An aerial view of the straight 7 Seven Miles bridge on the Overseas Highway, Florida, with blue waters and reefs visible below the water

How long does it take to drive the Overseas Highway?

By Sasha Yanshin | Updated on 2 October 2019

Crossing turquoise waters, journeying above coral reefs and cutting through stunning tropical islands, the Overseas Highway offers one of the most scenic driving experiences on the planet.

The final section of US Highway 1, it zips between the idyllic islands of the Florida Keys as it links the city of Miami to the most southerly point in the state, Key West. Along the way, there are a wealth of mini-paradises to stop off at, great eats and beaches to relax on.

If that wasn't enough, drivers also get the satisfaction of cruising over the Seven Mile Bridge (guess how long it is...), which has been featured in films including James Bond's Licence to Kill, True Lies and 2 Fast 2 Furious. A road trip that's both badass and beautiful? Sign us up.

But measuring just 113 miles from tip to tip, some would be inclined to argue that it's a bit of a stretch to call the Overseas Highway a road trip, instead dismissing it as more of a long drive. However, we think these people would be wrong, mainly because it really is one of those trips that brings that old cliche 'It's about the journey, not the destination' to life.

Allowing for traffic, it takes roughly four hours to drive the Overseas Highway one-way. However, it's worth giving yourself more time than this to explore the many gems along the way. With a couple of fun stops and a break for a leisurely local lunch, we would recommend eight to ten hours to drive the Overseas Highway.

Although if you were powering straight through you could go there and back in one day, the best way to do it is to start in Miami and spend a day driving down, then enjoy a night in Key West sipping cocktails in front of a fabulous sunset.

The next morning, wake when the birds do so that you can catch the sun rising over the water.

An aerial view overseas highway surrounded by green and blue waters and sandy islands as it comes into to Key West, Florida Keys, USA.

Where you stop along the Overseas Highway will influence how long your journey takes

As we said, there are a whole host of amazing places to stop off at along the Overseas Highway, but which ones you choose and which activities you take part in will influence how long it takes you to drive from one end to the other.

Realistically, you'll probably need more than a day if you're going to do justice to all of our favourites listed here, but all of the bigger islands do have some hotels, so if you did want to take your time and make a few days of it then go ahead.

To go diving: Key Largo

While the traditional lure of the Overseas Highway may lie in the sweeping views of the coast, don't underestimate the magic of what's lurking beneath those crystal clear waters too.

If you love being in the sea then you're going to want to stop almost as soon as you start driving, with a visit to Key Largo.

Roughly one hour and 20 minutes from Miami and the first island you come to on the road trip, Key Largo is a haven for snorkelling and diving, with a world-class reputation.

In addition to natural reefs, it also offers some phenomenal wreck-diving, as well as parasailing, kayaking and paddle boarding.

If you prefer to stay above water or on dry land, there are also glass-bottom boats, wildlife centres and a bit of good old sunbathing to indulge in.

Estimated stop time including an activity: 3-4 hours

For lunch: Islamorada

Traditionally the sport-fishing capital of the Florida Keys, Islamorada is now fast gaining a reputation as a foodie-haven - so we can think of nowhere better to stop for a spot of lunch.

Actually a series of six small islands incorporated into one 'village,' Islamorada boasts a huge selection of great restaurants serving up fresh seafood and shellfish with stunning views across the very seas that it came from.

If you did want to do some fishing first and catch your own lunch, many of the restaurants will be only too happy to cook it for you afterwards.

Estimated stop time: 2 hours

For wildlife: Marathon

Contrary to the name of this stretch of the Overseas Highway, it's not runners but animal lovers that will really enjoy a pitstop in Marathon.

In an area of the U.S. well known for its wildlife, the island excels itself, boasting a Dolphin Research Centre, an aquarium where you can feed stingrays, and the Crane Point Museum and Nature Center, which includes a wild bird sanctuary.

The real highlight of the island though is the totally adorable Turtle Hospital, which rescues, rehabs and releases sea turtles.

If you want to really maximise the cuteness then time your trip to coincide with one of the centre's public turtle releases, which are advertised on their website. Prepare to fall in love!

Estimated stop time including a tour of the turtle hospital: 3 hours

The white sand Sombrero Beach with palm trees and people sunbathing on Marathon island, Florida, USA.
Simon Dannhauer/

Things that will impact how long it takes to drive the Overseas Highway

Like with any road trip, there are a few variables that may affect how long it takes to drive the Overseas Highway on any given day.

Obviously, hiccups such as accidents will slow you down substantially, but on a day to day basis these are the ones you need to know about:

The journey will take longer during peak hours

It sounds obvious, but at the same time, it's hard to imagine somewhere this gorgeous being busy - nose-to-nose traffic isn't exactly the kind of photo that appears in the magazines, is it?

However, the fact is that the Overseas Highway can get very crowded, with the traffic sometimes dropping to a snail's pace. Generally, the slowest part will be getting out of Miami, where the rush hour runs from approximately 7 am to 9.30 am; on weekends, it will be easier to get out of the city but the Keys themselves will be busier.

If you can, we suggest choosing a weekday but getting on the road super early so that by the time rush hour hits you're already safely on a beach.

When the peak time is done (and you've soaked up some Vitamin D) you can head back out onto the road for what should be a more smooth journey.

Whatever you do, don't let the traffic put you off, because there are certainly worse places to be on the go-slow.

Speed limits may slow you down

If you're a fast driver and thinking that you'll be able to shave a little time off of your trip by zooming through from island to island, then you should know that this is one road trip that it would serve you well to slow down on.

In general, the maximum speed here peaks at 55 mph on the bridges and 45 mph on the islands. Not only are the speed limits infuriatingly low, but they are also strictly enforced, with a number of speed traps to catch drivers out.

Our advice is not to try and speed it up by breaking speed limits and instead just take it easy and enjoy the views - it's rare to come across a road like this!

Bear the weather in mind

There are some things in life that you just can't control and (unfortunately) the weather is one of them.

This area of the United States is prime territory for some pretty serious tropical storms, with August and September the most likely times for this kind of event to hit. Needless to say, strong winds and pounding rain can play havoc with your journey time.

The most extreme version of this are the hurricanes; if you do happen to be in the Keys when one is about to hit, then you may get caught up in the mass-evacuation, with the roads becoming gridlocked as thousands of people drive back towards the mainland.

Similarly, after a hurricane, access to some of the Keys is often temporarily cut off as the bridges on the Overseas Highway are closed in order for them to be inspected.

Of course, visiting at this time of year doesn't mean there is guaranteed to be a hurricane, or even a storm, but it is something to bear in mind.

Fortunately, they do come with a lot of warning so if you're travelling during these months then you may wish to have a backup plan.

Even long after hurricane season, if there's somewhere you particularly want to visit - be it a whole island or a particular restaurant - it's well worth having a quick look online to see that it's still operating as usual.

Make sure you plan for petrol and comfort breaks

The Overseas Highway lives up to its name in the fact that it is indeed overseas; with the majority of it perched above the water, there are stretches of road with no access to gas stations or service facilities.

With that in mind, make sure you have a quick glance down at your dashboard each time you arrive onto an island.

Even if you don't need to use the bathroom it may be a good idea to stop when you can anyway, as you don't want to get caught short while you're stuck in a traffic jam.

Happy travelling - and don't forget your goggles!