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Holidays to Tampa
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Featured holidays in Tampa
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Tampa travel guideTampa holidays… what to expect
If you're after another side of Florida than the hectic thrill rides and fun palaces of Orlando, Tampa Bay is the perfect antidote. Tampa Bay on Florida's Gulf Coast offers year-round beach resorts to enjoy the Sunshine State's glorious weather, its warm clear waters, and its sporty pursuits. From Clearwater in the north, to Bradenton in the south, and the Gulf's narrow barrier islands (all an easy hop across Old Tampa Bay) you'll find the perfect holiday to suit you. And it's here you'll find the coast's best beaches, boardwalks lined with bars, boutiques, water sports and laid-back, family-style restaurants.
When is the best time to visit Tampa?
The hurricane season normally runs from 1st June to 30th November, and can affect the whole of the southern USA. The subtropical climate of Florida is warm and mild throughout the year, with average annual rainfall of around 50 inches keeping central Florida lush and green. Prevailing winds are southerly and light, and temperatures range from around 20°C in winter, to around 32°C in summer. Humidity is quite high and short, sharp showers (and thunder) is quite common in high season.
Take a look at our climate a chart below.
St Pete Beach is a long strip of Blue Flag bathing and sands – perfect for families and couples seeking safe, sunny days at the coast. If you like it uncrowded and undeveloped, Fort De Soto Park’s the place to head – a stunning expanse of natural parkland, cycle paths and uncluttered sands. The beaches closer to St Pete’s offer a little more in the way of recreation. Passe a Grille, and neighbouring Shell Key offer low-key thrills but, for more watersports, head north to action-packed Clearwater.
Broad swathes of soft white sand make up the Gulf Coast of Clearwater’s Key – and, for most of the year, the sun shines on the boardwalks and beach bars, and warms the (suitably) clear water, making this spot a popular, outdoorsy place where locals and tourists happily mingle and enjoy the island’s range of water sports, chartered cruises, beach entertainments and prime sun tanning spots. Pier 60, where the causeway meets the beach, is a fun spot where artists, street performers and stall holders gather – principally because, at sunset, this is the place to be to watch the nightly spectacle of the sun sinking below the Gulf Coast.
The beaches of Cortez (aka Bradenton Beach) and Coquina are wonderfully flat expanses of sand, with watersports facilities and lifeguards on duty. Gulf Drive, the main highway that carves its way along the islands just off the coast, is lined with beaches – each offering a mix of watersports, sunbathing and swimming options. Anna Marie is a real holiday island, with a breezy waterfront, excellent, warm waters and fully-facilitated beaches. Manatee County Beach features 900 feet of sandy beach on the Gulf of Mexico with access at Gulf Drive.
Busch Gardens, Tampa
Just half an hour or so away, this African themed mega-park is a real thrill. Daily jungle-themed shows, head-spinning white-knuckle rides, a 4-D theatre show and safari expeditions to the ‘Nairobi Field Station’ guarantee to keep everyone amused.
Florida Aquarium, 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa
The huge and futuristic looking aquarium is home to shark tanks, rare species exhibits – including the rare, and bizarre-looking Australian Sea Dragons – and lots of interactive zones where children can learn more about the marine life of the Gulf. There’s a small SCUBA tank where you can get even closer to the action, or, alternatively, the aquarium also offers eco-tours on its sleek motor cruiser, out into the Gulf.
Located at the headwaters of Old Tampa Bay, the waterfront community of Safety Harbour is home to the historic Espiritu Santo Springs. Legend has it that Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto believed he had discovered the Fountain of Youth. The natural springs have been a popular spot ever since. The Harbour’s Resort and Spa is thronging with modern-day travellers seeking the elixir of endless youth.
Egmont Key State Park
At the breezy headland of Egmont, Tampa Bay feels wonderfully unadulterated – the strip malls and arcades seem a million miles away. Pristine, palm tree lined pathways, secluded beaches, and a 150 year old working lighthouse guarding the sand create a wonderfully relaxing environment.
The Pier, St Petersburg Waterfront
An entertainment complex with lots to keep you busy – including a shopping centre, aquarium, boat cruise charters and a range of drinking and dining outlets featuring live shows and tea dances.
Florida Botanical Gardens, Largo
Florida’s exotic natural plantlife is displayed alongside blooms from around the sub-tropical world in this delightful park. Hibiscus gardens, herb gardens and endangered plant collections are set amid lakes and meadows – part of the bigger Pinewood Cultural Park.
Moccasin Lake Park, Clearwater
See native wildlife, fauna, and flora along boardwalk trails, including American Alligators, Great Egrets, Green Anoles, Ospreys and butterflies, plus wildlife exhibits and an interpretive centre.
Clearwater Municipal Marina is one of the best-equipped marinas in Florida, offering access to a range of water-based fun. Fishing charters, sailing charters, sightseeing boats, dinner cruises, dolphin tours, parasailing, and personal watercraft are all available. And you’ll have little trouble finding the right outfit to wear - there’s a clutch of shops, restaurants and bars for those not too keen on getting wet.
Museum of Science and Industry, E. Fowler Avenue
Experience the power of a hurricane, learn how the human body works, explore the outer reaches of space, fly a jet fighter and have a really enjoyable day out at the same time at this well-respected, and large, family friendly museum in the heart of Tampa.
Top 5 places to visit in Tampa
Take a sunset cruise into the Gulf of Mexico for an evening to remember
Enjoy the shops, bars and boardwalk cafes of Pier 60, Clearwater Beach
Sample the delicious seafood in Tampa - in the swanky SoHo area
Hold on tight at Busch Gardens thrilling white-knuckle rides
Paint the town red along Ybor City's sunset strip - the bars of 7th Avenue
Tampa’s International Plaza Mall, by the airport, comes complete with the usual array of big brands, US department stores and market stalls hawking crafts, chocolates and trinkets. Channelside, Tampa’s spruced-up waterside entertainment complex, is an enjoyable maze of shops, food and drinking outlets, while the ethnic neighbourhood of Ybor is home to thrilling markets, art galleries and, at Centro Ybor, a pleasingly designed mall, crammed with fashion and gift stores.
Clearwater’s Boatyard Village is an 1890’s themed village. It features Yesterday's Air Force Museum and Florida Museum of Holography, as well as shops dining and markets.
Countryside Mall, Clearwater is a two-storey mall with big name outlets in fashion, gifts, home-wares and electronics. Bay Bazaar Shopping Plaza, 630 S. Gulfview Boulevard, is good for men's and women's clothing, swimwear, jewellery, beach souvenirs and original works of art.
Historic Corey Avenue, St Pete Beach, is a pleasant thoroughfare lined with speciality stores, delis and boutiques, and the Dolphin Village Centre, on Gulf Blvd, offers more of the same, with restaurants, a kids’ playground and independent boutiques.
Tyrone Square Mall, 22nd Avenue North, features Macy's, Dillard's, JC Penney and Sears – all Goliaths of US shopping, with St. John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk, Madeira Beach, is a turn of the century (19th, that is!) fishing village, shopping centre and gallery zone.
Red Barn Flea Market, Bradenton, is a popular market which always reveals something of merit if you’re prepared to put the time in and rummage. Village of the Arts, Downtown Bradenton, is a cluster of brightly painted shops, studios and galleries centred around Main Street and its off-avenues.
St Armand’s Circle, 300 Madison Drive, Sarasota, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sarasota - a series of elegant shops and restaurants arranged around the circle, designed by circus magnate (and circle lover) John Ringling. Lush landscaping, glittering lighting and unique galleries and European style delis and boutiques give this place a real upscale, Italian flavour – all very pleasant.
Southgate Plaza, Sarasota, is a shopping mall for the seriously wealthy, or happy window shopper. Southgate’s collection of designer stores, home-wares, watch stores and lifestyle must-haves is worth a wander, just keep your wallet at the hotel.
Tampa food and drink
Florida’s sunshine state is home to some of the best produce grown in the States. Its farmers’ markets, every Saturday in Sarasota, and Ybor City, is well worth a look - and it’s the perfect place to stock up on picnic or self catering essentials: fresh fruit, organic meats and cheeses are all excellent.
Elsewhere, seafood abounds at the coast, with red snapper, mahi mahi, sea bass and grouper are all good and relatively inexpensive, while stuffed crab, lobster tails and mixed seafood grills are for hearty appetites only.
Steaks are humongous and usually enough for two, while the ethnic eateries of Ybor offer family-owned Spanish, Portuguese, Cuban and Caribbean eateries, serving paella, black bean stews, tapas and pork’n’plantain (a starchy banana, often served in place of potatoes) dishes, often washed down with colourful cocktails and a riotous floorshow.
Tampa’s Hyde Park Village is a vibrant neighbourhood of colourful cafes, restaurants and bars - with a good sprinkling of ‘British’ and ‘Irish’ themed establishments, offering fish’n’chips, chops, pasta restaurants and buffets.
At the coast, the resorts of Bradenton, Clearwater and St Pete Beach go all out to offer something for everyone, whether that’s platter-filling surf and turf specials, creole chicken, fresh and filling salads, Pacific Rim fusion with delicate tempura and sushi, or good old all-American burgers and fries.
In general, the waterside restaurants, and those clustered around the piers, shopping villages and entertainment complexes favour huge portions, kids’ menus, lots of sticky sauces to add flavour to your barbecued chicken or flame grilled steak, and huge and daunting desserts. Another big buzz at the moment, Teppanyaki offers show-cooking, with chefs juggling prawns, and doing ‘don’t try this at home’ moves with razor sharp kitchen knives. It doesn’t particularly add to the flavour of the finished product, but it’s good fun.
For a touch more style, Tampa's trendiest dining scene is along South Howard Avenue, in the area known as SoHo, between West Kennedy Boulevard and the Bay in affluent Hyde Park. Here you’ll find fine dining, French style haute cuisine and the freshest, just landed seafood, served simply with a Florida Salad, or lightly smoked. Be brave, and sample smoked alligator, or a blackbean ‘gator chili - it’s quite snappy.
If Florida was to have a ‘national’ fruit, it would be the juicy guava - related to the pomegranate. It’s delicious raw, but is increasingly being used to add a smoky sweet flavour to barbecued steaks.
Ybor is Tampa's after-dark playground, with a glittering procession of bars and clubs centred on historic and ornate 7th and 8th Avenues (once the epicentre of the world's cigar manufacturing). Expect Cuban, Colombian and all manner of Latin spirits, music and, should you partake, fine cigars too. It's an infectious place, attracting vacationing students, travellers and locals alike - and, with over 100 bars, restaurants and after-hours joints, you're sure to find a spot that's perfect for you. Current hotspots include Blue Martini, and Green Iguana - as we said, this is a colourful spot!
Mandalay, the name they give to Clearwater's offshore entertainment island, is a land of late-night bars, discos and floorshows. From the real-ale and pies of Big Ben's British Pub, 731 Bayway Boulevard at the south of the island, to the sophisticated sound and light show at the Wave nightclub, part of the huge Shephard's Resort Complex, again at the far south of the island. If the Wave's pumping R'n'B is too much, try the resort's Sunset Lounge, where local bands play a mix of party classics from the 70's to present day.
BayWalk, St. Petersburg, is a complex of boutiques and bars, at the centre of which, BayWalk offers live bands every Friday.
Caddy's Waterfront 9000 W. Gulf Blvd, is a laid-back hangout offering plasma-screen sports, good value beers and a chilled-out, beachy vibe, while for more laughs, Coconuts Comedy Club & Clearwater Cinema Cafe offers a fast-food meal and an uncomplicated night out where the dress code is definitely casual. Comedians are usually good, too.
The Coliseum, St. Pete Beach, offers one of the nation's largest dance floors, featuring a variety of live entertainment. At the neighbouring city of Treasure Island, once home to baseball legend Babe Ruth, over at the St John's Pass village, Gators Café and Saloon is a restaurant and sports bar that also has live rock music and dancing when the sun goes down, seven days a week. It claims to have the world's longest waterfront bar, and it's certainly a huge deck overlooking the waters of John's Pass. The complex also has tower with a top-level observation deck for panoramic views of the Gulf.
On Pass-a-Grille Beach, Hurricane Restaurant offers panoramic Gulf views, live music and dancing in a smart atmosphere. Make sure you book your space on the rooftop deck in time for the glorious sunsets. Elsewhere along the beach, live music venues pump out the tunes usually 'til about 2am – you'll have no trouble finding a spot that you like.
The venerable Crystal Playhouse Dinner Theater, Clearwater, offers burlesque, big band shows, and plays, and the Elite Jazz Bar at Famous Cigars, Clearwater, is the premier jazz club in the Tampa Bay/Clearwater area.
But some say the best nightlife along the Gulf Coast is the free nightly show - the blazing sunsets. Catch them at Woody's Beach Bar, St. Pete Beach, a family restaurant featuring fine food and fun nights with the accent on good, old fashioned Floridian hospitality.
Tampa lifestyle & culture
Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Dr. N.E., St. Petersburg
This well respected museum is situated on the St. Petersburg waterfront. Its collection encompasses art from antiquity to modern times, and features star turns by Cezanne, Monet, Gauguin, Renoir and Rodin. It has an excellent permanent collection of European, American, Pre-Colombian and Asian Art, plus intriguing temporary exhibits. The museum's gardens are a joy, too – often staging concerts throughout the summer.
Salvador Dali Museum, 1000 Third Street St, St. Petersburg
Surprisingly, this museum is home to the world's most comprehensive collection of works by the late Spanish surrealist. The collection includes 94 original oils, over 100 watercolors and drawings, plus 1,300 graphics, sculptures, holograms, personal ephemera and photographs.
Florida International Museum, 244 Second Avenue N. St. Petersburg
A strong collection of local, state and national exhibits covering folk art, jewellery, ceramics, decorative art and furniture. The museum's not afraid of courting controversy, with a past programme of events covering everything from Barbie dolls to the life of Princess Diana.
Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History, St. Petersburg
A historically significant, and naturally beautiful site with lots to recommend it, Weedon is a cultural and natural centre designed by anthropologists, historians and Native Americans to reflect the art and history of Florida's first people. Today, in a series of well-managed exhibits and events, all aspects of Native American culture – from dance to art, cooking to crafts – are displayed.
Heritage Village, Largo
An authentically reconstructed traditional village revealing over 150 years of Pinellas County history, with over 24 historic structures offering workshops, craft lessons and period actors instantly recreating life in a Florida town in the 1850's.
Tampa events - what's on when?
Check out out 'What's on When' in Tampa and make sure you plan your next trip to perfection!
January - Gasparilla Pirate Fest
A parade of pirates, a buccaneer ship, an 'invasion brunch' and street festival around Hillsborough Bay and the Tampa Convention Centre.
February - Florida State Fair
Get closer to the agriculture industry and its livestock, products, plus amusements and rides at Florida State Fairgrounds off Interstate 4.
March - Annual Hyde Park Village Art Fair
Sculptures, paintings, jewellery, photographs, ceramics and more fill the tree-lined streets, accompanied by live music.
April - Tampa Bay Blues Fest
Vinoy Waterfront Park in St. Petersburg is the location for this three day festival of American blues in a lush setting.
May - Pathfinder Fun Fest & Fin Flotilla
Fort DeSoto Park in St. Petersburg stages a huge race between lots of rubber animals (turtles, dolphins, alligators, etc.) for prizes.
June - Free Zoo Admission for Dad
Lowry Park Zoo offers free admission to fathers for Father's Day weekend when they are accompanied by a paying child or adult ticket.
July - Channelside July 4th Celebration
Free festivities and family fun at Channelside Plaza, with live music and entertainment during the day, followed by fireworks at 9pm.
August - Wazoo Beer Fest
This annual festival features 250 global beers and beverages, local food and live music within Lowry Park Zoo's Safari Lodge.
September - Night of the iguana
This annual taste test fest has food from Tampa Bay's best restaurants, plus a bar, live music, auctions and more at Mainsail Suites Hotel.
October - Howl-o-Scream
A variety of haunted houses, roller coaster rides in the dark and several scare zones at Busch Gardens theme park.
November - Ybor City Heritage & Cigar Festival
One of the premier all-ages festivals in the Tampa Bay area.
December - Victorian Christmas Stroll
The Henry B. Plant Museum presents this stroll at the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel along the Hillsborough River, with free cider and biscuits.
Tampa travel advice
Do you need a visa for Tampa?
Everyone travelling into America must have completed the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, or ESTA for short, a US Customs & Passport Control entry requirement. US Immigration may well refuse you entry at border control if you do not complete the online form
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Key facts about Tampa
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