Sitting just about 130 miles from Miami, Key West isn’t that far from major cruise ports. Despite that close proximity, however, it can feel a world away.
World famous for its laid-back lifestyle, the island is much more than just a place to party (although you can certainly do that). From beaches to history to food, there’s something for everyone in Key West when you visit on a cruise.
Below, we cover a ton of things that are all within a short distance of the port and available to do during the day while the ship is docked.
Things to Do in Key West on a Cruise
Before getting to things to do, it’s helpful to have a lay of the land. Key West as a whole is roughly four miles long by one mile wide. While you can explore the whole island, many of the most famous landmarks and things for cruise passengers are on the western quarter of the island. That makes it extremely convenient to easily get to some of the most popular things to do and see.
Below, we’ve mapped out the island showing the location of the cruise port and our list of things to do.
Self-Guided Walking Tour
By far the easiest (and the least expensive!) thing to do in Key West is take a simple walking tour. There’s an amazing amount to see in the area near the cruise port, from shops to architecture to simple palm-tree lined streets complete with resident chickens that are a classic Key West attraction.
You can get to most of the popular attractions, including the southernmost point, in just about 15-20 minutes of walking while also being able to take in the atmosphere of the island that you just don’t get while sitting in a car or trolley.
Create Your Own Pub Crawl
Key West is famous for its party culture, and that includes a number of bars that are well-known. Spots like Sloppy Joe’s, Green Parrot, and Hog’s Breath Saloon are all within walking distance of the cruise ships. While things will be fairly tame during the day, they are still cool places to grab a drink and hang out a bit while you soak in the history of these spots that are synonymous with the island.
Take a Bus Tour (Free)
Don’t get around so well? Or maybe you just want to see the island for free? Or maybe you’ve walked a bit and some cold air conditioning sounds like heaven given the heat and humidity?
No matter the reason, Key West offers a convenient — and free — bus route that makes a loop around the western half of the island. So you can ride it from the cruise ship and get to all the famous landmarks like the Hemingway House, the Southernmost Point and more.
There’s also a real-time bus tracker so you can see exactly where it is. Just find a stop (there are 18 along the route) and hop on.
Take a Trolley Tour
We like the free bus route as a convenient way to get around the town in relative comfort. But riding a bus isn’t exactly a tourist attraction. If you’re wanting something a bit more memorable, there are a couple of options for guided tours that will take you to the sites and give you the background. Just know that they will cost money.
The Conch Tour Train is an open air “train” that navigates the street of Key West while you get to sit back and take in the sights. There’s also the Old Town Trolley that features 13 stops and a hop-on, hop-off system where you can come and go as your please.
They can be pricey compared to the bus, but do feel more like a tour than a bus ride.
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
Want to see real treasure? Look no further than the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. Mel Fisher was a famous treasure hunter, perhaps most famous for discovering the wreck of the Atocha. In this museum that’s right by the cruise terminals, you can explore some of his finds. Displays include everything from cannons to enormous silver bars to gold jewelry and coins pulled up from shipwrecks dating back to the 1600s.
If the thought of sunken treasure has ever interested you, then this museum is a must see.
Mile 0 Marker
If there is one “symbol” of Key West, it might just be the famous Mile 0 marker. This is the beginning (or is it the end?) of U.S. Highway 1 that stretches all the way to the Canadian border in Maine.
The island has adopted the Mile 0 marker, and you’ll see it pasted on everything from stickers to t-shirts to hats to business names. It’s hard to say you’ve been the Key West if you don’t visit the sign.
If you want to see the real thing, the sign is on the corner of Whitehead Street and Fleming. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the cruise port.
See the Truman “Little” White House
Love of Key West goes back a century and includes some of the most famous people you can imagine. President Truman has what was called “The Little White House” on the island and would visit on working vacations during his presidency. Beyond that, it was visited and used by other presidents including Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton.
Today you can tour the famous facility and its grounds and see a number of artifacts and exhibits from the Truman era. Anyone that’s a fan of presidential history will love this spot, just a short five-minute walk from the ship.
Tour the Hemingway House (and See 6-Toed Cats)
Even beyond a president, we’d say that author Ernest Hemingway is the most famous resident to ever call Key West home. That’s why it’s funny that today the cats that still live there seem to be the biggest draw.
Hemingway’s home is located less than a mile from where the ships dock. The two story house is largely preserved with how it appeared when the author lived there, so you can tour and get a sense for what life was like back then. One neat feature is his swimming pool, which was the first on the island.
Today the spot is home to dozens of cats, of which roughly half are polydactyl (meaning they have six toes). In our visit, tourists seemed much more enamored with seeing the cats than with the author himself.
See the Southernmost Point
The Southernmost Point is by far the most famous landmark in Key West, and we think it’s a must-see if you visit. Just be prepared for a bit of a wait if you want a picture.
The famous “buoy” for the point is just over a mile from the cruise ships and you can walk it in about 20 minutes. From here, you are roughly 90 miles to Cuba, meaning you are closer to Cuba than Miami. One thing is that when you get there, you might find a line of people waiting to get a picture, so pack a little patience.
As well, if you look at a map, you might notice that there is actually some of Key West that’s slightly farther south at Fort Zachary Taylor.
Dine on Lobster Pizza
Looking for a great meal during your stop in port? There are a number of great spots to eat, but one we’ve personally tried is the lobster pizza at the Seaside Café. This restaurant is right by the Southernmost Point and sits behind a hotel (The Mansion by the Sea).
Here, you’ll sit on a man made beach overlooking the water and have your choice of a number of options including salads and sandwiches. The big draw, however, is the lobster pizza. Rich and with lots of flavor, the pie costs about $30 and will easily feed two adults. It’s also sinfully good.
It’s not every day you get a chance to eat something this unique, so don’t miss your chance.
Fort Zachary Taylor + Key West’s Best Beach
What first-time visitors to the island might be surprised by is that despite being surrounded by water, there isn’t a lot of beach. Most of the shoreline in this area is rocky or there is no beach at all.
Fort Zachary Taylor is an old fort that’s now a state park. You can tour the fort and learn about its significance, especially during the Civil War.
But the state park also has one of the largest stretches of beach in Key West. You can visit for a day in the sun and surf. There are also rentals for snorkels, chairs and umbrellas if you need them.
Taste the Local Key Lime Pie
What’s a visit to Key West without having a bite of its famous Key Lime Pie? You’ll find it around the island, but one of the most well-known spots is The Original Key Lime Pie Bakery. It is located on Greene Street, almost in the shadow of the cruise ship.
You can get the original classic, or any number of variations including Key Lime Cheesecake.
One word of advice — it’s nice to go with a partner. Even a small piece of pie is plenty sweet to where you might not want to finish the whole thing.
Go Souvenir Shopping
In a city that’s built on tourism, you better believe that there is souvenir shopping available. If you’re wanting just about anything with “Key West” written on it, then just venture off the ship a little bit and you’ll be in the heart of the souvenir shops. Hats, t-shirts, novelty signs, keychains, and tons more are available.
One suggestion is that the spots near the cruise ship offer the less expensive gifts. If you want things that are nicer quality, explore Whitehead Street where there are some more boutique shops with unique souvenirs.
Explore Mallory Square
Mallory Square is known for coming alive around sunset, but it’s also where the cruise ships dock. You can think of it as the entryway to Key West when on a cruise.
Head out and within just a minute you can be at the Mallory Square Market, an area with all the beach town attractions you could ever want. Souvenir stores, a museum of shipwrecks (different than the Mel Fisher museum mentioned earlier), food, and more are all available right here. Yes, it’s a bit touristy, but if you don’t want to go far, there is plenty to see.
Visit the Key West Aquarium
Located in the Mallory Square area and right next to the ships, the Key West Aquarium is a perfect option if you are visiting with kids. First opened in 1935, it’s still running strong. Attractions include sharks, sea turtles, jellyfish and a touch tank. Admission is around $21 for adults and $12 for kids 12 and under. Kids under four are free.
See the Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
Sitting on the south end of the island, this is a great visit if you are a nature lover. The conservatory features a lush habitat that by itself would be a nice visit. However, there are also hundreds of butterflies, exotic birds and two resident pink flamingos. It’s definitely a change of pace from being on the cruise ship!
Hours run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., making it ideal to visit if you’re in Key West on a cruise. As well, it’s right around the corner from the Southernmost Point, giving you a chance to do to things in a short amount of time.