During the Gilded Age of the 19th century (often called the “American Renaissance”), wealthy businessmen began to build estates inspired by what they were seeing on their grand tours of Europe. Europe’s most lavish estates may have been inherited and passed down through generations (along with their titles), but in true American style, these tycoons just built them brand new.
This is the story of the Villa Vizcaya in Miami.
This Italian inspired estate on Biscayne Bay was built in 1916 by Chicago industrialist James Deering and is so immersive with it’s European style architecture, furnishings, and gardens, that you just might forget you’re only a few miles from South Beach.
At a time when all of the noteworthy northern industrialists were building their Florida winter estates in Palm Beach, Deering and his family (father and brother) were drawn further south to Miami where things were still a bit rugged.
Back then it was in the middle of nowhere, but now it’s prime oceanfront real estate in one of Miami’s most coveted neighborhoods. Today, Vizcaya is one of the most popular attractions in Miami (popular with families, tourists, and locals alike) and the perfect way to spend a few hours.
Called a museum because the property has been perfectly preserved and features the most lavish European decorations and furnishings, this place is a gem and sure to impress even the most museum adverse folks.
Why You Should Visit the Vizcaya
If you love architecture, history, design, and beautiful gardens.
If you’re looking for something to do in Miami besides the beach.
If you want to explore the Coconut Grove area (Miami’s oldest neighborhood).
If you want great photos of yourself or the family. The gardens are home to many a photoshoot.
What I Thought
I knew I was going to love this place before I even went (it’s right up my alley), but I was surprised how MUCH I loved this place. I’ve always loved historic homes and museums, but I was blown away by the Vizcaya. It felt more like poking around someone’s home (okay “estate”) than walking through a museum.
Even if you aren’t a history superfan, you’re going to enjoy walking through this place. It’s called a “museum” but the house itself and all of the furnishings are what you’re there to see (not to mention the extensive gardens). It’s not a house that’s been transformed into art galleries…the house IS the art. This place feels perfectly preserved like a step back in time.
Highlights of the House & Gardens
The gardens get most of the attention here (because they photograph so well), but the house was actually my favorite part!
I LOVED the music room (that chandelier!!!). It’s done in the rococo style and just screams Marie Antoinette.
And oddly enough the bathrooms were a highlight for me haha. In a lot of historic homes like this you never see the bathrooms or they haven’t been preserved or restored but these were so detailed and seeing how well equipped they were for the time really drove home how luxurious this place was. Also I thought it was neat that the tub in the master bathroom was plumbed to fill with saltwater as well as freshwater!
Every room in this place was magnificent, but I found myself really drawn to the smaller details like the phone room and the elevator.
The main gardens are situated to the side of the house and it’s where everybody heads right away (the secret garden was my favorite), but be sure not to miss the barge and the tea house straight out the back of the house on the bay.
And while you can only visit the Swimming Pool Grotto on a private tour (very limited), don’t miss grabbing a peak from a distance.
Tips for Visiting Vizcaya
Vizcaya is open Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesdays) at 9:30AM with the last entry at 4:30PM. The house closes at 5PM and the gardens close at 5:30PM.
If you can, I would recommend going on a weekday and early in the day if possible. I went on a Saturday afternoon and the house was actually fine to tour, but the gardens felt really packed with people doing photoshoots (actual professional photoshoots and influencers taking millions of photos on their phones).
Tickets are $25/adult (13+), $10/child (6-12), and children 5 and under are free. Admission is free for veterans and active duty service members (with ID) and persons with an ADA protected disability.
Tickets are sold in advance online and when I visited (November 2021) they were not selling tickets onsight. So get them in advance otherwise you’ll be standing around at the entrance on your phone trying to do it.
There’s a free audio tour you can do through the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens app (available in the app store) and there’s also two guided tours offered daily. The tours are an additional $5/person and offered at 11:30 and 12:30. There’s the “Living in 1920s Miami” tour and the “Designing the Dream” tour which is more architecture focused. Next time I’m in Miami I’d really like to come back to take one of the tours.
Would I Go Back?
YES!! A lot of places are one and done for me. Even places that I enjoyed visiting. But this is a place that I would definitely visit again. If I was in Miami with people that had never been, of course I would drag them out here, but I’d really like to do one of the guided tours. And they just recently reopened the Swimming Pool Grotto after extensive restoration from bad flooding and the only way you can see it is on a private tour. They’re really limited so I don’t know that it will work out for me anytime soon, but if you’re in the Miami area, you should definitely sign up for their newsletter or follow them on Instagram so you’ll know when they have tours available.
I actually loved this place so much that I bought a book about it in the gift shop and I’ve been wading through it (it’s big!).
Other Things to Do in the Area (& Where to Eat Nearby)
Shopping in Coconut Grove: Coconut Grove has some of the best shopping in Miami. The CocoWalk has recently had a huge facelift. Don’t miss Books & Books, The Showroom, and the Bazaar Project.
Art Deco Tour in South Beach: Probably my all time favorite thing to do in Miami. Read more about it here.
Visit Little Havana: Read up on my favorite things to do in Little Havana here.
Where to Eat Nearby: Lokal for burgers, Harry’s for pizza, Green Street Cafe for brunch
Don’t miss these other posts about Miami:
Other Places Like This
If you love Vizcaya (or expect you will), then you’ll likely want to also visit:
The Deering Estate: James’ brother Charles built his winter estate just about 12 miles south of Vizcaya and while it’s not as grand as Vizcaya, it’s another portal into 1920s Miami. Find more information on the Deering Estate here.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden: Dr David Fairchild was one of the most famous plant explorers (who knew there was such a thing??) in history and while he traveled all over the world collecting and documenting plant specimens, he eventually retired to Miami and was instrumental in helping the Deering brothers with their gardens. More about visiting the Fairchild Garden here.
If you’re as intrigued as I am by the estates built during the Gilded Age of the 19th century by American tycoons, here is a full list of them all. Most notably (and high on the list of places I’d like to visit) are George Washington Vanderbilt II’s Biltmore estate in North Carolina and William Randolph Hearst’s Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California.
P.S. If you want to follow along on my travel adventures in real time, you can follow me on Instagram (@caitylincoln). My post captions are full of travel tips and I have a ton of story highlights and videos with great info. And share my account with your travel loving friends! Your support really helps me keep this blog running!