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Are you looking for free and cheap things to do in Key West? We’ve got you covered!
Perched at the very tip of the Florida Keys, Key West is an alluring mélange of natural beauty, culture, and history. With adventures to suit visitors of all ages and interests, the island, playfully dubbed the “Conch Republic,” offers relaxation, excitement, and everything in between.
The good news? You don’t have to break the bank to have a good time on your beach vacation in this notoriously expensive paradise. Here are some awesome free activities and cheap things to do in Key West!
Hop on a Conch Tour Train
Forays into this island city begin with the Conch Tour Train! The 90-minute (approx.) sightseeing tour weaves through the famous Old Town to give you an overview of all to do in Key West in an affordable way.
What’s more? A rundown of the island’s history and stories of its colorful residents is complimentary! You can also hop off at a stop to visit attractions that float your boat and then hop on a later train.
Discover the region’s maritime past at the Key West Shipwreck Museum
As far as Key West attractions go, this museum is a must-visit! From the stories of dangerous wrecks told by costumed actors to the hands-on opportunity to touch artifacts, the Shipwreck Museum will capture everyone’s imagination. The highlight is the 62-foot-tall observation tower!
Learn about the Key’s marine life in the Aquarium
A stone’s throw from the museum is the Key West Aquarium; another low-budget attraction to visit. In addition to a touch pool that enables you to handle starfish, sea cucumbers, and conchs, the aquarium features a wide range of critters that populate the Florida Keys, such as moray eels, barracuda, grouper, and other tropical fish.
Celebrate the sunset at Mallory Square
The only place to be in Key West when the sun starts its descent is the Mallory Square Dock. Although it is a top spot to visit any time of the day to people-watch and soak up the local vibe, it is most famous for its legendary sunset celebration!
As the day winds down, Mallory Square comes alive with a carnivalesque spirit. A menagerie of street performers such as jugglers, tightrope walkers, and musicians come together to entertain as the star of the nightly revelry sets a blazing trail to the horizon.
It’s a free show you don’t want to miss! Arrive an hour before sunset to stake out a good spot.
Embark on a “spirited” adventure at the Key West First Legal Rum Distillery
Key West is known for its vibrant nightlife and love of rum. This award-winning distillery pays homage to the island’s tradition of rum-making. It is a great activity for couples in Key West on a budget!
Free tours run daily, all week when you can learn about this intricate craft with a tour of the distillery. After the tour, sample delicious, creative flavors of the distillery’s offerings for free.
Can it get any better? Be sure to grab a bottle or two for a taste of Key West when you return home.
Check out the historic Audubon House and Tropical Gardens
Dating back to the 1840s, the Audubon House is an exemplar of period architecture. Explore it! And no, Audubon didn’t sleep here. But the house displays many original lithographs of the famed naturalist’s exquisite work.
Nature lovers will love the one-acre lush garden surrounding the house. Wander its verdant pathways or sit a spell on one of the benches. Tropical plants with vibrant colors promise Instagram-worthy shots. Admission costs $15 for adults, $10 for students, and $5 for kids.
Grab a photo with the one of a kind Kapok Tree
Looking for free things to do in Key West that are fun? Grab a photo with this year-round exhibit of nature’s splendor growing in front of the Monroe County Courthouse.
With its arm-like branches and leg-like base, the Kapok tree looks remarkable. Located across the street is another photo-op: Mile Marker Zero.
The sign marks the start of U.S. Route 1, and it’s sort of a rite of passage for island visitors to pose with the iconic landmark. So pose away!
Step back in time at The Oldest House Museum
The name kind of says it all: Built in 1829, this is the oldest house in Key West and all of South Florida! Inside, the home’s original furnishings, family portraits of the former owner, Captain Watlington, and a treasure trove of documents give you a glimpse of 19th-century Key West.
Don’t miss the pristine garden in the rear. The house and the garden are open to the public for a small entrance fee of $10. Children are free.
Take a tour of the unique Key West Cemetery
“I Told You I Was Sick.” “If You’re Reading This, You Desperately Need A Hobby.” “At Least I Know Where He’s Sleeping Tonight.” Believe it or not, these are some of the quirky epitaphs you’ll find on the gravestones in Key West Cemetery!
Nowhere is the funky and oddball spirit of the island’s inhabitants more evident than in the cemetery. It may seem like an odd destination on a tourist circuit, but the 19-acre cemetery is worth a walk-through if you’re looking for something off the beaten path.
Get a bird’s eye view of the island from the Key West Lighthouse
Breathtaking panoramas unravel in every direction if you climb 88 steps to the top of this sentinel of the sea. It’s a sight to behold!
There’s more. The Keeper’s Quarters Museum on site is home to memorabilia that chronicles the history of the lighthouse as well as offers a closer look at the island’s rich narrative.
With tickets being affordable, this is a perfect activity if you’re looking for cheap things to do in Key West! Tickets are even cheaper if you buy them online.
Eat a slice (or two) of Key Lime Pie
No trip to Florida is complete without sampling the quintessential Floridian dessert, the Key Lime pie! Our personal favorite spot to try this citrusy sweet course is Blue Heaven.
The mini Key Lime Pie delicacies at Blue Heaven are divine, particularly with the colossal portions of meringue atop each masterpiece!
For a deconstructed Key Lime Pie in a jar, visit Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar. Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe is THE place to go for a slice of the decadent dessert on a stick. Did we mention it’s dipped in Belgian chocolate?
Pose with the famous Southernmost Point Buoy
Snag a selfie with the iconic buoy and claim your bragging rights to have visited the southernmost point of the continental United States! The colorful, anchored marker at Whitehead Street and South Street intersection was erected in 1983 and proclaims to be a mere 90 miles from Cuba.
Although access to the buoy is 24/7, arrive early or late in the day to beat the rush.
Explore Fort Zachary Taylor Park
Wondering what to do in Key West that’ll interest the history buff in your gang? Head to Fort Zachary Taylor Park at the westernmost point of the island.
Fort Taylor, located in the park, predates Civil War. It also houses the largest cache of Civil War armaments in the world!
The park also offers excellent fishing and snorkeling at the nearby beach. When you’ve had your fill of sun and surf, hike or bike the wooded nature trails.
Dive into the ecology of the Florida Keys at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
Just a step away from Fort Zachary Taylor Park, the 6,400-square-foot Discovery Center offers a look at the diverse habitats of the Keys; beaches, coral reefs, mangroves, pinelands, and seagrass flats – with its many interactive exhibits. There’s even a 2,500-gallon coral reef tank and a live reef camera feed from an actual reef offshore!
A mock-up of Aquarius, the world’s only underwater ocean laboratory, however, gets most of the applause. Hard it may be to believe, but the museum is free!
Get sand in your toes at Higgs Beach
Load up the gang and take a jaunt to this sandy strand hugging the shores of the Atlantic Ocean for some oceanfront bliss. No entry fee!
Soak in the rays or swim in the shallow waters. Then enjoy an alfresco picnic at a picnic table. The White Street Pier extends far past the sand to offer stunning vistas.
This family-friendly Florida Keys beach has all the bells and whistles: restrooms, showers, beach volleyball, and pickleball courts, and an oceanfront playground for children. Even a dog park for your canine friend!
Step into an oasis at the Key West Garden Club
This veritable oasis in West Martello Towers deserves a spot on your must-do Key West activities! Set by the sea at Higgs, in the remains of a Civil War fort once used for target practice, the Key West Garden Club will wow history buffs and nature enthusiasts alike.
Here’s the kicker: Admission is free! Stroll the paved pathways through arched courtyards and thick tapestries of tropical foliage.
The perfume garden, filled with fragrant flowers, and the butterfly garden offer a sensory feast! Picture-perfect moments abound, so bring your camera.
Get up close with native wildlife at the Key West Wildlife Center
This rehabilitation facility for native wildlife inside the seven-acre Indigenous Park, just across the street from Higgs, makes for a quiet, shaded break when beach fatigue strikes. Plus, it’s one of the free things to do in Key West the entire crew will enjoy!
Hawks, cormorants, herons, and pelicans hold court here. The Center also provides care for the infamous Key West chickens.
A walk along the meandering nature trail takes you past a beautiful freshwater pond. Don’t be surprised to see iguanas!
Spend a day at Smathers Beach
A few blocks east of Higgs Beach, Smathers Beach, one of the secret beaches of the Florida Keys beckons beachgoers with its pristine white shores. It’s not only free but has shallow, calm waters; perfect for families on a budget looking to spend a quiet day at the beach!
Pull up a lounge chair and drape your hand into the silky-smooth sand or take a leisurely dip in the calm shallow waters. Go paddle boarding, windsurfing, kayaking, or jet-skiing.
Best of all, Smathers has everything you need for a full day at the beach: restrooms, showers, food trucks, and picnic tables. Gear rentals are also available.
Pet animals at the Children’s Animal Farm
Looking for fun things to do with the kids? Head to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Detention Center. Yes really! The Center houses a one-of-a-kind animal refuge that gives homeless animals a second chance.
Its eclectic mix of residents ranges from pigs and miniature horses to lemurs and kinkajous. There’s also Kramer, the emu; Cricket, the armadillo; and a 70-year-old African spurred tortoise dubbed Fat Albert.
Open on the second and fourth Sunday every month from 1-3 p.m., the Children’s Animal Farm is a must-visit! And it’s something you can do for free.
Walk in the footsteps of literary legends on the Old Town Literary Walking Tour
If you look past its paradisiacal patina, you’ll find that Key West is steeped in literary history! Find out about the literary giants that unfurled on Key West’s canvas with this 90-minute guided walking tour run by the Key West Literary Seminar.
Look inside the former homes and favorite haunts of luminaries such as Tennessee Williams, Shel Silverstein, Elizabeth Bishop, and Robert Frost. A must-do for history and literature aficionados! At an affordable $30 per person, teachers, librarians, and students get a discount.
Discover the seaside splendor of the Dry Tortugas National Park
This island utopia, consisting of open water and a cluster of islands, is 70 miles west of Key West and accessible only by seaplane or ferry. With dry land constituting less than one percent of the park, much of its lure lies under the water.
Colorful coral reefs and teeming marine life make snorkeling extraordinary here! If snorkeling isn’t your thing, enjoy some shoreline zen on the beach.
History enthusiasts can deep-dive into the past at Fort Jefferson, a 19th-century fort. The $200 per adult ferry ticket is budget-friendly, considering it includes the entrance fee to the park and fort, a narrated fort tour, complimentary snorkeling gear, and even breakfast and lunch in addition to round-trip transportation! Children are $145.
Cruise the epic Overseas Highway
Road trips don’t come more spectacular than a cruise down this 113-mile strip of sun-soaked roadway that links the far-flung Florida Keys to mainland Florida. The drive is festooned with breathtaking seascapes, bridges leapfrogging from Key to Key, and kitschy roadside attractions.
You don’t even need to visit any special places or participate in activities; you can enjoy the best views of the Keys completely free! Although it is possible to drive the highway in a single afternoon, but this road trip is about the stops along the way. So, take your time lollygagging and make a trip of it!
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