Vizcaya & Museum & Gardens

If you are planning a trip to South Florida and have never heard of this beautiful estate, I think this post will show you why you will want to add a visit to your itinerary. Vizcaya is an Italian Renaissance villa with formal French gardens surrounded by acres of tropical hammock just South of downtown Miami. Visiting Vizcaya transports you to a magical Mediterranean palace filled with historical art objects, Renaissance furnishings, stunning formal gardens, and an extravagant architectural setting. You can take a trip to a lavish Mediterranean villa without the need for a cross-Atlantic flight.  

Many of us who live in South Florida remember visiting Vizcaya on school field trips when we were very young, but have never returned as adults. Well, it is time to reexplore this amazing place. Vizcaya is for anyone who wants to be transported away or just wants to spend a day in a uniquely beautiful romantic setting. I love this place and I think you will too.

Vizcaya and the Grand Estates of the Gilded Age

During the Gilded Age, between the Civil War and the turn of the century, the country saw an era of rapid industrialization. There was explosive growth in the steel, shipping, oil, railroad, and financial industries. This expansion brought with it the rise of a new entrepreneurial class that led these industries.

Having amassed enormous fortunes, they were able to travel the world and returned inspired by the magnificent cities and estates they visited. These business leaders desired to create estates for themselves that rivaled the palatial homes they had seen. These estates were grand in scale, furnishings, and décor.

I have always wondered what it must have been like for the titans of the Gilded Age to live in those opulent mansions. What was it like for the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, or Astors living day to day in such settings? They lived in lavish interiors surrounded by masterworks of art and historical antiques. Places like these have identities of their own with names like the Breakers, the Biltmore Estate, Marble House, or Lyndhurst. 

One normally thinks of finding these American palaces in the Hudson River Valley, New York, or Newport. However, South Florida is home to grand estates of its own. Palm Beach is the home of Mar-a-Lago and Whitehall. Sarasota is the home of Ca’ d’Zan. Miami's Coconut Grove is the setting for the beautiful Vizcaya. This is Miami's own Gilded Age mansion. Today, you can stroll the gardens, sit in the courtyard, or gaze out across the bay and imagine what life was like at the turn of the century in this grand mansion. Next, we will take a look at the house and gardens, and show you what you need to know to get the most out of your visit to Vizcaya.

 

The History of Vizcaya

Vizcaya was the winter home of James Deering, of the Deering McCormick-International Harvester fortune. The house and gardens were built between 1914 and 1923. Deering employed up to 1,000 people (10% of Miami's population at the time) to work on the construction of the home. Mr. Deering first took up residence on Christmas Day 1916, arriving aboard his yacht Nepenthe. Originally, the estate was on a 180 acres property that encompassed a mangrove shoreline and dense inland hammock.  

The natural setting is beautiful, but the house is the jewel at the center. The property is now 43 acres. The house is a little over 45,000 square feet with 54 rooms. There are 34 decorated rooms now open to the public. Deering filled his home with imported wall panels, carved mantels, Renaissance furniture, tapestries, paintings, and decorative art pieces. There are over 2,500 art objects and furnishings in the home. Vizcaya is full of art and historical treasures. There are elements purchased from Venetian palaces, items that once belonged to European nobility, and even the base of a table that comes from Pompeii! 

Vizcaya has over 300,000 visitors annually. Over the years, there have been many notable visitors. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan received Pope John Paul II at Vizcaya. In 1994, President Bill Clinton hosted the First Summit of the Americas at Vizcaya. Leaders of 34 nations met at Vizcaya to discuss trade at the summit. Queen Elizabeth II has attended a function at Vizcaya. King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía of Spain have visited as well. During Mr. Deering's time in the house, President Warren G. Harding, Thomas Edison, and actress Lillian Gish were all welcomed as guests. John Singer Sargent was a frequent guest and painted many scenes around Vizcaya. 

 

Vizcaya Museum + Gardens  - ©Robin Hill
©Robin Hill

Vizcaya - The Main House

The architectural style of the home is Mediterranean Revival, but there are Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical, and French Empire influences in the home. Vizcaya's exteriors and garden are influenced by different Italian Renaissance villas. The house was built of steel-reinforced concrete and stucco. Limestone, quarried locally, in the Florida Keys, and in Cuba was used throughout the house. An international group of artisans was brought together to work on the house. Stonemasons from the Bahamas contributed to Vizcaya with their expertise in carving the local coral and limestone. Artists and craftsmen from Italy, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Scotland were also employed. The house and gardens were carved out of a native forest on the shores of Biscayne Bay by a small army of workers. 

Many new, modern technological marvels were included in the home such as a central vacuum system, central heating, dumbwaiters, an automatic electric dialing telephone exchange which required no switchboard (the first in Miami), a burglar alarm, refrigeration, a pool that could be filled with fresh or seawater, and two Otis elevators. There were even fire hydrants and hoses hidden on every floor in case of fire. Amazing technology for a private home at the turn of the century.

Visitors can now see about 38,000 square feet of the house. There are also basement and service areas that are not open to the public. Today they serve as storage, staff offices, house plumbing, and electrical infrastructure. 

 

©Picture Works Inc / Roldan Torres-Moure - Miami
©Picture Works Inc / Roldan Torres-Moure - Miami

Entering the house through the entrance loggia, one finds a large central courtyard visible just beyond the entrance. It serves as the center of the house. In the loggia, you will find a 2nd century carved marble Roman basin. Egyptian granite vases are found on either side of the basin. Each end of the loggia has a large Empire door leading to the home's interior. Vizcaya is layout as a succession of rooms organized by function and decorated in varying styles of French and Italian origins.

You proceed from the loggia through a French Empire-style entrance hall and coat room that leads to the Adam Library. The library is in an English Neoclassical design with carved wall panels and ceilings. There is a beautiful bookcase that hides a secret door to the Reception Room. 

Each subsequent room follows in a path around the central courtyard. Different architectural styles adorn each room. They are filled with art objects and treasures from Mr. Deering's travels. The Renaissance Room, the Music Room, the Banquet Hall, and the Tea Room follow in succession, connected by hallways, loggias, and arcades. The rooms include wall silks, tapestries, carved columns, coffered ceilings, and artworks. The differing styles provide a visitor a sense that the villa has been occupied and evolving over many years, adding new elements, décor, and furnishings with each passing generation.  

 

Top four photo - ©Picture Works Inc / Roldan Torres-Moure - Miami    Bottom four photos - ©Robin Hill - Miami

Surrounding a hallway that is open to a view of the central courtyard below, the 2nd floor consists of bedrooms for Mr. Deering and his guests. Each bedroom is decorated in a different style and named accordingly. The rooms have names like Manin, Pantaloon, Cathay, Espagnolette, Goyesia, and Guidecca. Every room is an extravagant adventure with its own back story. The 2nd floor provided Mr. Deering and his guests a breakfast room that looked out over the vast formal Vizcaya gardens. Those gardens are as stunning as the home's interiors. Exiting the main house and entering these magnificent spaces you are once again transported. Moving through the sections of the formal garden is similar to walking through outdoor rooms.

 

Vizcaya - The Gardens

©Robin Hill
©Robin Hill
©Robin Hill
©Robin Hill

Vizcaya's gardens are modeled after formal Italian and French gardens of the 17th and 18th centuries. The grounds include long stepped vistas and many smaller distinct settings. There is a walled secret garden, a hedge maze, an elevated oak-lined garden mound, bayside spaces, an outdoor tea room, and so many more unique and beautiful spaces.

The sound of water is heard throughout the gardens from the many fountains you'll encounter. When bayside, you'll hear the waves coming and going. The garden's secrets are revealed slowly as one moves through them, since no vantage point allows you to take in all the various elements. Every setting is different but all flow in and out of each other in one continuous experience.

Walking through the garden, you will find more manicured spaces closest to the house. The elevated mound terrace contains naturally formed live oaks. Along the bayside are wild mangroves lining the shore. Sculptures, fountains, and wrought-iron gates are scattered throughout the gardens.

Each space you move through opens up to a new and different space. Descending large twin staircases behind the mound, you come upon a small pond with a natural, undisturbed view. This is the end of the gardens today, but originally the grounds continued to a boathouse, palm-lined paths, bridges, and meandering waterways. Nevertheless, today's gardens are still 10 acres of beautiful outdoor spaces.

The gardens are a wonderful place to walk with someone you want to spend time with, to photograph, or just to feel like you are a million miles away in the Italian countryside. It appears to be custom-made to help you clear your mind of big-city stress. It is a magical place for families with smaller children who can spend a day discovering, exploring, and learning about Miami's history. 

 

Proceeding photo grid - ©Robin Hill - Last row left side ©Alejandra Serna

Vizcaya - Virtual Tour

Vizcaya Museum & Garden provides a beautiful virtual tour of portions of the house and gardens - available HERE. Be sure to check out the Enclosed Loggia on the ground floor. Remember to look up at the ceiling when you explore Mr. Deering's bathroom. The Stone Barge on the East Terrace serves as a breakwater and is quite unique. The Garden Mound is a beautiful vantage point you won't want to miss. The virtual tour is a chance to take a glimpse of this grand estate, but there is nothing like being there in person. 

Getting The Most Out of Your Visit to Vizcaya

Vizcaya's Hours of Admission
Vizcaya is open to the public Thursday through Monday beginning at 9:30 a.m.; the last admission is at 4:30 p.m. Visitors may enjoy the Main House until 5:00 p.m. and the gardens until 5:30 p.m. Vizcaya is closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.

How Much Does It Cost To Go To Vizcaya & Online Ticket Purchase 

Note: During Covid, tickets must be purchased online. For more information click here.

Adults (13 & over)$22
Children (6-12)$10
Children (5 & under)Free
Visitors using wheelchairs$10
United States military veterans & active duty personnel with IDFree

Note: 7% tax not included in the price listed here. 


Remember: 
As always, we advise that before you visit any location you should check weather forecasts, and contact Vizcaya Museum and Gardens directly to inquire about weather policies, closures or limited access due to restorations, accessibility concerns, admission pricing changes, and other considerations. Visit Vizcaya's website or call directly for current information. Stay informed and get the most out of your visit!

Public Transit to Vizcaya (for public transit click the following links)

Parking At Vizcaya & Accessibility 

For Vizcaya Museum and Garden's parking information click here. There are accessible parking spaces in the main parking lot on the south side of the Main House. To drop off visitors with limited mobility near the wheelchair lift, please alert the security officer in the main parking lot. Be aware of the many steps and uneven floors and terrain throughout Vizcaya’s Main House, gardens, and grounds.

How Long Does It Take To See Vizcaya 
Allow time to see everything. Expect at least 3 hours to move through the house and gardens, but you could easily spend 6 hours or the entire day. It really depends on how many of the details you want to take in. 

Tips for Visiting Vizcaya

  • Arrive early. Getting there at the opening will help you find parking, give you more hours to spend at Vizcaya, avoid evening event setups (see below), and avoid the crowds. 
  • If you want to avoid the heat in the middle of the day, you may want to start early in the gardens and finish the day in the air-conditioned house. Summers get especially hot and humid at midday and usually bring afternoon showers. If you arrive midday, you can start in the house and explore the gardens in the late afternoon assuming the rains have stopped. (Note: typical summer rain patterns are not exact. They can be unpredictable, so keep an eye on the weather report before heading out.)
  • At times, preparations for evening weddings or events require the setting up of event tents on terraces or seating on the mound, which can begin near closing time when guests are still visiting. This is not the greatest user experience for people visiting the house and gardens in the late afternoon. Get your photos early. Call ahead to ask about any setups that might start earlier than closing time. Setup times, as of the writing of this post, are: Casino and Mound 4:00 p.m., East Terrace 3:00 p.m., Mansion Atrium 5:15 p.m. (house already closed at that time).
  • Don't miss the discounts. There are many discounts available, such as:
    • senior citizens
    • Miami-Dade Dept. of Cultural Affairs - Golden Ticket (for residents 62 & older)
    • Culture Shock Miami student discounts (purchase of one $5 ticket for a 13-22 year old, a second $5 ticket can be purchased for someone of any age to accompany them)
    • AAA
    • National Endowment for the Arts Blue Star Museum program offers complimentary general admission to our United States active military and up to 5 family members. Tickets must be redeemed on-site at Admissions. Valid DD Form 1173 ID Card or DD Form 1173-1 ID card must be shown for verification. Refunds are not available after the date of visit.
    • Various membership plans are available for individuals, couples, or families with different tiered benefits, but all include daily general admission for one year to the Main House, the gardens, and special tours of the Vizcaya Village. 
    • Don't forget to bring your IDs for the above discounts.
    • It is common to see portrait shoots in the gardens throughout the day. They are not usually in one place for long.
  • There is an audio tour offered which costs an extra $5 at the entrance. It is a great way to learn more about the home.

 

Check out our post on
how to access many Miami attractions for free
here or at the bottom of this post!

©Robin Hill
©Robin Hill

Events At Vizcaya

 

The 64th Annual Vizcaya Ball raises funds for the continued preservation of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. 

THE PRESERVATION LUNCHEON 
Every year guests from South Florida’s philanthropic society attend Vizcaya's Preservation Luncheon. It has become known as the hat luncheon, since attendees arrive wearing stylish hats. The luncheon raises funds for the preservation of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.

VIZCAYA ANNUAL HALLOWEEN SUNDOWNER

VIZCAYA VILLAGE FARMER'S MARKET
A recurring event with local vendors at Vizcaya’s historic farm and village. Discover fresh-made delicacies and hand-crafted goods, fruits and vegetables, baked goods, vegan products, and more. This is a rain or shine program. The Market takes place every Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., at the Vizcaya Village located at 3250 S. Miami Ave. Miami, FL.

VIZCAYA EXTENDED HOURS 
Held at various times throughout the year, these evenings feature access to the gardens and main house after hours as well as fun activities and experiences that change every month. 

AND MUCH MORE . . . 
There are many lectures, workshops, and site-specific art displays from time to time at Vizcaya. To keep up with upcoming events, check out Vizcaya's events page: here.

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