Beautiful beaches and art deco delights are just some of Miami's many charms – there's also the blazing nightlife, tropical gardens, lively arts scene and sizzling cuisine.

If you're planning to make a trip to The Magic City, here are some of the best things to do to make the most from your time there.

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Sizzle on South Beach 

South Beach is everything Miami is known for – the sparkling beach, beautiful art deco architecture, top-end boutiques and buzzing bars and restaurants. Its glamour, but you'll also find some great down-to-earth bars, good eats and excellent museums. The section of beach running from 5th to 15th Sts is usually the busiest, but you can head south to a quieter area known as SoFi.

If you’re interested in escaping the crowds and the pressure to look fabulous, North Beach will fit the bill. People-spotting aside, this is generally a higher quality of beach. Places such as Haulover Beach Park are pretty enough to serve as your screensaver, and if you really fancy a complete tan, there’s a clothing-optional beach here too.

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Wynwood Art District in Miami preparing for Art Basel
Enjoy colorful street art in Miami's Wynwood District © Torresigner/Getty Images

Gallery hop in Wynwood

Miami’s hippest residents pop into South Beach clubs occasionally, but for years the ultimate cool-kid activity has been the neighborhoods of Wynwood and the Design District.

Wynwood is very popular with travelers and has lots of street art and many galleries, and every month these outposts throw open their doors on a night of art openings – a showcase for some of the rising stars in the art world. Wine flows as the crowd hops from gallery to gallery. Then there's the Design District, which is a high-end shopping area with a couple of great little art museums.

Embrace Miami's lively nightlife  

Miami's nightlife is as diverse as its population, so you’ll find brassy Latin jazz joints, buzzing microbreweries, friendly neighborhood pubs, stylish rooftop lounges, creatively-configured cocktail dens, open-air music jams in backyard bars and bass-heavy nightclubs where the dance party continues well into the next day.

There’s a feast for all seasons when it comes to partying north of Downtown Miami. The bars, pubs and clubs here, which stretch from the edge of artsy Wynwood to the Upper East Side, run a veritable gamut of styles. Choose from posh lounges draped with pretty people, gay dive bars where karaoke is often on the menu and converted studio spaces that host live-music venues.

Explore Art Deco beauties

Like all great cities, Miami and Miami Beach have a distinctive architectural style and art deco is their aesthetic signature – you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better concentration of it outside of this city. The style is an early 20th-century expression of an aesthetic that embodies an anti-traditional elegance and symbolizes wealth, progress and sophistication.

The world-famous Art Deco Historic District is pure exuberance: the architecture of bold lines, whimsical tropical motifs and a color palette that evokes the beauty of Miami's landscape. The design of each art deco building is different, and it's hard not to be captivated when strolling among these restored beauties from a bygone era.

Taxi on Ocean Drive in Miami
Miami has plenty of fabulous art deco buildings © John Kellerman/Alamy Stock Photo

Shuck oysters like a pro 

With the ocean at its doorstep and the gulf nearby, Miami has access to incredible seafood. You’ll have the opportunity to feast on some of the best ingredients plucked straight from the ocean. You can slurp fresh-shucked oysters at a bar in South Beach, sample creative takes on softshell crab in Wynwood and feast on fresh-grilled fish at a waterfront eatery overlooking Key Biscayne.

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Scope out Miami's contemporary art scene

The Rubell family's private art collection made Miami synonymous with the contemporary art scene, and their Wynwood museum helped set the stage for that neighborhood's gentrification. Rubell Museum has now relocated to Allapattah, where an enormous campus has been converted into one of the largest private contemporary art institutions in North America. The sleek museum consists of some 100,000 square feet of soaring exhibition space divided into 40 galleries, and artists on display include Kehinde Wiley, Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman and Cady Noland.

Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade
Miami Beach Pride proudly flies the rainbow flag high © Pesky Monkey/Getty Images

Celebrate Miami Beach Pride

Usually held in April (although 2021's event will take place in September), Miami Beach Pride proudly flies the rainbow flag high in celebration of the unique spirit and culture of the LGBTIQ+ community. The multi-day celebration of arts and culture includes a lively weekend festival featuring two stages with celebrity entertainers, DJs and special events, and it culminates in a colorful street parade along Ocean Drive.

Catch a show at Barnacle Historic State Park

Coconut Grove was once a hippie colony and is a pleasant place to explore, with intriguing shops and cafés and a walkable village-like vibe. Barnacle Historic State Park is located in the center of Coconut Grove village and is a shady oasis for strolling. It also hosts frequent moonlight concerts, ranging from jazz to classical. You can visit Ralph M. Munroe House, the former residence of the late pioneer and noted yacht designer, which was built in 1891 and is open for guided tours.

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Nab a deal during Miami Museum Month 

Held through the month of May each year, Miami Museum Month offers an excellent chance to see and hang out in some of the best museums in the city. Participating museums offer an array of different deals, including two-for-one admission or half-off ticket prices, and the program is a great way to see the latest offerings at popular venues in the midst of happy hours, special exhibitions and lectures.

Sip a mojito in Little Havana

One of Miami's most famous neighborhoods, Little Havana is populated by more than Cubans. Spanish speakers from all across Latin America mingle on Calle Ocho, otherwise known as “8th St”, one of the most colorful, culturally vibrant thoroughfares in the country. It helps to speak some Spanish, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t. Just don your finest guayabera (Cuban shirt), order a mojito or a tall tropical fruit juice, and place your finger on Miami’s multicultural pulse.

The Biltmore Hotel in Miami
The Biltmore Hotel was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996 © Daniel Korzeniewski/Shutterstock

Marvel at Coral Gables Mansions

Coral Gables is called the “City Beautiful” and with good reason. Miami is often associated with gaudiness, but Coral Gables takes this cliché and turns it on its head. Yes, houses here are opulent and some are admittedly over the top, but many are gorgeous executions of a Mediterranean-revival style that blends the best of Iberian villas, Moroccan riads and Roman pleasure domes.

Some say the grandest jewel in the city’s crown is the Biltmore, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996. Built in 1925, the hotel encapsulates the two initially disparate vibes of the Jazz Age: brilliant flashiness and elegant dignity. Today the majestic grounds are prowled by the well-to-do and the ghosts of guests past. And we don’t just mean the Biltmore captures the essence of its heyday; some say spirits haunt the halls.

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A little fun for the kiddies  

Located between South Beach and Downtown Miami, Miami Children's Museum isn’t exactly a museum but more like a very cool playhouse. It has areas for kids to practice all sorts of activities, such as banking, food shopping, caring for pets and acting as a local cop or firefighter. Adults must be accompanied by children, and vice versa.

Other imaginative areas let kids make music, go on undersea adventures, make wall sketches, explore a little castle made of colored glass or simply play on outdoor playgrounds.

Go back in time at the Deering Estate 

The Deering Estate was built by businessman, art collector and philanthropist, Charles Deering. Its 150-acre grounds are awash with tropical growth, an animal-fossil pit of bones dating back 50,000 years and the remains of Native Americans who lived here 2000 years ago. There’s a free tour of the grounds at 3pm included in admission, and the estate often hosts jazz evenings under the stars.

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Experience Superblue Miami

A groundbreaking immersive art center has just opened in Miami, with blockbuster shows, attention-grabbing exhibitions and headline acts. Tapping into the growing trend of multisensory experiences, Superblue Miami is hosting large-scale works by Japanese art collective teamLab, known for their exhibitions that combine technology, nature and light.

Duke and Ella's playground 

Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald once walked across the stage of the Lyric, a major stop on the “Chitlin’ Circuit” – the black live-entertainment trail of pre-integration USA. As time passed, both the theater and Overtown, the neighborhood it served, fell into disuse. Then the Black Archives History & Research Foundation of South Florida took over the building. Today, the Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater hosts occasional shows, while the foundation hosts exhibitions exploring Black American heritage.

Miami EcoAdventures

Miami EcoAdventures offers guided excursions for nature lovers and enthusiasts and trips depart from different locations in the city. The Dade County parks system leads a variety of tours, including excellent bike tours on Key Biscayne and out in the Everglades. You can also go on one of six different canoe trips, out on the Oleta River, on the Matheson Mangrove trek or paddling to Indian Key down in the Keys. There's also kayaking, snorkeling trips, walking tours and birdwatching.

Fairchild tropical botanic garden in Miami, Florida
Fairchild Tropical Garden is a lovely place to spend a few hours ©mariakraynova/Getty Images

A tropical escape 

If you need to escape Miami’s madness, consider a green day in Fairchild Tropical Garden. Its butterfly grove, tropical plant conservatory and gentle vistas of marsh and keys habitats are all stunning, plus there are frequent art installations from artists like Roy Lichtenstein. In addition to easy-to-follow, self-guided walking tours, a free 45-minute tram tours the entire park.

The Wings of the Tropics exhibition is a favorite among the garden's youngest visitors, and it's where hundreds of butterflies flutter freely through the air, the sheen of their wings glinting in the light. There are some 40 different species represented, and visitors can also watch in real time as chrysalises emerge as butterflies at Vollmer Metamorphosis Lab.

When to visit Miami  

Pérez Art Museum Miami

One of Miami's most impressive spaces, Pérez Art Museum Miami integrates tropical foliage, glass, concrete and wood. This melding of tropical vitality and fresh modernism stages some of the best contemporary exhibitions in the city with established artists and impressive newcomers.

The permanent collection rotates through unique pieces every few months – drawing from a treasure trove of work spanning the last 80 years. The temporary shows and retrospectives bring major crowds, and the outdoor space has hanging gardens that took an entire two months to create.

Do it all on Key Biscayne

Although it's an easy drive – or even a bike ride – from Downtown Miami, Key Biscayne feels like a world removed from the big-city bustle. This island has some lovely beaches, pretty nature walks and outdoor adventure aplenty, whether taking long beach walks, cycling its length or paddling out among the mangroves to look for manatees off Virginia Key. For a refreshing dose of nature, head to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park for scenic walks and frolics on the untouched seashore, or chill out on the lovely Crandon Park Beach.

Crandon Park Beach located in Key Biscayne in Miami, Florida, USA
Crandon Park Beach is located in Key Biscayne © Romrodphoto/Shutterstock

Avant-garde dining

Miami is a city that loves its indulgences, and the greatest of these is a fine meal. If you really want to tantalize your taste buds, go to its culinary frontier: Wynwood and surrounds. In restaurants that range from rustic, vintage-filled taverns to swanky high-end dining rooms, you’ll find creative chefs at the helm, hard at work refining whatever it is they do best. This includes Japanese wood-fired cooking, high-end tacos, Hawaiian-style poke, vegan grain and salad bowls, gourmet donuts and perfectly buttery croissants.

Attend a trendy party at Art Basel

Held at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Art Basel Miami Beach draws thousands of art dealers, artists, collectors and aficionados to the city during the fair held every December. It's one of the most important international art shows in the world, with works from more than 250 galleries and a slew of trendy parties. Even if you're not a billionaire collector, there's much to enjoy at this festival, including open-air art installations around town, special exhibitions at many galleries and outdoor film screenings.

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This article was first published June 2021 and updated December 2021

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