Just 20 years ago, Tampa had a reputation for being a gritty corner of the Florida west coast best left to the locals. But after the following years of rapid development, it is now one of the trendiest cities to visit in the state.
Tampa matches top tourist attractions, including world-class zoos and classic amusement parks, with trendy restaurants, innovative entertainments, and quirky things to do. Plus, there is an annual pirate festival, so you have an excuse to do your best Captain Jack Sparrow impersonation.
From Tampa, you are just a short drive from beautiful beaches and some of the other natural wonders of Florida. So, if you are thinking of visiting Tampa, this Tampa travel guide features everything you need to know.
Tampa Travel Guide: Top Tampa Attractions
If you want a list of top tourist attractions to visit while in Tampa, it is quite a long one. Tampa is home to some great museums, innovative world-class zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, and some thrilling amusement parks. So, where to start?
To get to know the city, start with the Tampa Riverwalk, which weaves through downtown and serves as the backbone of cultural life. It is along this walk that you will find most of Tampa’s top restaurants, best shops, as well as many good museums.
If you are keen on museums, start with the Museum of Science and Industry, one of the country’s best science centers, and look at both inventions of the past and potential future innovations.
History buffs will enjoy the Henry B. Plant Museum, a Moorish-style hotel built in the 1890s, which now tells the stories of opulent life in Tampa at the turn of the century. Nearby is the J.C. Newman Cigar Company site, America’s oldest cigar factory that has been operating since the 1890s. Take a tour to discover the secrets of the cigar.
The Tampa Bay History Centre is also famous and is a Smithsonian affiliate museum with many national treasures. World War II buffs should check out the American Victory Ship Mariners Museum, one of only four operational WWII ships in the USA.
Zoos and Aquariums
Tampa is also home to some world-class zoos and aquariums, including Busch Gardens, which has functioned since the 1950s and was one of the first zoos to create mock-native habitats for their animals.
You will also find the Florida Aquarium, which looks at both exotic marine life and the aquatic life that lives in the unique Florida wetland habitats (and yes, that includes gators). It is matched by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Croc Encounters for anyone keen to get up close and personal with these fearsome Jurassic beasts.
If you prefer your beast’s fury, try the Big Cat Rescue, which is home to more than 80 big felines rescued from circus shows, big game hunters, and neglectful owners. Meet some of nature’s most attractive animals at the Giraffe Ranch, which is home to several exotic animals, including giraffes and zebras, or discover Komodo Dragons and African Penguins at Lowry Park Zoo.
Florida is known for being populated by some of the best theme parks in the world. While you won’t find anything Disney-themed worlds in Tampa, there is still plenty of entertainment for families and thrill-seekers.
Busch Gardens theme park has operated continuously since 1959; it mixes adrenaline-pumping rollercoasters with wildlife exhibitions, including the Serengeti Plain enclosure.
If you prefer to get wet’n’wild, there is no better place to cool off than Adventure Island Water Park, which is themed around the lagoons and bayous of the deep south, with slides inspired by the Florida Everglades and man-made beaches inspired by the Mexican Gulf.
Kids big and small will love Dinosaur World, which has more than 200 life-size dinosaurs to thrill. Plus, you can learn about the process of digging for fossils and understand how paleontologists reconstruct these magnificent reptiles.
In Tampa, they take the art of brewing seriously, and there are plenty of places where you can learn about the craft and taste the local flavors.
Start by visiting the Tampa Bay Brewing Company, which has been creating craft beer and ale in-house since 1995. It offers eight regular labels and a range of seasonal tipples.
Next go to Cigar City Brewing, which has been operating since the end of the 19th century. Start with their popular Jai Alai, Guayabera, and Invasion classics. You can also visit the Angry Chair Brewing, a tiny brewhouse, but one with a cult following. Their marshmallow-flavored beer is a must-try.
Unique Things to do in Tampa
If you prefer to do something a bit less touristy while exploring the city, this Tampa travel guide will help you make sense of all the cool and unique things to see and experience in the city.
On a Sunday morning, head to the Wat Mongkolratanaram Buddhist Temple, when you can explore the temple itself and also get a chance to explore and get some great Thai food at the weekly market. Don’t miss the city’s gleaming white Hindu Temple, an architectural wonder where you can observe some exciting ceremonies.
In the evening, pop along to the Tampa Theatre, a breathtaking and ornate theatre built in 1926 and saved by the city in 1973, when the castle-like complex was converted into an independent entertainment center showing indie films and live music performances.
You’ve seen Jason Momoa do it; now it’s your turn. Head to Axe Throwing Tampa and try your hand at throwing an axe at a target while enjoying some good beer.
If you are looking for some souvenirs to take home, head to Dysfunctional Grace Art Co., where you can find cursed jewelry, banned books, and intriguing taxidermy to take home for friends and family.
If you visit in January, make sure to participate in the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, basically like Mardi Gras, except that everyone is dressed as a pirate. It is a celebration of local pirate legend Gasparilla and his Ye Mystic Krewe.
Where to Stay in Tampa, Florida
Tampa’s accommodation scene has something for everyone, from luxury five-star to boutique hotels, cozy BnBs, and modern self-catering apartments.
Whether you’re in town for business or leisure, you can stay in one of our beautiful Tampa apartments equipped with modern amenities in the most convenient and excellent locations. If you’re looking for the best place to stay in the city, take a look at our range of stunning apartments in Tampa and book your choice.
Best Neighborhoods to Visit or Stay
When you are traveling in Tampa, there are five neighborhoods that you need to know that are home to the majority of the hotels, shops, restaurants, and clubs that you will want to visit during your trip.
Downtown serves as the central business district, and you will find lots of skyscrapers housing big businesses, but it also serves as the central hub for locals and tourists.
Here, you will find the Florida Aquarium, most of Tampa’s excellent museums, high street shopping, and most of the city’s newest and best restaurants.
- Stay at the Le Meridien Tampa or the Tampa Marriott.
- Eat at Hattricks, Malio’s, or the Jackson Street Bistro.
- Drink at Tequila’s, M Bird, or Fly Bar.
It’s one of the older neighborhoods in Tampa, and it is also an affordable place to stay while still being close to the more expensive and trendier downtown and Ybor City areas.
This is where you will find the only hostel in the city, Gram’s Place, which is a great place to lay your head as a solo traveler.
- Stay at Gram’s Place Hostel.
- Eat at Ulele or the Flan Factory.
- Drink at Red Star Rock Bar or Shuffle.
Ybor City is also known as Tampa’s “Latin Quarter,” located just a mile from downtown, so it is still convenient for all the city center sights. It was settled in the 1880s by Cuban, Spanish, and Italian immigrants, and this characterizes this part of Tampa.
Here you will find the best Italian restaurants and Cuban coffee houses, plus the old cigar factories, where you can see the machines cigar-makers have been using for over a century.
There is no question that this is where you will find the best nightlife in the city, with a variety of cocktail bars and dance venues on your doorstep.
- Stay at Hotel Haya or the Hilton Garden Inn.
- Eat at Columbia Restaurant, Acropolis, or Carmines.
- Drink at Bad Monkey or Gaspar’s Grotto.
This corner of the city is set around Hyde Park Village, a collection of beautiful parks that offer a relaxing setting for dining, drinking, and other entertainment.
The heritage buildings of the surrounding area have been taken over by a young, hip, and fabulous set, which means that there is always something cool and quirky happening in the neighborhood.
- Stay at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel or the Westin Tampa Waterside.
- Eat at On Swann or Chanta.
- Drink at Retreat or Ciro’s.
Best Day Trips from Tampa
When you visit Tampa, you are close to so many other amazing Florida cities and sights, so there are many potential day trips to add to your itinerary.
If you are traveling to Florida, you probably have white sandy beaches in mind. While you won’t find many in Tampa, you will find plenty of Mexico Gulf white sandy beaches at nearby Clearwater Beach, plus plenty of resorts and restaurants.
Honeymoon Island State Park
If you prefer secluded beaches, head about one hour north of Tampa to this state park with deserted beaches and lots of hiking trails.
Art lovers can’t resist making the short trip to nearby St Petersburg to visit the Dali Museum, which holds over 2,000 pieces representing the artist’s career’s full spectrum.
Greek divers drawn to this area by sponge fishing more than 100 years ago are responsible for this historic village that feels like a Mediterranean corner. It has some of the best restaurants that you will find anywhere.
Hillsborough River State Park
Adventure lovers will enjoy this corner of the Everglades, which offers nature trails, swimming, river rapids, and much more.
Tampa Travel Guide: How To Get There & Around
Getting into Tampa itself is easy. It has its own international airport that connects with most major U.S. cities. The Amtrak train also runs through Tampa, connecting the city with Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Richmond, and more.
When it comes to getting around the city itself, it is actually pretty hard to reach all your desired destinations without a car’s services. So, prepare yourself for a car rental or lots of taxis and Ubers.
In certain parts of the city, you may be able to get away with leaving the car at home. You will find quite a few bike and scooter hire stations around downtown and Ybor City that you can use to get from A to B. You can also jump on the Teco Line Streetcar to cover the 2.7 miles between downtown and Ybor City, which runs every 15 minutes.
Tampa Travel Guide: Top Tips & Hacks
- Don’t swim in freshwater unless there is a sign telling you that it is safe. There are underground aquifers that connect many water bodies; thus, unexpected predators can pop up.
- Don’t leave food out unless you want to be surrounded by bugs and insects, some of them surprisingly large.
- Get the Tampa City Pass for discounted admission to Busch Gardens, the Florida Aquarium, Lowry Park Zoo, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Museum of Science & Industry, and Chihuly Collection.
- Spring training for the Baseball season happens in Tampa, so if you are there at the right time, you might be able to catch some great training games.
- Choose the right season! While it is always sunny and warm in Tampa, the best time to visit is the “holiday season” in November and December. There is also “tourist season” from January to May and “hurricane season” from June to November.
- During hurricane season, watch out for lightning storms. More people are struck by lightning in Florida than anywhere else in the United States.
Are you thinking of visiting Tampa this year? Start planning your trip of a lifetime with our Tampa travel guide, bursting with impressive things to see and unforgettable experiences.
With this Tampa travel guide, you’ll discover that the city is made for every type of traveler, whether you are an adventurer, history buff, business traveler, or you are looking for new experiences.
Are you looking for somewhere to stay in Tampa? Take inspiration from our collection of Tampa apartments for a memorable vacation in Florida.