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.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Florida, your essential guide for visiting Miami.
There’s a burgeoning art community, growing shopping hotspots and a 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 Havanais every food-lover 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 are common sides 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.
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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 who designed the neighbourhood 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.
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The area of Biscayne Corridoris 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 get beneath the surface of the street art. It all started with Wynwood Walls, a small stretch of the 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 stores 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.
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During the day you’ll see rollerbladers and joggers but come evening South Beachis 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 5 am, 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 10 pm 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 the 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 5 am, and if you want to keep the party going after this you’ll need to move to another area.
South beach is one of the best beaches in Florida. To find more beach options read our list of the best beaches in Florida.
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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.
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Mid Beach combines the best features of its neighbours North Beach and South Beach.
The diverse Mid Beach area is home to everything you could want - luxury hotels, top restaurants, beauty salons, and spas. The area also has its own arts district and of course, a sandy beach that appeals to tourists and locals alike.
There are also plenty of hotels to suit all tastes, from budget hostels to luxury hotels with stunning architecture and swimming pools.
The beaches of Florida are one of the best things to experience in the US. In our guide to the best things to do in the US we've collected various American attractions that might interest you and for more beach destinations read our guide about the best beaches in the US.
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North Beach between 63rd Street and 87th Terrace, the latest beachfront enclave to be eyed by preservationists, thanks to its heavy concentration of playful mid-century MiMo buildings.
Eight blocks of the eastern side of Collins Avenue, from 63rd to 71st streets, were designated the North Beach Resort Historic District in 2004: this area includes masterpieces like the Sherry Frontenac hotel at 65th and Collins, with its jazzy neon signs, and the (currently closed) stone-grill-fronted Golden Sands at 69th and Collins. Though neither is particularly noteworthy for its rooms, both make ideal photo ops.
The low-rise buildings of the Surfside neighbourhood retain an appealing old-fashioned ambience; the beach, between 91st and 95th streets, is the main reason to spend an afternoon here.
Directly north, Bal Harbour – its aspirations of “Olde Worlde” elegance reflected in its anglicized name – is similar in size to Surfside but entirely different: an upmarket area filled with the carefully guarded homes of some of the nation’s wealthiest people.
The exclusive Bal Harbour Shops, packed with expensive designer stores, sets the tone for the area; ironically, given its upmarket aspirations, the town’s origins lie in a soldiers’ training camp that once stood here during World War II.
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Follow the Rickenbacker Causeway (which becomes Crandon Boulevard) past the Miami Seaquarium to enter the upmarket village of Key Biscayne, home to the area’s commercial centre, in addition to an enticing beach and nature preserve.
Not content with living in one of the best natural settings in Miami, the people of Key Biscayne also possess one of the finest landscaped beaches in the city – Crandon Park Beach, a mile along Crandon Boulevard (the main road that continues beyond the causeway from Virginia Key). Three miles of golden beach fringe the park, and you can wade out in knee-deep water to a sandbar far from shore.
Filled with the sounds of boisterous kids and sizzling barbecues on weekends, the park at any other time is disturbed only by the occasional jogger or holiday-maker straying from a posh hotel nearby.
Besides its very green, manicured looks and some excellent places to eat, the residential section of Key Biscayne (known simply to locals as “the village”), beginning with an abrupt wall of apartment buildings at the southern edge of Crandon Park Beach, has little to offer visitors.
Stomping ground of down-at-heel artists, writers and lefties throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Coconut Grove is better known these days for its sidewalk cafés, two shopping plazas and a slew of condo towers with stunning waterfront views.
Though it may have lost its counter-culture edge, Coconut Grove has retained its vinegary character: many locals still treat it as distinct from the rest of Miami, which annexed it in the late nineteenth century.
It owes its personality in part to the unique mix of settlers who first called it home: Bahamian immigrant labourers lived alongside New England intellectuals who came here searching for spiritual fulfilment and together created a fiercely independent community. Nowadays, the city is just a pleasant, fairly posh enclave, dripping with palms – turn down any side street and you’ll find it thick with gorgeous vegetation.
Central Coconut Grove is compact and walkable, with a movie theatre, shops and restaurants – including two of the city’s best-known malls, CocoWalk and Streets of Mayfair – and plentiful parking. An inviting place for Sunday brunch, the neighbourhood is also a University of Miami hangout.
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Miami’s flourishing Design District was originally a pineapple plantation owned by Theodore Moore, the “Pineapple King of Florida”. On a whim, he opened a furniture showroom on NE 40th Street and soon created what became known as Decorators’ Row. During Miami’s Art Deco building boom of the 1920s and 1930s, this was the centre of the city’s design scene, filled with wholesale interior stores selling furniture and flooring.
The Design District can be an intriguing area for a stroll, though note that the main emphasis (obviously) is on designer furniture and art galleries. Robins’ initial plans have been revamped somewhat, and now the district’s twenty art galleries and around seventy design showrooms have been joined by luxury retailers like Prada, Hermès, and Louboutin, trendy restaurants and jazzy, mid-rise condo towers.
Most of the action takes place on the 39th and 40th streets between NE 2nd Avenue and N Miami Avenue.
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Top image: Miami, Downtown District © s4svisuals/Shutterstock
Aimee is an in-house Senior Travel Editor at Rough Guides and is the podcast host of The Rough Guide to Everywhere. She is also a freelance travel writer and has written for various online and print publications, including a guidebook to the Isle of Wight. Follow her on Twitter at