Things to do in Florida

Must-see Florida attractions.

There’s a reason Florida has America’s highest population of sixty-plus year-olds - where better to live out a dream of leisurely pleasure? But it would be a mistake to wait until retirement to plunge into the Sunshine State – there’s plenty of things to do in Florida, no matter what your age.

  1. Scream if you want to go faster
  2. Find yourself in the Florida Keys
  3. Get close to crocs
  4. Hang out in Havana
  5. Get your glamour on
  6. Pilot a space shuttle
  7. Go avant-garde on the Gulf Coast
  8. Get back to nature on a rustic ranch

From world-famous theme parks and Art Deco elegance, to Bahamian-esque beaches and unique National Parks, this sizzling state sure packs a whole lotta punch.

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. Scream if you want to go faster

Or any which way you want to go for that matter. Being the undisputed theme park capital of the world Florida delivers every kind of thrill and spill a person could wish for, with Walt Disney World Resort still topping the league. Where else can you meet Mickey Mouse, meander Cinderella’s Magic Kingdom, get your geek on piloting the Millennium Falcon, and hang out with Captain Jack Sparrow?

Best for: Thrill-seekers of all ages. Why should kids have all the fun?

Top alternative: Legoland, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to theme parks in Florida.

2. Find yourself in the Florida Keys

Love beaches, books and watching birds? How about sailing, snorkelling, hiking and diving? Then the Florida Keys are made for you. But with hundreds of islands to explore, choosing what to do in the Florida Keys sure ain’t easy. Though you could always do nothing at all - the Keys are home to beaches so beautiful you’ll just want to claim a spot and never leave. Free spirits and bibliophiles should make a beeline for Key West. Lying on the archipelago’s most southerly tip, it’s home to a host of Hemmingway hangouts including his former house, now a museum. So pull up a barstool in Sloppy Joe’s (Papa Hemmingway’s favourite bar), order a zesty daiquiri and crack on with that novel you’ve always meant to write.

Best for: beach bums, nature-lovers, aspiring authors - there’s a Key for everyone.

Top alternative: Florida’s west coast islands aren’t half bad either. Try Captiva and Sanibel.

3. Get close to crocs

And alligators, Florida panthers and West Indian manatees. Walking on the wild side at Everglades National Park is one of the best things to do in Florida. With over 1.5 million acres of subtropical wilderness, the park sustains hundreds of plant and animal species, and is the only place on earth where alligators and crocodiles co-exist.

Best for: nature-lovers and adventure-seekers.

Top alternative: Biscayne National Park – a massive maze of mangroves, lagoons and the world’s third longest coral reef within sight of downtown Miami.

4. Hang out in Havana

Well, Little Havana to be exact – a vibrant Miami neighbourhood where tangy Cuban cuisine and adrenaline-kicking coffees are served up to a soundtrack of domino's being slammed on tables and the blast of salsa trumpets. For a history fix, head to the Bay of Pigs Museum to find out everything you need to know about the USA’s failed 1961 invasion of the Bahía de Cochinos. Come nightfall, pick a bar to knock back a rum cocktail that will knock your socks off, before hitting the dance floor and shimmying ‘til sunrise.

Best for: Cuban culture.

Top alternative: aside from the obvious (Havana), head to Ybor City on Florida’s west coast. Known as the world's cigar capital at the turn of the twentieth century, Cuban culture is still alive and kicking here

5. Get your glamour on

South Beach parties, buff bronzed bodies, high class hotels - Miami’s Ocean Drive has a whole lot going for it, but the main allure here is the Art Deco architecture, backdrop for many a movie, and former haunt of Hollywood heyday icons like Clark Gable and Rita Hayworth. While Florida’s balmy climate lends itself well to Art Deco’s stark white exteriors, Miami’s architects of the 1930s and 1940s weren’t slow to develop their own Tropical Deco style inspired by the city’s seaside location. Stroll the stylish streets by day before hitting a hotel cocktail bar by night - for Florida holidays with extra glitz and glamour, Ocean Drive delivers 24/7.

Best for: strutting your stuff and celeb spotting.

Top alternative: Lincoln Road, with its iconic Tropical Art Deco theatre and stylish malls.

6. Pilot a space shuttle

And launch a lunar module, feel the shakes of a shuttle launch, undergo astronaut training and experience life aboard the International Space Station - there’s certainly no shortage of intergalactic things to do at the Kennedy Space Center. Located on Florida’s Space Coast (where else?), there’s plenty of history here alongside the out-of-this-world interactive experiences. Led by bona fide space experts, the Rocket Garden tour takes you up close to seven giant rockets that pioneered America’s space exploration programme, while the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame honours the lives of American space trailblazers.

Best for: everyone who wants to be an astronaut when they grow up.

Top alternative: the American Space Museum in Titusville, Florida.

7. Go avant-garde on the Gulf Coast

Over on Florida’s western Gulf Coast, St Petersburg is home to a world-famous Salvador Dalí Museum that houses over 2400 of his works, including early Impressionistic landscapes and smile-inducing surrealist objets d'art - don’t miss the mischievous master’s famous ‘Aphrodisiac Telephone’ with its lobster handset. But our hands-down highlight here is the arch “Avant-garden”, which presents dozens of Dalí-themed delights in a tranquil waterfront setting.

Best for: art-lovers.

Top alternative: St Petersburg’s funky downtown ARTpool Gallery and Vintage Boutique.

8. Get back to nature on a rustic ranch

Love the great outdoors? Then consider staying at the Myakka River State Park. With cabins and campsites set around its pine forests and wetlands, this former ranch is a rewarding alternative to busy beach hotels. But you don’t have to stay here to enjoy the park’s outdoor offerings, from hiking, horse riding and bird-watching, to kayaking, canoeing and canopy-walking. Then there’s the mysterious Deep Hole. With experts stumped as to why so many alligators hang out at this watery lure, it’s an off-the-beaten-track experience you’ll go on about for years.

Best for: outdoor adventuring.

Top alternative: J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, where you can see flamingos and long-necked anhinga “snake” birds.

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