This year was our first time in Tampa, the third largest city in Florida. The city on the Hillsborough River and Tampa Bay has a lot to offer: whether it’s the large amusement parks Bush Gardens and Adventure Island, the Tampa Zoo, the historic Latino neighborhood of Ybor City, the Florida Aquarium or the approximately four-kilometer-long Tampa Riverwalk – there is something for everyone to see and experience here. And despite these many tourist highlights, Tampa is not as commercial and crowded as Miami or Orlando. In our travel report we show you what we have experienced in three days.
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Things to know about the city of Tampa in Florida
Tampa is located on the west coast of Florida at the mouth of the Hillsborough River into Tampa Bay. The city was founded in 1823 and is now the third largest city in Florida after Jacksonville and Miami, with a population of around 385,000.
Orlando with its theme parks is about 1 hour’s drive away, Miami 4 hours, and the open Gulf of Mexico with the gorgeous sandy beaches of St. Petersburg and Clearwater Beach is about 40 km to the southwest. Among the most famous attractions are the Bush Gardens amusement park, the Adventure Island water park, the Tampa Zoo, the historic Latino neighborhood of Ybor City, the Florida Aquarium, the Tampa Theatre, the Tampa Bay Hotel, the approximately four-kilometer-long Tampa Riverwalk and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, one of the largest casinos in the U.S. outside of Las Vegas. Maxim magazine also ranks Tampa as the sixth best party city in the United States. Tampa, with its cruise port, is also the starting point for several cruises to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
Our hotel: Hyatt Place Tampa Downtown
For our 3 nights in Tampa, we stayed super central at the Hyatt Place Tampa Downtown. The hotel with its 17 floors and 230 rooms is located directly in the city center opposite the “City Hall” built in 1915. Major downtown attractions such as the Amalie Arena, Sparkman Wharf neighborhood, Aquarium, Riverwalk, Convention Center or One Tampa City Center are all within a 10-20 minute walk.
The hotel has a beautiful outdoor pool with terrace, fitness center, bar and restaurant. A very good continental breakfast is included every morning. Unfortunately, as is so often the case in the U.S., the hotel only offers valet parking, which costs $33 per 24 hours.
Tampa Sights & Photo Spots
From our hotel in Downtown Tampa, we were able to quickly reach the major attractions on foot or by taking the free streetcar.
Former Tampa Bay Hotel
One of the most famous landmarks and definitely the most beautiful building in Tampa is the University Campus, whose main building is the former and now landmarked Tampa Bay Hotel. Railroad magnate Henry B. Plant connected the city of Tampa to his rail network in 1884, linking downtown to the rest of the East Coast and to Port Tampa, from where one could travel aboard a steamboat to Havana, Jamaica, New Orleans, New York, Bermuda or other destinations. Along with this, more and more businessmen and visitors came to the city, and Tampa experienced a period of prosperity.
To encourage more tourists to visit Florida, Henry B. Plant built hotels at strategic locations along his Floridian rail lines. The Tampa Bay Hotel was the first hotel and is considered a pioneering achievement in Florida’s tourism industry. Built between 1888 and 1891 on more than 600,000 square feet of land directly on the Hillsborough River, the hotel cost more than $2.5 million, was 275 feet long, five stories high, and had more than 500 rooms. Most rooms had private bathrooms, and all had electricity and telephones – amenities that were considered quite luxurious at the time. Plant wanted his Tampa Bay hotel to compete with the large hotels of his competitor, Henry Flagler, so he offered his guests all sorts of amenities. He built a golf course, tennis courts, a boathouse and a horse racing track to entertain his guests. The casino floor could be rolled away during the day to reveal a 15×20 meter swimming pool.
The huge red brick building was built in the style of a Moorish palace with turrets, domes and minarets. While the hotel itself was meant to evoke mysterious, faraway places, the oriental furnishings and European antiques created an extraordinary atmosphere and added to the experience of each visitor. With the Great Depression in the 1930s, the hotel unfortunately had to close.
Today, the site is a university campus with a beautiful public park in front. Part of the main building houses the Henry B. Plant Museum, where you can still experience the luxury of the once noble hostel.
Tampa’s streetcar system, called the TECO Line Streetcar System, is the only streetcar operation in the entire state of Florida.
The first tracks in the city were built as early as 1892. In its heyday in 1926, ridership peaked at nearly 24 million passengers per year, and Tampa streetcars carried passengers to and from Ybor City, Ballast Point, Hyde Park, and Sulphur Springs. However, the streetcar system was shut down in the late 1940s and increasingly replaced by buses. On May 7, 1949, the last streetcar ran with black crepe on the windows and a sign that read “Not Dead Just Retired“.
In 2002, the streetcar returned to Tampa. The historic line was reopened on October 19, 2002 with a length of 3.86 km and was extended to 4.35 km in 2010 with 11 stations. It connects downtown and the Channel District residential and entertainment district to the east with the former working-class neighborhood of Ybor City every 20 minutes. Endpoints are Whiting Station to the southwest and Centennial Park to the northeast. The line is single track, with passing sidings at several stations and using the streetcar is completely free 🙂
Historic District of Ybor City
The historic Latino neighborhood of Ybor City was once the cigarette capital of the world. In the 1880s, Cuban cigar magnate Vicente Martinez Ybor moved his operation from Key West to a piece of scrubland east of downtown Tampa near the harbor. Soon Tampa Bay had grown from a tiny town to a major metropolis and became a magnet for Cuban, Spanish, German, Italian and Jewish immigrants to Florida. In its heyday, Tampa Bay produced 500 million cigars a year, earning it the nickname “Cigar City“. Today, Ybor City is Tampa’s Latin neighborhood, offering everything from local cigar stores to vintage boutiques to some of the best restaurants in Tampa.
The Tampa Riverwalk is a 4-kilometer waterfront trail along the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa. The Riverwalk is great for biking, walking, jogging and strolling, connecting parks, attractions, restaurants, bars, hotels, sports venues, offices and cultural sites. The Riverwalk begins just north of downtown Tampa at the Heights Public Market, heads south along the banks of the Hillsborough River, and finally ends at the Tampa History Museum, where the newly remodeled Sparkman Wharf is located.
We walked part of the Riverwalk and highly recommend it for a nice walk along the river. At the Riverwalk you will also find some stops of the Pirate Water Taxi, which usually runs 1x per hour to the 12 different stops and from which you have a beautiful view of the cityscape of Tampa.
Sparkman Wharf Waterfront
Sparkman Wharf is a completely redeveloped part of the waterfront district in downtown Tampa with a mix of office space, stores, a beer garden, an event lawn and many excellent restaurants. What is special is that some of the restaurants are housed in shipping containers. We really liked it there. The direct location on the river with the many seating areas, the many food options and in general the whole flair of the neighborhood, make Sparkman Wharf certainly one of the hot spots of Tampa.
Opened in 1995 the Florida Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the United States, along with the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut and the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. The Florida Aquarium is located in downtown Tampa right on the water between two cruise terminals. The 200,000-square-foot building is home to more than 8,000 animals from Florida and around the world. The aquarium is open every day from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm and admission is currently $30.70 USD per adult.
The Florida Aquarium is divided into several areas, such as the “Wetlands Trail” with a mangrove forest and the large aviary with free-flying birds. This section is primarily dedicated to the animals that live in Florida’s freshwater and brackish water environments.
With over 500,000 liters of water, the “Coral Reef” is the largest habitat at the Florida Aquarium. Here you can find sand tiger sharks, sea turtles, seahorses, eels, giant Atlantic stingrays and hundreds of other reef dwellers. The outdoor area has a splash pad for the kids (so best to bring a change of clothes!), a 4D cinema and the South African penguin habitat. To see all areas of the Florida Aquarium at your leisure, you should allow about 2-3 hours.
The Tampa Zoo at Lowry Park is home to more than 1,300 animals and is famous for being one of the most beautiful, tropical zoological facilities in the world.
The animals are divided into five different habitats – Florida Wildlife, Primates World, Asian Gardens, Safari Africa and Wallaroo Station. Many enclosures, especially those of the monkeys, elephants and giraffes, are very beautiful and naturally designed. In combination with the tropical fauna we really liked it.
In the David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Hospital, veterinarians and zoo keepers treat sick, injured and orphaned manatees and release them back into the wild after rehabilitation. The zoo generally cares for Florida’s wildlife and has received numerous awards for animal welfare.
The zoo is open every day from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm. Unfortunately, we weren’t at the zoo until around 2 p.m. in the afternoon, so we didn’t even manage to see all the enclosures and attractions in the short time we had. Around 4 p.m., many enclosures were also already empty, which we found a bit of a shame. It is therefore recommended to visit the zoo rather in the morning. Admission to the zoo is $42.95 for adults and children 12 and older, $32.95 for children ages 3-11 and free for children under 3. Parking is also free of charge.
A map of the zoo can be downloaded for free as a .pdf version here.
Busch Gardens & Adventure Island
Everyone knows the big theme parks of Disney, Universal or SeaWorld in Orlando. But the city of Tampa, about 1 hour’s drive west of Orlando, also has one of the most famous top 10 attractions in Florida, the Busch Gardens Theme Park. And for the perfect cool down, you can visit the Adventure Island Water Park right next door.
Here you can find our extra travel report about Busch Gardens & Adventure Island.
More photo spots & sights
There are, of course, many more sights, attractions and photo spots in Tampa that we were unfortunately unable to explore in the three days due to time constraints. These include the Tampa Theater, a historic U.S. theater opened in 1926 and another city landmark. Directly across from our Hyatt Place Tampa Downtown hotel is City Hall, built in 1915. Another special structure and popular photo motif is the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which crosses Tampa Bay over a length of almost 9 kilometers.
In the city you can also find many very beautiful murals. One of the most famous is the Tampa Postcard Mural on Royal Street.
Dining in Tampa
We had the opportunity to eat at many different restaurants in Tampa. Super tasty breakfasts are available at the Driftlight Lounge at the JW Marriott Tampa Water Street, among other places. If you’re looking for something a little fancier, you might want to check out the Oxford Exchange on West Kennedy Boulevard, which has been mentioned by Food Network Magazine as one of the ‘Most Instagrammable Restaurants’ in the United States. The Oxford Exchange is a restaurant, a bookstore, a lifestyle gift store, a tea and coffee shop, a coworking space, a small pharmacy, a champagne bar, and also an exceptional event venue. We really liked it here and the breakfast was also very tasty.
If you’re looking for a nice outdoor restaurant right on the water, we can recommend the Anchor and Brine Restaurant on the Hillsborough River. If you like Italian food, you should try the restaurant Forbici in the trendy Hyde Park Village. Watervue Grille on Harbour Island focuses on fresh Florida seafood and offers great waterfront views of downtown Tampa. The world of Mexican cuisine can be experienced at JOTORO Kitchen + Tequila Bar. The Restauarnt is located on Sparkman Wharf in downtown Tampa.
If you like good food and would like to try out one or the other restaurant, Tampa is definitely the place to be.
Starbucks cup from TampaWe are collecting the Starbucks Mugs from the cities and islands we visit on our travels. Unfortunately, not every city that has a Starbucks store with an own mug. But if the city has an own mug we like to collect them as a souvenir. We only collect city mugs from the "Global Icon Series", which was released in 2008. You can see our complete collection here: Starbucks - Our collection of Mugs from the Global Icon Series
The city of Tampa, of course, has several Starbucks stores as well as its own cup. Since this cup from the Global Icon series has not been available for purchase in Starbucks stores for a long time, it is now also relatively expensive as a collector’s item.
All travelogues of our Florida round trip (2022)Sun, beaches, palm trees, sightseeing, beautiful hotels, pools and the fun of Sea World, Walt Disney & Co.... we were really looking forward to this vacation in Florida. We planed a beautiful itinerary for our almost 3 week trip through the Sunshine State, with places we mostly didn't know yet. In the following travel reports we will tell you about our experiences in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers Beach, Fort Myers, Tampa and Orlando.
➥ Miami Beach » Arrival, Route, Rental Car & Hotel in Miami Beach
➥ Miami » Our Top 10 Sights & Attractions
➥ Fort Lauderdale » Sights, Beach & Attractions
➥ Fort Myers » Fort Myers Beach, Downtown & Lovers Key State Park
➥ Sanibel Island » Sanibel Island, Captiva Island & Cayo Costa State Park
➥ Tampa » Top Sights & the best Attractions
➥ Tampa » Theme Park Busch Gardens & Adventure Island
➥ Orlando » Theme Park SeaWorld & Water Park Aquatica
➥ Orlando » Magic Kingdom Theme Park (Disney) with toddler