From hugging the dolphin-dappled waters to exploring the city’s fantastic fusion of history, Floridian culture, and modern attractions, there is so much to do and see in Tampa Bay.
Encompassing four cities—St. Petersburg, Tampa, Clearwater, and Brandon—Tampa Bay borders the largest open-water estuary on Florida’s west coast (covering around 400 square miles). The landscapes on its northern fringes feature alligator-speckled waterways and wild bayous of the Hillsborough River. However, the vertical drops, exotic animal exhibits, and loop-de-loops of the iconic Busch Gardens soon take over.
Near the downtown area, the new Riverwalk highlights food vendors touting all-American mac and cheese and southern barbeques. Meanwhile, Ybor City is bustling with bubbling cafes and eateries underneath the red-brick shells of ancient cigar factories.
Add to that fine gulf seafood, a wide array of outdoor recreational activities, and a line-up of fascinating museums, Tampa becomes a must on every travel itinerary.
Whether you are an adrenaline junkie, art enthusiast, shopaholic, or bar hopper, here are the best things to do in Tampa.
Spend an Afternoon with Dolphins
The best way to begin your trip in Tampa Bay would be by heading to the Gulf of Mexico on a dolphin sightseeing tour. You will get to see these playful creatures in their natural habitat instead of in an aquarium or tank. While there is no experience of touching dolphins included, these porpoises are free to swim around, which makes the tours ecologically responsible.
Typically, you will travel in a boat out into Boca Ciega Bay and the Gulf, where pods of dolphins are plentiful. So, spotting them is often guaranteed. However, just in case you don’t, make sure you choose a company that refunds your money if no animals are seen.
Apart from dolphins, you will likely see some other wildlife on your excursion, including seabirds, manatees, and perhaps sea turtles too.
Experience the Shopping Scene
Tampa Bay is home to a wide array of shopping venues. If you are in search of an upscale shopping experience, consider hitting the Bay Street and International Plaza situated near the Tampa International Airport or Hyde Park Village near Tampa’s downtown. Both the venues highlight upscale shopping and dining experiences that are hard to find elsewhere in the area.
For something more unique, try Westfield Countryside Shopping Mall in Clearwater. It features an ice-skating rink at the center of the mall alongside its wide retail selection.
Just 35 minutes away from Tampa Bay rests a small fishing town called Madeira Beach, where John’s Pass Village and the Boardwalk are the main attractions. The outdoor venue is lined by nearly one hundred merchants—from eclectic antique dealers to unique craft shops. So if you are souvenir hunting, you are bound to find a one-of-a-kind keepsake here to take home. Fresh seafood and water sport activity rentals are also available.
Explore the Wilds at Busch Gardens
This list won’t be complete without mentioning Busch Gardens. After all, it is the most iconic and most notable attraction in Tampa Bay.
Busch Gardens opened in 1959, and ever since then, this park has expanded continuously to cover a massive 136 hectares on the northern borders of Tampa. It is better-known for its combination of adrenaline-pumping rollercoasters and wildlife exhibitions, alongside the legendary Serengeti Plain enclosure where animals roam free in a mock-up of their natural habitat.
Presently, you will be able to catch a glimpse of every animal from giraffes to rhinos, hippos, Asian elephants, and Caribbean flamingos in this theme park. Furthermore, there are also some fantastic rides, including the Moroccan-themed Gwazi, jungle zip lines, dipping and dropping, loop-de-loops, and the Cobra’s Curse.
Grab a Hearty Meal at Armature Works
If you are craving a little taste of Brooklyn when in Central Florida, Armature Works is the place you should head to. A once-rundown warehouse that has been refurbished into a chic food market and cultural center, Armature Works in the historic Tampa Heights neighborhoods, on the Hillsborough River shore is a fun gathering place and one of the hippest spots in the city.
The primary attraction is the Heights Public Market—a food hub featuring different restaurant stalls that serve everything from vegan comfort food to artisan ice cream sandwiches. While indoor dining is available, the best way to soak up this market’s vibes is by eating and drinking outside, overlooking the river on a sunny day.
If you are in town on the second Wednesday of the month, visit this place in the evening to enjoy the monthly Heights Night Market. Alongside trying delicacies served by the many food trucks, you will also be able to buy some locally hand-made crafts.
Take Part in one of the Area’s Festivals
Locals at Tampa Bay are great at finding reasons to celebrate, and visitors can get in on the action too during some of Tampa’s many unique festivals.
Gasparilla Piratefest is a week-long festival that celebrates the legendary pirate Jose Gasper and is held in late January. The celebration ends in a final day-long invasion parade and street fair to honor Jose Gasper, who terrorized Western Florida’s waters in the late 18th century.
If you are in Tampa in February, you can attend the Florida State Fair. With over 100 rides and games in addition to tons of classic fair food like ice cream, cotton candy, and fried everything, this festival is ideal for some family fun.
March features Florida’s Strawberry Festival – an 11-day event that celebrates the strawberry harvest of Eastern Hillsborough County. It’s an excellent time for fun for everyone, featuring games, live music, rides, and, you guessed it, a whole lot of strawberries.
The Best Time to Be in Tampa Bay is ANYTIME!
Thanks to Tampa’s year-round sunshine and warmer temperatures, there are a lot of fun outdoor activities, splendid attractions, and enthralling festivals happening all throughout the year.
From simply taking a stroll through the Tampa Riverwalk enjoying the scenery to visiting the Tampa Museum of Art and taking part in a fair, Tampa Bay’s cultural and artistic scene will definitely suit your preferences.
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