Tampa offers plenty for visitors to do and see without spending a dime. Year-round sunshine and warmer temperatures make for lots of free outdoor activities, but there are also tempting indoor attractions to choose from.
1.Tampa River walk
The Tampa Riverwalk is a scenic exploration of the downtown riverfront. A good place to start is the Straz Center for Performing Arts, however, you can join the walk from anywhere along the route (see their website for a map). The Riverwalk takes you past most of the popular downtown attractions including the Tampa Museum of Art, Curtis Hixon Park, the Convention Center, the Tampa Bay History Center, and the Channelside Bay Plaza, before ending at the Florida Aquarium. Along the way you will pass interpretive exhibits highlighting Tampa’s history and numerous public art exhibits. The path is almost 2.5 miles long, but there are plenty of spots to stop for a rest and grab a drink or a quick bite along the way.
2. Bay shore Boulevard
Yes, a sidewalk is one of Tampa’s best attractions. Before you start with the jokes, this is a very special sidewalk. Running from just north of MacDill Air Force Base to downtown Tampa along Hillsborough Bay, the sidewalk that runs along Bay Shore Boulevard is the longest continuous sidewalk in the US. It is also South Tampa’s unofficial gym, where at all hours of the day you can find many people walking, jogging, biking, and rollerblading down the nearly flat pavement. With the water on one side and some of Tampa’s most expensive real estate on the other, the scenery can’t be beat. It’s also the location of our most important celebration, the annual Gasparilla parade in late January.
3. Ybor City Visitor Center
Located in the heart of Tampa’s historic district, the Ybor City Visitor Center is the perfect place to start your exploration of this charming neighborhood. Operated by the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce, the Visitor Center offers free attraction maps and expert advice on where to go and what to see. There is also an abundance of other Tampa travel-related brochures and pamphlets. Take some time to explore the small museum and video presentation to provide some background and context to the colorful history of what was once known as the “Cigar Capital of the World.” This is also a good spot to shop for authentic and local souvenirs of your visit.
4. Fourth Friday
On the fourth Friday of every month from 5pm – 8pm, downtown Tampa throws open its doors and offers a huge selection of free activities and free access to top cultural and historic attractions. Gain admission to the festivities by picking up a free wristband from any of the event’s participants and enjoy. Attractions and activities vary from month to month but may include free admission to the Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa Bay History Center, and Tampa Theatre, and live local music can be enjoyed at multiple locations. Food and drink specials are also offered at many downtown locales. No need to drive, visitors can stroll the Riverwalk, take advantage of the Downtowner shuttles, Pirate Water Taxi rides, or Coast Bike rentals (free for 1 hour).
5. Manatee Viewing Center
Once believed to be mermaids, docile manatees are now an endangered species. In winter, when ocean temperatures drop, they flock to the heated water discharged from Tampa Bay’s power plant. From the observation platform, visitors can watch the marine mammals bask in the warm water, enjoying a respite from the cool bay. An educational building, complete with mini-theater, instructs visitors on the habits and lives of manatees while outside, nature trails wind along the banks and through picnic areas. Vending machines are available on the premises, and a gift shop sells related merchandise. Excursions generally take 1.5 to 2 hours.