8 Historic Places To Visit in Miami

The Freedom Tower, in the background, once served as a reception center for Cuban refugees
The Freedom Tower, in the background, once served as a reception center for Cuban refugees | © philipus / Alamy Stock Photo
Karina Castrillo

Miami is a treasure trove of historic gems. Amid the newer developments from inland Miami to South Beach remain many landmarks worth visiting on your next trip to the Magic City.

1. Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

Botanical Garden, Museum, Park

Standing out like a sore thumb in Miami’s modern landscape, this historic villa features decadent European interiors that nod to the Old World. The former winter estate of business magnate James Deering, Vizcaya is a National Historic Landmark dating back to 1922 and is now a museum. Visitors can wander through its richly decorated interiors with marble columns and stained-glass windows overlooking the spectacular patio or stroll in the vast gardens adorned with statues and geometric-style shrubs reminiscent of the gardens of Versailles in France.

2. The Barnacle Historic State Park


The Barnacle Historic State Park, Miami
© William Silver / Shutterstock
Built in 1891, The Barnacle is the oldest house in Miami. It was the home of one of Coconut Grove’s most influential pioneers, Ralph Middleton Munroe – an American yacht designer who also founded the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club, which is still in use today. The estate lies nestled along the scenic Biscayne Bay, offering a glimpse of frontier life of “The Era of the Bay” when all travel to the city was done by boat.

3. Freedom Tower

Church, Museum

Freedom Tower, Miami.
© Peacock Graphics / Alamy Stock Photo
Known as the “Ellis Island of the South,” the Freedom Tower is historic for its role in the Cuban refugee crisis. Formerly the headquarters of the newspaper The Miami News, the landmark building was used as a government facility to process the documents of the incoming Cuban immigrants who sought refuge in the city after Fidel Castro’s communist regime took control of Cuba in 1959. Standing on the busy Biscayne Bay Boulevard in Downtown Miami, the building is now used as a museum for contemporary art.

4. Gesu Church


The historic Gesu Catholic Church dates back to 1896
© philipus / Alamy Stock Photo
The oldest Roman Catholic church in Miami, Gesu rests in the heart of Downtown, clad in beautiful architecture and stained-glass windows. Just a few blocks away from the Metromover, it’s easy to access by public transportation and makes for a perfect stop while strolling the old streets of the city. According to the church’s website, it is one of the few institutions to continue preserving the history of Miami, and unmissable for history buffs.

5. The Kampong

Botanical Garden, Park

Close up of a water lily flower at The Kampong, in Coconut Grove, Florida
© Keith Michael Taylor / Shutterstock
When famed horticulturist Dr David Fairchild traveled the world in search of suitable plants to bring back to the US, he brought a collection of tropical species and planted many on his land that he named Kampong – the Malaysian word for village. The nine-acre historic garden was later transformed into the botanical garden it is today and features a laboratory, herbarium and education center on-site. It was also here that Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Ernest Coe set the plans to establish the Everglades National Park. Visitors can view historical photographs and documents detailing the projects, and enjoy the exotic fruit and flower trees of the garden. For a brief history of The Kampong, read our guide here.

6. Venetian Pool

Swimming Pool

Venetian Pool Coral Gables
© MARCO CATTANEO / Alamy Stock Photo
Coral Gables’ most famed watering hole, the Venetian Pool is a public pool made entirely of coral rock quarry. Built in 1924, the swimming paradise was designed in a Venetian style with details such as loggias, porticos and an Italian-style bridge. Spring water from an underground aquifer feeds the 820,000-gallon pool, which also has two waterfalls and cave-like grottos for swimmers to enjoy. Today, the Venetian Pool is a site for many fashion nights out and celebrity soirees, often attracting a young crowd with a thirst for Miami history.

7. Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park


Historic Cape Florida Lighthouse located in the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
© Miami / Alamy Stock Photo
The lighthouse at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is the oldest standing structure in the city, dating back to 1825. As it’s perched on the edge of the island of Key Biscayne, visitors can enjoy swimming and kayaking on the beach. Guided tours of the lighthouse are offered daily with an $8 per vehicle fee and hours of 8am to sundown, all year round.

8. Ancient Spanish Monastery

Church, Monastery

The Ancient Spanish Monastery in Miami, Florida
© dennizn / Alamy Stock Photo
The Ancient Spanish Monastery was originally built in 1141 in Segovia, Spain, and was used as a monastery for Cistercian monks for almost 700 years. After a social revolution, it was seized and eventually purchased by an American in 1925, who dismantled it stone by stone and shipped it to the United States. It was later put together and purchased by multimillionaire banker Colonel Robert Pentland, Jr who gifted the monastery to the Bishop of Florida. It is now the parish Church of St Bernard de Clairvaux, part of a growing Episcopal Diocese of Florida. Visitors can attend mass on the weekends or stop by for a free tour of the historic grounds.

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