In the southeastern corner of Florida, Miami is a world of its own. Renowned for spectacular Art Deco architecture, raucous nightlife and delicious seafood, the city is incredibly diverse. A tropical paradise and an urban hub, it’s a place where you can spot alligators in the wild or knock back artisanal cocktails. There’s a burgeoning art community, growing shopping hotspots and highly respected international food scene. This large city has so much to offer that it can be difficult to know where to base yourself, so we’ve put together this area-by-area guide on where to stay in Miami to help you get the most out of your trip.
The neighbourhood of Little Havana is every food-lover's dream. Cubans make up the largest ethnic group in Miami, and so, west of downtown, Little Havana specialises in Cuban cuisine. Fresh dishes and zingy flavours – bistec de palomilla (steak with rice, beans and plantains), abuela maria (guava, cream cheese and butter cookie ice cream) and batidos (milkshakes) – are all worth tucking into. You’ll find that rice, kidney beans and fried plantain is a common side serving. A swell of inviting restaurants line Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street), mostly family-run establishments and haunts popular with the locals.
As Miami, and Little Havana in particular, diversifies, with it so does its dishes: there’s a host of delicious Nicaraguan and Dominican places cropping up that are well-worth checking out.
Once you’re full, walk off a well-fed stomach with a stroll around the Cuban Memorial Boulevard, which commemorates the fight for Cuban independence.
Best for brand-new dining: Life House Little Havana
The leafy terrace, with hammocks a-swinging, is a strong draw at this stylish guesthouse in Little Havana. Dark woods, splashes of colour and green plants bring the rooms and communal areas to life.
While Art Deco reigns supreme in Miami, there’s a design rival to check out in Coral Gables, just south of Little Havana. Technically a separate city but typically classed as a constituent city, this is where you can marvel at the impressive architectural work of George Merrick, the real estate developer who designed the neighborhood in the 1920s. With the help of his artist uncle, Denman Fink, and architect Phineas Paist, he transformed his inherited 3000 acres of citrus groves into a lavish network of palm-lined boulevards and regal buildings, all inspired by Mediterranean architecture.
By far the most popular establishment both then and today is the Biltmore Hotel, built in 1926, where the likes of Judy Garland and Ginger Rogers stayed – this was the ‘It’ hotel during the Roaring Twenties. Modelled on Seville Cathedral's Giralda bell tower, it’s perhaps one oversized chandelier away from being garish. While you can stay at the hotel, a more budget-friendly option is to take afternoon tea, or simply wander around the communal areas, free of charge. Gaze up at the hand-painted frescoes on barrel-vaulted ceilings, stroke the huge marble columns and take in the splendour of the high domed blue ceilings.
Afterwards, use Coral Gardens' vintage-style trolley service to your advantage: pay a visit to the pastel-pink Elementary School, built in a Spanish Colonial Revival style; the butter-yellow Alhambra Water Tower; the villa-esque Police and Fire Station; and the grandiose Venetian Pool – they’re all reminiscent of Italian- and Spanish-style architecture.
Best for blowing the budget: Biltmore Hotel
A landmark, Mediterranean-style hotel that has been pampering the rich and famous since 1926. The rooms, furnished in peach and cream tones, are reminiscent of a Spanish villa. The massive chevron-shaped pool proves the main draw.
Best for tranquility: Hotel St. Michel
A small, romantic hotel just off the Miracle Mile. It has modernized rooms, striped bedding and copious European antiques.
The area of Biscayne Corridor is named after its main artery, Biscayne Boulevard. On Miami’s north side, it has only recently appeared on visitor itineraries thanks to a transformation of the neighbourhood, including a surge in contemporary art galleries. It’s become somewhat of a haven for artists, and so if you want to envelop yourself in creativity and see a different side to Miami, this is the place to stay.
Wynwood Art District offers some of the most dynamic murals in the city – take a guided art tour to really get beneath the surface of the street art. It all started with Wynwood Walls, a small stretch of wall taken over by graffiti artists. Today it feels like every building in this district is decorated, from car parks to residential houses to sidewalks.
Gallery-wise, head to the Rubell Collection for an interesting array of pieces from the past 40 years, including pieces from the late Purvis Young, as well as some more invigorating experimental work. Meanwhile, the Design District, further north, is slightly more upscale. There are various designer furniture stories and art galleries to shop in if you have a budget to blow. Locust Projects, an old warehouse-turned-alternative art space, features some quirky avant-garde works.
Best for mid-range comfort: YVE Hotel Miami
A sign of things to come, this contemporary property has a central location just off the waterfront. It enjoys all the perks of a mid-range hotel, plus guestrooms, fitness centre and a top-notch restaurant.
Best for street art: Krymwood Flats
Each of these apartments includes a kitchen, TV area and free wi-fi. Units are individually decorated, with bold statement art pieces, just minutes from the Wynwood Walls.
During the day you’ll see rollerbladers and joggers, but come evening South Beach is a whole different scene. From petite rooftop bars like The Cape to beachfront hangouts such as Nikki Beach Miami, South Beach offers the best spread of clubs for a night out. There are dive bars open until 5am, moody lounges suited to those who like to dress up and hardcore nightclubs with pulsing strobe lights. It’s best to hit the clubs from 10pm onwards, or linger over a mojito at a bar until you’re ready to move on to the next spot.
Needless to say, there’s a wide variety of music to match. Everything from house and hip hop to techno and EDM, as well as upbeat pop tunes. There are good bars for dancing, although most restaurants have bars attached so you can dance pretty much whenever, wherever.
On the LGBTQ scene, South Beach has some great hangouts ranging from bars with go-go boys to unpretentious hangouts. Most bars stop serving at 5am, and if you want to keep the party going after this you’ll need to move onto another area.
Best luxury resort: The Setai, Miami Beach
Condo-tower-cum-hotel that's known for its celeb-heavy clientele and swanky spa as much as for its pricey, vaguely Asian-themed rooms. Splurge for the snob appeal and the best views on the beach.
Best for night owls: Miami Beach International Hostel
If you're in town to party and aren't bothered by the occasional dinginess, you'll have a great time at this popular hostel. It's very centrally positioned in South Beach.
There’s no doubt that downtown Miami is changing. You only have to crane your neck skywards at the flashy offices, swish hotels and edgewater condos going up to understand why this area is undergoing the largest construction boom in the United States. It’s always been a commercial area, but there’s an upmarket residential scene on the increase too.
You'll find shopping malls aplenty here, from expansive complexes to two-floored affairs. The Mary Brickell Village is dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers, but, painted in soothing pink and green tones, it's a popular mall with its cute boutiques and exotic jewellery stores, and makes for a sophisticated visit. Brickell City Centre is more luxe, with over 100 stores – visit on a Sunday for organic produce at the weekly Farmers Market. There’s also the pink-painted Bayside Market Place, which only takes up two floors but, with views of Miani Marina from its terraces, always makes a pleasant shopping experience.
Best for jaw-dropping views: Mandarin Oriental
The pick of the luxury chains downtown for unbeatable service and jaw-dropping views across Biscayne Bay. Modern Asian-themed rooms come with balconies and cherry-wood furnishings. The spa, infinity pool deck, bar and restaurants are all world-class.
Best for rooftop cocktails: Eurostars Langford
Sleek hotel with all the mod-cons in a historic building.
Top image: Miami, Downtown District © s4svisuals/Shutterstock