Renowned for its year-round sun and awe-inspiring desert landscapes, Phoenix draws large numbers of visitors every year who come seeking fun, fascination and excitement.
The capital of the southwestern state of Arizona, the city anchors a sprawling metropolitan area known as the Valley of the Sun. But while its surroundings can appear almost never-ending, Phoenix itself is relatively compact and easy to explore. If you’re coming to visit and would like to plan your trip around some fun-packed things to see and do, here’s your starter for 12.
Discover Phoenix’s stunning desert landscapes
Amid the expansive sands and myriad shades of brown that characterise the arid desert landscapes that surround Phoenix are bursts of greenery that add colour and vibrancy to the area. Spread across 140 acres, and nestled amid the red rocks of the Sonoran Desert, the Desert Botanical Garden features more than 50,000 plants along its themed trails that explore topics such as conservation, desert living, and people of the Sonoran Desert. Visitors can walk the paths independently or on specialised tours, and there are also regular events, seasonal exhibits, family activities and concerts to enjoy.
Another geographical feature this part of Arizona isn’t short of is mountain ranges and Phoenix itself has its own collection of peaks offering spectacular views along with an array of adventure sports and other activities. Located just 20 minutes from downtown, Phoenix Mountain Preserve is a popular destination for hiking, biking and eye-catching vistas available from some of the area’s prominent summits such as Piestewa Peak and Camelback Mountain. Hikes vary in length and difficulty, ensuring there’s something to suit every fitness level.
Visit a world-class museum
Native American art has played a prominent role in Phoenix’s cultural heritage and at the heart of efforts to preserve this legacy is the internationally-acclaimed Heard Museum. Situated in downtown Phoenix, the museum is home to 11 galleries featuring outstanding traditional and contemporary American Indian art. Among the key collections are Navajo textiles, Hopi katsina dolls, Zuni and Navajo jewellery, ceramics through the ages, and woven baskets. Works are available to purchase in the museum’s Berlin Gallery and visitors can also enjoy the beautiful outdoor courtyards.
2301 North Central Avenue / Tues-Sun 10am-4pm Closed Mon
For something a little quirkier, music fans are in for a treat at the world’s only museum dedicated to global instruments. Beautifully curated, the Musical Instrument Museum is divided into geographical regions, each showcasing instruments originating in that part of the world. Over 15,000 instruments and associated objects are on display, with multimedia exhibits letting you hear, see and feel the creative spirit that imbue the instruments and those who play them. In the Experience Gallery, visitors can get hands-on by banging a gong, strumming a Peruvian harp, or trying their hand at the theremin. There’s also memorabilia from legendary artists such as Elvis Presley, Carlos Santana and Johnny Cash.
4725 East Mayo Boulevard / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Hit the water at a fun-filled lake
The weather in Phoenix can be oppressively hot, and there’s nowhere better to cool off than Tempe Town Lake. A desert oasis just ten miles east of downtown Phoenix, the lake’s cool winds are the perfect antidote to the stifling city sun, and there are a range of water-based activities to enjoy including kayaking, sailing, rowing and fishing. Back on dry land, the shores of the lake attract joggers and picnickers, while a number of fun festivals and events also take place here throughout the year.
Try your luck at a legendary casino
Arizona’s casinos are known across the world and just 14 miles east of Phoenix is one of the region’s very best. Perched on the Salt-River Pima Maricopa Indian Reservation in Scottsdale, the vast Arizona Casino makes for a fantastic night out, featuring a dazzling array of gaming, dining, and entertainment. Every gambling predilection is catered for here, from slot machines to Blackjack tables to Three Card Poker. Meanwhile spectacular live shows include renowned tribute acts and other sparkling performances.
Get spooked on a walking ghost tour
Unearth Phoenix’s dark and murky underbelly as you traverse the city’s downtown district on this spine-tingling Walking Ghost Tour. As part of a small group, you’ll head off during early evening to explore some of the city’s spookiest locations such as the Hotel San Carlos, the gothic Rosson House Museum, and the basement of Hanny’s department store, accompanied the whole while by an expert guide well versed in ghostly and gruesome tales that date back centuries. Tours last for around one hour.
Discover a magnificent Italianate mansion
Think of the name “Wrigley” and the first thing likely to pop into your head is chewing gum. But the legacy of William Wrigley, Jr – the man behind the famous gum brand – also continues to burn brightly in the shape of a sprawling Italianate mansion right here in Phoenix. Built in 1929, Wrigley Mansion is one of the city’s most impressive buildings, enjoying a privileged position on top of a hill with amazing views of the city and mountains. Restored to its original glory in the 1990s, the historic home hosts guided tours during which visitors can admire its many interesting rooms and pieces, including an exceedingly rare 1920s Steinway. Fine dining and drinks are also avialable in a gourmet restaurant and wine bar.
2501 East Telawa Trail / Tues-Sat 11am- 9pm Tuesday Sun 10am to 2pm
Board a boat tour on beautiful Canyon Lake
Nestled in the heart of the Superstition Mountains, the Dolly Steamboat has operated tours on the picture-perfect Canyon Lake for almost four decades. This ship offers a wide range of sightseeing and dinner boat cruises that allow guests to sit back, relax and take in the breath-taking natural scenery and wildlife of the pristine lake while enjoying the on-board hospitality, with a crew of 3 serving up to 142 passengers per voyage. Private tours are also available.
View street art in a vibrant arts district
Phoenix has a buzzing arts scene and at its beating heart is Roosevelt Row. Located in the city’s bustling downtown district, the street is positively brimming with colourful street art, along with galleries, boutique shops and other interesting finds. Among the most visited examples of urban art in the area is a large mural depicting the iconic musician David Bowie. There are also regular cultural events and festivals that take place here, including the monthly First Fridays Art Walk.
Marvel at exotic wildlife
Spanning some 125 acres within Papago Park, just minutes from downtown, Phoenix Zoo is home to over 3,000 animals, with nearly 400 species represented – including many threatened and endangered. Perennial highlights include Bornean Orangutans, Asian Elephants, Sumatran Tigers, Mexican Gray Wolf, Komodo Dragons, Masai Giraffes, Coyote, and more, while the zoo also offers around 2.5 miles of walking paths divided into themed geographical zones, as well as a family-friendly Children’s Path.
455 North Galvin Parkway / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Take in some top-class music
Phoenix is and always has been a serious music town and there are tons of great live music venues dotted across the city that host up-and-coming local bands, as well as more established acts on occasion. Whether your favoured tunes are rock, pop, jazz, blues, country or anything else, there’s something to suit every musical taste. Venues range from small-stage dive bars to more expansive arenas. As well as live bands, you can also catch performances in opera, ballet, and symphony.