Tampa Bay is one of our favorite places on earth. From the unique Floridian wildlife to the thriving sports and culture scene, Tampa has so much to offer. Are you planning a trip to Tampa? You’re in luck. We put together a list of our favorite free things to do in the city, so you can pack your agenda with activities that won’t set you back.
Tampa has much to offer for no cost at all, from historical tours to state parks. These are our ten must-dos.
The Riverwalk is a must-do if you’re stopping by the Big Guava. The 2.6-mile trail and park along Tampa’s Hillsborough River are frequently crowded with both tourists and locals alike. While there’s plenty to spend money on along the way, the walk itself is open to the public and is worth it for the views alone.
The Tampa Museum of Art, Glazer Children's Museum, and Curtis Hixon Park are all located along the Riverwalk, in addition to a number of quality restaurants and food carts.
Take a stroll, watch the street performers, and enjoy the signature Tampa experience.
If you’re looking to see a little more of the Florida wildlife, make a trip to the Hillsborough River State Park a top priority. Northeast of Tampa proper, the state park offers a variety of experiences, ideal for both seasoned campers and everyone else.
You can walk around the expansive trails that overlook the river and classic Floridian swampland or rent a kayak to really get your feet wet. Unlike most of the Hillsborough River, which moves quite slowly, the state park includes Class II rapids. If that’s not your thing, you can lounge around the picnic areas and public pool.
The park is one of Florida’s oldest and is well worth a trip to appreciate the state’s unique wildlife and lush forests.
Tampa Bay may not strike you as a particularly historic city, but there’s actually a rich culture and backstory here. Look no further than Ybor City.
The neighborhood is situated right in the heart of Tampa’s historic district and dates back to the late 19th century. Once called the "Cigar Capital of the World," Cuban immigrants enriched this area and built scenic and charming buildings you can still visit today. In the 80s, the neighborhood became the home for Tampa’s arts scene, and it’s still the essential spot for the vibrant LGBTQ+-friendly nightlife.
Regardless of what you’re looking for, Ybor City is a great place to get a taste of Tampa culture.
A short drive away from Tampa, towards Clearwater, stands Largo, the home to the Florida Botanical Gardens. The gardens were made available for the public in 2000 and are open and free to visit every day of the year.
Put aside a whole day for exploring these gardens, as the whole site is over 180 acres, hosting 10,000 native and exotic plants. With many benches and fountains, the Florida Botanical Gardens are a great place to relax and take in the vivid colors. For families, they also have a children’s trail, which includes outdoor musical instruments and an interactive butterfly puzzle.
While you’re in Largo, you may want to consider a trip to Heritage Village, an interactive indoor and outdoor museum that pays tribute to Florida’s local history.
It’s pretty incredible to step back in time and see buildings as they used to look, including a general store, a railroad depot, and historic homes, churches, and school buildings. Performers and historians even do demonstrations of traditional chores and cooking, like curing meat in a smokehouse or operating a sugar cane mill.
The entire village is free to visit, though they do ask for donations to keep it going.
Don’t get us wrong, ZooTampa at Lowry Park is a great way to see wildlife while you’re in the area, but you don’t actually need to go to the zoo to see some. The city is teeming with native birds, fish, and sea mammals. One such example is the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach.
The manatee sanctuary is free to observe from a long dock that overlooks dozens and dozens of these majestic creatures. Manatees naturally flock to this part of the water because Tampa’s sustainable electric energy plant outputs clear, warm saltwater back into the bay. From November to mid-April, manatees chill out here to enjoy the warmer water. It’s a wonderful spot to space out.
Even better, there’s also a butterfly garden and tidal walk so you can make a day of it, enjoying the distinctly-Floridian wildlife scene.
Tampa is more than just one city, really. While Tampa proper has plenty to offer, locals take full advantage of the neighboring cities and wider, easy-to-get-to suburbs.
If you’re up for a longer activity, consider joining up with the Courtney Campbell Trail, which links Tampa to Clearwater. The 9.5-mile trail is surrounded by water and spectacular views, so it’s no wonder there are so often bike riders, inline skaters, and walkers making their way across it. Get an early start, don’t forget to wear sunscreen, and enjoy easy access to Clearwater.
You can’t go to Tampa without spending some serious time at the beach. Florida has some of the best coastlines in the country, and Ben T. Davis Beach is a local favorite because of its proximity to downtown Tampa. It actually links up with the Courtney Campbell trail, so you could walk back just in time for sunset. The beach sports powdery white sands, clear and calm water, volleyball courts, and plenty of picnic space.
Our best advice? Arrive early. This spot is popular for a reason, and parking can be a hassle if you’re competing with the rest of the city.
Anytime we visit a new city, we make it a priority to really engage in the city’s culture — not just the history, but the modern arts and food scene. If you’re looking to do that in Tampa, look no further than Fourth Fridays.
Every four Fridays, Tampa Bay’s music venues, galleries, and museums offer special events and discounted (or free) tickets. We love that the city comes together once a month to celebrate all the local artists that make Tampa what it is. If you happen to be in the city on a fourth Friday, make sure you take advantage of the discounts and unique experiences. You’ll be glad you did.
As we mentioned, Ybor City in Tampa was the international capital of cigar production for some time. That’s likely part of the reason that the city attracted one of the biggest producers of cigars, the J.C. Newman company, which has been around since 1895.
Originally started in Ohio as a one-man operation, the company moved south to Tampa in 1915, taking over the Regensburg factory, one of the last standing cigar-making buildings in Ybor City. It’s really the central point of Ybor City, with a tall, red tower sticking out over the landscape and a historic clock face ringing out every hour. The establishment is nicknamed the El Reloj, which is Spanish for “the clock.”
The factory was recently refurbished and opened a museum available to the public for free self-guided tours. Visitors can also tour the factory for $15 each.
From the beaches to the river views to the historic neighborhoods, you don’t need to spend much to have a great time in Tampa Bay. Make sure you visit the manatees and learn about the history of cigar making in Ybor City.
If you love Tampa and want to show off your pride, check out our collection for the city here. Our vintage-feel, high-quality shirts are comfortable and smooth, sporting phrases like “Welcome to Champa Bay,” “I liked St. Pete before it was cool,” and “Tampa Bay By a Thousand,” in addition to logos from beloved and defunct teams of the past. They’re the perfect gift to all that call the 813 home.
Sources:Tampa History | City of Tampa