Given its location at the end of the Florida Keys and at the southernmost point of the United States, Key West may seem like a hassle to get to. However, there are many options for getting there, whether you’re flying from another state or country, or already living in Florida.
Once you arrive, choose ways to maneuver around the island. Renting a bike will make you feel like a kid again, while you can experience your own “Roman holiday” moment while roaming around on a Vespa. Trolleys are fun for all the family and provide transportation plus an educational overview of the island. Rental cars are of course also available.
I discovered Key West on a family trip about five years after I first moved to Florida 25 years ago, and have vacationed there regularly ever since. Based on 20 years of visiting the island with family and friends and introducing them to its charms, here are my top picks for getting to — and around — Key West with ease.
Traveling to Key West
Key West International Airport
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a boom in Florida Keys tourism. Travelers who want a tropical escape without leaving the country have flocked there in droves.
To accommodate this volume increase, Key West International Airport recently added several new routes and flights (including non-stop from New York). Six airlines serve the airport — Allegiant, American, Delta, Silver and JetBlue — with 18 non-stop routes. Plus, a new $80 million terminal is scheduled to open in 2024.
Although it is a smaller airport, prices are competitive, and the airport is conveniently located about 4.5 miles from the popular Old Town.
Miami International Airport and Car Rental
If you are from out of state, fly to Miami International Airport is a good option because it offers more flight options than Key West International Airport, although it requires a long drive to Key West. Rent a car when you land so you can enjoy the scenic four-hour drive to Key West along the Overseas Highway. You’ll pass through all the Florida Keys on your journey, with breathtaking vistas of turquoise waters that will keep you glued to your window. There are plenty of places to stop for food and attractions along the way.
But the best part of the four-hour drive is the Seven Mile Bridge. Completed in 1982, it is the longest bridge in the Keys and connects the middle Keys to the lower Keys. Running parallel to this is the Old Seven Mile Bridge, built by railroad magnate Henry Flagler in the early 1900s 1900s† It’s been closed to vehicular traffic since 1980, but a 3.5-mile section of the old highway between Marathon and Pigeon Key has remained a popular spot for walking, biking, and photo ops. It closed for renovation in 2017 and just reopened January 2022. Look for the car parking lot on the north side, just before the bridge starts.
Once you have arrived at your destination in Key West, I recommend that you park your car for as long as possible to avoid additional parking charges. Either you don’t have to travel through the city or you use a trolley, bicycle, bus or scooter. More about that in a moment.
Key West Express
If you live in Southwest Florida, you would think Key West is so close and yet so far away. After all, it’s geographically just south of you, but driving there will take nearly three hours to get to Miami, then a four-hour drive from Miami to Key West.
But you are lucky with the Key West Express† This ferry departs from Fort Myers Beach year-round and from Marco Island to Key West seasonally, offering an afternoon on the island. You don’t have to come back the same day either. Getting there is half the fun. Enjoy food, drinks (including adult beverages), and flat screen TVs throughout the three to four hour ride. Choose to lounge on the outside sundecks to feel the salty breeze or relax inside for air-conditioned comfort.
Once you’ve arrived and are in need of additional transportation, here are some ideas for touring the city.
Getting Around in Key West
If you flew into Key West International Airport or took the Key West Express and want to rent a car, the airport offers vehicles from all the top rental companies, such as Hertz, Alamo, Enterprise, Avis, Budget and more. These brands also have a handful of standalone rental locations scattered around the island. While it’s not essential to have a car when visiting Key West, unless you’re ready for a lot of walking (and heat, depending on the time of year), you’ll probably want one.
Old Town Trolley
Whether you want to learn more about Key West’s history or just want convenient transportation to all the major attractions, try Old Town Trolley’s 1-Day Key West Tour† The ticket even includes free entry to the Sails to Rails Museum.
If you’re into sightseeing, stick around on the trolley—which has been in operation for over 30 years—to see more than 100 landmarks, as your guide provides interesting anecdotes and tidbits. It’s a great way to get to know the country’s location on your first day of visit, and the open-air cars make taking pictures a breeze.
Or you can use the trolley as a hop-on, hop-off form of transport, because you get a day of free and unlimited boarding. The 13 stops include popular locations such as Mallory Square, the Harry S. Truman Little White House, Bahama Village, Duval Street, the Southernmost Point, and more.
For a free ride through the city, the city Duval loop bus runs from the north side of the island to the south, along the popular Duval Street. The hop-on hop-off bus makes 18 stops at all top destinations and runs seven days a week. The entire route takes approximately 45 minutes and you can follow it in real time via the Key West Transit site†
Bike, scooter and electric car rental
Many businesses in Key West offer bicycle rentals; scooters (sometimes also Vespas); and electric cars, which look like golf carts on steroids. I personally have good experiences with Hydro Thunder from Key West and BikeMan Bike Rental (with some of the best prices on the island), but there are many options to choose from. Be careful driving or going for a ride after a few margaritas.
Check Out Insider’s Comprehensive Guide to Visits Key West, Florida†