|North Central Florida |
Most of the area is rural, and forested, with major population centers in the college town of Gainesville (home to University of Florida and the Gators) and Ocala. The Villages are on the edge of this region.
|Greater Orlando |
The main city in Inland Florida, surrounded by theme parks and towns designed to appeal to tourists. University of Central Florida, like UF to the north, is one of the largest public universities in the U.S.
|Lake County |
On the boundary of metro Orlando, this county is populated by small towns surrounded by lakes, including Mount Dora and Tavares, famous for seaplanes.
|Polk County |
A large, quite densely populated county between the Orlando and Tampa metro areas. It's on the I-4 Corridor with its main city being Lakeland.
|Florida Heartland |
A large, sparsely populated region reaching Lake Okeechobee in the south, this is the most off-the-beaten-path region of Inland Florida.
- 1 Gainesville — northernmost major city and "college town"
- 2 Kissimmee — Orlando's large southern suburb
- 3 Lakeland — main city between Orlando and Tampa
- 4 Ocala — city on the highway north between Orlando and Gainesville
- 5 Orlando — the largest and most important city in the region, and the location of the main airport
- 6 Sanford — the location of a second airport in the region
- 7 The Villages — retirement community that grew to become a city in the late 20th and early 21st centuries
- 8 Winter Garden — suburb on the shore of Lake Apopka, with downtown and shopping
- 9 Winter Park — upscale suburb with downtown and Rollins College campus
- 1 Ocala National Forest — dense forest in the Lake George/Ocala area
- 2 Osceola National Forest — in the far north of the state
- 1 Walt Disney World — the location of EPCOT and other theme parks, which function like city districts of the broader Disney World
- 2 Universal Orlando — closer to central Orlando, Universal is the other major amusement park in the region
- 3 Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation — reservation near Lake Okeechobee in the Heartland region
Inland Florida consists of a large part of the state as a whole, but outside of Orlando, a modest — though growing — share of its population. Its climate is hotter and more humid than the coasts, and lacks the beaches that attract millions of tourists to the state. However, historically it had great economic importance as a prosperous agricultural region, with citrus and strawberries being major crops thanks to the Flagler's railroad network. Winter's polar vortex in the north and central parts of Inland Florida has replaced the increasingly unreliable climate for agriculture with retirees, immigrants, theme parks, large businesses, and universities. The rivers and lakes found throughout, including dozens if not hundreds of navigate lakes, have come to rival the Intracoastal Waterway for recreational boat traffic. A combination of fairly modern history (late 19th century forward), rapid development, and a wide range of attractions have kept this area relevant in the state despite its shortage of natural assets.
Greater Orlando is the dominant city and metropolitan area, and much of the immigrant population resides here. To the northwest, rapid growth has taken place since the mid-20th century in The Villages, one of the country's largest retirement communities, and Gainesville, a college town home to University of Florida, which is massive, public, and considered one of America's best colleges all at once, with the infamous "Florida Gators" college football team and the sports drink Gatorade. South of Orlando remains less densely populated, and is increasingly Hispanic to the south.
The climate varies from north to south in this region. The north, from the Georgia border to Orlando, has a Southern climate with hot, humid summers with high rainfall and variable winters determined by the extent of the polar vortex. South of Orlando, the winters are milder, with the southern edge of the region bordering on a tropical climate; rainfall is less and given the greater intensity of being near the Tropic of Cancer, much of the south is more arid with shrubs replacing the forests of the center, north, and coasts of the state.
Despite its inland location there are few terrain changes in this part of the state. Mount Dora is about as close as this region comes to hills; due to the slow-flowing rivers and lakes, most of Inland Florida is as flat as the coasts. This has not prevented the creation of wildlife reserves and forest preserves in the region, though, with the Ocala National Forest near the St. John's River preserving the state's forest habitat.
The region is crisscrossed by highways. The Florida Turnpike is one of the main routes, connecting Miami to Orlando, while I-4 crosses the state via Tampa, Lakeland, Orlando, and Sanford continuing to the Atlantic coast in Volusia County. I-75 in the north-central part of the state connects important metropolitan areas including Ocala and Gainesville.
Thanks to developer Henry Flagler, Florida has a decent railroad network when compared to many parts of the U.S. An AMTRAK route enters from the north, with stations in Jacksonville, Palatka, and DeLand on its way to Greater Orlando. Southwest of Orlando the route splits with one going to Tampa and the other going to the Florida Heartland and ultimately Metropolitan Miami. However, as the railroad connects multiple states there are few stops along the way, and some important inland cities including Gainesville are not on this route.
If you're exploring the greater inland region, a car is necessary, but in reality no matter where you go in inland Florida, it's hard to manage without a car, with the exceptions of Disney and Gainesville which both have extensive bus networks. The rural areas between cities are large and in places, not remote but certainly off the beaten path; forests add to this feel.
Orlando, on the other hand, for its population covers quite a large land area. Therefore in the areas outside of Orlando, rural distances are not too large as Orlando has extended so far that it has swallowed or at least approached many of the smaller, historic cities near it. However, as you get farther from Orlando, the region tends to be less densely populated, whether you're going south into the Florida Heartland or north toward the Georgia border.
Barring occasional bad traffic, interstates here are incredibly fast, and speed limits are seen as recommendations by most drivers. Simply go the speed of the average vehicle, and you will be fine. Many state (some of which require tolls) and U.S. routes are similar to interstates in speed and size, though some contain more detours. Around the city of Orlando there are some major state-run toll roads such as FL-417, while U.S. routes are more likely to be surface streets. Outside of Orlando U.S. routes and state routes can be quick and travel through towns, offering places to stop along the route without the towns' small sizes obstructing the speed of the route.
The scenery in this region is limited, as it's flat with the exception of some rolling hills in the north. As "flyover country," there are some national forests that provide a view of the landscape, but as most of the region is privately-owned agricultural or unused land, there are few sights, and many of the towns are truck stops and local government centers. Suburban and urban areas offer the most for tourists, such as Orlando and the towns to the west and northwest. Most of the landscape, if undeveloped, is thickly forested and impenetrable — views from the road are probably your best bet, unless you travel to one of the national forest, where you'll need to beware alligators and snakes.
The forest becomes more temperate, with fewer palms, as you go north, particularly in the Gainesville area. Therefore Ocala National Forest is on the border of the change in forest. Osceola National Forest, meanwhile, is on the border with Georgia.
Springs (and of course sinkholes) are common in this region due to the aquifer, a massive underground, water-filled cave underneath the Florida Peninsula, similar to those found in Yucatan, Mexico. They provide boardwalk/viewing opportunities, though much of the water in these springs contains sulfur, so you shouldn't — and probably wouldn't want to — go near it.
There are a wide range of cultural activities and attractions in Orlando — Disney being an obvious one! The national (and don't forget state-owned) forests offer some wildlife-viewing opportunities, and given their large size, there is plenty to explore.
Cuisines are highly variable. In the rural parts of the region, don't expect much more than American cuisine, and in the small communities even McDonald's might be a drive away. Urban areas such as Gainesville and Orlando — particularly Orlando — provide a wider variety of international cuisines.
If you're going to the national forests, it'd be wise to buy takeout first or prepare some food and bring it with you in case there aren't any places to buy food nearby. Be bear-wise, though.
Orlando is the main regional scene for nightlife. As of 2022, there are two dry counties in Florida: Lafayette County in North Central Florida and Liberty in the Florida Panhandle.
Make sure to stick to known routes and areas in urban areas, and in rural areas, be careful regarding wildlife. The northern part of this region was in the Deep South and has a racist and segregationist past, though overall the area has diversified significantly over the last forty or fifty years.