Tampa, Florida, is a popular tourist destination with hundreds of unique sites and attractions to pack into your visit.
But this can get mighty expensive when traveling with the whole family.
Have no fear! We’re here to help with 20 fun and free things to do in Tampa for families. We’re not just talking parks. Get ready for an adventure of history, culture, nature, and art.
Let’s dive right in.
- Free Things to Do in Tampa
- 1. The Tampa Police Museum
- 2. Florida Botanical Gardens
- 3. Courtney Campbell Trail
- 4. Tampa Downtown Partnership Free Guided Walking Tours
- 5. Self-Guided Mural Tour
- 6. The Florida Cane Distillery
- 7. The Henry B. Plant Museum
- 8. The Glazer Children’s Museum
- 9. Tampa Riverwalk
- 10. The Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts
- 11. Ybor City
- 12. Gasparilla Pirate Fest
- 13. Heritage Village
- 14. The Manatee Viewing Center
- 15. Picnic Island Park
- 16. Ben T. Davis Beach
- 17. Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library
- 18. Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center
- 19. Fourth Fridays
- 20. The Tampa Firefighters Museum
Free Things to Do in Tampa
1. The Tampa Police Museum
If your kiddo is dreaming of becoming a police officer, then this is the perfect stop on your Tampa adventure.
The Tampa Police Museum opened its doors in 1998 to give the public a chance to marvel at fantastic police artifacts, some of which date back to the 19th century.
A restored Model T from 1924 is a popular attraction, but the best part has to be the display of mugshots and fingerprints; it’s fascinating!
You’ll find the museum within the Tampa Police Headquarters, but don’t worry; it’s totally safe. The museum is open daily between 10 am-3 pm and is free to visit.
Kids love posing for photos behind a barred cell, making for a great photo op for the whole family.
2. Florida Botanical Gardens
The Florida Botanical Gardens are a beautiful way to explore the native flora. They boast 182 acres of lush gardens with exotic and native plants.
The gardens are situated in Largo and opened in 2000. Since opening, it has remained free throughout the year during the day.
If you’re an art lover, the public art throughout the gardens will keep you entertained for hours; but that’s not all… McKay’s Creek offers a gorgeous space full of aquatic habitats and species that little ones love to look at.
Nature lovers, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the succulents, herbs, and tropical fruit gardens. Additionally, the butterfly garden is a favorite among kids. A children’s trail also features an interactive puzzle and outdoor musical instruments.
The Florida Botanical Gardens is made for families to enjoy and interact as much as possible. Visiting the gardens is free, but donations are always appreciated. We highly recommend giving the gardens a go during the holiday season, as the light displays are fantastic!
3. Courtney Campbell Trail
If you’re into outdoor adventures, then this is an absolute must. The Courtney Campbell Tail is a stunning 9.5-mile-wide connecting Clearwater and Tampa Bay.
The trail is perfect for walking, skating, cycling, and jogging. It offers gorgeous panoramic views of the city, Upper Tampa Bay Trail, and Clearwater Beach.
On the Tampa Bay side, you’ll find a 45-foot bridge connecting you to various other trails. If you continue onto Clearwater, the trails lead to the Ream Wilson East-West Trail and Pinellas Trail.
Accessing the free trail is a wonderful way to spend a few hours walking and enjoying time with the family while soaking in the sites along the way. Plus, this is the perfect spot if you’re looking for a space to walk with a stroller.
4. Tampa Downtown Partnership Free Guided Walking Tours
Tampa Downtown Partnership Free Guided Walking Tours allow you and your family to experience and interact with Tampa’s stunning architectural and cultural history.
Experts will take you through the most well-known areas, looking into their significance in a fun and exciting way.
The tours take place at noon on the first and third Fridays of the month between October to May. They’re around an hour and change themes, so you won’t get the same tour on your next visit.
Based on the theme, your tour may center around certain historical buildings or events. These tours offer a fantastic free way to learn about Tampa Bay.
5. Self-Guided Mural Tour
Tampa has everything you could dream of if you’re an art fanatic. Tampa Bay’s impressive murals are colorful and intriguing.
There is a list of murals around Tampa that will help you find some of the best pieces to see around Tampa Bay. There is also a guided tour of murals, but this isn’t free.
If you want to search for yourself, downtown St. Pete is an excellent place to start. The murals give you a good photo op with colorful and beautiful artwork that makes your picture stand out!
6. The Florida Cane Distillery
The Florida Cane Distillery is a lovely small micro-distillery located in Ybor City. It offers 100% Flordia-distilled moonshines, gins, whiskies, and vodkas.
All the ingredients are locally sourced, and the products come in interesting and unique flavors you won’t find anywhere in the world.
There is a free guided tour for all visitors from Thursday to Sunday. The best part? The tour includes a complimentary tasting. The tour takes about 30 minutes, with fascinating insights into how the factory works and how the company came to be.
Kids are welcome but obviously can’t partake in the tasting. So this one might be best for parents that want a little time alone or have older kiddos.
7. The Henry B. Plant Museum
The Henry B. Plant Museum is unique among the several Tampa Bay museums. It is situated on the University of Tampa campus. The museum preserves a Victorian railroad resort from 1891 called the Tampa Bay Hotel. It was once a highly sought-after accommodation.
Henry B. Plant constructed the hotel, hence the name. It was made a national landmark in 1972 to preserve the architecture and artifacts from the original building.
You will see items from the Spanish-American war and detailed exhibits displaying super interesting artifacts unique to the area.
This is a beautiful way to show kids how architecture has developed over the last 100 years, allowing them to explore how life once was.
8. The Glazer Children’s Museum
The Glazer Children’s museum is situated in the downtown Tampa Bay Waterfront Arts District. Located near the Riverwalk on Hillsborough River.
The museum is 53,000 square feet, with over 170 interactive exhibits to keep kids entertained for hours. The exhibits aim to open the minds of little ones while promoting a healthy lifestyle.
Learning is something every child has a right to. The museum prides itself on creating a space where children can learn and interact with fun exhibits and each other. A range of themes, including science, arts, veterinary science, and space, are all available for kids to enjoy throughout the day.
Kids get free entrance on the first Tuesday of every month, but registering online is encouraged because it can get super busy.
A free day to explore will help you decide if buying a year-round pass is worth it. We certainly think so! It’s a museum designed specifically for kids, keeping them in mind at all times.
If you have a kid with special needs, the Sunshine Sundays program could get them engaging with external stimuli and possibly other kids too. The museum hosts the program on certain Sundays throughout the month, dimming the lights and ensuring the noise level isn’t too extreme.
We think this is a wonderful way to ensure everyone can enjoy the museum!
9. Tampa Riverwalk
If you’re into walking, then this is the trail for you. The Tampa Riverwalk is a 2.6-mile trail with a public park along the Hillsborough River.
The trail goes through the downtown Tampa Bay art district, giving visitors access to top attractions like museums and parks.
You’ll experience stunning artwork as you make your way down the trail of the Hillsborough River, showing you all the Tampa art world has to offer in a free and public space.
While walking is the most popular, don’t stress if it isn’t your thing. You can also bike, scooter, jog, and skate along the trail.
But the best part has to be taking a stroll at night when the Tampa Riverwalk lights up. A good area for an evening stroll is near the Tampa Convention Center.
Suppose you’re not too concerned about the budget. In that case, we highly recommend getting a Visit Tampa Bay’s Tampa Riverwalk Attractions Pass. It will give you 50% off some top attractions like the Florida Aquarium and Glazer Children’s Museum.
You can also enjoy the many free events along the walkway throughout the year. Some include trick or treating during Halloween, fireworks on July 4th, and RiverFest in May.
10. The Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts
This is one of the biggest events in Tampa Bay. It takes place on the first weekend of March and is free for all family members to enjoy.
The Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts hosts over 75,000 visitors each year. It centers around up-and-coming artists all vying to win a grand prize of $15,000. You can walk around enjoying sculptures, paintings, prints, jewelry, glass, ceramics, and photographs.
Along with physical art, there is live music and entertainment. Parents can enjoy the excellent food, music, and drink, while the kids use the play area to work off some extra energy.
The art is only part of the experience, with great food trucks making an appearance to take your taste buds on an exciting journey of their own.
11. Ybor City
Founded in the 19th century by Vicente Martinez-Ybor, Ybor City is one of the most historic neighborhoods in Tampa.
What was once a cigar-making district and densely populated immigrant area, Ybor City became an art district in the 1980s.
Since then, the main street has made its way onto America’s Top Ten Great Streets. There are fascinating museums and tours.
The nightclubs, bars, and restaurants make this the perfect spot for foodies that want traditional Tampa cuisine. So, if you’re into the spicy things in life, this city’s restaurants have you covered.
If you’re into shopping, you’ll enjoy some of the amazing little boutiques that line the streets. Trust us; you won’t find anything else like it!
Getting around Ybor City is easy with the TECO Line Streetcar System. The best news? It’s FREE! There are often street events that don’t require admission, so there are loads of options that won’t break the bank during your Tampa Bay trip.
12. Gasparilla Pirate Fest
Ready to get your pirate on? Good!
The Gasparilla Pirate Fest takes place every January, bringing families from across the world to join in the third-largest annual parade in the US.
The parade got its name from the famous pirate Jose Gaspar, that operated during the 18th and 19th centuries up and down the Florida coast.
The festival continues throughout the weekend with pirate-themed entertainment and activities, keeping adults and kids busy for three days.
A famous Gasparilla Invasion reenactment has over 700 pirates taking over four miles of the city streets. It’s truly a site to behold.
The food trucks and live music take the parade from day into night, with families lining the streets.
There is free seating to watch the entertainment throughout the day, but you can reserve better seats if you want a prime spot for the parade.
13. Heritage Village
If you’re into a more interactive approach to history, the Heritage Village will be a dream come true. It is 21 acres of historic buildings and businesses.
There are 33 historical attractions, including old homes, a general store, schools, churches, and a railroad depot.
The area is open free of charge from Wednesday to Sunday each week. Your first stop will be the visitors center which offers historical exhibits that rotate antiques and art from hundreds of years ago.
Kids love the live demonstrations that show how people worked, lived, and came together to make the village work. You will also learn about the sugar mill and smokehouse that helped keep the village fed.
The interactive aspect gets kids involved in learning about the history of Tampa. Those long Tampa museum tours are often lost with kids waiting for the first chance to run around, so this is the perfect combination.
The trails surrounding the village also allow nature lovers to explore the local fauna and flora.
Entering the village is free, but we recommend leaving donations to ensure future generations can enjoy this historical site.
14. The Manatee Viewing Center
The Florida state manatee sanctuary is open during business hours between November and April.
The Florida manatee is a unique animal that has made the Florida coast its natural habitat. But there are serious issues and threats that visitors and residents need to be aware of. The Manatee Viewing Center’s main aim is to educate the young and old about this fantastic creature.
The whole family can enjoy the interactive exhibits. They show the manatee life cycle and why it’s important to know about environmental factors that may affect this cycle.
There is staff onsite to answer any questions you may have. The center stage is undoubtedly the manatees. Seeing these creatures up close and personal is very special.
The manatees make their way into the sanctuary during colder months by choice. None of the animals are forced to be there, so don’t worry about whether the sanctuary is cruelty-free; it is!
Plus, you can enjoy trails, a butterfly garden, and a wildlife observation tower when you exit. So be sure to pack a picnic for a full day of free fun!
15. Picnic Island Park
Situated in South Tampa, Picnic Island Park is a wonderful spot to grab the family and dust off the picnic basket to head out on an adventure.
Picnic Island Park has a gorgeous beach with a playground, a favorite among little ones. But if you want activities to do together, a disc golf course and volleyball court are available.
The entire park is super well maintained, which often isn’t the case with public parks. So take advantage of this clean and spacious place to enjoy time with the family.
If you don’t want to take ready-to-eat food, grills are available at South Tampa park, but make a reservation to avoid disappointment.
Plus, if you’ve got a four-legged addition, they are welcome at the onsite doggy park. They won’t be the only animals you’ll see, with loads of birds to watch out for during your trip.
16. Ben T. Davis Beach
If you’re looking for fun in the sun, Ben T. Davis Beach is where you want to be! It is a stunning beach on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.
The beach is the closest to downtown Tampa, making it a well-known meeting place for those visiting and residing there.
You can swim and paddle in the calm ocean before making your way onto the sandy shores to soak up the Tampa sun. Lifeguards are on duty during the summer, so there is no need to stress about getting into the water.
The volleyball courts are also excellent for spending the day with the family. But if that isn’t active enough, you can enjoy the 4-mile-long Courtney Campbell Trail near the beach.
17. Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library
Of the free things to do in Tampa, a library might sound a little boring after learning about all the city’s fun activities.
However, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library is a little different. You won’t only find books at this historical landmark.
The library is part of a system of 25 branches, with the first one opening in 1915. At the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library, you will find over 3.5 million audiovisual and book volumes. Along with over 2.3 million digital items.
For kids, the Maritime Reading Room is popular. It features maps, books, artifacts, and art that intrigues little minds about the ocean in a fun space that encourages learning.
18. Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center
Situated in the Mann-Wagnon Memorial Park. The Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center teach visitors about this original Tampa neighborhood.
The neighborhood became a national treasure during the late 19th century due mostly to the hot springs, alligator farms, and shopping extravaganza. Since then, the museum opened in 2010 to show visitors today what made the area so famous.
You can learn about African American history in Tampa, the history of the former museum, and why Florida’s Coney Island closed down.
The museum is open from Wednesdays to Saturdays and is free of charge. But donations are always welcome.
19. Fourth Fridays
On the fourth Friday of every month, the city opens up to allow visitors to explore the arts and culture of Tampa.
Throughout the evening, Tampa Bay museums participate, offering free admission at:
- The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts (FMoPA)
- The Straz Center
- Sparkman Wharf
- The Henry Plant Museum
- The Sail Plaza
Additionally, there is live music at many locations throughout the evening. The specials on food and drinks are a serious bonus.
You can also sip and stroll, so alcohol consumption is allowed when you buy drinks at the event. While Fourth Friday is generally targeted towards adults, kids are welcome to tag along for a stroll and enjoy museums and activities.
Once you’ve got your pass, you’ll also have access to the hop-on-hop-off TECO streetcar to get around a little easier.
20. The Tampa Firefighters Museum
The Tampa Firefighters museum promotes fire safety while preserving the history of firefighting in Tampa.
The museum is located in the former firehouse that operated between 1911-1974. The building still has the original brick walls and firefighter poles.
The exhibits on display allow kids and families to explore the history of the Tampa fire department. It has artifacts, uniforms, and restored fire trucks.
The museum is 8,000 square feet, with enough space for everyone to enjoy the interactive exhibits in a safe and fun space.
The Tampa Firefighters Museum is open daily with free admission for all. But there is a gift shop on site should you want to take home a souvenir.
This site is special because it is located across from Tampa Fire Rescue Station One. So, it’s a combination of the modern and old mixed into one.
Is visiting Tampa worth it?
Absolutely! Tampa is a historic city that offers visitors a wealth of art, history, nature, and architecture that is a must-see.
What is the best free thing to do in Tampa?
This depends on what you enjoy doing. But in our opinion, Fourth Friday is the best. It allows visitors and locals a free way to visit museums and galleries and get deals on food.
What is the best way to get around Tampa?
Hiring a car would be best if you plan to head out of the city. But within downtown Tampa, the TECO streetcar is convenient and quick.