North America > USA > Miami ( MIA )
Do I need a car in Miami? Miami is the real Florida, a simmering melting pot of cultures that is a complete contrast to the theme park land of Orlando. These different cultures have created many cities within the city, so what is the best way to get around and experience this richness?
Why rent a car in Miami?
- City of cities: Miami has more foreign born residents than any other city in the USA. There are so many different nationalities represented within the immigrant groups who have settled here. Most famous amongst the different Miami communities is Little Havana, but there are many others. A car will give you the flexibility to drive around all these different areas.
- Be Flashy. If there is one place in the world where you really want to show off in a snazzy performance car, Miami is as good as anywhere.
- Did somebody say walk? In Miami? Do they not know how hot and sticky it is? However, the real problem with walking in Miami isn’t actually the climate, but the sheer unpleasantness of walking alongside 6 lane highways, and waiting in the heat to cross giant concrete junctions. It’s no surprise that the default option is to rent a car in Miami!
- Sprawl.Whereas some cities on the US east coast have central areas which are quite compact — for example Boston, Miami is certainly not one of them. Nor will you necessarily be rushing to head into downtown Miami, which is predominantly a business district. The geography of Miami is much more dispersed, and this really tips the scales in favour of having a rental car, even if you aren’t planning on leaving town. If you are visiting people, or businesses, then Miami is a city of sprawl, even by US standards. Over half of the population of the Miami metropolitan area do not live in incorporated cities, and walkable neighbourhoods are rare.
- Cruise. If you are in Miami because you are using the cruise terminal and you have a few days before your flight home, why stay restricted to slow public transport? You’ve been stuck on a boat at 25 knots all week (or fortnight), only a car can give you freedom to see the best the area has to offer.
- Public transport isn’t “nice”: Although we want to be as unbiased as possible at Carornocar, we are still ‘driven’ (if that is the best word) by Architecture, and this gives us a bias towards public transport, as stations can often be very impressive buildings, whereas freeways and car parks rarely are. Yet, Miami somehow manages to reverse this notion – the new Miami Central Station is one of the most monstrous carbuncles to be built anywhere in the world, yet Miami has so many spectacular road bridges. Putting the buildings to one side (transport is there to get you from A to B), its location says it all – the so-called ‘centre’, sorry ‘center’ of Miami is actually just next to the airport. This might well be the geographical centre of the Miami area, but the metro (Metrorail) and suburban (Tri-Rail) rail links will just connect you to more sprawl and the barren business district, not to Miami Beach, where the major resort hotels are.
- Vistas: Roads in Miami are in stark contrast to the roads in Orlando. Around Orlando, you can drive on mile on mile of flat concrete peppered with suburban sprawl. Miami is a city of waterways. Now it would be a stretch to compare ultramodern Miami with classical Venice, but Miami is still a city of bridges and sweeping vistas dotted with lush palm trees. If you are unfortunate enough to be travelling around the city by bus, you will find yourself wanting to get off and take pictures, and then realising that you might have to wait another half an hour until the next bus comes along.
- Miami Mansions: Miami will tempt you to drive around some of its plusher neighbourhoods, where you’ll see all manner of villas of different architectural styles. Again, a car is a must.
- Beaches: With a hire car, you can drive up the coast to Fort Lauderdale, or just get away from the bustle of the city itself and visit some less crowded beaches – but you might have to drive for a while to find them!
- Florida Keys. This isn’t just about driving around Miami, where alternative options are available, as mentioned below. A drive down through the Florida Keys is an absolute must, and you really need a car to have the flexibility to do this at your own pace. The numerous bridges that connect the islands that make up the Keys provide an endless rotation of natural and man-made wonders, with the world-famous 7 Mile Bridge being the highlight. For this reason alone, our recommendation is to rent a a car in Miami, even when we don’t think it’s an essential for Orlando.
- Everglades: A car is a must to visit the Florida Everglades, unless you would rather go on a packaged tour.
- Tampa and Orlando? There are no big theme parks in Miami, so a rental car is also good for heading north west to the Tampa Bay area (for Busch Gardens), or north to Orlando – but both of these are relatively long drives – 4 1/2 hours or 4 hours respectively. You might find it easier to catch a local flight to enjoy a multi-city stay including either of these two locations – see our Orlando page for more about car hire there.
Why not? Visiting Miami without a car
- Elevation: Miami may have a terrible transport system, but the Metrorail is at least elevated. Better still, the MetroMover in the downtown area is one of the world’s few elevated city centre transport systems, and the skyscrapers in Miami are a wonderful mix of looking up to glass and concrete reflecting a clear blue sky, and looking down at verdant landscaping. However, this won’t take you anywhere near the hotel resorts on Miami beach!
- Deco bikes – who could think of a cooler name for the community bikes program(me) which operates on Miami Beach. Unfortunately, the scheme hasn’t extended beyond this area, so you will still need either a hire car or to use public transit.
- Who cares about the local attitude? You’re here to enjoy your Miami holiday on your terms.
- Boats: To enjoy views of some of Miami’s most upmarket homes, you will need to take to the water. This is best done on a tour boat, and you will be picked up from your hotel anyway, so no car needed.
- Be lazy: Miami is a city of lazing around cabanas and then going to sizzling late-night parties. We don’t all have to turn up like the celebrities in programmes like CSI Miami, a taxi will do perfectly well.
- Fly or Drive? If you do intend to travel between Orlando and Miami, regular coach services are available, but you can also fly. Miami to Orlando flights are very frequent and incredibly cheap.
- Everglades? Swamps? Doesn’t that mean alligators? Maybe somebody else can drive!
- Crime: Much as though we prefer to think of ‘Miami Nice’, the city does still have a reputation for the vice, and this includes car crime.
Beyond Miami without a car
- Coaches and Trains: You can, of course, visit the Florida Keys by coach, but bear in mind that scheduled bus services heading for Key West are there to provide transportation, so you will miss many of the best photo opportunities. Other bus and coach services are available to nearby cities, and Tri-rail provides service to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
- Tours: Miami has a varied network of tour providers who will show you the best the city has to offer, without needing to use a rental car. Excursions are available to the Everglades, and even as far as the Disney resorts in Orlando.
- We know that the USA has a big car culture. On arriving at Miami airport, I asked about a bus into central Miami, and was told that they did not exist. This was not the case, but it does show the attitude people have here. Now some people don’t care what others think — and as it turned out, the bus appeared to be full of airport workers. There were also a couple of Scandinavians who couldn’t care less about how they got around. On its own, the attitude really isn’t an issue, but to actually get to South Beach, a transfer had to be made at a busy highway intersection, and this was certainly not pleasant.After a day of enjoying the Miami beach boardwalk at a leisurely pace, a car was hired to enjoy the Florida Keys, as mentioned above.
Do I need a car in Miami? – The Verdict:
There might not be a strict need to rent a car in Miami, if you just want to hang around Miami beach. There is no need for a car in Miami just for enjoying the lounge life. However, if you really want to see south Florida properly, then a visit to the Florida Keys is well and truly essential. So is a trip into the Everglades National Park. On top of this, if you rent a car in Miami, you are also going to have much easier access to the wealth of diverse neighbourhoods that make up this city.
VERDICT – YES (and a strong one!)