Miami: what to see and do. Rooftop cocktail bars, art galleries and the buzz of South Beach

Why go

Say ‘Florida holiday’ and the mind instantly pictures Orlando theme parks, reclaimed swampland, and miles and miles of freeways and malls. Fortunately, Miami is the antithesis of the traditional Floridian vacation and extremely cosmopolitan.

Miami not only has the beaches and the sunshine, it also has history, architecture, museums and art galleries, as well as a thriving music scene.

Miami’s nickname of the Capital of Latin America and its Spanish-speaking majority population, of predominantly Cuban origin, give it a distinctly funky Latin atmosphere.

Miami. Bay Side. Jorge Elías on Flickr CC
Bayside in Downtown Miami: great shopping, speedboats and a taste of the high life

Miami is in fact ranked seventh in the USA’s top cities for finance, culture, entertainment and more. Islands and sand spits lie just off the coast and it can be a perfect twin-centre holiday with the Florida Keys.

Where else would you find people who love their city so much they sport a tattoo of their area code (305)?

What to do

Hit the beach, take a run down South Beach, take a boat ride out into the bay, soak up the Latino culture and shop to your heart’s content. Miami is for those who are young at heart.

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Take part in a festival; no matter when you go there’s bound to be some kind of festival happening. Enjoy the high life with some fine dining, theatre, museums and art galleries in Downtown, or take to the street and enjoy the atmosphere in South Beach and cross the bay to Wynwood to tour the incredible street art.

Where to stay

Miami. Hotel of South Beach. Roof terrace
The roof terrace at Hotel of South Beach

Miami has hotels to suit all budgets, but it pays to shop around as many hotels discount their rates. For those who want to enjoy the glamour and pulsing nightlife of South Beach, grab a room nearby. Stay in the heart of the Art Deco district at The Hotel of South Beach, with its gorgeous rooftop terrace.

The Mondrian South Beach looks out over Biscayne Bay and is seriously cool. It has a popular sushi bar, pool cocktail party and is located slightly away from the pulsing South Beach. For the eco-conscious, head to the tropical resort of The Palms Hotel & Spa.

Miami. Fisher Island
Miami skyline seen from Fisher Island

Where to eat

The Cuban influence is everywhere in Miami’s cuisine so you have to try a pulled pork sandwich or a hog roast. Versailles in Little Havana is one of the best known. Stone crab is another local delicacy. Joe’s Stone Crab is internationally renowned but for a twist check out My Ceviche. In Coral Gables, try Ortanique on the Mile for fresh food with a tropical taste or a mean steak.

For a more laidback beach holiday, see what’s available on High50 Travel

Getting around

Taxis are pretty reasonable. If sticking to the popular tourist areas, you can walk to most places. The block system makes navigation fairly simple and hire cars all come with sat nav. If heading downtown keep to the popular areas and ensure you know where you’re going.

When to go

Spring is always the best time to visit Florida, when temperatures are rising nicely but rainfall is still minimal, so think about April or May. Avoid ‘Spring Break’ when the state is invaded by vacationing students. Alternatively, July is hot but less rainy than June or August.

Miami. South Beach. Art Deco. Flickr CC Tobias Michaelsen
Art Deco buildings along the front at South Beach

Three things we like

  1. The beach. Wide and long and white, it’s pretty idyllic. Just be careful if you fancy a swim; unlike the Gulf coast the waves can be pretty big.
  2. The Art Deco district. A stroll through the historic buildings in the early evening is always a thrill. Stop for a mojito and watch the city start to buzz.
  3. The culture. If you love art you are in for a treat with a dozen galleries to choose from, plus the brilliant Art Basel festival.
Miami. Wynwood. Street art
Take a trip to the district of Wynwood, which is filled with street art

Something we don’t like

Plastic bodies! Miami is the home of plastic surgery and they apparently invented the butt implant. (Why?) All the big lips and bouncy boobs can be a bit much.

Don’t miss

The Ancient Spanish Monastery, which dates back to Spain in 1141 but was bought and relocated here by William Randolph Hearst. For two unique US experiences, enjoy the Miami skyline from the sea via a Biscayne Bay tour boat and maybe spy some famous homes. And catch a Miami Marlins baseball game or the Miami HEAT basketball match.

High50 insider tips

Miami. Raleigh Hotel. Martini Bar
Elegance and intimacy at the 1940s-styled Martini Bar at the Raleigh Hotel
  • If you need to take a break from the city action, try the free yoga classes in Bayfront Park, Kennedy Park or Margaret Pace Park.
  • For some unusual holiday mementos visit the Conch Hill Market or Little Haiti’s Caribbean Marketplace for gifts with a distinctly Latin flavor.
  • Cocktails are de rigeur and for a bit of flair and celebrity history, visit the 1940s-styled Martini Bar at the Raleigh Hotel.
Miami. Coconut Grove Marina Row of Boats.
Boats in Coconut Grove Marina

Travelling with family

Miami is perhaps not the first choice for children in Florida, but there is nevertheless plenty for kids to enjoy, with parks, beaches and pools. Animal parks include Zoo Miami, Jungle Island and Monkey Jungle, and the Miami Children’s Museum has loads of hands-on exhibits.

Need to know

  • The average flight time from London to Miami is about nine hours.
  • The time is Eastern Standard Time, which is four hours behind the UK (GMT -4).
  • Spanglish is a thing, but don’t worry if you don’t know much Spanish. Most locals speak English and Spanish.
  • You don’t need a visa but you will need to pay for an ESTA before you travel.
  • There’ll be a waiver form to fill out on the flight so keep your passport handy.
  • You don’t need vaccines, but there are sometimes outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases, so try to avoid getting bitten.
  • Take a Type A two-pin travel adaptor.