St. Augustine’s rich heritage makes the city and its surroundings a unique getaway for history buffs. It is easy to see why modern St. Augustine’s premier attraction is its long history. This ancient city was founded in September 1565 by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles of Spain, St. Augustine is the longest continually inhabited European-founded city in the United States – more commonly called the “Nation’s Oldest City.” You cannot visit St. Augustine without being immersed in more than four centuries of history. St. Augustine is a great place for history buffs.
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Downtown St. Augustine is pedestrian-friendly and most of the historic sites can be seen on foot. The city was laid out prior to the invention of the automobile. Many of the streets are narrow and designed for foot traffic as opposed to cars, so parking in the historic area is at a premium— though some public lots (Fee) are available.
One of the best and cheapest ways to get around to the historic sites is to use the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing services. The Green Trolley and the Red Train stop at 23-24 of the most popular attraction in St Augustine. You can buy a multi-day pass for a very reasonable price, leave your vehicle parked at your downtown hotel, and use this service to get around town with ease. Another nice bonus is they are also narrated. It is convenient and gives you a great feel of where things are. We were really surprised at how compact everything was.
We had so much fun strolling the narrow lanes and visiting the many museums and landmarks such as Castillo de San Marcos, Ponce de Leon’s “Fountain of Youth,” and the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse. Here is a short list of some of the historical sites not to miss.
Castillo De San Marco National Monument
St. Augustine, Florida is home to the oldest masonry fort in the United Station. Castillo de San Marcos is a much larger fort which sits along the coastline of the Old City and is within walking distance from the downtown area.
It was first built in 1672 by Spain during its occupancy in Florida and it is the oldest existing permanent seacoast fort in the US today. From 1763 through 1784 Britain occupied the state and renamed the masonry St. Mark. When Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821 The Castillo de San Marcos became Fort Marion, named after Francis Marion, a revolutionary war hero. It was not until 1942 that the Congress renamed the building Castillo de San Marcos. This masonry was built with coquina stone, “little shells” in Spanish.
Old City Gate
At the entrance to the “Old City” sits two enormous pillars, which at one time framed a door to the city. The City Gate of St Augustine stood to protect the citizens of St. Augustine. The story is that each night the large door to the city would close, keeping those who didn’t make it back inside in time to spend the night outside the city. It is remarkable these large pillars still stand intact today, though the door itself is no longer there. Hearing the story from our tour guide on the Old Town Trolley, and then seeing the incredible size of the gates in person Brought history to life for me. Still today, the old district retains its 16th century Spanish Colonial walled town appearance. The colonial buildings in the old district date from 1703 to 1821
Flagler College is one of the finest examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture in America. It was originally the Hotel Ponce de Leon. It was built by Henry Flagler in 1888 and was one of the most exclusive resorts of its day. It became Flagler College in 1967. This is a must see when in St. Augustine.
Historic Tours of Flagler College highlight the architectural heritage of the former Hotel Ponce de Leon, listed as a National Historic Landmark. The tour begins by exploring the courtyard while learning of the hotel’s Spanish Renaissance architecture and the techniques and innovations used to construct Henry Flagler’s vision. You will enter the grand lobby where you can stare up into a 68-foot domed ceiling supported by eight ornate oak hand-carved robed women, each slightly different from the next. In the dining room, there are 79 Louis Comfort Tiffany Stained Glass windows that stream light onto the beautiful hand painted murals on the walls and ceiling. Finally, in the Flagler Room, formerly the Women’s Grand Parlor, there are hand-crafted Austrian crystal chandeliers, a clock containing the largest piece of intact white onyx in the western hemisphere, and original hotel furniture and art, as well as personal photos and mementos from Henry Flagler and his family.
The Legacy Tour (led by Flagler students) departs daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. from inside the lobby of Flagler College. Tickets can be purchased up to 5 minutes before the tour beginnings.
St. Augustine Colonial Quarter
The Colonial Quarter is located in the heart of the city across from Castillo de San Marcos. The Colonial Quarter is a must-see, a living history museum that spans the 16th through 18th centuries. Within this 2-acre park, there are many options to explore and experience. This is history made fun, with engaging, interactive elements for kids of all ages.
Costumed historical characters acting as blacksmiths, leather makers, candle makers and boatwrights reenact that old way of life. The reenactors discuss the meals they are cooking or explain the day-to-day activities from that time period. There are musket drills and a watchtower that you can climb up to look over the bay front and the Castillo de San Marcos. There is a 50-foot caravel, a sailing vessel similar to the one navigated by Ponce De Leon in 1513, being built on the site. There are guided tours offered and as you tour the grounds on your own. The exhibits highlight the16th, 17th and 18th-century life and history in the city.
In St. Augustine history has a name and a face. The historical markers share information on the individuals connected with the historical sites. I found this humanized the story and events.
This is just a small sampling of the rich history that lies within the city of St. Augustine. But one visit to St Augustine will show you that St Augustine is not just for history buffs, it has something for everyone.
Thanks to the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau for hosting my travels to their beautiful city. I did not receive any other form of compensation for this post. As always, reviews and opinions are 100% mine and unbiased.