Warm days and wild rides may spring to mind when you first think of Florida, but America’s southeasternmost state – aptly nicknamed the Sunshine State – has plenty more to offer beyond palm-fringed beaches and thrilling theme parks. From gator encounters in the Everglades to sweet debates over Key lime pie, read on for our roundup of the top ten things to do in Florida.
- Experience Florida’s coastal charm
- Marvel at Magic Kingdom
- Zip across the Everglades
- Kayak with sea cows
- Witness a live rocket launch
- Float through Rainbow Springs
- Savour the flavours of Little Havana
- Indulge in the iconic Key lime pie
- Explore America's only living coral reef
- Wander through the USA's most historic city
First things first, if you're in Florida, you're probably going to want to hit the beach. And with over 1,200 miles of coastline, there's a sandy stretch for everyone: Miami Beach for the fashion-forward sun-worshippers, Siesta Key for the powdery white sand aficionados, and Daytona Beach for those who like a side of motorsports with their tanning.
A place that needs no introduction is, of course, Walt Disney World. Whether you're five or 55, there's something enchanting about the Magic Kingdom, where fairy tales come to life. You can step into Cinderella's castle; rub shoulders with Mickey, Minnie, and the gang; or jump to lightspeed in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. But don't stop there; Universal Orlando Resort beckons with the wizarding world of Harry Potter, where you can sip butterbeer in Hogsmeade and escape from Dementors. And at Universal Studios Florida, you can step into your favourite films and TV shows, adding a dash of Hollywood magic to your Florida adventure.
No list of things to do in Florida is complete without a gator encounter. Head to the Everglades, the third-largest national park in the United States, where you can take an airboat ride and zig-zag through the sawgrass prairies to get up close and personal with these toothy reptiles, as well as otters, turtles and even panthers. The river flows from Lake Okeechobee and consists of 1.5 million acres of subtropical marshes and swamps, so be prepared for an all-day high-speed adventure.
For a dose of adorable wildlife, head to Crystal River, where you'll find Manatee Springs State Park. While the park may be best known for its 800ft-long boardwalk that stretches into a deep cypress forest and ends along the east bank of the Suwannee River, the real highlight is its friendly inhabitants. Here, you can kayak with manatees, the gentle giants of Florida's waters. These lovable creatures are often referred to as the underwater puppies of Florida, and they're sure to win your heart faster than you can say "sea cow."
Prepare for an out-of-this-world adventure at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, where you can dive into the fascinating world of space exploration, from the early days of cosmic voyages to cutting-edge, modern-day missions. Explore various ‘Mission Zones’ to expand your knowledge and – if you time your visit right – catch the most thrilling spectacle in Florida: a live rocket launch. Feel the ground shake and the excitement soar as you watch these incredible liftoffs from viewing areas just a stone's throw from the launch pads.
Rainbow Springs State Park has quite the colourful history, playing host to everything from a phosphate mine to a mid-century theme park. Today, it’s been transformed into a pristine natural park, featuring enchanting azure-blue heated springs and a crystal-clear river that meanders through the scenic landscape. To make the most of your visit, grab a tube and let the gentle currents carry you along the waterways. At the end of your aquatic adventure, hop on a tram that will whisk you back to the park's entrance.
In the heart of Miami lies Little Havana, a historic neighbourhood that's earned the title of an ‘official national treasure.’ As you wander through the lively streets, you'll be greeted by colour-popping shop fronts, lively salsa bars, skilled cigar rollers, and groups of seasoned locals congregating at Máximo Gómez Park for spirited games of dominoes. But the real magic happens when you dive into the foodie scene. Don't miss the iconic Cuban sandwich and zesty empanadas, all washed down with a freshly shaken mojito.
Got a sweet tooth? Well then, savouring a slice of the legendary Key lime pie should certainly be on your list of things to do in Florida. This iconic Florida Keys treat is made from the indigenous Key lime fruit and there are plenty of tasty variations to try. Head to Kermit's Key West Key Lime Pie Shoppe, where they take this dessert to new heights by dipping it in chocolate or take a seat in Blue Heaven to taste the meringue-topped pie that once won over Hemingway himself. Just be prepared for a sweet debate that's been stirring up controversy for years: are you Team Meringue or Team Whipped Cream?
In Key Largo's John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, you have the chance to discover the magic of America's only living coral reef. This underwater wonderland is a part of the world's third-largest reef system, spanning an impressive 70 square miles of protected marine beauty. Whether you prefer a glass-bottom boat tour, a snorkelling adventure, or a scuba diving expedition, you'll encounter mesmerising coral formations, vibrant fish and graceful sea turtles. Don't forget to pay a visit to the Christ of the Abyss statue too. This nine-foot-tall, submerged statue is guaranteed to add a touch of mystique to your aquatic escapade.
Amid Florida's bustling theme parks, you'll find St. Augustine, a city that takes a more relaxed approach to life. Steeped in history, St. Augustine proudly holds the title of the USA's oldest continuously occupied European settlement. To put it in perspective, it was established by the Spanish a whopping 55 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Wander through its cobblestone streets and you'll encounter a fusion of pirate legends and elegant Spanish colonial architecture. Don't miss the Castillo de San Marcos, a historic gem and the oldest masonry fort in the United States. If you're in the mood for some beachcombing, head to Vilano Beach to search for fossilised shark teeth or take a refreshing dip at Anastasia State Park.