Best time to visit: College football season during a game (Sept – Dec) or Spring.
Reasons to visit
Alligators & North Florida natural beauty: Gainesville is home to thousands of students each year and many more visitors (parents or football visitors). Many of them have not visited the amazing parks / reserves in Alachua county (20+ parks) that showcase the beauty of North Florida and deserve a visit. For information about all parks in the area, check out the list of state parks, Alachua County Parks & Rec website and the City of Gainesville Nature Parks (there’s no intersection between the three!!)
Our favourite park is definitely the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and specifically the Lachua Trail within that park. The reason why this trail stands out from the network of trails within the park is the opportunity to stand a few feet away from more than half a dozen alligators without any barrier. Observe them in their natural habitat, that’s quite beautiful by the way, in the gentle Florida breeze and comfy weather. The trail has 2 great observation decks, the second one let’s you see a large part of the flat prairies & presents ample birdwatching opportunities. We’re including a few pictures from Robyn Wilson, a fellow Florida Gator & fantastic photographer who visited the trail on our recommendation & took some great shots 🙂
Another great park to visit is the Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park which is a 120 foot deep cavity. Little streams run into apparent nothingness, it’s a pretty fascinating place to visit.
University of Florida: Let’s face it, this is the main reason anyone visits Gainesville, it’s a classic American college town (Dalek was a student here). The gameday atmosphere (ie when the University of Florida plays American football at their home stadium for the non-American readers) is electric!! The stadium fills up 90,000+ people on Gameday Saturdays with more people watching in bars around town. If you’re visiting Gainesville, we highly recommend watching any sport event that’s on during that time (Basketball & Volleyball have a great atmosphere as well).
Also the campus is not to be outdone from the natural beauty perspective. Its defining feature is Lake Alice on it’s western side. It has a lovely chapel overlooking the lake which is a peaceful spot on campus. Some of Robyn’s pictures have captured the essence of Lake Alice the best.
Museums: Another overlooked facet of UF are the FREE on-campus museums. Located near 34th Ave, The Harn Museum of Art & the Florida Museum of Natural History are next to each other and good for visiting for a few hours. The Butterfly Rainforest is the must-visit attraction here, there are so many varieties with which you share a greenhouse for the time of your visit. Highly recommended and worth the $13 price of admission. The Physics & Astronomy departments are also good for geeky exhibits.
Public Transit Logistics
Getting In: Gainesville has an airport which is what most people use to get in via predominantly Atlanta (Delta) or Charlotte / Miami. There is an hourly bus from the airport that takes you straight to the UF campus ($1.50). Taking a taxi is easy and convenient as well.
On a budget, you can fly into Orlando airport and take the Megabus / Greyhound from there to Gainesville. The less comfortable option is to take a bus from Atlanta / Miami (Greyhound 7+ hours) or New Orleans / Mobile / Tallahassee (MegaBus).
Food & Drink
Fast Food on campus: The Reitz Union building houses many chains for a quick bite. It’s generally packed with students. Pollo Tropical is a personal favourite.
Downtown Gainesville: There are a few fancy places here but as most of our dining (Dalek’s in particular) is student-like, we can only recommend one place, the Reggae Shack cafe for some food-coma inducing Jamaican food. It’s the best food we’ve had in Gainvesville.
Dessert: Our guilty pleasure in Gainvesville for desserts are the ubiquitous Krispy Kreme doughnuts (city centre, open 24 hours, we’ve bought some at 2 AM) & Chilis (Archer Road). However the last time we were there, we tried Karma Cafe and they have some pretty great icecream.
Cheap booze: University Ave is lined with places good for getting cheap beer through your system. Durty Nelly’s, Copper Monkey & Gator City are tried and tested. Durty Nelly’s wins simply by being next to Flacos Cuban Bakery next door that serves heavenly Cuban pressed sandwiches to go with your drinks.
P.S.: Go Gators!!!