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How to see Miami for free

If ever a city was made for admiring, it’s Miami. Much of it is so outrageously attractive and in awe of itself that it really is possible to fill a few days of sightseeing by doing nothing more than marvelling at its beaches, buildings and bronzed bodies.

Add to this a fantastic winter climate, permanent blue skies and endlessly entertaining streetlife, and it’s no surprise most of our free ways to experience Miami involve soaking up all the sights and sounds on foot...

Take a self-guided Art Deco stroll

Miami’s South Beach is one of the best preserved Art Deco districts in the world and is easily navigable on foot, or local bus if you’re pushed for time. The Miami Beach Architectural Historic District, to give it its proper name, extends from 6th Street up to Dade Boulevard and from the ocean to Alton Road, and comprises more than 900 examples of Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival and MiMo (Miami Modern) architecture, lending the whole area an effortlessly glamorous feel.

The most famous – and most photographed – section is the stretch of Ocean Drive between 6th and 14th streets, where a string of hotels in various pastel and sorbet hues show off their curves, angles and neon lights to the world. Highlights include the pale green Carlyle Hotel, the Park Central and the recently restored Breakwater. The Miami Design Preservation League‘s Welcome Center (1001 Ocean Drive, between 9th and 10th streets) has detailed maps.

Explore the Design District

Miami’s Design District is approximately 18 blocks of old, low-rise warehouses and factories that fell victim to large-scale neglect and decay throughout the 1980s and 90s. Towards the end of the century and throughout the 2000s, the area underwent an intensive period of renovation and investment, and now houses a range of art galleries, design emporiums, furniture showrooms, luxury brand stores, excellent restaurants and a thriving pavement cafe scene. If you’re there on the second Saturday of the month, check out the regular Art + Design night for a popular gallery walk featuring inspiring artists, local musicians and fine dining.

Ride the Metromover

The driver-less Metromover has been transporting people between Miami’s downtown, Brickell, Park West and Omni neighbourhoods since 1986 and is completely free. Easy to use, with an inner and outer loop, it’s a quick and convenient way of getting around the area between Bayfront Park (for the Bayside Marketplace) and other points downtown, but best of all for tourists, it offers the most fabulous views of Biscayne Bay and the skyscraper-filled skyline. Grab your camera and ride it as the sun goes down for the ultimate twinkling Miami-by-night shot.

Laze in the Miami Beach Botanical Garden

The lovely and diminutive 4.5 acre Miami Beach Botanical Garden underwent a $1.2 million transformation in 2011. It now features an expanded water garden and a mangrove wetland alongside a diverse collection of tropical plants, flowers, palms and sculptures. Lounge on the spacious lawn, admire the vertical ‘living wall’ or zone out in the Japanese serenity garden – entrance is always free.

Taste Latino culture in Little Havana

Head to Miami’s (mainly) Cuban district – it’s also home to many Nicaraguans, Hondurans and other nationalities – for a real insight into Latino culture, food and people. What the area lacks in aesthetic charm, it makes up for in memorable moments and one-off experiences: sipping a sweet cafe Cubano in a local bakery, watching an intense game of dominos in Maximo Gomez Park, or dining on ropa vieja (Cuban beef stew) at legendary diner Versailles.

Cultural Fridays, or Viernes Culturales, take place on the last Friday of every month, where main drag Calle Ocho comes alive with street performers, salsa dancing, Uruguayan drumming, tango classes, open artist studios and free walking tours of Little Havana.

by Maxine Sheppard

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