January 13, 2020
If ever a city was made for admiring, it's Miami. Much of it is so outrageously glamorous you could spend all your time here doing nothing but marvel at beaches, buildings and bronzed bodies. But there's more.
Add to this a fantastic winter climate, endless blue skies and a see-and-be-seen streetlife, and it’s no surprise our fave free ways to experience Miami involve soaking up the sights and exploring the city on foot…
Miami’s South Beach is one of the best preserved Art Deco districts in the world and is easily walkable. The Miami Beach Architectural Historic District, to give it its proper name, extends from 5th Street up to Dade Boulevard and from the ocean to Biscayne Bay, and comprises more than 800 examples of Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival and MiMo (Miami Modern) architecture, lending the whole area an effortlessly stylish vibe.
The most well-known and photographed section is the stretch of Ocean Drive between 5th and 14th streets, where a string of hotels in various pastel and sorbet hues show off their curves, angles and neon lights to the world. Highlights include the 1935-built Colony Hotel with its famous electric blue sign, the new Celino Hotel (previously Park Central), and the elegant apartment building that was formerly the Carlyle Hotel, a landmark known for its starring role in many Miami-based movies, including the 1993 gangster film Scarface. The Miami Design Preservation League‘s Welcome Center (1001 Ocean Drive, between 9th and 10th streest) has detailed maps.
Miami’s Design District is approximately 18 blocks of old low-rise warehouses and factories that fell victim to large-scale neglect and decay throughout the 1980s and 90s. Towards the end of the century and throughout the 2000s, the area underwent an intensive period of renovation and investment, and now houses a range of art galleries, design emporiums, furniture showrooms, luxury brand stores, high end restaurants and a thriving pavement cafe scene. Check out the regular free public art tours led by an art critic, or in neighbouring Wynwood, take a self-guided tour of the ever-changing street art scene. If you’re here on the second Saturday of the month, Wynwood also hosts the free Wynwood Art Walk Block Party, featuring inspiring artists, local musicians and delicious food trucks.
The driverless Metromover has been transporting people between Miami’s Downtown, Brickell and Omni neighbourhoods since 1986 and is completely free. Easy to use, with an inner and outer loop, it’s a quick and convenient way of getting around the area between Bayfront Park (for the Bayside Marketplace) and other points downtown. But best of all for tourists, it offers fantastic views of Biscayne Bay and the city’s skyscraper-filled skyline. Grab your camera and ride it as the sun goes down for the ultimate twinkling Miami-at-night shot.
The lovely and intimate Miami Beach Botanical Garden underwent a million-dollar transformation several years ago and features an expanded water garden and a mangrove wetland along with a diverse collection of tropical plants, flowers, palms and sculptures. Lounge on the spacious lawn, admire the vertical ‘living wall’ or zone out in the Japanese serenity garden. Entrance is always complimentary, and there are also free botanical seminars every second Saturday, as well as regular art exhibitions throughout the year. Guided meditations and yoga classes are also available for a small fee.
Head to Miami’s (mainly) Cuban district – it’s also home to many Nicaraguans, Hondurans and other Central and Southern American immigrants – for a real insight into Hispanic culture, food and people. What the area lacks in aesthetic charm, it makes up for in memorable moments and one-off experiences: sipping a sweet café Cubano in a local bakery, watching an intense game of dominos in Máximo Gómez Park, trying a guarapiña ice-cream (sugarcane and pineapple flavour) at the Azucar Ice Cream Company, watching skilled Cuban cigar rollers in action at El Titan de Bronze or dining on ropa vieja (Cuban beef stew) at legendary diner Versailles.
Cultural Fridays, or Viernes Culturales, take place on the third Friday of every month, where main drag Calle Ocho comes alive with street performers, salsa dancing, Uruguayan drumming, tango classes, open artist studios and free walking tours of Little Havana.