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48 hours in Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay - an oasis of modern architecture, large harbours glinting in the sunshine, rich cultural heritage, captivating museums, and trendy emporiums. You may be thinking of an epic adventure in Orlando or a sunny Caribbean cruise, but we have plenty of reasons why you should spend a couple of days in charming Tampa Bay beforehand. Fusing serenity and thrill together in to one small region, Tampa Bay has a lot to offer at the start or end of your holiday.

paddle boarding in tampa

Stretch your legs in the morning with a leisurely stroll along the tranquil Tampa Riverwalk, gradually winding its way along the glistening Hillsborough River and Garrison Channel, with a backdrop of cityscapes and towering palm trees. Ride along the water’s edge on public bikes and journey to the sleek Bayshore Boulevard for sightings of stingray and dolphins, or dip in to trendy boutique shops and restaurants as you walk the popular, bustling neighbourhood of Hyde Park Village. Here you’ll find plenty of delightful coffee vans with free Wi-Fi, so you can Instagram your beverage and cake as you bask in the sun. Bring your jaunt to an agreeable conclusion at Sali Pavilion to enjoy the unique 360-degree, open-air bar that overlooks Tampa’s harbour.

Discover the picturesque Tampa Bay from a new perspective and hire an electric boat to ride through the peaceful harbour. You’ll be the captain on this environmentally friendly boat, as you and your crew amble along the water searching for pelicans and manatees that swim alongside you. Sail past the modern Kennedy Boulevard Plaza and wave at friendly passers-by, whilst keeping on the lookout for colourful graffiti adorning the riverbanks, painted on by college and professional rowing teams who regularly glide along the river. Take a picnic for a long, restful lunch, or hire a boat just before sunset, and enjoy an evening cruise as the skies are decorated with warm ambers and yellows.

After lazily floating along the harbour, steer your electric boat to the contemporary Tampa Museum of Art, sitting proudly on the riverbank. Incorporating amazing modern art and fascinating new media, lose yourself in original pieces created by current artists. You could even take a step back in time with a visit to the Tampa Bay History Center, and learn through immersive theatre experiences about the fascinating Seminole Indians and Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Want to tick more wildlife off your list? Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo has a plethora of animals to see, including giraffes, rhinos and monkeys, or the Florida Aquarium is perfect for little explorers. The kids will also love Glazer Children’s Museum, a bright, cheerful museum with lots of fun, hands-on exhibits and workshops to keep them entertained. We even think you should head on over to the spooky Ghost Tours of Tampa Bay, if you dare.

tampa theatre

Visit Tampa Bay in late January and you’ll be met with the loud boom of a cannon and the ruckus of rowdy pirates sailing into shore. Don’t worry; it’s only Captain José Gaspar and his boisterous Mystic Krewe, there to invade Tampa and start a thrilling week long party in the Bay. An annual event since 1904, the Gasparilla Pirate Festival celebrates the legendary Spanish bandit who once terrorised Tampa Bay in the late 18th century. Watch as the mayor surrenders the keys to the city to the unruly Gasparilla pirates, and get stuck in to the loud, colourful parade that winds its way through the Bay – the third largest parade in America, and an exciting one at that. Don’t forget to don your eye patch to blend in with the uncontrollable crew, and get ready for a celebration to remember.

gasparilla pirate invasion

In the evenings there are an abundance of sumptuous restaurants to sink your teeth into - wander to downtown Tampa and you’ll find effortlessly hip eateries, with a relaxing vibe and offering innovative food and drink. Ducky’s Sport Lounge serves tasty bar nibbles and creative cocktails, which you can enjoy as you get competitive with a game of mini bowling, or head to Columbia Café for succulent Cuban cuisine – Florida is well known for its fantastic Cuban flair, and for good reason. To really nestle in with the cool crowd, head to Fly Bar and Restaurant - you just can’t beat rooftop views of Tampa Bay, as well as enjoying vibrant artwork and local music as you tuck in to lamb tartare and fish tacos. We definitely recommend washing that all down with fresh, independent beers at a huge collection of breweries. Coppertail Brewing Company will always make you feel welcome, with awesome tasting sessions and a fun-filled happy hour. The brewers recommend Free Drive IPA for a warm summer’s night - with a distinct citrus flavour, it’s the perfect way to toast the beautiful sunset, or try the perfect pairing of a Night Swim porter and a flavoursome Cuban pork sandwich.

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