Let’s be honest. When I say Florida, what do you think of? Disney World, Universal Studios, South Beach, Miami, Key West, maybe? From other travelers’ mouths, I have never heard of as Tampa being a must-see city if you are visiting Florida.
But it should be.
Tampa is home to many attractions that are appropriate for both adults and children of every kind, whether it is Busch Gardens, the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), lush parks, a number of festivals and events, driving distance to numbers 1, 3, and 4 of the best beaches in the USA according to TripAdvisor, a diverse nightlife, and not to mention the hub of a number of Florida’s national sports teams!
Best Time to Visit Tampa
Tampa is the epitome of humidity during the summer, which is also peak tourist season for all of those families with children on school holiday. This means temperatures in the 90s F (32 C), occasional but daily rain showers, and high prices for accommodation.
September to December is the best time of the year to visit according to U.S. News, which also features some helpful graphs on temperature and precipitation for each month. Hotel prices drop, temperatures are warm during the day and cooler at night, and the beaches become enjoyable without having the necessity of having to jump in the water every 10 minutes to cool off!
Top Things to Do in Tampa
Tampa, apart from being an hour away from Disney World and Universal Studios, boasts of its own theme park – Busch Gardens. With 7 roller coasters, a plethora of animal attractions and tours, shows, and seasonal events such as the Food and Wine Festival, Howl-O-Scream, Summer Nights, and Christmas Town, you can spend the whole day there and not manage to see everything.
Right next to Busch Gardens is Adventure Island, Tampa’s water park, where you can zip down slides, float in pools, or laze around in a cabana on the beach. Keep in mind that Adventure Island is only open from March until October. If you feel like gazing at animals without roller coasters in the background and spending time watching fish in the water instead of swimming like one, Lowry Park Zoo and the Florida Aquarium are perfect for children and adults alike.
Rainy day? No worries!
Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) is a great option for a rainy day, where you can spend hours upon hours exploring dozens of exhibits, events, and tours – just make sure to work in some time to check out an educational film in their incredible IMAX theatre. Another great option is to check out the historic Tampa Theatre and enjoy a documentary, classic, or independent film in the restored 90-year old landmark.
The first thing I think of when I hear the word “Florida” is the beaches, and there’s good reason for that. Clearwater Beach, St. Pete Beach, and Siesta Key Beach are all on the Top 25 Best Beaches in the U.S. according to Trip Advisor. Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach are about an 30-45 minute drive away, and Siesta Key Beach and its famously white sand, located in Sarasota, is only an hour and a half away, which I fully recommend. It’s best to go during the week due to the traffic on the weekends; after all, you’ll not only have to fight the tourists but also the beach-obsessed locals for a spot in the sand!
If you’re looking to enjoy the sunshine but avoid the sand, these Top 10 Parks in Tampa offer spots to canoe, jog, have a picnic, or even enjoy a dip in the pool! If it’s not swelteringly hot, rent a bike or take a long walk along Bayshore Blvd, which is right on the water and provides a gorgeous view to go along with your exercise.
For our traveling sports fans, Tampa is home to the Ray J, which is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football stadium, Amalie Arena, which hosts the Tampa Bay Bolts hockey stadium, spring training for the New York Yankees at George Steinbrenner Field, and a short drive away in St. Petersburg is where the Tampa Bay Rays dominate at Tropicana Field. Check out a list of sporting events and ticket prices here.
Festivals and celebrations are also a staple for local Floridians, whether it is Gasparilla in late January or early February, Guavaween in October, the Strawberry Festival in March, or the Florida State Fair in February. Click here for Everfest’s list of festivals and their dates. Lovers of the arts should check for tickets to any upcoming Broadway musicals, plays, operas, or comedy shows performed at any of the 6 venues that make up the Straz Center.
Tampa’s diverse nightlife ensures a good night for every type of individual depending on what you are looking for. South Howard Avenue, popularly known as SoHo, hosts mostly college-aged adults enjoying happy hour and doing shots like they’re going out of style. Channelside is the spot to be if you’d like a more mature, classier kind of crowd (stop by Splitsville for some dancing, bowling, or billiards).
If you are looking for a mix of pubs and clubs, Tampa’s historic neighborhood, downtown Ybor is home to my personal favorite bars (Gaspar’s Grotto, Crowbar), straight clubs (Honey Pot on every day but Friday and Saturday and The Orpheum), gay clubs (Honey Pot on Friday and Saturday and Southern Nights), and alternative clubs (The Castle and Czar), which are perfect for people-watching and letting loose without worries.
If you’d just like to enjoy a couple of drinks and a few laughs, Tampa Bay Improv in Ybor has hosted many now-famous comedians and offers nightly entertainment 5 nights a week. Feeling lucky? Tampa also is known for the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
Where to Stay in Tampa
The only thing Tampa lacks is its hostel/guesthouse options. There is currently only one hostel on any hostel-booking websites, which is Gram’s Place B&B/Hostel, which is a decently priced budget hostel for the US. Other budget options include over 6,000 couchsurfing hosts and a number of AirBnBs.
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For those of you who can spend a little more, I always recommend Embassy Suites for their fantastic breakfasts and complimentary 2-hour happy hour, with locations near University of South Florida/Busch Gardens and Downtown near the Tampa Convention Center. The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is another option for a luxury, 4-star accommodation as well as a bit of nightlife fun that is just floors away! Here is U.S. News’ list of best hotels in Tampa for further recommendations.
Find and book these hotels on our favourite accommodation search website: Booking.com
Where to eat and drink in Tampa
Some great budget eating options are located in Centro Ybor. The Columbia Restaurant is known for their Cubans, while Tampa Bay Brewing Company offers craft beer as well as a meal. In North Tampa, Mr. Dunderbak’s Biergarten offers European beer with American and German food, with a Marketplatz to buy various meats, cheeses, and imported European food. If you are in SoHo, a must for typical American eatery can be found at Daily Eats, while La Teresita in SoHo offers Cuban food. If you’d like to try some southern style food, Ella’s Americana Folk Art Café has a Soul Food Sunday menu with traditional southern food and an impressive drink menu (the Bloody Ella is a MUST). They also offer a lot of vegan and gluten-free options on their regular menu! Cheap, but amazing sushi can be found right next to the University of South Florida at a restaurant called Sake House, where I have personally taken every single person I know to have at least one meal there.
If you are looking to spend a little extra on a special night out, I highly recommend Bern’s Steakhouse, which is the most famous steakhouse in Tampa. With quality comes price, so don’t expect to walk out of there without spending less than at least $100 on a meal for 2, but with your meal comes a tour of the kitchens and the wine cellar. You can even skip the meal and go straight to their famous Dessert Room, where you will never look at dessert the same way again. If you fancy some seafood, Oystercatchers in the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay offers a beautiful water view along with your surf and turf. If sushi is on your mind, the Origami Sushi on Waters Ave is absolutely fantastic, but be warned: the rolls are huge! For other non-budget restaurant selections, check out USA Today’s 10Best restaurants.
As for places to drink, the aforementioned bars in Ybor, Gaspar’s Grotto has an inside and outside area and occasionally live music, but if you’re looking for more of a dive-bar type atmosphere, Crowbar is your bar! If you want to party with young college kids taking body shots off of each other, MacDinton’s and Drynk in SoHo is the spot for you. For a more diverse crowd that is excellent for people-watching and famously strong drinks, make sure to check out The Hub in Downtown Tampa.
How much Time Do You Need in Tampa
For all of the different activities and attractions to do in Tampa, you need at least a minimum of 4 or 5 days, but I would definitely recommend more – at least a week. The thing about Tampa is, even though the weather can be unpredictable during the rainy months, there is always something to do. As much of a city as Tampa is, there is still plenty of nature to enjoy, museums and cultural events for the intellectuals and art-lovers, festivals that will make you wish you were a local, a nightlife that will make you feel like you’re in NYC, and is within driving distance of crystalline beaches that rival the ones in Hawaii. There is something for everyone in Tampa, which doesn’t exactly apply to all of the cities in the U.S.
So do yourself a favor.
Don’t skip out on the “Cigar Capital of the World”/”America’s Next Greatest City”/”The Big Guava” when you are exploring Florida!
About the Author: Kris of Kris vs. the World is a travel blogger, freelance writer, and an aspiring English teacher abroad. After graduating university, a terrible break-up, and a life-changing motorcycle accident, she decided to run away to the other side of the world and hasn’t stopped running since. She is an adrenaline junkie and a hopeless romantic whose philosophy is to do everything in life that scares her. You can follow her adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat @KrisvstheWorld.