We’ll help you decide whether Miami or Key West is the best fit for you.
Miami vs Key West
Ah, it’s a tricky one, isn’t it? Miami or Key West for your next holiday.
Both offer sunshine, nightlife and beaches, so it really boils down to whether you prefer the city-slicker life with world class museums and skyscrapers in Miami. Or a touch of eccentricity and Hemingway in Key West instead.
But don’t sweat it. Either destination will show you a great time. Just read on to find out a little more about each place so that you can make the decision that’s right for you.
What I love about Miami and Key West
- They both have stunning beaches
- They both show an “unusual” side of culture in the US
- As they’re both in South Florida, they have a lot of sunshine
- They each have quirky historic districts
- They each have food worth travelling for
- You can reach both from Miami Airport, which has plenty of direct flights to the UK
Whichever you choose, browse a selection of holiday villas here as a gorgeous alternative to staying in hotels in Florida.
With a cosmopolitan pulse, Miami offers a piece of the American dream under the Florida sun. Alive with a mix of cultures, it’s where shimmering high-rises coexist with Art Deco treasures, and chic nightlife finds harmony in sprawling green spaces.
Expect warm temperatures around 24–30°C year-round, with an energy that amplifies during the hottest months, July to September. It can rain during the hurricane season, but don’t let it deter you as Miami’s spirit seldom dwindles.
Beyond traditional sunbathing and swimming, Miami’s beaches have plenty more to offer. You can start your day with yoga on North Miami Beach or explore the coral reefs via scuba diving or a glass-bottom boat tour.
For adrenaline junkies, water sports are available all over the place. Jet skiing and windsurfing are popular in Biscayne Bay and you can go kayaking in Oleta River State Park.
Many tourists also choose a snorkelling trip to explore the marine life underneath the turquoise veil at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, America’s first undersea park.
When the sun dips below the horizon, Miami transforms into a wild playground, in stark contrast to the more laid-back Key West. Numerous nightclubs dot its landscape, buzzing with pulsating beats.
A prime example? LIV at the Fontainebleau, an iconic hotspot where the atmosphere fizzes with energy like a shaken champagne bottle. For lovers of live music, try The Corner for jazz sessions far into the night.
Venture into the Art Deco Historic District for a more bohemian vibe: sip Cuban cocktails at Hoy Como Ayer while savouring live performances. But remember, Miami’s nightlife is a late starter, so consider a siesta to fuel your adventures!
Family Activities in Miami
Miami isn’t all about nightlife, though. It offers an array of wholesome activities for families. One must-visit is the Miami Seaquarium, home to graceful sea turtles, playful dolphins, and the endangered manatee.
For an interactive experience, take an airboat tour through the Everglades National Park; the thrill of spotting alligators in the wild is unbeatable, as is the tranquillity of spotting Key deer in the lower Keys’ wildlife refuges.
Have fun at the Miami Children’s Museum or the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science. Miami always ensures entertainment, education, and plenty of memorable moments.
In contrast to Key West’s more spontaneous preferences, Miami flaunts a flamboyant spectrum of creativity. From the graffiti-coated walls in Wynwood, a place where every brick whispers a tale of local artists’ dreams, to the world-renowned Art Basel fair where the global avant-garde converge, Miami satiates every art connoisseur’s palate.
Yet, it avoids the pitfall of pretentiousness, retaining an approachable art scene that encourages exploration and interaction. It boasts top attractions like the Perez Art Museum and Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, alongside pop-up art galleries and small, indie studios.
Food & Accommodation in Miami
Contrasted against the more relaxed appeal of Key West’s food culture, Miami’s culinary landscape is a grand stage for the ebbs and flows of international gastronomy. You’ll find a smorgasbord of tastes and aromas, with a strong Latinx influence and the homegrown Cuban sandwich.
Miami’s accommodation options are as diverse as its food. From reasonably priced rentals near the city centre to premium hotels that offer a panoramic view of the Gulf of Mexico – Miami has it.
One point of caution though: while Miami buzzes, it also demands a heavier investment compared to laid-back Key West.
From trendy gourmet hotspots where the wait often stretches to hours, to high-end resorts that need prior booking, spontaneity might not always be rewarded here.
However, for those willing to plan ahead, Miami definitely promises an unforgettable feast of senses. Don’t forget to factor in enough time though!
Best Places to Visit in Miami
The crown jewel of Miami, South Beach’s gleaming stretch of sand is a playground of sun-seeking pleasure. A bustling destination that’s both glamorous and kitsch, South Beach invites you to sample its world-class gastronomy or waltz through its preservation districts.
A trip to Miami would be incomplete without the Latin beats of Little Havana. Feel the pulse of its community, celebrate in its festivals, and wrap your taste buds around its hearty Cuban cuisine.
Visit Domino Park for a slice of local life, but dodge the temptation of generic souvenir shops. The heart of Miami’s Cuban community, Little Havana can take you on a journey of cultural exploration. Just remember to bring a broad-brimmed hat to fend off Miami’s relentless afternoon sun.
The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Enrich your Miami itinerary with the time-worn elegance of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Tracing its roots back to the 20th century, this Italian Renaissance-style villa showcases vast architectural decadence.
Stroll through its botanical patchwork of European-inspired gardens or marvel at its exquisite array of period furnishings.
While Vizcaya might have you reaching for your wallet, there’s an undeniable charm in escaping the grit of downtown Miami into its refined respite.
Tip: Avoid the weekend rush and plan a weekday visit to have a good time without the crowds.
Strategically located in downtown Miami, the Bayside Marketplace offers delightful experiences beyond basic retail therapy. It’s a melange of cheerful tunes, waterfront dining, and twilight boat tours.
While it tends to be a tourist magnet, don’t dismiss it right away. Stake out spots at the amphitheatre for live performances or barter your way to your next big purchase at the market.
Once merely a warehouse district, Wynwood has reinvented itself into a canvas of street creativity. Wynwood Walls– a kaleidoscope of murals – spins tales of artistic expression in this urban renaissance.
It’s best to visit during the day for the ideal photo opportunity, and for the chance to try spray painting the walls yourself.
Everglades National Park
From spotting the endangered manatee to capturing the stealthy alligator on camera, this UNESCO World Heritage Site provides an environmentally focused excursion for eco-conscious travellers.
Spanning across 1.5 million acres, it’s an absolute must see in your Miami vs Key West debate.
Downtown Miami is a microcosm of this cool city’s offering.
Wander around the Olympia Theater for some heritage charm, or venture into the Pérez Art Museum for avant-garde masterpieces.
Best Time to Visit Miami
The best time to visit Miami is arguably from November to May, known as the ‘dry season’. With thermometers hovering between a comfortable 18-26°C, this period offers the optimum weather to enjoy the city’s gems without the risk of hurricane interruptions or the oppressive humidity of summer.
How to Get There
You can reach Miami International Airport from most international destinations through a direct flight, which is often the quickest and most comfortable way of travelling. What’s more, it’s only a twenty or so minute drive from the airport to the Art Deco district on South Beach.
However, a road journey from Fort Lauderdale is another great option and one of the best road trips in the continental United States. The approximately 30-mile drive offers picturesque vistas of the upper Keys.
Key West is often perceived as Miami’s down-to-earth cousin, where sunsets are an event, and the pace of life gently sways to a subtropical rhythm. The typical Key West vibe has a laid-back and bohemian feel; it’s less Miami’s pulsating heart and more its radiant soul.
With year-round temperate climes, expect a sweet spot of 25–30°C. However, it’s always a good idea to slather enough sun protection and sip that abundant Key lime lemonade for a refreshing break from the sun.
There’s a quirky charm to this four-square-mile island, a place that has historically been a haven for artists, intrigue and inspiration.
In terms of beach activities, Key West follows the mantra of hustle less, enjoy more. You can laze at Smathers Beach, a popular spot for its sandy stretch and clear water. Head to the Dolphin Research Center to learn more about these intelligent creates. Then embark on conservation-focused excursions to see loggerhead turtles – central figures in the local marine life of the area.
Or, for thrill-seekers, opt for jet skiing around the island. It can be done!
Although less glitzy than Miami, nightlife in Key West is anything but dull. Its bar scene, scattered across the famed Duval Street, bursts with character.
The Green Parrot, as age-old as Key West itself, offers live music and Happy Hour specials, while Sloppy Joe’s is more of a vintage spot.
Away from the glamour of Miami, the small island of Key West is great for families seeking a quieter time.
With a rental car, drive along the longest bridge, the Seven Mile Bridge, with its stunning views and consider making a detour to Dry Tortugas National Park.
I loved the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory as an adult, so children will love standing in the middle of thousands of radiant butterflies.
In contrast to Miami’s lavish art scene, Key West has a softer charm. Walking down mile marker one on Duval Street, find local artists showcasing their crafts to curbside audiences. It’s one of the best stops on any Florida Keys road trip.
The Key West Art Center, a touchpoint for the local art community, hums with creativity without the high price tags. It’s a great place to expand your art palette without exhausting your wallet.
Food & Accommodation in Key West
Key West, the final pearl on the chain of islands, offers an unpretentious and authentic dining experience. In small, family-run establishments along the mile drive, you can find local specialties — like the luscious Key West pink shrimp or the famed Key lime pie.
No, you won’t find the grand international gastronomy of Miami, but you will find a certain homemade charm instead.
Many of the best restaurants, such as Louie’s Backyard, offer waterside dining, chilling against the dusk-hued sky.
Accommodation in Key West ranges from charming B&Bs to luxury hotels, like the highly-rated Casa Marina.
For the best prices, avoid the peak months and book early.
Best Places to Visit in Key West
The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
As a living homage to Hemingway’s fruitful Key West years, the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum attracts literary devotees to its Spanish colonial furnishings.
Inside, you’ll find Hemingway’s gathered trophies and a menagerie of six-toed cats, a direct lineage of the author’s own pet.
It’s useful to take a guided tour but either way, it’s hard not to feel inspired by the sight of Hemingway typewriter keys and musty pages. Along with a feeling of regret and loss.
On the island where the sun delivers a nightly performance, Mallory Square is the pulse of Key West’s offbeat energy. Honestly, the sunsets in Key West are spectacular.
But it’s not just the sunsets; street artists, local delicacies and craft stalls fill the space too.
Don’t miss out on Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe, the flame throwers or learning how to play a conch shell yourself.
Southernmost Point Buoy
The Southernmost Point Buoy, an oversized, multicoloured navigation marker, is less about its aesthetics and more about its geographic significance. Standing next to the 18-ton monument, you’re merely 90 miles from Cuba. It’s a great photo op, although you won’t be the first to think of it. Come early to sidestep the crowd.
Key West Lighthouse
Ascending the 88 steps of the Key West Lighthouse feels like rewinding the past. Built in 1848, it offers 360-degree views of the island’s colourful surrounds. Note that the climb is steep, so make sure you’re in decent shape before you begin.
Harry S. Truman Little White House
Your dose of political history awaits at The Harry S. Truman Little White House. Once functioning as the U.S. president’s winter White House, it now doubles as a museum. It still retains the charm of Truman’s working days, with poker chips on the table and his reading glasses set aside. Check for discounts on the weekday tours for the best price.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
A meeting point of both history and teal waters, the Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is worth a look. And there’s a lot to see: the Civil War-era fort, a trail that meanders among coastal defences, and a beach for leisurely picnics. Confirm museum hours before visiting as they may vary seasonally.
A stroll down Duval Street is a must, whatever the time of day. Duval Street, Key West’s central artery, spills over with shops, eateries, historical houses, and bustling bars.
Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum
The Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum is an undiluted tribute to treasure hunting. Mel Fisher, a legend among Key West’s sea salvage figures, was fixated on the Spanish Galleon’s sunken wealth.
The museum houses his finds – emeralds, gold bars, and age-old artefacts.
Tip: One of the best things here is the laboratory tour, which allows visitors to observe professionals conserve shipwreck artefacts in real-time.
The Best Time to Visit Key West
Spring, particularly March and April, is the ideal time to visit Key West. Temperatures hover around a comfortable 24-29°C, which is neither too hot nor too cold, but just right.
How to Get There
While there are flights to Key West International Airport, it’s great to take the scenic route by driving along the Keys from Miami.
Miami to Key West: Can You Hit Both Destinations?
So, should you split your holiday between Miami and Key West? The good news is you absolutely can! Embrace the best of both worlds on an epic Miami-Key West drive that combines both city life and the tranquillity of island living.
Start in Miami, the cosmopolitan hub of South Florida, before shifting gears as you approach the tropical serenity of Key West. The scenic Overseas Highway, a 170-mile feat of engineering, forms the backbone of your road trip, a stunning ribbon of asphalt that opens up the splendours of the Florida Keys.
- Recommended reading: Florida West Coast Road Trip
The Best Stops Along the Way
As you traverse this iconic route, consider pausing at Key Largo, the Diving Capital of the World, which boasts some of the best snorkelling and scuba diving experiences in the US.
Big Pine Key then awaits you, home to the enchanting Key deer and a retreat for nature lovers.
Don’t forget a quick detour to Robbie’s Marina – the sight of the resident tarpons jumping for scraps is certainly one to cherish.
Attractions Worth Exploring
Witness first-hand the unique ecosystems preserved within the national parks like the Everglades and Big Cypress.
A detour to Bahia Honda State Park rewards you with picture-postcard beaches and crystal-clear waters, a Caribbean-like setting within the Florida shores.
The road trip, punctuated by the Seven Mile Bridge crossing at Marathon Key, is one of the most beautiful road trips that I’ve ever taken.
Information centres along the route offer deeper insights into the local ecology, ensuring your experience is both entertaining and educational.
Miami vs. Key West: If You Really Need to Choose
If you really have to choose, then it boils down to your tastes.
Miami is for those who enjoy an electric pace of life, who don’t mind planning and driving around and who don’t mind reaching for their wallets.
Key West, on the other hand, is for those souls who like to wander with the sunset, staring at the clouds.
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