Roaming around Central Florida? Be sure to spend time basking in the best things to do in Tampa. The city of Tampa is the centerpiece of the Tampa Bay area, Florida’s second-biggest metro region. It’s a great base for exploring West Central Florida, including the neighboring cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
Among the top tourist attractions in Tampa, you’ll explore its stunning riverfront, theme parks, and museums. In historic Ybor City, you’ll witness Tampa’s revitalization from a floundering cigar industry town to a modern metropolis. Or venture south of the city to soak up glorious views over Tampa Bay.
Wondering what to do in Tampa? Plan the ultimate trip to Central Florida’s biggest city with this guide to the best places to visit in Tampa, Florida.
Best places to visit in Tampa, FL
Only visiting Tampa in one day? Squeeze in a stroll along the Tampa Riverwalk. Located on the eastern edge of downtown, it’s one of the most relaxing places to go in Tampa and a must-see on your Florida trip itinerary.
The Tampa Riverwalk runs 2.4 miles along the banks of Hillsborough River. As you meander the walkway, you’ll enjoy fantastic views of the riverfront and city center.
On the walk, you’ll scope out public art collections from sculptures to murals. You’ll also stroll past a few top Tampa attractions, including the Tampa Museum of Art and the Florida Aquarium.
Visiting Tampa with kids? Stop in one of the Riverwalk’s playgrounds or splash pads to dispense some of their extra energy.
If you’ve built up an appetite, end your walk at Columbia Restaurant for a bite of its famed Cuban Bread. Or sip cocktails and enjoy tasty dishes at a sunny riverside patio on Sparkman Wharf.
For kids and adults alike, Busch Gardens is one of the most exciting points of interest in Tampa. Just 15 minutes from the city center, this unique attraction fuses together an amusement park and a zoo. After partaking in thrilling rides, you can relax by seeing animals in their natural habitats.
Want to pump up the adrenaline? Scream down the Iron Gwazi. Originally built in 1999, the ride is set to relaunch in 2021. When it’s reopened it’ll be one of the fastest and steepest hybrid wood-steel coasters in the world.
After getting your thrills, slip over to the Serengeti Safari. The area is spread over 65 acres and features more than 200 species. To get the most out of your visit, you can book yourself onto an elephant, kangaroo, or hippo tour.
Visiting between February and April? Savor the Tampa Bay Food & Wine Festival. The annual festival spins a delicious food & drink menu to help you discover new favorites.
Need to cool off in the hot Florida sun? Add in a visit to Adventure Island. Tampa Bay’s largest water park, Adventure Island is one of the best places to go in Tampa to cool down. It sits across the street from Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
At Adventure Island, you’ll have a choice of over eight waterslides. Spinout on Solar Vortex, the park’s newest ride, and America’s only dual tailspin waterslide. Other options include the free-falling Vanish Point and the twist Caribbean Corkscrew.
Looking for a tamer experience? The park also features child-friendly activities like splash areas, wave pools, and lazy rivers. To escape the sun, float through a rainforest and past waterfalls on the Rambling Bayou.
Looking for a historic cinema experience on your Tampa trip? Duck into the Tampa Theatre. Located on Franklin Street, this cinema is where to go in Tampa for both architecture and movie buffs. The Tampa Theatre strikes with architectural styles from Greek Revival to Italian Renaissance.
If you’re a fan of the classic cinema experience, you’ll fall in love with the breathtaking Tampa Theatre. Besides films, the cinema also hosts specialty programs, events, and concerts.
While taking in a movie, keep your ears pitched for its historic Wurlitzer Organ. The distinctive organ is played by a group of volunteers every night prior to the theatre’s film screenings.
Located on Channelside Drive, the Florida Aquarium tops the list of family-friendly places to see in Tampa. The 200,000 square foot facility is home to over 14,000 land & sea animals. The aquarium’s habitats span the globe, from Florida to Africa.
On your visit, you’ll walk through mangroves, spotting native birds in flight. You’ll spot diverse sea creatures including sharks, eels, alligators, and sea dragons. On land, you’ll get a chance to chill with ring-tailed lemurs and geckos.
After the tour, kids can cool off at the Splash Pad or take in a short film at the 4-D Theater. Add a Wild Dolphin Cruise or Dive with the Sharks to get even closer to the action.
Tampa Bay History Center
For history buffs, no stay in Tampa is complete without visiting the Tampa Bay History Center. Located on Old Water Street, the museum details the area’s rich history, dating back 1,200 years.
The Tampa Bay History Center spreads across 60,000 square feet. In the center’s permanent collection, you’ll learn about the Seminoles, railroads, and the shipping era. The exhibits also touch on multicultural influences and Tampa Bay’s regional geography. While perusing the museum, you’ll enjoy views of the Channelside District through its glass windows.
If you want to plan a visit, purchase your tickets online to explore the three floors and the new Treasure Seekers Gallery. You can even download the Touchton Map Library before visiting. The library is home to thousands of documents and maps dating back to the 16th century.
Museum of Science & Industry
Science geeks will love adding the Museum of Science & Industry to their Tampa sightseeing plan. Located on Fowler Avenue, the museum is one of the top Tampa points of interest for family fun.
At the Museum of Science & Industry, kids will learn the basics of math, physics, and other sciences. They’ll also get to play games to learn about how the human body works and how technology has helped humans live longer.
For a hands-on design experience with an inventor, head to the Idea Zone. Or check out Connectus where you’ll peruse little-known cutting-edge technology. Other interactive exhibits to check out include NASA’s model of human life off-earth and the Virtual Reality Simulator.
After exploring the museum, relax in the lovely University of South Florida Botanical Gardens. The gardens sprawl out over 16 acres of the USF campus. It’s home to over 3,000 plants, including an impressive orchid collection. The gardens are a short 5-minute drive away.
Nearby Lettuce Lake Park is also worth a gander. Popular among birdwatchers, Lettuce Lake Park is just 15 minutes by car from the museum.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park
Looking for more things to see & do in Tampa, Florida? Head over to the Tampa Zoo at Lowry Park. At the zoo, you’ll get face-to-face with more than 2,000 species of animals spread across several habitats. You’ll spot animals from Australia, Asia, and Africa.
Learn about the native Florida animal habitats or explore the aviary and primate areas. The zoo also features a large aquarium. It’s fitted with three pools used to treat manatees who get injured or fall ill. Get up close with tortoises or penguins or take the opportunity to feed an Indian Rhino.
Exotic animals include African penguins, African elephants, Bornean orangutans, manatees, and Florida panthers. Children will also enjoy rides such as a mini-train ride, safari ride, or a child-friendly family roller coaster.
If you want to see even more beautiful creatures, check out the zoo’s brilliant Butterfly Garden.
Tampa Museum of Art
Another great option for history lovers, the Tampa Museum of Art offers an electric mix of artwork dating as far back as the Greeks and Romans. You’ll also explore contemporary art, photos, and modern multimedia displays.
Check your trip dates to time your visit with signature events like the black-tie Pavilion, LGBTQ+-inspired Pride & Passion Neon Jungle, and CITY fashion shows.
If you’re visiting with kids, skip the art museum and pop into the Glazer Children’s Museum next door. Featuring 150 interactive activities, the Glazer Children’s Museum is one of the city’s most exciting places for young children.
Looking for Tampa’s historical roots? Visit the National Historic Landmark District of Ybor City. The historic neighborhood was once the center of the city’s Latino community.
The city got its name from Vicente Martinez Ybor, a cigar baron. He arrived in Central Florida during the 1880s when workers at his Key West plant threatened to unionize.
At that time, the city’s cigar factory was one of the largest cigar manufacturers in the world. It helped to give Tampa the nickname Cigar City. Employers hand-rolled cigars producing more than 900,000 of them for the cigar industry. The Great Depression brought an end to the boom. Most of Cigar City’s factories closed.
Ybor City has gone through a change in recent years. The historic district has witnessed shops, cafes, galleries, and restaurants popping up everywhere.
Make sure to visit La Septima on Seventh Avenue for the best view of the area’s historical buildings. To take in Ybor City’s history, check out its cigar shops. You’ll get a good feel for the industry that once propelled the city.
Located on the city’s southern peninsula, Bayshore Boulevard is a must-see attraction in Tampa. The remarkable sidewalk runs from north of MacDill Air Force Base to downtown along Hillsborough Bay. It’s the most extensive continuous sidewalk in the United States.
Along Bayshore Boulevard, you can find residents at all hours of the day walking, biking, rollerblading, and jogging. Enjoy the views over the water to the other side of the bay to see some of Tampa’s most expensive real estate.
Visit Bayshore Boulevard in late January to check out the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. The festival celebrates the invasion of the mythical pirate known as Gasparilla. While the pirate’s existence is often questioned, the festival is a fun & festive affair for the whole family.
Ballast Point Park
While visiting Bayshore Boulevard, carve out time for a leisurely stroll in Ballast Point Park. The South Tampa park was named after ships arriving years ago offloading their ballast to access the harbor. It offers a splash park and large playgrounds for the kids to enjoy.
Sit down at the shaded picnic tables to enjoy some quality time with the family. One of the waterfront park’s most impressive features is its exceptional view of the downtown skyline. You’ll also catch a glimpse of the Davis Islands. Grab some bait and cast a line out on the pier to enjoy some fishing.
Hyde Park Village
Want to add a little retail therapy to your Tampa adventure? Fulfill all your shopping dreams at Hyde Park Village. The upscale outdoor mall is located in one of the city’s most influential neighborhoods. It offers shopaholics 265,000 square feet of dining and retail bliss.
Stroll around Hyde Park Village and enjoy the open-air environment with a park-like atmosphere. Most of the mall’s walkways are covered if the weather turns nasty.
The open-air shopping complex features plenty of local and international shops to explore. Highlights include Tommy Bahama, Pottery Barn, and Brooks Brothers.
International Plaza and Bay Street
If you’ve still got shopping on the brain, feed the craving at International Plaza and Bay Street. Located next to the airport, International Plaza is packed with eateries and places to shop.
International Plaza is anchored by three upscale department stores: Dillard’s, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom. Elsewhere in the mall, you can also shop for famous brands like lululemon, Gucci, and Boss.
Add dining and entertainment to your shopping experience. Grab a seat at one of the restaurants & bars in the mall or along Bay Street.
Hillsborough River State Park
Nature lovers can’t visit Tampa without stopping in at Hillsborough River State Park. The park sits upriver in northeastern Hillsborough County. Only 30 minutes from downtown by car, it’s one of the best Tampa day trips.
Hillsborough River State Park is one of Florida’s oldest parks. It’s got loads to see & do. For an overnight adventure, book a lot at its camping sites. Hit the waterways to canoe or kayak down the slow-moving river. If you’re looking for more adventure, seek out the river’s fast rapids.
For a relaxed lunch, enjoy a picnic at the park’s public pool. Or put on your hiking shoes and spend the afternoon tramping on its hiking trails.
Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park
Need a break from exploring Tampa’s Downtown? You’ll love relaxing at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. Located on the Riverwalk, the park features modern urban designs and sustainable construction.
The pet-friendly Curtis Hixon Park offers wide-open spaces and fenced-in areas for your pooch to run amok. Throughout the year, you’ll also enjoy special events and concerts at the riverfront park.
Want to soak up the hot Florida sun? Head across the bay to Clearwater Beach. Located in the city of Clearwater, it’s one of the best beaches in Florida.
Clearwater Beach offers tons of amenities and water activities. You can hit the shores to go fishing, take a leisure cruise, or go dolphin-watching. Or stroll along the promenade and enjoy its string of seafood restaurants and food trucks. If you’re thirsty, quaff a craft beer in a cool brewpub or beer garden.
Weedon Island Preserve
Located across the bay north of St. Petersburg, FL, Weedon Island Preserve is one of Tampa’s best nature escapes. The preserve spreads across 3,700 acres of undeveloped land. The island offers a wide selection of activities to please travelers of all kinds.
To experience the island at its best, stroll along its boardwalks and hiking trails to catch glimpses of its colorful birdlife. Or you can go on a kayak adventure on the 4-mile canoe & kayak trail through the mangroves.
At the Cultural & History Center, you’ll explore exhibits designed by Native Americans, historians, and anthropologists. Poke around at artifacts excavated from the area and experience Florida’s native culture in the gallery.
Best places to stay in Tampa for sightseeing
For travelers, the best places to stay in Tampa for sightseeing are Downtown and Ybor City. These central neighborhoods are home to many of the city’s best hotels. They’re also close to many of the city’s top attractions & points of interest.
The Hyatt House offers some of the best value accommodations downtown. Solo travelers, couples, and families alike will love the blissful outdoor pool area. Suites are spacious and equipped with kitchenettes.
With its trendy & hip room designs, the Aloft is bound to turn heads. Aside from its cheery rooms, this mid-range hotel showers guests with amenities, including a pool and bar. The Riverwalk is steps away.
For a luxury stay in Tampa, look no further than the JW Marriott. Located on Water Street near the riverfront, the city’s best is at your fingertips. Retire to the pool terrace or bar for a nightcap for the perfect end to a day of sightseeing.