Venice or Fort Lauderdale? The southeast coast of Florida is home to a large urban agglomeration divided into several cities. Miami is the best known, but it is not the only one worth visiting during a trip to Florida.
One of the most interesting places is Fort Lauderdale, known as the Venice of America because of the many canals that cross it and the lagoon environment on which it is built. It is no coincidence that it is twinned with Venice, in Italy. In Fort Lauderdale, much of the economy is based on beach tourism and nightclubs.
The American capital of the Spring Break, a short holiday from school lessons, Ford Lauderdale has also earned the nickname of Fort Liquordale, due to the number of young people who spend their school vacations here for its nightlife. In the 1980s, 350,000 students arrived here, ready to liven up the nights on the Atlantic coast. Today this aspect has been reduced, but it is still a city where those who love nightlife are not bored for sure.
- Fort Lauderdale: a little bit of history
- How to visit Fort Lauderdale. Gondolas, water cabs and other forms of transportation
- What to do in Fort Lauderdale
- What to see in Fort Lauderdale
- Where to eat in Fort Lauderdale
- Where to sleep in Fort Lauderdale
- Tours around Fort Lauderdale
- The airport of Fort Lauderdale
The name of the city originates from William Lauderdale, the army major who erected a military outpost here in 1838, during the war against the Seminoles. This tribe had exterminated both the native Tequesta people and a small outpost of settlers in 1830, taking over the area. Lauderdale’s fort held out for a few years before giving way again to the inhospitable swamp that had occupied the area for centuries.
It was in 1893 that the city really began to be built, when impresario Francis Strahan arrived with his plans for a ferry service on the New River to support the construction of the Atlantic Railroad. The 1920s and 1940s were the periods of greatest expansion for Fort Lauderdale, which today is the hub of a 2 million-person metropolitan area.
As mentioned, one of the main characteristics of the city is the fact that it is crossed by numerous canals, as well as lakes and ponds of various sizes. For this reason, boats are one of the main means used to move around the city. Water cabs are convenient to move quickly from one area to another of the city and it is possible to buy a daily ticket to use them at will.
Alternatively, you can take a guided boat tour or, if you’re traveling with children, a pirate ship. If you want a more romantic or atmospheric experience, consider a sunset river cruise with champagne or dinner on board.
In addition to boats, there is no shortage of more classic means of transportation. If you don’t have a car, cabs can get you to wherever the water transport doesn’t go, but you can also use the city’s public transport, which is divided into three types: bus, streetcar and water trolley, which is a boat that acts as an alternative public transport to water cabs. On the official website you can find the different types of public transport, with the relative routes.
Every major American city has something to do at all hours and all year round. Fort Lauderdale is no exception: from beaches to nightlife, and themed events, here is an overview of what awaits you in the Atlantic metropolis of Florida.
The beaches of Fort Lauderdale
Florida attracts millions of visitors every year, who choose the Sunshine State as their vacation destination. The reason? In addition to the many forms of entertainment, starting with the Orlando theme parks, Florida is rich in beaches, perfect for both relaxation and numerous activities by the sea.
In front of Fort Lauderdale there are 7 miles of white sandy beaches, lined with palm trees and overlooking the water of the Atlantic facing the Bahamas archipelago. Among the others, we recommend two beaches: Fort Lauderdale Beach, just a few steps from downtown, and Hollywood Beach, in the neighborhood of the same name south of the city. The first has the green Hugh Taylor Birch State Park behind it, so you’ll be on a long strip of light-colored sand, with the ocean on one side and the green of the park on the other. The second, on the other hand, is lined with a beautiful boardwalk where there are stores, bars and restaurants.
It is important to note that there are no bathing establishments here, but there is the possibility of renting parasols. Therefore, regardless of the beach you choose, if you want to spend the whole day at the beach it is advisable to rent a parasol to shelter from the scorching Florida summer sun. There is also no shortage of opportunities for water sports, snorkeling or other activities. A walk on the Beachfront promenade is a must: the long coastal pedestrian street, ideal for a stroll in the evening with the ocean breeze cooling the air.
Nightlife in Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale is known as the ideal city for spending evenings to the rhythm of music in the many clubs, bars and discos. If you like to stay up until dawn to the rhythm of music, and then maybe fall asleep in the morning on the beach, this is the city for you. You’ll be spoiled for choice, but we will make you some suggestions of clubs in different neighborhoods and for different kinds of evenings.
- Americas Backyard (100 S.W. 3rd Ave). It’s located in Downtown Fort Lauderdale and is the largest outdoor venue in the city. From dinner to cocktails, you’ll have a great night, especially if you attend one of the recurring themed events.
- YOLO (333 E Las Olas Blvd). An acronym for You Only Live Once, this is the ultimate Happy Hour venue in Fort Lauderdale. Located on swanky Las Olas Boulevard, it’s a place to eat in the restaurant or drink at the lounge bar late into the night surrounded by style.
- Culture Room (3045 N Federal Hwy). This is one of the best places to hear live music. Want to drink and listen to a band play? Here’s a great option in the Oakland Park area.
- Original Fat Cats (320 Himmarshee St). Another great venue where bands perform and you can party late into the night.
- Club Euro (120 Nugent Ave). Are you looking for a disco where the music selected by the DJs includes lack Hip Hop, Salsa and Reggaeton? Club Euro will make you dance all night long!
The city is full of events throughout the year, all of different types and attracting varied audiences. At the beginning of the year we find the Greek Festival, which is held in February and has the Orthodox Church of St. Demetrius as its main venue. The Greek atmosphere envelops participants with food, music and themed decorations. Participating is also an opportunity to admire the beautiful Greek Orthodox church from the inside.
Also in February or March there is the Florida Renaissance Festival. This is a large fair with food and craft stalls, shows and games, usually organized during a series of consecutive weekends, which has the 16th century as its setting. It must be said that even just looking at the photos of past editions, there is a bit of confusion between the historical periods of ancient Europe and not everything is perfectly relevant to the Renaissance, however if you happen to be around when it is being held, it may be a pleasant way to spend a few hours.
In October, the International Boat Show takes place, which gathers a large number of boats and yachts, especially in two places: the Hall of Fame Marina and the Bahia Mar yachting center. During the show there are exhibitions and displays of boats of all kinds, but it is also nice to simply walk along the waterfront to see the wide variety of boats.
November instead is the month of the International Film Festival, which is based at the Savor Cinema and has been celebrating the beauty of independent world cinema since 1986. In December, or early in the New Year, you can’t miss the Disney on Ice Celebrities, the spectacular professional skating show held at the BB&T Center, also home to the Florida Panthers hockey team. The athletes perform by playing characters from the world of Disney.
What to see in Fort Lauderdale
This coastal city is full of opportunities beyond the golden sands of the great beaches. A stroll through Hugh Taylor Birch State Park is a must. It’s a large park where you can also rent a bike or perhaps a canoe, to paddle on the calm waters of the lagoon surrounded by the large tropical trees.
If you like trinkets, but also just to take a stroll in a bizarre place, go to the Swap Shop on N. Federal Hwy: it’s a large flea market with 2,000 stalls, as well as an indoor mall space and a small Ferrari car museum.
Las Olas Boulevard is the most famous street of Fort Lauderdale: a large avenue perpendicular to the coast, which goes from the sea to the city center, along which stores, restaurants and clubs abound. A section of the street is bordered by canals and there is a residential area where famous people have lived. Among others Johnny Weissmuller (Olympic swimmer and famous interpreter of Tarzan), Lucille Ball (protagonist of the sitcom I Love Lucy), the billionaire Gloria Vanderbilt and the former vice-president of the administration of George W. Bush, Dan Quayle.
The boulevard perfectly reflects its name: “The Waves” in Spanish. It is a continuous coming and going of people at all hours, moving among the stores, cultural activities, churches, and services of all kinds that are distributed along this street. While until 1917 it was a decidedly unattractive way across the marshes, today there is even a Las Olas Boulevard website, with all the activities that can be done here every day, from daily activities for locals to those of entertainment, catering and culture for tourists.
In between stores, strolling along Las Olas Blvd we can stop and admire the contemporary sculptures and paintings of Las Olas fine art and the paintings and antiques of Pocock fine art & antiques, as well as visit the city’s art museum located right on this avenue.
Fort Lauderdale Museums
Although Fort Lauderdale is a city devoted more to entertainment and beach life than to art and museums, compared to other American cities, even here there is no shortage of opportunities to learn a bit of local history or appreciate contemporary works of art. Let’s take a look at the main museum sites in the city.
- NSU Art Museum. An art museum opened in 1986 where more than 6,000 works representing the cultural expression of South Florida and the Caribbean are on display. Exhibitions and painting and drawing classes are held here.
- Museum of Discovery and Science. This is a museum dedicated to science and nature, aimed especially at children. Here the little ones can learn while having fun, both things related to Florida’s nature, as well as related to wide-ranging science.
- Historic Stranahan House Museum. The oldest house in town is now a small museum. It encapsulates the history of one family and, with it, that of the birth of the city. The residence of Frank Stranahan and his wife Ivy, built in 1901, has over time been a trading post, a post office and even Fort Lauderdale’s city hall. Since 1984, it has been a house museum, in which you learn about the history of the city along with that of the family that lived there. Fun fact: at the end of the visit you can participate in the River Ghost Tour, a ride on the river listening to stories of spirits and ghosts.
- Bonnet House. Another historic residence that can be visited is the Bonnet House, built in 1920 and included in the register of historic places. It is the home studio of Frederic Clay Bartlett, a Chicago artist who graduated from the Royal Academy in Munich and then returned to the United States. Some of his work can be found at the Carnegie Institute and the Art Institute of Chicago, while others are right here at the Bonnet House. One of the best parts of the house, however, is the garden, where you can walk through five different ecosystems: two different dunes, a freshwater marsh, a mangrove wetland, and a maritime forest.
- History Fort Lauderdale. The museum dedicated to local history is a facility that hosts cultural exhibitions and social and educational initiatives
- Antique Car Museum. Classic car enthusiasts will be fascinated by this exhibit of Packard cars and historic 20th-century memorabilia. In addition to the many cars, there are car ornaments, old gas station signs and other items on display that will intrigue car enthusiasts.
Where to eat in Fort Lauderdale
In Fort Lauderdale there is no lack of options for where to dine. Both in the center and on the waterfront, the choice of restaurants is very wide and everyone will find the solution that best suits their needs. However, we will try to give you some tips.
- Lobster Bar Sea Grille (450 E. Las Olas Blvd). From lobsters and seafood to steaks and fresh grilled fish, this elegant eatery is perfect for those looking for quality dining.
- Floridian (1410 E Las Olas Blvd). Low prices but good quality for quick meals. One of the best places to stop for lunch so you don’t have to limit yourself to a sandwich on the street, but still save money.
- Tinta-Westin (321 N Fort Laurderdale Beach Bldv). This oceanfront restaurant serves both American and Mexican dishes and is ideal for a quiet meal while watching the ocean.
- Riverside Market (608 SW 12th Ave). A wide selection of beers, to accompany simple but varied dishes, pub style. Ideal for those who don’t want to spend a lot of money, but spend a nice evening.
- Hoffman’s Chocolates (920 E Las Olas Blvd). Are you looking for chocolate or sweets? This is probably the most famous chocolate shop in town. Your sweet tooth will not be disappointed.
- Macabi Havana Lounge (1219 E Las Olas Blvd). Love cigars and liquor? Here is a cigar bar: a place where you can smoke a quality cigar and enjoy good liquor.
There are no major difficulties to find accommodation in Fort Lauderdale, but it is a large city so some advice on finding a good hotel may be useful.
- Riverside (620 E. Las Olas Blvd). Dating back to 1936, this historic hotel on the famous Las Olas Boulevard has the curious feature of being directly accessible by boat (and thus also by water cab) having its own dock. Equipped with two restaurants and three lounge bars, it offers rooms with all comforts and balconies overlooking the city center.
- The Pillars (111 N.Birch Rd). Located along the canals, it’s a yellow building with white columns: a mixture of classic British architecture and 1930s Art Deco. The 4-star hotel has an elegant yet casual atmosphere. The rooms have fine furnishings and beautiful views of the city.
- La Quinta Inn north-east (5727 N.Federal hwy). An affordable three-star hotel part of the famous chain, it is located in a good position to reach the cruise terminal and the beaches.
- Holiday Inn Express hotel (1150 W.State Rd.84). If you need accommodation near the airport, perhaps because Fort Lauderdale is the first or last stop on your trip and you have an inconveniently scheduled flight, this hotel is located just a mile from the terminal.
A visit to Fort Lauderdale can be combined with a visit to other Florida cities especially Miami and Miami Beach which are about 1 hour’s drive south, or you can stay here before or after a cruise when embarkation and disembarkation are in nearby Port Everglades. Fort Lauderdale is crisscrossed by the scenic Broward County A1A road from Miami to Delray Beach along the coast. The 48-mile scenic route is changeable and comes into close contact with nature with ocean views, forests, a riverside walkway, picnic areas and opportunities to view local flora and fauna.
Tours departing from Fort Lauderdale
- 1-day trip to Key West: a family-friendly tour with the ability to customize the itinerary
- Everglades Airboat Tour with Park Animal Watching: 30-minute airboat ride
- Private Everglades Animal Watching Airboat Tour: 60-minute airboat ride
Fort Lauderdale can be reached through the city airport of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood (precisely located in Dania Beach, in Greater Fort Lauderdale – we talked about it in our article about Miami airport), from Palm Beach which is about 50 minutes away along the I-95 North, from Miami about 45 minutes away along the Florida Turnpike and from Orlando about 3 hours away along the Florida Turnpike or the Interstate-95.