Fort Lauderdale is situated on the southeastern coast of Florida and contains over 300 miles of inland waterways, aptly earning it the nickname the Venice of America. The city has year-round sunshine, wide sandy beaches, diverse neighborhoods, a balanced mix of urban and natural attractions, and a blossoming craft beer scene.
Sounds pretty amazing, right?
Well, it really is! And yet Fort Lauderdale is often overshadowed by bigger cities like Miami and Orlando. In fact, many Fort Lauderdale visitors are simply passing through on their way to Port Everglades, one of the largest cruise ports in the world.
But not many travelers stay long enough to experience what Fort Lauderdale has to offer which is a shame because I think the city and surrounding areas provide a balanced mix of attractions. So when Hotels.com asked me to share my thoughts about visiting Fort Lauderdale, I thought I’d provide you with a list of all the unique things there are to see and do!
Photo by Robert Pittman
Where to stay in Fort Lauderdale
From family-friendly inns to luxurious beachfront hotels, you’ll find a diverse collection of Fort Lauderdale accommodations scattered throughout the city.
Downtown has a varied assortment of hotels at mid-range price points, while you’ll find more luxurious options and mega-hotel chains lining the waterfront on Hollywood Beach. For families and those on a budget, you might want to consider looking into a more modest accommodation in the charming nearby village of Lauderdale-By-The-Sea.
The best things to do in Fort Lauderdale
#1. Hop on a water taxi
One of the best ways to get an overall sense yet unique perspective of Fort Lauderdale is to hop on a water taxi for a tour of the many canals and waterways the city is famous for. The on-board crew can recommend places of interest, restaurants, shopping areas, and provide you with some local tips (and point out the luxurious properties of some of the celebrities that call Fort Lauderdale home, if that’s what you’re interested in!).
Photo by Luiz Centenaro
A complete water taxi tour (without disembarking) takes about three hours, but there are many stops along the way that you might want to explore. You can hop off at any taxi stop and simply catch the next one when you’re ready to go! The water taxis run daily from 10 am - 10 pm.
#2. Visit the Everglades
A day trip to the Everglades can easily be (and really should be!) included in a visit to Fort Lauderdale. As one of the largest national parks in the United States, the Everglades are a wholly unique ecosystem that can’t be found anywhere else on Earth.
Photo by Bruce Warrington
The park is comprised of marshy wetlands, forested areas, as well as mangrove swamps, and it contains a diverse collection of wildlife including the American alligator, the West Indian manatee, and the elusive Florida panther. There are also hundreds of different species of birds that can be seen here year-round.
#3. Follow the Ale Trail
One of the most surprising things I discovered about Fort Lauderdale is how many breweries, craft beer bars, and tap houses the city is home to! Only a few years ago, beer culture truly exploded onto the scene, and today visitors can find places ranging from eccentric microbreweries to huge brew houses and everything in between.
If you’ve only got time to check out a couple of spots on Fort Lauderdale’s ale trail, I recommend you stop in for a pint at small-batch brewery LauderAle (located near Port Everglades) where you can sip on their uniquely named brews like the Heisenberg Hefeweizen or Old Rasputin Stout. Another good choice is Funky Buddha, where you can try on-tap beers such as their Floridian Hefeweizen and popular limited releases such as their Maple Bacon Coffee Porter.
#4. Spend a day on the ocean
I’d be remiss if I didn’t add spending some time at the ocean to this list! In Fort Lauderdale, there are white sand Blue Wave-certified beaches (a national environmental certification program for beaches across the United States) where you can swim, kayak, stand up paddleboard, surf, and walk the gorgeous beach promenades.
Photo by Lance Asper
Some of the most popular stretches of sand include Hollywood Beach, Pompano Beach, and Fort Lauderdale Beach. More secluded and tranquil options include Hillsboro Beach and Dania Beach.
Spending the entire day relaxing at the beach is all too easy, but if you’re looking for a bit more adventure you can also head out on the water for a snorkel or dive tour at one of the many coral reefs located just off Fort Lauderdale’s coastline.
#5. Explore Bonnet House Museum & Gardens
Bonnet House is an early 20th-century heritage estate that has been converted into a museum. Visitors can learn more about Fort Lauderdale’s history, nature, art, as well as the tragic love story of the estate’s former owners. But I feel the true highlight of the 35-acre estate is the lush and colorful garden! Everything is vividly green and blooming and feels so welcoming.
Bonnet House is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am - 4 pm, however, the last tour begins at 3:30 pm. Adult admission costs $20, while children ages 6 - 12 are $16, and children under 6 are free.
#6. Indulge in Coffee Culture
When you envision yourself visiting Fort Lauderdale, thoughts of sipping a fruity tropical drink on the beach might come to mind, but I would strongly urge you to try some of the local coffee houses in town. There are several noteworthy shops that pour quality java in an inviting atmosphere.
Skip the Starbucks, and check out one of my favorites: Ann’s Florist and Coffee Bar (1001 E Las Olas Blvd.), a beautiful coffee and flower shop all rolled into one.
#7. Visit Flamingo Gardens
Flamingo Gardens is a non-profit wildlife sanctuary that provides a home for injured birds and animals that cannot be released into the wild. Some of the animals you’ll see include alligators, black bears, Florida panthers, and of course the main highlight, flamingos! The whole site sits on a lovely 60-acre botanical garden where more than 3000 species of rare and exotic, tropical, subtropical, and native plants grow.
For animal-lovers and families traveling with children, a visit to Flamingo Gardens is a fun way to spend a few hours in Fort Lauderdale.
Open daily from 9:30 am - 5 pm. Adult admission costs $21.95, while children ages 3-11 are $15.95, and ages 2 and under are free.
#8. Go on a cruise
One of the main reasons why so many people travel to and from Fort Lauderdale is because they’re on their way to Port Everglades to hop on a cruise ship. Cruises are a fun way to travel and a great way to get an overview of several destinations all in one trip (for help with choosing whether or not a cruise is right for you, head on over to this post).
Photo by iSAW Company
But oftentimes that means port cities like Fort Lauderdale are skipped altogether and only used as an embarkation and disembarkation point for cruise travelers before they make their way back to the airport to fly home (I’ve been guilty of this myself).
If you find yourself heading down to Fort Lauderdale in the future to go on a cruise, I hope that with some of the points outlined in this article I may have convinced you to spend a few days before or after in the city, or perhaps even to book a standalone trip. This isn’t, of course, an exhaustive list, but suffice it to say that the city is chock full of attractions, and deserves to be explored!
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