Located just about 165 miles from Miami, on the island with the same name, Key West, the southernmost city in the continental United States, promises visitors one of the most fascinating sunsets in the country, a laid-back atmosphere, and a unique mixture of cultural influences.
There are plenty of things to do in Key West. The tropical island draws a great number of tourists with its fascinating historical and artistic roots, the explosive nightlife, and the variety of water adventures. Whether you are interested in relaxing and enjoying a Bohemian atmosphere or you want to learn about Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost or other famous people who called this paradise home, this is the perfect destination. In addition, foodies who dream about exploring the Afro-Caribbean and Spanish cuisines always leave Key West completely satisfied.
If you are planning a trip but you are not familiar with the best things to do in Key West, here is an interesting and helpful “list of must dos”.
Don’t leave home without your Lonely Planet Miami & the Keys (Travel Guide)
How to Get to Key West
Key West is a great destination for all kinds of travelers, but to make sure you have a memorable vacation you must plan it properly. First of all, getting to Key West is easy. Depending on how long your vacation is going to be, you can choose between driving or flying.
If you have a week, you should go by car. The journey will be an amazing experience, with great landmarks and fascinating landscapes. But if you plan a shorter vacation, consider flying. In addition, there is also a bus that will take you from Miami to Key West in 4 hours, for about 40$.
We planned an epic road trip through the Florida Key from Miami to Key West. We visited many of the islands and really gave ourselves a chance to get on island time. Hands down, this route is one of the best road trips in the USA and one of our favorites to date. If you have time time, we recommend you do it too. Our complete road trip guide: Epic Miami to Key West Road Trip Guide
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Can’t Miss Things to do in Key West
Explore the City by Foot
There is no better way to get closer to a new place than wandering around its beautiful streets and alleys. Exploring Key West by foot gives visitors the chance to catch a glimpse of its charming Caribbean architecture. There are many interesting houses built out of coral-rock or salvaged ship-boards that will conquer the heart of every history and architecture enthusiast. Forget about maps and just let this lovely city amaze you with its beauty and hidden gems.
Check out this Key West Florida Walking Guide Card to help you navigate around.
Rent a Bike and Cruise around the Island
If you want to explore more than the city, renting a bike is a fantastic idea. There are many hotels and shops that offer bike rentals so you don’t need to bring your own. There are travelers who prefer driving around the island, but why not enjoy the warm tropical breeze while getting closer to the past and the present of Key West? Not to mention that a bike will save you the stress of finding parking.
The island is quite small so if you are ready for a long ride, you can see it in one day. And those who don’t want to explore it alone can join a guided tour. Key Lime Bike Tours is a fantastic choice!
Book your guided bicycle tour of Old Town Key West today with Viator.
Take a Photo at the Southernmost Point
Technically the southernmost point is in Hawaii, but the colorful buoy that marks the southernmost point of continental United States is right in Key West, so don’t miss snapping a photo. This is one of the most popular things to do in Key West and the buoy is one of the most photographed places on the island. Definitely a must-see and, of course, a must-capture moment.
Book your Key West hop-on hop-off trolley tour today with Viator.
Get Closer to the Heart of the City: Duval Street
Like every other respectful city, Key West has its own famous road, filled with art galleries, outdoor cafes, inviting bars, and large numbers of curious travelers. The strip stretches from Mallory Square to the Southernmost Point and it offers a great spectacle to travelers from all over the world. Sure, it can be crazy, especially if you choose to explore it by night when everybody is ready to party. But it is a must-see for those who want to have some fun and completely understand the city. Just keep in mind that this is not one of the places favored by the locals, who seem to be having a love-hate relationship with it.
Viator offers 129 great tours in Key West, Below are the top 4 tours that include Duval Street.
- Key West Pub Crawl
- Small-Group Key West Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour
- Seafood Lover’s Food Tasting and Walking Tour
- Key West Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour
Get in Touch with Literature: The Hemingway Home & Museum
Located in the charming Old Town, The Hemingway Home & Museum is a must-see landmark, especially for literature aficionados. Ernest Hemingway was not born in Key West; the literary icon lived here for a few years and became one of the most famous and well-loved residents of the island. His former home is now a U.S. National Historic Landmark and it is open to travelers who are eager to learn more about his life and work.
Book your Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum Tour today with Viator.
Catch a Glimpse of History: Harry S. Truman Little White House
History lovers have the chance to explore what used to be the headquarters for the naval station’s command during the Spanish-American War, and two World Wars, as well as President Harry S. Truman’s winter White House. The charming museum is beautifully preserved and open for guided tours. Though the tours are highly recommended, if you are not interested or you don’t have enough time, you can just visit the small-sized gallery located on the ground floor. Expect to be transported back to the past through interesting photographs and historical displays.
Don’t leave home without your Lonely Planet Miami & the Keys (Travel Guide)
Enjoy a Sunny Day on the Beach
Though Key West is not well-known for its beaches, there are a few charming areas where both travelers and locals can completely unwind while sunbathing and enjoying fun water sports. Smathers Beach is the most bustling on the island and it gives visitors the chance to relax while admiring beautiful views, indulge in delicious street food, and have fun playing volleyball or adventuring into water sports. Tourists who prefer a quieter area, can step away from the busy Smathers Beach and enjoy a sunny day at Fort Zachary Taylor.
Maybe sitting on the beach is not your thing. Why not rent a jet ski or go kayaking? Viator offers a wide range of water sports activities, below we have listed out some of the top water sports activities to do in Key West.
- Key West Full-Day Power Adventure: Sailing and Water Sports
- Key West Jet Ski Tour
- Key West Stand Up Paddleboard Rental with Optional Lesson
- Key West Half-Day Power Play: Water Sports & Sunset Sailing
Take a Helicopter Tour
One of the absolute best things to do in Key West is to hop in a helicopter and see it from above. The scenery is nothing short of amazing as you see the layout of the city, island and then venture beyond the shore into the backcountry.
This was the highlight of our trip to Key West and you cannot really get a perspective of the area until you’ve seen it from above. Our extended helicopter tour into the backcountry area showed us wild islands, sandbars and massive sharks as we flew around. Yes, I said sharks. It is really incredible what you can see from above in the crystal clear water below. Do not miss this when you visit Key West!
The views above Key West are amazing. Viator offers 8 different helicopter tour options depending on how long you would like to fly and what you would like to see. Below we have listed out the top 4 helicopter tours in Key West.
- Helicopter Flight Over Florida Keys
- Helicopter Flight Over Seven Mile Bridge with Optional Sombrero Lighthouse and Duck Key Tour
- Key West Sunset Celebration
- Key West Ultimate Island Experience ** One We Did **
Celebrate the Sunset
As mentioned before, Key West is famous for its breathtaking sunsets. And since it is such a big thing on the island, there are many ways you can spend this time of the day. Whether you are on a romantic trip or traveling with friends, joining a sunset cruise is a great option. Couples can relax and celebrate their love while sipping champagne while the rest of you have the chance to join a lively rum and reggae cruise party.
In case boat rides aren’t your thing, head to Mallory Square for a nightly sunset celebration. Watch the sun going down surrounded by a great number of excited people, local artists and musicians, magicians, jugglers and many other surprises. The festival begins about two hours before sunset and it is one of the most amazing things to do in Key West.
There’s nothing quite like relaxing on a sunset cruise after a long day soaking up the Florida sun. Viator offers 21 different sunset cruise options, below we have listed out the top 3 sunset cruises you simply can not miss in Key West.
- Champagne Celebration Sunset Cruise ** Our Top Pick **
- Small-Group Sunset Sail with Wine
- Schooner Appledore Key West Cruise
Go Snorkeling or Scuba Diving
Key West is located right along the largest living reef in the United States, so it’s worth booking a boat trip to check it out. All of the snorkel trips leave from the main harbor and there are numerous companies to choose from depending on the schedule and experience you are looking for. There are also a number of dive shops on the island that will take you out to the best sites on offer.
While we are Advanced Open Water certified Scuba divers, we opted for a snorkel trip and it didn’t disappoint. The water is incredibly clear and the reef is healthy with high numbers of fish to observe. Pack your suit, sunscreen and prepare for an epic day on the high seas.
A visit to Key West would not be complete without hitting the water. Viator offers 41 diffrent sailing tours that include, scuba diving, snorkeling, dolphin watching, shipwrecks, party cruises and sunset cruises. Below we have listed out the top 5 snorkeling cruises you must do in Key West.
- Key West Snorkel Trip with Dolphin Watching
- Half Day Key West Snorkel Cruise
- Key West Shark and Wildlife Catamaran Tour
- Schooner Appledore Key West Cruise
- Java Cat Sail, Kayak and Snorkel Charter
Parasailing in Key West
It’s almost a rite of passage to go parasailing in Key West during your visit. With stable weather and unreal views, it’s one of the best places in the world to do it. Of course, we couldn’t resist and it was literally the last thing we did before we left. The operators are professional and good at their jobs, they make you feel comfortable with thorough briefings and even take photos for you.
We’ve been parasailing before but this was hands down the best experience we’ve ever had. We had a gorgeous day and our sail took us high above the water, giving us great perspective of the area around us. We saw 3 sea turtles during our fight and even got a good dunk at the end by the boat driver, which makes it memorable. We’d definitely recommend this as you’ll fail to find a more beautiful place to try it.
Book your parasailing adventure in Key West today with Viator.
What to Do in Key West – More Options
Viator offers 129 different tours in Key West ranging from bike tours, helicopter tours, sailing tours, food/wine/nightlife tours, sightseeing tours, day trips and so much more. Below we have listed out a few of our favorite tours you simply can not miss when exploring Key West.
- Day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park ** A MUST DO **
- Key West Mangrove Kayak Eco Tour
- Ghost and Graveyard Tour
- Island Adventure Snorkel Kayak and Tour
- Marathon Reed Fishing Charters
Taste Your Way Around West Key
Key West is a great destination for travelers who love history, art, architecture, as well as spending precious time on the beach. But it is also a spectacular place for foodies who are always eager to indulge in dishes that make their taste buds go wild. If you want to properly taste your way around Key West, begin with having breakfast at Blue Heaven, a delicious American restaurant owned by a free-spirited couple who take food seriously. Indulge in the mouth-watering pineapple pancakes and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere. Just keep in mind that this place is well-known so it can get pretty busy. Try to get there as early as possible.
In addition, make sure you don’t miss savoring the famous Key West conch fritters and Caroline’s Famous Fish Sandwich served at Caroline’s Café. And if you want to have an unforgettable dinner, Thirsty Mermaid is waiting for you with delicious culinary treasures from the sea. Whether you want caviar, oysters, ceviche, clams, tuna or other seafood, you can have them all at this stylish restaurant.
Last, but not least, make sure you don’t leave Key West without satisfying your sweet tooth with a slice of delicious Key lime pie, served at Kermit’s Key Lime Shoppe. Absolutely amazing!
Check out these top-rated Key West Restaurants:
- Bien ***** Certificate of Excellence Rating By TripAdvisor
- Tavern N Town **** Certificate of Excellence Rating By TripAdvisor
- Fisherman’s Cafe **** Certificate of Excellence Rating By TripAdvisor
- Santiago’s Bodega **** Certificate of Excellence Rating By TripAdvisor
- Garbo’s Grill **** Certificate of Excellence Rating By TripAdvisor
Check out these top-rated Key West Bakeries/Dessert places:
- Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe ***** Certificate of Excellence Rating By TripAdvisor
- Mattheessen’s **** Certificate of Excellence Rating By TripAdvisor
- Glazed Donuts **** Certificate of Excellence Rating By TripAdvisor
- Key Lime Pie Bakery **** Certificate of Excellence Rating By TripAdvisor
- Key West Key Lime Pie Co. **** Certificate of Excellence Rating By TripAdvisor
Where to Stay in Key West
For accommodation, this charming island offers visitors a variety of choices. For people who want to keep things economical, finding a comfortable B&B is the best option. Angelina Guesthouse is a cozy place where travelers can relax and rest before and after exploring the surroundings. In addition, they serve a delicious breakfast and the prices are very affordable.
For visitors who don’t mind paying extra for their comfort, Key West has many luxurious surprises and Sunset Key Cottages is just one of them. Located off the coast of Key West on Sunset Key, the 27-acre private island is a perfect choice if you are looking for something with comfortable rooms, a spa, a fitness center, and a pool. But this place has even more than that. The tennis courts and the private beach can easily take any traveler’s breath away!
And if you want to combine pampering and relaxing with exploring the lively city, staying at The Marker is a great option. (Shown in the photo above, where we stayed for 3 nights) The fabulous hotel is located just a few steps from the city’s historic seaport and three blocks from the lively Duval Street. Besides beautiful rooms with great views, the hotel also offers its guests bike rental services, access to the pools and the fitness center, as well as the chance to indulge in the delicious food served at Cero Bodega, a high-end Mexican-inspired restaurant.
Top luxury hotels we recommend in Key West:
H2O Suites Hotel ***** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Santa Maria Suites Hotel ***** Traveler’s Choice Rating by TripAdvisor
The Gardens Hotel ***** Traveler’s Choice Rating by TripAdvisor
Top mid-range hotels we recommend in Key West:
Orchid Key Inn ***** Traveler’s Choice Rating by TripAdvisor
Almond Tree Inn ***** Traveler’s Choice Rating by TripAdvisor
Eden House **** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Top budget hotels we recommend in Key West:
The Perry Hotel Key West **** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Havana Cabana at Key West **** Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Southwinds Motel **** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Top hostels we recommend in Key West:
Banana Bay Resort *** Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
Frances Street Bottle Inn **** Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
24 North Hotel **** Excellent Traveler Rating by TripAdvisor
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Looking for more on Florida?
Recommended Guide Books For Miami and Key West, Florida:
- Lonely Planet Miami & the Keys (Travel Guide)
- The Florida Keys Bucket List: 100 Offbeat Adventures From Key Largo To Key West
- Lonely Planet Florida (Travel Guide)
- Lonely Planet USA’s Best Trips (Travel Guide)
- Lonely Planet USA (Travel Guide)
Must-Have Miami to Key West Maps:
- Miami and the Keys: destination touring map & guide (National Geographic Destination Map).
- Florida (National Geographic Guide Map)
Travel Insurance: We use Allianz travel insurance and have since our first trip to Mexico in 2003. They’ve been there for us on our adventures – and many friends and readers – multiple times over! If you want to book with Allianz Travel Insurance, simply use this link to get their travel insurance!
Car Rental: Secure your car rental through Priceline, We got a killer deal!