So, you want to know is Tampa worth visiting? In our opinion, yes, it is! Of course, weather is an important deciding factor when you plan a visit, so Tampa ticks this box straight away. This bayside city is in the Sunshine State of Florida and enjoys an average of 246 days of sunshine every year!
In addition, the city offers visitors many attractions suitable for all ages whether you like thrills and spills, getting close to nature or relaxing. Tampa is also within easy reach of some fabulous beaches and coastal locations along the beautiful Gulf Coast!
Where is Tampa, Florida?
Tampa is a major city that is located on the Gulf Coast which stretches along the west and south-western coast of Florida. The city sits on Tampa Bay to the south-west of popular Orlando.
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How to Get to Tampa, Florida?
Tampa is easily accessible from Orlando so can be enjoyed as a day trip or as a destination for a longer visit. By car, Tampa is approximately 1 hour 20 minutes (84.4 miles) from Orlando via the I-4W.
If you are staying on the east coast of Florida, Tampa is a 4-hour drive (282 miles) from Miami along the I-75N
Alternatively, you can fly to Tampa International Airport which receives non-stop flights from other US states and destinations abroad.
What Tampa is Known For?
Tampa is known for:
- Busch Gardens – a theme park with some of Florida’s best roller coasters and thrill rides and a zoo facility which features over 200 species of animals and a Serengeti Safari.
- Bayshore Boulevard – the world’s longest sidewalk (4.5 miles long) is found in downtown Tampa.
- Manatees – these adorable marine mammals can be spotted in the Tampa Bay area during winter and early spring as they enjoy Florida’s warmer waters.
- Cuban Cigars – Ybor City in Tampa was the cigar capital of the world and surpassed Havana in the early 1900s, producing the highest quality hand-rolled cigars in the world.
- The Twist Dance Craze – according to local legend, Hank Ballard wrote the lyrics to the Twist after seeing kids dancing this way at one of his gigs in downtown Tampa.
What to Do in Tampa, Florida?
Tampa really has something to offer for everyone. It’s a place where you can experience the thrills of man-made attractions yet enjoy nature which is an integral part of this waterfront city.
Here are 21 reasons why Tampa is worth visiting:
1. Turn Upside-Down at Busch Gardens
Busch Gardens is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Florida and is perfect for all the family. In addition to a wide range of exhilarating roller coasters and thrill rides, Busch Gardens is one of North America’s largest zoos caring for more than 2,000 interesting and endangered animal species.
Regardless of your age, Busch Gardens has something to offer. After enjoying the excitement of theme park rides or watching thrill-seeking loved ones turn upside-down, sit back and marvel at a wide range of animals roaming free. Take a Serengeti Safari in an open-air touring vehicle across the 65-acre Serengeti Plain or experience it by train on the park’s Serengeti Express.
Finally, if you love animals, don’t miss the opportunity to go behind the scenes to meet animal care specialists and keepers and get up-close to your favourite animals.
No visit to Tampa is complete without a day at this entertaining theme park. Keep your plans flexible by booking in advance here with free cancellation up to 24 hours before your visit.
Multi- Park ticket options are also available so that you can combine a visit to Busch Gardens with SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica Orlando or Adventure Island Tampa Bay.
2. Explore The Florida Aquarium
Another place to get close to animals is The Florida Aquarium. A visit to The Florida Aquarium enables you to get a glimpse of many of Florida’s terrestrial and aquatic animals and their ecosystems, plus many other species from around the world. You can also learn more about The Florida Aquarium’s important conservation projects.
Children and adults alike will love immersing themselves in the aquarium’s 9,000 animals from tree level to sea level. The Florida Aquarium provides a unique window into the journey of a drop of water from one of Florida’s freshwater springs to the open sea of the Florida Keys.
Don’t miss out on Moon Bay! The Florida Aquarium is one of only four places in North America where you can experience the unique opportunity of touching and interacting with hypnotic moon jellies that have swum in oceans for more than 500 million years!
From The Florida Aquarium, you can also book a Wild Dolphin Cruise as an add-on experience. Take this 75-minute catamaran cruise around Tampa Bay to witness local wildlife in its natural habitat.
If you want to skip the line at The Florida Aquarium, book ahead here. Tickets can also be cancelled up to 24 hours in advance if your plans change!
3. Show You Care at Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park
If you are looking to entertain your kids, Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park was voted the best kids’ attraction in Tampa Magazine’s Best of South Tampa 2021 awards. Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park is also one of the most popular zoos in the south-eastern US and cares for over 1,100 different animals.
Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park’s mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and care for animals. The zoo focuses on endangered, threatened and vulnerable species from areas around the world with similar climates to the Tampa Bay region, namely Asia, Africa and Australia.
As a result, the zoo is divided into 6 different zones: Florida, Manatee Circle, Africa, Primates, Wallaroo and Asia. Within each zone, you will experience a range of different animals and the zoo’s aim is for visitors to make unforgettable natural connections within its magnificent tropical setting.
If you want to avoid queueing in the heat with your kids, don’t miss out on booking ahead. Click here to secure a skip the line ticket which can be cancelled free of charge with no hassle up to 24 hours before your visit.
If you want to combine a visit to The Florida Aquarium with Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park on the same day, save money by opting for this ZooQuarium 1-day ticket.
4. Relax and Enjoy Nature at Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center
Manatees are serene and intriguing creatures. So, if you would like the opportunity of seeing manatees in the wild, head to the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach.
In the late 1980s, manatees were increasingly seen in this area because they found refuge in the power station’s warm discharge waters. Today, Big Bend’s discharge canal is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary which gives these creatures protection from the cold. In addition to spotting manatees here, you can also learn more about these gentle mammals and their habitat.
Other interesting displays at Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center include information about how Big Bend Power Station generates environmentally friendly electricity and how it prepares for hurricanes. There is also a hurricane simulator with information about this natural phenomenon.
Don’t miss out on the award-winning butterfly gardens and strolling along the tidal walk where you can spot native and coastal plant life and animals. You can also enjoy a mile-long walk to the 50-foot-high wildlife viewing observation tower which gives a bird’s eye view over the estuary and surrounding area.
5. Discover Tampa Bay by Speedboat
Another way to get a unique perspective of nearby coastlines and wildlife in its natural habitat is to travel by water. There is nothing better than feeling the wind in your hair and hearing waves lapping against the side of a boat.
If you want to have the thrill of a lifetime whilst in Tampa, why not pilot your own speedboat under the professional eyes of a knowledgeable guide? This amazing 2-hour speedboat adventure around Tampa Bay will allow you to do just that! You can be Captain of your own speedboat for a few hours.
After an instruction and safety briefing, your professionally trained guide will help you navigate around Tampa Bay and out into the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Don’t miss out on this exhilarating speed boat experience. In addition to having enormous amounts of fun, you can sit back and admire the Tampa Bay coastline from the water and have the chance to see wildlife like dolphins and manatees in their natural habitat!
If you are visiting the Tampa Bay region, this experience would certainly make a memorable gift for a thrill-seeking loved one. You have nothing to lose as tickets are fully refundable up to 24 hours in advance of your chosen date.
6. Take a Leisurely Stroll Along Tampa River Walk
Tampa River Walk is the perfect choice for a day out if you want to enjoy the outdoors, soak up some culture, be entertained and eat great food.
Tampa Bay’s downtown waterfront is a 2.6 mile walkable, bikeable and Segway-able path along the Hillsborough River to the Garrison Channel from Armature Works to Sparkman Wharf. It links some of Tampa’s best museums, shops, restaurants and parks and is a lively hub for arts, entertainment, leisure and fitness activities.
Tampa River Walk is free to visit and is a great place to explore some of the city’s parks, visit a museum, enjoy the river views from a restaurant, take a water taxi ride or have fun experiencing water sports on the river.
From the Sail Pavilion, you can keep dry and watch water bikers and e-boaters returning. Museum highlights along the Tampa River Walk include The Florida Aquarium (see 2 above), Tampa Bay History Center (see 7 below), Glazer Children’s Museum (see 9 below) and the Tampa Museum of Art (see 8 below).
7. Step Back in Time at the Tampa Bay History Center
Tampa Bay History Center offers an interactive and interesting experience for all the family. What’s more, this museum is easily accessible from the Tampa River Walk either on foot, by car or by water taxi.
The Tampa Bay History Center has 3 floors of permanent galleries as well as temporary exhibits about local history.
Historical facts are presented through well-preserved and beautifully presented artefacts and entertaining, interactive exhibits. Visitors can read bite-sized information, watch informative media clips, shoot cannonballs at enemy pirate ships, shop for cigars and understand how people lived and worked in Ybor City.
This museum focuses on the stories and personalities from Florida’ past. What will you discover about the infamous pirate, Jack Rackham, and Teddy Roosevelt and The Rough Riders? In addition, find out about Florida’s first people including native groups and early European explorers and the history of cigar production in Tampa.
8. Immerse Yourself in the Tampa Museum of Art
Another museum with a riverfront location is the Tampa Museum of Art. Like the Tampa Bay History Center, the Tampa Museum of Art is easily accessible on foot, by car and by water taxi.
The Tampa Museum of Art is devoted to ‘art of our time’ and features engaging and innovative exhibitions covering ancient, modern and contemporary art.
In addition to sculpture, photography and painting exhibits, the Tampa Museum of Art also displays innovative media, video and installation art. This includes an impressive 14,000 square-foot LED installation of Leo Villareal’s Sky (Tampa) that illuminates the southern façade of the museum.
The Tampa Museum of Art is also of architectural interest and has great views over the river and downtown Tampa. Although the museum is smaller than many anticipate, the Tampa Museum of Art is well laid out and houses one of the largest Greek and Roman antiquities exhibitions found anywhere in the south-eastern US.
9. Entertain Little Ones at the Glazer Children’s Museum
The Glazer Children’s Museum is the perfect place to keep kids happy and out of the sun. This museum is also located in the heart of downtown Tampa along the Tampa River Walk. As with the other museums, it is easily accessible on foot, by car or by water taxi.
This interactive centre features hands-on themed play areas which promote imagination and discovery. The museum aims to be a ‘learning laboratory’, so your kids will learn whilst they play and interact with the many different experiences on offer.
10. Marvel at the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI)
Another museum which is perfect for kids is the Museum of Science & Industry or MOSI for short. The museum describes itself as a ‘scientific playground’ and features over 100 hands-on interactive activities. Why not lie on a bed of nails, build a robot or take part in a NASA funded mission?
MOSI’s innovative exhibits are designed to foster curiosity and encourage visitors to ask questions and expand their minds. The museum’s exhibits include:
- A Look Inside – All things related to the human body.
- Connect Us – Technology of tomorrow.
- Dinovations Lab – Jurassic themed base camp exploring palaeontology and prehistoric life.
- Mission Moonbase – Discover what it might be like to live in a lunar colony.
- Idea Zone – Explore different themes, get to grips with 3D printing and build a robot.
- I wonder … – Get curious about the basics of physics, optics, geology and maths.
- The Saunders Planetarium – Learn about the stars, planets and our solar system.
In addition, there are several add-on experiences including a Virtual Reality simulator and 36-foot-high multi-level Sky Trail Ropes Course.
MOSI will get the family thinking and keep them entertained.
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11. Walk, Cycle or Drive Along the Iconic Bayshore Boulevard
Intriguingly, Bayshore Boulevard is the longest continuous sidewalk in the US. This 4.5-mile-long and 10-foot-wide scenic sidewalk skirts Tampa Bay. Bayshore Boulevard starts in the north at the Columbus Statue Park at Platt Street and ends at Gandy Boulevard.
Bayshore Boulevard is also an iconic address. It is lined with many prestigious and beautiful homes which appear on the National Historic Register.
All in all, it’s a great place to take time out to go for a relaxing stroll, admire the architecture of these palatial buildings and enjoy the waterfront location and views of Tampa Bay. If you are feeling more energetic, you can also cycle along a 3-mile stretch of bike lane.
12. Enjoy the Simple Things in Life at Ballast Point Park
It is often said that the best things in life are free. At the southerly end of Bayshore Boulevard is Ballast Point Park which is the perfect place to enjoy simple pleasures. Plus it’s just a 20-minute drive from downtown Tampa along the Fl-618 Toll/Selmon Expressway.
This attractive park features a 600-foot pier, kids’ splash pad under palm trees, picnic areas, pavilions and a boat ramp. Ballast Point Park is a great place to enjoy some peace and quiet by the water and to take time out and relax with the family. It’s also a good place to try fishing, watch sunrises over Hillsborough Bay and enjoy views of downtown Tampa.
13. Navigate Class II Rapids at Hillsborough River State Park
Another place to escape the hustle and bustle of Tampa is Hillsborough River State Park. Hillsborough River State Park is a natural oasis of peace and tranquillity.
This beautiful parkland is situated just 22 miles north-east of downtown Tampa and is a 26-minute drive via the US-301 N or I-4 E/US-301 N. You can visit this beautiful park for the day or enjoy a longer RV or tent camping stay.
Hillsborough River State Park is the perfect place to unwind and enjoy a variety of outdoor recreational activities. One of the activities you can enjoy is fishing for Bass, Bream and Catfish. In addition, there are 4 hiking trails totalling 7.3 miles and you can also explore the scenic landscape by bike or on horseback.
Within the park, you can even kayak and canoe on the Class II rapids! Alternatively, why not try Geocaching which is an outdoor game using GPS? Otherwise, enjoy a stroll along the river rapids and then sit back and enjoy your surroundings whilst you picnic under pavilions built in the 1930s.
In addition to these pavilions, there are other buildings of historical significance within Hillsborough River State Park. Down by the river, you will find Fort Foster which is a replica of an 1837 fort from the Second Seminole War.
Whilst you are exploring Hillsborough River State Park, you can also admire wildlife in various natural habitats including Pine Flatwoods, Floodplain Swamp, Hardwood and Hydric Hammock, Cypress Swamp and Grass Pond.
14. Transport Yourself Back in Time at the Henry B Plant Museum
If you are looking for a different cultural and educational experience whilst visiting Tampa, why not check out the Henry B Plant Museum? The Henry B Plant Museum is found in the Tampa Bay Hotel which dates to 1891. Today, this former extravagant Victorian railroad resort is a National Historic Landmark.
Interestingly, the Henry B Plant Museum brings to life a past era of luxury travel with displays of the original artefacts and opulent furnishings enjoyed by guests at the time. The museum also sheds light on the vision of American transport pioneer and railroad magnate, Henry B Plant, and opens a fascinating window onto Florida’s early tourist industry.
This museum is worth visiting in Tampa if you are interested in history, transport, art or architecture.
15. Experience the Latin Origins of Historic Ybor City
Another fascinating place to visit whilst in Tampa is Ybor City. Ybor City is the historic Latin quarter founded in the 1880s by Vincente Martinez-Ybor and various other cigar manufacturers. In its heyday, Ybor City was an incredibly successful town owned and populated by immigrants.
To learn more about Ybor City and its people and cultures, head to Ybor City Museum. Then, take time to walk and enjoy the architecture of Ybor City and to explore its quirky shops, brew pubs, restaurants and lively clubs.
Ybor City is one of Tampa’s culinary centres, so don’t miss out on trying a Cuban sandwich (see 20 below) and other specialities on offer.
For shopping, head to Centro Ybor. You can still see Cuban torcedores (twisters) hand-rolling cigars in shops along the 7th Avenue (La Septima) as they have since 1885 when Ybor City was the unrivalled centre of cigar manufacturing in the world.
Before you leave, don’t miss visiting Cuba without your passport! That’s right, a tiny piece of Ybor City still belongs to Cuba. Amazingly, the José Martí Park on the corner of 8th Avenue and 13th Street has been part of Cuba since 1956!
16. Catch a Movie or Live Show at the Magnificent Tampa Theatre
Another historic building in Tampa inspired by Latin influences is the amazing Tampa Theatre. This magnificent theatre was built in 1926 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
When you enter Tampa Theatre, you will be transported to the courtyard of an Italian Villa. The stage is surrounded by elegant architecture complete with painted frescoes and statues towering over the audience. Throughout the theatre and in the spectacular foyer, the ceiling resembles a magical night sky with twinkling stars.
Tampa Theatre is recognised as one of the most beautiful cinemas in the world, so where better to watch a movie or live performance whilst you are in the area? Alternatively, you can visit this historic landmark by booking a tour which features a performance of a Wurlitzer organ. Don’t miss out on this Tampa gem!
17. Experience an Adrenaline Rush at Empower Adventures
If you are looking for more challenge and excitement, Empower Adventures is the perfect place to have an aerial adventure. This 2-hour guided zipline experience features 3,000 feet of ziplines and aerial challenges above the land and water at Mobbly Bayou Wilderness, plus a 200-foot suspension bridge.
In addition to being an exhilarating experience, the views of the surrounding landscape from Empower Adventures are incredible. What wildlife will you spot from your bird’s eye view?
Empower Adventures is in Oldsmar which is a 27-minute drive (16 miles) from downtown Tampa along the I-275 S.
18. Sit Back and Soak Up the Sun on Tampa Beaches
Conveniently, there are many fabulous beaches within a 30-minute drive of downtown Tampa. All the beaches have soft white sand and enjoy the warm, calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
What is the Best Beach in Tampa?
Some of the best beaches in Tampa to visit whilst you are visiting in the area are:
- Clearwater Beach
- Caladesi Island State Park
- Ben T Davis Beach (Rocky Point)
Each of these beaches offer something different, so read on to choose the best one for you. Perhaps you will even have time to visit all of them!
Clearwater Beach is a very popular beach. Conveniently, it has all the facilities you will need for a day at the beach including cabanas, restaurants, water sports and entertainment.
In addition, at Clearwater Beach you can experience Sunsets at Pier 60. Two hours before and after sunset each day, you can celebrate the sunset at Pier 60 with street performers and browse cool artisan stalls.
Clearwater Beach is a 40-minute drive (25 miles) west of downtown Tampa along the FL-60 E.
Caladesi Island State Park
If you are looking for a more remote beach experience, head to Caladesi Island State Park.
The beaches on Caladesi Island State Park are tranquil and secluded. You can sit back and enjoy the island’s pristine beaches or explore this natural setting of mangroves, palm trees and wildlife on one of the many hiking trails.
How to Get to Caladesi Island State Park?
There are three ways to get to the uninhabited Caladesi Island State Park:
- walk from Clearwater Beach.
- take a 20-minute ferry ride from Honeymoon Island.
- arrive by water on a private boat, kayak, jetski or paddleboard.
If you decide to walk from Clearwater Beach, check the tides before you start your journey and make sure you have plenty of water and sunscreen. It takes about 90-minutes to walk to Caladesi Island State Park from the north side of Clearwater Beach (approximately 3 miles).
Alternatively, Honeymoon Island is a 50-minute drive (30 miles) from downtown Tampa along the Fl-60 E. The 4-miles of untouched white sandy beaches are definitely worth visiting and worth the drive!
Ben T Davis Beach (Rocky Point)
The Ben T Davis Beach is the closest beach to downtown Tampa. This beach is just a convenient 14-minute drive (9 miles) from downtown Tampa along the I-275 N.
It is the perfect choice for a quick beach break from busy activities in the city and is also a fabulous place to watch sunsets.
19. Indulge in Retail Therapy by Shopping in Tampa
As you might expect of any city, Tampa has some amazing shopping malls to indulge desires for retail therapy. On a hot day, air-conditioned shops are a great place to cool down and to reward yourself and the family with some holiday purchases.
What is the Best Mall in Tampa?
Although there are many shopping malls in Tampa, here are a couple of our favourites:
International Plaza & Bay Street
International Plaza & Bay Street is Tampa’s premier shopping mall. It features numerous high end and midrange retail stores and has plenty of restaurants to keep everyone happy.
The mall is celebrated for being extremely clean and well laid out with a good variety of stores. It is a great place to buy luxury items and designer goods.
International Plaza & Bay Street is located near Tampa International Airport. It is a 13-minute drive (6 miles) west of downtown Tampa along the I-275 N.
Hyde Park Village
On the other hand, Hyde Park Village has a completely different feeling and offers a different shopping experience.
This modern shopping oasis is found in a historic district south of downtown Tampa. Top name retail stores, boutiques and restaurants are arranged in the tree-lined streets of six entire blocks which creates a 265,000-foot shopping district.
Hyde Park Village is charming and has a relaxed, open-air park vibe with a stylish central fountain. Whatever your shopping preferences, Hyde Park Village will satisfy your needs.
To reach Hyde Park Village, head out of downtown Tampa on the FL-60 W/E Kennedy Boulevard. The shopping district is a quick 7-minute drive (2 miles) from downtown Tampa.
20. Eat a Cuban Sandwich
Yes, that’s right, the Cuban Sandwich (Cubano) was invented in Tampa! Traditionally, a Cuban Sandwich is made from roast pork, smoked ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and sometimes salami.
One of the best places to enjoy a Cuban Sandwich in Tampa is the famous Columbia restaurant. This is the oldest restaurant in Florida and has been owned by 5 generations of the same family since 1905!
21. Take a Day Trip from Tampa to the Saint Petersburg Sunken Gardens
Finally, if you fancy a day trip from Tampa, why not head to Saint Petersburg’s oldest living museum? The Saint Petersburg Sunken Gardens are 100 years’ old and evolved in a sinkhole to become a magical botanical paradise.
At the Saint Petersburg Sunken Gardens, you can escape the heat of the sun and enjoy natural shade from over 50,000 tropical plants and flowers in lush gardens. Perhaps you will even spot a flamboyance of flamingos!
Saint Petersburg Sunken Gardens are a 27-minute drive (22 miles) from downtown Tampa along the I-275 S.
Is Tampa Worth Visiting?
Hopefully, you will agree that Tampa has plenty of activities to offer everyone. Like any city, it has some great museums and attractions to entertain all the family. What makes Tampa different is its waterfront location and its proximity to nature.