With year-round sunshine, a plethora of parks, stunning natural scenery and a multitude of historical sites, you won’t be short of things to do in Tampa. The best news? Many of the city’s attractions are completely free, giving you the chance to enjoy a fun-filled day out without spending a dime in the process. Whether you’re into wildlife, beaches, hiking, or architecture, you’ll not be short of entertainment, that’s for sure. To experience the best Tampa has to offer on a budget, check out this list of the city’s top 20 free attractions.
1. Tampa Riverwalk
If you like a dose of history with your scenery, the Tampa Riverwalk will be right up your street. The 2.5-mile stretch is a top destination for art exhibits, entertainment, fitness and more. Traversable by bike or foot, the easy riverfront trek winds through a series of small, intimate parks… perfect for a summer picnic or some early morning yoga. Along the way, you’ll pass through several interactive exhibits (be sure to check out the Riverwalk, a collection of 550 photographs by artist Bruce March), along with multiple spots of interest including the Tampa Museum of Art, Curtis Hixon Park, the Convention Center, the Tampa Bay History Center, the Channelside Bay Plaza and finally, the hugely popular Florida Aquarium.
2. J.C. Newman Cigar Company
History buffs will love the J.C. Newman Cigar Company almost as much as cigar lovers will. The company was founded in 1915 by Julius Ceasar Newman in Ohio but relocated in the 1950’s to the Regensburg factory in Tampa, the last and largest cigar factory to be built in the city. Today, the factory serves as Tampa’s last remaining cigar factory still in operation. It’s also one of the areas hottest tourist destinations; with a small museum full of interesting curiosities, a cigar shop for those who can’t resist sampling the goods, and plans in place to introduce full factory tours by 2020, the site makes a great (and free) day out. For opening times, visit their website.
3. Tampa Firefighters Museum
Tampa Firefighters Museum is set in a stunning building that until 1974, served as the headquarters of Tampa’s fire department. Today, the building houses a museum that brings the rich history of the fire department to life with interactive exhibits, live safety demonstrations, and various events that re-tell real-life stories from the departments past. While the museum offers free entry, those prepared to part with a few dollars should check out the museum’s gift shop on the 1st floor- its fire safety education materials and Tampa Fire Rescue memorabilia will go down a treat with kids. For more info, be sure to check out their website.
4. Lettuce Lake Regional Park
Located just half an hour from downtown Tampa, Lettuce Lake Regional park is well worth the drive. The Park is a 240-acre paradise for nature lovers, complete with secluded, wooden picnic areas, a fun playground for kids, a paved path for cyclists, and a fitness course for health fanatics. The park is positively teaming with wildlife, with the 3500-foot boardwalk and observation tower providing perfect viewing opportunities. Early birds should be sure to check out the free guided nature walks, available every Saturday and Sunday at 8.30am. If that’s too early for you, worry not… you’ll find plenty on offer throughout the day at the very interesting exhibit center. For opening times, visit the Hillsborough County website.
5. Yuengling Brewing Co.
A tour around America's oldest beer company, Yuengling Brewing Co., is the perfect way to while away an afternoon without spending a fortune in the process. The company runs three guided tours a day (check out their website for times), given beer-lovers the chance to see the beer crafting process from start to finish. All tours finish with the opportunity to sample some freshly brewed Yuengling favorites, including the delicious Lord Chesterfield Ale and the company’s signature Traditional Lager. Before leaving, be sure to take a look at the brew-house and gift shop… perfect to pick-up some mementos of your visit (although unlike the tour, you will need to stump up the cash to partake of the offerings).
6. Davis Beach
If you’re looking for calm waters, powdery white sands and easy access to Tampa’s downtown area, you can’t beat Davis Beach. With plenty of shelters offering the perfect spot for a picnic, the beach is one of the best spots in town to relax and watch the sunset. If you want to take in some sports, visit on a Tuesday evening or a Saturday morning, when the beach gets taken over by some of Tampa’s best volleyball players. If all the lounging around gets too much, take a cycle along the scenic Courtney Campbell Trail, a four-mile biking route that runs adjacent to the beach.
7. Manatee Viewing Center
Wildlife fans are sure to be thrilled by the Manatee Viewing Center. During the colder days of winter, local manatee’s flock to the heated waters surrounding the center, giving visitors the perfect opportunity to watch the mammals as they bask and play in the warm depths. With an educational building, a mini-theater, nature trails, and more picnic spots than you can count, the center is a treat for all the family. Be sure to check out the well-stocked gift shop for some Manatee inspired mementos before you leave. Visit their website for more info and opening times.
8. Free Friday
If you’re in Tampa on a Friday, you’re in luck. Each fourth Friday of the month sees downtown Tampa play host to a variety of free activities, including live music and the opportunity to ride the Downtown shuttles and Pirate Water Taxi for free. During the event, many of Tampa’s best cultural sites (including the Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa Bay History Center, and Tampa Theatre) upon their doors for free. Secure your admission by picking up your free wristband from any of the participating venues. For more details, take a look at the event’s website.
9. Bayshore Boulevard
Before you get sniffy about the idea of a boulevard being a “top thing to do”, hear me out… Bayshore Boulevard (which just so happens to be the longest sidewalk in the whole of the US) is not just any old Boulevard. As well as serving as an unofficial gym to the residents of South Tampa (expect to see scores of walkers, joggers, cyclists and roller-bladers at all hours of the day and night), Bayshore Boulevard offers some of the most stunning views in town…. If you can find a better place to take in the majestic Tampa skyline, you’d be very lucky indeed. If you’re still not convinced a stroll along a boulevard constitutes a fun day out, a visit during the annual Gasparilla parade in late January will be sure to change your mind.
10. Ybor City Visitor Center
Want to learn more about the history of Tampa? If the answer’s yes, a visit to the Ybor City Visitor Center is definitely in order. Located in the city’s charming historic district, the Center is the ideal spot to pick up some free maps, brochures and pamphlets on local attractions, along with some handy advice on the best things to do and see in the area. If that wasn’t enough, visitors also have the chance to take in a video presentation about the history and culture of the district, as well as the opportunity to explore the delights of the Center’s museum. If you want to treat yourself to some souvenirs, be sure to stop off at the gift shop on your way out. More info can be found at the Center's website.
11. Hillsborough River
Adventurous types should be sure to check out Hillsborough River during their visit to Tampa. As one of Florida’s first and finest state parks, Hillsborough River has been offering nature lovers the chance to enjoy kayaking, fishing and hiking since it first opened its gates over 80 years ago. Its 7-mile trail offers ample wildlife spotting opportunities, while the river’s class II rapids provide the perfect setting for some white-water rafting. Before you leave, be sure to take in some local history with a quick stop off at the Fort Foster State Historic Site, which served as a resupply point for soldiers during the Second Seminole War. More details can be found at its website.
12. Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park
With 8 acres of scenic parkland; a well-equipped playground with shaded play structures and seating areas; a fenced- in dog run with plenty of canine-friendly features; multiple secluded picnic areas and two interactive fountains for the kids to splash around in, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is a treasure trove of delights. If you want a bit of free culture, be sure to arrive on the forth Friday of the month, when the park’s 2 museums, Tampa Museum of Art and Glazer Children’s Museum, offer free entry. For more info, visit the City of Tampa website.
13. All Persons Rotary Park
If you’re looking for a fun day out for all the family, you’ll find no better place than All Persons Rotary Park. The park offers play areas for kids of all ages to enjoy, along with a large playground for older kids and another for younger ones. The park is also equipped with a well-maintained baseball court, plenty of delightful picnic spots, and even a few restrooms for when duty calls. More information on the park, which offers free entry between sunrise to sunset, is available at the Hillsborough County website.
14. Weedon Island Preserve
Weedon Island Preserve is a nature-lover’s paradise: its 3,190-acres of natural beauty is home to a plethora of native fauna and flora, as well as an educational facility that offers plenty of interesting information about the preserve’s rich cultural history. With a fishing pier, multiple trails, an observation tower, regular exhibits, a gift shop and the chance to view some of the ancient artifacts found at the reserve (including a 1100-year-old canoe) there’s far more to this preserve than just bird watching. Take a look at what else is on offer at its website.
15. E.G Simmons Regional Park
If you fancy a fun day at the beach, you can’t do much better than the E.G Simmons Regional Park. With a 200 acre mangrove swap, a bird and wildlife sanctuary (be sure to look out for the very rare Roseate Spoonbill and the majestic Bald Eagle), 700 feet of pristine sands, a fishing pier, volleyball park, a water bank and the chance to rent a kayak (not free, but cheap enough not to blow the budget), the park has enough on offer to satisfy even the most demanding of families. For more info, take a look at the Hillsborough County website.
16. Sawgrass Lake Park
Fans of nature will be delighted with all that’s on offer at Sawgrass Lake Park. With a mile-long boardwalk, an observation tower, a half-mile trek through one of the largest maple swamps on the Gulf Coast, and multiple wildlife spotting opportunities (beware the alligators!), the park is the perfect place to while away an afternoon. A picnic shelter and grill are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For park opening times and directions, check out the Pinellas county website.
17. Gizella Kopsick Arboretum
Located just outside Tampa, the Gizella Kopsick Arboretum offers visitors the chance to view over 150 plant species from around the world. As well as proving the ideal setting to relax and take in the joys of nature, the Arboretum offers drinking fountains for thirsty walkers, a gazebo, and plenty of secluded conversation corners with wooden benches. More information can be found on the St Petersburg Parks and Recreation website.
18. Sacred Heart Catholic Church
Architectural lovers shouldn’t miss out on the chance to visit Tampa’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church. The imposing monument with its soaring dome, stained glass windows, Romanesque design and picturesque interior is one of the city’s must-see sights. Even the non-devout will find their spirits lifted after a visit.
19. Wat Mongkolrata Temple
Swing by Wat Mongkolrata Temple on a Sunday morning and you’ll be amazed at the delights on offer at the vibrant Thai food market. Sample some of the free offerings before taking a stroll around the grounds (if you can, bring a picnic- you’ll find lots of spots to lay out a a blanket and enjoy the stunning surrounds). If you’ve got the time, a trip around the striking temple is well worth the effort. More details can be found at their website.
20. Florida Cane Distillery
If you fancy sampling some of the best liquors Florida has to offer, don’t miss a trip to the Florida Cane Distillery. The distillery offers visitors the chance to sample some of the delicious vodka, moonshine and gin it makes from local fruits (the Key Lime Vodka comes highly recommended). The knowledgeable staff are happy to answer questions about the distillery’s past and present, while the site offers free tours throughout the day (although you’ll need to part with some cash if you’re tempted to take any of their products home). Visit their website for more information and opening times.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker