Tampa has transformed into one of the best sunny destinations in the US. It offers fantastic Gulf Coast beaches, a unique tropical atmosphere, and outstanding attractions like Busch Gardens and Ybor City. It’s also home to many sports teams like the Lightning, Buccs, and Rays. If you are planning a holiday to the Big Guava and are wondering what to do in Tampa in three days, then this itinerary is for you.
Best Time to Visit Tampa
The best time to visit Tampa is during the fall and spring when the gulf is warm and it’s not unbearably hot. Both seasons are fantastic as there is hardly any rain and the average temperature is in the low 80s. The average winter temperature is in the low 70s, which is still nice and warm, but the gulf tends to be colder for swimming and water sports. In the summer, the weather is a lot more humid and rainy, with the average temperature ringing in at about 92°F. Summer also tends to be more crowded at amusement parks and beaches since the kids are out of school and many families are on vacation.
If you are a big fan of Mardi Gras or parades, then the end of January might be the best time for you to spend a weekend in Tampa. Every year at this time, the Gasparilla Pirate Festival takes place, with the entire Downtown area shutting down for a massive street party and parade. Everyone dresses in pirate costumes and lines up along the parade route to catch beads from passing floats. There are plenty of community events and concerts that follow after the parade. It is a lot like Mardi Gras but more family-friendly and less packed!
How to Get Around Tampa
If you are planning on visiting Tampa, you might be wondering if you need to rent a car and how to get around. That all depends on where you plan on staying and which attractions you plan on visiting. It is completely possible to follow this Tampa travel itinerary without a car rental, using rideshare, shared bikes/scooters, and your own two feet! Public transit isn’t the best in the city, but on the bright side, it is a very walkable city that isn’t insanely large. Visitors can also opt to use the Downtown streetcar, which leads all the way to Ybor City. Attractions outside the Downtown area are not too far, so they are affordable to get to using rideshare programs or taxis.
Renting a car is also an option and can save you travel time when you only have 72 hours in Tampa. There is plenty of paid parking Downtown, and most hotels come with free parking as well. It will be more convenient to have a rental car, especially if you plan to go to the beach or on a day trip. We recommend using RentalCars.com for all your car booking needs. The website searches hundreds of rental sites to ensure you get the best price possible!
Where to Stay in Tampa
The best place to stay in Tampa is Downtown as it will put you within walking distance of top attractions, restaurants, and entertainment. The best hotel in this area is, hands down, JW Marriott Tampa. It is close to the Amalie Arena and the Cruise Line Terminal, as well as to nightlife and the Tampa Convention Center. The hotel boasts a modern motif with an outdoor swimming pool, an upscale bar, and a gym, along with great views of the city.
Related: 15 Best Hotels in Tampa, FL
If you are wondering where to stay in Tampa that will be closer to the water, then you can’t go wrong with the Oceanfront Hotel near the Courtney Campbell Causeway. This stunning seaside hotel offers guests a more tropical vibe, with a private sandy beach area, a pier for fishing, beach volleyball, and an outdoor pool with a tiki bar that serves food and cocktails. Guests can also enjoy incredible sunset views over Old Tampa Bay from the comfort of their balconies. The hotel is about a 10-minute walk from Ben T. Davis Beach, and there are plenty of bars and upscale dining options just down the street.
For more accommodation options in Tampa check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect Weekend in Tampa Itinerary
You might be surprised by how much you can fit into a weekend trip in Tampa. This itinerary will outline all sorts of indoor and outdoor activities, so that you can discover all the best parts of the city during your visit. From award-winning local eateries, museums, and shopping to beaches and watersports, you’ll be able to do it all!
Tampa Itinerary: Day 1
On the first day of this Tampa itinerary, it’s time to get your bearings of the city with a morning stroll down the Tampa Riverwalk. This 2.6-mile trail wraps all around the Downtown area along the water. Visitors are welcome to enjoy an alcoholic beverage while cruising the Riverwalk but only if it is in an approved Riverwalk cup. Make your way along the path until you reach the Tampa Convention Center. Here you will find an abundance of watersport rentals, including stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, pedal boats, water bikes, small boat rentals, and more. Choose how you want to cruise on the water and then head out for an hour-long journey along the channels. After you’ve returned your rentals, head to the Sail Plaza outdoor patio bar beside the convention center for a light snack and drink to cool off. Don’t fill up yet, though, because the best food is yet to come!
Once you’ve got a pina colada or two into you (It’s five o’clock somewhere, right?), it’s time to hop on the free streetcar and make your way to one of the best places to visit in Tampa, Historic Ybor City. If you’ve ever watched the movie Live by Night starring Ben Affleck, then you might already be familiar with the history of this incredible area.
Ybor City is a lively Cuban and Latin American district that greatly resembles the French Quarter in New Orleans. The area is famous for its hand-rolled cigars, thanks to its founder Vicente Martínez-Ybor. Vicente Martínez-Ybor and his wife moved from Cuba and bought the site in the late 1860s to open up a cigar-rolling factory. Soon after, many other Hispanic and Latin families flocked to Ybor, and it developed its own separate identity outside of Tampa. There are plenty of clubs and bars in Ybor, and it is one of the most popular nightlife areas in Tampa. At night, parades of tourists, college students, and locals bar hop and line up for clubs to spend a night dancing away their troubles.
Once you’ve made it to Ybor, walk to the famous Columbia Restaurant for lunch. This award-winning restaurant is over 115 years old and is home to one of the best – if not the best – Cuban sandwiches in Florida. They also serve traditional Spanish dishes like empanadas de picadillo and paella. After a delicious lunch, walk to Ybor City Museum for a glimpse into the area’s rich history. When you’re done, take a stroll down 7th Avenue to pop into boutique shops for souvenirs and to watch how tobacco is rolled at cigar shops.
Once you are finished cruising down the historical streets of Ybor City, you can head back to your hotel to drop off your souvenirs or head directly to Sparkman’s Wharf. This Downtown waterfront area is the perfect spot for watching the sunset with a premium cocktail. There are plenty of vendors and bars to pop into and grab a drink. You can then head to the faux lawn area for a game of cornhole and to listen to live music. If the weather isn’t great, then head to Fit Bowl Co. for a few rounds of bowling until the rain clears. The beautiful thing about Florida weather is that the rain rarely lasts very long.
Afterward, head back to your hotel and get ready for a night out on the town! For dinner, you can’t go wrong with Ulele’s for fresh seafood in an upscale atmosphere. If you don’t feel like getting too dressed up, then head over to Harpoon Harry’s Crab House near the Tampa Convention Center for some delicious seafood in a pirate-themed setting. After dinner, there are plenty of fun and unique places to go for drinks and entertainment. American Social Bar & Kitchen transforms into an upscale nightclub with three rooms that play Spanish music, EDM, and top 100. It’s located right across the water from the Tampa Convention Center. Another fun spot to hit is Parks & Rec. It is part club, with a DJ and dancing, and part arcade, with games like Pac-Man, basketball, giant beer pong, and ski ball. For a bar scene or to watch sports, check out Hattricks.
Tampa Itinerary: Day 2
On the second day, it’s time to make the best of Tampa and get out of the Downtown area! We have left this as an open day, and you could choose to spend it at the beach, on a pontoon boat, or on the roller coasters at Busch Gardens.
If you are looking to spend some time lounging on the beach and swimming, then you can’t go wrong with visiting Clearwater Beach. Rent beach chairs and soak up some sun rays or get a round of volleyball started at one of the courts. There are plenty of gulfside restaurants where you can enjoy fresh seafood for lunch and listen to live bands. Visitors can also opt to rent Jet Skis or bikes, or to book a parasailing excursion. The famous Pier 60 offers fishing equipment rentals for those wishing to try their luck at catching redfish and Spanish mackerel. In the evening, vendors open a sunset market on the pier with local crafts and souvenirs. Clearwater Beach is also known for its nightly sunset celebrations; you’ll find buskers singing, dancing, or performing magic shows for free!
One of the best things to do in Tampa to get away from the crowds is renting a boat. Spend a day fishing, island hopping, or just cruising along the water with your loved ones or friends while enjoying the saltwater and Florida sun. A great place to rent a boat is the Landings of Tarpon Springs. They offer a variety of full- or half-day pontoon rentals. Visitors can peacefully cruise along the river past the famous Dodecanese Greek Sponge Docks all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. From there, you can head around Anclote Key island, passing shipwrecks and wildlife, or head for a ride along the coast. If you would like a private guided fishing charter, check out Hubbard’s Marina in Madeira Beach.
The theme park Busch Gardens offers a fun-filled day for families and thrill-seekers alike! Get up close and personal with over 200 species of animals or enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the animals below from the cable car that rides between the Egypt and Congo areas. The park is home to plenty of thrill rides, too, like the Cheetah Hunt and Falcon’s Fury. There are also rides for the little ones, such as the Sesame Street Air Grover kid’s coaster. Don’t forget to catch a live show from world-class performers! If you’re planning on visiting in October, Busch Gardens transforms into Howl-O-Scream at night, with haunted houses and scary creatures.
Once you’ve had your fill of fun in the sun, it’s time to clean up and get ready for dinner. If you are looking for a unique dinner option, head to Texas De Brazil, a meat lover’s paradise! Servers continuously bring around incredible meat dishes and serve you as much as you want. Another great option is Malio’s. This elegant and upscale restaurant is known for its incredible steaks, fresh seafood, and fine wines. If you’d like to head out to a nightlife area after dinner, check out the SOHO district east of Hyde Park. It is a popular area for college students, and there are plenty of clubs, bars, and cocktail lounges to check out!
Tampa Itinerary: Day 3
On the last day of your vacation in Tampa, get a good breakfast into you and head to the Tampa Museum of Art located on the Tampa Riverwalk. The museum features beautiful collections, from modern and contemporary to ancient Greek and Roman. After a morning of admiring paintings and statues, make your way to International Plaza and Bay Street. This mall is filled with many familiar stores like H&M, as well as high-end luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and other boutique shops. It is a massive shopping center with an outdoor street dedicated to bars and restaurants, offering the perfect place to enjoy a drink or lunch after shopping.
Once you’ve shopped till you’ve dropped, head over to Cigar City Brewing, located just around the corner from International Plaza. Cigar City is one of Tampa’s most notable breweries, and visitors can tour the facilities and sample some of the local favorites.
For dinner, make your way to Armature Works. This converted factory is home to an upscale cafeteria with plenty of food options and a great atmosphere. It’s perfect for those who can’t quite decide what they’re in the mood for; from tacos to sushi and wood-fired pizza, you’ll find it here. Once you’ve finished eating, head to the roof of the building to M.Bird for some seriously incredible cocktails, which you can enjoy while overlooking the Tampa city skyline. It’s the perfect way to end your weekend trip to Tampa.
Tampa Itinerary: Alternative Options
We know everyone travels differently, so we have added some extra attractions to help you make the most of your three days in Tampa.
- Whisky Joe’s: A restaurant boasting a private beach with a volleyball court, a tiki bar, and live music
- ZooTampa at Lowry Park: Get up close and personal with panthers and penguins!
- The Florida Aquarium: Explore a diverse range of aquatic exhibits featuring marine life from all around the world.
- Catch a Game: Watch the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Rays, or Tampa Bay Buccaneers play.
- Yacht StarShip Cruises: Enjoy a sunset dinner cruise on a yacht.
- Canoe Escape: Kayak along the Hillsborough River, see alligators, and immerse yourself in Florida nature.
And that’s Tampa in three days! We know you’ll have a blast visiting the Sunshine State and hope you enjoy your holiday. Just don’t forget to pack sunscreen!