Planning a weekend trip to Tampa? It doesn’t have to be complicated – set aside those tourist guides and follow my lead!
Following the Footsteps of Tampa’s History
We started off by visiting the Tampa Bay History Center to partake in the city’s rich cultural history. In this modern museum, with its multimedia stations and stories on video, we discovered Tampa through exhibits about its Spanish culture and different parts of the city, such as Ybor City. We learned a lot thanks to text and video presented throughout the exhibit, and the museum staff was always ready to answer our questions. I must say, it was a $12 well spent!
By Anabel Hebert
Taking the Riverwalk to the Aquarium
After an educational visit at the museum, we stopped for a delicious treat at Columbia Café – just steps away from the museum – for a perfect lunch of tapas, soups and salads. Our bellies well satisfied, we hit the road for a 10-minute walk along the beautiful Tampa Riverwalk towards the Florida Aquarium. This site is the best place to dive into the heart of the Florida marine ecosystem. It contains thousands of aquatic species, including turtles, sharks, seahorses and a host of other fish – visitors will be fascinated! We could also touch rays and shellfish, and the more adventurous in our group had the option of diving into the shark pit! The Florida Aquarium has recreated a local swamp where you can observe different reptiles, birds, otters and alligators! A very interesting and impressive tour.
A Late-Afternoon Shopping Spree
We love shopping and Tampa had us shopping ‘til we dropped! The International Plaza and Bay Street, known as a gigantic luxury mall since 2001, is the ultimate tourist stop! The International Plaza and Bay Street offers shops for all tastes – upscale offerings from Louis Vuitton and Armani, as well as more affordable stores such as Gap and Zara. With more than 200 stores in the mall, you’ll surely find what you want!
As for food, several options are available, with a great choice of restaurants directly in the shopping center, but also on Bay Street, which features many restaurants, bars and pubs – there are options to suit every mood. We opted for The Pub where we ate juicy burgers and BBQ wings, which set the tone for our next adventure!
What better way to capture a city’s character than to mingle with its fans at a sporting event? We decide to go back to the area near the Aquarium and the Museum of History, to go see a hockey game at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. It’s always great fun to watch a live hockey game, and the arena is incredibly beautiful. It’s the largest indoor arena in the state of Florida, boasting impressive modern architecture. The arena is perfectly designed for hockey games, but also hosts football and basketball games as well as several concerts each year. Even though everyone wasn’t rooting for the same team, the atmosphere in the stadium was incredible! Lots of noise, action and music, as well as good food and drink at great prices. We had an amazing time!
The Riverwalk – At Night
After the game, we went for a walk along the Tampa Riverwalk, a walkway along the Hillsborough River, which, to our amazement, is illuminated at night! We passed under balconies where the lights changed color – it was an incredibly beautiful, even magical effect. Our walk actually gave us this relaxed feeling, especially after watching an energetic hockey game. After experiencing the Riverwalk in full color, we decide to call it a night in order to fully enjoy the next day.
The next day we woke up early and made our way to the very popular Busch Gardens Tampa, which are a 20-minute drive from downtown. This park is both a zoo and an amusement park. We were able to observe all sorts of animals in their natural habitat: gorillas, elephants, rhinos and even giraffes. We felt as though we were part of their surroundings and actually living with them! As for the amusement side, Busch Gardens Tampa is truly one of the best amusement parks in Florida. Thrill seekers won’t be disappointed! We decide to take the “Quick Queue,” which was a bit more expensive, but worthwhile to avoid waiting in line, since we only had a half-day. We had a blast on several roller coasters like Montu, Sheikra, Kumba and Falcon’s Fury (a free fall of 335 feet!). You might feel nauseous for a moment, but you’ll definitely be sporting a smile as you walk towards your next ride.
Later in the afternoon, we returned to the center of Tampa to visit the elegant and historic boroughs by yellow tramcar. It took us sightseeing through the city and brought us to northeastern Tampa, to Ybor City. This vibrant Latin Quarter was once surrounded by the Florida Cuban community and is known today as the “Cigar Capital.” Ybor City is a vibrant area with bars, restaurants, shops and cigar factories.
We were all delighted and somewhat overwhelmed by the neighborhood. To feel the essence of the neighborhood, you have to walk around, go into the shops, visit the museums, etc.
We stopped at a terrace and chatted with locals – we were even tempted to smoke a cigar! Ybor City is definitely worth a stop if you want to feel the magnificent history Tampa has to offer.
Until next time
How did we leave Tampa after a beautiful weekend without feeling too sad? Simple: we stopped at a pastry shop and bought ourselves large slices of delicious and creamy Key lime pie – Flordia’s official dessert – which we ate on the road while dreaming of our wonderful weekend!