Looking for an urban escape on Florida’s Gulf Coast? Tampa is a rising star and an all-around crowd-pleaser. Exotic animals, outdoor fun, and a global gastronomy scene are raising Tampa’s profile as the new trendiest city break.
Tampa is known for its family-oriented attractions, including Busch Gardens and the Florida Aquarium. But there’s much more to this city than beaches and amusement parks. Areas like Ybor City are a fusion of international style, offering unique dining and nightlife experiences. The Tampa Riverwalk has been upcycled to a hip promenade, with beautiful outdoor spaces and trendy places to unwind.
Ready to create a Tampa vacation packed with fun? Get the ball rolling with this Tampa travel guide, with advice on what to see & do, where to stay, and when to visit!
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What to see & do in Tampa
There’s something for everyone at Tampa Riverwalk. This 2.6-mile promenade curves alongside the Hillsborough River. Bursting with some of the best things to do in Tampa, there’s enough here to fill your whole day with memories.
It’s relaxing to walk, cycle or jog along the river, but there’s plenty to tempt you to stop along the way. Tampa Riverwalk has an endless choice of parks. Cool down in the Waterworks Park or chill out for the afternoon at MacDill Park.
If you’re looking for new inspiration, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts have beautiful exhibitions in a variety of genres and mediums.
Grab a bite to eat at Armature Works. This huge warehouse is a complete mashup of food stalls, cooking classes, and social events. When you’re done, catch a show at Straz Center for the Performing Arts or grab a cocktail with a riverside view.
Half amusement park, half zoo, Busch Gardens is one of Tampa’s must-visits. The 65-acre safari park has 1,200 animals, including kangaroos and hippos. The European-themed amusement park has over 50 rides and was voted the “world’s most beautiful amusement park.”
Your heart will be pounding as you ascend the Iron Gwazi, North America’s fastest and steepest hybrid roller coaster. Transport yourself to Europe with hearty German snacks and a traditional Irish pub. Or board the Busch Gardens Railway and stop at Scotland, New France, and Festa Italia along the way.
Busch Gardens is home to adorable new friends, including Clydesdale horses, border collies, and blackface sheep. Take a tour to learn more about how your favorite animal lives. Cruise across the Serengeti safari in an open-air jeep. This is a fantastic opportunity to get up close and personal with African wildlife in a natural setting.
Tampa Museum of Art
Whether you love modern art or ancient history, the Tampa Museum of Art is sure to have something to fascinate you. From the Greeks and Romans all the way through to modern multimedia shows, there are a range of in-house collections and traveling exhibits.
The building itself may be the most beautiful piece at the Tampa Museum of Art. The architecture expertly combines glass and concrete to create an innovative space. Explore detailed sculptures, moody photography, and dreamy paintings.
Time your visit around sunset to end the day with a light show. Every evening, the exterior of the building is lit up with thousands of LED lights. As you walk home you’ll be able to see them shimmering across the river.
For vibrant evening activities, Ybor City is full of life. Vicente Martinez-Ybor kickstarted Tampa’s cigar industry in 1886, winning it the nickname Cigar City. This colorful Latin quarter allows you to walk through living history and experience the cultural heritage formed by the city’s immigrant communities.
Step into another world on 7th Avenue. Palm trees, vibrant buildings, and wrought iron balconies are the perfect cocktail of Spanish, Italian, and Cuban styles. If you’re lucky enough to be in Ybor City on a Saturday, there’s a big market to explore. Embrace the hustle and bustle while you browse fresh food, cigars, and handmade jewelry.
A day in Ybor City is a culinary adventure. Savor the aroma of Cuban coffee, dream of Spanish lands at the stunning Columbia Restaurant, or dance the Zorba at the Acropolis Greek Taverna. Why not book a Ybor City street food tour and give your tastebuds a round-the-world trip?
Hillsborough River State Park
Just a 10-minute drive from downtown Tampa, Hillsborough River State Park is one of the oldest parks in Florida. This is one of the best day trips from Tampa, thanks to its sprawling waterways and hiking trails.
Whether you want relaxation or action, you’ll find wonderful outdoor activities here. Hillsborough River State Park is popular for its secluded fishing spots. Unwind while you attempt to catch bream or catfish.
Enjoy a tranquil canoe along the slow-moving river, or challenge yourself with some difficult rapids. Once you have tired yourself out, spend the rest of the afternoon lazing by the outdoor pool.
If you want to extend your break from the city, why not book a night at one of the park’s camping sites? There are over 100 places where you can pitch your tent here!
Where to stay
Downtown Tampa is home to some of the most popular hotels. Its central location is at the heart of Tampa’s best tourist attractions. Bordering the historic areas of Ybor City and Hyde Park, it’s the ideal choice for where to stay in Tampa for first-time visitors. Stay here for fantastic culture, shopping, and nightlife at your fingertips.
The lively Ybor City is full of Latin soul. This picturesque area is home to a fabulous food scene, historic sights, and exciting nightlife. The streets come alive with events and festivals throughout the year, including Festa Italiana and the world’s largest cigar festival.
North Tampa is a peaceful residential area surrounded by lots of family-friendly activities. It provides easy access to cute animals, fun water parks, and exhilarating rides. Spend your days at top Tampa attractions, including Busch Gardens and Adventure Island.
Tampa Bay Harbor
If you came to Florida for a beach escape, Tampa Bay Harbor is in the perfect spot to reach some of the best beaches in Tampa. This is one of the most attractive harbors in Florida. Savor the views alongside delicious cocktails and food from one of the rooftop terraces.
When to visit
The best time to visit Tampa is from October to April. The sub-tropical climate provides warm temperatures throughout the year. The coldest month is January, but even then, there’s a pleasant average of 25°C / 77°F, making it a popular escape for some winter sun. Hotels are at their lowest prices between October and December, so this is the perfect time to extend your summer and snap up a deal.
May to October is very hot and humid. The city’s many amusement parks attract a lot of families during the school holidays. This can make Tampa crowded and push up the price of hotels.
Tampa is served by Tampa International Airport (TPA), located six miles west of Downtown Tampa. Several major airlines offer direct flights to TPA from major U.S. and international destinations, including:
- American Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- Frontier Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
Tampa is well-connected by road to other cities in Florida and neighboring states. Popular driving routes to/from Tampa and estimated driving times include:
- Orlando, FL (1h49m)
- Clearwater, FL (41m)
- St. Petersburg, FL (30m)
- Sarasota, FL (1h5m)
- Miami, FL (4h18m)
There’s a wide choice of ways to get around Tampa. The commitment to outdoor culture means that there are lots of incentives to cycle and walk around the city. Rent a bike through Coast Bike share or get an electric scooter for the day.
An extensive bus network gives you a streamlined way to get around town. Try out the new HART smart AV, a self-driving electric shuttle bus serving the Riverwalk area.
There are lots of quirky ways to see Tampa. TECO Streetcar is a vintage-style streetcar that offers a quaint way to travel between Downtown Tampa, Channelside, and Ybor City.
Or why not explore via the Hillsborough River? The Pirate Water Taxi will take you to 17 different stops. Rent your own two-person powerboat or electric boats that fit up to 10 people. You can also rent a single or tandem water bike.