Things to do in Miami

Welcome to Miami

It began as a relatively sleepy beach resort, but turned itself into ‘the Magic City’ - the destination of choice for jet-setters, party-lovers and sun-worshippers worldwide.

Blessed with a year-round mild climate, unrivalled access to the ocean and world-class sporting facilities, it’s easy to see why Miami in south-east Florida has become a number one choice for travellers of all ages and tastes. But there’s much more to this city than getting a tan or working that body.

There’s Art Deco architecture to admire, museums and galleries to visit, and a chance to while away time in nature reserves, parks and gardens. The nightlife is legendary and, contrary to popular belief, dining is as much a sport here as the in-line skating on Ocean Drive. As someone once said, “the wonderful thing about Miami is that you don’t have to make anything up – it’s all there to surprise, confuse and, occasionally, disgust you.”

Getting to Miami

By Air

Originally carved out of scrubland in 1928 by PanAm, Miami International Airport is located about 6 miles west of downtown Miami and about 10 miles from the beaches, so the journey to your hotel should be reasonably quick and comfortable.

There are a number of public transport options, run by the Miami-Dade Transit Department, including buses and rail services to all areas of Miami-Dade County. Travel planning is available on the website, www.miamidade.gov. But seasoned travellers say the comfort and convenience of a car ride is preferable.

All the major car rental firms operate off-site branches which are reached via shuttles from the airline terminals. Signs at the airport’s exit clearly point the way to various parts of the city, but the car rental firm should also give you directions to your destination.

If you’re arriving late at night, you might want to take a taxi to your hotel and have the car delivered the next day. Taxis line up in front of a dispatcher’s desk outside the airport’s arrivals terminals. Most cabs are metered, though some have flat rates to popular destinations. The fare should be about $20 to downtown (about 15-20 minutes) and $26 to South Beach (about 20-25 minutes), plus tip.

Group multi-passenger vans circle the arrivals area offering rides. Destinations are posted on the front of each vehicle and a flat rate is charged for door-to-door service to the area marked. It’s a cheaper option than a cab, but remember there’ll be several stops to drop off other passengers. Supershuttle (www.supershuttle.com) is one of the biggest airport operators and will take reservations.

By Train

Amtrak rail services (www.amtrak.com) connect Miami with other American cities, but bear in mind that the US is one of the world’s largest countries with vast distances separating the major destinations. A train journey from New York to Miami, for instance, can take between 27 and 30 hours.

By Road

The famous Greyhound Bus (www.greyhound.com) runs services between Miami and numerous destinations, but again, you’ll be a long time sitting. If you’re intending to drive from another part of the States, the interstate highway system connects cities and towns all over the country.

Auto clubs will supply maps, suggested routes, guidebooks, accident and insurance information and emergency road service. The major auto club in the US is the American Automobile Association (AAA) www.aaa.com

Miami Tourism Advice

Language

American, with a Florida accent. But Miami is a diverse culture known as the Gateway to Latin America, so expect to hear a fair bit of Spanish being spoken among the 60 per cent Hispanic population.

Currency And Tipping

The American dollar ($) or greenback, made up of 100 cents. And just in case you need to know, a nickel is 5 cents, a dime is 10 and a quarter 25. Tips are a very important part of some workers’ salaries, so it’s necessary to leave the appropriate gratuity.

In hotels, tip bellhops at least $1 a bag ($2-$3 if you have a lot of luggage) and give the chamber staff $3 a day (more if you’ve left a disaster area for him/her to clear up or if you’re travelling with kids/pets).

Tip the doorman or concierge only if he or she has provided you with a specific service (for example, calling a cab or obtaining difficult-to-get theatre tickets).

Tip the valet parking attendant $1 every time you get your car. In restaurants, bars and nightclubs, tip service staff 15-20% of the check, bartenders 10-15% and coat-check attendants $1 a garment. Cab drivers expect 15% and hairdressers/barbers 15-20%.

Safety

Although tourist areas are generally safe, US urban areas tend to be less safe than those in Europe or Japan. Always stay alert. If you’re in doubt about which neighbourhoods are safe, don’t hesitate to make inquiries with the hotel front-desk or the local tourist office.

Avoid deserted areas, especially at night, and don’t go into public parks after dark unless there’s a concert or similar occasion that will attract a crowd. Avoid carrying valuables with you on the street and keep expensive electronic equipment bagged up or covered when not in use.

Driving safety is important, too. If you drive off a highway and end up in a dodgy-looking neighbourhood, leave the area as quickly as possible. If you’re bumped from behind on the street and the situation appears to be suspicious, motion to the other driver to follow you. Never get out of the car in such situations. Go directly to the nearest police precinct, well-lit service station or 24-hour store.

Travel

Officially, Dade County has opted for a “unified, multimodal transportation network,” which basically means that you can get around the city by train, bus and taxi.

In practice, however, the message is that a car is pretty much essential unless you’re spending the entire vacation at a resort, are travelling directly to the port of Miami for a cruise or are there for a short stay in one area of the city such as South Beach, where everything is within walking distance and parking is a costly nightmare. With the exception of South Beach and downtown Coconut Grove, Miami is not a walker’s city. Because it’s so spread out, most attractions are too far apart to make walking between them feasible.

Miami is one of the cheapest places in the world to rent a car and there are dozens of car-rental companies in town. Airlines often have special deals when you book a flight and reserve your rental car at the same time. A minimum age, generally 25, is required of renters.

Weather

For many people, the worst time to come to south Florida is during the summer, when temperatures are usually scorching, humidity is oppressive and rain at 4pm is a regular occurrence.

Wintertime is spectacular – not too hot, not too cool. Temperatures can, however, dip down into the low 50s (teens Celsius) during a cold front. Rain showers aside, the most pressing concern for every visitor is the dreaded ‘H’ word – hurricane.

Official hurricane season is from June to November and while the hurricane’s actual pattern is unpredictable, the meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center are able to give fair enough warning so that people can take proper precautions. One of the safest places during a hurricane happens to be a hotel because most are sturdy enough to withstand high winds and have generators in case of power failure.

Security

Since 9/11 and, more recently, as a result of a failed plot in Britain to sabotage Transatlantic flights, security has obviously been stepped up to a high level.

The Miami Airport website, www.miami-airport.com, has the latest about what can and can’t be taken into the cabin of the aircraft. It’s important to become acquainted with the restrictions, particularly if you’re travelling with young children because there are instructions about baby milks and medications.

It’s now possible for many travellers, including British citizens, to enter the US without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program. Full details are on the London UK Embassy web-site, www.usembassy.org.uk/cons_new/visa/niv/vwp or on the site of your city’s embassy or consulate.

Things to do in Miami

The Everglades

1.5 million acres of swamp, saw-grass prairies and sub-tropical jungles, best explored by slow-moving canoe or airboat. 35 miles south-west of Miami.

Vizcaya

A European-style mansion giving a glimpse of life in early 20th century south Florida. 34 rooms of antiquities and 10 acres of Italian gardens.

South Beach

The quintessential Miami hot-spot. For shopping, partying and people-watching, this is the chic locale. http://www.miamibeachfl.gov

Seaquarium

Great exhibits and exciting shows in a beautifully landscaped park overlooking Biscayne Bay.

South Pointe Park

At the southern end of South Beach, a great place to view the huge luxury cruise ships leaving the port of Miami.

Stiltsville

A collection of small houses built on stilts in very shallow water in Biscayne National Park.

Coral Castle

Made of native limestone and created single-handedly in 1923 by Latvian immigrant, Ed Leedskalnin, as a monument to his lost love.

Metrozoo

A 290-acre cageless zoo with a wide variety of animals from Asia, Australia and Africa.

Parrot Jungle Island

Between downtown Miami and South Beach, a chance to get up close to some tropical birds in replicas of their natural habitats.

News Cafe

Versace helped to make this one of the hippest places on Ocean Drive. One of the best sidewalk spots to observe the wacky, colourful mix of pedestrians who pass by. Try the News Cuban Steak Sandwich!

** The Go Miami card is valid for 1,2,3,5 or 7 days and offers savings at all the top tourist attractions. ** http://www.gomiamicard.com

Eating and Drinking

With more than 6,000 restaurants to choose from, dining out in Miami has become a passionate pastime for locals and visitors alike. Star chefs have fused Californian-Asian with Caribbean and Latin elements to create a world-class flavour all its own: Floribbean. Think mango chutney splashed over fresh swordfish or a spicy sushi sauce served alongside Peruvian ceviche (a kind of seafood salad).

Once synonymous with ‘early-bird specials,’ Miami’s new-wave cuisine now rivals that of San Francisco or even New York. This can be not only high in calories, but also high in price. But if you can manage to splurge at a top restaurant at least once, it’ll be worth it. One that’s often labelled as ‘best restaurant worth the wait for a table’ is the institution known as Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant in Miami Beach. But as you’ll see on the website, www.joesstonecrab.com, it does not take reservations. It’s first come, first served, so prepare for a long wait for Joe’s Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes and Home Made Key Lime Pie to follow.

Elsewhere, you can enjoy a moderately-priced meal and linger for hours without a waiter hovering over you. Seafood is plentiful and don’t be put off by the look of some seafood shacks in places such as Key Biscayne – often these get the best and freshest catches.

Shopping

Miami is one of the world’s premier shopping locations. People come to the city from all over – from Latin America to Hong Kong – in search of products that are all-American (like Levi’s and Nike). Miami offers a choice of megamalls, from the upmarket Village of Merrick Park and the mammoth Aventura to the ritzy Bal Harbour shops and touristy, yet scenic, Bayside Marketplace, to name but a few.

There are also more unique shopping spots such as the area downtown known as the Biscayne Corridor (Biscayne Boulevard from 50th to about 79th Street). There are several kitschy, funky and arty boutiques as well as furniture stores with both antique and modern pieces.

Slowly but surely South Beach has come into its own as far as shopping is concerned. While the requisite stores - Gap, Banana Republic et al. - have anchored here, several higher-end stores have also opened on the southern blocks of Collins Avenue, which has become the Madison Avenue of Miami. For the hippest clothing boutiques (including Armani Exchange, Ralph Lauren, Versace, Benetton, Levi's, Diesel and Club Monaco among others), stroll along this pretty strip of the Art Deco District.

In the area known as Little Havana, you might want to buy hand-rolled cigars or the loose-fitting cotton or gauzy shirts known as guayabera. One idea might be to order the guide ‘Shop Miami,’ published by the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. Although it’s limited to the Bureau’s paying members, it provides some good advice and discount offers.

Night Life

Miami’s after-dark scene – in South Beach and downtown – is hotter than ever before. South Beach is certainly the uncontested nightlife nucleus, but more and more diverse areas, such as Coconut Grove, the Design District, South Miami and even Little Havana are increasingly providing fun alternatives.

While South Beach dances to a mainly electronic beat, other parts offer a Latin flavour – from salsa and merengue to tango and cha cha. In addition, there are jazz and blues bands in smoky clubs throughout Greater Miami. There are also countless bars and lounges – many of the best are in hotels - and most require proof that you’re over 21 to enter.

For up-to-date listing information, check the Miami Herald’s Weekend section, which runs on Fridays, or the more comprehensive listings in New Times, Miami’s free alternative weekly.

The scene typically gets going around 11pm and although practically every club has installed closely-guarded velvet ropes to create an air of exclusivity, don’t be intimidated – anyone can go clubbing in the Magic City. One safety tip when you’re out: never put your drink down out of your sight – there have been unfortunate incidents in which drinks have been spiked.

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