When you live somewhere like Florida, there's no need to stray beyond your state for your next vacation. And while you could always make the trip by car, if you're keen to lop a few hours off your journey by taking a plane (and for north-western seaside towns like Pensacola and Panama City Beach, this might well be worth it), then Orlando is a good place to start. Our data scientists have analyzed the results of thousands of individual airfare searches to calculate the five cheapest Florida destinations, on average, travelers can fly to from Orlando's international airport. The results jump all around the Sunshine State, from Pensacola up near the Alabama border to Fort Lauderdale in the south-east.
Florida's state capital is often overlooked in favor of more glamorous, seaside locales. But it's a great destination in its own right, prettily situated among green pastoral hillsides and with a charm that lies bang in the middle of buzzing multicultural city and small southern town. Alongside a collection of intriguing museums on politics, cars and natural history, it has a clutch of great outdoor attractions such as a massive skate park and nearby Lake Ella. Get there from Orlando in just ninety minutes on direct United flights.
Pensacola is a classic American seaside destination within walking distance of a constellation of white sand beaches, from crowded and colorful Casino to the quieter, wilder Fort Pickens Gate Park. The seafront is lined with cheery ice-cream vendors, seafood restaurants, pinging arcades and lively bars, while the town itself harbors a few more cultural pleasures. A handful of small but cared-for museums explore its diverse history (the city has been ruled by Spain, France, the UK, the Confederate States and the USA), which is also visible in the city's architecture. Located in far-west Florida, getting there from Orlando will cause you no problems at all on direct United flights with a journey time of under two hours.
Another slice of coastal Americana, what Panama City lacks in charm — and it's certainly missing the historic and picturesque districts of Pensacola — it more than makes up for in diving, fishing and snorkeling opportunities. The sea that laps the nearby settlement of Panama City Beach has swallowed many a ship, and their wrecks make fascinating diving sites. There's heaps of cheap and cheerful accommodation, but think carefully before visiting in April, when spring breakers take over the town and everything breaks down into youthful drunken anarchy. Fort Lauderdale-based regional airline Silver run good-value direct flights, although the lowest rates are available in, er, April.
Youthful yet cultured, dynamic yet relaxing, Gainesville is a great place to indulge in some urban escapism. Home to the University of Florida, the USA's second-biggest university, it's a lively music and sports town which nourished the talent of legendary guitarist Tom Petty and continues to showcase the skills of the Fightin' Gators, the popular local football team. Hikers and nature enthusiasts can find several wild places to walk beyond the bounds of the town, the most memorable of which is Devil's Millhopper, a deep sinkhole that today contains a flourishing rainforest. Regional carrier Silver Airways operate cheap direct flights from Orlando on a code sharing agreement with United.
Former holder of the title of "spring break capital of the world", Fort Lauderdale has calmed down considerably in recent years and is now a cultured resort town built on a pretty network of canals that's better suited to its old nickname, the Venice of America. In its downtown, dive bars and shabby cafes have been replaced by art galleries and pricey restaurants, while the famous oceanfront street known as the Strip continues to be a pulsing nightlife destination. And all this is only to zoom in on the town's greatest attraction, its exquisite stretch of immaculately cared-for, white sand beach. Fly there from Orlando in an hour on direct Spirit flights that frequently cost less than $100 round trip.