Key Largo Vs. Key West: Which Should You Visit?

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Key Largo or Key West? The choice between these two southern Florida isles is a tough one, as each presents its own pros and cons. Both islands are part of the Florida Keys – a string of coral islands extending southwest from the tip of the Florida peninsula. The Keys are renowned for their tropical beauty, vibrant culture, and endless adventure, so you really can’t go wrong in either location. 

If you can’t decide between visiting Key West or Key Largo, this article compares and contrasts these two captivating locales. We’ll delve into each island’s landscapes, attractions, and atmospheres to help travelers choose between them for their next getaway.

Location and Accessibility

Key Largo, the self-proclaimed “Diving Capital of the World,” is the first and northernmost island in the Florida Keys archipelago. It’s conveniently situated just an hour’s drive south of Miami, making it easily accessible by car. This is definitely the more convenient option when comparing Key Largo and Key West, and the proximity to the mainland means that Key Largo is the gateway to the rest of the Florida Keys. 

In contrast, Key West is the southernmost city in the continental United States. The isle lies about 100 miles south of Key Largo, so get ready for a road trip along the Overseas Highway if you want to visit Key West. If you have the time, this can be an awesome way to travel and see even more of the Florida Keys along the way. Otherwise, you can reach the island by plane via Key West International Airport. Either way, Key West’s isolated location contributes to its distinct character and laid-back vibe.  

Natural Beauty

Both Key Largo and Key West boast breathtaking natural landscapes that lure visitors seeking sun, sea, and serenity. Key Largo is renowned for its pristine beaches, lush mangrove forests, and crystal clear waters teeming with marine life. Located off of Key Largo’s coast, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a hot spot for snorkelers and scuba divers, offering unparalleled opportunities to explore colorful coral reefs and underwater ecosystems. 

Meanwhile, Key West enchants visitors with its picturesque sunsets, palm-lined streets, and historic architecture. Smathers Beach and Fort Zachary Taylor State Park are popular spots for soaking up the sun and enjoying water sports, while the lovely botanical gardens and nature trails at Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden offer a tranquil escape from the busy city streets. The island’s unique blend of natural beauty and urban charm is a draw for many travelers. 

Culture and History

Both Key Largo and Key West have a rich cultural history shaped by centuries of history and diverse influences. Key Largo is steeped in the legacy of early Spanish explorers, Native American tribes, and pioneering settlers. Visitors can delve into the island’s history and culture by going for a ride on the African Queen Canal Cruise or exploring the Florida Keys History and Discovery Center for a look into the region’s maritime heritage and ecological significance. 

Key West, on the other hand, has a more vibrant and eclectic vibe, infused with the spirit of artists, writers, and other free spirits who have been drawn to its shores over the years. The island’s Old Town district is a treasure trove of Victorian-era architecture, quaint boutiques, and lively bars. There are also various monuments around town touting fascinating insights into the island’s past, including the Harry S. Truman Little White House and the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. 


When it comes time to eat, both Key Largo and Key West offer an array of tantalizing options to satisfy every palate. In Key Largo, the emphasis is on fresh seafood, sourced directly from the surrounding waters. Waterfront restaurants serve up an enticing array of dishes, from succulent conch fritters to sweet and tender stone crab claws. Don’t miss the chance to indulge in the island’s signature dessert, the iconic Key lime pie – the perfect blend of tartness and sweetness that epitomizes the flavors of the Florida Keys. 

Meanwhile, Key West boasts a diverse culinary scene influenced by its rich cultural heritage. Here you’ll find everything from traditional Cuban cuisine to Caribbean-inspired dishes and innovative fusion fare. Sample authentic Cuban sandwiches bursting with flavor, or savor the spicy kick of Caribbean jerk chicken. Other local specialties include fish tacos, tangy ceviche, and hearty seafood stews. 


The Florida Keys are a well-loved group of islands, so there will be crowds at both Key Largo and Key West. Key Largo is the quieter and more laid-back of the two, and it tends to attract visitors seeking a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Here you’ll find secluded beaches, peaceful nature trails, and intimate dining spots where you can enjoy a meal without feeling rushed or crowded. While popular attractions like John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park may draw a fair number of visitors (especially during peak season), the overall vibe remains relaxed and unhurried. 

Key West is known for its vibrant nightlife and bustling streets, and it tends to be livelier and more energetic, particularly in the historic Old Town district along Duval Street. This bustling atmosphere appeals to vacationers looking for excitement and entertainment, with a plethora of bars, restaurants, and live music venues to explore. While the crowds can add to the island’s festive ambiance, they may also result in longer wait times at popular attractions and restaurants, especially during peak tourist seasons. 


Both Key Largo and Key West offer a wealth of attractions and experiences that showcase the unique beauty of the Florida Keys. Whether you’re drawn to the underwater wonders of Key Largo’s coral reefs or the vibrant culture and nightlife of Key West, each destination promises an unforgettable adventure with the sun and sea at the forefront. 

Ultimately, deciding between Key Largo vs. Key West depends on your personal preferences. Look back on this guide and choose the destination that aligns with your interests so you can ensure a memorable and fulfilling trip in the beautiful Florida Keys.