White sandy beaches, bright blue skies, neon lights, frozen fresh fruit daiquiris, stunning sunrises and rich culture.
You can find all the above in Miami.
To experience Florida in all its subtropical glory is something I have only dreamed about. So to be able to travel to Miami (South Florida’s ‘cultural cool kid’ as the Telegraph coined it) during my first trip to America was literally a dream come true.
While the neon strip of South Beach may be the first thing that pops into your mind at the mention of Miami, this dynamic city has so much more to offer – from Little Havana to The Design District, Wynwood and the Everglades, there is a whole lot more to Miami than just a pumping nightlife.
When to visit
Peak season in Miami runs from November to April. This is when you’ll find many visitors from colder parts of the US and Canada descend on the city in search of some subtropical warmth and sunshine. But you don’t need to visit in peak season to be able to soak up the sun. I travelled to Miami in mid-September and could barely spend half an hour sun tanning before needing to seek out some shade from the almost 30 degree humid heat.
Temperatures in Winter tend to fall into the mid 20s and you may find yourself scoring some absolute bargains during this time as hotel rates can drop by as much as fifty percent! As an added bonus, the streets, restaurants and daily excursions will be far less crowded, giving you some breathing space and a chance to soak up some of the culture without being jostled by a constant ebb of tourists.
Where to stay
Budget travel is my thing and I am super savvy when it comes to finding cheap deals on travel and accommodation. However, until this trip, I had never stayed in a hostel before and – well – it certainly was an experience! I stepped foot into my 10 bed dorm and within 10 minutes was desperately seeking out budget hotel options. But I hadn’t even given it a chance. By day 2, my new found friend (and bunk mate) Giorgia and I were sipping strawberry daiquiris together on Bayside and swapping life stories like long lost sisters.
While the swanky hotels that line the white sand beaches of Miami are gorgeous and only a stones throw from the waves, they may be a greatly unnecessary expense. Let’s be honest, there is so much to do and see in Miami you really won’t be spending that much time in your hotel room anyway. The characterful hostels that sit just behind these block skyscrapers are just a few minutes walk from the same views for a fraction of the price and offer the opportunity for solo travellers and groups alike to mingle with some fellow wanderers and pick up some good tips for the days ahead.
I stayed at Beds n Drinks hostel in the heart of South Beach and just a two minute walk from the sea. It cost only £50 for four nights and included breakfast, beach towels, polite service and clean dorms – what else could a budget backpacker need!
The weather to bask in and the culture to observe across Miami is so divine that I chose to walk almost everywhere. To get to the few locations that were too far to walk, it was cheap and easy to catch an Uber. There is also the free Miami Beach Trolley which operates multiple loops throughout the city. There’s also an extensive Metrobus (jump on the Metrobus 150 to get to Miami Beach from the airport) system throughout mainland Miami, and the free Metromover for getting around downtown.
What to see
I spent four full days in Miami and I filled them chock-a-block! I was travelling solo and on a tight budget (as always!) so didn’t do much in the way of late night drinking or clubbing so if you want good night life recommendations maybe check out a few of these suggestions.
Start your day with a walk, cycle or skate along the boardwalk that spans the full four miles along Miami Beach. There are bike and skate hire shops all along the beach or you can make use of the CitiBike Stations (much like our Boris Bike system in London). Start on the North beach and slowly make your way down to South Beach, enjoying the warm air and sound of the waves.
Take a walk down the main shopping street in Miami Beach – Lincoln Road – and grab some lunch at one of the many restaurants offering food from all around the world. After lunch, stop off at South Beach Kayak and try your hand at paddle boarding across the crystal blue waters of Biscayne Bay. Continue making your way down to South Beach and take in the sights along Ocean Drive before it all gets lit up like an over-decorated Christmas tree. Stop off at Wet Willies as the sun sets to grab a frozen Daiquiri. Take your pick from a vast range of flavours from the classics such as Strawberry and Pina Colada, to the obscure like Naked Willie and Call a Cab.
Travel Tip: Beware of the strip on South Beach. Yes you have to see it and you have to try a one of Wet Willie’s finest, but you will blow your entire holiday’s budget here in one night if you aren’t careful. The drinks, club entry and food are all extremely over-priced – you have been warned.
I know waking up before dawn while on holiday is not a favourable option, but you just must get up in time to walk down to the sea and watch the sunrise – I promise it will be worth it. The horizon lights up with stunning reds, pinks, oranges and yellows to welcome the new day and, with an unobstructed view of the horizon, the sands of Miami Beach make the best seats in the house.
Head back to your hotel or hostel for breakfast before catching an Uber into the art district of Wynwood. This once run down warehouse district of Miami has been transformed into one of the most impressive outdoor galleries the world has ever seen, lifting the entire community and putting Wynwood back on the map. Visit Wynwood Walls – a collection of some of the world’s greatest graffiti and street art in the world. But don’t limit yourself just to this tourist hotspot. Some of the best art can be found just from wandering the nearby streets of Wynwood where professionals and locals have used every blank wall as a canvas to show off their incredible skill.
Wynwood is full of converted warehouses offering craft breweries, art galleries, chic boutique clothing and jewellery stores and stylish cafes and bars. Oh, and before you leave Wynwood, be sure to stop by Salty Donut with its weird and wacky sweet and savoury doughnut flavours.
Spend your second evening watching yet another sunset from yet another fantastic bar with yet more daiquiris. You can walk from Wynwood down to Bayside to explore the boutique market stalls, listen to some live music and gaze over the harbour. While Wet Willies sells the best known daiquiris in Miami – you will find THE BEST daiquiris for half the price right here in Bayside. Let’s Make A Daiquiri have found the perfect blend of fresh fruit, ice, a dash of sugar syrup and a whole lotta rum – made to order and absolutely delicious. Two of these and you’re very merry, three and you’re struggling to walk in a straight line. They’re awesome!
I arranged to go out on two day excursions while in Miami – the first was a trip to the Everglades which was highly recommended to me by my bunk mate, Giorgia. The Everglades National Park is a 1.5 million acre wetlands which borders with Miami. An international treasure, the Everglades is home to endangered species such as manatees, the American crocodile and even the elusive Florida panther.
The day cost around £20 and included transport to and from The Everglades, admission to the National Park, a guided airboat tour through the wetlands and crocodile spotting, followed by an informative alligator show at the local rescue and rehab centre and even the chance to hold a baby alligator.
The second and, by far, best experience I paid for in Miami was a food tour of Little Havana. If you’re going to splash some cash on anything in Miami this should be it!
The walking food tour guides you through the cultural and culinary history of this little displaced patch of Cuba. Our tour guide, Ashley, had more flair and energy than a coffee addict on a sugar high, and it was infectious. She took us from one feast for the taste buds to another – from Cuban coffee (i.e. rocket fuel) to Cuban sandwiches, the perfect mojito, homemade ice cream and everything in between. We also explored local artistic hubs, saw true Cuban cigars being rolled and pressed by the very talented Roberto and visited the famous Ball and Chain bar whose stage once hosted the likes of Billie Holliday, Count Basie and Chet Baker. Little Havana is Miami’s vibrant Cuban heart and oozes more history and culture in its few hundred metre stretch of main road than some cities have in their entire centres. Every shop, cafe and art gallery owner has their own fascinating story to tell and every piece of art, every local Cuban recipe has a long history that has embedded it in this cultural jigsaw puzzle.
Now that you are stuffed to bursting it’s time to head back to the beach to sleep off all that Cuban food in the sunshine and soak up the last rays of vitamin D before heading home.
What to bring home
There is no shortage of tacky souvenirs to pick up along your way in Miami. But the best thing you can bring back is a whole load of memories, some great stories and a tan to make everyone back home jealous.
Other than these, grab yourself a traditional Cuban cigar from Little Havana and try pry the perfect Mojito recipe out one of the bartenders at the famed Ball and Chain.
Apps to help you along the way
Uber – definitely the easiest and most convenient form of travel and not too expensive
Maps.me – download a map of Miami that you can then use while you are out and about without any wifi access and ensure you won’t get lost. I use this app in every new city I visit to help me get around
Get Your Guide – I found the best value for money for all attractions and excursions in Miami through the Get Your Guide app – a LOT cheaper than you will find these day excursions advertised in the local tourist traps.