A CULTURAL mix of the two Americas, where road signs often appear in Spanish and English, Miami is a city proud of its past and excited about the future. Its story is told through the laudable architecture, close-knit communities and a reverence for art and design.

New flights from low-cost airline Norwegian make a long weekend break financially feasible (from £159.90 one way; £275 return), and convenient flight times mean tourists can leave London on Friday mid-morning and enjoy two full days and nights in Miami, before arriving back at Gatwick at dawn on Monday. So, I’m on a mission to see if it’s possible to pack multiple decades into just a few days.

Little Havana: The Fifties fiesta

Once nothing more than a thoroughfare, Calle Ocho (158 SW 8th Street) - the heart of Little Havana - is a now popular tourist destination. Here, the locals, who are largely of Latin American descent thanks to the arrival of tens of thousands of Cubans during the revolution years of the Fifties and Sixties, mix with visitors eager to take a step back in time.

There is an evergreen feeling to Little Havana.

The octogenarian plodding opportunistically along the streets selling cones full of peanuts for a dollar has been doing so for decades, despite an apparent turf war with an entrepreneurial rival.

The memorably named El Pub on Calle Ocho, a sports bar with snacks, coffee and live music, hosts a soothing mixture of daytrippers keen to get their fingers on the renowned colada coffee and beef empanadas ($3/£2.30 a pop). Locals, who like their brews sickly sweet and almost strong enough to stand a stick up in, are of the same mind.

Across Calle Ocho, the Ball & Chain (ballandchainmiami.com) pub entices weary punters with its pulsating live music and lip-smacking mojitos.

Today’s band is an all-ages ensemble of local men, who join a distinguished list of musicians to have delighted crowds at the Ball & Chain, including the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Billie Holiday.

Along the way at El Exquisito (elexquisitomiami.com), we stop for a classic Cuban sandwich - slow-cooked pork, marinated in citrus juices, garlic, bell peppers and onion for two days, served with Swiss cheese, mustard, pickles and wedged between two slices of Cuban bread.

“A few years ago, this used to just be somewhere people passed through to get to Downtown,” Miami Culinary Tour guide Marie says. “But there is a lot more here. It’s more vibrant now.”

South Beach: The art deco masterpiece

South Beach is perhaps the best-known destination at the base of sunshine state Florida, with nearly three miles of golden sands bordering the Atlantic Ocean.

Its fine grains, warm waters and Instagram-ready lifeguard towers make it a haven for beach bums, fitness fanatics and artists, many eager to spot a famous face.

Perhaps the most famous landmark of all, however, is Casa Casuarina, built in 1930. Also known as the Versace Mansion, home to tragic designer Gianni until his assassination in 1997. Now a luxury hotel and restaurant, the sprawling beachside building stands out among the scores of art deco buildings across South Beach.

In fact, the area is a real Mecca for those with an eye for the distinctive architectural style.

Strict planning regulations since the 1970s mean buildings seldom stand taller than three storeys - as to do so would require expensive elevators being installed.

Development is allowed, but it must not be seen from street level on the opposite side of the road.

Trademark features such as the “eyebrows” (decorative ledges) over windows, neon signage, and soft pastel trim can be found at almost every turn.

There are more than 800 art deco buildings around Miami Beach, though it is the Breakwater Hotel which is perhaps best known

A three-year, £53 million (USD 70 million) renovation was completed in summer 2019, retaining many of its original art deco features, such as marble archways, with 119 stylishly-decorated rooms and an outdoor pool.

For all its modernisation, perhaps its greatest drawcard remains its two-minute walk to South Beach.

Wynwood: The next big thing

Further inland, around 25 minutes in a cab, the cultural district of Wynwood is regarded as Miami’s next big development opportunity. A sprawling network of murals, breweries, and multi-purpose tower blocks make it the city’s equivalent of London’s Shoreditch.

Getting there

Rooms at EAST, Miami (east-miami.com) start from £230 ($299) per night. Rooms at The Lennox Hotel (lennoxmiamibeach.com) start from £175 ($225) per night.

Norwegian (norwegian.com/uk; 0330 828 0854) operates a non-stop flight from London Gatwick to Miami. Fares start from £159.90 one-way and £275 return in LowFare economy, and from £499 one-way and £940 return in Premium.