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Fandom in Florida: sports and city breaks in the Sunshine State

The Jacksonville Jaguars will be bringing a slice of Florida life to the UK this October when the NFL returns to London, putting all eyes on the Sunshine State.

But Florida isn’t only about the NFL; from baseball and basketball to ice hockey and soccer, this state is a hotspot for sports enthusiasts of every persuasion, and there’s plenty to lure travellers keen to get active themselves, too.

So where should you head if you’re feeling inspired by the buzz? We’ve put together a guide to the best sport and adventure spots, from catching Lionel Messi playing in Miami to kayaking through the mangroves of Everglades National Park.

Sporting prowess

If you’re keen to learn more about the NFL, TIAA Bank Field, in the heart of Jacksonville, should be your first port of call. The Jaguars’ home stadium, this sprawling complex hosts games every Sunday during the season, as well as tours taking you behind the scenes to explore its impressive slew of amenities.

Parking lot signage at TIAA Bank Field, home of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars in downtown Jacksonville

(Alamy Stock Photo)

Florida’s sports aren’t only limited to Jacksonville, of course. Head to Fort Lauderdale to admire Lionel Messi’s footwork at an Inter Miami CF soccer game, then check out the LoanDepot Park in Miami to see the Marlins play a Major League baseball game. Visit Tampa to catch the Lightning ice hockey team in action, or swing by Orlando to see a Major League basketball game at the Amyway Center, the home of its Magic team.

For more in the way of baseball, check out Jacksonville’s 121 Financial Ballpark – one of the biggest Minor League baseball parks in the US – or pay a visit to Fort Myers to witness the Mighty Mussels.

Nature’s stadium

If all that has you craving a little activity yourself, you won’t be short-changed, with 175 state parks and 11 National Parks scattered across Florida. Jacksonville alone boasts more than 80,000 acres of greenery; hike around the creeks and forests of Big Talbot Islands State Park, wander the wetlands of the sprawling Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, or tackle the mountain bike trails of Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park.

Closer to Miami, the Big Cypress National Preserve is well worth a visit for its scenic hiking and cycling trails, criss-crossing a colourful patchwork of swampland. The Everglades have meanwhile garnered legendary status for good reason, with panthers, manatees, alligators and more than 360 species of bird residing among the park’s mangrove forests, and kayaking tours on hand to show you the best of it.

Boardwalk though Drawf Cypress trees

(Alamy Stock Photo)

Elsewhere in Florida, there’s plenty to lure golfers, with more than 1,200 courses scattered across the state, while diving, surfing, kitesurfing, sailing and zip-lining are all on offer too – making it an excellent bet for a sporty escape amid scenes that belong on a postcard.

Jacksonville neighbourhood recommendations

If you’re in Jacksonville to see the Jaguars, don’t miss these spots

The Kingsley Plantation: Learn about 18th-century Jacksonville on a tour of this elaborate home – the oldest plantation house in Florida – set among lush grounds in the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.

The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens: Housing more than 5,000 artworks in the former home of art collector Ninah Cummer, this historic gallery is well worth a visit, with idyllic gardens set against a postcard-pretty river backdrop.

Juliette’s Bistro: If you’re in the city on a Sunday, stop by this elegant bistro at the Omni Jacksonville Hotel for a southern-inspired brunch like no other. Expect seafood, steak, charcuterie, salad, waffle and dessert stations, all washed down with bottomless mimosas.

Maple Street Biscuit Company: If you’re a fan of American biscuits (or scones, to us), stop by this lively breakfast spot for indulgent biscuit sandwiches – try the Five & Dime for fried chicken breast, bacon, gravy and cheddar – and prepare for the server to ask you a random question; the answer will be called out when your order’s ready.

For more information and to start planning your next trip to the United States, visit visittheusa.co.uk

https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/north-america/usa/florida-sports-city-sunshine-b2388953.html Fandom in Florida: sports and city breaks in the Sunshine State

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