If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, then a visit to the Florida Keys is an absolute must. The most famous of the islands, Key West, is the most Southerly point of mainland USA and once there you can expect to find plenty of palm trees, an azure blue sea, and lots of history, including Ernest Hemingway’s former home. Here’s your guide on how to take a day trip from Miami to Key West, as well as different route options and what to see once on the beautiful island!
Why you should visit Key West during your Florida Trip
When you imagine the sunny US state of Florida, you likely think of a sparkling sea, plenty of heat, and world-famous beaches. All this and more can be found in Key West, an island which is linked to the rest of the Florida Keys via a seven-mile bridge.
Some of the best things to do in Key West include a plethora of land and water based activities, including boat trips, kayaking, and taking the trolley to explore the island via the hop on hop off bus. Other highlights are…
The cats of Hemingway’s House: One of the best-kept secrets of Hemingway’s former home (the famous author lived on the island for fourteen years) is better-known now thanks to the rise of social media, though is just as adorably cute. The Hemingway cats are unusual in that they’re polydactyl, meaning that they have six toes! Ernest received a kitten named Snowdrop in the 1930s and today all of the Hemingway Museum’s cats are descended from her.
Papa’s Pilar Rum Distillery Tour: Provided that you’re 21 or over, the hop on hop off trolley ticket also includes free entry to Papa’s Pilar Rum Distillery. Created in collaboration with the Hemingway family, you’ll learn all about producing rum on a forty-five-minute factory tour, while the last fifteen minutes is dedicated to rum samplings!
Visit the Truman Little White House: It’s well known that Ernest Hemingway lived in the Florida Keys during the 20th-century… But did you know that President Harry S Truman ran the USA from the island during 11 visits (totalling 175 days) during the 20th-century. The ‘Little White House’ was originally constructed to serve as a first officer’s quarters, before being converted into a family dwelling during the early 20th-century. Today, the historic buildings are now a museum which you can visit for a fee.
Miami to Key West by bus
Truth be told, for those who are unfamiliar with driving in North America, the easiest way to get to Key West from Miami is by bus. We booked this bus tour, which takes around 3-4 hours each way and allows for six hours plus of exploration time on the island. We were lucky with the traffic and so actually ended up enjoying six and a half hours in Key West.
The bus had air conditioning and was (mostly) as comfortable as a long bus ride can be! Once in Key West itself, you can easily pack in all the sights and main attractions within the space of half a day, provided you purchase a trolley ticket or the Conch mini road train pass and prioritise what you see ahead of time.
We personally went on a rum distillery tour (included in the price of the Trolley Ticket), saw Ernest Hemingway’s House, meandered through Mallory Square, and made it to the most Southerly Point of Mainland USA. While the Trolley ticket covers more of the island and includes a hop-on-hop-off function, the Conch train is slightly cheaper. Book your Key West Trolley tickets in advance here or your Conch train tour tickets in advance here.
Miami to Key West Road Trip by car
Of course, if you’re looking for a self-guided itinerary and wish to stop at several of the other keys along the way, then you’ll likely want to rent a car. However, you should note that parking in both Miami and Key West is pretty expensive. With this being said, embarking on a self-guided road trip of the Keys will allow you to enjoy other islands at your own pace, rather than just having to spy them while passing by. Highlights and some of the best things to do between Miami and Key West include:
Key Largo: Though many people mistakenly believe that Key Biscayne (a small island just off the coast of South Beach Miami) is one of the Keys, this is simply not the case. Instead, the closest of the Florida Keys to Miami is that of Key Largo. Characterised by its glittering sea, Key Largo was even immortalised for all eternity by a song from the Beach Boys and a book feature by Hemingway.
Marathon: The city of Marathon is actually set across thirteen islands (or ‘Keys’ as they’re known in Florida). You may well not know this, but Florida is home to one of the largest coral reefs in the world, third to only the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. Marathon is at the very heart of this reef system and is teeming with restaurants and fun outdoor activities for all ages!
The Seven Mile Bridge: Just as impressive as it sounds, the impossibly long Seven Mile Bridge is the longest of all the 42 bridges that interconnect the many islands which form the Florida Keys. As you can imagine, there’s no better feeling than driving along this stunning stretch in a convertible, not to mention that this highway has been used as the backdrop in countless films and commercials!
Key West trip as a long weekend from Miami
For those with a little more time to spare, and who wish to travel at a slower pace, there’s plenty of delights to explore in Key West over the course of a long weekend. Thanks to its rise to popularity as a result of several notable figures making their home on the island during the 20th-century (President Truman even created his own little White House, from which he ran the USA), there are plenty of accommodation options on the island. Check the best Key West accommodation rates and prices here.
Otherwise, choosing to stay overnight is a great way to experience the local nightlife and enjoy every activity at a much slower pace. Though you can see the main sights during a day excursion from Miami, there’s no denying that taking the time to enjoy a local beer or relax on the beach (though the sand has to be imported as there are no natural beaches thanks to the coral reef!) is never a bad idea! Not to mention that you can enjoy both cultural and sports-based activities should you select to stay longer than a mere six hours.
Things to know before visiting Key West from Miami
You should know before you go that the day is incredibly long and so you’ll want to get an early night the night before, though, of course, you can always sleep on the bus! Bus tours leave from Miami Beach at 7 am and so you’ll need to be at Lincoln Road Mall by at least 6:45 AM so as to check in.
Next, thanks to Key West’s location 250 km south of Miami, the weather is much hotter than the Floridian city! As such, a cover-up, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen is an absolute must. Next, though you may not consider a bus or road train tour usually, the extreme heat and humidity means that you’ll likely walk much slower than usual and so getting the trolley will ensure that you actually get to see everything!
You’ll also want to carry around plenty of water and ask to fill up your water bottle each time you have the chance to (i.e. after you’ve eaten a meal in a café etc). Finally, the best time to visit Key West is between March and May when the weather is at its best (i.e. it’s before all of the rain and the heat of August) and after the crowds of the winter, meaning that prices are generally lower.