within the Riverside Arts Market.
Pensacola – The historic beach city of Pensacola is a diver’s paradise. The city is surrounded by water on three sides and offers superb opportunities for diving the multitude of shipwrecks, chilling out on the vast sweeps of beaches and admiring the breathtaking natural landscapes. Spanish, French, British and American influences can be found in the local festivals, architecture and traditions of Pensacola. Don’t miss the 4,000 artefacts on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum, lose yourself on Santa Rosa Island and admire the past influences with the deeply historic Pensacola Village.
High Springs – The city of High Springs in Alachua County is home to the incredible Devil’s Eye Cave System, which is perfect for an adrenaline fuelled caving adventure. Florida is one of the most established cave diving locations and is also well set up for beginners. The Devils Eye cave system in particular has over 30,000 feet of passages which are mapped out. There are still cast unexplored sections.
And don’t forget to try a fresh glass of OJ – Florida is famous the world over for its production of oranges, hence its nickname ‘Orange County’ - we guarantee you won’t find fresher!