15 Best Things to Do in Downtown Tampa, FL

Downtown Tampa, FL
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Founded as a small city in the 1820s, Tampa has grown into a sprawling, vibrant city and the seat of Hillsborough County.

The city shows much of its character in Downtown Tampa, which spreads over 521 acres.

The fascinating landscape mix of the Tampa downtown area creates plenty of exciting places to see and beautiful things to do.

The Hillsborough River bounds Downtown Tampa to the west, while Davis Islands and Harbour Island border it to the south.

Channelside is to the east of the downtown, while Interstate 275 conveniently extends to its north.

Visitors exploring Downtown Tampa have plenty of choices in family-friendly recreational activities in the award-winning parks in the area.

The beautiful downtown waterfront provides a perfect setting for dining and entertainment.

There are also plenty of art centers and museums to visit, as the following list of things to do in Downtown Tampa shows!

Tour the Tampa Bay History Center

Exterior of the Tampa Bay History Center
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Founded in 1989, the Tampa Bay History Center is on Water Street at Tampa’s Riverwalk.

Its founders, the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners, opened in the center in 2009, inside a 60,000-square-foot four-story museum building.

The Tampa Bay History Center’s new facility boasts temporary and permanent exhibition galleries devoted to Florida’s 12,000-year history.

The museum’s permanent exhibits are housed on the building's 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors.

Building sign of the Tampa Bay History Center
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The displays include artifacts, souvenirs, and prominent figures before and after the European settlement of Florida.

Among the stories and personalities featured in the museum’s collections are the Timucua and Tocobaga natives of Florida’s west coast, the pirate Jack Rackam, and the aggressive Teddy Roosevelt.

The Tampa Bay History Center also gives visitors deep insights into European exploration of the Americas and the interactive experience of its Winds of Change Theater and Coacoochee's Story Theater.

Water fountain on the grounds of Tampa Bay History Center
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Visit the Florida Aquarium

Exterior of the Florida Aquarium
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Expect an overload of the sights and sounds of the marine world in a visit to the Florida Aquarium on Channelside Drive.

One of the aquarium’s attractions is its Coral Reef habitat, a 500,000-gallon tank with a panoramic window.

It provides gorgeous views of sea turtles, sand tiger sharks, giant Atlantic stingrays, and hundreds of other reef-dwelling creatures.

A shark in the Florida Aquarium
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Another crowd drawer in the museum comes in its iconic display called Wetlands of Florida.

Under an 80-foot-tall glass dome, this habitat display features aquatic life and sea birds on watch on the Wetlands’ trail and mangrove forest.

The themes in the aquarium’s other habitat displays include Journey to Madagascar, Bays & Beaches, Stingray Beach, No Bone Zone, Reef Secrets, Waves of Wonder, and Moon Bay.

Stingray and other marine animals at the Florida Aquarium
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Another worthwhile aquarium stop comes in the 4Ducks Theater, offering a four-dimension experience with built-in sensory gadgets.

In addition, children visiting the museum can enjoy its splash pad located next to the theater.

Likewise, the Florida Aquarium brings its Ocean Decade Exhibition, composed of digital artworks expounding on conservation and the value of the earth’s oceans.

Lobsters at the Florida Aquarium
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Board a 1940s Steamship at the American Victory Ship and Museum

View of the docked American Victory Ship and Museum
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Just across the Florida Aquarium, another downtown Tampa attraction beckons in the American Victory Ship and Museum.

This museum is in a fully operational steamship, the SS American Victory, which served in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The ship is one of only three remaining vessels that served in those conflicts that remain fully functional.

Exterior of the American Victory Ship and Museum
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Built in 1945, this world-class vessel impresses visitors with its various features like the ship’s weaponry, flying bridge, radio and gyro rooms, and three-level cargo holds.

The ship, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, also displays photos, sailor uniforms, medals, and documents about SS American Victory’s exploits.

For the ship's conversion into a museum, they spent $2.5 million on its restoration in 1985.

Turret on the American Victory Ship and Museum
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Immerse in the Pieces at the Tampa Museum of Art

Exterior of the Tampa Museum of Art
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Visit the Tampa Museum of Art for an immersive experience not only in innovative exhibitions of artworks.

Located on West Gasparilla Plaza in downtown Tampa's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, this museum offers art courses and studio workshops, including half-day and all-day sessions.

Stepping into the building housing the museum—the Cornelia Corbett Center—already starts the aesthetic experience.

This 66,000-square-foot building has won many awards for its designer, the famed San Francisco architect Stanley Saitowitz.

The building’s exterior catches instant attention as its pierced aluminum rendition shimmers into view.

Aerial view of the Tampa Museum of Art
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The south façade of the building flaunts LED coverage of 12,000 square feet to mesmerize visitors even more.

Inside the building, the museum’s seven expansive galleries are laid out beneath innovative translucent ceilings.

World-class traveling exhibits, a growing collection of antiquities, and classical and contemporary art complete the fabulous tableaux of the museum’s galleries.

An exterior sculpture gallery completes the wide range of visual art experiences at the Tampa Museum of Art.

Take the Kids to the Glazer Children's Museum

Exterior of the Glazer Children's Museum
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Visiting Downtown Tampa with kids in tow, you best end up at the Glazer Children’s Museum on West Gasparilla Plaza.

Its building is next to the Tampa Museum of Art and features more than 150 interactive activities for children.

Here the visiting kids can learn while having fun in setups like running a vet clinic, restaurant, or grocery store.

Children inside the Glazer Children's Museum
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They can also stage a show in the museum’s Twinkle Stars Theater or design and build in the Engineer’s Workshop.

Kids can explore and interact with themes in the museum, including Art Smart, Central Bank, Farm, KidsPort, Light Cloud, Water’s Journey, and Tugboat Tots.

The Glazer Children's Museum also hosts signature events year-round, such as Halloween Spree, Pi Day, and Gingerbread Village.

Art smart corner in the Glazer Children's Museum
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View Photo Exhibits at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts

Exterior of the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts
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Downtown Tampa boasts several architectural gems, including the Cube, a pair of two-story structures housing the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts.

The Cube and its museum are on North Ashley Drive, offering a unique experience to visitors.

An open, bright atrium is the dominant feature of the Cube that rises at least six stories high.

Glass facade of the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts
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Open glass panels flank the atrium, laid out in a grid and circle, making the setup impressive.

Outward-facing images from the museum have been installed on panels to preview the photo exhibits inside.

Besides its rotating and permanent exhibits, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts offers workshops and children-oriented programs.

Take a Selfie at the “Beer Can Building”

Exterior of the Rivergate Tower
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Remember your visit to Downtown Tampa with a selfie picture with the Rivergate Tower as the backdrop.

This building on North Ashley Drive is Downtown Tampa’s iconic skyline.

Standing 454 feet high with 31 stories, the building was formerly home to the brewing giant Anheuser-Busch.

Top part of the Rivergate Tower
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For this reason, Rivergate Tower has earned the moniker “Beer Can Building.”

Designed by renowned architect Harry Wolf, the building was completed in 1988, and its cylindrical shape further reinforced its unique identity.

Enjoy a Beer at District Tavern

Located on North 12th Street, District Tavern is a classic neighborhood bar with an upscale ambiance.

It occupies the ground floor of the SkyHouse Channelside apartment building in the Channel District of Downtown Tampa.

District Tavern matches its craft beer, cocktails, and wines with offerings of new American cuisine.

This neighborhood bar opens daily, with brunch served on Sundays and Saturdays.

District Tavern is within walking distance to the Channelside stop of the free TECO Line Streetcar System and the Downtowner free ride service route.

Salute the Cops at the Tampa Police Museum

Exterior of the Tampa Police Museum
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The Tampa Police Museum is on North Franklin Street on the ground floor of the Tampa Police Department.

The museum honors the brave Tamppolice police officers who dedicated their lives to their calling.

It also preserves the history of the Tampa Police Department through a collection of documents, records, and police equipment.

Police car in front of the Tampa Police Museum
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The Tampa Police Museum also offers educational programs to the public and guided tours for school children.

The museum opens from morning to mid-afternoon from Monday to Saturday and has a store selling souvenir items.

Visit the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park

Daytime view of the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park
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Located on North Ashley Drive, the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is one of the most popular destinations in Downtown Tampa.

The park hosts various special events annually and attracts more than one million visitors.

Among these events are monthly musical concerts on the eight-acre Great Lawn with flexible perimeter seating.

Welcome sign of the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park
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This park is pet-friendly and also popular with kids who can enjoy choices of two splash pads and a well-equipped playground.

Other Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park facilities include a dog run and a pavilion with restrooms.

Grounds of the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park
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Relax at the Kiley Garden

Entrance to the Kiley Garden
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Occupying 4.5 acres on North Ashley Drive, the Kiley Garden is designed as a plaza.

It offers a relaxing view of the Hillsborough River and the campus of the University of Tampa.

This garden was developed atop a parking garage two levels high and sandwiched between the 33-story Rivergate Tower and The Cube.

The garden struts a clever checkerboard design of concrete panels and grass.

The design’s rendition revolves around the Fibonacci mathematical sequence starting from the numbers zero and one.

Each subsequent number of the checkerboard layout equals the sum of the previous two numbers.

Dan Kiley, the architect behind Kiley Garden, also incorporated seating cubes and five pools with an island and a solitary tree in his grid design.

Another endearing feature Kiley put up was a water garden near the Tampa Museum of Art, which was intended as a play area for children.

Explore the Tampa Riverwalk

Aerial view of the Tampa Riverwalk
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Stretching 2.6 miles on the east banks of the Hillsborough River, the Tampa Riverwalk opened in 1989, unlocking more things to do in Downtown Tampa.

The Riverwalk is just off North Ashley Drive, accessible via the TECO Line Streetcar.

Public transit access can also be through the Pirate Water Taxi plying the Hillsborough River.

Color-changing lights at Tampa Riverwalk
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Besides the Riverwalk, the Water Taxi also provides hop-on, hop-off stops throughout Tampa’s Channelside District and Harbour and Davis Islands.

A stroll along Riverwalk allows access to Downtown Tampa’s various parks, museums, cultural attractions, shops, and restaurants.

The Riverwalk also features the Historical Monument Trail adorned with beautiful marble and bronze monuments and busts of prominent personalities behind the history of Tampa and Hillsborough County.

People at Tampa Riverwalk shops
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See a Show at the Straz Center

Exterior of the Straz Center
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Check the schedule at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts on North Macinnes Place.

It offers multiple performance venues that can hold an audience of nearly 4,500 people.

The Straz Center offers five theaters, a Rehearsal Hall, and a Riverwalk venue with complimentary movies on its lawn.

Building sign of the Straz Center
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These venues flaunt individual personalities suited for varying events, including grand operas, Broadway productions, and jazz concerts.

One of these venues, the Carol Morsani Hall, has a 2,610-seat capacity for ballets, operas, orchestral concerts, and Broadway plays.

Another option at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts is the Ferguson Hall, a 1,042-seat theater hosting diverse musical productions, family shows, and lectures.

Pick a Showtime at Tampa Theatre

Marquee of the Tampa Theatre
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Built in 1926, the Tampa Theatre on North Franklin Street offers just a single auditorium with a total 1,238-seat capacity.

However, it hosts more than 700 events annually, including a full schedule of first-run movies and classic films.

Run by the non-profit Tampa Theatre Foundation, this theatre also stages live events like concerts and comedy shows.

A concert in the Tampa Theatre
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Tampa Theatre offers a “balcony to backstage” tour on select Tuesdays and Saturdays.

The tour takes 90 minutes and starts at 11:30 a.m., with a demonstration of the theatre’s trademark Wurlitzer organ among its highlights.

View of the Tampa Theatre's beautiful interior
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Dine on a Cruise Ship with Yacht StarShip Cruises & Events

View of a docked Starship yacht
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Book a dinner date at the Yacht StarShip Cruises & Events on Channelside Drive.

Yacht StarShip offers the ultimate dining experience on a cruise on the waters of Tampa Bay.

While having dinner, you will enjoy not only chef specialties but also spectacular views of Downtown Tampa.

A dinner cruise at Yacht Starship also provides a complimentary open bar.

Diners can likewise dance on the top deck of Yacht Starship, which boasts a three-Diamond rating.

Final Thoughts

A trip to Tampa can already be very satisfying with just a visit to the points of interest in the city’s downtown area.

Downtown Tampa captures the city's essence in its wide variety of attractions and things to do.

Plan your trip today and discover the best things to do in Downtown Tampa, Florida!

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