Top towns in Central Florida

Central Florida’s Polk Country will surprise visitors with lakeside living and historic charm, says Jessica Pook

It might be the gateway to world-class theme parks, but Central Florida is also home to characterful towns that show another side of this nature-rich and historic region.

Lakeland 

Lakeland is the largest city in Central Florida’s Polk County but has a small town feel complete with boutique shops, farmers market and a bookstore-cafe. It makes for a great base for families with favourites including feeding the swans at Lake Morton, alligator-spotting at Circle B Bar Reserve or cheering on The Tigers at a Major League Baseball game. For foodies there’s everything from food trucks to seafood restaurants, to the Downtown Farmers Curb Market, but be sure to start the day with a freshly baked cruffin from Born & Bread Bakehouse. 

Davenport  

For many, Davenport is the gateway to Disney with 7,000 vacation rental homes within ten miles from Walt Disney World. Its central location makes it the perfect city for those that want to be in close proximity to the hub of restaurants, shopping and attractions. There’s even a taste of home at Sundays Grill and Best of British Pub & Café! Golfers can take a moment to practice their swing at White Heron Golf Club at Ridgewood Lakes while keen shoppers can browse their way around Posner Park, an open air shopping mall just south of Interstate 4.

Winter Haven 

Home to LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Pirate Island Hotel and new this year, Peppa Pig Theme Park, Winter Haven is the home of family fun. When it’s time to escape the crowds, head to the city’s chain of lakes to embrace a more relaxed way of life. Water activities include pontoon boat tours, paddle-boarding, wake-boarding, water skiing, kayak tours and fishing, or there’s the option to simply watch the sunset from a dock while sipping on a glass of wine or a Winter Haven brewed craft beer.

Bartow 

A city with a story to tell, Bartow houses many historic homes and beautiful architecture. The John J. Swearingen House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and in the Northeast Bartow Historic Residential District there are 27 historical buildings built between 1886 and 1925. Take a tour of the Historic L.B. Brown House and Museum and finish the history tour at Antiques on Main and Smith & Jones Antiques.