St Augustine, Florida, is one of the most historic cities in the United States. In fact, the city dates back to 1565 and can claim to be one of the oldest settlements in the country.
Originally founded by the Spanish, St Augustine served as the capital of Florida during the Spanish rule, and then during the British rule, before Florida eventually became part of the United States of America.
With such a rich heritage, there’s a lot to see in St. Augustine. Found on the northeast coast of the peninsula, not far from the modern metropolis of Jacksonville, St. Augustine may no longer be the Floridian capital, but you can find more history here than anywhere else in the state. Explore the old colonial quarter, visit Spanish forts, and of course, enjoy the beaches and the great outdoors too.
Here are the best things to do in St. Augustine, Florida:
1. Castillo de San Marcos
Visiting St Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos is a real historical highlight of any trip to the city. This imposing fort was built on the coast by the Spanish in the late 17th century. In the proceeding century, it would withstand two attacks by the British as they looked to expand south into Florida.
The fort changed hands many times, but still today it stands proud in St Augustine. One of the best examples of a star-shaped fort in the country, it’s incredibly well preserved. You can walk along the old ramparts, gaze out across the Atlantic Ocean, and immerse yourself in the city’s colonial history.
2. Colonial Quarter
Close to the fort, you can visit another of the best things to do in St Augustine. The Colonial Quarter is a great example of preserved Spanish architecture, and it’s recently been completely renovated as well, in order to preserve this wonderful piece of local history.
Previously known as the Spanish Quarter, you can join tours led by guides in full authentic colonial dress, as you gain an insight into what life was like from the 16th through to the 18th century. It’s living history at its best, and you’ll see musket loading drills and perhaps even the odd cannon being fired too.
3. Lightner Museum
Located within the lavish walls of the former Hotel Alcazar, a building which dates to 1887, a visit to the Lightner Museum is a chance to learn more about St Augustine’s extensive history.
This quirky museum has a strange array of exhibits and artifacts, ranging from 19th-century musical instruments through to Native American archaeological finds. You can even find an Egyptian Mummy and a somewhat chilling shrunken head.
4. Spanish Military Hospital Museum
Another unusual historical site to visit is the St Augustine Spanish Military Hospital Museum. It might seem like a niche subject, but this museum offers an intriguing insight into medicinal practices throughout the colonial period.
At times, you’ll be quite shocked by the seeming barbarity of medicine in past centuries, but you’ll also leave having a newfound appreciation for the wonders of modern medicine and hospitals.
You can join a guided tour through the old hospital, as you learn about the fascinating and grizzly surgeries that were performed here.
5. Old Jail
If grizzly history is your thing though, then St Augustine has plenty to offer you. Another intriguing historical site to visit is the Old Jail, where you can delve into the fascinating past of St Augustine’s criminals.
The jail dates to 1891, and you can join guided tours through the cells that are actually led by actors dressed as inmates, in full historical outfits. If you dare, you can even sign up for a nighttime tour. You’ll be led through the darkened prison after the sun sets, and you’ll learn all the worst stories and exploits in the dead of the night.
6. Pirate and Treasure Museum
One of the best things to do in St Augustine is to visit the quirky Pirate and Treasure Museum. For pirate lovers, there are few better places in the world to visit, because this is a museum that contains an incredible number of artifacts and archaeological relics collected from around the world.
The museum houses a vast array of pirate exhibits, with many unique finds that include the likes of a gun that was supposedly owned by notorious privateer Blackbeard, as well as gold stolen by buccaneers and much, much more. It’s a fascinating look at Florida’s, the wider Caribbean’s, and America’s history of piracy.
7. Black Raven Pirate Ship
If you’re a lover of all things pirates, you’ve certainly traveled to the right city; one of the best things to do in St Augustine is to join a cruise on the Black Raven Pirate Ship.
This is a full-on pirate experience. The authentic replica pirate ship offers an onboard pirate-themed show. There’s music, drinks, food, singing and dancing, and the crew and entertainers are all dressed up in period costumes from the pirating days.
8. St Augustine Light House and Maritime Museum
If you’re interested in learning more about the city’s maritime history, take a trip to the St Augustine Light House and Maritime Museum. The tall lighthouse dates back to 1874 and rises to 50 meters.
You can climb to the top of the lighthouse for exceptional views along the coast, while the on-site museum offers a wonderful glimpse into local maritime history, in what is one of the oldest cities in the United States of America.
9. Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park
Another of the best things to do in St Augustine is to explore Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Park. This archaeological site in the city claims to be the landing site of Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer who came to the Americas in search of the fabled Fountain of Youth in the early 16th century.
It’s evolved into a rather unusual tourist attraction within the city, and while there’s little factual basis behind the park and its supposed archaeological finds, it’s still a unique place to visit. You can even drink from their supposed Fountain of Youth.
10. Ripley’s Believe It or Not
Another quirky stop on your travel itinerary when visiting St Augustine should be Ripley’s Believe It or Not. This strange worldwide brand has a branch in the city, and it’s a popular place to visit on the tourist trail.
Here, you can find a weird and wonderful array of exhibits and attractions, from shrunken heads to mind-boggling illusions.
11. St Augustine Distillery
Take a break from all the museums and historical sites and head to the St Augustine Distillery.
This local distillery produces gin, rum, vodka, and of course, whiskey; they concoct some of the best cocktails in the city too.
You can join a tour to see how the spirits are made firsthand, and then enjoy a few samples at the end.
12. San Sebastian Winery
Wine connoisseurs will want to visit the excellent San Sebastian Winery, which is found in St Augustine.
The winery grows a huge range of different grapes and produces a vast array of different wines. You can tour through the premises, see how the wine is produced, and sample more than a few different varieties at their excellent wine bar.
The winery is located just outside of the city center. They offer not only wines, but cheese and chocolates to compliment them too.
13. Fort Mose Historic State Park
Just a few miles outside of the city, you can find one of Florida’s most important historical sites.
Fort Mose was built by the Spanish in the 18th century and was initially intended to be a settlement for freed slaves. It was the first type of settlement of its kind in Florida, as the Spanish welcomed in slaves who had escaped from what was at the time the British colonies to the north.
It’s a fascinating place to visit, and you can find many archaeological remnants to explore within this state park.
14. Anastasia State Park
Another great state park to visit when you are in St Augustine is Anastasia State Park.
Located on Anastasia Island, this is a wonderful place to explore the local nature in an area that’s both historic and beautiful.
This is where the Spanish mined the stone that would build the first forts and buildings in St Augustine. These days, it’s a recreational area where you can enjoy the coastline, the beaches, and the great outdoors.
15. 12 Mile Swamp Conservation Area
To experience more of Florida’s great nature, one of the best things to do in St Augustine is to visit the 12 Mile Swamp Conservation Area.
This conservation area is found just outside of the city center. You can hike along trails that lead through a collection of creeks and swamps. This is what St Augustine would have looked like centuries ago before the Spanish ever arrived in Florida.