Why thousands of art enthusiasts flock to Miami Beach every December for one the biggest art events of the year.

Thousands of art enthusiasts will flock to Miami from 2 to 5 December during the ninth run of Art Basel Miami Beach (the sister event of the 41-year-old Art Basel fair which takes place in Switzerland every June). The past two years in Miami have been a bit more mellow due to the economic downturn, but with the art market looking up after the recent successes of New York's major auction houses, the scene is primed for a 2010 Miami Basel of great parties and even better art viewing.

The main event
Art Basel Miami Beach fair (ABMB), housed in the Miami Beach Convention Center, is not for the faint of heart. The often packed house includes the main section of the fair in which blue chip galleries have booths where all works on view are for sale, including museum quality pieces, and the rest of the space is devoted to smaller sections. Art Nova, found in one corner of the fair, includes galleries showcasing work hot off the presses by two to three emerging artists. Art Positions, in another corner, showcases a single major project by one artist in each booth. And Art Kabinett gives galleries an opportunity to show small curated exhibitions within their booths. With booths in the main section labelled in rows from A to L, the best plan of attack is to go row by row through the space.

Art Basel Miami Beach also hosts a nightly program at the Oceanfront, which is free and open to the public with a bar and local food trucks, music, video and performances. Official guided tours of the fair by established art critics are available for $20 per person in English and Spanish. For reservations, e-mail: tours@artnexus.com

With all that the Art Basel Miami Beach fair has to offer, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of art on display. To see it properly viewers should set aside a few consecutive days for a visit. However, in addition to the more than 250 international art galleries displaying modern and contemporary art at the main fair, there are many other art related events for both seasoned veterans and novices that can be more enjoyable and easier to navigate. For the ambitious, the related fairs mean enough art to test your time and stamina.

Satellite fairs
While the main fair includes museum quality work that can cost millions of dollars, the satellite fairs contain work that is often more affordable and introduces visitors to artists whom they may not have heard of before.

Not too far from the Convention Center on Collins Avenue in the heart of Miami Beach, is Aqua Art Fair made up of young dealers exhibiting emerging artists. It has had a West Coast emphasis since it started in 2005 and there are some inconsistencies as far as the quality of the work on view, but it is where I managed to snag a small piece for a great price by the award-winning artist Simon Evans for my own collection last year. (Aqua Hotel, 1530 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach; www.aquaartmiami.com/index.html; $10 ticket can be purchased at the door and is good for re-entry all week)

NADA (New Art Dealers Alliance) has a mission to make contemporary art more accessible to the general public, and is very manageable. Small, young galleries display work by emerging artists that they represent and you could get through it in an hour if you are pressed for time. (The Deauville Beach Resort, 6701 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach; www.newartdealers.org/miami/2010/; free admission)

Art Miami, located in a free-standing tent in the Midtown Arts District still has not figured out exactly what kind of fair it wants to be. It lies somewhere between ABMB and the smaller satellite fairs showing unknown galleries and artists, but it includes well-known galleries with top notch art. (Midtown Blvd between NE 32 and NE 31 Street), Miami; www.art-miami.com; $15 at the door for a one-day pass)

Private collections
Private collections are another way to see stellar examples of art in the Miami area. The public is usually not privy to seeing private art collections but there are some wonderful opportunities in Miami during the dates of the fair when curators pull out the big guns. The most famous collections are those owned by the Margulies and Rubell families but others are worth your time as well.

The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse (www.margulieswarehouse.com) is displaying African photography and video, contemporary painting, large-scale sculptures and installations by internationally renowned artists. The Rubell Family Collection (www.rfc.museum) will be showcasing two exhibitions: How Soon Now and Time Capsule, Age 13 to 21:The Contemporary Art Collection of Jason Rubell. Both exhibitions will show sculpture, videos, photographs and paintings by leading contemporary artists from the family's permanent collection.

The de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space (www.delacruzcollection.org) opened in a magnificent space in the Design District last year and will have an exhibition on Surrealism. And CIFO (Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation:www.cifo.org) will feature the exhibition Inside Out, Photography After Form including photography from the permanent collection that explores the concept of "form" and the camera lens's ability to capture line, light and shadow.

Though most people never make it past the fairs, museums can provide much needed tranquillity amid the frenetic pace of the week. The Bass Museum of Art (www.bassmuseum.org) is located just a few blocks from the Miami Beach Convention Center, and will show a new nine-screen installation video work, "Ten Thousand Waves" by the artist Isaac Julien. And the Museum of Contemporary Art (www.mocanomi.org)

is in North Miami, about 40 minutes away from Miami Beach but worth the hike for exhibitions of works on paper by the British artist Chris Ofili and sculpture by German artist Jonathan Meese.

How to
Unfortunately, public transportation is not a good option for getting around. When in Miami Beach proper, walking is the easiest way to get to venues. For collection visits and some satellite fairs in the Design District, taxis are a must but can often be shared with other art lovers in town for the week. There are also free shuttles between ABMB and other fairs. It is best to ask at the information desk about pickup locations and running times.

Hotels are expensive and usually booked well in advance for Art Basel Miami Beach. But you might get lucky with last minute cancellations. You may need to stay in downtown Miami and take a taxi to Miami Beach.

There are several great dining options. If you are in the Design District, Michael's Genuine Food and Drink (www.michaelsgenuine.com) is a must for delicious food made from local ingredients. In Miami Beach, at 1903 Collins Avenue, is an affordable Middle Eastern café with outdoor seating called Sultan Kabob, and if you are looking for 24-hour dining visit News Café (www.newscafe.com) on Ocean Drive where you can find salads, sandwiches and breakfast all day, every day.

Nicole Berry, director of Manhattan's Nathan Bernstein Gallery, is an art historian, curator, adviser and critic. For more on her and the art events and happenings that she attends internationally, visit www.accessibleartny.com. This year will be her fifth Art Basel Miami Beach.