So you’ve arrived in Key West on your cruise or arrived for a day trip and you have limited time to explore this small tropical island before retiring for your next port of call.
You have options.
Take a trip on the water to enjoy the sun and the ocean breeze. See some history. Visit to museums. Visit some butterflies.
You can always just grab a cocktail and stroll down the Duval Street corridor and downtown side streets enjoying the sun, sights and shopping.
But for the more adventurous, here’s a list of the best things to do in Key West so you don’t miss the boat.
1. Rue Duval
Famous Duval Street is where the party begins. Duval awaits visitors with plenty of bars, live music, restaurants, art galleries, hotels and guesthouses, and boutiques selling clothing – high-end island clothing to t- $5 shirts – plus cigars and souvenirs.
The 2 km long Duval Street stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
2. The southernmost point buoy
This downtown waterfront spot is perhaps Key West’s most photographed attraction, claiming the southernmost point in the continental United States and a “90 miles to Cuba” landmark.
You will probably have to queue for a turn to stand in front of the giant marker located at the intersection of Whitehead and South streets. Enjoy the view.
3. Conch Tourist Train
The famous Conch Tour Train, which dates back to 1958, is an easy way to see Key West’s top sights and learn about the island’s history.
The ride starts at the “depot” on Front Street and ends just behind at Mallory Square. It’s a 75 minute trip that loops through the old town.
Tours run daily with the first starting at 10:15am
4. Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, named after one of the most famous treasure hunters, immerses you in the maritime history of Florida and the Caribbean.
While the museum at 200 Greene St. is not involved in ongoing research at sea, its collections feature artifacts salvaged from the 1622 Spanish galleons Nuestra Señora de Atocha and Santa Margarita.
Museum staff also delve into maritime archeology and have created exhibits on slave ships and the 1860 African Cemetery at Higgs Beach.
Admission is $17.50 for adults and $8.50 for children.
5. Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Are you looking for a peaceful place? The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, 1316 Duval St., is just the quietest, highest spot in Duval.
The attraction centers around a lush glass-encased space filled with butterflies, birds, and two flamingos named Rhett and Scarlet.
Among the flowering plants, trees and waterfalls are 50-60 species of butterflies from around the world as well as more than 20 species of exotic birds. Flamingos are known for their friendly personalities.
6. Rent a bike
You can easily rent a bike in Key West to tour the island.
Daily rentals range from $10 to $20 per day for a beach cruiser. Some stores will even bring them to you and collect them when you’re done. Some streets in Old Town Key West have dedicated bike lanes. Helmets and locks are also available.
But remember to exercise caution on the busy island where traffic also includes delivery trucks, cars, scooters, e-scooters and skateboards.
7. Key West Cemetery
Key West Cemetery was established in 1847 after a disastrous hurricane unearthed the beach cemetery, according to the city’s website. Between 80,000 and 100,000 souls rest within the 19 fenced acres. From simple markers to elaborate mausoleums with statues, the centrally located cemetery displays the history and diversity of the island’s inhabitants.
There are also several well-known ironic epitaphs. BP “Pearl” Roberts’ grave famously reads, “I told you I was sick.” Another says: ‘If you are reading this you are in desperate need of a hobby. And one says, “I’ve always dreamed of owning a tiny house in Key West.”
The main entrance and sexton’s office are at the intersection of Angela and Margaret streets.
8. The Hemingway House and Museum
Ernest Hemingway’s former estate, with luxurious grounds and dozens of six-toed cats, is at 907 Whitehead St.
The National Historic Landmark is open daily, 365 days a year, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guided tours of what was the legendary author’s home in the 1930s last around 20-30 minutes and also include his writing studio next door to the house.
Then there’s the story of the in-ground pool, which the museum says was a first in Key West, costing $20,000 to build between 1937 and 1938. There’s a penny lodged in the cement near the pool. , commemorating the claim that Hemingway yelled at his wife Pauline that she had spent all but her last penny.
Admission is $17 for adults and $7 for children ages 6-12. Please note: the museum only accepts cash.
9. Key West Historic Seaport
Key West’s old seaport is a gem: a waterfront promenade with shops and restaurants amidst a marina that offers fishing charters, sunset sailing catamarans and large boat. The 20-acre resort is a place to mingle with locals and visitors and enjoy exceptional views of the docks.
10. Get out on the water
Of course, Key West has an incredible number of things to see on land. But ocean access is its most prized feature. Even if you’re only on the island for a few hours, you can still spend time on the beautiful waters surrounding Key West.
Take a two-hour kayaking or parasailing trip for stunning views from the sky. Parasailing will take about an hour. Some water sports companies offer snorkeling trips that can fit into your schedule.
11. Key West Lighthouse
You can climb 88 steps to the top of the Key West Lighthouse, which opened in 1848 and was decommissioned by the US Coast Guard in 1969.
Today, it’s a museum dedicated to Key West’s maritime heritage, honoring those who shined a light through difficult times. In addition to the view, the museum includes personal effects, photos and memorabilia of the lighthouse keepers and their families.
General admission is $14, but there are discounts for ages 62 and older, retired military, and children.
12. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
This state park on the southern edge of Key West offers some of the best ocean views in Key West. Fort Taylor predates the Civil War and is a National Historic Landmark.
It is also the most beautiful beach on the island. You’ll have to pay an admission fee, but in addition to the beach, you can experience the red brick hallways of Fort Zachary Taylor, walk past the cannon and gun ports, or walk the grounds, where the names trees are marked and butterflies are known to visit.