You may have noticed, but here at the passport office, we love Florida. After a year of isolation we long for sunny spots and happy faces, and the sunny state of the United States offers such an abundance. Orlando is usually at the top of the list of destinations in Florida, but one of the hottest places is now Tampa. If you haven’t got it on the radar yet, there are so many fun things to do in Tampa. The bay town is slowly growing into one of the most popular places and it’s also a great place to go to Orlando.
You may have noticed, if you look at the growing content of Disney, Universal and Orlando, that we spend a lot of time in downtown Florida. We are often asked to recommend places worth visiting, along with a trip to Orlando (especially those from the UK). You may have seen our positions in Miami and the Florida Keys, but recently we have had to spend more time in the Tampa Bay area, and we have discovered that it has a lot to offer, especially to families. Seriously, you might want to add an extra week to your trip! British Airways and Norwegian Air* fly direct from London to Tampa. You can even take a flight to and from Orlando International Airport to save a few hours of driving time and spend it by the pool instead!
Cover! Cover! Matthew Paulson
* The Norwegian has now stopped flying until 2021 because of the coronavirus…
Fun activities in Tampa with and without children!
Tampa is a mix of city and family entertainment (Photo: passports.uk)
I visited Tampa with my family (including the 3 year old Finnish girl and little Isabelle) and was amazed at the many fun things you can do with children in Tampa. This place is a big competitor for Orlando when it comes to family fun. I was also very impressed with the Tampa food scene. Halfway through, I was already on the phone with my best friend and was planning to return to the gourmet heaven to eat (and drink) without children. Forbes magazine recently selected Tampa as one of the best cities for the Millennium Games. So if you have a foot and free kids in Florida, you’ll feel at home here.
Exclusion of liability : Some of the events we enjoyed in Tampa were offered to us free of charge, but like all impartial and honest reporting at the passport counter, it did not affect our opinion of Tampa.
19 Funny things in Tampa
We have discovered that there are so many fun things to do in Tampa, and here is our top 19 of things Tampa needs to see:
1. Stage on the river Tampa
A walk across the river shows the departure from Tampa (Photo: Helen Wright)
We stay at the spacious Sheraton Downtown Riverwalk Hotel, which has huge rooms and a large swimming pool overlooking the promenade. One of the things that really impress me is the lightness, carelessness and cold that reigns in the middle of Tampa. The river walk is a great starting point if you are new to the area and want to feel the atmosphere of Southwest Florida. The modern 2.5 mile water path runs from south to north and is a perfect demonstration of the open and honest lifestyle of the people of Tampa. On the south side you can enjoy a drink in the Sailing Pavilion, a 360-degree outdoor bar on the water. It is undoubtedly a tourist destination, but the atmosphere is lively and the sunset is usually quite spectacular at dusk.
2. Meet your manatee friendly neighborhood
Walk along the waterfront, past cyclists, skateboarders, dog walkers and walkers, but also rowers and kayakers on the water. If you’re lucky, you might even see one of the friendly local manatees that are often here. A good place to observe these endangered species is the dock near the water park, so beware of their pretty little faces when they get up.
Hey, buddy! * Not included for a river trip (snapshot: U.S. Fishery and Wildlife Service Southeast Region)
A walk along the river offers such a variety of views. There are open spaces and parks, views of the city skyline, bars and restaurants and residential areas. We recorded temporary art facilities, public musical instruments, shuttles and children’s playgrounds. The interactive fountains in Curtis Hickson Park and the curious and majestic University of Tampa, located across the river and listed as a National Historic Monument, are well worth a visit. The university was built in 1891 by Henry B. Factory, inspired by the mosques and palaces of Morocco and Tunisia, and played a leading role in the restoration of Moorish Renaissance architecture in the United States. The river hike is ideal for family holidays, but we also found it ideal for romantic (childless) afternoon walks in the sun.
Going home after lunch and enjoying the sun (Photo: paspoortstempels.nl)
3. Pirated water taxis with flags
If you don’t like long walks on the river, you can also take a pirate taxi boat with 15 stops on the same route. These strange yellow boats make it possible to quickly bypass the path of the river and Davis Island. Prices are a little too high, $20 for adults and $10 for children in one day, but if you plan to visit many places, the service is open from 11:30am to 10:30pm, so a little planning will give you value for money.
4. Eating on Ulel
Ulelele was delicious (Photo: paspoortstempels.nl)
Before our visit, I heard a lot of good things about Ulel (Ū-lë-lē), and he absolutely lived up to expectations. The concept was developed by the Gonzmart family of Tampa Bay, the fifth generation of the Gonzmart family to own Columbia, the oldest restaurant in Florida (more on this later). The Ulele restaurant and artisan brewery opened after a $5 million renovation of Tampa’s original public water pumping station, which was fed by a spring that once provided clean drinking water to the entire city.
The huge open restaurant is so impressive, flooded with light and decorated with incredible works of art and sculptures. There is a choice of indoor and outdoor seating, but I strongly recommend reserving an indoor table where there is a lively atmosphere. Inspired by the early native and Spanish explorers of Tampa Bay, the menu features dishes with less common ingredients (especially for international guests) and fish caught by Florida’s freshwater inhabitants. The mandatory dish – local chili ($6) – is prepared according to the traditional recipe of the early settlers using alligator, wild boar, deer, duck, ground beans, cranberries
and chili herbs. Most meat and fish dishes are prepared on the barbacao barbecue with a diameter of 10, which is incredibly hot in the middle of the dining room. Simon couldn’t get enough of Duroc pork chops with a half guava glaze and mashed popcorn. I took a fresh snapper (I can’t taste the snapper when I’m in Florida), but I added okra fries.
Finn ate like a chef (Photo: Helen Wright)
Food has certainly become one of the most fun things for all of us in Tampa. Since most children’s meals consist of burgers and chicken nuggets with fries, I was very impressed with Ule’s children’s menu, with options for children to try the local flavors the restaurant is famous for. The Finn (beef with mashed potatoes and vegetables) was a triumph, and he was happy with such a dinner for the adults. In addition to the homemade beer, Ulelele also makes her own ice cream, making room for dessert. Maple candy Maple ice cream ($9) is delicious. Simon already ate a guava cheese cake, but that didn’t stop him from helping me finish it!
Food is great, but leave room for dessert! (Photo: paspoort.uk stamps)
If you plan to visit Ulele, leave the whole day or evening free for impressions. Lunch is the ideal time, because you can take a quiet walk along the river, then start with a drink on the terrace, walk on the lawn and even feed the fish in the spring pond. A terrace at the beginning of the evening is another great place to enjoy the Tampa sunsets. TOP TIP: You can ask for a drink in a disposable cup and enjoy the last drink on the way back on foot. Perfect!
5. Party on the Tampa food plateau
Ulele is not the only place in Tampa where the best food is served. The city has quietly earned its reputation as one of the coolest connoisseurs in the United States. In addition to a number of excellent restaurants, modern dining rooms are becoming the trendiest places to eat. It is also very easy to eat with the family, as the suppliers offer dishes for all tastes and large public areas to house them. To discover the culinary scene in Tampa, you should mark at least two or more of our favourite places during your stay (plus Ulele, of course) :
6. High-level public procurement inLuminaires work
Adaptations work well during the day and evening (Photo: passports.nl)
The Heights Fittings Public Market is also located along the Riverside Quay in the historic Heights Tampa district. We had a good dinner there, and it has become one of our favourite places and one of the places of entertainment in Tampa, both during lunch and dinner. Situated in a former caravan shed dating back to the 1900s, the market offers an excellent choice of restaurants and bars as well as a range of indoor and outdoor pitches. In addition to the huge garden terrace, there is also a roof terrace and a bar with a fantastic view over the city from the promenade.
Some of the best restaurants are the South Grill, Steelbach (the main restaurant and the dining room bar), Imoto (modern Japanese), Ava (local culinary pizzeria with wood oven) and Zukku sushi. I looked at the market and tried to decide who should sell when a stranger with rolls of volcanic lobster Zukku Sushi came. I followed them to see where I could order mine, and it was a thrill.
The best brunch in TampaEssen at Zukku Sushi was excellent (Photo: paspoorten.nl).
7. Room at Franklin
This less spectacular but certainly not inferior space offers a slightly different choice of culinary delights. Confusion, it says it has a European influence, but we’ve discovered it has more southern/mexican currents. But at night, this place is full of lively nightlife, which we British can certainly use to get on board. Try Xilo (Mexican street food) and The Collection (American with a global flavor). In the evening, the venue offers, as the neighbours say, DJ sessions and live music. It’s also the best place for a hipster brunch – with Bloody Mary, of course.
8. Sparkman Dock
afternoon at Sparkman Quay (Photo: paspoortstempels.uk)
Take the vintage tram to Sparkman Wharf, an outdoor market with stalls of top chefs in Tampa Bay. Colorful huts are located on the water’s edge and surround the central beer garden where you can enjoy local beers from Florida’s artisan brewery center. Concerts, free films and sports events are organised on the open stage. At Naked Farmer we loved the mix of local flavours and the cheeky name.
9. Florida Aquarium
We all loved the aquarium (Photo: Helen Wright)
Then – family fun – but I’m not going to lie, I think the adults in our group prefer it! The Florida Aquarium is located in the center of Tampa and you can take the free tram directly to the door. If you have the time, plan a full day to enjoy the 200,000 square meters of outdoor living space and one of Tampa’s most entertaining activities. In the aquarium you’ll find marine life: River otters, alligators, sea turtles, rays, beautiful leafy sea dragons, reef fish, eels, sharks and much more. We were very happy when the jellyfish hit the aquarium – it was the first time either of us ever touched a jellyfish! The habitat of a 500,000 gallon coral reef is also fantastic and informative.
We all touched jellyfish for the first time! (Photo: Helen Wright)
I was enthusiastic about the sculptures that were washed ashore, a project that showed the damage of plastic in the sea. We visited the original gallery during our trip to Oregon. There’s also a meeting with the penguins (cute!) and Finn loved the Splash Pad outdoor playground and the 4-D theatre that accidentally presented his favorite show – Octopuses!
10. Coach gardens
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So we couldn’t write about the funniest things in Tampa without mentioning one of our favourite theme parks, the Bush Gardens. The 335 hectare adventure park, just 20 minutes from the city, has something for everyone! Animal lovers can observe 200 species of animals and birds in the park and enjoy the close conversation I had with my father, like in the Serengeti Safari (see above). Sesame Street offers children a bright themed area with soft rides, a splash zone and an interactive play area. But the big attraction at Busch Gardens is the impressive number of white-coloured attractions – some of the fastest, highest and certainly the scariest in Florida! For the best purchase conditions, buy your tickets before you leave the UK.
Watch our video with some of the epic attractions and find out why Bush Gardens and SeaWorld Parks were perfect for our family trip:
Interests in Tampa: Where to find the most interesting things in Tampa
11. Tampa Zoo in Lowry Park
Not so difficult – Tampa Zoo in Lowry Park (Photo by Eric Kilby)
On a clear day, you can enjoy the Florida sun by taking a walk in the zoo, while ZooTampa Zoo, located in the middle of Lowry Park, is the ideal setting. Tampa Zoo is less hectic than the adrenaline-filled bush gardens and offers 2,000 animals, some of the best educational programs and a variety of wildlife attractions, including the new River Springs Water Run, which offers a 30-meter underground dive. ZoTampa is also the only non-profit hospital and rehabilitation centre for wounded West Indian manatees. Since 1991 the zoo has treated hundreds of manatees and released many of them back into the wild.
12. aboard a pirate ship
Pirate boat pleasure for children in Tampa (Photo: Helen Wright)
Lost Pearl Ship Adventure
When it comes to boat trips, this fun trip is certainly unique. In case you don’t know, Tampa has a rather random pirate story, which according to legend is actually completely made up. However, this has not prevented the pirate flag from becoming an unofficial emblem of Tampa, and 300,000 people have attended the festival and pirate parade in Gasparilla since January each year.
Outside of festival hours you should party all year round with a selection of pirate attractions in Tampa. We tried the new pirate ship Adventure Lost Pearl – an interactive 1.5 hour pirate cruise in the bay. At first I was skeptical, we did a theme tour with a team of actors in pirate costumes. I was afraid it was a bit wobbly, but in reality it was a few hours of fun, of foolishness, with exciting sunsets, in the good sense of the word.
Relaxation for adults with a fun factor for children (Photo: passports.nl)
Of all the fun things to do in Tampa, this is definitely a milestone for the family, but other guests on our cruise include a group of friends, several couples and of course parents with children. There is a bar (with gratitude), and the crew offers intermittent comic commentary with pirate stories and useful tourist attractions. There is a plunge when guests are asked to protect our boat from rival pirates arriving in a small boat and trying to steal the treasure! The children enjoyed themselves and offered something different than your usual quiet boat trip. The children can also go on deck and fire water cannons at sea, which of course excites the Finn!
13. Watching the wild dolphin game
We saw a dolphin playing at sunset Photo: pasortstamps.de)
Watching wildlife is not guaranteed, but watch out for friendly dolphins, as they often sail close to boats in Tampa Bay, and of course we saw a group of dolphins just when the sun was setting! We should have seen them up close, which was exciting – but unfortunately my photos don’t make them very good… When we got back to Tampa Bay, we saw an incredible sunset.
We all agree that we finally enjoyed the Lost Pearl adventure. It was a great mix of quiet visits, family fun and simple entertainment. (adult $28, child $25)
14. History of experience in Ibor
Columbia Restaurant is the oldest Spanish restaurant in the United States (photo Matthew Paulson).
The origin of a city often plays a major role in determining identity, and Tampa is no different. Tampa owes its appeal indeed to the rich mix of Cuban, Spanish and Italian immigrants who inhabited the city during the cigar tree of the 1880s. After Vicente Martinez Ibor moved his Cuban cigar factories to Tampa, immigrants were recruited to work in the factories and the city of Ibor was born. That’s why today the region is known for its culture and cuisine.
Start with a walk on the historic 7th Avenue with the Con leche Café in one hand and a camera in the other. The street is a beautiful showcase of Spanish architecture, wrought iron balconies in New Orleans style and palm-lined Florida street art. Ibor City has a very colourful art scene (for young designers, visit the gallery on the Hillsborough Community College campus). It’s also a vintage mall with Vintage Roost (a bimonthly vintage market) and fashion from your favourite shops in La France and the Revolve clothing fair. On Saturdays there is a nice street market with local stalls and live music. Oh, and by the way, it’s pronounced e-bora. So now you know.
Tram , 7th Avenue, Ibor City (on the photo: Stephen Martin)
15. Restaurant Colombia
Ibor is also home to Florida’s oldest restaurant and establishment in Tampa, The Columbia. Founded in 1906, the restaurant is still family-owned and is the largest Spanish restaurant in the world. Colombia is impressive – with 15 dining rooms and a room for 1700 people, there are even daily tours of the building. Enjoy an incredible display of hand-painted tiles representing all periods of the restaurant’s history. We didn’t have time to eat there (unfortunately), but the Empanadas de Piccadillo ($8) and crabs ($27) are highly recommended. Given that this famous restaurant was one of only 50 restaurants in the United States on the NRN All American Icon list and has won numerous awards, the restaurant’s menu is available at reasonable prices, with most company dishes costing around $25 for the brand and wine, an average of $30 per bottle.
16. Game in the Children’s Laser Museum
I liked the cheerful look of the museum photo: passports)
I was very impressed with the Glazer Children’s Museum – it’s absolutely perfect if you visit it with young children. It’s at the top of the list of fun activities in Tampa with kids and changes the usual big amusement parks and exciting tourist attractions in Florida. They have a large playground where children can dress up and pretend to be firemen, mechanics, doctors, farmers (etc.). The full-sized theme rooms are double rooms, such as the masts and the playhouses. Above the stairs there is an incredible mountaineer/art installation – for mini divers. Designed to depict a journey on the water, from the clouds to the ground and back, Finn simply loved the challenge and the freedom to explore and climb on his own, because at the age of three it wasn’t too difficult for him.
Finn participated in a climbing frame (Photo: Helen Wright)
When we visited the Glaser Children’s Museum, we had no idea that there was also a temporary exhibition of the Papal Patrol. For an extra fee Finn could walk in a real adventure bay with a watchtower and a patrol. He was excited, and we finally spent a few more hours than we had planned in the museum. Unfortunately it’s finished now, but the museum shows temporary objects all year round, so take a look.
Finn won the lottery of life when we found an exhibition of Lombard patrol paintings: (Helen Wright)
17. Time travel by tram
Tram line Ybor : old car ride to Ibor (Photo: Kevin Boyd)
Traffic maniacs (like me and Finn) get excited when there are different kinds of buses, trams, trains (really everything!) with which we can travel. Also in America (especially in states like Florida) you end up spending a lot of time in the car. We were both drunk when we saw those vintage trams going up and down in a fun way, and our hotel gave us the right direction so we could jump.
In its heyday Tampa Birney’s car and the sound of the rush hour bell were a paper clip. Built in 1892, the workers in the center of Tampa and the cigar factories in western Tampa took the tram. In the 1920s, they carried almost 24 million passengers a year. After the Second World War they were replaced by cars and buses and taken out of service. But in 2002 the old electric trams were rebuilt and put back into service on a 2.7 mile line connecting the centre of Tampa, the canal zone and the city of Ybor. This old tram system, now called the TECO linear tram system, is free and wheelchair accessible, not to mention one of Tampa’s FREE and fun activities.
18. Direction St.strand Pete
Finn adopts the lifestyle of Florida (photo: Helen Wright)
I must say that we Brits coming to Florida like to get back in the holiday mood and adapt as best we can! Although we love all the sights of Tampa, we decided to rent a car and go to the beach for a weekend.
We have a complete article about the best ways to rent a car in the United States and everything you need to know about driving in America.
For this trip we booked a rental car via hertz.de. If you book through the UK website, you can avoid the complications of insurance (many Americans can rent cars with their own insurance, which often means extra coverage for expensive countries). We have also used Hertz before in Florida for our trips to California, and there has always been excellent service and cars, so we felt very comfortable booking with them again.
Pete Beach is just 20 minutes from Tampa, via the impressive Skyway Bridge (which is crossed at night when the bridge is illuminated by colourful lights – it’s breathtaking). The wide sandy beach benefits from the calm and warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and has an average of 361 days of sunshine per year. Unfortunately, the odds weren’t in our favor… We could choose a weekend where it rained almost all the time, so unfortunately we could not enjoy St. Petersburg to the fullest.
Bad weather but good food (Photos: passportstamps.nl)
Saying that didn’t scare us. We visited some of St. John’s iconic tourist attractions. Pete, like the picturesque beaches of the Gulf History Museum, and we walked around the famous Gatsbyesque Pink Palace – the legendary Don SeSar Hotel. We took advantage of the small independent shops and boutiques in the beach community (including the epic year-round Christmas shopping that the kids really threw away), lunch at Caddy’s on the beach and lots of snow crab and lime cake.
Serena St. John’s Day Pete and the eccentric path through the gate (pictures: Olaf Gradin)
We also went to the colorful and full Pass a Cricket statues – a place I definitely want to go back to for my next trip. When we finally put the car together to return to the center of Tampa, the sun came out! So we stayed for a few more hours and had the chance to play on the beach and finally see (almost) all the glory of Saint Peter.
18. Shopping in Hyde Park Village
Hyde Park fancy photo : Passports Tampa.de)
For a great day out, Hyde Park Village is a beautiful area with shops, elegant restaurants and nightlife. The surrounding residential areas also invite you to take a summer walk, where you can see beautiful American houses. And if you need to repair the sugar, you don’t have to worry, because they also have a cupcake machine that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!
19. Sweet Burger – Best breakfast in Tampa
good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good.
The Goody Goody Burger is another iconic spot on Tampa’s list of favorite gourmets. In the heart of Hyde Park Village, the popular Goody Goody was in fact one of the first restaurants in America. Originally opened in 1925, the restaurant closed in 2005 but has recently reopened as a modern snack bar – much to the delight of Tampa’s hungry inhabitants. The snack bar is a perfect example of classic American cuisine and the menu is a return to the glory days of American cuisine with a historic POX burger (beef with gherkins, onions and secret sauce, $5.95) and homemade cake (freshly baked daily and always complete). We were too full for dessert, but I heard that the caramel cake ($6 each) had to die.
Good Very good picture: pasortstamps.de
We even went for breakfast, so I’ve never been able to taste the famous Goody Goody Burger, but if it’s half as good as what they offer in the morning, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. Often mentioned in Tampa’s best breakfast lists, we had a party, including OMG! French toast ($8.95) – so delicious – and Tampa omelet (bacon, chili, onion, red peppers, cheddar and fries, $9.50) Finn had a baby pancake that was absolutely huge! Between eating like a king and a lot of fun things in Tampa, you can probably see that Finn had a great time.
well done it burns a lot of energy! A picture: (Helen Wright)
Since Orlando is the main port of call for the British in Florida, I never thought of going to Tampa. But now that I know everything I missed, I can’t imagine not coming – if only for dinner! I was very impressed by the amount of fun there is in Tampa, especially for families and children. The food was a real highlight, and although I love my kids, I can’t wait to leave them and go back to town to eat more and enjoy the nightlife – so watch out for this room!
Thank you for your support for this trip visittampabay.com and visitflorida.com.
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