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Things to do in Tampa — 20 places you can't miss

Downtown Tampa on the Hillsborough River
© ESB Professional / Shutterstock

Tampa is a vibrant American city in Florida, located on the Gulf of Mexico. It's a great place to visit with kids, as it has great amusement parks with unforgettable rides, zoos with exotic animals, and non-boring interactive museums. Other travelers will appreciate the picturesque waterfronts, a grand casino, and many cultural events that take place in the city. There are things to do in Tampa for everyone.

Tampa Riverwalk

The central Tampa Riverwalk stretches along the Hillsborough River for four kilometers. It is home to some of the city's main attractions — the Florida Aquarium, the Glazer Children's Museum, Sparkman Wharf, the Tampa Museum of Art, and The Tampa Bay History Center. Festivals, exhibits, parades, and adventure activities for kids are often held here. When you come here in the evening, you can enjoy a beautiful sunset over the river.

Colorful night on the Tampa waterfront
Tampa Riverwalk © Gabriele Maltinti / Shutterstock
Convention Center and Waterfront at Night in Tampa
Tampa Riverwalk © ESB Professional / Shutterstock
People ride a bike and walk along the promenade
Tampa Riverwalk © VIAVAL TOURS / Shutterstock

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is a unique place 16 kilometers from downtown that is home to an amusement park and one of the largest zoos in North America. The first area is home to some of Florida's best rides, tickling the nerves of even the most daring visitors. The second zone is home to over 200 species of animals, including such exotic ones as rhinos, sloths, cheetahs, tigers, lions, gorillas, elephants, giraffes, hippos, penguins, kangaroos, and others. Everyone can take a tour to get to know the zoo's inhabitants better.

Roller coaster in an amusement park
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay © a.travel-assets.com
Roller coaster in an amusement park
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay © planetofhotels.com

Tampa Theatre

The Tampa Theater, constructed in 1926, is still considered one of the most beautiful not only in the United States but in the world. Its interior is in the style of a Mediterranean courtyard with statues and moldings, and the ceiling is made in the form of the night sky with shining stars. The historic Wurlitzer organ accompanies some events at the Tampa Theatre. Documentary and independent film screenings, performances by musicians and actors, and various festivals are often held here.

The stalls and stage at the Tampa Theater
Tampa Theatre © nlctb.org

The Florida Aquarium

One of the fun things to do in Tampa is The Florida Aquarium. This huge 23,000 m2 aquarium is home to over 7,000 marine plants and animals not only from Florida but from all over the world. Its visitors pass through numerous halls and transparent tunnels where stingrays, moray eels, sea turtles, jellyfish, and sharks swim. Penguins, alligators, otters, lemurs, and Madagascar cockroaches also reside here. The Florida Aquarium has a fun water area called The Splash Pad and a 4D movie theater for kids.

Glass aquarium building
The Florida Aquarium © Andriy Blokhin / Shutterstock

Henry B. Plant Museum

The south wing of the University of Tampa campus is home to the Henry B. Plant Museum, dedicated to railroad magnate Henry B. Plant. The entrepreneur initially opened the 511-room Tampa Bay Hotel here in 1891. In the middle of the XX century, the place was turned into a museum to preserve the Victorian era's atmosphere. The original interiors of the hotel have been preserved, including the rooms and the lobby, where historic furniture, paintings, statues, mirrors, clocks, and pottery have been preserved. The museum hosts theatrical performances, live classical music concerts, and guided tours by university docents.

At the end of the year, the museum celebrates Christmas stylized for the Victorian era — the fir tree is decorated with vintage toys, antique holiday paraphernalia is displayed in the windows, and live music serves as accompaniment.

Henry B. Plant Museum in the City Center
Henry B. Plant Museum © VIAVAL TOURS / Shutterstock

Tampa Bay History Center

In 2009, a new facility appeared on the Hillsborough waterfront, the Tampa Bay History Center. On its three floors, you can learn about life in Florida over 10,000 years. There are ancient relics and artifacts from the people who lived in the area during the Stone Age, exhibits from the arrival of the first Europeans in the XVI century, exhibits about Florida's military history, and Tampa's modern role as a port, industrial, and tourist city. The History Center features temporary exhibits, lectures, literary readings, and walking tours.

Tampa Bay History Center
Tampa Bay History Center © scontent-waw1-1.xx.fbcdn.net
At the heart of Tampa Bay history
Tampa Bay History Center © assets.simpleviewinc.com

Ybor City

Ybor City is a bustling Tampa neighborhood founded in the late XIX century by immigrants from Cuba, Spain, and Italy. It used to be famous for its cigar factories, which gave jobs to thousands of people and contributed greatly to the city's economy. The area's decline began during the Great Depression and continued during World War II. Now Ybor City is an active neighborhood with bars, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping complexes, movie theaters, and museums. There are also Hispanic communities that have preserved their traditions and are happy to share them with tourists.

Centro Ybor complex and colorful tram
Ybor City is a historic district in Tampa © VIAVAL TOURS / Shutterstock
A wild rooster living on the streets of Ybor City
Wild cock in the streets of Ybor City © Nick Fox / Shutterstock
Centro Ybor mall with shops, restaurants and entertainment options
Centro Ybor Shopping Center © Nick Fox / Shutterstock

ZooTampa at Lowry Park

The Lowry Park Zoo is widely considered one of the most popular zoos in the southeastern United States and the best thing to do in Tampa. It was founded in the 1930s and opened in 1988 after a global renovation to meet all animal welfare requirements. Now they live in conditions as close to natural as possible. ZooTampa at Lowry Park is home to over 1,100 species of animals, including some that are endangered. The area is divided into six themed zones — Florida, Africa, Primates, Asia, Wallaroo, and Manatee County.

The zoo is home to the David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center. It includes animal pools and a separate area from which visitors can watch live rehabilitations of parentless sea cows who have suffered from boats, cold, and poisoning. Since 1991, workers and volunteers at the center have rescued more than 400 of these animals, releasing them back into the ocean after treatment.

A non-profit zoo located in Tampa
ZooTampa at Lowry Park © alisafarov / Shutterstock

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)

The Museum of Science and Industry is a great place to have a fun and unforgettable time with the whole family. There are over 100 interactive exhibits to interact with. In A Look Inside the area, you can peek inside a person, play surgery, and use virtual reality goggles to see how alcohol works on hand-eye coordination and vision. In the Dinovations area, visitors turn into paleontologists, in the Mission: Moonbase area — into astronauts, and in the Saunders Planetarium — into astronomers. There is also a rope park Sky Trail, located at the height of 11 meters. The Museum of Science and Industry offers workshops, lectures, and educational programs.

Futuristic Science and Industry Museum Building in Tampa
Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) © adventurestudenttravel.com

Adventure Island Tampa Bay

Adventure Island Tampa Bay is a water park located 14 km north of Tampa. You can get an adrenaline rush at the dozens of water slides, which are amazing in their shapes and angles. The pools are also surprisingly diverse — there are tanks with artificial waves and an obstacle course, as well as a simulation of a calm river, where you can relax on large inflatable circles. In addition, Adventure Island is equipped with playgrounds for children with different water features. But perhaps the most unusual attraction is the five-minute dive in virtual reality goggles.

Water slides in an amusement park in Tampa
Adventure Island Tampa Bay © pbs.twimg.com
Huge outdoor pools in the water park
Adventure Island Tampa Bay © 1.bp.blogspot.com

Big Cat Rescue

Big Cat Rescue is a 20-minute drive from downtown Tampa. It's a big cat rescue center owned by Carole Baskin, known for her participation in the documentary series "King of the Tigers." It is home to bobcats, tigers, cougars, panthers, caracals, savannahs, and servals. Many felines are being rehabilitated in the center after being mistreated by circus performers, hunters, and private owners of exotic animals. Visitors are given guided tours, during which they learn about the lives of the center's inhabitants.

Center for representatives of wild felines
Big Cat Rescue © mywanderlustylife.com

Columbia Restaurant

Columbia is the oldest Spanish restaurant in the United States and one of the largest in the world. It is located in the Ybor City neighborhood, and every tourist who comes to Tampa must go here. It was founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, and in 1946, the Gonzmart family joined the business. Together they own the company to this day. Columbia also has branches in other Florida locations. The restaurant offers its guests dishes prepared according to original recipes — for example, Spanish bean soup, signature salad "1905" with special garlic dressing, ham, cheese, tomatoes and olives, a variety of tapas, and paella. Desserts that stand out are the flan, lime pie, and white chocolate bread pudding, all made from the families' great-grandmothers' recipes.

The restaurant has a gift store that sells handmade tableware, a family recipe book, sangria and paella kits, sauces, and more.

Restaurant interior in Tampa
Columbia Restaurant © columbiarestaurant.com

The Hindu Temple of Florida

A building you wouldn't expect to see in the United States, the Florida Hindu Temple, is located on the northwest edge of Tampa. It wasn't built long ago, in 1996, but it has quickly become significant to fans of the religion. Visiting The Hindu Temple of Florida is completely free, but guests are required to adhere to a dress code (shoulders and knees must be covered). The temple holds festivals and holidays regularly, and in May, it hosts a health fair.

Magnificent attraction in the temple of the battle between the gods of Greek mythology
The Hindu Temple of Florida © Box Lab / Shutterstock

Glazer Children's Museum

The Glazer Children's Museum is a great option for spending time with the little ones, especially if the weather doesn't allow for much time outside. Inside the museum, there are areas where children can try on a variety of professions and roles — print money in a bank, do construction and design in an engineering workshop, learn where food comes from on a farm, put out a fire in a fire station, cook food in a pizzeria, learn about curing illnesses in a hospital, take part in a theater performance, and take care of fluffy animals in a veterinary clinic. In addition, children will learn about the world's countries, the properties of sound and light, and much more in the form of games.

Dry fountain in front of the children's museum
Glazer Children's Museum © assets.simpleviewinc.com
In the building of the children's museum
Glazer Children's Museum © a.travel-assets.com

International Plaza and Bay Street

Not far from Tampa International Airport is the International Plaza and Bay Street shopping center. There are stores of American and foreign brands of clothing, accessories, and cosmetics of different price categories — Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic, Bath & Body Works, Burberry, Gap, Gucci, H&M, Louis Vuitton, LUSH, MAC, PANDORA, SEPHORA, Tiffany & Co, VANS, etc. After shopping, visitors can satisfy their hunger in one of three dozen restaurants, coffee shops, snack bars, and cafes.

Street in the mall
International Plaza and Bay Street © assets.simpleviewinc.com

Sparkman Wharf

Sparkman Wharf is a vibrant and dynamic place in the heart of Tampa that is one of the things to do in Tampa during your visit. It's essentially a community and cultural center that houses office space, stores, a beer garden with food courts, and meadows designed for lounging on the grass. It gets especially cozy after dark when the lights come on. This location often features live music, film screenings, and other entertainment events.
Entrance to the cultural center
Sparkman Wharf © Holly Guerrio / Shutterstock
Community center in the evening
Sparkman Wharf © landezine-award.com
Food zone in the community center
Sparkman Wharf © tampamagazines.com

Sacred Heart Catholic Church Tampa

Sacred Heart Catholic Church is one of Tampa's oldest churches, constructed in 1905. It is made in the Neo-Romanesque style of light stone. The building with its dome is 41 meters high. The interior of Sacred Heart Catholic Church features oak benches, an altar of Carrara marble, and 70 fine stained glass windows in place of the windows.
The interior of the historic Catholic Church in Tampa
Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart © Nagel Photography / Shutterstock

Tampa Museum of Art

The Tampa Museum of Art is located downtown on the waterfront. It was founded in 1979 and moved to a new building in 2010. Its permanent collection includes ancient Greek exhibits, unique examples of photographic art, installations, and sculptures. The Tampa Museum of Art offers educational and recreational activities for children and adults. The museum's store sells jewelry, T-shirts, books, toys, figurines, and home decor items.

According to architect Stanley Saitowitz, the museum building is meant to resemble a jewelry box standing on a glass pedestal. There are 14,000 LEDs embedded in its walls, which create a spectacular atmosphere in the evening.

Facade of Tampa Museum of Art Building
Tampa Museum of Art © tampamagazines.com

Seminole Hard Rock Casino Tampa

Seminole Hard Rock Casino Tampa is a more than 22,000-square-foot space where you can try your luck at slot machines, blackjack, poker, baccarat, and other gambling games. It is the fourth-largest casino in the United States. At the Hard Rock Event Center, you can catch your breath and attend a colorful concert. Alicia Keys, ZZ Top, TLC, and many other famous musicians have performed within these walls.
Tempe casino interior
Seminole Hard Rock Casino Tampa © assets.simpleviewinc.com
Tempe casino bar interior
Seminole Hard Rock Casino Tampa © seminolehardrocktampa.com

Bayshore Boulevard

Bayshore Boulevard is one of the longest pedestrian zones in the United States. It stretches along Hillsborough Bay, offering great views of downtown Tampa. The boulevard is 7.2 kilometers long and 3 meters wide. It's a great place for long outdoor walks and sports, as well as biking and rollerblading.
Sunset on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa
Bayshore Boulevard © Rafael Laurentin / Shutterstock