When many people think of Tampa, they think of the beaches of St. Pete and Clearwater around it. However, there so many things to do in Tampa, the city itself! This diverse city offers all sorts of unique experiences from nature areas to sporting events and unique shopping and dining.
This guide has over 30 different ideas for things to do in Tampa. I have broken it up into attractions focused on nature, activities and culture, as well as local events. Most of the things to do on this list are affordable and can be great for young and old. Whether you are a local or visiting, I hope this guide helps you figure out what to do for fun in Tampa!
Nature Things to Do in Tampa
Even though this is a big city, Tampa is integrated with the surrounding environment. The Hillsborough River runs straight through it and that alone can be a cool way to get on the water. There are plenty of parks and animal experiences as well, so here are some nature things to do in Tampa.
See the Animals of ZooTampa at Lowry Park
Animal lovers cannot miss Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park. This is one of the best zoos in the area and is home to penguins, hippos, panthers, elephants and much more! Not only can you enjoy seeing the different wildlife exhibits, but you can even upgrade to animal encounters such as the Giraffe Meet & Greet or the Koala Photo-Op!
Explore the USF Botanical Gardens
Right in the middle of Tampa, you can find a serene, 15-acre garden on the University of South Florida campus. This little oasis has a variety of plant life, including an orchid garden, a butterfly garden and many different fruit trees. It only costs $5 to visit and you can spend an hour or so admiring the beautiful plants and taking pictures.
Walk the Riverwalk
One of the things to do in Tampa highlights is taking a stroll on the Riverwalk. It may not sound like much, but this area has a beautiful view of the skyline and the Hillsborough River. Here you can take a bike ride, scan the waterfront for sea life, or my favorite, check out the sunset views!
Spend a Day at the Beach
Even though St. Pete and Clearwater are known for the beaches, there are a few within the Tampa city limits too! The Ben T. Davis Beach is a popular spot along the Courtney Campbell Causeway. This is great for a walk along the sand and some ocean views not too far from the city! There is also Cypress Point Park which not only has a sandy beach, but also a boardwalk, hiking trails and a canoe dock, and Picnic Island, which has a beach and a dog park!
Visit the Florida Aquarium
Another one of the most famous things to do in Tampa is The Florida Aquarium. It is one of the largest in the state and has all the sea life you can imagine! Here guests of all ages can get up close to sea turtles, sharks, stingrays, octopus, otters and more. You can even take a dolphin sightseeing cruise too! For those who love aquatic creatures, this is the best attraction on the gulf coast to see them.
Relax at a Nature Park
In addition to beaches, there are a few other gorgeous parks to spend time at in Tampa. Ballast Point Park is a waterfront spot where you can walk around, fish, or have a picnic. There is a splash pad and playground for kids too. There is also the McKay Bay Nature Park, which needs some work, but is a cool experience for those who don’t mind going off the beaten path.
Cultural Experiences in Tampa
The city of Tampa is home to so much art and history, that you can’t miss experiencing it. One can simply walk around Hyde Park or the Channel District and get a taste for the city, but I recommend checking out at least a few local restaurants and a museum or show as well. Here are some fun and unique things to do in Tampa to get the full experience!
Visit a Museum
There are a variety of museums in Tampa to visit for whatever topic you are interested. I find the Henry B. Plant Museum to be one of the most interesting, as for one it is on the beautiful University of Tampa campus and two, it contains the opulent furnishing and designs of the Victoria era. Here you can see what life was like for a Florida tourist at what used to be the Tampa Bay Hotel in the 1890’s and check out the gardens and unique architecture.
For the younger crowd, the Glazer Children’s Museum is an amazing children’s museum right on the Riverwalk. Here, kids can enjoy imagination play areas like the Vet Clinic, Pizza Place and the Farm. There’s also a climbing area to let out energy and an art area to design new creations. It’s a kid’s dream come true!
Other favorites include the Tampa Bay History Center and the Museum of Science and Industry. The latter showcases exhibits on Florida’s native past and the former is a scientific playground with all sorts of STEM experiences.
Go to Busch Gardens
Much closer than Disney World and Universal is Busch Gardens, a theme park with rollercoasters, a zoo and a water park! Whether you decided to experience one or multiple days’ worth of rides, animals and shows, there is something to do for all ages. I recommend doing one day and focusing on either the roller coasters or the water park, but regardless it’s a more affordable theme park fix then heading to Orlando!
Explore Ybor City
One historic area I love to walk around is Ybor City. This area was founded in the 1880’s when Cuban, Spanish and Italian immigrants came here to work the cigar factories. This multiethnic neighborhood still has a lot of character and it can be especially amusing to see the roosters roaming the streets! I recommend checking out the Ybor City State Museum or the Improv Comedy Club and some of the restaurants and bars in the area, like Tampa Bay Brewing Company!
See a Professional Sports Game
Tampa is home to three major league sporting teams, The Lightning, The Bucaneers and the Tampa Bay Rays. This means you can catch a professional sports event most of the year! Tickets are usually affordable compared to other cities, although that may change with the Lightning having won the Stanley Cup and Tom Brady playing on the Bucaneers! There are also multiple minor league teams, including the Rowdes of the USL and Spring Training games in March, so you can definitely get your sports fix.
Take a Shopping Trip
Whether you like high end designs or thrift store finds, Tampa has lots of options for shopping. The most popular place to check out is International Plaza and Bay Street, which is an indoor/outdoor mall. This has all the typical stores like Dillard’s and Express, but also some luxury ones like a Lilly Pulitzer and Warby Parker. For more of a focus on local brands, Hyde Park Village is outside and has a lot of smaller brands. Another shop I love not only for books, but for food is the Oxford Exchange, which is the coolest bookstore I have been too. Lastly, for deal sna dunique finds, there is the Tampa Indie Flea once a month.
Check Out a Local Brewery
Tampa is home to many of the best Florida breweries in the state, so you have to visit some while you are here! You can check out taprooms like Hidden Springs Ale Works and Angry Chair Brewing for a pint or a flight, or visit bigger ones like Cigar City Brewing for a whole tour.
Hit the Casino
If you like to gamble, the Seminole Hard Rock Casino is right up your alley. Here you can play slots, table games and poker surrounded by high energy music and entertainment. This hotel and casino also host some excellent restaurants, bars and frequently live performances!
See a Show
One of the best ways to support the arts of Tampa is to take in a show at the Tampa Theatre. Not only is the gorgeous theater a historical landmark built in the 1920’s, but they also have captivating musical and theatrical performances frequently. Other options for seeing a show include checking out the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and the Stagework Theater, which also host excellent performances.
Take a Mural Tour
Like much of Florida, Tampa is brimming with colorful murals made by talented street artists. I have found gorgeous ones near Sparkman Wharf, around the Riverwalk and in the Heights. This is one of my favorite free things to do in Tampa and I love scootering around and taking a photo safari. Here’s a handy guide to see if you can spot them all!
Active Things to Do in Tampa
If you aren’t the type who likes to relax on vacation, then you will be surprised to find so many active things to do in Tampa. Of course, many are on the water, which makes for a great way to cool off. There are also a bunch of on land activities too. Here are some ideas for Tampa attractions that get your adrenaline pumping!
Go For a Paddle
With all the surrounding waterways, I highly recommend taking out a kayak or paddleboard! Experienced paddlers can rent equipment and hit the water from many local options. However, I prefer a paddle tour, as you will have a nature guide to point out the best sights Check out Urban Kai or Tampa Bay SUP for tours through the mangroves and preserves!
Enjoy a Boat Ride or Excursion
Another way to enjoy the waterfront is by taking a boating excursion. This includes everything from deep water fishing trips to catamaran tours and speed boat trips and dolphin cruises. Those seeking speed can even rent a jet ski or go paragliding for an awesome chance to see Tampa from the water!
Tee Off with Some Golf
Florida is known for its quality golf courses, and Tampa is no different! You can play 9 or 18 holes at some excellent local courses including TPC Tampa Bay and Rocky Point Golf Course. For a more casual, visiting TopGolf is one of my preferred activities. It’s basically a driving range with different games to play based on how you hit the ball! And for fun for the whole family, there is always mini golf at PK’s Playzone.
Take a Hike
Those Florida may not have much elevation, you can still take some nature hikes through different preserves. In addition, the ones mentioned above, Lettuce Lake Regional Park is a treasured spot for taking a hiking trail and seeing all sorts of wildlife, including gators. The Upper Tampa Bay Trail also has some great options for hikes, both long and short distance wise.
Do Some Yoga
Relaxion is always my goal when I travel, and yoga is one of the best ways to get. There are a variety of excellent yoga studios to check out in Tampa, as well as some unique venues. Sunday Yoga in the Park goes one very week for yoga with a waterfront view. There is also weekend Goat Yoga at Grady Farms for the chance to practice with a goat!
Go for a Bike Ride
Tampa is one of the best cities for cycling with many trails and a safe, urban environment. Coast Bike Share is the recommended place to rent one from. Once you have a bike, the best places to explore are Bayshore Boulevard, the Tampa Riveralk and the Selmon Greenway.
Annual Tampa Events
Clearly there is a lot of things to do in Tampa, all year, but certain times are even better. The city of Tampa frequently hosts fun festivals and events. Here are some things to look out for depending on the time of year you are visiting.
Gasparilla Pirate Festival
The one festival Tampa is most known for is Gasparilla. This yearly event in January celebrates all things pirates along the Hillsborough Bay. There is a boat parade complete with the world’s only fully-rigged pirate ships, and revelers can enjoy watching from the shore or on the water. It is completely free to watch the parade, although you will probably have to pay for parking. Festivities mostly congregate around the Curtis Hixon Waterfront. This usually tends to be a rowdy event, so make sure you are up for some rum runners and be prepared for crowds at the bars that day!
Tampa Bay Beer Week
Another famous Tampa event is the Tampa Bay Beer Week, which is renowned in the brewing community. Every March, many of the local breweries release exclusive beers and host events at their tap rooms. The week concludes with a big festival featuring all sorts of tasty craft beer that you can’t find anywhere else!
Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival
To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Community, there is an annual Black Heritage Festival every January. This week-long celebration includes a musical festival filled with talented Black musicians and a 5K. Throughout the weekend you can also find a street party with black-owned food trucks and artists to check out and hear inspirational speakers. This is an amazing event for connecting with others and experiencing what Tampa has to offer.
Best of Tampa Bay
Every April, foodies can look forward to the Best of Tampa Bay festival. This event is where local restaurants and breweries showcase their specialties at an all you can eat festival. This is an excellent way to try out the cuisine of multiple restaurants and breweries, like Noble Crust and 3 Daughters Brewing. Between the food, drinks and live music, this is always a great time!
One last free event that locals love is the Tampa Riverfest, every May. This includes all sorts of fun from a Weiner Dog Derby to a TacoFest to a Stand-up Paddle Board Invasion. Anyone and everyone can find something to their liking at this weekend festival!
Know Before You Go: Things to Do in Tampa
If you cannot tell from this article, Tampa is one of my favorite cities in Florida! The craft beer scene initially drew me in, but I have also realized all the wonderful culture and nature experiences this city has to offer as well. It is always hard for me to pass up visiting here for other cities instead, because there are still so many things to do that I haven’t done yet! Whether you are visiting or a local, I hope this gave you some ideas for enjoying your time in Tampa. Here are some things to keep in mind.
- The best times to visit Tampa is November through May. You may be able to get better deals in the summer, but it is a lot hotter and there is a risk of hurricanes.
- If you are going in the ocean, use sunscreen without oxybenzone. Sunscreens that contain this ingredient can be harmful to sea life.
- For flying into Tampa, I recommend the close by Tampa Airport! The Orlando airport is only an hour away and may have some better deals as well.
- If you are visiting just the city of Tampa, you could probably get away without renting a car. If you stay in the city, you can walk or Lyft/Uber to many attractions and restaurants. However, if you plan to check out the beachside (St. Pete and Clearwater) or Orlando, then definitely rent a car!
- There is plenty of nightlife in Tampa, with many clubs and bars open all night and often with live music. Ybor City and Channelside are some of the best areas for it, although many bars are popping up along the Riverwalk now too.
- Though Tampa does have beaches, if you are looking for a beach vacation, you will want to stick to Clearwater and St. Pete. They are both only half an hour away though, so definitely spend some time in Tampa while you are visiting too!
Have you been to Tampa before? Let me know what your favorite thing to do here is if you have! For more advice on visiting the area, check out my guide to the best Tampa restaurants and my hotel of choice for the area.
If you want to keep track of things to do in Tampa, check out my Tampa bucket list on Etsy here!