Roaming around Central Florida? Be sure to spend time basking in the best things to do in Tampa, FL. The centerpiece of the Tampa Bay area, Florida’s second-biggest metro region, the city of Tampa is the ideal base for exploring West Central Florida, including the neighboring cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
Among the city’s top tourist attractions and experiences, you’ll explore its stunning riverfront, theme parks, and museums. Embark on a walking tour of historic Ybor City to 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 on one of its pristine beaches.
Wondering what to do on your vacation? Plan the ultimate trip to Central Florida’s biggest city with this guide to the best places to visit in Tampa, Florida!
Must-see 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 city’s most relaxing places to go and a must-see on your Florida trip itinerary.
The Tampa Riverwalk runs 2.4 miles along the banks of the Hillsborough River. As you meander the walkway, you’ll enjoy fantastic views of the riverfront and city center skyscrapers.
On the walk, you’ll scope out public art collections, from sculptures to murals. You’ll also stroll past a few top attractions, including the Tampa Museum of Art and the Florida Aquarium.
Visiting with kids? Bring everyone in the family along to frolic in one of the Riverwalk’s playgrounds or cool down at the splash pads.
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.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
For kids and adults alike, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is one of Florida’s most exciting points of interest. Just 15 minutes from the city center, this unique attraction fuses an amusement park and a zoo. After experiencing the 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 one of the fastest and steepest hybrid wood-steel coasters in the world, reaching speeds up to 76 miles an hour with a drop of over 200 feet.
After getting some thrills, visitors of all ages will love sliding over to the Serengeti Safari. The area is spread over 65 acres and features more than 200 wildlife species. To get the most out of your visit, you can book yourself onto an exciting elephant, kangaroo, or hippo tour.
Visiting Busch Gardens Tampa 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 area’s most popular places to go to cool down. The park sits across the street from Busch Gardens.
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 twisted 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 a top destination for both architecture and movie buffs. The theater is striking, 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 to the Florida Aquarium, 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 “The Big Guava” 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 the area’s multicultural influences and 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 plans. Located on Fowler Avenue, the museum is one of the city’s top 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.
Nearby Lettuce Lake Park is also worth a gander. Popular among birdwatchers, Lettuce Lake Park is just 15 minutes by car from the museum.
University of South Florida Botanical Gardens
After exploring the museum, it’s only a 5-minute drive to relax in the lovely University of South Florida Botanical Gardens. The beautiful gardens sprawl out over 16 acres on the lovely USF campus.
The USF Botanical Gardens are home to over 3,000 plants, including an impressive orchid collection. In its diverse habitats, you’ll spot everything from fruit trees and palms to temperate forests and tropical species.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park
Looking for more family-friendly things to see & do? Head over to the ZooTampa 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 ZooTampa at Lowry Park 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 among the most popular things to do in Tampa for art lovers is the Tampa Museum of Art. This top-rated art museum offers an electric mix of artwork dating as far back as the Greeks and Romans. You’ll also get to explore contemporary art, photos, and modern multimedia displays.
Check your trip dates to time your Tampa Museum of Art 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, art galleries, and restaurants popping up everywhere.
Make sure to visit La Septima on Seventh Avenue for the prettiest 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.
The neighborhood is also famed for its nightlife scene. Join locals for drinks and all-night dancing at popular nightclubs like Club Prana or live music venues like The Ritz Ybor. For more relaxed evening adventures, sip on craft beers and enjoy pub snacks at one of Ybor City’s craft breweries, including the Tampa Bay Brewing Company and Coppertail Brewing Co.
Located on the city’s southern peninsula, Bayshore Boulevard is a must-see attraction for travelers. 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 Gasparilla Pirate 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. From Ballast Point Park, 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 and Bay Street is anchored by three upscale department stores: Dillard’s, Neiman Marcus, and 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 Florida’s third most populous city 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 most popular Tampa day trips.
Hillsborough River State Park is one of Florida’s oldest parks, and 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 Downtown Tampa? 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 Waterfront 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 nearby city of Clearwater, it’s one of the most popular beaches in Florida and a must-see for any Sunshine State beach vacation.
The white sands of Clearwater Beach offer tons of amenities and water activities. Hit the shores with family and friends to go swimming in the gentle waves or work on your suntan while basking in the natural beauty. Or venture offshore to go fishing, embark on a kayaking excursion, take a leisurely sunset boat cruise, or join one of the many dolphin-watching cruises.
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Also in close proximity to the sandy shores is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, one of the area’s top family-friendly experiences and among the must-see Clearwater tourist attractions. The marine rehabilitation facility, one of the most famous in the country, hosts a variety of local marine life, including stingrays, dolphins, green sea turtles, and sea otters.
After enjoying the seaside location, stroll or bike along the promenade and savor a delicious meal at its string of seafood restaurants and food trucks. If you’re thirsty, quaff a craft beer in a cool brewpub or beer garden. Be sure not to miss the nightly celebration at Pier 60, assembling a fun cast of street entertainers.
Weedon Island Preserve
Located across the bay north of St. Petersburg, FL, Weedon Island Preserve is one of Tampa’s finest nature escapes. The preserve spreads across 3,700 acres of undeveloped land in Pinellas County. The island offers a wide selection of activities to please travelers of all kinds.
To experience the Weedon Island Preserve ecosystems at their most beautiful, stroll through its wetlands 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 a series of 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.
Visiting Tampa with kids? They’ll never let you off the hook if they find out you missed out on Dinosaur World. Located in Plant City between Orlando and Tampa, this open-air museum is chock-loaded with over 150 life-sized dinosaurs packed into a lush tropical habitat.
The whole family will love wandering along the pathways at Dinosaur World as T-Rexes and raptors poke their heads through the trees. After a stroll through the forest, kids can expend some excitement at the dinosaur-theme playground, replete with slides and swings.
Tampa Bay Downs
Need to add some fast-paced excitement to your itinerary? Slide in a visit to Tampa Bay Downs. Located northwest of the city center, Tampa Bay Downs is one of the premier thoroughbred horseracing venues on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Visit during the November to May racing season to slot in some time to watch your favorite horses gallop to victory. Even if you’re not into betting, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied at Tampa Bay Downs. Practice your swing at the on-site driving range or enjoy a meal at Skye Terrace.
Henry B. Plant Museum
Housed in the former Tampa Bay Hotel, the Henry B. Plant Museum is one of the city’s most interesting historical sites. This National Historic Landmark museum whisks visitors back to Tampa’s turn-of-the-century tourism industry through its programs and interpretive exhibits.
At the Henry B. Plant Museum, you’ll slide past the hotel’s opulent original furnishings and decor, including an eye-popping collection of European and Oriental art. History buffs will likewise dig into the museum’s exhibit detailing the hotel’s role as a base of military operations during the Spanish-American War.
Ybor City Museum State Park
For a taste of the city’s Latin heritage, pencil in a visit to Ybor City Museum State Park. Located in Tampa’s National Historic Landmark District, the museum sprawls over a 1920s-era bakery, Mediterranean-style garden, and historic cigar factory worker’s “casita.”
If you’re a cigar aficionado, the Ybor City Museum State Park is one of the city’s must-sees. Through its self-guided exhibits, the museum details the early days of Ybor City’s cigar industry and its road to becoming the “Cigar Capital of the World.” You’ll also get to immerse yourself in Ybor City’s cultural history as you wander around the Ferlita Bakery, gardens, and historic house.
After your visit, be sure to save time to explore Ybor City itself. The historical district is a wonderful place to grab a delicious Latin-inspired meal and cocktails. For a special treat, pop into Columbia Restaurant on E 7th Avenue for a taste of their famed Cuban sandwich.
Straz Center for the Performing Arts
Located in the heart of Downtown Tampa, the Straz Center for the Performing Arts is the city’s most important cultural venue. At 335,000 square feet, it’s not just the largest on Florida’s Gulf Coast but the second-largest performing arts center in the entire Southeast USA!
Throughout the year, the Straz Center hosts a variety of world-class performances, ranging from rock concerts to grand operas to Broadway shows. Check the official website to see if any shows catch your eye during your stay.
Cypress Point Park
Located on a small point near Tampa International Airport, Cypress Point Park is a local favorite. The park sits on the shores of Tampa Bay, featuring a tranquil white-sand beach lapped by calm waters.
Besides its popular beach, Cypress Point Park teems with amenities. If you want to get active after soaking up the rays, play a round of disc golf or a game of volleyball, or take a relaxing walk on its trails. At the end of the day, Cypress Point Park is also one of the top places around Tampa to catch a breathtaking sunset.
Cigar City Brewing
For craft beer enthusiasts, there’s hardly a better stop to add to your Tampa itinerary than the Cigar City Brewery. Founded in 2007, the craft brewery has become one of Florida’s top beer producers, garnering plenty of attention with its award-winning ales and lagers.
Located on West Spruce Street, Cigar City Brewing is a fantastic place to take a break from typical sightseeing activities. Pull up a chair and grab a pint of the brewery’s famed Jai Alai IPA along with some of its Central Florida-inspired pub cuisine.
Located in the lively Channelside District, Amalie Arena is a must-see for sports fans. The multipurpose venue is most well-known as the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the NHL’s most popular teams.
If you’re visiting in winter, check the Lightning’s official home schedule and try to fit an exciting and fast-paced ice hockey game into your travel plans. Otherwise, check out the venue’s full events calendar to see what else is on at Amalie Arena.
Recommended 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 most popular hotels and are 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 highlights are at your fingertips. Retire to the pool terrace or bar for a nightcap for the perfect end to a day of sightseeing.