Deep in the Arizona desert, you’ll find the state capital and economic and cultural centre, Phoenix. No matter what time of year you visit, you’re almost guaranteed sunshine! Phoenix has more than 300 days of sun a year, so it’s unlikely you’ll have your plans ruined by rain. The city is brimming with cultural and historical attractions which you just have to add to your Phoenix itinerary. It’s also home to some of the best Mexican and Southwestern cuisine in the entire United States!
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the best places to visit in Phoenix so that you can easily plan your trip. As well as some cool outdoor activities and fascinating museums, we’ve included some unusual off the beaten track attractions too! Therefore, you’ll get a quirky overview of this great city. First, let’s take a quick look at the best places to stay in Phoenix.
Need a place quick? Here’s the best neighbourhood in Phoenix:
Downtown Phoenix is the neighbourhood located at the heart of the city. It is the historic and cultural hub where you’ll find everything from government buildings and towering skyscrapers to historic squares and swanky boutiques.
- Explore 350 hands-on exhibits at the Arizona Science Center
- Indulge in exquisite Japanese dishes at Nobuo at Teeter House
- See incredible works of art at the Phoenix Art Museum
These are the BEST Places to Visit in Phoenix!
Not only do we know about the BEST places to visit in Phoenix, but we’ve also got the low down on the COOLEST areas to stay in. Take a quick look and sort your accommodation needs out before discovering all you can see and do there!
#1 – Tovrea Castle – One of the more unique places to visit in Phoenix
Why it’s awesome: Tovrea Castle is one of the most mysterious attractions in Phoenix, and on the rare occasion that tours are offered, tickets get snapped up very quickly. The unusual building was based on a wedding cake and built at the end of the 1920s. An Italian immigrant and his son had the idea of a resort hotel, but it didn’t quite pan out that way. After the ownership changed hands and the building fell into disrepair, the city purchased it. Nowadays, it’s a true Phoenix icon!
What to do there: Although tours are rare and the only way you can visit Tovrea Castle, we highly recommend it. A knowledgeable local guide will tell you about the building’s history, and the three families that were responsible for this incredible piece of architecture. You’ll get to see the insides of the castle but the enormous cactus garden too! Wandering through the gardens, you’ll work your way between more than 100 species of 5,000 cacti and get great views of the arid Phoenix landscapes. Don’t miss out on seeing this cool and unusual Phoenix must-see attraction!
#2 – Camelback Mountain – A beautiful outdoor place to visit in Phoenix
Why it’s awesome: The iconic Camelback Mountain is one of the most notable landmarks in Phoenix Valley. Hiking to the top will give you awesome views of the city and surrounding landscapes from 2,700 feet (roughly 825 metres). It may not sound that high, but it can be quite an arduous trek. If you plan to do this, we’d recommend leaving quite early in the morning. Why’s that? Well, Phoenix’s midday and afternoon sun can be quite relentless. Make sure you take sunscreen, plenty of water, and a good pair of hiking shoes or trainers!
What to do there: There are a few trails on Camelback Mountain, but the two most popular are the Echo Canyon and Cholla trails. They’re by no means easy but are at least accessible if you’re not an experienced hiker. Geologically, the mountain is quite unusual and curious. Some parts of it date back to 1.5 billion years ago, while some are only 30 million years old. Practically young! Ponder this when you’re not snapping photos of the landscape. Do be careful where you tread, as there are rattlesnakes on the mountain. So, keep your eye peeled and your eyes tuned in!
#3 – Desert Botanical Garden
Why it’s awesome: The Desert Botanical Garden covers 140 acres and is the perfect place to get to know more about the plants that live in the southern US deserts. Of course, there’s a huge range of cacti but there’s other stuff too. Flora, fauna, plants that are a couple of inches tall, and some that are twice the size of a fully grown human, they’re all here. It’s a really good idea to take a tour of the garden, as the knowledgeable guides here know a lot about the plants and animals that call this place home!
What to do there: While we’re on the subject of tours, the Desert Botanical Garden is a great place to visit at night! Take part in a flashlight tour, where you’ll hopefully get a closer look at the nocturnal creatures that live in the garden. You can make a day of things here too – as there’s a restaurant and café on site. There are also a number of local shows, which just get even better when you consider that they’re against a stunning desert backdrop! Head to the shop of one of the best places in Phoenix to pick up local produce like chilli peppers and honey.
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#4 – Phoenix Art Museum
Why it’s awesome: The largest arts centre in the southwest is a perfect place for a dose of culture and art when you travel to Phoenix. Also, if you’re finding the sweltering summer heat oppressive, this is a great place to duck out of it! There are a number of intriguing exhibitions which regularly change, introducing visitors to painting, sculpture, and audio-visual art, among other types too. The building itself could be considered a work of art, with the cool design allowing lots of light in!
What to do there: When visiting Phoenix, the sunshine and heat sometimes get too much. So, head into the Art Museum for an educational and interactive day out. Check out the events programme as the museum hosts performances, festivals, and workshops. It’s a great place to bring the kids too, as there’s an interactive gallery on site!
Hungry or thirsty? You can check out Palette’s restaurant, arguably one of the best places to eat in Phoenix. Once you’ve done all that, you may be ready to head back to your hostel. If not, take a walk around Dorrance Sculpture Garden and soak up the sun!
#5 – Japanese Friendship Garden – A nice quiet place to see in Phoenix
Why it’s awesome: If you’re looking to escape from the fast-paced environment of the city for a few hours, there’s nowhere better to do it than the Japanese Friendship Garden. One of the most tranquil and peaceful attractions in Phoenix, it was developed with a shared cultural vision of Phoenix’s sister city, Himeji. In the garden, there are over 1,500 tonnes of rock, 50 types of plants, sculptured landscapes, and even a koi pond! Explore Phoenix’s chilled side by visiting this garden.
What to do there: Taking a picnic and just enjoy the peaceful atmosphere has to be top of the agenda for the Japanese Garden, also known as Ro Ho En. It’s a good spot to go with a book as well, where you won’t be disturbed or distracted by bright lights or lots of noise! If you find yourself getting thirsty or you forgot to bring a drink with you, don’t worry. You can enjoy a real Japanese matcha tea at the garden’s tea house. This really is one of the nicest attractions in Phoenix!
#6 – The Heard Museum – Possibly one of the most important places to visit in Phoenix
Why it’s awesome: Not only one of the best museums in Phoenix, the Heard Museum is one of the top museums in the United States in its subject area. That would be the advancement of American Indian art. As well as world-class exhibitions showing the finest of American Indian art from the southwest and further across the country, The Heard hosts festivals and brilliant events. You really shouldn’t miss this place off your Phoenix itinerary!
What to do there: If you want to learn about Native American culture in the southwest, then this is one of the best places in Phoenix for it. If not the best! Check out the museum’s events calendar to see if there’s anything happening when you travel to Phoenix. The Heard hosts an Indian fair and market where you can check out the latest art, while there are also dinner events at the museum too. These aren’t that regular, but certainly worth checking out!
#7 – Butterfly Wonderland
Why it’s awesome: A tropical jungle in the middle of the desert with more than 3,000 butterflies? We probably don’t even need to explain why that’s awesome. But we’ll have a go anyway! This is probably one of the best Phoenix vacation ideas if you’re travelling with kids. They (and you) are sure to find having colourful butterflies fluttering around and landing on them a magical experience. We almost forgot to mention that it’s the largest conservatory in the whole of the United States!
What to do there: Butterflies are top of the agenda here, but you can also meet reptiles! The rainforest reptile exhibit also squeezes into the largest conservatory in the United States. After meeting the colourful insects, check out the 3D Theater. The movie shown there is available in both English and Spanish! Butterfly Wonderland is just a few minutes’ walk from the OdySea aquarium, another of the best places to visit in Phoenix if you’re interested in wildlife. You can get a combined ticket for these and also Laser Maze and the Titanic Exhibition. Plenty there for a full family day out!
#8 – Castles n’ Coasters – Easily one of the most fun places to check out in Phoenix
Why it’s awesome: There are a couple of amusement parks in Phoenix, but Castles n’ Coasters ticks all the boxes for a family day out. You won’t just find rides here, there’s an arcade too as well as go-karts and mini-golf. There are plenty of places to get food during your visit too. Just don’t eat too much before you go on the biggest rollercoasters – things could get messy! Don’t miss it off your Phoenix itinerary if you’re travelling with kids. No matter what age they are!
What to do there: Where do you even start with what to do at Castles n’ Coasters? For starters, it’s not the sort of place where you’ll just want to spend a couple of hours. There’s clearly enough here for the whole day! Explore Phoenix’s premier amusement park and you’ll certainly be rewarded. Try the double loops of the Desert Storm Ride, feel your stomach drop out on the Free Fall, or cool off from the hot desert sun on one of the parks water rides. This place is one of the most fun Phoenix vacation ideas there is!
#9 – Phoenix Bat Cave – One of the most incredible free places to go in Phoenix
Why it’s awesome: Phoenix is a great city for wildlife enthusiasts. The Butterfly Wonderland and flora and fauna in the botanical garden that we’ve already mentioned barely even scratch the surface. However, if you want to see animals in their true natural habitat, you should head to the Bat Cave. Every year, between May and October, you’ll see a huge colony of Mexican free-tailed bats emerging from their cave every night. One of the best things about this cool display is it won’t cost you a single cent!
What to do there: You need to get to the storm drain where the bats live at the right time to see this natural phenomenon, of course. Try and arrive before dusk during the summer so that you’ve got a front row seat to witness this event. Definitely try snapping a few photos too! Some of the most famous attractions in Phoenix are on our list, but the Bat Cave is a bit of a hidden gem. So, hopefully, you won’t have to contend with big crowds as you have quite a special experience!
#10 – The Phoenix Musical Instrument Museum
Why it’s awesome: The Phoenix Musical Instrument Museum is a musician’s dream. However, you don’t need to be able to play them to enjoy it! Not only does it have instruments from across the world, but there are some pretty famous ones too. The piano that John Lennon used in Imagine is one of the stars of the show! As well as learning about the instruments, you can try your hand at playing them in the Experience Gallery. This is definitely one of the coolest points of interest in Phoenix!
What to do there: While you’re in the Musical Instrument Museum, don’t miss taking a look at the Octobass. One of the rarest and most unusual classical instruments in existence, there’s a pristine sample here. It’s meant to give a deep rumbling sound to orchestras, and some of the notes it plays can’t be heard by the human ear. We can only pick up its vibrations! The museum also boasts a small theatre that hosts live concerts, so check out their events calendar!
Get insured for your trip to Phoenix!
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So, that’s all when it comes to the best places to visit in Phoenix. Hopefully, you’ll have a few ideas of what you want to add to your Phoenix itinerary, and you won’t have to make any last-minute rushed decisions when you arrive!
Since we’ve included quite a mishmash of activities, we think you’ll see more than just the standard museums and restaurants you would usually head to on a city break. Yes, Phoenix does have some cool ones but there is plenty of weird stuff too!
Our list of the best places to visit in Phoenix should have done more than just help you make a plan for your trip: it should have given you an idea of what it’s like to live as a local too. If you want to extend your trip, consider going on some epic road trips around the area.
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