Best Things To Do in Tampa
Tampa is tailor-made for families who love animals. Take your pick between the Florida Aquarium, Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center, Big Cat Rescue or Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. Not traveling with the kids? Tampa's got you covered there, too. When you're not getting a history lesson at the Henry B. Plant Museum, unwind with a cocktail or two and some delicious Cuban food in Ybor City. And although Tampa may not be known for its beaches, that doesn't mean sun and fun isn't within reach. You'll find some of Florida's most popular shorelines, including Clearwater Beach, Honeymoon Island State Park and Treasure Island are located less than an hour from downtown Tampa.
Updated September 22, 2017
- #1View all Photos#1 in TampaAmusement ParksTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDAmusement ParksTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Spanning 297 acres and boasting more than 12,000 animals, live shows, restaurants, shops and games, Busch Gardens is a popular way to spend a day under the Tampa sun. Did you know that Busch Gardens is actually older than nearby Disney World? It's also cheaper and includes themed lands on Morocco, the Congo, Timbuktu, Egypt and Nairobi; plus animal exhibits based on the Serengeti Plain and the Myombe Reserve (and that's just scratching the surface).
Recent visitors enjoyed the combination of entertainment and education found here, but warn that prices are high and crowds are thick. To avoid some of the crowds, travelers recommend going through the park in reverse. In other words, start in the back of the park and work your way to the front. Reviewers said this method will allow you to bypass the bottlenecking that clogs the front of the park, and puts you closest to the entrance when you're ready to leave.
- #2View all Photos#2 in TampaEntertainment and Nightlife, Monuments and Memorials, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and Nightlife, Monuments and Memorials, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
Even if you're not in town for a film screening or performance, visitors highly recommend a stop at the beautifully ornate Tampa Theatre. When it was built in 1926, the theater was considered one of the world's most elaborate theaters. Designed by architect John Eberson, the interior features a 900-pipe Wurlitzer organ and was constructed to look like a Mediterranean garden with flowers and gargoyles. Take a look at the ceiling and you'll spot 99 bulbs meant to resemble stars in the night sky. If you can't attend a show here, consider taking a tour instead.
The venue offers a 90-minute "balcony to backstage" tour, which includes a demonstration of the Wurlitzer theater organ and details about the stories, art and architecture that earned this movie palace a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and Tampa City Landmark status. Tours take place on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. Adult tickets cost $7.50; children ages 2 to 12 tour for $5. Check the theater's website for show times and tour dates and times.
- #3View all Photos#3 in TampaZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Located on the southeastern edge of downtown Tampa, the Florida Aquarium houses a massive collection of marine life — 20,000 animal and plant life, by the last count. Past visitors said it'll take you at least three hours to make your way through the maze of stingrays, moray eels and sea turtles that live here, but there's a good chance your children will tire of the outing before then. Our shortcut advice involves a swing by the shark tanks, the African penguins and the polar bears especially. Travelers also recommend a stop by the Wetlands Trail exhibit, which includes alligators, otters and Burmese Pythons. Young kids are sure to enjoy the "Explore A Shore" exhibit, a 2-acre outdoor zone that includes a waterslide and geysers for youngsters to play in.
Tampa's aquarium is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you buy your tickets online, adult admission costs $21.95; tickets for seniors cost $19.95; kids ages 3 to 11 get in for $17.95; admission for children younger than 2 is waived. If you plan on buying your tickets at the door, expect to tack on an extra dollar for senior and children admission and $2 per adult ticket. Planning to visit more than one of Tampa's top attractions? Consider investing in a CityPASS. For $99, you'll have access to the aquarium, Busch Gardens and the Lowry Park Zoo, among other attractions. Parking costs $6 per day. For more information on exhibits, events, camps and more, visit the Florida Aquarium's website.
- #4View all Photos#4 in TampaRecreation, Sightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRecreation, Sightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
Make the most of Tampa's coastal location with a boat tour around its bay. You'll have your pick of tour options, including sunset sails, half-day trips and dolphin cruises. If you're already planning to visit the Florida Aquarium, consider penciling in some time for its Wild Dolphin Cruise. The tour, which departs from the aquarium daily, includes a 75-minute ride on a 72-foot catamaran. The aim of the tour is to get far enough into Tampa Bay to see the hundreds of bottlenose dolphins that call the area home, but you'll also likely spot several bird species and the occasional sea turtle. Note that you'll have to purchase the aquarium's combo ticket if you want to tack this experience onto your visit.
Tampa Bay Sailing Tours also comes highly recommended by past travelers. Trips on the company's 36-foot catamaran range from half- to full-day tours around the bay and include snacks and beverages. Tickets range from $79 to $119 per person, depending on the length of the tour. For a more traditional sailing excursion, consider booking with Olde World Sailing Line, also a favorite among recent Tampa visitors. This 44-foot sailing yacht ups the luxury with its private sunset dinner cruises and full moon sailings.
- #5View all Photos#5 in TampaZoos and Aquariums, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDZoos and Aquariums, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDRead More
Tampa is a city made for animal lovers willing to pay the price for cuddly, unique and cute. Science centers, zoos and aquariums that don't charge at least a little something for you to enter are few and far between. Which is why the Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center is so special. Vacationers appreciate a little break in their itineraries to see manatees swimming through the Tampa Electric water plant, and they don't have to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege. In fact, you won't have to pay anything at all. At the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach, manatees seek refuge in the power station's discharge panel, where clean, warm Tampa Bay saltwater flows. When the bay gets too chilly for the manatees, they retreat to this space for warmth. Keeping this in mind, it's best to visit the center from Nov. 1 to April 15, when you can actually spot the animals.
When your eyes aren't on the water, turn your attention to the center's other attractions, including a mangrove exhibit, a butterfly garden and a pretty impressive gift shop. You can also get a bird's-eye view of the area by climbing up the stairs to the 50-foot viewing tower, located halfway down the Manatee Viewing Center's habitat loop trail. Recent visitors provided generally favorable reviews for the center, but do note that it's a bit of a drive from downtown Tampa (about 25 miles south). Travelers also warned that it can get a bit chilly by the water, especially in the winter (the optimal viewing months), so dress warmly. You can visit from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. any day but Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Visit the center's website for further details.
- #6View all Photos#6 in TampaZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
This northwest Tampa spot is more sanctuary than zoo; while here, you'll have the chance to learn all things concerning bobcats, tigers, cougars, lynx, snow leopards — even house cats. To give you a perspective on its size and scope, the complex sits on 67 acres, housing more than 100 animals from more than 14 different species. Recent visitors said this attraction definitely appeals to a niche audience, but those who love cats will be thrilled with what they learn from the friendly and informative guides here. If you're hoping to spot the animals when they're most active, sign up for a feeding or night tour; the cats are usually resting during the day.
Visiting can be pricey, however. Ticket cost depends on your tour type (there are day tours, night tours, kids tours and feeding tours, among others), but usually cost between $20 and $125 per person. You can book your tour online on the Big Cat Rescue website, or you can call to reserve your spot. Tour times and days vary, but detailed hours can be found on the sanctuary's website.
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Spanning 60 acres, Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo boasts natural habitats, educational shows and interactive animal encounters, water play areas, and a handful of rides. Here you'll find a variety of animals from around the world, including African elephants, koalas, orangutans, penguins, and tigers, among other species. Plus, for those that didn't spot any animals at Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center, you're in luck; the zoo is home to Florida's only nonprofit acute care manatee hospital, which means it's one of a few places in Florida where you're guaranteed to spot the area's beloved sea cows no matter the season.
When you're not marveling at the manatees, you'll have your pick of interactive animal encounters, ranging from touching a stingray to feeding giraffes. Recent visitors were generally pleased with the zoo, and especially recommend it for families with young children. Travelers do warn, however, that if you're planning to let your kids play in the water areas, you should pack water shoes to avoid any slips or falls. Reviewers also pass along this tip: Visit in the morning to see the animals when they're most active. As the temperatures rise, the zoo's residents retreat to the shade, making it difficult to spot some of the animals.
- #8View all Photos#8 in TampaMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
Travelers like the setting of this museum and National Historic Landmark just as much as its contents. Housed in the Moorish Revival Tampa Bay Hotel on the University of Tampa campus, the Henry B. Plant Museum preserves a Gilded Age feel and affords visitors a glimpse into turn-of-the-century living and lodging. It also offers insight into the life and work of its creator, railroad magnate Henry Bradley Plant.
Those who've visited say the museum is a great experience if you love antiques, architecture and history — specifically Florida history. The museum boasts several permanent exhibits, which feature the hotel's original rooms reconstructed with furniture and other artifacts to reflect the property's Victorian origins. The museum also features temporary exhibits, most notably the annual "Victorian Christmas Stroll," which takes place from Dec. 1 to 23 every year. During December, the museum is dressed in traditional holiday garb, including a 15-foot tree, carolers and 14 exhibit rooms, each decorated with trimmed trees designed in 19th century themes and antique holiday accessories.
- #9View all Photos#9 in TampaMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
If you're in Tampa with young kids (12 and younger), consider a stop at the Glazer Children's Museum. Though Tampa isn't short on kid-friendly attractions, most of them are dependent on the weather, meaning you might want to have an indoor backup plan in case the clouds roll in.
Packed with permanent and temporary exhibits, this 53,000-square-foot space is filled with interactive exhibits that aim to teach kids about the human body, math, science and art. For example, in the museum's "Engineers' Workshop" exhibit, little kids can design a Tampa Bay train route or build with blocks and giant Legos, while older children can learn how to design the perfect paper airplane.
- #10View all Photos#10 in TampaMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
If you're interested in learning more about Florida's first inhabitants, then a stop at the Smithsonian-affiliated Tampa Bay History Center should be on your itinerary. Spanning 60,000 square feet and ideally situated on Tampa's waterfront, the history center showcases 12,000 years of Florida's history through three floors of exhibits, educational films and interactive displays. Learn about Tampa's cigar industry and immigrant communities in Ybor City with the center's "Cigar City" exhibit, which features a model of a West Tampa cigar factory. Or, brush up on your knowledge of Florida's first European explorers with a look around the "European Exploration Story" exhibit.
Many recent visitors reported being pleasantly surprised at the interactive, informative features at the history center, including the short films that accompany many of the exhibits. Travelers also said the center does a good job appealing to younger visitors thanks to its kid-friendly displays and welcoming personnel. Reviewers were also complimentary of the on-site eatery, Columbia Cafe, which serves Spanish-and Cuban-inspired dishes.
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Pronounced ee-bore, this northeast enclave of Tampa was once a hotbed for coffee manufacturing and hand-rolled cigars — factory workers would roll millions of them annually. Now it’s a mash of old and new; the vibrating bars and pubs represent the modern city; the brick streets and historic streetcar serve as a tribute to the neighborhood's past. Recent visitors were divided on when to visit: some said the nighttime entertainment is the most interesting feature of Ybor City, while others recommended stopping by during the day for delicious, authentic Cuban food and an amazing selection of cigars.
Whenever you decide to pay a visit to Tampa's National Historic Landmark District, you'll have several ways to get there. You can hop on the TECO Line Streetcar, which services downtown Tampa and stops directly in Ybor City, or you can ride the HART bus No. 12. If you decide to take your own set of wheels, you'll find plenty of parking. To learn more about the neighborhood and to see a list of upcoming events, visit the Ybor City website.
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