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Top 10 Things to Do in Tampa FL

Updated on November 21, 2016
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Since completing university, Paul has worked as a bookseller; librarian; and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.

A view of the city's skyline.  Tampa has a population of around 350,000 and forms part of the Tampa Bay Metropolitan Area.  Before the arrival of Europeans, the area was lived in by by indigenous peoples such as the Tocobaga and the Pohoy peoples.
A view of the city's skyline. Tampa has a population of around 350,000 and forms part of the Tampa Bay Metropolitan Area. Before the arrival of Europeans, the area was lived in by by indigenous peoples such as the Tocobaga and the Pohoy peoples. | Source

Located on the west coast of Florida on Tampa Bay, beside the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa is a popular city to visit and live in.

The city's annual celebration of "Gasparilla", which features the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, a mock pirate invasion held for over a hundred years, consisting of an "invasion" flotilla and parade, draws over a 400,000 visitors. The event is sometimes called Tampa's "Mardi Gras" and brings millions of dollars to the city's economy.

Below are my top 10 things to do in Tampa, FL.

SheiKra at Busch Gardens was the first "dive machine" roller coaster in the United States.  Its height is an impressive 200 feet (61 m).  It has a track length of 3,188 feet (972 m). . SheiKra reaches a maximum speed of 70 miles per hour (110 km/h).
SheiKra at Busch Gardens was the first "dive machine" roller coaster in the United States. Its height is an impressive 200 feet (61 m). It has a track length of 3,188 feet (972 m). . SheiKra reaches a maximum speed of 70 miles per hour (110 km/h). | Source

And as it turns and dips, you're elevated or (dipping) depending on where you sit, it's like being (out on) the wing of a plane.

— SheiKra designer: Walter Bolliger

Busch Gardens

Tampa's Busch Gardens focuses on an African theme, with many fantasic roller coaster and water rides, including the famous SheiKra "dive machine" roller coaster.

There is also a spacious zoo, with over 2,700 animals, including meerkats, hyenas, lemurs, cheetahs, peacocks, elephants, chimpanzees, zebras, tigers, and lions.

The Florida Aquarium's exhibits include an enormous simulated wetlands housed under a glass atrium, a simulated beach, and a 500,000-US-gallon (1,900,000 l) tank housing a coral reef community.
The Florida Aquarium's exhibits include an enormous simulated wetlands housed under a glass atrium, a simulated beach, and a 500,000-US-gallon (1,900,000 l) tank housing a coral reef community. | Source

Florida Aquarium

Home to more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals from the Sunshine State and internationally, the Florida Aquarium is a great place to visit whatever your age or background.

Conveniently located in downtown Tampa, the facility uses enlightening, engaging, and inspiring exhibits and demonstrations to educate and entertain, with a particular focus on the importance of preserving Florida's natural resources.

Ybor's first cigar factory.  Cigar production in Ybor City attained its peak in 1929, when 500,000,000 cigars were rolled in its factories.  The Great Depression decimated the cigar industry, however, as many people switched to cheaper cigarettes.
Ybor's first cigar factory. Cigar production in Ybor City attained its peak in 1929, when 500,000,000 cigars were rolled in its factories. The Great Depression decimated the cigar industry, however, as many people switched to cheaper cigarettes. | Source

Ybor City

One of the most interesting facts about Tampa is that at one time, the historic district of Ybor City was the cigar capital of the world. Immigrants came from countries such as Spain, Cuba, and Italy and rolled millions of cigars each year.

Those interested in this fascinating historic district can sign up for the Ybor City Guided Walking Tour or visit the Ybor City Museum State Park, which is housed in the former Ferlita Bakery (originally La Joven Francesca) building, once famous for supplying Cuban bread to the local Latin community.

Plaque on the outside of the Yuengling brewery.  Established in 1829, D. G. Yuengling & Son is the oldest operating brewing company in the United States.  The brewery operates two facilities in Pennsylvania as well as the brewery in Tampa, Florida.
Plaque on the outside of the Yuengling brewery. Established in 1829, D. G. Yuengling & Son is the oldest operating brewing company in the United States. The brewery operates two facilities in Pennsylvania as well as the brewery in Tampa, Florida. | Source

Yuengling Brewery

The oldest operating brewing company in the United States, D. G. Yuengling & Son has a brewing history second to none.

Tours of the Tampa brewery are free. You can find out how Yuengling is brewed and bottled, discover how "America's Oldest Brewery" uses modern technology, and sample some cool, fine beer in the brewery's biergarten.

Related to elephants, manatees are fascinating aquatic animals that are wonderful to watch and learn about.  Florida manatees are endangered and increasingly difficult to see in the wild.
Related to elephants, manatees are fascinating aquatic animals that are wonderful to watch and learn about. Florida manatees are endangered and increasingly difficult to see in the wild. | Source

Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center

A great free attraction in the colder months that all the family can enjoy, manatee observation is experienced from the purpose-built boardwalks and observation decks.

When the bay waters get colder, the manatees congregate near the TECO power plant. TECO has turned that into an wonderful place for visitors and locals.

There is also a museum and snack bar for education and refreshments.

The Henry B. Plant Museum at the University of Tampa.  The former hotel is a distinctive and attractive building.  The modern museum focuses on showing how the social and economic lived in Florida in the early part of the twentieth century.
The Henry B. Plant Museum at the University of Tampa. The former hotel is a distinctive and attractive building. The modern museum focuses on showing how the social and economic lived in Florida in the early part of the twentieth century. | Source

Henry B. Plant Museum

This is a beautiful old hotel that has been transformed into a museum which focuses on tourism during the Gilded Age, the elite lifestyle of the hotel's super-rich guests, and the building's use during the Spanish-American War.

Located on the University of Tampa’s campus, Plant Hall was formerly known as the Tampa Bay Hotel, opening in 1891. The hotel was built by the railroad magnate, Henry B. Plant near the terminus of his rail line.

The museum is a great place to learn about the history of Tampa and is open to the public every day except Monday and major holidays.

Sign at the main entrance to Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. The facility was voted the #1 Family Friendly Zoo in the US by Parents Magazine in 2009.  More than just a zoo, it is recognized by the state as a hub for wildlife conservation and biodiversity.
Sign at the main entrance to Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. The facility was voted the #1 Family Friendly Zoo in the US by Parents Magazine in 2009. More than just a zoo, it is recognized by the state as a hub for wildlife conservation and biodiversity. | Source

Lowry Park Zoo

An attractive, mid-sized, non-profit zoo, Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo is about more than just looking at animals.

Visitors will discover lots of interactive exhibits and chances to get closer to wildlife, including opportunities to feed a giraffe, handle a lorikeet, touch a stingray, and much more.

As well as all that you would expect at a traditional zoo, there is also a Manatee and Aquatic Center that concentrates on providing care for injured, ill and orphaned wild manatees.

The zoo also has play areas, wild rides, educational shows and places to buy food and eat.

Alligator sightings are common at the Lettuce Lake Regional Park.  You can take a free guided nature tour along the boardwalk and scenic Hillsborough River, where park rangers will highlight native plants, birds, and often point out alligators.
Alligator sightings are common at the Lettuce Lake Regional Park. You can take a free guided nature tour along the boardwalk and scenic Hillsborough River, where park rangers will highlight native plants, birds, and often point out alligators. | Source

Lettuce Lake Park

A 240-acre site that offers something for everyone, the Lettuce lake Park has been a popular attraction since it opened in 1982.

The park offers wooded picnic and playground areas, a cycling path/jogging trail, as well as being an excellent haven for nature study.

Free guided nature tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 8:30 AM with participants meeting inside the visitor center.

Movie star Harrison Ford is a supporter of Big Cat Rescue, who has campaigned for many years to save big cats, as well as supporting other conservation and environmental causes.  Big Cat Rescue is part of the International Tiger Coalition.
Movie star Harrison Ford is a supporter of Big Cat Rescue, who has campaigned for many years to save big cats, as well as supporting other conservation and environmental causes. Big Cat Rescue is part of the International Tiger Coalition. | Source

Big Cat Rescue

For those who care about the plight of big cats throughout the world, Big Cat Rescue is an animal sanctuary that must be visited and supported.

A great place for those passionate about cats to see them in a safe clean environment. Animals housed here include tigers, lions, cheetahs, and jaguars.

The Amalie Arena at sunset.  Located in Downtown Tampa's Channelside District, the building opened in 1996 and was originally known as the Ice Palace.  The building has hosted many important sporting contests since and some large pop concerts.
The Amalie Arena at sunset. Located in Downtown Tampa's Channelside District, the building opened in 1996 and was originally known as the Ice Palace. The building has hosted many important sporting contests since and some large pop concerts. | Source

Amalie Arena

There is always something happening at the Amalie Arena, whether you are interested in ice hockey, basketball, arena football games, or music concerts. So it is worth checking their schedule if you are visiting the area.

Formerly known as the Ice Palace, the building's naming rights were sold to the St. Petersburg Times in 2002 (which subsequently became the Tampa Bay Times). Since September 2014, when the naming rights were transferred to Amalie Oil, the stadium has been known as the Amalie Arena.


© 2015 Paul Goodman

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    • Jack Burden profile image

      Jack Burden 2 years ago from Columbus, OH

      Great guide to Tampa - Very thorough. What's the best time to visit?

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Very interesting. We visit family often in New Port Richey, which is about 30 miles north of Tampa and we are always looking for interesting things to do. A few of these we have visited but a few I was not aware of. Great list, thanks for sharing.

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