On the tip of the Florida Keys, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, lies the historic island city of Key West. Situated as it is at the gateway to the Caribbean and in close proximity to Cuba, this island supports a vibrant community and a long seafaring and naval tradition,
Key West, also known as the 'Conch Republic', has a distinct Caribbean flavour. The streets of its old quarter are lined with palms and pastel-painted, wooden colonial 'gingerbread' houses. It has been the favoured holiday haunt of greats like Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and Harry Truman. This is because of its relaxed atmosphere, colourful neighbourhoods, legendary bars and restaurants, offshore fishing opportunities, and lively nightlife. The city also hosts innumerable pageants, parades and festivals, has an active theatre culture, and several heritage museums.
The streets of Key West are attractions by themselves; buskers providing impromptu entertainment for those at sidewalk cafés or browsing the many stores. Visitors on holiday here flock to 'The Bight', the old harbour, to arrange sea trips for fishing, snorkelling, or diving. Nightlife in Key West starts with sunset drinks on the Mallory Dock, before moving on to areas like Bahama Village, and along Duval Street.
In the heart of Key West's old town is the house where Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway, one of America's most respected authors, lived and wrote for more than 10 years. The rooms and gardens are open to the public, enabling visitors to step back in time to Hemingway's most productive period, and to enjoy the lush garden where more than 40 cats have taken up residence. The cats themselves have an interesting back-story: Hemingway owned a cat with extra toes and almost all the cats that now live at the house have this genetic trait; some of them are said to be direct descendants of the original pet. Entertaining guided tours are offered. There is a bookstore and gift shop where visitors can buy their own Hemingway souvenirs.
The landmark beacon of the Key West Lighthouse was built in 1847 to warn ships of the hazardous reefs lying off the lower Keys. Having been taken out of commission in 1969, it is now a popular tourist attraction. Visitors can climb the 86-foot (26m) high tower to marvel at the spectacular view. The clapboard bungalow that was the keeper's quarters has been restored and maintained as a museum, providing a glimpse of life in Key West in the 19th century and into the bygone profession of lighthouse keeping. Interestingly, the first keeper of the Key West Lighthouse was a woman, an almost unheard of appointment for the 19th century.
The Key West Butterfly Conservatory is like a trip through paradise, as visitors walk through the tropical wonderland filled with free-flying butterflies and brightly-coloured birds. The conservatory is home to nearly 60 species of butterfly and 20 different species of birds, all contained in climate-controlled glass habitats with waterfalls, streams and a hundreds of flowering plants. In the Learning Center, visitors can explore the butterfly anatomy, physiology, lifecycle, feeding, and migratory world of the Monarch, and get an up-close view of the caterpillars. There is also a gallery showcasing butterfly art and a gift shop selling souvenirs.
The restored homestead of Audubon and Tropical Gardens was originally built in the 1840s by Captain John Geiger, a harbour pilot and wrecker. It now contains the works of renowned orinithologist, John James Audubon who visited the Florida Keys in 1832 and completed drawings of 18 previously undiscovered birds in the gardens of this house. Audubon House has been furnished in the typical style of a prosperous Key West home of its era. Audio tours are available. In addition to exploring the house visitors can enjoy wandering through the gardens, planted with orchids, bromeliads, and other tropical plants.
Key West enjoys a tropical savanna climate, with two main seasons: it is hot, wet and humid between June and October, and drier and cooler between November and May. In the hottest months, between June and August, temperatures average between 78°F (26°C) and 89°F (31°C), and in the coldest months, between December and February, temperatures average comfortably between 64°F (17°C) and 76°F (24°C). August and October are hurricane season.
Most visitors to Key West choose not to drive because of the great public transport options. Park-and-ride shuttles and buses are available and recommended. Key West is very pedestrian friendly with bike and scooter rentals available, a great alternative to driving as parking in Key West can be difficult.
The Dade-Monroe Express bus runs from Key Marathon to Florida City, offering round trips on the hour and stopping on demand. Greyhound runs a Keys shuttle bus several times a day between Miami International Airport, stopping at all major points along the Keys.
Explore one of the world's most scenic and intriguing archipelagos at Key West. The island is a perfect destination for families, as it combines the opportunity for dozens of water-based activities with some cultural and educational sightseeing.
Just beyond Key West are other islets along the Florida Keys chain, perfect for a day trip. Key Largo is known as one of the best places to go scuba-diving. Children can enjoy up-close interactions with marine life at the Dolphin Research Center and Turtle Hospital in Marathon.
No direct flights from Heathrow to this Destination