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Vizcaya Mansion Museum and Gardens, Miami, FL

Updated on July 21, 2014

Vizcaya

The house and gardens at Vizcaya
The house and gardens at Vizcaya | Source

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

No trip to Miami is complete without a visit to Vizcaya. Carefully designed nearly 100 years ago to resemble a centuries-old Italian Renaissance villas, the stunning house and gardens at Vizcaya are open to the public year-round. Beautiful, affordable, and conveniently located very close to downtown Miami, a visit is an amazing way to spend half a day. When you need a break from the beach, shopping, or the clubs, take a couple of hours to stroll Vizcaya's grounds and mentally regroup - you'll be glad you did.

A markerVizcaya Miami FL -
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, 3251 S Miami Ave, Miami, FL 33129, USA
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Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is conveniently located near downtown Miami on the Biscayne Bay

Seahorses and Caravels

Seahorses and caravels are both themes throughout Vizcaya's house and gardens
Seahorses and caravels are both themes throughout Vizcaya's house and gardens | Source

The Story Behind Vizcaya

Vizcaya was the winter home of International Harvester vice president James Deering. A rare remnant of a brief era in American history, Vizcaya was built between 1914 and 1916. Deering hired three professional designers to help him plan the estate. Originally 180 acres and designed with outbuildings, including a dairy, poultry coop, and staff housing, to resemble a norther Italian estate, each aspect of the plan had a specific designer. F. Burrall Hoffman designed the buildings, Diego Suarez crafted the gardens, and Paul Chalfin unified everything as the overall artistic director. The house was painstakingly crafted using a combination of European antiques and disguised modern conveniences.

Named for a northern Spanish province, also called Vizcaya, the estate hosted Deering and his guests for less than a decade. After he passed away in 1925, a minimal staff ran the property for the next 20 years. In the 1940s, Deering's heirs gave most of the groups to the Catholic Diocese of St Augustine and Mercy Hospital. A decade later, the same descendents gave the remaining grounds and the house to Miami-Dade County. The site has been open as a public museum since 1953.

Arch leading from the North side of the house to the front entrance
Arch leading from the North side of the house to the front entrance | Source
These are everywhere in the gardens
These are everywhere in the gardens | Source

The Vizcaya House Museum

To help preserve the antiques, photography is prohibited inside the house museum (camera flashes are exceptionally damaging to antique textiles and documents), so I do not have any personal photographs from inside the house. However, for a sneak peek of the interior, visit Vizaya's website.

Like the villas that inspired it, Vizcaya has a central, open-air courtyard. Using a central, open-air space as the functional room and heart of the home has been common in Mediterranean architecture since Roman times. Today, the courtyard at Vizcaya is covered with glass to preserve the antiques, but still provide the open-air, daylight experience.

While in the house, you can visit most of the major rooms on the first and second floors, as well as the North and South Towers. This means you have the opportunity to see well over 20 different rooms. Even though the house is well-stocked with European antiques, Deering had many of them altered to accommodate state-of-the art technologies. The home was constructed in the early 1900s and incorporated all the latest conveniences. It was built with central heating, an automatic electric telephone switchboard, elevators, electric lights, a fire control system, and even a central vacuum! You can peek inside one of the telephone closets. It is surprising to see a telephone closet hiding just outside a dining room that looks hundreds of years old!

Because the sub-tropical, salt-air environment is very harsh on the home and its contents, rooms at Vizcaya may be closed on any given day. However, when portions of the house or grounds are closed for conservation, admission discounts are frequently offered. For example, the courtyard is closed from May, 2012 through mid-September, 2012 so the glass cover may be replaced, but admission discounts are available.

Native plants and stones used in an Italianate manner
Native plants and stones used in an Italianate manner | Source

The Vizcaya Gardens

The formal gardens at Vizcaya are one of the best examples of Italianate gardens in the United States today. While they have traditional Italian designs and architecture, the garden has only ever hosted plants that thrive in Mami's climate. Additionally, native limestone and coral are used extensively for architecture and sculpture. The gardens feature sculptures, pools, fountains, and clipped, or trained, plants. A small labyrinth lies in a secluded part of the garden, and the Center Island offers a fantastic view of the gardens and the South side of the main house. The first photo on this page was taken from the Center Island.

Other must-see features of the grounds include the Barge, which rests in Biscayne Bay, and the flanking Boat Landing and Tea House. Both this area and the mangroves that bound the gardens feature Venetian-like striped poles. The poles, their carefully-crated careless angles, and intentionally worn appearance almost make you expect to see masked players acting out some piece of Italian Renaissance theater.

On the North side of the house, you can visit the David A. Klein Orchadarium, cafe and shop, and swimming pool. The swimming pool is small but stunning. With beautiful blue waters and cut coral steps, the pool was designed to be accessible from outside and directly from the house. Today, the door you see in the photo below opens in to the gift shop.

Pictures of Vizcaya's Gardens

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Statues, some marble and others coral, await you at every turnA small slice of the stunning grounds and gardensThe Tea HouseVenetian-looking striped posts are carefully placed to look carelessly knocked over timeThe swimming pool at Vizcaya with an entrance directly from the houseThe cement barge at VizcayaThe orchidarium is full of beautiful bloomsYours Truly, looking goofy
Statues, some marble and others coral, await you at every turn
Statues, some marble and others coral, await you at every turn | Source
A small slice of the stunning grounds and gardens
A small slice of the stunning grounds and gardens | Source
The Tea House
The Tea House | Source
Source
Venetian-looking striped posts are carefully placed to look carelessly knocked over time
Venetian-looking striped posts are carefully placed to look carelessly knocked over time | Source
The swimming pool at Vizcaya with an entrance directly from the house
The swimming pool at Vizcaya with an entrance directly from the house | Source
The cement barge at Vizcaya
The cement barge at Vizcaya | Source
The orchidarium is full of beautiful blooms
The orchidarium is full of beautiful blooms | Source
Yours Truly, looking goofy
Yours Truly, looking goofy | Source

Seahorses and Caravels

They really are everywhere!
They really are everywhere! | Source

Can't visit Miami any time soon? Bring Vizcaya to you, instead!

How to Visit Vizcaya

Before getting in your car, call the Vizcaya office or check online to make sure it is open. The first time I tried to visit, I arrived and discovered the museum and gardens were closed on that particular day of the week. Save yourself some disappointment and call ahead! Its hours are typically 9:30 - 4:30 every day except Tuesdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, but specific areas may be closed without prior notice.

Vizcaya is a great destination for non-English speaking visitors, too. The signs, guide book, and audio tour are available in Spanish and English, and the leaflets inside the house are available in an astonishing variety of languages.

Vizcaya is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I have seen in recent memory. When you visit, be sure to bring your camera, fresh batteries, and plenty of storage space - film or memory cards - for your photographs.

The gardens are, of course, outside, and Miami can get pretty hot. There is a cafe on site with some tasty-looking food and beverages, but you may want to bring a bottle of water to sip while walking the gardens. Just make sure to keep the water closed up and stowed away while you are inside the house museum.

The house is enormous and the gardens are extensive, so make sure to wear comfortable clothes and shoes. I work at a historic site/museum and I see people in footwear designed for the clubs, not walking. You don't look fabulous if you wear six-inch heels to a museum, you look foolish and you will leave limping.

As long as you allow enough time, wear something comfortable, and get ready to use your camera a lot, you should have an amazing time at Vizcaya. The opulence and splendor of the house contrast beautifully with the carefully crafted, yet naturalistic, beauty of the gardens and serenity of the pools and fountains. I hope you enjoy your visit as much as I did.

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    • gramon1 profile image

      Guillermo Ramon 4 years ago from Miami

      Thanks, Natasha. I checked out your page and can see you are an artist. I liked your jewelry. It is a great idea to make jewelry out of aluminum cans: "Recycled Jewelry". When you are in Miami, visit us at The Storycrafter Studio in Miami Beach (North Beach), right on Collins Ave. We have a combination of low price art gallery and black box theater. We are totally struggling, but artists can come see our shows for free.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      The same types of things happen in Charleston. It's seen as such a haven for the arts because of the Spoletto festival, but it really struggles to support anything native.

      Thank you for stopping by! I agree that Miami is so much more than clubs (though that is, sadly, all people seem to think of).

    • gramon1 profile image

      Guillermo Ramon 4 years ago from Miami

      Vizcaya is a beautiful place, right in the center of Miami. Access is very easy through US 1, I 95, or by train. I love to go there just to relax in a beautiful place.

      Miami is a very cosmopolitan city when it comes to night clubs and restaurants. However, we are very short on cultural activities. Part of the problem is that it is very difficult for art groups to survive without attendance. I know this because my wife and I have a black box theater in Miami Beach. Attendance is very low. If it was my business, I would have closed it already. However, it is our love to have arts around us. That is why we keep it going. Vizcaya is supported by grants, not by attendance. If you live in Miami, take advantage of the great things we have. Remember, just like we lost our symphony orchestra, we can lose any other great places we don't support.

      If you are a tourist, we have much more than just beaches and night clubs. Places like Vizcaya, little theaters, and art galleries are unique in Miami. We are not New York, but we have a great flavor.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Someone was just telling me about Longeood Gardens earlier today'! Crazy. I'd never even heard of it before today.

    • SimeyC profile image

      Simon Cook 4 years ago from NJ, USA

      I really want to go here - thanks for sharing with this fantastic hub! The gardens remind me of Longwood Gardens in PA - stunning photos!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Isn't the swimming pool great? I would love to have a house designed

      like this with a central courtyard and a pool you can just walk in from inside.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 4 years ago from UK

      Beautiful - love the swimming pool!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      I spent so much time just taking pictures there! It is such an amazing place. I hope you get the chance to visit soon.

    • denisemai profile image

      Denise Mai 4 years ago from Idaho

      This looks lovely. Your photos are beautiful. I may not make it to Italy but Florida is definitely doable. This will be filed in my travel ideas folder. Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      christopher 5 years ago

      Really, it's very beautiful and interesting, but we should look for real and abundant beauty of deeply heart.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      I'm glad you liked it and thank you for sharing! A friend of mine from Miami said she used to go to Ren Festival type things there as a kid. It is so beautiful but fairytale like that it seems perfect for those kind of events.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks for the descriptions and photos regarding the Vizcaya house and grounds which are now preserved as a museum site. It looks gorgeous! Voted up, useful, beautiful and sharing this with my followers.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you, Gracia Baliw-an! I'm really glad you like the pictures and feel inspired to visit. =)

    • profile image

      Gracia Baliw-an 5 years ago from Tabangaoen,La Trinidad Benguet, Philippines

      Wow, I want to see those places with my own eyes. I love gardens. beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      I love it! That is exactly how your hubs make me feel! Hopefully you can go visit her some day.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      I have a friend in Miami, she time and again talks about the great places,such as this one, and asks me to visit Florida.

      I wish to be there someday.

      Your pictures are amazing.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      It is actually surprisingly easy to find. When I visited, it was not at all crowded, which was nice. I did have to avoid a school group tour in the house, though.

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 5 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Vizcaya looks fantastic, especially the gardens. Well worth a visit although I presume it's not somewhere on the usual tourist trail?

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you! I loved photographing this place - I have so many more pictures of it!

      I'm glad you found the clothing/footwear part useful. I see a lot of people where I work totally unprepared because they don't know what to expect.

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Interesting! The pictures are beautiful and inviting. You have provided great information here and I love that bit about wearing the right clothes and footwear!

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you so much! I really appreciate the complements and votes, Olde Cashemere.

    • Olde Cashmere profile image

      Olde Cashmere 5 years ago from Michigan, United States

      I gotta visit some day in the future after reading this hub, very beautifully written and full of great content. Voted up, useful, beautiful, and interesting :)

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      When you do go back, it is right there. You can see the high-rise buildings when you look to the North, and you can see Vizcaya from Biscayne Key. If you look closely at the first picture, you can see the shadow of a building right behind the house. It was sort of cloudy when I visited, so they weren't super visible, but you can still see downtown in the photo.

    • jellygator profile image

      jellygator 5 years ago from USA

      Oh, I wish I'd known about this place when I visited Miami. It'll be a while before I return to Florida most likely, but it'll be on the agenda next time.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      That's so true. I feel like most architecture today doesn't pay sufficient attention to detail and is wholly uninspired.

    • anusujith profile image

      Anoop Aravind A 5 years ago from Nilambur, Kerala, India

      Nice place. Beautiful garden. Most of the 7 wonders of the world built in 19 century or back. Still our technologies are developed why we can't built wonders? Of course, Old is gold.

      Voted up....

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      I'm really lucky that I saw it right at the beginning of the month while the courtyard was still open. I do think it will be worth the wait to see it - it's so cool to see plants and fountains 'inside!'

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image

      Brainy Bunny 5 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      What a great idea! I'm always looking for things to do within driving distance, and this fits the bill. Unfortunately, I guess I won't do it this summer, as I'd really like to see the courtyard.

    • Natashalh profile image
      Author

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for stopping by! I'd wanted to visit Vizcaya for about six years before I actually got around to it.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I will have to venture down there one of these days to view the Vizcaya. It looks beautiful. Thanks for sharing.