10 romantic and cool things to do for couples in Tampa

Tampa is a city packed with so many things to do for couples of all ages. We spent 4 days here and never once got bored.

There is always something happening in Tampa, with a festival to celebrate almost everything, like a Greek Festival, Italian, festivals for Margarita cocktails, cigars, cupcake and even a Mac & Cheese festival! The most famous is the Gasparilla pirate festival in January, which celebrates José Gaspar, a Spanish pirate who used to roam and plunder across the Gulf of Mexico.

For the latest events taking place in Tampa, check Visit Tampa Bay's website, as well as the Visit Florida website. For romantic inspiration, continue reading below for our 10 coolest things to do in Tampa for couples, based on our first hand experience.

Greek Festival in Tampa
The Greek Festival is one of the many different festivals taking place in Tampa throughout the year

1. A stroll through history in Ybor City

Ybor City is Tampa's historic neighbourhood, once home to a prominent cigar industry. It is named after Vicente Martinez-Ybor who in 1880 selected this spot as the base for his industry. Back then, this was a tiny isolated village. Mr Ybor attracted thousands of immigrants, mainly from Cuba, Italy and Spain, who came here to work and subsequently developed a strong Latino culture here. At one point, Ybor City become a prominent base for Cuban revolutionaries like Jose Marti and Paulina Pedroso.

After Mr Ybor's death in 1896, his cigar industry thrived, reaching a peak in the 1920s, when there were more cigar factories in Ybor City than in Cuba. Sadly it started to decline after the Great Depression hit in 1929, and also due to the growth of the cigarette industry. This led to a mass exodus of people between the 1930s-1980s from Ybor City. However since the 1980s, Ybor City has had a huge renaissance, becoming not only a hotspot for tourism, but a popular nightlife area with an excellent gay scene on Seventh Avenue

We highly recommend taking a walking tour with a company like Ybor Walking Tours to learn more about Ybor City's fascinating past.

Walking through Ybor City to discover the gay bars of Tampa
Walking tour through Ybor City: the fascinating historic district of Tampa

2. Walking hand in hand down the Tampa Riverwalk

The Riverwalk is a 2.6 mile-long (4.2km) pedestrian trail along the waterfront by the Hillsborough River. It goes through most of downtown Tampa from the Channelside District all the way to the Tampa Convention Center, then north up to the Water Works Park in Tampa Heights.

The Riverwalk is a great place to go for morning runs, Segway tours, biking and evening sunset strolls with your lover. The path includes bench swings, outdoor art displays, playgrounds and bronze busts of prominent figures of Tampa, like Vicente Martinez Ybor.

3. Feeding giraffes together on a safari in Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens was not only one of our favourite things to do in Tampa, but one of our highlights from our entire road trip in Florida. This is a part adventure park, part zoo. The rides here are incredible, and in our opinion rival some of the best rides at Universal. The advantage of Busch Gardens is that unlike Universal, it is not as busy, especially if you come on a week (school) day when there are few queues.

Busch Gardens is unique because it also has a safari-type zoo, with exotic animals like giraffes and rhinoceros. Our favourite thing to do in Busch Gardens was the safari ride in a jeep through the grounds where we got to feed lettuce leaves to the friendly giraffes.

Tips for visitors to Busch Gardens, buy your ticket online beforehand to skip queues, and get combo deals with other attractions. Our favourite deal is the Tampa Bay CityPass, which from $107 includes not only entry to Busch Gardens, but to other attractions like The Florida Aquarium, ZooTampa, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and more.

Feeding a giraffe at a safari in Busch Gardens in Tampa
Feeding this charming giraffe on a safari in Busch Gardens

4. Relaxing couples massage at The Evangeline Spa

The Evangeline Spa is one of the city's best for massages. It is part of the lavish Epicurean Hotel, which we highly recommend for a special occasion.

We did the Couples Massage together and highly recommend it. It includes a side-by-side Swedish massage with Aromatherapy. It was super relaxing and made us feel goood afterwards! 

5. Brunch at the Oxford Exchange

Ask any local what they think are the best things to do in Tampa and almost everyone will recommend brunch at the Oxford Exchange. This is a large cafe/restaurant set in a historic building, directly opposite the University of Tampa in a beautiful courtyard, which also has a bookshop. The food is fantastic and makes a great spot to come for breakfast, lunch, coffee or a romantic brunch.

One of the most unique things to try at the Oxford Exchange is their Nitro Coffee. At first it looks like a pint of beer, but it is in fact cold coffee that has been infused with Nitrogen:

 

6. Dolphin spotting

Dolphin spotting was one of our favourite things to do in Tampa together. Bayshore Boulevard is a great spot to head to for it, especially early in the morning.

If however you prefer not to get up at the crack of dawn, you can also go dolphin spotting in Tampa aboard a cruise in Tampa Bay. The waters here are famous having large pads of friendly Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins. They love these waters because they feel safe here to raise their young, feed and play. The Bottlenose dolphins in particular are great for photos because not only are they playful, they look like they are always smiling.

But please remember to respect the dolphins! It is against the law to feed, touch, harass, or swim with wild dolphins.

7. Diving with sharks in The Florida Aquarium

The Florida Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the entire state. It contains more than 7,000 aquatic plants and animals, in particular sharks, rays and turtles.

We were particularly impressed by their conservation ethos with excellent rescue, restoration and rehabilitation programmes. For example, helping the dwindling population of sand tiger sharks. 

As divers we jumped at the chance of diving with the sharks in Florida Aquarium's 500,000 galloon Coral Reef tank. We were each assigned a divemaster who took us round the tank, pausing to interact with the playful fish, and see the sand tiger sharks swim right past our faces; a moment we won't forget in a hurry!

Watch our diving experience at The Florida Aquarium in our video below.

Tip for first time visitors: buy your Florida Aquarium entry tickets beforehand to skip the queue and maximise your time inside.

 

8. See Tampa and manatees from a helicopter

Seeing Tampa from up above in a helicopter was one of our most memorable moments together in Tampa. We took a helicopter ride from downtown Tampa, which circled around Davis Island, downtown Tampa and culminated over the Manatee River.

The highlight was over the Manatee River where the pilot dropped our helicopter so low to the water that we could spot manatees swimming. If you get lucky you may even see dolphins swimming here as well.

9. Romantic dinner at a highly rated restaurant

As foodies we loved Tampa because it has many excellent restaurants, like UleleOsteria and Mis en Place.

Ulele an institution in Tampa and always busy. You need to call ahead to secure a table here. Their burgers are one of the best we tried, and their okra chips, simply divine!

Osteria is an Italian inspired restaurant with an enthusiastic (and cute!) chef who cooks delicious food. Our favourite dish which we recommend is the “squid ink garganelli”, which you won't forget in a hurry.

Mise en Place is a French inspired restaurant, perfect for a romantic fine dining experience. It has subtle lighting, really attentive staff and a fantastic taster menu. Each dish was served like it was a work of art and tasted exquisite.

Okra chips of Ulele restaurant
The divine okra chips of Ulele restaurant in Tampa

10. Sunset and dinner cruise

The west side of Florida is renowned for having the most magnificent sunsets in the world. One of the best ways to experience it is aboard a sunset cruise around Tampa Bay.

Our cruise left from Clearwater, which is near Tampa. You have the choice to either watch the sunset with drinks, or splash out on a longer journey aboard a yacht, which includes dinner. Both include a live DJ playing romantic music to set the mood.

We highly recommend this experience to couples celebrating a wedding anniversary.

Read more from our big road trip around Florida:

OUR FAVOURITE TRAVEL TIPS

⭐️ TRAVEL INSURANCE — We recommend you always take out travel insurance before your next vacation. What happens if you suffer from illness, injury, theft or a cancellation? With travel insurance, you can have peace of mind and not worry. We love World Nomads travel insurance and have been using it for years. Their comprehensive coverage is second to none and their online claims process is very user friendly.

⭐️ SAFETY & SECURITY — All travelers can sometimes encounter danger when traveling. CloseCircle is your “virtual body guard” mobile app which provides security alerts and support wherever you are in the world. They have a 24/7 emergency response team monitoring their users who will contact you immediately if the SOS swipe button is activated. Support can include anything from practical advice, to free evacuation from areas with extreme weather or security risks. You can read more about CloseCircle in our article about how to stay safe whilst traveling.

⭐️ ONLINE ANONYMITY — A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a must in many countries: it allows you to surf anonymously and maintain your privacy whilst traveling. You'll particularly need it in countries where dating apps are blocked by the government. We recommend ExpressVPN, a reliable and cost effective service which we used and loved during our travels.

⭐️ HOTELS or APARTMENTS — When we plan a trip, we always look for the best hotel deals. We love Booking.com because not only do they have a comprehensive listing of accommodation options, they also offer the best prices. Added bonus: they provide 24/7 support and free cancellation for most listings.

⭐️ SIGHTSEEING and ADVENTURES — When we travel somewhere, we like to seek out the best experiences, whether it is cooking with locals in Bangkok, hiking on a glacier in Patagonia, or going on a wildlife safari in Sri Lanka. Our favorite place to look is GetYourGuide because they have over 30,000 highly rated activities, a user-friendly booking process with free cancellation and a 24 hour customer support.

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Romantic things to do in Tampa for couples

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