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Photograph: Visit Tampa BayTampa Riverwalk
Photograph: Visit Tampa BayTampa Riverwalk

The 10 best things to do in Tampa

From rollercoasters to art museums and riverfront strolls, don’t miss out on the best things to do in Tampa

Megan duBois
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Megan duBois
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If you think Tampa has little more to its name than Tom Brady, you’re in for a treat. Sports certainly do shine here, but the best things to do in Tampa Bay range from white sand beaches to world-class museums, art galleries, and trendy restaurants.

You’ll find a shiny and bustling downtown thanks to ambitious developments, while the city has plenty of roots to explore in Ybor City, Tampa’s most historic district (at the turn of the century, it was world-famous for its booming cigar industry). After exploring the city by day, be sure to end your night at one of the best restaurants in Tampa, or relax with a cocktail at one of its ritzy lounges. But no matter how you spend your time here, make the most of your trip by following our guide to the best things to do in Tampa.

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Best things to do in Tampa

While Orlando gets most of the theme park hype, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is a haven for roller coaster enthusiasts, too. The park currently has eight coasters (one more is set to open in March 2022) as well as an entire section devoted to Sesame Street-themed attractions (kids will have plenty of photo ops with their favorite characters). Animal encounters are also a huge part of the Busch Gardens experience—there are over 200 different species within the park that range from ​​giraffes to zebras.

Especially on hot days, The Florida Aquarium is a great afternoon activity. The aquarium has multiple habitats to explore including The Wetlands of Florida (where you can see river otters, gators, and birds) and Stingray Beach (where you can put your hand in a shallow pool and touch rays as they glide by). The aquarium also has an educational exhibit that teaches visitors about coral reefs—emphasizing why they are so important for the ocean—and the creatures that call these reefs home.

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Try your luck at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa. At 245,000 square-feet, the casino has everything from penny slots to high-roller card tables. When you need a break from gaming, take a stroll around the casino and take a look at the Hard Rock memorabilia lining the walls. Just don’t leave while the slots are hot—you never know when you’re going to hit the jackpot!

The Tampa Riverwalk is a waterfront promenade in downtown that plays host to various shops and restaurants. Stretching 2.6 miles, you can walk, cycle, or even Segway (if you must) along the path. We recommend heading here for a stroll after dinner—at night, the bay’s water sparkles thanks to the reflection of lights from surrounding buildings. Throughout the year the Riverwalk also features a variety of weekly and special one-time events, while every Tuesday you’ll find Zumba classes in the park, and evening yoga on Sundays.

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Worth the road trip (it’s about an hour and a half outside of Tampa), head to Bok Tower Gardens, a historic landscape designed in part by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. The centerpiece of the gardens is a 205-foot Singing Tower, a giant music box of sorts that plays every half hour. Stop for a snack at the on-site Blue Palmetto Cafe, and spend the rest of your time strolling through the meandering gardens, home to 126 different species of birds.

With over 2,400 works by Salvador Dalí (including physical objects, paintings, and book illustrations), you’d think the collection was the only reason to visit—however, as this museum sits right on Tampa’s waterfront, some of the galleries feature stunning views of the water as well as Dalí’s brilliant work. And if you’re all about the views, get a closer look: you can see eight of Dalí’s works through augmented reality to get a deeper understanding of his unique process.

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If you’re looking for a free activity in Tampa look no further than the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center. The center started in 1986 after people noticed an abundance of manatees at the power station's discharge canal, where the water was warm going back into the bay. Now the canal is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary. Observe the manatees as they float along, and see for yourself why these marine mammals are called gentle giants as they seek refuge from the cold waters of Tampa Bay.

Raymond James Stadium is home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The city has rallied around this team for years, but there is a newfound sense of enthusiasm after the team picked up former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and went on to win the Super Bowl in the 2020-2021 season. The stadium is known for a pirate ship that's inside the stadium bowl where fans often gather before and during the game to cheer on the team.

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The Henry B. Plant Museum is housed in the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel, a former Victorian-era railroad resort that’s now a National Historic Landmark. Dedicated to showing an authentic perspective of the Victorian lifestyle—with actual furnishings and memorabilia of the time—the museum gives visitors a peek at what the Gilded Age in Florida was like. Was it better back then? Well, we’ll let you decide.

Without a doubt, Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Golf Resort is one of the most recognizable golf courses in Florida. The par 71 course is used for the PGA Tour’s annual Valspar Championship every March, and it’s known for its signature Snake Pit (the final three holes of the course where Valspar champions are either crowned or defeated). You’ll find a statue of a giant copperhead snake at the front of the Snake Pit—make sure you grab a photo before you finish your round.

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