For those looking to plan an exciting vacation, heading to Florida to visit Miami and Fort Lauderdale is a great option. Located about 30 minutes apart from one another, these destinations allow you to explore the country’s largest subtropical wilderness, lounge on the beach, interact with wildlife, shop, wander through lush gardens, learn about native culture and more.

To help you plan an exciting Florida itinerary, here are the top awesome things to do in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Visit the Everglades

Take an airboat cruise through the Everglades!

Visiting the Everglades is a quintessential Miami experience. The Everglades National Park is the country’s largest subtropical wilderness at 1,508,538 acres (610,484 hectares). It also has the unique distinction of being an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance. A Miami Everglades Airboat Adventure with Biscayne Bay Cruise is a great way to experience the park for yourself while also seeing Miami’s iconic Biscayne Bay.

The experience begins with a narrated airboat ride through the Everglades wilderness, snapping photos of the lush landscape and spotting wildlife like alligators, turtles, bald eagles, key dear and spotted gar. Afterward, you’ll have two hours to hike the jungle trails, view a live alligator show and even hold a baby alligator. Next, it’s on to part two of the excursion, which is 90-minute Biscayne Bay Cruise where you’ll take in encompassing views of the Miami skyline, Miami Beach and Fisher Island and see the grand homes along Millionaire’s Row. Beer, wine and cocktails enhance the cruise experience. You can also visit Everglades National Park from Fort Lauderdale through a Fort Lauderdale Everglades Airboat Tour Shore Excursion.

Take a day trip to Key West

Snorkeling in Key West

Located about three hours from Miami and three-and-a-half hours from Fort Lauderdale, Key West makes for an accessible day trip. The most convenient way to enjoy the jaunt is through a tour like a Key West Sail and Snorkel Day Trip from Fort Lauderdale, which also picks up passengers in Miami. The drive to and from Key West is worth the trip alone, as you pass over 42 bridges and hop 32 islands, allowing you to really take in the beauty of the Florida Keys.

Once in Key West, you’ll have time to explore the city’s offerings on your own before boarding a 50-foot (15-meter) catamaran for a guided snorkeling cruise. We recommend purchasing an underwater camera to capture all the vibrant coral and marine life you’ll see underwater. Note: Another great option is a Key West Day Trip from Miami, which includes about six hours of free time in Key West with the option to add on a glass bottom boat tour, hop-on hop-off tour, Conch Train tour, snorkeling and/or parasailing.

Hit the mall

Florida in general is known for its shopping offerings, with Miami and Fort Lauderdale being two of the top cities for the activity. From Miami visit the Dolphin Mall and Aventura Mall. While the Dolphin Mall is home to over 200 discount stores and full price shops — some of which include the Banana Republic Factory Store, Hugo Boss, Juicy Couture, Kenneth Cole Company Store and the Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store — the Aventura Mall is where you’ll find specialty and trendy stores like Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Macy’s, Michael Kors, Montblanc and hundreds more.

If you choose to go shopping in Fort Lauderdale you’ll visit the above-mentioned Aventura Mall as well as Sawgrass Mills, which is home to over 350 full priced and discount outlets like Barney’s New York Outlet, Kate Spade New York, Armani Outlet, United Colors of Benetton and the Bose Factory Store.

Hit the beach

Miami Beach

Both Miami and Fort Lauderdale are home to some of the country’s best beaches, offering soft white sand, billowing palms and outdoor recreation. In Miami you’ll have numerous options to choose from depending on what kind of atmosphere you’re looking for. While South Beach is where you’ll find the city’s most beautiful people getting a tan, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park offers a mix of beach, tropical wilderness and hiking trails. Additionally, 85th Street Beach offers secluded water recreation away from the crowds, Matheson Hammock Park Beach is known for being great for families and 12th Street Beach is where the LGBT crowd goes to catch some waves.

In Fort Lauderdale, trendy beach-goers enjoy Fort Lauderdale Beach, while Hallandale Beach is where those looking for a mix of outdoor recreation activities head. Other top beaches in Fort Lauderdale include Pompano Beach, the beaches in John U. Lloyd Beach State Park and Hollywood Beach.

Explore Miami from the air

Explore Miami from a helicopter

What can be more awesome then exploring a city in your own private helicopter? A Miami Helicopter Tour allows you to enjoy encompassing aerial views of the city as you take in Gables Estates, Coco Plum, South Beach, Coconut Grove, Downtown Miami, Dinner Key, Key Biscayne and more. You’ll get great photos, not to mention this is the best way to see all the sights in the shortest amount of time.

Visit the Flamingo Gardens near Fort Lauderdale

The Flamingo Gardens are full of wildlife.

At the Flamingo Gardens you’ll be able to learn firsthand about native plants, colorful flora and Florida native wildlife like eagles, peacocks, panthers, alligators, bobcats and, the attraction’s namesake animal, flamingos. You’ll stroll through specialized gardens like a Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden, Fragrance Garden, Arboretum and Champion Trees, Tropical Rainforest and Wetlands Area and, the highlight for most, a Live Oak Hammock dotted with orchids,  bromeliads and epiphytes. Visitors can see over 90 species of native birds and animals in their Wildlife Sanctuary and Bear and Otter Habitats. Each day, Flamingo Gardens also puts on fun and interesting wildlife encounter shows.

Visit the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami

One of the top attractions in Miami is the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. A National Historic Landmark, the site was the private estate of industrialist James Deering, built to emulate a palatial Italian villa. Visitors can admire Mediterranean Revival and Italian Renaissance architecture, European art and furnishings and elaborate gardens reminiscent of something you would have seen in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Italy and France. It’s a great way to step back in time and admire a grand and detailed style you don’t encounter every day.

Explore the Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum

Ft. Lauderdale Antique Car Museum. Photo courtesy of Cliff via Flickr.

While Fort Lauderdale is well-known for its outdoor offerings, it’s also home to some great indoor attractions as well. The Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum allows you to peruse pre-war Packard automobiles and vehicle memorabilia, helping you to understand how America’s automative engineering changed and developed over the years. Notice the unique decor of the space, adorned with grease caps, Texaco Oil signs and spark plugs; wander through a gallery dedicated to the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt; and snap photos of automobiles like a 1909 Packard Model 18 Speedster, a 1921 Packard Model 3-35 Twin-six Phaetin and a 1947 Packard Model 2111 Clipper Eight Deluxe Custom PU Truck, to name a few of the over 20 antique cars on display.

Encounter wildlife at the Miami Seaquarium

Visit the Miami Seaquarium

Taking a trip to the Miami Seaquarium is a great way to learn about local wildlife through exhibits, shows and presentations. You’ll meet talented team members like Lolita the Killer Whale and Salty the Sea Lion as they put on a live show, and see animals like sharks, manatees, sting rays, crocodiles, tropical fish and other marine life. Another interesting experience is seeing a Flipper Dolphin Show, which takes place in the same lagoon from the hit TV show Flipper. And to really interact with the exhibits, opt for a Sea Trek Reef Encounter, where you’ll don a dive helmet and go underwater to traverse their 300,000-gallon (1,200,000-quart) tropical reef, seeing animals like tropical fish, sting rays and sea turtles.

Take a tour through history at the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation

Tour the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation. Photo by Gregory Moine via Flickr.

At Cypress Seminole Reservation — the largest of six reservations of the Seminole Tribe of Florida — you can learn about the history and culture of the Seminole Indians and their ancestors who called Everglades National Park home.  Peruse exhibits in the onsite museum, watch We Seminoles to learn their story, purchase native handicrafts in the gift shop, hike scenic nature trails and explore a living village for an up-close encounter. You can also learn about local wildlife at the Billie Swamp Safari through nature trails, snake, alligator and swamp critter shows; and animal exhibits.

-Jessica Festa

10 Awesome Things to Do in Miami & Fort Lauderdale by Jessica Festa from Viator Travel Blog

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