I can't think of another city with so much going on that is so often overlooked as a travel destination. Sure, Disney is down the road, and Miami a few hours further south but Tampa has it going on in spades. Situated on the gulf coast it has some of the best beaches in all of Florida, great sports teams and events, a chilled University town spirit, historic Ybor and Busch Gardens. Close to the cultural city of Sarasota, Tampa is a great base to spend some time exploring the beautiful west coast of Florida.
Tampa- the QT
The Tampa Bay area consists of the cities of Tampa, Clearwater and St Petersburg and has a population of almost 3,000,000 inhabitants. By Florida standards, Tampa is a great grandaddy of a city and makes the very most of its 200 year history. The area had been inhabited by Seminole Indians and their influence on the area is well documented in the city's museums. However, Tampa was nothing but a swamp pit with less than 800 inhabitants until 1883 when phosphate was discovered in Bone Valley. In the 100 years following the discovery Tampa became the third biggest city in the South East of the USA, behind only Atlanta and Miami.
Tampa is the proud home of the cigar in the USA and nowhere is this more obvious than Ybor city (where 500,000,000 cigars were rolled a year at the height of its prowess), a hispanic quarter of Tampa, where cigar shops, the cigar museum and the older men of the neighbourhood congregate im sure, just to make the place look atmospheric.
Tampa is a very temperate place all year around. We were in Tampa in December and the temperature reached 25°c and above every day, even as high as 32°c on some days. The area is prone to tropical weather but no major hurricane has hit Tampa in 80 years. We recommend Autumn and Winter as the best times to visit Tampa.
Who flies to Tampa?
Tampa has its own airport but the only international flight is from London. However, Orlando is 1 hour from Tampa so flying into Orlando could prove the better option. We chose to fly to New York from Rome, and then take the 2 hour flight down from JFK to Tampa airport. You can fly to New York or Orlando from almost every major airport in the UK and Europe.
- British Airways, provides the only International direct flight to Tampa
Tampa, Clearwater and St Petersburg have some fantastic old fashioned hotels as well as hi tech business hotels and resorts. We've chosen the best value hotel we have in each of the 3 cities.
What can I see and do in Tampa?
The metropolitan area of Tampa, Clearwater and St Petersburg has a wealth of attractions spread out over a very large area. Whilst transport isn't poor, we highly recommend you rent a car. Tampa itself is the financial, business and cultural centre of the area. The city is home to several museums, including the excellent Tampa Bay history centre, the Children's museum and theTampa Museum of Art. If you prefer exploring a city by foot, the areas of Ybor and Hyde Park are the most interesting for a stroll.
Clearwater is a laid back small city of around 100,000 inhabitants and is most famous for its beautiful sandy beaches and being the seat of new religion, Scientology. Clearwater is home to some interesting events throughout the year including the Ford Ironman competition, Hispanic Heritage festival and the Imagine International Film Festival.
St Petersburg, the sunshine city, is the most popular holiday destination of the 3 cities making up this metropolitan area. St Petersburg also has some great beaches and a fantastic harbor where million dollar yachts are lined up in all their glory. The city has a great Baywalk area with shops, cinemas and a small aquarium. However, it is the beaches of St Petersburg that are its true attraction with Fort Desoto beach ranked as the number 1 beach in America by Dr Beach in 2005.
Sports - Florida is obsessed with sports and the good folk of Tampa Bay are no exception. The pride of the area is the Super Bowl 2002 winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers, owned by Manchester United supremo Malcolm Glazier. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play at the Raymond James stadium in Tampa.
If you prefer your Baseball you can catch the Tampa Bay Devil Rays who play their major league baseball at Tropicana Field in St Petes.
Tampa even has a major league Ice Hockey team in Tampa Bay Lightening, however, they are currently bottom of the Eastern conference. The Lightening play at St Pete's Forum.
The Museums and Galleries of the Tampa Bay area are varied and of a very high quality. The museums we would most highly recommend to you would be the Ybor City Museum, Tampa Bay Historical Centre, Museum of Science and Industry, Tampa Museum of Art, The Childrens Museum in St Petersburg, Museum of Fine Arts (St Petes), The Holocaust Museum (St Peters) and the Salvador Dali Museum (St Petes).
We visited the all these museums but the Tampa Bay Historical Centre really gives you the best overall view of Tampa and how the area grew up. The best "museum" is centro Ybor itself. The area is a treat with many bric a brac shops, great restaurants and funky nightlife. Spend an entire day and night in Ybor to get a true feel for the area.
Attractions- As good as they are, nobody goes to the Tampa Bay area for its museums. People coming to the area are looking, for sea, sand and nightlife and this is what Tampa does best. With a student population keeping the town young and funky, the city has loads of gay and straight bars and nightclubs.
Tampa Bays main attractions are the beaches. Fort De Soto is heralded as the best in the area and it's very hard to argue. However, for nightlife, St Petes and Clearwater beaches are where it is at with plenty of bars and nightclubs to keep you going into the wee hours. The best nightlife in a 100 mile radius is Ybor City, check out Club Prana, Empire & Climax and Orpheum.
Tampa's #1 event is the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival (on this weekend, late january each year) celebrates the apocryphal legend of José Gaspar (Gasparilla), supposedly a Spanish pirate captain who operated in southwest Florida.
The theme is an "invasion" by Gasparilla and his men, which begins when the "Krewe" (made up of residents of the city) arrives on a 165' long pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla, in Tampa Bay and land near downtown Tampa. The mayor of Tampa then lends the key of the city to the pirate captain and a parade ensues down Bayshore Boulevard, one of Tampa's major streets. The krewes throw beads, coins and other items while shooting blank pistols from floats during the parade. The average attendance for the event is over 400,000 people.
Can we write about Florida without mentioning Theme Parks? We nearly did it. That would be a huge disservice though to the fabulous Busch Gardens. Busch Gardens is a grown up and FUN Disney, real rides, less queueing and less expense. If you don't enjoy heart stopping white knuckle rides then Busch Gardens also has excellent and educational Safari trips and great 3D shows. Tickets for Busch Gardens are $64,95 for adults and $54.95 for children under 10, however, look out for discounts and coupons that can be found everywhere from Walmart to your hotel.
Where can I eat in Tampa Bay?There is a very strong Caribbean/Mexican influence in Tampa and so the traditional regional cuisine could be considered to have a certain hispanic flair. Floridians like to eat, and they like to eat cheaply. You will be fed very well for surprisingly little in the Tampa Bay area.
Here are some recommendations (£ - Inexpensive - under £10 for a main course - ££ - Reasonable £10-£15 for a main course - £££ - Pricey £15-£24 for a main course- ££££ - Expensive £25-£35 for a main course - £££££ - Daylight Robbery - £35+ for a main course)
- Berns - The areas best restaurant for wine freaks, huge cellars. Steak House - £££
- Columbia - Spanish/Cuban flamenco dancing but exceptional quality - £££
- Dockside Daves - Excellent fish restaurant in St Petersburg- £
- Frenchy's Cafe - Excellent Surf and Turf in Clearwater- £
- Bernini - Outstanding Italian restaurant in Centro Ybor- ££
You can easily spend a full week in the Tampa area and not be tempted over to the Disney Corporation! Consider Tampa for your own "spring break".
Ciao for now HotelClickers!