Top Things to do in Tampa: A 3 Day Travel Guide

Tampa Bay Have a Nice Day! Street art in the Hyde Park Neighborhood. Sarah Fay and her friend from college Marylynne in front of the sign.

When people think of a holiday in Florida, Tampa Bay would not probably be the first thing to come to mind. However, Tampa Bay has an array of activities, restaurants, shopping, and amusement parks that will keep any traveler busy. 

Wondering what you must do in Tampa Bay when visiting? 

Look no further you have found a Floridian’s guide on what to do, where to eat, and the best things to do to get outdoors in Tampa Bay! 

Recently I had the pleasure to go to Tampa Bay for a three-day weekend. I was pleasantly surprised by how Tampa Bay area has transformed since I left Florida into a city that is tourist friendly and east to get around. 

Tampa really surprised me. The city was cosmopolitan, but laidback at the same time. I had just got off the plane from Boston and could instantly tell I was back in Florida. This is America’s second city. New life is being breathed into old buildings, as they convert warehouses and old shopping arcades into hip food and community halls. Nostalgic eateries such as Goody Goody Burger make the American Diner look hip again with their instaworthy décor and pies! Also, Tampa is rich in history and culture. Ybor City, the former cigar capital of the world, is the home of the Cuban Sandwich and culture in Tampa.

Goody Goody Burger in Tampa's Hyde Park
Try the Pox Burger at Goody Goody Burger.

In Tampa Bay you can get the thrills of amusement parks, while still enjoying a city full of culture and non-touristic options that make this the perfect city break. 

As you can tell there are plenty of things to do in Tampa. With 72 hours in the city, these are some of my top picks for you! At the end if you are convinced, check out my top places on where to stay in Tampa! 

72- Hours in Tampa Bay 

Sarah Fay in front of Tampa Postcard Mural
Sarah Fay in front of Tampa Postcard Mural

Day 1 Tampa 

While some hotels offer shuttle service, Uber or Lyft is your best bet to get to your accommodation. Also, renting a car is always a great option if you have the extra cash to spend. Because while Tampa has improved public transport and Uber/Lyft are cheap it is still more convenient as well as saves time.

Sarah Fay walking on the old train bridge in downtown Tampa near the Riverwalk.
Sarah Fay walking along the old railroad bridge in Tampa, Florida.

Day 1 Breakfast in Tampa 

I started my journey off eating breakfast at one of the most photogenic spots in Tampa, Oxford Exchange. The Oxford Exchange reminded me of European shopping and eating experiences. Here you can gather with your friends under one roof with a collection of experiences from shopping, eating, to afternoon tea this space cultivates a spirit of human interaction that I love in a place! I opted for a light breakfast at the coffee roaster. Here I had amazing banana nut bread and a latte from Buddy Brew Coffee

After your bellies are satisfied, head across the street to railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant’s legendary Tampa Bay Hotel. now home to the University of South Florida that faces the riverfront with its fairytale-esque minarets.  

From there cross the bridge over the Hillsborough River to the Tampa Riverwalk. Over the years, Tampa capitalized on the river that runs through it transforming this boardwalk route that is perfect for pedestrians and cyclists. If you are on a budget, this is one of my top tips for things to do for free in Tampa! 

Keep an eye out for manatees, dolphins, and alligators along the way! Part of the charm of Florida is the wildlife. 

Day 1: Lunch in Tampa and a Museum

Tampa Museum of Art along the Riverwalk
Tampa Museum of Art along the Riverwalk

As it approaches the hottest time of day, I thought it may be time to get out of the sun. So why not get a dose of culture at the Tampa Museum of Art? Here you can see an array of art from Abstract Expressionism to Sculpture there is always something good to see. Free for college students, discounted for students and military, and $15 USD for adults this spot is definitely worth it. 

I went and saw the Season of Love Exhibition in February, which was amazing and perfectly curated. From learning more about Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE Sculptures, to seeing the Yayoi Kusama’s LOVE IS CALLING infinity room, I was pleasantly surprised by this museum. 

Sarah Fay in Love is Calling Infinity Room at the Tampa Museum of Art.
Sarah Fay in Love is Calling Infinity Room at the Tampa Museum of Art.

After you built up an appetite, head to Ulele also along the Riverwalk for a late lunch. This is the foodie spot to be in Tampa. Here you can experience the fusion of Native American Cuisine and the wild of Florida. Relax, play cornhole, and sit in the sun on their lawn furniture to get a tan. After all you are in Florida so relax! 

Armature Works in Tampa Bay a multipurpose space.
Armature Works in Tampa Bay

If you are still hungry or craving something sweet head to Armature Works. Armature Works is a large complex that serves as a food hall and community events center. While I was in Tampa they hosted an outdoor big screening of Hitch. People brought picnics, drank, played board games, and enjoyed the movie as the sun came down. At Armature Works there is food and sweets for any sweet tooth. Armature Works is just another example of restored buildings, made a new for mixed use spaces.

Sarah Fay enjoys the great weather outside of Armature Works in Tampa Florida.
Sarah Fay enjoys the great weather outside of Armature Works.

Day 1: Happy Hour and Shopping  

Hop into an Uber and head to Hyde Park a beautiful neighborhood and shopping district of Tampa Bay. Here you will find some of my favorite shops, such as Anthropologie. Hyde Park is an Instagrammer’s heaven with street art around every corner, beautiful old school pastel colored homes, and a shaded park with a fountain! 

When you are tired of shopping, head to Timpano’s Happy Hour 3pm-7pm  for light bites and drinks. 

Day 1: Nightlife- Sporting or Entertainment Options 

Tampa Bay has many options for things to do after the sun goes down. With sporting teams such as the MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays and the NHL’s Lightening (boasting the most wins of a season!), Tampa is a sports lover’s paradise. Also, depending on the time of year here you could find yourself at a Spring Training game and see the Red Sox or Yankees play. 

But let’s be real, not everyone loves sports. In any given night you will be able to find a performance at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, or a comedian at a Comedy Club. There is always something going on in this cosmopolitan city. While I was in town Hamilton was playing at the Straz Center

Day 2: Coffee and Cigar City 

Water Taxi in Tampa Bay in front along the riverwalk.
Water Taxi in Tampa Bay

Tampa is huge, but is more connected now because of the Pirate Water Taxiand a free Historic Trolley that goes from Downtown to Ybor City. The ease of transport and the walkability of many parts of Tampa make this a perfect destination for a solo traveler or weekend traveler. 

As you begin your day, head to Foundation Coffee at Sparkman Wharf in Channel side for a great roast and a backdrop that will make sure you start your day off right. 

Then find your nearest trolley stop to head to Ybor City at the end of the line. A visit to Tampa would be incomplete without a stop at Ybor City. Ybor City is one of two National Historic Landmark Districts in Florida. Vicente Martinez- Ybor found Ybor City in 1886. It was Florida’s first industrial town. 

What to do in Ybor City? 

Previously known in recent history for nightlife and entertainment, it is having a creative renaissance and embracing it’s past with open arms. Ybor City is known for its’ cigars and being a cultural melting pot with some of the best Cuban Food in the country. 

  • Take pictures with the wild chickens and roosters running rampant. The chickens are protected learn about the history of them here: https://www.yborchickens.org Yes there is such a thing as the Ybor Chicken Society. 
  • Grab baked goods or a Cuban at La Segunda, Central Bakery, the largest producer of Cuban Bread. It is seriously was the best Cuban I have had in a while. 
  • Start your day off with a historical foundation at the Ybor City Museum it is $4 and totally worth it and I added it to my list of quirky Florida experiences. Here you will learn everything about Ybor’s beginnings, the cigar trade, and step foot in a historic casita that the first Cuban immigrants lived in. 
Ybor City Museum in Tampa
Ybor City Museum
  • Walk down East 7thand East 9thAvenue to shop vintage/second hand stores and buy freshly made cigars. I got a kick out of watching through the window as I watched a multigenerational operation as a grandmother and her grandson were in the window rolling cigars. 
  • See the Scientology Chapter of Tampa Bay housed in the first cigar factory in Ybor City. 
  • Smoke a Cigar or just watch them be made in a window at Tabanero Cigars
  • Go to Cuba without leaving Florida. At the corner of 8thAvenue and 13th  Street you will find  Jose Marti Park. The .14-acre park is in honor of Jose Marti, who is basically the George Washington of Cuba. He died in the fight for Cuban Independence and was the leader of the movement who visited Ybor City many times to get fighters and funds. The Cuban Government has owned this park since 1956 and you can visit here from 8am -1:30 pm without a passport! 
Sarah Fay in Jose Marti Park aka Cuba
Sarah Fay in Jose Marti Park aka Cuba

Where to eat in Ybor City?

Sarah Fay in the doorway of Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida. A colorful entry way that's tiled.
Sarah Fay at Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida

By now you have been to Cuba and back on an empty stomach, so why not head to Columbia? No silly I do not mean Colombia the country, I mean Columbia Restaurant. The Columbia Restaurant has many locations around Florida, but the original started here in Ybor City in 1905. 

This is the place to go at night for dinner and a show. Here you can see Flamenco while enjoying your dinner. (Don’t forget to make a reservation!) Colombia is super popular, but well worth the hassle. My favorite dish is the Ropa Vieja and I usually get the 1905 Salad as a starter to share. Dining in Florida’s Oldest Restaurant and one of the most beautiful in my opinion is worth the splurge. There is also a great gift shop for souvenirs. 

Nightlife in Ybor

For Live Music Ybor City is the place to be. Head to Rock Brothers Brewerywith local bands and brews it is definitely a Tampa Bay establishment.

Go to Crow Bar to experience all the genres under the rainbow. Everyone that goes to Crow Bar is completely absorbed by the music and dance the night away. 

If a full-on club isn’t your scene head to Gaspar’s Grotto for a Pirate themed bar restaurant that is always the center of the party during the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival

Day 3: Busch Gardens or Beach?

Depending on how you are feeling after a whirlwind journey of food, museums, and shopping in Tampa, you could opt to either head to the number one beach in the country- Clearwater Beach, or head to Busch Gardens to some of the most scream inducing roller coasters in the country! 

I chose to go to Clearwater beach this trip, but I also can highly recommend the Busch Garden Park in Tampa.  The park is much more affordable as compared to Disney World and Universal in Orlando, Florida with a day pass starting at $85 USD (online purchase). With 7 mindboggling roller coasters, any thrill seeker will be happy. 

However, go to Clearwater Beach for a relaxing time and enjoy the beautiful nature of Florida. Clearwater Beach was recently named the #1 Beach in the USA by TripAdvisor. 

What to do in Clearwater Beach?

  • Relax, swim, tan, and enjoy the last day of your vacation. 
  • Dolphins, Dolphins, Dolphins! There are Dolphin tours with Encounters with Dolphins from $19.75 USD 
  • Go fishing off Pier 60 and enjoy the street performers as well as artists along the pier. 
  • Florida is where water sports comes alive here you can go jet skiing, parasailing, waterskiing, and have many other wild adventures on the water. 
  • Visit Clearwater has more information. 
  • For more great beaches check out my post on my Top Beaches in Florida.
Sarah Fay travel blogger admiring the sunset in Clearwater Beach. The Sky looks like cotton candy.
Sarah Fay watching the Sunset from Clearwater Beach, Florida.

Where to eat in Clearwater Beach?

Cooters Restaurant and Bar is where the locals go to eat. What is a Cooter you ask? A Cooter is a local term for turtle in Clearwater. It has everything you want in a restaurant on the beach a laidback atmosphere full of fun people, great seafood, and other options if you are not into.

And for Dessert? 

Ice-cream!!!! Go to Ice and Cream for the best ice cream in Clearwater Beach, Florida.  Local Ice Cream made from locals, with local ingredients and a great establishment that supports the local artists, sounds like my type of place! 

Where to stay in Tampa? 

Here are my picks for the best hotels in Tampa for any budget. I personally prefer to stay close to the Riverwalk because it puts you in the center of everything. Also, if you want great coupon codes for Booking.com check out Groupon deals here

Tampa Riverwalk a path for walkers, cyclists, along a river.
Tampa Riverwalk

            Economical: The Barrymore Hotelis the most economical and solo travel friendly hotel in Downtown Tampa with prices starting at $100 USD. 

            Mid- Range: Embassy Suites by Hilton Tampa Downtown Convention Centerwith convenient access to the free historic trolley and reasonable prices at $200 USD and up this place is the best bang for your buck. Also there is a wonderful pool.   

            Luxury: Le Meridian TampaA piece of history and a Marriot hotel in the Downtown City Center along the water, a short walk to the Riverwalk this former Federal Court House is now an architectural masterpiece that is a hotel on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the most luxurious hotel in Tampa.  

Top Things to do in Tampa Florida. A three day travel guide.

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1 comment

  1. An excellent guide to the city and your photos are absolutely stunning! If I ever get over the pond to the US then Tampa is definitely on my to visit list now!

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