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Pro tips from our travel blog: Everything you need to know for a perfectly rewarding trip to Key West

Key West

It might only be seven miles long but what it lacks in size, Key West more than makes up for in character. It has more in common with a Caribbean island than part of the Floridian archipelago, offering colorful clapboard streets, swaying palm trees, and the evening scent of moonflowers. Hotels in Key West offer you easy access to the beaches and attractions packed into this little oasis. Key West accommodation comes in all shapes and sizes, with something to suit all tastes and budgets.

The Best Beaches

While most of Key West’s coastline is made up of ragged coral, it does have some beautiful beaches tucked away. If you’re wondering where to stay in Key West to make the most of these, the good news is that most Key West hotels are just a short drive away, and many are often within an easy walking distance.

Widely-hailed as the best beach in the whole of the Florida Keys, Dry Tortugas is paradise personified. White-sanded and lapped by azure waters, it’s pristine and unspoilt. You’ll need to hop aboard the Dry Tortugas Ferry in order to get there, but the short journey is well worth it. For nature-lovers, the seas are teeming with colorful reef fish, graceful rays, and the occasional turtle. The land is also an oasis for wildlife and migratory birds. Dry Tortuga is home to Fort Jefferson, which you can explore at your leisure.

Smathers Beach

At the other end of the spectrum is Smathers Beach. Perfect for families, it’s only a short walk from some of the best hotels in Key West. The beach is packed with facilities, including beach-volleyball courts, sun-loungers for rental and a food truck. Smathers Beach is as popular with the locals as it is with visitors and is always busy.

Higgs Beach is another family-centric beach, and has enough to keep younger visitors interested all day long. It’s a pet-friendly beach and has tennis courts, volleyball nets, a playground, and a park especially for dogs. If you’re stealing some quiet time away with your partner, the pier is the ideal spot to watch the sun slip over the horizon, before enjoying a leisurely meal at a nearby restaurant.

Shopping and Bopping

By day, Duval Street in downtown Key West is the place to go for some serious retail therapy. You’ll find stores of almost every kind lining the street: from elegant boutique fashion retailers to fresh produce and bric-a-brac sold at the Duval Street Market. It’s also the site of the Hemingway Days festival. Book your Key West hotels in July to experience this six-day celebration of the island’s most famous author. In addition to the marlin-fishing contests, literary talks and book signings, there’s the Ernest Hemingway Lookalike Competition. If you’re willing to grow a big white beard, you could be in with a chance!

By night, Duval Street acts as the epicenter of Key West’s vibrant nightlife. The air is filled with the smells of sizzling fish and meat from the many restaurants which dot the area. There’s also an abundance of places to grab a drink or two, such as the aptly-named Margaritaville.

Events

Floridians need no excuse to party, but Key Westers take it to another level. Almost every day seems to have some celebratory tag attached to it, giving the whole island a permanent carnival atmosphere.

With several Victorian mansions and the island’s oldest churchyard, ghost stories go hand-in-hand with Key West; even some of the hotels in Key West are reputed to be haunted. There are some excellent ghost tours for those who want to learn a little about Key West’s invisible inhabitants.

If you really want to tap into Key West’s carnival vibes, head to Mallory Square. Each evening, the setting of the sun is celebrated with street entertainment, including fire breathers, high-wire walkers, sword swallowers and live music.