Theme parks and beaches, swamps and alligators, hot clubs and cool hangouts – not for nothing is Florida the vacation capital of the US. With all-year-round sunshine, extraordinary beaches and more attractions than you could shake a stick at, Florida has everything to offer the discerning traveller.
While many visitors head here for the theme parks around Orlando, Florida’s cities have a distinct appeal all their own. There’s art deco Miami, laidback Fort Lauderdale, kooky Key West and tempting Tampa Bay. Like the diverse and eye-opening landscape of this extraordinary state, its cities are equally diverse and all have something special to tempt visitors. Its long history as a travel destination also means you are spoiled for accommodation choice – Florida vacation rentals range from the backpacker-on-a-budget motel room to 5-star luxury villas and apartments overlooking Miami Beach.
A melting pot of Caribbean and Latin immigrants, American retirees, party people and wide-eyed tourists, Miami is the most exciting and dramatic city in the southern United States. Best known for Miami Beach, which is actually separated from the city on its own barrier island, for its architecture, for its cultural scene and for the celebrities who love to hang out in its hottest nightspots, Miami is a feast for the senses.
Mingle with the Cuban immigrants who have made Little Havana their home; go celeb spotting in South Beach and gawp at the beautiful people spilling out of stretch limos; hang out in the Design District where funky boutiques and chilled-out bars vie for space alongside art galleries; stroll along Ocean Drive and marvel at the stunning Art Deco architecture. Or head west out of the city for a trip to the Everglades, that unique Florida ecosystem that’s home to ‘gators and amazingly lush vegetation.
Float into Fort Lauderdale
Once the party destination of choice for US college students, today Fort Lauderdale has reinvented itself as one of the most sophisticated and stylish travel spots in Florida. Its marinas and waterways are packed with yachts and boats of every shape and size, its long sandy beaches a delight for any sun worshipper. Take a boat ride around the city while your guide points out the multi-million dollar homes of the rich and famous lining the waterfront.
Away from the water, Fort Lauderdale has a buzzing, vibrant arts and cultural scene, excellent shopping, a terrific selection of restaurants and a delightful nightlife.
Keyed up by Key West
The southernmost point of the US, Key West is actually closer to Havana than it is to Miami. And there is an otherworldliness about this unique spot, probably because of its relative isolation, and probably because there’s only one road in and out. Key West’s biggest attraction is its fabulous beaches and water sports including superb diving, but the area is also renowned for its arts scene – it’s been attracting the offbeat, bohemian and the kooky for generations and there is evidence of that everywhere. Head for Ernest Hemingway House to see where the acclaimed author found his inspiration over the decade that he lived in Key West.
Take Time Out in Tampa
Located on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Tampa is the main city at the centre of Tampa Bay – a massive conurbation that includes Clearwater, Venice and St Petersburg. Tampa itself is the main business and commercial hub of the region, but its waterfront is a fabulous selection of museums, bars, clubs and restaurants.
The arts are a big part of life in St Petersburg, dubbed the Sunshine City. Its downtown area is simply packed with galleries and museums. Clearwater is a quieter seaside town with a great beach life. Venice, with a canal system that mimics its more famous namesake, is another delightful seaside town – look out for the sharks’ teeth that are regularly washed up on the beach from the ancient burial grounds close to the shore.