Key West vs Miami: White Key West beaches in the summer

Key West vs Miami From A Pro Traveler: Find Your Perfect Destination (2024)

When deciding between Key West vs Miami for a vacation, it can be a tough call.

I have stayed in Miami for long periods of time the last few years (love Miami), and I just visited Key West for a while this summer. In my opinion, Key West is definitely the more laid-back and tranquil option, evocative of a lush island escape.

In just two days, you can easily “do” Key West, but it definitely is not long enough to fall into the relaxed vibe and take advantage of everything Key West has to offer.

If you seek high-end shopping, extravagant dining, glam, lively nightclubs, and elegant beaches and beach clubs, then Miami will probably inspire you.

Affiliate disclosure: I only recommend tours, services and purchases I know and love on this website.

Key West vs Miami

A catamaran cruise in Key Wests, the white sail us up, and the sky is pale blue in the bright sunlight
Key West catamaran cruise

Exploring The Florida Keys!

With a distance of around 120 miles, the drive from Miami to Key West passes the crystal-clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean. All the keys lie like beads on a chain, and the famous Seven Mile Bridge overseas highway is on the way.

The Florida Keys are considered a prime destination for anyone seeking out water-based activities such as fishing, boating, snorkeling, and (of course) scuba diving – and I do not disagree.

Overall, The Keys are a perfect destination for anyone seeking sun, sea, and adventure in a tranquil and charming environment. And in Key West, you even have a little bit of a city vibe on top.

Charming Key West Florida

The red buoy that is the soutnermnost point in the US, in Key West on a bright sunny day with blue skies
US Southernmost point in Key West

I love Key West, for very different reasons than Miami.

This incredibly charming southern town was so much prettier, cozier, more fun, and in all ways possible, better than I imagined before I visited.

Lots of love to stroll the renowned Key West main street, Duval Street, famous for its eclectic mix of bars, and shops. You can find the weirdest things on Duval Street, including tarot cards, crystals to keep you happy and healthy, and things to smoke.

Another must-see attraction is Mallory Square’s nightly Sunset Celebration. Get there early, as this is a popular time to be here, and it gets crowded.

One of the best things you can do from Key West is to visit the island of the Bahia Honda State Park or Dry Tortugas National Park.

Sunrise over the water outside Key West
Sunrise in Key West

One particular location in Key West that draws visitors is the southernmost point of the United States, the red buoy. You clearly have to have your photo taken beside the US Mile Marker Zero.

(When I was passing in the excruciating July heat, the line to getting your photo taken here was way too long for the level of Fahrenheit, so I snuck myself to a photo from afar instead!)

Make sure you visit the Fort Zackary Taylor Historic State Park, where you find a lot of outdoor activity options like hiking, biking, fishing, and lounging in the sun.

While known for its scenic beauty, tranquil beaches, and watersports like snorkeling the coral reefs and experiencing marine life, jet skiing, scuba diving, and the famous key lime pie, Key West is still a small yet bustling town.

EpicNomadLife tip: One activity I recommend for Key West, is scuba diving. I went with Key West Scuba Diving and had a great day and two beautiful dives.

Cultural Key West

The pier in Key West on a bright summer day, with a white yacht docked by the wooden jetty, and lots of people are walking along the white wooden houses.
Key West

For those who seek a more cultural experience, the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is a small but interesting museum with lots of photos to tell the tales of Hemingway’s life!

This remarkable house once belonged to one of America’s most iconic and renowned authors. It has been preserved to show the world his life and work.

Hemingway had a house here in Florida as well as in Havana, the intriguing capital of Cuba, where he lived for a large part of 30 years when he was not in Key West.

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Among the most popular things to do in Key West are also the Harry S. Truman Little White House and the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.

If you’re looking for a quieter, more relaxed island experience with an abundance of quirky spots and unique attractions, Key West is probably where you should set your sights.

Classic charming wooden house behind a white wooden fence in Key West with a lush green garden.

Its quaint, laid-back atmosphere has this unique, authentic feeling that’s hard to come by in bigger cities like Miami.

If water sports, unique museums, a chill village, and an island vibe feel are your things, you are going to be very happy visiting Key West for your holiday.

However, if you’re looking for a flashy, trendy culture and aesthetic, Key West may fall short.

Top-Rated Tours In Key West

Where To Stay In Key West

These resorts offer stunning ocean views, private beaches, and top-notch amenities such as spas, tennis courts, and swimming pools.

📍 Three of the most popular top-rated accommodation options in Key West:


If you prefer a smaller, more intimate setting, you might consider one of the numerous bed and breakfasts or smaller boutique hotels scattered throughout Old Town like number 4 on my list, the NYAH.

The blue pool in the garden of NYAH hotel in Key West
NYAH Hotel Key West

I stayed at the NYAH (short for Not Your Average Hotel), and it was great as a budget option.

Also, it had the perfect location, breakfast included, was super nice, free coffee 24/7 (important!), and had a great backyard with three pools!

But be advised: the Florida Keys is NOT a cheap place; you will be hard-pressed to find accommodation for under $100 a night, even for shared accommodation.

If you are a solo traveler, you will feel that a lot more than couples, families, or groups traveling together.

Miami “The City Of Lights”

The Miami skyline lit at night

If being amidst a lively, bustling big city with endless attractions, activities, and busy streets is what you crave, Miami is your choice.

In Miami, you can have endless action, glamorous nightlife, diverse culinary options, and busy city streets.

Especially famous South Beach with Art Deco Boutique Hotels has this vibe where people roam the streets in bikinis as easily as in little black dresses.

Miami’s allure lies in its glamorous, exciting, and diverse beach city atmosphere with grand attractions and activities, but that is not all.

Art piece in Wynwood Walls, a dark colorful painting from an Asian street scene with lots of cars, people, lights, on a dark rainy night. People walk with umbrellas
Street art displayed at Wynwood Walls

The Wynwood Street Art District, with the famous Wynwood Walls Art Center and countless shops, restaurants, bars, live music venues, nightclubs, and museums, is a super popular part of Miami to visit.

I lived close to Wynwood for a month and really enjoyed the atmosphere. I did the food and art tour of Wynwood, which I think was the best way to explore both the food and the street art scene. I can truly recommend this tour!

Or head for Downtown Miami and Brickell for amazing shopping, which is also close to Bayside Marketplace. Here, you find shops in all categories and price ranges, and this is also where many of the boat tours of Biscayne Bay depart.

Little Havana is the best place to experience the true Latin vibe of Miami!

This is not one of the best places for elegant shopping, but make sure to stop by Little Havana anyway, just for the unique Cuban vibe.

Play some domino in Domino Park, and try a cigar and a chilled Cuba Libre.

Bar with live music in Little Havana Miami

Miami also has a famously vibrant nightlife, beautiful beaches, elegant hotels, and high-end shopping experiences that draw countless visitors every year.

Whether you are a foodie, a shopper, or a beachgoer, Miami has something that tickles everyone.

The North Miami Beach and Sunny Isles Beach areas, in particular, stand out as some of the city’s most scenic and visually striking spots.

Miami Beach is also perfectly capable of catering to all sorts of desires, from solo travelers to families to singles looking for a party, making it an incredibly versatile destination.

I did a helicopter tour over Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach to see the whole paradise from above!

Where To Stay In Miami


If you do not like the suggestions above, you might find a stylish shelter for the night in a charming and elegant atmosphere combined in one of these seven fantastic boutique hotels in South Beach, Miami.

Or you can do your own research below based on location and price.

Key West vs Miami

FactorKey WestMiami FL
Population26.500440.000
BeachesA number of
smaller beaches
Miami Beach
ShoppingDuval Street is the most famousExcellent throughout, all price levels
HotelsDecent selection
also pricey
Infinite, often pricey
ClimateTropical, 2 seasnsTropical, 2 seasons
Price LevelMedium to high, Key
West is a pricey area
All price levels for food
and entertainment
TransportWalking distances!Car, Uber, Lyft, Metrobus, free tram, bikes
AirportKey West International AirportMiami International
Airport
ActivitiesTropical, 2 seasonsTrillions!
RestaurantsA variety of good dining options in Key westAt least 5000 restautants! (OpenTable)
NightlifeA variety of good dining options in Key WestNever-ending
SecurityConsidered a safe cityHigh police presence, avoid downtown Miami at night
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FAQs Key West vs Miami

Should you stay in Miami or Key West?

Hopefully, you are now able to answer that question for yourself. I like both destinations, although they are different, maybe you will be able to visit both, too?

Is Key West more expensive than Miami?

I would say that in Miami, you have a lot more options for anything than you have in Key West, especially for accommodation.

Therefore, you will be able to find a lot cheaper accommodation in Miami than in Key West. Check out this mix of hostels and hotels you find in Miami Beach.

Also, check Airbnb and VRBO homestays, and you will find cheaper rooms.

Eating at restaurants and shopping in supermarkets is probably about the same, although you also have other options for eating in Miami. Many grocery stores and malls also have good options for cheap takeaway meals in Miami.

Is Key West Worth The Hype?

As a first-time visitor this summer, I have to say I really loved the vibe!

Note that I am also a city gal first and foremost, but this villagy town had a bit of a city vibe too, or at least a lively vibe with lots of shops, restaurants, bars, people, and stunning sea views!

Which Is The Nicest Key In Florida?

Kayaking tour in Key Largo, paddling through a narrow waterway covered with mangrove bushes while the sun reflects in the shiny water.
Kayaking tour in Key Largo

Well, the answer to this question simply can not be objective, it will depend too much on who you are and what you like.

Generally, people seem to agree that the best stops along the way are the laid-back Big Pine Key or Key Largo. The latter is the first stop after you leave the mainland, where you can do a guided tour of kayaking the mangroves.

Did that, loved it!

For me, though, as the aforementioned “city gal,” who also loves the sea, food, architecture, relaxing, and beautiful things, well – my favorite key is definitely Key West.

Key West vs Miami Beach

Miami Beach is probably the area in Miami that has the most, although not an overwhelmingly large, resemblance with Key West.

There are mainly low houses, a chill beach vibe with a beachy dress code even in the streets, and the ambiance in both places is more laid back than Downtown, Brickell, and Wynwood on the mainland of Miami.

Still, Key West is a villagy town, while Miami Beach is the laidback part of an urban hub, casually super close to the beach.

As I love the city, I would travel to Key West to visit but stay in Miami Beach. That is my verdict.

Wrap-Up Key West vs Miami

Key West vs Miami. Fireworks over Miami Beach

You’ll find a plethora of fun vacation experiences in either destination to suit your holiday desires whether you gravitate towards the bustling energy of Miami or the laid-back charm of Key West.

Both Florida destinations offer a wealth of seaside oases, culinary delights, and fun activities for all kinds of travelers – you just need to know where to look.

Any time of year is a good time and period to visit South Florida, hands down. The temperatures are always nice, although it can be excruciatingly hot in the summer. Fall and winter weather make it the perfect place for exploring the city and the national parks.

If you are heading down south, it is around a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Miami International Airport to Key West.

Pick up a rental car at the airport, and make it a little Florida Keys road trip so you can stop wherever you want and explore some of the other keys as well.

If time and money permit, consider taking a road trip from Miami to Key West to get the best of both worlds.

Related blog posts:

Ventanitas In Miami: 5 Best Cuban Coffee Windows & Their Cultural Heritage

YES, A Day Trip To Cuba From Miami Is Possible! Here Is How To By An Expert

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