Spend three days in Tampa for adventures with manatees, Busch Gardens, and Cuban cuisine
Year-round sunshine, exciting family attractions, and a gorgeous waterside setting make Tampa one of Florida’s top vacation spots. Head to the vibrant downtown area to stroll or bike the Riverwalk, a scenic path that winds past acclaimed museums like the Tampa Bay History Center. If you’re hungry, grab a bite at Sparkman Wharf, a cool waterfront space with trendy eateries housed in brightly painted shipping containers.
Beyond the center, Tampa is crammed with fun things for families to do, from looping upside down on roller coasters at Busch Gardens to encountering Florida panthers and pygmy hippos at ZooTampa. Immaculate Gulf Coast beaches are within easy reach too, including Clearwater Beach with its long stretch of super-soft sand and opportunities for adrenaline-pumping water sports.
How to spend three days in Tampa:
- Day 1: Board a yellow, pirate-themed boat for a hop-on, hop-off adventure via Pirate Water Taxi. You can get your bearings and explore Downtown Tampa while taking in panoramic views of the city’s skyline. For tickets, shop online or pay your fare on board at any of the 17 stops throughout the city. If you’re traveling with young kids, jump off at the Glazer Children’s Museum, which has interactive play zones including a pretend firehouse and bank. Located just next door, the Tampa Museum of Art occupies a sleek, aluminum-clad building overlooking the water and showcases works spanning Ancient Greek antiquities to contemporary photography.
- Day 2: Meet an extraordinary array of animals at The Florida Aquarium. Highlights of this huge waterside attraction are the Wetland Trail, where you can come face-to-face with alligators and Burmese pythons, and the Moon Bay, a touch-pool exhibit where you can let translucent moon jellyfish glide against your fingertips. Adventurous visitors can even go snorkeling with stingrays and a sand tiger shark. For a chance to spot marine life in the wild, take a guided tour with Get Up And Go Kayaking, which runs trips to Shell Key Preserve, a protected barrier island just south of St. Pete Beach. The kayaks are completely transparent, so you can peer directly beneath the shallow water as you paddle, looking out for dolphins and manatees. You’ll also thread through thick mangrove tunnels and stop off at pristine white-sand beaches.
- Day 3: Ride the heritage TECO Line streetcar to Ybor City, Tampa’s dynamic Latin district. The area was once a center for cigar manufacturing, and you’ll still find easygoing cafes selling hand-rolled cigars and coffee along lively 7th Avenue. Traditional restaurants serve chunky Cuban sandwiches loaded with ham, pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard, and you can learn about the neighborhood’s history at Ybor City Museum State Park, housed in a quaint old bakery building. After sunset, stroll the city’s Public Art After Dark walk, a self-guided tour of illuminated outdoor artworks, including eye-catching murals, LED-lit bridges, and bronze sculptures dotted along the Riverwalk.
When to go
Tampa is warm year-round, with winter highs in the low 70s and summer temperatures rising to the 80s and 90s. Visit in autumn for peace and quiet, or plan your trip for January to catch one of the city’s most popular annual events: the Gasparilla Pirate Fest. Watch costumed participants parade the streets on colorful boat-shaped floats as the festival commemorates a fabled invasion by pirate José Gaspar, who reputedly roamed the Gulf of Mexico in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The Tampa Bay CityPASS is a great way to save money on top sights. It covers entry to five attractions, including Busch Gardens and the Florida Aquarium.
All set to book your Tampa visit? Check out Radisson hotels in the area to find the ideal base for your vacation.
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