Venice, the famously romantic Italian city, is renowned for the canals that wind through the city. It’s not even remotely surprising that the city is absolutely flooded with tourists, estimated to average 50,000 new visitors each day (pretty significant amount, considering the “permanent” population is only around 70,000). While these tourists flood to Venice to observe the gorgeous architecture, art and the famous canals, for me, the history of the city turned out to be the greatest attraction.
When you mention Florida, immediately people think of sandy beaches, insane levels of humidity, and of course, Disneyland.
What they may not think of, is a Spanish-inspired town with an incredible level of historical significance and a big contribution to the formation of the United States of America. This town is St. Augustine, the oldest continually populated city in the USA, and one of my favourite places in the states.
St. Augustine was settled by a Spanish admiral in 1565 and deemed the capital city of Florida for the subsequent 200 years, changing hands between the Spanish and British numerous times in those years (one hell of a custody battle there). If you want to learn more about the history then you can check it out on the towns information website here, or, of course, the Wikipedia page.
And as fascinating as that is, I imagine thats not why you came here! So let me tell you a little more about my experience with the town.
The first thing you notice when you walk into the town is that it has been preserved incredibly well, the original fort and gates to the city (remember this place was settled in 1565!) are still in place and you can go up and walk through them. The town really is like stepping back in time, with a gigantic basilica, cobblestone streets and incredible architecture.
Visiting old town St Augustine, narrow streets are a sure sign that the town was built before cars, and thus the streets are pedestrian only, adding to the feeling that you have just walked into a small town centuries ago. There are loads of little cafe’s, bars and stores that indicate the town now relies a fair bit upon the tourism industry, and St Augustine definitely knows how to impress that market.
Every second shop appears to be either a bar, or an ice cream parlour; not surprisingly for a town in Florida, the ice cream is pretty amazing, and drinks are in general, reasonably priced. The best part though, is that every person I met in this town was lovely, we went nowhere that had bad, or even mediocre service, and the locals we met (including some smoking hot firefighters) were all really lovely; I imagine it is hard to be grumpy living in a town like this though.
This waterfront town offers much more then food and drinks though, and its beautiful setting necessitated waking up at sunrise to showcase the real beauty of the town. Including the site of the very first catholic mass in the states, down in some beautiful gardens near the waterfront, held before they had even built a church.
The top attractions in the town seem to be old town St Augustine, including the fort and gates, the Basilica, Ripleys Believe It Or Not museum and the gardens where that first mass was held. St Augustine is also supposedly one of the most haunted towns in the United States, so if you are into that sort of thing, there are a lot of companies running ghost tours in various parts of the town.
While I wasn’t fussed on Ripleys, I do wish I’d seen the Basilica, but still didn’t feel as though I missed out, exploring the old town, gates, fort and gardens at length.
I’d definitely recommend a visit to St Augustine if you find yourself driving around Florida at any stage, I daresay a day will be enough to experience the town, but it sure is worth a look. Here are my favourite shots from St Augustine, taken on a very early morning stroll through the town.
If you live in, or have visited St Augustine, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know your experience in the town, what you loved about it and the little gems you found whilst exploring!