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Visiting Key West - Orlando / Florida Guide

Florida Guide > Days Out

President Truman, who loved to visit Key West and relax in his winter White House, once wrote, ‘I have a notion to move the capital to Key West and just stay.’ He was not alone in his love of this tropical paradise. It has been home to many famous literary heroes, and it still draws artists, writers and thousands of tourists to savour its laid back atmosphere and wonderful climate.

Key West is a fascinating place, busy, exciting, historic, romantic, tropical, and sometimes downright tacky, but always worth a visit. Located at the very end of Highway 1, it is the southernmost point of the USA. It is a tropical blend of exotic foliage, stunning houses and beautiful clear waters, and has a Caribbean feel to it. Its wonderful climate means that there is a lush feel to the dazzling gardens, with their abundant colourful blooms, Poinciana trees with thick clusters of fragrant orange-yellow blossoms, and luxuriant foliage. If you take a walk around the quieter streets of Key West you will see some spectacular trees, including huge tropical trees with buttress roots.

Called the ‘Conch Republic,’ Key West is full of wonderful houses with unique architectural features, which have their roots in the Bahamas, New England and Africa. There are museums and shops, restaurants with delicious cuisine, individual and unique guest houses which offer bed and breakfast in stunning surroundings, as well as large, modern hotel complexes. It is a favourite stopping off place for the huge luxury liners that frequently make Key West their first port of call, either dropping anchor outside the town, or docking at the new facility on the edge of the naval estate.

It is teeming with things to do, and see. From Conch train rides to trolley rides, museums to famous homes, this fabulous, but tiny, town has something for everyone. Whenever we visit Key West we love to wander up and down the streets leading off Duval. The houses are truly stunning, and walking round you can see many examples of the classic Conch Houses. Originally, settlers made their homes with a mortar made from sand, water and lime obtained from burning conch shells, which is where they got their names. However, later, these houses were replaced by wooden homes built by settlers and ships carpenters, and they have been adapted to perfectly suit the tropical climate which is both hot and sultry. With their dormers and roof hatches, a concept borrowed from ships to help ventilation, and their louvered shutters, which block out the tropical afternoon heat, and allow circulation of sea breezes, they are ideally constructed to ensure that their inhabitants remain as cool as possible, even without air conditioning. Of course, they also provide protection from the many hurricanes which sweep their way up the coast. Most have porches and verandas which encircle the house, providing shade and reducing the effects of the heat. Take a walk down Eaton Street and look at these enchanting houses, but don’t forget your camera.

One of the most fascinating parts of Key West is historic Mallory Square, which is situated on the historic waterfront, between Whitehead and Duval Streets. Here you will find the Key West Aquarium, the Shipwreck Historium, the Shell Warehouse, the Old Custom House Museum of Art and History, The Sponge Market and Museum, as well as the Conch Train Tour and the famous Trolleys, which both take you around Key West. The fascinating Mel Fisher Museum is just around the corner, and all around you will find restaurants and shops which cater for every taste.

If you get the chance to visit this fascinating place then either drive down from Miami, and cross the amazing Seven Mile Bridge, or pick up a flight which will take you quickly to this most cosmopolitan of towns.

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Page added on: 23 May 2006
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