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Travel to Florida, the land of theme parks

The Sunshine State is bordered with beaches, palm trees and eight miles of golden coast from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. While many know Florida for its beaches and theme parks, this flat peninsula is home to more biological diversity than meets the eye. Far from just a 21st century human construction, the state is in large part untamed, marked by a semitropical wilderness to which its alligators, herons, manatees, eagles and dolphins can firmly attest.
  • Florida, United States of America, Florida, United States of America, Florida, United States of America
    © Roberto A Sanchez / Getty Images/ iStockphoto.com
  • Florida, United States of America, Florida, United States of America, Florida, United States of America
    © Marchello74 / 123RF
Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Expert destination United States of America

Although Florida is best known for its blissful beaches, white-knuckle theme parks, shopping and wildlife, the state is much less of a man-made concrete jungle than you would think. The best time to go is between March and May, or mid October to late November, as May to September tends to be characterised by heat of up to 35°C - after all, it's not called the Sunshine State for nothing.

It is no surprise that Orlando is the theme park capital of the world, beckoning 90 million state visitors per year to the lofty heights of its rollercoaster peaks. From Disneyland to Epcot to Universal Studios, scream if you want to go faster!

Technically the capital of the state is Tallahassee, despite Florida's largest city being Jacksonville. The state's most hip and happening city is Miami, where you can rub shoulders with social butterflies and A-list celebrities alike. Its trendy bars and exclusive night clubs invite the glitz and glamour brought by show business, but the city also offers cultural attractions such as the museums in Saint Petersburg or the Everglades National Park in the south of the state.

For more intrepid advernturers, there's a plethora of activities on offer that is not to be missed. From the spectacular wildlife expeditions to kayaking, cycling, fishing and golf, there's many a way to get your outdoors fix.

Florida also boasts America's oldest city adorn with Spanish colonial architecture - St Augustine, as well as a rich native American heritage where you can learn about the Siminole tribe. The state displays its prowess for space exploration with the Kennedy Space Centre, and its ringling circus business, The Greatest Show on Earth, is worth a visit for its name alone.

Florida: the key figures

Surface area : 170304.0 km2

Population : 19057542 inhabitants

Time difference :

Florida is 5 hours behind the British GMT so you may find yourself waking up extremely early in the mornings at the start of your trip, but as jet lag always does, it'll soon pass by.

  • The climate is hot and sunny for most of the year.
  • Florida offers a huge amount of entertainment and leisure activities.
  • Florida has a rich natural heritage.
  • Hurricane season is between August and October.
  • The high season, from November to May, is peak season - to be avoided.

Florida: what to visit?

Landscapes

  • Landscapes of the South , The Florida Keys at sunset, USA , United States of America
    Landscapes of the South
  • Hills of the north , The hilly landscape of northern Florida , United States of America
    Hills of the north
  • Hills of the north , The hilly landscape of northern Florida , United States of America

Coasts

  • Miracle Strip , Miracle Strip between Pensacola and Panama Ci , United States of America
    Miracle Strip
  • Florida's Gold Coast , South Beach, Miami , United States of America
    Florida's Gold Coast
  • The Florida Keys , United States of America
    The Florida Keys
  • The Florida Keys , United States of America

Arts and culture

  • About town in Downtown Miami , Downtown Miami , United States of America
    About town in Downtown Miami
  • Saint-Petersburg museums. , United States of America
    Saint-Petersburg museums.
  • Wynwood, Miami , United States of America
    Wynwood, Miami
  • Art Basel, Miami Beach , United States of America
    Art Basel, Miami Beach
  • Ocean Drive, Miami , United States of America
    Ocean Drive, Miami
  • Wolfsonian Museum, Miami , United States of America
    Wolfsonian Museum, Miami
  • The Sagamore Hotel, Miami
  • The W South Beach Hotel, Miami
  • Four Seasons Downtown Miami
  • Sweat Records, Little Haiti, Miami
  • Espanola Way, Miami , United States of America
    Espanola Way, Miami
  • Lincoln Square, Miami , United States of America
    Lincoln Square, Miami
  • Lincoln Square, Miami , United States of America

Activities and leisure

  • Kennedy Space Center , Orlando, the Vehicle Assembly Building , United States of America
    Kennedy Space Center
  • Universal Studios , Orlando, The Simpsons Ride , United States of America
    Universal Studios
  • Aquatica , SeaWorld , Orlando, Aquatica , United States of America
    Aquatica - SeaWorld
  • Golf , United States of America
    Golf
  • Golf , United States of America

Parks and reserves

  • Biscayne National Park , Pink flamingoes in the Everglades Park , United States of America
    Key Biscayne National Park
  • Big Cypress National Reserve , United States of America
    Big Cypress National Reserve
  • St Marks River State Park , Biscayne National Park , United States of America
    St Marks River State Park
  • Everglades National Park , St. Marks River State Park , United States of America
    Everglades National Park
  • Bill Baggs Cape Florida Natural Park , United States of America
    Bill Baggs Cape Florida Natural Park
  • Bill Baggs Cape Florida Natural Park , United States of America

Walt Disney-World

  • Magic Kingdom , Woody the Sheriff (Toy Story) Magic Kingdom , United States of America
    Magic Kingdom
  • Future World , Orlando, Future World , United States of America
    Future World
  • World Showcase , Orlando, the World Showcase , United States of America
    World Showcase
  • Disney-MGM studios , Orlando, Disney-MGM Studios , United States of America
    Disney-MGM studios
  • The Richard Petty Driving Experience , United States of America
    The Richard Petty Driving Experience
  • The Richard Petty Driving Experience , United States of America

Islands

  • Sanibel and Captiva , United States of America
    Sanibel and Captiva
  • Estero Island , Estero Island beach , United States of America
    Estero Island
  • Bonita Springs , United States of America
    Bonita Springs
  • Pine Island and Cayo Costa , United States of America
    Pine Island and Cayo Costa
  • Pine Island and Cayo Costa , United States of America

Florida: what to buy?

The gift stores at Epcot World showcase are wonderful for knick-knacks and mementos, whilst a pair of sparkly Minnie Mouse ears are an obligatory purchase. Florida's incredible stretches of cream-coloured sand provide ample opportunity for collecting shells - Sanibel is a particular favourite. An astronaut helmet from the Kennedy Space Centre is not to go amiss, and a locally harvested loofah or natural sea sponge makes a great memory of Tampa's historic sponge diving industry. Enjoy all the oranges that you can whilst you are there, and even pack a handful to bring back - from sweet navel oranges to ruby red grapefruits, Florida's citrus industry is unrivalled.

Florida: what to eat?

Prepare for the portion sizes! For Americans, breakfast sets you up for the day. The usual would be orange juice (Florida's finest produce), pancakes (drizzled with maple syrup), eggs, bacon and hash browns, fresh fruits, cereals and milk. 'American' coffee, is often bottomless, but doesn't quite compare to that of the Italians of Colombians.

Take advantage of the sumptuous seafood while in Florida, like crayfish, lobsters, and crab. Fried conch is a local delicacy that is delicious washed down with some iced tea.

For the daring, alligator meat is close in taste to chicken. Order some succulent grilled meat, like the traditional T-Bone steak that comes with a multitude of sauces. For those who want to eat slightly lighter, many restaurants offer a salad buffet, also served with different types of dressings. After all, some of Miami's glitzy crowd like the watch their waistlines a bit!

For dessert, try the Key Lime Pie, a lemon and meringue tart, which is a Florida speciality. If you're feeling adventurous, taste the multitude of cheese cakes and ice creams with unusual flavours.

Enjoy all of the fruits grown under a perfect sun, either by eating it as it is or drinking it in freshly squeezed juices. Florida is a hugely successful producer of juicy grapefruits and oranges.

There's much more than the standard American restaurants on offer, as Florida is a human tapestry, fusing cultures from all over the world. There's a vast selection of Cuban cuisine on offer with pork or chicken grills, served with black beans or cassava root along with gastronomy coming from other parts of Latin America and Europe.

What's more, in the US, it is standard procedure to take home what you didn't finish in the restaurant in a 'doggy bag'. Americans have got the right idea, haven't they?

Florida: what are the cultural particularities?

Always carry your driver's licence and your rental car contract in case you are stopped by police.

When driving, you can turn right at a red light, but come to a full stop first and check there is no traffic coming and no sign that says ?No turn on red?.

You must have your lights on in the rain. On motorways, either move over one lane or slow down for an emergency vehicle stopped on the hard shoulder. On minor roads, you must pull over and stop for an emergency vehicle going in either direction. You cannot overtake a school bus when it is stopped and unloading.

Remember to tip porters and servers at hotels and restaurants. Porters would expect $1/bag, while a 15 per cent tip for dining and taxi drivers is the norm.

Naturally, it is forbidden to smoke in public , official or private areas, such as in public services, airports, offices and waiting rooms. Breaching this law will result in a fine.

Naturism and going topless are forbidden. Suitable clothing, a shirt and shoes are obligatory everywhere, except on the beach, of course. Wearing Bermuda shorts is also fine.

Florida: travel tips

Where to go and what to see The North West

The big attraction here is Florida's ?panhandle' - the narrow strip across the north-western region - is Panama City Beach, an extensive resort destination of hotels, restaurants, attractions and nature parks with abundant wildlife, both on land and at sea. A feast for the eyes!

The North East

Jacksonville is the main city in the northern quarter, a lively and modern development with a stretch of eye-catching riverfront, nightlife, shopping, beaches and the world-renowned golf resort of the Tournament Players Club in Ponte Verde. Golf buffs will enjoy the World Golf Hall of Fame at nearby St Augustine, where the Spanish established their first colony in 1565. The town is also home to the Castillo de San Marcos, one of the state's most iconic monuments and America's oldest fort.

Central

Orlando tends to take centre stage in Florida, both metaphorically and geographically. Almost two-thirds of British visitors arrive here and spend at least a week exploring its theme parks, water parks, dinner shows, nightlife and other attractions, including golf, outlet shopping and some 4,000 restaurants. This is the home of Disney, Universal, SeaWorld and, just to the south in the town of Winter Haven, the fast-developing Legoland Florida. With the motorways I-4 and the Florida Turnpike offering good access to both coasts and the south, it's easy to get to the Kennedy Sapce Centre, which is not to be missed. Some of Florida's most eco-friendly developments can be found in and around Kissimmee, just to the south of Orlando, notably the Forever Florida centre on a ranch to the south, plus the chance to go ballooning, boating, kayaking and bass fishing.

Gulf Coast

West and south from Orlando, visitors have the pick of 210 miles of brilliant sun-bleached beaches, from Greek-tinged Tarpon Springs to the southern tip of Marco Island, on the edge of the Everglades. Immediately west of Tampa are the popular communities of Clearwater and St Pete's Beach, which mark honeypot sites for families, while the seafront towns and resorts tend to become more exclusive and ?grown-up? as you head south through Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice, Port Charlotte, Cape Coral, Captiva, Sanibel and Naples.

South East

Westpalm Beach is a hideaway for the rich and famous, with a mix of condos and hotels dominating the seafront for miles, plus world-class shopping along Worth Avenue, the Flagler Museum and Flager's The Breakers Hotel.West from Fort Lauderdale on motorway I-75 is the home of the Seminole tribe at Big Cypress, where the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is part of their ?living village? of history and culture, along with the Billie Swamp Safari, a fascinating delve into the Everglades.

The Keys

South of Miami on Highway 1, visitors soon reach the chain-link islands known as the Keys, which challenged Flagler's great railroad-building empire. The islands begin in Key Largo, home to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, a scuba-diving Mecca. Islamorada and Marathon are the two other main towns along the Keys trail before you arrive in the USA's southernmost point, Key West, where Hemingway roamed the bars, periodically, from 1928-39, and deep-sea fishing is a quasi-religion. You will truly fall for it - hook, line and sinker.

Florida: Latest hotel reviews
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    The Setai South Beach
    Miami - United States of America
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    The Villa by Barton G
    Miami - United States of America

    The Versace Mansion has been converted into a small and very ...

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    Viceroy Miami
    Miami - United States of America
    Hotel 5 Etoile(s)

    Without doubt one of our favourite hotels, the very stylish Viceroy ...

  • 9.35 /10
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    Hilton Bonnet Creek
    Orlando - United States of America
    Hotel 4 Etoile(s)

    Whether it's to be close to the shopping malls, the theme parks, ...

  • 9.35 /10
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    The Seagate Hotel and Spa
    Delray Beach - United States of America

    The Seagate Hotel and Spa is everything a beachfront property ...

  • 9.2 /10
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    Omphoy Ocean Resort
    Palm Beach - United States of America
    Hotel 4 Etoile(s)

    The first hotel to be built on the Palm Beach shore for almost ...

  • 9.0 /10
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    The W South Beach
    Miami - United States of America
    Hotel 5 Etoile(s)

    Cool, sassy and fun, the W South Beach is without doubt one of ...

  • 8.9 /10
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    The Betsy
    Miami - United States of America
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    Slightly out of place among Ocean Drive's colourful Art-Deco ...

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