The US has a lot of country and cities waiting to be explored. Hence, it’s often hard to find one travel destination to visit during a lengthy break. People are always searching about the top spots to visit but you do not have to look further than Tampa in Florida. From a booming nightlife to serene and calm views, this city in The Sunshine State has it all for solo backpackers, couples, and families as well. There is an array of things to do in Tampa but knowing its long history is a must first.

Stats You Need to Know About Tampa, Florida

Tampa is a major city in Florida so travelers can expect to see a lot of tourists and locals. It is also the county seat of the Hillsborough County. Located at the west coast of Florida on Tampa Bay and near the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa is the largest city in its locale with an estimated population of 385, 430.

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An aerial view of Tampa, Florida (Source)

According to archaeological evidence, the shores of Tampa Bay were once inhabited by indigenous people for several millennia. Colonization in the land happened when Spanish explorers washed aboard the shore during the 16th century. The area was later on considered as part of New Spain. The area was left unpopulated for centuries and settlements began appearing only when the US acquired the area from Spain in 1821.

A frontier outpost called Fort Brooke was later on established in 1824 at the end of Hillsborough River which is now the site of the Tampa Convention Center. In its early years, Tampa was populated by pioneer ranchers and farmers. As the town developed, it became a shipping port for cattle and fruits. As with a lot of areas in the US, Tampa experienced economic downtrends during the wars but it has since recovered from these turmoils. Today, Tampa is one of the most advanced and developed cities in the US.

With its history, it is safe to say that Tampa has a market for the history nuts as well. Of course, its long timeline is just a tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of other things to do in Tampa but before booking a flight or a bus to the area, it would be wise to know which timezone it falls under so that the trip is properly planned.

What is the Time Zone in Tampa?

Tampa, Florida falls under the Eastern standard time (EST). Hence, the time in Florida is essentially less than five hours the Greenwich mean time (GMT). Those who want to land in the area at around midnight so that they can rest up for the night for an exciting day ahead. should carefully calculate their travel time. Of course, this time zone is important as some hotels have deals and promos depending on what time the traveler checks in.

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Downtown Tampa, Florida’s skyline at night (Source)

Since it is a bustling metropolis, Tampa has a booming nightlife in certain areas. If travelers want to enjoy parties and amazing bars, then they should book a flight that would get them to the area in the morning so they can rest up in the afternoon. Aside from the time zone, people should also know about when the best time is to visit Tampa.

When is it Best to Visit Tampa?

The best months to visit Tampa are from September to December. Temperatures during these months are generally cool but just enough for people to enjoy the great outdoors. Moreover, vacant hotels offer amazing sales during this period. For those that are expecting snow, they might get disappointed though as the last time the city saw snow was in 1989. That is good for those that want to avoid way too cool climates though.

Some of the top hotels have rates that fall under $100 a night which is roughly 50 percent off of their standard prices. There are also a few key events during October. At this month, people can go and see the acclaimed Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival that celebrates diversity and the LGBTQ community through amazing films. There is also the Oktoberfest Tampa which is a haven for those who enjoy music and quality beer.

The days from January to April are also perfect for outings. The weather is cooler than it was in December but it could be too cool for comfort for others. During these months, hotels are generally more expensive as businesses are taking advantage of travelers going to the area for the climate. It is best to ready a heavy budget during this period.

During these months, hotels could charge for more than $200 a night which is double their standard prices. A good workaround to this is by booking the hotel at least by December so some deals are still up. Between January and March, people can enjoy the Gasparilla Pirate Fest which is a celebration of Tampa Bay’s maritime achievements. Then in March, people can catch wonderful colors and costumes as the city celebrates the LGBTQ community through the Tampa Pride parade.

The Worst Time to Travel to Tampa

When it comes to what months should be avoided, travelers should try their best to avoid visiting from May to August. The weather is warm and humid during these months. Also, these months attract a number of visitors to Tampa so it is not advisable for those hoping to avoid heavy crowds.

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One of Tampa’s beaches filled with tourists (Source)

These months are typically the hottest in Tampa which is July. Then in August, people have to consider the heavy rains. Families will also flock towns and amusement parks during these months as it is also the school break. Still, there are a few events worth visiting here. In May, music lovers should enjoy the Big Guava Music Festival and the Sunset Music Festival. Then in August, beer lovers can have a sample of locally made specialties during the WaZoo Craft Beer Fest.

Related: 2017 Spring Break Florida Travel Guide and Tips

What are the Unique Things to Do in or Near Tampa, Florida?

A lot of cities often talk big about the hotels and amenities that they have like art museums, white sand beaches, outdoor activities, amusement parks, etc. But most of those things are just too common that you can experience them in other major cities too. Tampa City, Florida, however, offers different attractions that will definitely give you a one-of-a-kind travel experience. If you’re wondering what are the unique things to do in Tampa, Florida plus some of the activities that you can try near Tampa that we’re talking about, here’s something you must take a good look at.

18Be or See a Pirate

Tourists enjoying the pirate parade during the Gasparilla Pirate Festival (Source)

There may be several pirate festivals around the world, especially in North America but there’s nothing quite like Tampa’s Gasparilla Pirate Festival. This is because it is the most popular and biggest festival of them all. In fact, out of all pirate celebrations, this has the biggest number of attendees (approximately half a million) every year. Here, you’ll get to see 100 floats passing by and experience a street festival that takes over Tampa’s downtown area with good food, live music, a lot of people wearing pirate costumes, and a lot of entertaining activities.

If you want to include this on your list of things to do in Tampa, Florida, might as well plan your trip before winter. This is because the festival starts in January and, again, a lot of people are expected to go here too.

17Go on a Pirate Cruise

Captain Memo’s pirate cruise ship (Source)

If you don’t want a big crowd but still want to experience some pirate-related activity, try out this one of the unique things to do in Tampa, Florida – a 2-hour cruise along the Intracoastal Waterway and Gulf of Mexico. But this isn’t your ordinary cruise.

Unlike the usual cruise being offered in most cities, this is a pirate-themed cruise wherein you’ll hop on a 71-foot pirate ship filled with friendly pirates. There’s a lot of activities and other entertainment waiting for you and your family as well. Of course, there’s lots of good food too. Unlike the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, you can enjoy this unique Tampa activity all year round.

16Visit Cuba without a Passport

The entrance to the park (Source)

Yes, you’ve read it right. You can get a glimpse of Cuba while you’re in Tampa. This is because Tampa, Florida has a small park called Parque Amigos de Jose Marti (also known as Friends of Jose Marti Park) that allows you to experience a bit of Cuba without actually needing your passport.

Built in the 1950s after the communist revolution, here you’ll find memorial statutes of the heroes of Cuban independence – Jose Antonio de la Caridad Maceo y Grajales and the park’s namesake, Jose Julian Marti Perez. Plus, it contains soil from all the provinces of Cuba. Hence, you’ll really feel like you’re in the said island. It’s a small park, though, but it has a rich history.

15Appreciate Junk

Hong Kong Willie’s main shack (Source)

Another one of the unique things to do in Tampa, Florida is to appreciate junk. Yes, you’re reading it right again but we’re not talking about going to the dumpster or whatnot. Rather, we’re talking about the junk that’s turned into an art by visiting Hong Kong Willie.

Sitting along Tampa, Florida is a shop that looks as if it’s dragged from the bottoms of the ocean. This is actually a fishing business that’s transformed into a preservationist art center called Hong Kong Willie. Here, you’ll see recycled junk that’s turned into striking pieces of artworks with great stories to tell. It’s a very different sight to see but it’s going to be worth it.

14Go to a Museum

An aerial view of the whole Henry B. Plant Museum (Source)

Another activity that you can list as one of the unique things to do in Tampa, Florida is visiting the Henry B. Plant Museum. But we’re not talking about the usual art or science museums here. Rather, it’s kind of a hotel museum that will take you on a trip down memory lane where you’ll get to witness the grandeur of an extravagant Victorian palace.

Built between the 1880s and 1890s, this museum was popularly known as a hotel (The Tampa Bay Hotel) that attracted many celebrated guests like Sarah Bernhardt and Teddy Roosevelt. It has more than 500 luxury rooms and suites adorned with luxurious items collected by the museum’s namesake, Henry Bradley Plant, the founder of Florida’s Plant System of railroads and steamboats, and his wife from their trips all over Europe and Asia. Plus, you’ll get to see exhibits that consist of artifacts and original furnishings.

13Take a Photo with a Two-Headed Gator

The famous head-turner two-headed gator (Source)

In Tampa, Florida, you can take a photo with or of a two-headed alligator. Not with real gators, though. Instead, with a statue that has become like the city’s suburb unofficial mascot.

Located in front of the Southern Brewing and Winery, a 6-foot tall two-headed alligator statue is making heads turn. You can’t just ignore this bizarre-looking display because of its structure plus its colorful tiled design. But what’s with the story behind this, though?

According to historians, this image of a crocodile stemmed from a Florida folklore. It has become widely talked about that the symbol continued to pop all over the Seminole Heights and also inspired the colorful and unique statue found in front of Southern Brewing and Winery.

12Awaken Your Inner Child

One of Ulele Restaurant’s Fantasyland statues (Source)

Another one of the unique things to do in Tampa, Florida is to awaken the inner child in you with the fairytale statues that it has. Located in Highland Ave., Tampa, Florida, the Ulele restaurant not just offer good food but they also offer a nostalgic sight to see with its exhibit of fairytale characters that both kids and kids at heart will enjoy.

The former water plant restaurant houses Instagrammable statues like Humpy Dumpty, the Three Little Pigs and their house of sticks; Jack and the Beanstalk; Cinderella and her squad, and so much more. But as you visit the said restaurant, note that the restaurant asks its guests to only “touch with their eyes.” This is because the fiberglass statues might break with too much physical contact due to the fact that it’s already several decades old.

Related: Denver Food and Accommodation Guide: Best Places to Eat and Stay in Denver, Colorado

You might wonder why watching a movie in Tampa is one of the unique things to do in Tampa, Florida as other cities also offer this kind of experience. But don’t think this is just your ordinary movie theater. This is because Tampa, Florida has a theater that’s very historical. In fact, it’s listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

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A peek at the newly restored Tampa Theatre (Source)

Built in the 1920s, the Tampa Theatre is considered the city’s first commercial building that offers air conditioning. It’s also different from the modern theaters that we’ve all gotten used. This is because, inside it, the audience is taken into a lavish and romantic Mediterranean courtyard filled with flowers, gargoyles, and old world statuary. Its ceiling is also inspired by the nighttime sky with floating clouds and twinkling stars.

11See Dinosaurs

One of the life-size dinosaur replicas from the Dinosaur World (Source)

Yes, in Tampa, Florida, you can get to see dinosaurs. Not the real, one though.

Tampa has a unique museum that’s solely dedicated to the giants of the past. It’s so unique that you won’t find it elsewhere in Florida. Here, you can get to see more than 200 life-size dinosaurs scattered through the park that will definitely make your Tampa trip unique and memorable. They also have a lot of hands-on activities where you and your family can bond. You can dig fossils, go cage exploring with an expert paleontologist as your guide for a very educational tour, and of course,  see real artifacts from the past.

10Get Intrigued by a Giant Tower

The fascinating castle-like Sulphur Springs Water Tower (Source)

Tampa, Florida has a nice spot that will intrigue everyone. Lying in a small stand of oaks along the Hillsborough River’s banks is a white giant castle-like tower called the Sulphur Springs Water Tower that piques the interest of many people because of its details and how noticeable it is even from a distance. It would really make you wonder what is it and what’s inside it.

Apparently, it’s a tower built in the 1920s to supply water for an amusement park, arcade shops, and an alligator farm. It’s also supposed to serve as an attraction for tourists and locals alike.

However, the Great Depression and the death of tourism in the area in the 1930s made it impossible. Today, the castle-like tower remains closed to the public. Even so, it still serves as a nice landmark in the area and it keeps on intriguing a lot of people. At its base, a park has been built surrounding the tower to serve as a nice picnic area for families and friends.

9Buy a Real Loofa

The only sponge factory that you need to visit for real loofa (Source)

Buying a loofa is also one of the unique things to do in Tampa, Florida that you can add to your itinerary. What makes it so unique, you say? Well Tampa, Florida homes the world’s largest selection of natural sea sponges that you can only see at the Spongeorama.

Built in 1968, this establishment isn’t just your ordinary gift shop. Rather, it is also a museum where you can get to know more about the rich history of the Tarpon Springs, the sponge industry, and the Sponge Docks. They also sell Greek items that are perfect as gifts, arts and crafts, pieces of jewelry, and so much more.

8See Manatees at a Power Station?

Approximately 300 manatees hanging out near the power station (Source)

If you want to see manatees, probably the last thing you’d think of is a power station. But in Tampa, Florida, it’s actually one of the top places to see a lot of these sea cows that’s why it’s one of the unique things to do in Tampa, Florida. But why here?

This is because the water in Tampa Bay is much warmer near the power stations. Hence, the manatees would hang out here, especially when the waters of Tampa Bay reach 68 degrees or colder. Don’t worry, though, as power stations already have a plan to protect the manatees, especially in winter. The best part is that you can see these manatees for free. If you’re planning to see these adorable sea cows, pack your backs and visit the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center from November to mid-April.

7Appreciate Glass Art

A look at the Chihuly Collection at the Morean Arts Center (Source)

Skip the usual art museums filled with paintings and historic artifacts. Yes, they are still something worth looking at but Tampa’s glass art collection at the Morean Arts Center is one-of-a-kind.

What makes it the best spot to do unique things in Tampa, Florida is that you won’t just be able to appreciate the glass art but can learn how to make one on your own too. This isn’t your ordinary museum as The Morean Arts Center can also shape the future artist in you with the various classes that it offers. They have workshops for those who are willing to learn how to blow glass, how to make pieces of jewelry, and bake clay. They also have workshops for those who want to master their drawing and painting skills and so much more.

6See Beauty in a Different Frame

The stunning exteriors of Florida Museum of Photographic Arts (Source)

Snapchat and other photography apps are good but seeing different subjects in different frames made by the top photographic artists still give a different feel. If you want to get a new frame of mind about art and photography, might as well include the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts on your travel list of unique things to do in Tampa, Florida.

As the name suggests, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts is filled to the brim with compelling photographs made by professional photographers who are known nationally and internationally. But aside from that, you can also book for educational activities that will help you appreciate the said art even more and learn new things that will enhance your skills.

5Get to Know the History of Circus

One of the miniature display you’ll see inside the museum (Source)

Yes, another one of the unique things to do in Tampa, Florida is getting to know the history of the circus. Just as how bright the colors are in every circus events, the said entertaining show also has a colorful background and you can get to know more about in Tampa’s very own Circus Museum.

Here, you can get to know what it’s like to work as a circus performer. Aside from that, you can see a collection of the circus performers’ wardrobe, wagons, and other equipment and tools that often use up close and personal. Additionally, you’ll get to know the famous circus showmen and promoters, the Ringling brothers.

4Sunbathe at a Black Sand Beach

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A peek at Caspersen’s unique beauty (Source)

White sand beaches are nice and are very Instagrammable but have you heard of a black sand beach? Skip the common white sand beaches and head on to Florida’s Caspersen Beach to see a black sand. It’ll make your travel photos stand out in a sea of so many photos of white sand beaches. Aside from the unique sand that it has, it also serves as one of the best places in the world for shark-tooth hunting. This is because the Carcharodon megalodon, an ancient 52-feet long shark once cruised its waters. Hence, you can easily find lots of the fossilized teeth of these creatures buried in the sand.

3See Mermaids

A mermaid performing (Source)

To see mermaids up close is one of the best unique things to do near Tampa, Florida. At Weeki Wachee State Park, they have underwater shows performed by women wearing mermaid costumes that will not just amaze the kids but the kids at heart too. Aside from that, a visit to the Weeki Wachee State Park will also help you get to know more about the place and its history.

Related: Your Best Guide for Enjoying The Top 20 Texas State Parks

2Admire Deathly Beauty

An inside look at Dysfunctional Grace Art Co (Source)

Another one of the unique things to do in Tampa, Florida is to admire the deathly beauty that it has to offer. And where should you exactly find it? Look no further than the Dysfunctional Grace Art Company. Here, you can find probably the oddest of the odd things that you can ever imagine like an elk toe necklace, animals’ taxidermied heads displayed on the wall, beaver fetuses, caskets, and other odd items that you can ever imagine. Be warned, though, that this isn’t a place where you can take your kids as the items here can be so odd that it might scare them.

1Hunt Ghosts

Ghost hunting is also one of the unique things to do near Tampa. At the same time it’s thrilling too; not to mention, it’s chilling. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience as, of course, not all cities have cool ghost hunting tours as what the Ybor Ghost Tour can offer.

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A group of tourists going on a ghost hunting tour (Source)

Here, you’ll be taken into several locations associated with paranormal activities, ghostly apparitions, and other supernatural events. Tour guides will also tell you historically accurate stories about the city with documentation. In addition to that, you’ll also get to hear their personal experiences with ghosts and other entities. But just like the Dysfunctional Grace Art Co., it’s not advisable for kids, especially those who are 6 years old and below.

Tampa is an amazing place, to say the least. But there is more to it than just a deep-rooted history, events, and amazing hotels. There are still a lot of things to do in Tampa but these are the best activities that we highly suggest that will give travelers and locals the time of their lives.