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Miami Int’l Airport (MIA): The Ultimate 4-7 Hour Layover (by a Pilot)

Why does a long layover need to be boring? Miami International Airport might not be the most interesting place to spend 4-7 hours – but here’s how to find that Miami heat you didn’t even know you were looking for.

Whether you want to avoid the hassle of leaving the airport or you’re looking to discover why South Florida is such a popular destination, you have options. From world class lounges at the airport to world class beaches a short bus ride away, the 305 isn’t the worst place to layover. Trust me, Pitbull wasn’t exaggerating.

What is there to do inside of Miami International Airport?

In this section:
Lounges
Dining Options
Getting Some Fresh Air

Compared to San Francisco and Atlanta, staying inside of the airport is not as exciting at Miami International. The concourses are divided in 3, with no access between them inside security. So if you’re not in the mile-long Concourse D and you enjoy walking, you’ll have to exit the secure zone to find somewhere to walk.

Miami International Airport is split into 3 concourses, making it difficult to connect between flights or find a suitable long walk.
As you can see, the airport is divided in 3 with no access between them once inside security. Photo: MIA-Airport

There are some decent restaurants, especially if you love Cuban food. This is MIA’s saving grace.

And some of the lounges are fantastic – but others not so much. I’ve had mixed experiences.

Lounges

Whether you’re a Delta SkyMiles or Priority Pass member or you’re simply looking to buy a day pass, Miami International Airport has options for you. 11 or so of them.

American Airlines has several lounges in Concourse D, with day passes available at $59 for non-member passengers flying AA.

The best lounge at MIA is also in concourse D, and that is the American Express Centurion Lounge. You must have an Amex Platinum, Centurion Card, or Delta SkyMiles Reserve Amex.

The Centurion Lounge is probably the best one.
American Express has some of the finest lounges in the world, complimentary for those with an Amex Platinum and other select cards.

Concourse E features the Turkish Airlines lounge, accessible for Priority Pass members or those flying business/first on Star Alliance flights.

In concourse F, you’ll find Club America. You can get a day pass for $50.

Delta fliers rejoice; a fantastic SkyClub is available in Concourse H for those members flying Delta or SkyTeam international flights.

Concourse J features the Avianca SALA VIP Lounge, which in my opinion is not very VIP. Food options are lacking and it’s pretty cramped. You can purchase a day pass and Priority Pass members have free access.

There is also the LATAM Lounge, in Concourse J, with day passes available for non-members. These start at $40 for Gold members and $60 for non-members.

Bask in the Miami sun

If you’re like me, you love going out, getting fresh air and a bit of sun when you can. Hello, fellow plant. I feel you.

Assuming you’re willing to go back through security, there is a decent “park-like” area just outside of arrivals.

The park in the center of Miami International Airport  is filled with beeches and tropical vegetation.
This is the little park, surrounded by tropical vegetation and beautiful flags from around the world. Photo: Google Maps
There is a park filled with benches in the middle of Miami International Airport which is a great place to spend a short layover.
The park is basically located in the middle of the airport, across from Concourse E towards the parking lots.

To get to the outdoor area, head to Concourse E arrivals and cross all of the roads (ground transport/pickup). The “park” is basically in the middle of the airport, and features benches, fountains, and trees for shade.

Dining Options

The dining options at MIA Airport can make any layover a little more enjoyable.
La Carreta is the undisputed champion of Cuban cuisine at Miami International Airport. Photo CC: cnn.com

MIA has over 100 restaurants, cafes, and food stations across the 3 terminal areas, though many are still closed due to Covid-19. If you’re looking for additional dining options, you’ll find a great selection of restaurants outside of the secure area in the Central Terminal.

Priority Pass holders can also use their membership to receive a discount at Corona Beach House, though they did not honor it last time I was there. Buyer beware.

The most well-known restaurant at MIA is La Carreta, and I try not to miss it whenever I’m passing through. Versailles is a close competitor – especially if you’re looking for some of that addicting Cuban coffee!

How can I explore the Miami area on a 4-7 hour layover at MIA?

Miami Beach is one of the places you can visit on a short layover at MIA Airport
Yes, you CAN visit Miami Beach on your layover at MIA Airport!

Glad you asked.

There are tons of options for any sort of layover at MIA. Whether you’re craving some epic Cuban cuisine or some boutique shopping along the nicest streets of Downtown Miami, there are easy (and sometimes free) ways to do it.

It’s definitely feasible to explore Miami on a 4-7 hour layover at MIA Airport. You can:
And here are the places you should explore on your layover:

Downtown Miami (Brickell)
Wynwood
South Beach
Little Havana
Coral Gables
Key Biscayne

How long of a layover at MIA is enough to leave the airport?

Miami traffic can hinder your ability to go far on a shorter layover.
Miami traffic does get rough. Make sure to plan in extra time, especially if it’s close to rush hour. Photo CC: Tyler de Noche

Obviously, you’re going to want to have enough time to head out and get back through security. There are a handful of factors at play;

  • Are you arriving to MIA from an international flight? If so, you’ll have to go through customs, then back through normal security again. Depending on how long it takes to get through customs, your options may become limited.
    • If you have Global Entry, this will significantly cut down the time it takes to get through customs.
  • What time is your connecting flight departing? If it’s between 8AM-10AM or 4PM and 8PM, you will have to contend with rush hour traffic.
  • Are you enrolled in TSA PreCheck, or better yet CLEAR? MIA does have CLEAR Checkpoints at concourses E and H, with typically <5 minute total time to get through security.
  • Are you checked in your for next flight, including baggage (if checking it in)? Waiting in line to check in a bag will add considerable time to the process. 
  • What’s the weather like? Inclement weather can cause delays and cancellations.

With a 4 hour domestic connection, you typically will have enough time to go somewhere close, like Little Havana or Coral Gables, where you can have an epic lunch or dinner far superior to anything at the airport.

If you have 6+ hours, you definitely have time to head to Downtown Miami or perhaps explore even further.

Transportation options from MIA

MIA Mover provides easy transport to the Miami Airport Center
The MIA Mover, a huge factor in making exploring Miami easy to do on a layover. Photo CC: miami-airport.com

From scooters to buses, exotic rental cars to taxis, Miami International Airport has an array of options to explore the area on any length of layover.

Exploring the Miami Area by public transport from MIA Airport (bus or train)

Miami International Airport is very well connected to the rest of town, thanks mainly to its “MIA Mover” skytrain system. To catch it, follow signs for MIA Mover up to the third floor. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you find moving walkways.

Getting Around Miami International Airport
Ground transportation at Miami International Airport. Photo CC: miami-airport.com

Follow signs for the MIA Mover, which you will take to the Airport Station/Rental Car Center. Here, you’ll find express buses, a MetroRail system, a rental car center, and more.

The quicker way to explore Miami: Rideshare or Taxi

If you’re looking to travel a little more efficiently, ride shares and taxis are the way to go.

Ride services such as UberLyft, and Wingz can pick up and drop off passengers curbside at departures and arrivals.

Taxis and ride shares are the fastest mode of transportation for those with a short layover.
The taxi waiting area at Miami International Airport. CC: Alexisrael, Wikipedia

Taxis are also available from outside of the arrivals area on the ground level. Metered fares cost $6.90 for the first mile and $2.40 for each additional mile. Various flat rates are also available.

These are almost always the most efficient way to get to and from MIA airport, but traffic can get pretty bad in the MIA. Make sure to plan in some extra time just in case.

The secret to getting free transportation from MIA Airport: hotel shuttles

Airport hotel shuttles are the absolute best way to get a free ride from Miami Airport.
Will not confirm or deny that it’s the best hotel, but any hotel shuttle that gets you somewhere is the best one.

As a cheap pilot, I like free stuff. Maybe you do too.

That’s why hotel shuttles are a great option on layovers. At MIA, hotel shuttles pick-up and drop-off on the upper level outside of departures.

Most hotels with shuttles available aren’t located in a particularly interesting part of town, so it’s worth calling if you see one that’s near a point of interest (restaurant, park) that you’re inclined to visit.

For example, the Best Western Premier Miami Intl Airport Hotel & Suites Coral Gables is located next to Miami's premier Cuban restaurant: Cafe Versailles. You could take a free hotel shuttle here and walk a couple minutes on over.

I highly recommend leaving a tip to the van driver!

Renting a car on your MIA layover – and fully enjoying South Florida

Renting a car from MIA Airport makes the layover way more enjoyable.
My buddy and I rented a Corvette in Miami just to have some fun exploring on a layover. We even drove out to Key Biscayne!

You can also ride the MIA Mover on the 3rd level to the Rental Car Center, from which there are tons of rental companies.

I personally prefer using Hertz as a Gold Member, since I can hop in any available car and drive away instead of waiting in a long line to check in. On a short layover, this is incredibly important.

The freedom you’ll have thanks to a rental car is paramount to being able to efficiently explore the Miami area. Even on a relatively short layover, you’ll be able to visit world-famous Wynwood Walls, Little Havana, and downtown Brickell. With a little extra time, you can head to the absolutely magnificent Key Biscayne for white sand beaches and climbing an old Lighthouse!

Top spots in Miami to spend your layover

Whether you’re looking for an amazing beach, some amazing Venezuelan Arepas, some fine dining and finer shopping, Miami has you covered. Here are spots you can easily reach on your 4-7 hour layover at MIA.

Let’s go to South Beach for the best layover ever!

South Beach Miami is totally feasible to visit on a short MIA layover.
Nothings screams “Miami” more than South Beach. And a 5+ hour layover is definitely enough time to check it out.

Miami Beach (South Beach): There’s no better way to get the real taste of what everyone really wants to see in Miami. And how great is it that you get to do this on your layover instead of staying inside the airport bored?

From exotic cars to some of the greatest wealth in the nation, what is more Miami than South beach?

How to get there

From the Airport Station, you can take the 150 Express bus to South Beach for an awesome layover. In total, this only takes 30 minutes each way!

The Miami Beach Bus runs from the Airport Station to Miami Beach (41st Street to South Pointe Drive) daily from 6 a.m. – 11:40 p.m and costs $2.65.

Exploring downtown Miami (Brickell) from MIA Airport

There's nothing like the Miami skyline to brighten your day.
There aren’t many skylines as beautiful as Downtown Miami. Photo: Diana Robinson

Why not enjoy a quick stroll in Downtown Miami on your layover?

You’ll find an endless selection of cuban food, fine dining, delicious ceviche, Italian or French food, and even Chipotle – whatever caters to your craving.

There’s also some great walking to be done here, and it’s hard to miss all the joggers flying by. My personal favorite is the loop around Brickell Key.

How to get there

To get to Downtown Miami from the airport station, you will take the Orange Line Metrorail towards Dadeland South. Get off at Brickell to see the height of downtown Miami, surrounding yourself with skyscrapers and scenic bay views.

Don’t want to go as far? Check out Little Havana and Calle Ocho

Little Havana is an amazing, vibrant cultural hotspot.
Little Havana is a center of culture, art, and especially food. Check it out! CC: Sharon Hahn Darlin, Flickr

Calle Ocho – have you heard of it? Little Havana, probably the cultural center of Miami, is super close to the airport.

Here, you won’t have trouble finding somewhere to eat, places to shop, and things to do.

From the Calle Ocho Walk of Fame to the Viennese Culturales Center to epic Cuban sandwiches at Sanguish, you’ll easily be able to stay entertained on your layover.

How to get there

I recommend arriving by rideshare, but it is possible to get here by connecting buses from the airport station.

Want something a bit more upscale not far from MIA airport? Check out Coral Gables

Looking for swanky shopping and fine dining on your MIA Layover? Head to Coral Gables.
Coral Gables is one of the swankiest areas in all of Miami. Photo: Wally Gobetz

Also close to the airport is the luxurious, upscale Coral Gables. Whether you’re in the mood for fine dining or shopping at a boutique mall, you have options.

Miracle Mile is the place to be, almost resembling the Florida version of Beverly Hills. For some amazing Spanish food (and I’ve verified this myself!), head to the Bulla Gastrobar. The tapas here are insaaaanely good!!

How to get there

If you’re hoping for a free hotel shuttle to Coral Gables, you’re in luck. The Courtyard by Marriott Miami Coral Gables is located right in the heart of Coral Gables and has shuttles every 30 minutes.

Otherwise, the best way to get here is by bus or rideshare.

The coolest and most “hip” Miami experience: Wynwood

I also enjoyed the antique car museum right in Wynwood, Miami.

This up and coming area used to be kind of a slum. But recent massive efforts to revitalize Wynwood have completed transformed it.

The most obvious change is the artwork here. It’s honestly more impressive street artwork than almost anywhere outside of Melbourne Australia.

And there’s phenomenal food and nightlife here. Pretty often, the city runs events and ceremonies, highlighting the local culture and lengths this part of Miami has come. Very very cool.

How to get there

From the airport station, take the J line bus towards Beach / 41 St. Get off at NW 36th St & W 2 Av. Or my preference, by rideshare or rental car (13 minutes driving vs 45 minutes by bus).

Spotting at MIA Airport: the BEST (and free) way to spend your layover

Spotting is one of my favorite layover activities at Miami International Airport.
As seen from the “famous” Miami Airport spotting area, a China Cargo 747 lands on Runway 09. CC: Venkat Mangudi

I like to take the hotel shuttle to the Hyatt House Miami Airport or any of the “Blue Lagoon” hotels, and cross the street towards the 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant. Even if you don’t eat there, it’s one the of the most popular aircraft spotting locations at Miami International Airport.

Watching heavies from all around the world take off and land, witnessing the power and engineering that has to come together in perfection to make it all work – there’s nothing like it. I can spend all day admiring the feat of magic that flying is.

The Ultimate Miami Layover: Going Out or Staying In?

As you can see, the fantastic location of Miami International Airport makes laying over here delightful. Whether you decide to go out and explore or simply kick back and relax at the airport, you have plenty of options.

In my opinion, there’s so much to see and do outside the airport that it’s worth spending the extra energy to go out and explore. From cultural hotspots like Little Havana and Wynwood to fantastic beach areas like Key Biscayne to incredible nightlife at South Beach, you can’t get bored here.

Plus, the air conditioning at MIA runs a little strong…. Go out, get some fresh air!

Make sure to check out and bookmark these for your next layover:
Seattle, Washington: 10 BEST Things On a Short Layover
Atlanta Airport: The Ultimate 4-6 Hour ATL Layover Guide (by a Pilot)
The Ultimate 7 Hour JFK Airport Layover (by an Airline Pilot)

Keep Exploring the World

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