10 things to do in Fort Lauderdale

Photo of Tamara HinsonPhoto of Tamara Hinson
By Tamara Hinson

1 February 20176 min read

A view of Fort Lauderdale in Florida, showing the skyline over Barrier Island and boats anchored in the blue water

Step aside Miami and Orlando, because Fort Lauderdale is quickly shaping up to be Florida’s coolest holiday destination – Norwegian recently increased its flights from London to the coastal city, while British Airways is due to launch a new direct flight in July.

Tamara Hinson gives the lowdown on what to see and do in Florida’s new capital of cool.

Browse and bite in downtown Fort Lauderdale

Get your bearings with a wander along East Las Olas Boulevard, which stretches from downtown Fort Lauderdale to Fort Lauderdale Beach – the section passing through the downtown area is lined with quirky boutiques and restaurants.

We recommend lunch at Timpano, a friendly Italian restaurant with crisp white tablecloths and ornate chandeliers, before a stroll along the main drag. Blue Gallery is a great place to pick up some art, while Kilwins Ice Cream, Chocolates, & Fudge is an essential stop-off if you’ve got a sweet tooth.

Check out the art in FATVillage

Created by Alabaman art collector Doug McCraw, FATVillage is an arts district in the Flagler neighbourhood. The four-block district is filled with studios, galleries and cafés, along with a number of independent businesses, including advertising agencies and a barbershop.

We suggest getting a caffeine fix at the cosy Brew Urban Café (541 NW 1st Ave), where the shelves heave with books and the cafe’s gift shop is tucked inside a vintage airstream caravan. This street art-adorned neighbourhood is at its liveliest during the ArtWalks, which take place on the last Saturday of every month – this is when FATVillage’s businesses and studios fling open their doors to the public, and you’ll also find food trucks, pop-up bars and some fantastic live music.

Go for a sundowner at W Fort Lauderdale

The achingly cool W Fort Lauderdale reopened in late 2016 after a huge refurbishment, and the minimalist, all-white Living Room bar is the perfect place for a pre-dinner drink. Our other favourite bits? The glass-bottomed swimming pool and the glowing jellyfish floating in the enormous aquarium at Steak 954.

It’s a beachfront hotel so if you’re spending the night, nab a room at the front for spectacular views – although it’s worth bearing in mind that these rooms can also be noisy during the weekends, when the hotel’s at its liveliest.

Shop 'til you drop at Sawgrass Mills

Sawgrass Mills is America’s largest outlet mall. It’s Florida’s second-most visited attraction (Disney World nabs the top spot) and there are over 350 stores, ranging from designer brands in the Colonades area to high street names such as Vans, Bath and Bodyworks, Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters – all with huge discounts.

One of the most recent openings is the Century 21 department store (the only one outside New York), where you’ll find designer labels with massive discounts. If you’re driving yourself, get there early to stand a slim chance of grabbing the Haute Spot – a bright pink, Swarovski crystal-adorned car parking space with its very own concierge.

Take a water taxi to Hollywood

No, not the Hollywood in Los Angeles, but the small town a few miles south of Fort Lauderdale. Opt for the scenic route and hop on the water taxi – you’ll float past beautiful mansions on the narrower sections and enormous cruise ships as you pass the Port Everglades Cruise Terminal.

The Hollywood stop is the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort, so check out the beach before heading into town, then look out for the brilliant street art, which is part of Hollywood’s Downtown Hollywood Mural Project. There are some wonderful boutiques and cafés too. One of our favourites is Sub Zero Ice Cream on North Young Circle Hollywood – the ice cream is made in front of your eyes using liquid nitrogen.

Hit the beach

Fort Lauderdale’s beaches are just as beautiful as the ones in Miami, but less crowded. Fort Lauderdale Beach is the main stretch of sand, and is just a short walk from the city centre. Dania Beach, to the south, is even less crowded and has been awarded “Blue Wave” status for its cleanliness and lack of pollution.

Pompano Beach, to the north, is equally spectacular and has excellent facilities, including picnic areas and playgrounds – nearby coral reefs also make it a popular diving spot.

Spot alligators at the Everglades Holiday Park

Head to the Everglades Holiday Park to sign up for a high-speed airboat ride through the Everglades, with the chance of spotting a wide range of wildlife, including alligators, iguanas and turtles. Afterwards, check out the alligator show, which has been put together by the Gator Boys from the Animal Planet show of the same name – if you’re lucky, you’ll see head Gator Boy, Paul Bedard, himself.

All the creatures arrived at the centre after being found in areas (such as swimming pools and gardens) where they posed a risk to humans.

Learn about Fort Lauderdale’s history

The beautiful Bonnet House Museum and Gardens is set slightly back from the beach, and is just a short walk from the W Fort Lauderdale. It was purchased by Hugh Taylor Birch in 1895, but archaeological finds discovered here date back to 2000BC.

In 1919 Birch gave the property to his daughter Helen and son-in-law Frederic Clay Bartlett, and the couple filled it with artwork from all over the world. The gardens of the beautiful plantation-style house are home to America’s finest orchid collections, along with several monkeys.

Channel your inner Einstein

The Museum of Discovery and Science‘s latest addition is the 34,000-square-foot EcoDiscovery Center, filled with hands-on exhibits that younger visitors will love.

Permanent exhibits include Powerful You, which looks at the human body, Runways to Rockets, which takes a closer look at space, and Living in the Everglades, which provides a fascinating insight into this particular part of the world. There’s also an enormous IMAX cinema and regular one-off events such as kids’ camps and workshops.

Visit NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale

The brilliant NSU Art Museum houses one of Florida’s finest art collections. Over 7,000 works feature, including the country’s largest collection of paintings by American painter William Glackens, and you’ll also discover pieces by Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Andy Warhol.

The gallery has a packed calendar of events, including regular art and wine evenings and art-themed afternoon teas. Make sure you take time to admire the building before stepping inside – the curved, modernist structure was designed by world-renowned architect Edward Larrabee Barnes.

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