Aside from being a tropical paradise, Key West also offers a rich and interesting history to learn about during your stay. Appreciate the island even more with a day of museums in Key West! Explore various shipwrecks around the island, go on the ghost tour, or visit the home where Ernest Hemingway wrote a majority of his literary works. Let this list of our favorite Key West museums get you started on your educational adventure.
The Key West Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters Museum
If you're in search of the best view of Key West, the Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters Museum has everything you're looking for. The 88-step circular iron stairway leading to the lighthouse deck is quite a climb, but the spectacular views of Key West and the nearby ocean are well worth the workout. The interactive exhibits explain the interesting history of the tower and nearby Keeper's Quarters that have been faithfully restored and maintained as they were before the lighthouse was deactivated in 1969. Don't miss this chance for beauty and history!
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
This museum contains an extensive collection of artifacts from 17th century shipwrecks, such as the Henrietta Marie, Santa Margarita and the most famous, the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, which was discovered by treasure hunter Mel Fisher in 1985 off Key West and its treasure value was estimated $450 million. Visitors learn about the salvaging of shipwrecks and view artifacts from the wreckage such as gold coins, a chalice, and cannons. The gift shop is a great place to pick up some unique jewelery (Emeralds from the Atocha are considered some of the finest in the world!) or pieces to take home with you!
Cruise nearly 70 miles west of Key West to the remote Dry Tortugas National Park. The 100-square mile park is mostly open water with seven small islands that house the largest brick structure in the western hemisphere: Fort Jefferson. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the park is known the world over for its marine life, pirate legends, and sheer unspoiled beauty. From the rich history to the picturesque blue waters and marine life, you are sure to love this remote Key West treasure!
The Key West Museum of Art & History at the Custom House
Follow a path once traveled by wreckers, pirates, and politicians to South Florida's most important historic building. The Custom House is a rich center of Key West and U.S. History. See folk artist Mario Sanchez's colorful wood paintings of old Key West. Stand in the very room where the U.S. decided to go to war with Spain, following the sinking of the battleship USS Maine. Learn about Ernest Hemingway's life in Key West, where he wrote many of his most famous novels. See his bloodstained WWI uniform and other personal items that created his legendary status as an adventurer and writer.
The Fort East Martello Museum
The East Martello Museum is home to a vast collection of Key West's artifacts, historical records, and military memorabilia. History, architecture, local scandals and legends are what you have to look forward to during your tour of the grounds. The view from atop the central tower also affords visitors a spectacular panorama of the Atlantic coast of Key West.
The Curry Mansion
For a chilling afternoon treat, check out the Ghost Tour at the Curry Mansion! This beautiful home will transport you back in time, and each room has it's own story to tell. Don't forget to check out the attic, where you can see the amazing “Widow's view” and possibly run into some friendly ghosts!
Old Town Trolley Tours
Tour Old Town at your own pace with the help of a Trolley Tour! Hop aboard with the friendly conductors who narrate with a fascinating and fun mix of trivia and humorous stories, as well as colorful anecdotes and well-research historical facts. The trolley tour is designed so you can hop on and off and explore on your own, which means your ticket is valid for all day. It's the perfect way to see the sights and learn the history without wearing out your feet.
Conch Train Tour
The Conch Train tour is a must when visiting Key West. Learn the area's history and ride pleasantly throughout the town seeing the sights. The tour covers amazing factoids about the buildings, houses, and planning of this classic American city. After a morning of walking Duval Street, the open-air train provides an informative and relaxing afternoon.
Harry Truman Little White House
Step back in time and into former president Truman's era at Key West's Little White House. As Florida's only presidential museum, the house is furnished with furniture from the time period that Truman used the house during his presidency. This is a highly educational and fun experience for history buffs and anyone who loves learning about the United States!
Key West Shipwreck Museum
With the sea comes ships, and with ships come shipwrecks! At the Key West Shipwreck Museum you can learn about the perils of the of high sea from vivid storytellers in period costume that really bring history to life. Check out a display of salvaged treasure from shipwrecks past, catch the best view of Key West from the lookout tower, and get your own piece of treasure to take with you from the gift shop!
Hemingway Home & Museum
Anyone who has read American literature knows the name Ernest Hemingway. During your Key West stay, make your way over to the house where this literary master lived and wrote for over ten years. With its grand architecture and lush gardens, the Hemingway home is a truly beautiful and inspirational place. Did we mention the 45+ polydactyly (six-toed) cats that roam the grounds? You'll be sure to see them lounging about the rooms of Hemingway's house as you enjoy the educational tour. Don't miss the gift shop!
Key West Cemetery
Key West's historic 1847 Cemetery is located in the "dead" center of Old Town. A stroll through this historic graveyard can tell as much about Key West's quirky character as any history lesson. Don't miss the iconic headstones such as, "I Told You I was Sick," "Devoted Fan of Julio Iglesias" and other popular inscriptions.
The Southernmost Point in the Continental USA
Resembling a giant buoy, encircled in black, yellow and red stripes, sits the Southernmost Point in the Continental USA. Visitors love to snap shots of each other in front of this infamous monument, located only 90 miles from Cuba.
Our Lady Of Lourdes Shrine
In 1922, Sister M. Louis Gabriel and her fellow nuns created this grotto. On the day that the shrine was dedicated, Sister Gabriel blessed the grotto saying "For as long as this grotto stands this island will never suffer the full force of a hurricane."When hurricanes threaten, Key West residents head to the grotto to pray and light candles. Sister Gabriel's blessing still seems to be working. Since the dedication of the shrine, Key West has been spared any major hurricane devastation.
For history buffs, Flagler Station is a remarkable journey into our national past. This Key West attraction celebrates the success of Henry Flagler, who connected Key West with the U.S. by train. Completed in 1912, Flagler Station is a tribute to Flagler’s pioneering vision and the Key West railroad. Flagler’s “railway over the sea” was a 130 mile extension that allowed trains to travel to Key West from around the United States. Visitors can walk through an actual railroad car, see artifacts, photographs and memorabilia, and hear stories about the railroad. Watch “The Day The Train Arrived”, a film that highlights that momentous day when Flagler arrived on the train from New York.