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By Susan & Simon Veness

While the Sunshine State’s beaches and theme parks are the prime draws for the majority, Florida still boasts superb city experiences that are equally compelling. This series of blogs looks at the fabulous array of attractions that await in the state’s many urban destinations.

It’s extremely fitting that a city that got its start largely through tourism is now thriving as a result of the inspired decision of Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railroad to put down roots here in 1896.

Regular Florida goers will immediately recognise the name of Flagler as one of THE great expansion pioneers in the state’s history. His search for a winter holiday destination for the well-to-do on the east coast had already led him to St Augustine and Palm Beach and, by the time he reached south Florida, his ability to identify a promising new location was legend.

The city wasn’t incorporated until 1911, and its biggest population boom didn’t arrive until the end of WWII after it became a major Navy and Coast Guard base – echoes of which came along in the 1970s and 80s when Port Everglades took advantage of the cruise boom and eventually turned it into one of the busiest cruise ports in the world.

Water is, in fact, one of the key components of Fort Lauderdale, both along its seashore and the Intracoastal Waterway that runs almost the length of Florida’s Atlantic coast. That means this is definitely the place to come for watery pursuits of all kinds, from fishing and boating to parasailing, kayaking, jet-skiing and paddle-boarding.

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Intracoastal Waterway

Sightseeing along the Intracoastal is one of the top activities, as a tour along the many waterways and canals is the ideal way to get a close-up of the homes of the rich and famous as well as the local sealife, which can include dolphins and manatees.

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Look for the grand Carrie B. Cruises for a paddlewheel tour that travels along Millionaire’s Row and inside Port Everglades; the smaller scale 90-minute voyage with Riverfront Cruises; or even the Jet Ski Adventure, all of which provide great insights into the city’s make-up.

DID YOU KNOW?
Fort Lauderdale is unofficially known as the Venice of America, as the full city area includes more than 300 miles of canals and waterways connecting the various suburbs, while the Water Taxi is one of the most popular ways to get around.

Like its Mediterranean nickname-sake, this is also the place to come for gondola rides, and Las Olas Gondola offers a magnificently indulgent way to enjoy a 75-minute tour in high style, particularly for a special occasion or romantic opportunity.

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Of course, there is plenty of sand to go with all the water, as Fort Lauderdale features 23 miles of superb beachfront, and it’s hard to go wrong with any of the main beaches hereabouts. They are all Blue Wave certified for cleanliness, safety and user-friendliness, and you can’t go wrong on any of Deerfield Beach, at the north end of the city limits, the more tranquil Hillsboro Beach, happening Hollywood Beach, active Pompano Beach and Fort Lauderdale Beach itself.

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Fort Lauderdale Beach

Away from the sea, this is also the place to come for great dining and nightlife, much of it centred along chic Las Olas Boulevard. The variety and quality is a microcosm of Florida itself, with particular specialities in seafood, Mexican cuisine, modern Mediterranean offerings and a strong farm-to-table movement.

For a real locals’ experience, try any of Kelly’s Landing, Colada Cuban Café, Shooters Waterfront or Rocco’s Tacos & Tequila Bar, while the Royal Pig Pub is a distinct Las Olas institution and a memorable gastropub.

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Rocco’s Tacos & Tequila Bar

Finally, make time for shopping. Lots of shopping. As well as the chic mall style of The Galleria (which is handily on the Water Taxi route), the metro area boasts the massive Sawgrass Mills, the largest retail centre in the state. The 350 stores include just about every designer label you care to mention, all at discounted prices, plus the department store sophistication of Bloomingdale’s. Add in memorable outdoor dining and you have an all-day destination of enormous style and substance – just like Fort Lauderdale itself.

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Sawgrass Mills

Susan & Simon Veness are the UK’s leading experts on Florida, having written about it for more than 25 years and sold more than half a million copies of their books about Orlando, Disney and the Sunshine State.

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