Tampa Bay, Florida, is known for its beautiful cities, arts scene, delicious Latin food, hockey, and Gasparilla — the largest pirate event in the world.

Tampa can definitely be perceived as expensive to visit, deterring this destination from budget travelers who fear they can’t enjoy this Gulf Coast destination without spending an arm and a leg. While you can come here and find activities that are quite expensive, it is possible to visit the Tampa area on a budget with the best free and cheap things to do in Tampa, Florida.

In this post, we’ll share some of the best cheap things to do in Tampa Bay, including walking along the Tampa Riverwalk, grabbing drinks with a view, or enjoying the area’s history at the Tampa Bay History Center. So, without further ado, let’s dive in, so you can get started on planning your budget-friendly trip to Tampa!

This post was written by guest contributor Kate from Remote Lifestyle Guide. Some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that I earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase at no additional cost to you. This helps me keep the content on my website free for you to enjoy!

17 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Tampa Bay

1. Tampa Museum of Art

As you wander through the Tampa Museum of Art, you’ll discover the largest collection of ancient Roman and Greek artifacts in the Southeastern USA. You will have the chance to see many different mediums of art, such as sculptures, photography, paintings, and modern art.

One of the can’t-miss attractions at the Tampa Museum of Art is the 14,000-square-foot LED installation of Tampa’s Leo Villareal’s Sky.

This museum is one of the best cheap things to do in Tampa that is fun for the whole family! Tickets range from $5 – $25. Children under the age of six and college students with student IDs can enter for free.

2. Tampa Riverwalk

The Tampa Riverwalk is a 2.6-mile path that runs from Heights Market at Armature Works to Sparkman Wharf. You can walk, bike, or scooter along this waterfront trail. Along the way, make sure to stop for a break at the beautiful Curtis Hixon Park!

As you make your way down the trail, you can stop in at different bars and restaurants along the way including Columbia Cafe, Anchor and Brine, or the Sail Plaza — especially if you are walking along the Tampa Riverwalk at night. All the city lights sparkling on the water are a sight to behold!

The Tamp Riverwalk at night, with lots of lights illuminating the buildings and reflecting in the body of water below.

3. Ferry from Tampa to St. Pete

A beautiful way to experience Tampa Bay is by taking the Cross Bay Ferry from Tampa to St. Petersburg and sipping a cocktail from their onboard bar. You can sail to St. Pete from $20 roundtrip or $10 one way and will board the ferry just outside the Tampa Convention Center on the Riverwalk.

During the trip, you will have amazing views of the Tampa and St. Pete skylines and land in downtown St. Pete. Once you’ve arrived, you can spend your time exploring the pier, shops, and the St. Pete downtown restaurants.

This is a great way to check out all the free and cheap things to do in St. Petersburg if you are staying in downtown Tampa! 

4. Manatee Viewing Center

Visiting the manatees — also known as “sea cows” — at the Manatee Viewing Center should be a must on your list of the best free things to do in Tampa Bay. You can watch these gentle giants wade through the waters of Apollo Beach, near the Big Bend Power Station, at the Manatee Viewing Center. You can also visit the education center, where you can learn about the creatures and their habitats.

In addition to the viewing center itself, the Manatee Viewing Center is also home to several trails where you can walk to a viewing tower that overlooks the park.

The Manatee Viewing Center in Tampa in front of a large power plant, one of the best cheap things to do in Tampa Bay

5. Tampa Bay History Center

You don’t want to miss visiting the Tampa Bay History Center. It’s located on the Tampa Riverwalk and attached to the famous Columbia Cafe (stop in for a Cuban and a mojito!). The Tampa Bay History Center only costs $15 – $17 per person, making it one of the best cheap things to do in Tampa Bay.

Here, you can immerse yourself in the Tampa Bay History Center’s current exhibits or explore their collection of 8,000 maps, charts, and logs from when Europe and North America were explored in the early days in the Touchton Map Library. 

If you can’t get enough history, be sure to check out this Tampa Bay History Cruise for just $30 per person — it includes light refreshments in addition to the on-board commentary!

6. Florida Botanical Gardens

If you are looking for free things to do in Tampa Bay, be sure to make a stop at the Florida Botanical Gardens and explore their 100-acre park showcasing over 11 beautiful gardens. Admission is free, and you are welcome to bring your dog on a leash! 

Florida Botanical Gardens is a great budget-friendly experience for nature lovers who want to explore Florida’s unique tropical plant life. Have a quiet afternoon away from the bustling city and traffic, and take a relaxing, quiet stroll through nature.

7. Ybor City

Visiting Ybor City, known as the “Cigar Capital of the World,” offers a historical look into the Latin culture in the Tampa area. Old cigar factories were converted into restaurants, bars, and art galleries. 

You can actually “visit Cuba” in the Latin Quarter of Ybor, which is home to a piece of Cuban territory. A few cheap things to do in Ybor are to take a Ybor food tour to sample the local cuisine, take a history walking tour to learn about the area’s history, ride the free TECO streetcar, or visit the original Columbia Restaurant, where you can learn how to build a Cuban sandwich. 

Fun Fact: You will find chickens roaming around freely in Ybor City due to an ordinance that protects them and declares the city of Tampa a bird sanctuary. They have been there since the early days of the city being built. 

A colorful yellow, blue, and floral mural in a historic alleyway in Ybor City, one of the best cheap things to do in Tampa Bay

9. Tampa Riverwalk on Scooter

Exploring the Tampa Riverwalk on a scooter is one of the best cheap things to do in Tampa Bay. You can find scooters scattered throughout the city — you will just need to download the Spin App to connect to the scooter, and you’ll be on your way!

8. Armature Works 

Armature Works is a mixed-use space in Tampa Bay for dining, shopping, and other cool events that boasts a wide array of restaurants and bars. It’s perfect if your group is looking for a place to eat but has different preferences.

You’ll be able to enjoy beautiful views of the water and the University of Tampa (pictured below) from the outdoor lawn after grabbing a bite to eat from Heights Public Market. We recommend grabbing a coffee at Buddy Brew, one of the best coffee shops in Tampa, and then taking a stroll along the Tampa Riverwalk for a peaceful (and cheap!) start to the morning in Tampa Bay.

The silver turrets of the University of Florida stick up into the blue sky, attached to a historic red brick building in front of a body of water.

10. Tampa Bay Beaches

You can’t plan a vacation to Tampa without making a trip to one of the many beautiful white-sandy beaches. In fact, Tampa Bay is home to some of the best beaches in the world! Although spending a day at the beach is technically free, keep in mind that you will need to pay for parking, which generally costs $2 – $3 per hour.

Here are a few of the most popular beaches in Tampa that you have to check out: 

  • Madeira Beach, known as “Mad Beach,” is your classic Florida beach town that’s not as touristy as some of the others. 
  • Caladesi Island is a hidden gem! You can only access it by ferry, where you can lounge in the sun, see all kinds of sea life, and collect seashells.
  • St. Pete Beach has been voted one of the U.S. best beaches and is known for its beautiful white sands and generally calm water. 
  • Clearwater Beach is another popular beach in Tampa and is considered one of the best summer beach vacations in the US, as well as one of the best places to visit in the USA in May! Consider parking at Frenchy’s restaurant on the beach. This will allow you to set up your beach chairs in the morning, grab lunch once you’re hungry, and then head back out to the water for the afternoon. It’s a great spot for an all-day beach day!
  • Honeymoon Island is one of the most popular state parks in the area. Here, you’ll find several nature trails, RV parking, camping, fishing spots, and places to lounge on the beach.
An aerial shot of Clearwater Beach, one of the best cheap things to do in Tampa, with white sand, turquoise waters, and tons of hotels and other commercial buildings right on the sand.

11. Tampa Firefighters Museum

In downtown Tampa, you’ll find the Tampa Firefighters Museum. This is one of the best free things to do in Tampa that is fun for the whole family. 

This museum showcases the history of firefighting in the city through different exhibits. You’ll see different tools, equipment, and vehicles used over the years. You’ll even be able to climb into a vintage fire truck. If you have kids — they will love this! Not only is this museum a great educational experience, but it is a great way to spend a few hours in Tampa.

12. Teco Streetcar

If you’re looking for one of the best free things to do in Tampa Bay that is also logistically practical — hop aboard the TECO Streetcar! This free streetcar is a fast and free way to get around downtown Tampa.

It runs every 15 minutes from downtown Tampa up to Ybor City, and it’s a great way to sightsee and get off your feet after a long day of walking.

The red and white TECO Streetcar on Franklin Street in Tampa Bay, one of the best cheap things to do in Tampa

13. Upper Tampa Bay Trail

If you’re looking to get away from the city and experience some of Tampa’s nature, check out the Upper Tampa Bay Trail. This 7.25-mile-long trail has six trailheads, and you can find several amenities, such as BBQ grills, fishing spots, and equestrian trails for horseback riding — just to name a few.

Pack up a picnic lunch and take a leisurely stroll on this beautiful trail. The entrance fee is only $2 per vehicle!

14. Heritage Village

If you want to experience the history of Tampa — stop at Heritage Village in Pinellas Country.

Located on 21 acres of woodlands, you can see a collection of restored homes and buildings from the 1900s, as well as regular demonstrations of spinning, weaving, and other craft making. Admission to Heritage Village is free (making Heritage Village one of the best free things to do in Tampa!), but donations go toward the upkeep of the village. 

15. St. Pete Pier

The new St. Pete Pier is a must-visit destination if you are looking for a fun and affordable experience for the whole family. The pier sits on 26 acres of Tampa Bay’s waterfront, and there is truly something for everyone here.

You can bike, rollerskate, shop, eat, drink, or take the kids to the playground and splash pad. You can visit different vendors at the Marketplace or see the Bending Arc, a massive net sculpture that you can stand under. The things to do at the St. Pete Pier are endless! You could easily spend all day at this unique spot in St. Pete.

If you’re looking for a place to eat, check out Fresco Waterfront Bistro at the entrance of the pier!

The St. Pete pier in St. Petersburg, Florida, stretching out into the blue ocean.

16. Murals Walking Tour

Immerse yourself in the diverse local culture of Tampa by taking a free self-guided mural walking tour. You can explore the city while seeing beautiful public art in downtown Tampa and the surrounding neighborhoods. Each mural tells a different story of Tampa’s community, and these colorful murals provide the perfect photo opportunity!

17. Curtis Hixon Park

Curtis Hixon Park spans eight acres along Hillsborough River right next to the Tampa Riverwalk. This park has several amenities, such as a playground, dog park, picnic tables, and interactive fountains, to name a few!

If you are here during the winter, make sure you stop by the Winter Village, which will have holiday lights and fun activities like ice skating and curling. 

There are also many cheap and free events that happen throughout the week at Curtis Hixton Park, like movie nights and exercise classes. 

Free Things to Do in Tampa Bay: FAQ

What food is Tampa known for?

Tampa is known for the Cuban sandwich. This delicious sandwich is made of ham, roast port, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard, all on Cuban Bread.

What is the famous street in Tampa? 

Tampa’s most famous street is Seventh Avenue in Ybor City. This historic area used to be the cigar manufacturing capital of the world. Today, its brick building and wrought iron balconies are now home to many popular shops, art galleries, bars, and restaurants.

Is the Tampa Riverwalk worth visiting?

Definitely! The Tampa Riverwalk is a 2.6-mile trail along the bay. With a beautiful waterfront view, it’s also lined with parks, restaurants, and different attractions like the Florida Aquarium, Tampa Museum of Art, and the famous Columbia Cafe.

Enjoy These Cheap (& Free!) Things to Do in Tampa for an Affordable Vacation to the Sunshine State

That’s a wrap and discovering free and cheap things to do in Tampa Bay!

There are so many activities in the Tampa Bay area that are fun for anyone. Whether you walk St. Pete Pier, visit the historic city of Ybor, lounge on the beach, or indulge in a Cuban sandwich — you’ll find all these things (and more!) to do in Tampa Bay on a budget,

Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures or a piece of culture — Tampa Bay won’t disappoint!

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About the Author

Hi, I'm Brit! I'm a writer from Phoenix, AZ who loves coffee, golden retriever puppies, and obviously, travel! I help ordinary women (like me!) dream, plan, and do extraordinary travel experiences.