In a state where it would be mad not to make the most of the weather, al fresco meeting places are a must – like the Tampa Riverwalk. This 2.4-mile stretch of renovated riverfront was completed in 2016. It's a place where locals and tourists alike meet, meander and relax along the lazy banks of the wide Hillsborough river. The bridges are lit up at night, and the parks and museums throng with chilled visitors in the day. Cycle, stroll, or rent paddleboards at Urban Kai. Just don’t rush – this isn’t the kind of place where you need to pound the pavement.
Tampa Riverwalk Museums
Many of Tampa’s museums huddle around the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on the riverwalk. There’s the whimsical Glazer Children’s Museum, where kids can play at driving a fire engine or build an epic pillow fort. Next door is the sleek, modern Tampa Museum of Art, with its light-up façade and contemporary exhibitions – and the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts isn’t far away. A little further off, but perfectly reachable, is Tampa Bay History Centre, where you can get to the bottom of one of Tampa’s most joyous city festivals: Gasparilla Pirate Festival (but more on that later).
Locals and tourists alike meet, meander and relax along the lazy banks of the wide Hillsborough river
It’s a U.S. National Historic Landmark, but Ybor City is anything but an old relic. Lying just northwest of Downtown (and easily reached aboard one of the frequent yolk-yellow streetcars), it’s home to Tampa’s best nightlife – plus more than a few free-roaming roosters, which peck around the houses, blissfully oblivious to staring tourists. Ybor City used to be the place where most of the city’s Cuban (and European migrant) community lived and worked – many of them in the cigar factories. If you were holding out on having your first Cuban sandwich, this is the place to give in; and they go down easily along with a café con leche. In the evening this area gets really lively – with skilled bartenders, DJs, live musicians, and plenty of breweries around 7th street, including the famous Cigar City Brewing company. Make a night of it and nip back home just before the roosters crow in the morning.
Tampa is a emininently walkable city and if you want to spend your leisure time outside, you’ll be richly rewarded, thanks to a series of new pop-up areas. Take Sparkman Wharf, Tampa’s newest downtown leisure spot (it opened 2018). With a good lick of paint, some string lights, a ‘biergarten’ and some pop-up eateries, Tampa’s former dockyard has been transformed into a place where the young and trendy flock. This waterfront location is a great place to relax: its lawn alternates between screening your favourite films on a projector and supplying bowls and hoops for lawn games. Around the lawn, empty shipping containers have been spruced up by street artists and now sell soft tacos, banh mi, dirty fries – anything you can conceivably eat whilst holding a beer in your other hand. Get there on the TECO Line Streetcar, which you can ride for free.
The Tampa Museum of Art is a modern masterpiece. Designed by architect Stanley Saitowitz, the exterior is covered in fibre-optic lighting, making it glow fetchingly at night.Discover Tampa
Order oysters as a starter at Ulele – this native American restaurant serves these local beauties by the half dozen – or by the cheeky 'baker's dozen'.Tampa flights
Gasparilla Season runs from mid-January to mid-March in Tampa. The main parade draws nearly 300,000 spectators.Tampa travel guide
Orlando doesn’t have the monopoly on theme parks in Florida by any means: not while Busch Gardens keeps building enormous roller coasters in Tampa’s back yard. Tampa’s popular theme park combines fast rides with rare animals to great effect and includes the safari park in its ticket price. Younger kids will love the jungle-themed play areas and the Sesame Street section, whilst seasoned theme park visitors will love its fleet of super-fast roller coasters. These speed queens will pull you in every direction (including, in the case of Montu, upside down). Among the other exciting Busch Gardens rides look out for Tigris, a next-level roller coaster which opens in 2019. This 150-high ride will propel you through spacetime at 60mph. Go early to ride the biggest coasters: crowd favourite Cheetah Hunt always has a keen queue – and you can always relax later in the day – in the audience of the regular park shows. For more family attractions, consider booking the Tampa Trio Pass.
It would be remiss to write about Tampa without describing its food scene, which runs from Cuban sandwiches to dainty plates of tapas. Whilst the aforementioned Sparkman Wharf is great for street food, head to Ybor City’s enormous Columbia restaurant for Spanish cuisine by the experts. Columbia is enormous: it’s the world’s largest Spanish restaurant and occupies a whole block on 7th avenue. This is the oldest restaurant in Florida, opening in 1905, and it’s still very lively, with live flamenco shows, traditional food and a great atmosphere. And no mention of restaurants would be complete without a nod to Ulele – a restaurant in a former water pump station. The menu pays tribute to Native American and Floridian dishes – including tasty deep-fried okra. Elsewhere, Armature Works in Tampa Heights has a trendy food hub, Heights Public Market.
Are you a keen shopper looking for an outlet to feed your addiction? There’s a Premium Outlets just a half-hour drive from Tampa, with all the All American brands you would expect to find, as well as many more. Stock up on wallet-friendly versions of your favourite brands: Calvin Klein, Coach, Converse, Kate Spade… There are dozens of shops here, plus restaurants and plenty of places for snacks. Premium Outlets Tampa is open until 9pm (7pm on Sundays), which gives you ample time to fill any gaps in your holiday wardrobe – and any space in your suitcase.
Open your mouth and say ‘Arr’: if you’re lucky enough to travel to Tampa in winter, don't miss the city’s beloved Gasparilla Pirate Festival, which dates back to 1904. Pirates of all shapes and sizes invade the city on the replica pirate ship, Jose Gasparilla, which sails down the river accompanied by a flotilla of – well, anyone in the city who owns a seaworthy vessel, really. After Tampa’s mayor ‘surrenders’ the keys of the city to the bawdy buccaneers, the revelling starts in earnest: fireworks, parties, parades – you name it. The festivities culminate in one wild weekend parade at the end of January. Along with music and food stalls, there are heavily-decorated floats – and an appearance by the Budweiser Clydesdales: a beloved group of feather-footed horses. They normally march in the parade alongside the peg-legged buccaneers and wenches with eye patches. Go along and join this motley crew, you’ll fit right in…