Tampa has thrills and spills to spare. With 24/7 entertainment on offer, visitors will have no shortage of activities to keep them amused. From zoos, parks, and museums to moonlit rides along the waterways, there’s something to please every budget and taste. The only problem you’re likely to experience is cramming it all into one trip. To help you filter the “maybes” from the “must-dos”, we’ve compiled a list of the 20 very best things to do in Tampa for first-timers – get these into your itinerary, and you’re guaranteed a great time.
20.The Florida Aquarium
If you like a little education with your entertainment, The Florida Aquarium should be just the ticket. Home to every type of flora and fauna you can think of, you could spend the entire day wandering the aquatic delights and still want to come back for more. Your adventures start at the Florida Wetlands Trail, a huge mangrove forest full of free-flying birds and native fish. From there, you “Journey to Madagascar’ on the 2nd floor, an exhibit dedicated to the numerous unique species that call Madagascar home. The final part of the experience centers on “Bays & Beaches”, a mammoth aquatic environment home to stingrays, reef fishes, sea turtles, sand tiger sharks, and even a Goliath Grouper.
19. Tampa Theatre
The Tampa Theatre harks back to the days when a visit to the cinema was the height of entertainment. With its vintage décor, plush red seats, and two-story screening room, it’s barely changed since it first opened back in 1926. These days, the theatre is an ideal place to take in a flick (you’ll be pleased to know the billing includes plenty of new releases, as well as a fine selection of golden oldies), a music event, or a special movie marathon.
18. Salvador Dali Museum
If you have even the vaguest interest in the weird and wonderful life of Salvador Dali, you’ll not want to miss a visit to the sublime Salvador Dali Museum. As home to the largest collection of the artist’s work outside his native Spain, the museum is the ideal place to track the artist’s extraordinary evolution over the course of his long career. In addition to the pieces from the man himself, the museum also houses numerous works from his peers, including Frida Kahlo and Marcel Duchamp, and contemporary artists who’ve been influenced by his legend.
17. Amalie Arena
If your visit happens to coincide with game day, make sure to book a ticket to watch the Lightnings at Amalie Arena. Even if you’re not lucky enough to catch a game, the Arena is still worth a visit. Book yourself a guided tour to learn more about the significance of the stadium in Tampa history- although make sure to wear some comfortable shoes; the tour, which lasts around 60 minutes, has been kindly described as “strenuous”.
16. Florida Museum of Photographic Arts
The stunning, six-story Florida Museum of Photographic Arts is, as the name suggests, devoted to the Photographic Arts. With its awe-inspiring mix of historic and contemporary works by both nationally and internationally renowned artists, it’s somewhere you‘ll want to hide away your camera phone for a few hours and bask in the creations of true masters. Exhibits do change regularly (check the website for details of what’s currently showing) but with past exhibits displaying the likes of Olivia Parker, Viktor Freso, and Berenice Abbott, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
15. Saint Pete Saturday Farmers Market
If you’re happy to make the short trek over to uber-hip Saint Pete, Tampa’s slightly cooler sister, treat yourself to a visit to the legendary Farmers Market. Operating every Saturday between 9 am and 2 pm between early October and late May, the market hosts a plethora of vendors hawking every type of fresh produce and local specialty you could dream of. Stock up on finds for the larder before grabbing a plate, some free samples and treating yourself to an alfresco picnic in the sun.
14. Bayshore Boulevard
If you’re keen to maintain your fitness on vacation, pop on your best fitness gear and join the legions of other health fanatics pounding the pavement at the gorgeous Bayshore Boulevard. The 4.5-mile stretch is dedicated to fitness in all its forms – there are even a few bike sharing and workout stations scattered along the way if you want to mix things up. Of course, you don’t have to be an amateur athlete to enjoy Tampa’s most stunning street –those who prefer to enjoy the breathtaking views in a more relaxed style will find plenty of benches and spots to sit back and relax along the way.
13. Armature Works
A former streetcar station, Armature Works has been transformed into a very 21st-century community-destination complete with numerous eateries, event spaces, co-working spaces, and, best of all, Height Public Market. The market is every gourmet’s dream, offering open plan, communal seating bordered by some of Tampa’s most celebrated restaurants. Arrive on the right day and you may be lucky enough to take in a “Show + Tell” workshop – a schedule of events that include cooking classes, wine tastings, and pop-up dinners.
12. TECO Line Streetcar
Grab yourself a seat on a mustard-colored TECO Line Streetcar and prepare to be transported back in time. The 2.7-mile ride takes visitors on a unique journey through the past; the mode of transportation may feel a little jerky at times, but it’s a small price to pay for the thrill of nostalgia you’ll feel as you take in the historic Tampa views from your polished teak seat.
11. Manatee Viewing Center
If you’re heading to Florida with the express desire to see a manatee, you won’t be the only one. While you can obviously take your chance hanging around the Bay, you might want to make things a little more certain by heading to the Manatee Viewing Center. A former power station’s discharge canal now provides a warm home to sea cows looking for warmer waters – although just be sure to time your visit during the opening months of November to April to avoid disappointment.
10. Brew Bus
Spending your day on a bus may not seem the most attractive proposition but combine that bus with beer and we’re looking at another thing entirely. The Brew Bus offers public tours of the very best breweries Tampa has to offer, while also offering the opportunity to imbibe as you whiz along between sites. Check out the website for tour details and schedules.
9. Gasparilla Pirate Festival
Visiting Tampa in January? Then you’re in luck. Every year come Jan, Tampa comes out to celebrate its swashbuckling legacy in style. Over 300,000 people regularly descend on the city to take part in the US’s third-largest parade, which begins with an “invasion” of the bay and ends with the charmingly eclectic ‘Parade of Pirates” down Bayshore Boulevard. Those with children should be aware that the pirate theme goes a lot further than the costumes (although fortunately, there’s a far less booze-soaked, family-friendly Children’s Parade the week prior to the main event).
8. Lettuce Lake Park
If you want to get up close and personal with an alligator, don’t miss the delightful Lettuce Lake Park. With a 3,500-foot boardwalk, a three-story watchtower and a huge array of Florida’s various wildlife, it makes a great place to spend the day in nature. Along with the wooded picnic areas and playgrounds, gazebos and exercise trails, there’s an entrancing Nature Centre that’s packed to the gills with information about the various plants, animals and ecosystems that call the park home. For those so inclined, there’s even the chance to rent a canoe or kayak to really take the aquatic experience to the next level.
7. Big Cat Rescue
There’s zoo’s and then there’s ZOO’s. Big Cat Rescue most definitely falls into the latter category. As one of the biggest accredited big cat sanctuaries in the world, the center offers a permanent home to over 80 rescued lions, tigers, bobcats, cougars and other big cat breeds. Various tours are available throughout the day, with some of the most popular including the Kids Tour (a one-hour-long experience where kids and parents can get up close with the animals while learning more about them) and the Keeper Tour ( a 2 hour long adventure where you’ll accompany keepers as they do their rounds).
6. Ballast Point Park and Pier
If you’re heading to Tampa hoping to catch your dinner, the Ballast Point Park and Pier is where you’re most likely to reel in your catch of the day. As well as offering a prime fishing spot, the Pier’s accompanying park features a great little play area and interactive water play area, along with shelters for picnics and parties. For those who either forgot to bring their own lunch or failed to catch it, there’s a charming little concession serving up a good selection of seafood and ice cream.
5. Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise
If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll find few better places to amuse them than the charming Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise. Captain Memo and his first mate, Panama Pam, have been accompanying pirates-in-waiting across the high seas for over 40 years, and their family-friendly tours are just as popular now as they’ve ever been (and if you need any more evidence to that effect, they were recently awarded the Certificate of Excellence Award by Trip Advisor, an accolade that came courtesy of their near to perfect customer ratings).
4. Cypress Point Park
If you want to escape the heat and the throngs of the city, you’ll be hard pushed to find a better place to do it than the lovely Cypress Point Park. As one of Tampa’s best kept secrets, the beachside park offers a gorgeous setting to take in a sunset or enjoy the breathtaking views of Old Tampa Bay. Head there at sundown, pull up a beach chair and prepare for some serious unwinding.
3. Henry B. Plant Museum
What was originally a hotel is now one of Tampa’s best museums. The Henry B. Plant Museum was built in 1891 with the express aim of becoming one of the city’s most elegant hotels. Over a century later, all those same features that made it such a prime vacationing spot still stand- expect these days, you’ll have to content yourself with a self-guided tour rather than an overnight stay. With a myriad of exhibits offering a unique insight into the lifestyles and habits of the early 20th-century traveler, the hotel’s unique concept makes it an unmissable experience.
2. Columbia Restaurant
Food lovers won’t want to miss Columbia Restaurant of their itinerary. Originally founded at the turn of the century as a corner saloon for local cigar workers, today, the Spanish restaurant is considered the oldest of its kind in the US and the largest of its kind in the world. The only thing more extraordinary than its insanely good Cuban sandwiches is that over 100 years after it first opened, it’s still owned by the same family.
1. eBoats Tampa
What could be a better way of enjoying Tampa than setting sail on your own boat (well, we say your own- you do have to give it back at the end of your allotted time, but before then you have full control of the tiller). Experience the joys of being a captain as you traverse the waterways of the downtown in the utmost comfort. While day tours are thrilling, take the experience to the next level by enjoying a twilight ride – the city lights sparkling on the water are captivating.