The best things to do in Miami, from Art Deco landmarks to an amazing pool
More insider guides for planning a trip to Miami
Miami’s buzzing vibrancy comes from its subtropical location combined with its multiple cultural influences – all of which can be experienced during a stay in the city. There’s its history of colourful Art Deco design, which can be seen on a South Beach walking tour, plus a host of contemporary musuems and art galleries with vast private collections. Little Haiti and Little Cuba are the places to visit for an insight into Miami’s strong and varied heritage (and excellent cuisine). If you want to be outdoors there’s plenty to do too, from stand-up paddleboarding on Biscayne Bay to kayaking through mangroves. And, of course, there are the beaches. Telegraph Travel’s destination expert Shayne Benowitz rounds up some of the best things to do in Miami.
Tick off key Art Deco landmarks
Learn all about the architectural style that defines South Beach on a walking tour organised by the Miami Design Preservation League. Tours depart daily from the Art Deco Welcome Center on Ocean Drive. The 90-minute trip covers Art Deco architecture and its historical context, as well as Mediterranean Revival and Miami Modern (MiMo). You’ll view the hallmarks of the movement in both the exterior and interior design of landmark hotels and buildings throughout the historic district.
Insider’s tip: Wear sunscreen, bring a hat and look for shade during the tour. South Beach’s sun shines bright.
Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard at South Beach Kayak to experience Miami’s abundant natural beauty as the locals do by. This longtime family-run business is located just across the street from Biscayne Bay in Sunset Harbour. No matter what your experience level is, they’ll get you set up on the water and feeling confident. Talk to the staff about the current and wind conditions when picking routes to take along the tranquil bay. If you want to up the romance, book a sunset tour.
Insider’s tip: Head past Belle Isle (underneath the Venetian Causeway towards the uninhabited Flagler Memorial Island) for a swim.
The Wolfsonian – Florida International University is situated in a historic Mediterranean Revival building in the heart of South Beach’s Art Deco District. It combines a museum, library and research centre with an intriguingly specific scope and mission; the collection of 120,000 artefacts, photographs, design objects and artworks dating from 1885 to 1945 sheds light on ‘the persuasive power of art and design, and explores what it means to be modern.’ Curators work with historical advertisements, posters, clothing, photographs and film to illustrate their theses.
Insider’s tip: Bear in mind that entry to the museum is free during extended hours on Fridays from 6pm-9pm.
See contemporary art through the lens of the Americas
The Pérez Art Museum Miami, also known as PAMM, is found bayfront on Museum Park in downtown Miami. Its design, created by prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron, mimics the iconic Stiltsville homes built offshore in Biscayne Bay in the 1930s. The structure alone, with abundant outdoor space to swoon at the views, is worth the visit. Inside, the museum’s thought-provoking contemporary collection focuses on international art of the 20th and 21st centuries from the perspective of the Americas.
Insider’s tip: Hours are extended on Thursdays until 9pm with talks, performances and screenings. Admission on the first Thursday and second Saturday of the month is free.
Contact: 00 1 305 375 3000; pamm.org Opening times: Tue, Wed, Fri-Sun, 10am-6pm; Thu 10am-9pm Nearest metro: Metromover Museum Park Station Price: £
The Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science is one of the only science museums in the world to house both an aquarium and planetarium under one roof. It’s found on Museum Park downtown, next to the Pérez Art Museum Miami. The hands-on, interactive exhibits make for a very family-friendly outing. The Gulf Stream Aquarium spans three floors and includes an open tank at the rooftop. You’ll spy hammerhead sharks, stingrays and mahi-mahi circling the 500,000-gallon tank.
Insider’s tip: Buy your tickets and reserve your planetarium time slot online ahead of time as they’re usually sold out on the day.
Contact: 00 1 305 434 9600; frostscience.org Opening times: Mon-Sun, 9am-6pm Nearest metro: Metromover Museum Park Station Price: ££
Spy the homes of the rich and famous (think Gloria Estefan, Don Johnson and Shaquille O’Neill) on a 90-minute narrated boat ride through Biscayne Bay. You’ll ride on an Island Queen Cruises ship past Millionaire’s Row and Star Island, as well as taking in lovely views of Miami’s downtown skyline, giant cruise ships lining the Port of Miami and the lavish condos of Fisher Island – a private island favoured by some of Miami’s wealthiest residents. The Millionaire’s Row Tour holds 140 passengers, and snacks and cocktails are available on board.
Insider’s tip: If you purchase your tickets online ahead of time, you will receive a $3/£2 discount per adult ticket.
Contact: 00 1 305 379 5119; islandqueencruises.com Opening times: Daily, 10.30am-7pm; cruises depart every half hour or hour Nearest metro: Metromover College Bayside Station Price: ££
HistoryMiami is an intimate museum with both a permanent collection and rotating exhibitions that highlight various historical moments of interest in Miami. It sheds an interesting light on everything from Miami’s Cuban diaspora and pan-Caribbean communities to famous former residents such as Muhammad Ali and artistic movements such as street art.
Insider’s tip: Local historian Dr. Paul George takes the experience beyond the walls of the museum by leading walking tours around Miami. He might take you on a tasting tour of Little Haiti, through the street art of Wynwood, or offer insights on the architecture of the downtown skyline.
Contact: 00 1 305 375 1492; historymiami.org Opening times: Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm; Sun, 12pm-5pm Nearest metro: Metromover Government Center Station Price: £
Miami is home to a handful of world-class private art collections that are open to the public. One of these is the Rubell Family Collection, which is set in a striking warehouse space that was formerly used to house banned goods that were confiscated by the Drug Enforcement Agency. The Rubells are committed to championing emerging artists working at the forefront of contemporary art, and their captivating collection includes works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, Keith Haring and Cindy Sherman.
Insider’s tip: Visit on Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays at 11am to take advantage of a free guided tour.
For a taste of South Florida’s rugged outdoors – without the long drive to Everglades National Park – make a beeline for Oleta River State Park in North Miami Beach; it’s a mere 20-minute drive from South Beach and is one of Florida’s 175 award-winning state parks, state trails and historic sites. Inside the park, manoeuvre through mangrove estuaries on stand-up paddleboards or kayaks, hit the tranquil lagoon beach or go fishing. It’s also a prime destination for mountain biking, with 15 miles of trails ranging from novice to expert across the 1,033-acre park.
Insider’s tip: Kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and bicycles are all available to rent from the park’s Blue Moon Outdoor Center.
Get up close to rare plants and exotic butterflies
The Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden has a mission of ‘exploring, explaining and conserving tropical plants’ and occupies 83 lush acres in Coral Gables. You can visit the gardens on guided walking tours, tram tours or on your own. Collections and exhibits include rare plants, Wings of the Tropics with exotic butterflies, and various aquatic displays. The gardens also claim to have one of the biggest living collection of palms and cycads in the world. It’s a beautiful place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and commune with nature.
Insider’s tip:Special events – from art exhibitions to mango festivals – occur throughout the year, so check the schedule ahead of your visit.
The 820,000-gallon natural spring pool in Coral Gables is fed by an underground aquifer, and was created in a coral rock quarry in 1923. It’s named The Venetian Pool, has waterfalls, cave-like grottos and a picturesque bridge, and is surrounded by porticos and palm trees. It was part of the ‘grand plan’ that founder and developer George Merrick had for the residential area of Coral Gables, which is nicknamed The City Beautiful. Today, the Venetian Pool is a unique swimming destination and the only pool on the National Register of Historic Places.
Insider’s tip: The water temperature is maintained at a consistent 77 degrees Farenheit (25 degrees Celcius), which feels great in the summer and spring months, but can be quite chilly in the winter season.
Contact: 00 1 305 460 5306; coralgables.com Opening times: Times vary by month – check website for details Price: £
Millionaire industrialist James Deering built his private waterfront estate Vizcaya in the 1910s, and he modelled it on grand European villas. On the east terrace overlooking Biscayne Bay, the building resembles a Venetian palazzo, and is filled with elaborate Renaissance tapestries, Rococo furniture, Chinese objets d’art, Roman sculptures and early 20th-century paintings. Rooms are styled after different Italian cities: Milan in the Music Room, Palermo at reception and Venice in various bedrooms.
Insider’s tip: The lovely al fresco café overlooking the pool is a nice spot for lunch.
Cuban culture is ingrained in Miami’s DNA and there’s no better place to get a taste of it than with Little Havana Experiences along Calle Ocho (8th Street). Opt for the private, customisable tour, which is led by Corinna J. Moebius, a cultural anthropologist and Little Havana resident who recently wrote a book on the history of the neighbourhood. Expect to visit Domino Park, a Cuban bakery, rum shops, cigar shops, art galleries and fruit markets in a few short blocks – with a few tastings along the way. You can also arrange to have a meal with one of the guides after.
Insider’s tip:When the tour is complete, Corinna will provide you with an information sheet that includes discounts at local restaurants and shops.
Everglades National Park is home to one of the world’s most unique ecosystems. It spans 1.5 million acres of subtropical wetlands, and is made up of sawgrass prairies, hardwood hammocks and saltwater marshes, with an enormous slow-moving river flowing south into the Florida Bay. The park is also famously the habitat of the Florida alligator. The Shark Valley Visitor Center is the closest access point from Miami and can be reached in about an hour’s drive. Take a tram tour led by naturalists, or rent a bike to ride a 15-mile loop.
Insider’s tip: If you visit in summertime, be prepared for hot, muggy conditions, and pack sunscreen, bug spray, a hat and water any time of year.
The 740-acre Zoo Miami has 3,000 animals on show – including mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians, arranged according to the continent and climate where they originally come from. You can traverse the three miles of paths on foot, by tram, on a monorail or peddle yourselves around on a safari cycle. Or book a tour guide to show you around on a golf buggy. Children can feed giraffes or ride a camel in the interactive petting zoos. Don’t skip the wildlife show for an entertaining lesson on various animals.
Insider’s tip: For an interactive guide and to help plan your visit, download a Zoo Miami app for your smartphone.