Home TravelAmericas An Eye-opening trip to Tampa, Florida

An Eye-opening trip to Tampa, Florida

by Lis-Marie Liden

Often when people think about Florida the East Coast is what pops up in their minds, but I’m here to take you to the west side, to Tampa. It might be more laidback but still offers lots to see and do, and for a Scandinavian gal like myself, this was an amazing adventure.

Where is Tampa?

With British Airways, you can find yourself at Tampa International Airport in just shy of 10 hours from London, and when you arrive you’ll be greeted by the gigantic flamingo Phoebe in a very calm airport. Tucked away from the Gulf of Mexico you’ll find Tampa Bay sporting 3 million people in this lustrous business centre. There is an amazing Cuban culture, amusement parks and all-around outdoor activities amongst much more, and Tampa has a grand history which I will share more about. For me, the vintage houses took my heart away.

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Our trip was in November which meant I left the London cold to enter a nice +26°C average. We seemed to have taken the British rain with us, but having that said the one sunny day we did have was very hot so I didn’t mind.

Where to stay in Tampa

A short drive from the airport we find our home away from home the Epicurean Hotel, holding 137 rooms across three floors, giving a luxurious blend of Urban Chic, decorated to give homage to their culinary heritage. My Classic King room had a lovely sliding wooden door to the bathroom followed by a king-sized bed, big enough for me to stretch out completely, and next to that is a light spacious area with a couple of chairs to just lounge after a long flight. And I cannot say how happy I was to find the coffee machine waiting for me there too.

Staying at the hotel for dinner? The Epicureans Hotel restaurant, Elevage SOHO Kitchen and Bar, a Michelin-recommended restaurant is perfect. Or why not pop up to their Edge rooftop bar for a casual drink?

The Epicurean also has a lovely spa area and outdoor pool for a calm morning start, which of course I utilised the first available morning. And let’s not forget Bern’s Fine Wines and Spirits which offers over a thousand labels of the most exquisite wines and spirits perfect for the collector. It is beautiful to just see if you are a collector or even just a lover of wines.

On the walls downstairs, you’ll find art which is all for sale and made by amazingly talented local artists. So not only are they decorative perfectly elevating the theme of the hotel but new and upcoming artists have the perfect way to be seen and hopefully sell their pieces.

Things to see and do in Tampa

Raymond James Stadium

I have seen American football on TV but it truly does not at all show how massive it is to be there in person. The sheer size of the stadium, I mean we are talking several floors of grandeur, the atmosphere and the palpable love for the sport. Even walking up to the stadium you saw groups and groups of people making a day of it with barbecues and music.


We had the absolute pleasure of watching the Tampa Buccaneers play and win I might add, I’d like to think my foam finger cheering on had something to do with it. The area which we were in offered a food court inside with shelter from the sun if needed. Big screens all around so nothing was missed.

I might not be the biggest sports enthusiast but I was hooked from the very first moment. Cheerleaders and paragliders, a canon going off at every goal and a crowd cheering loudly and of course, I did too in my red Tampa Buccaneers hat.

Hyde Park Village

In this sweet and fairly quiet area comprised of six blocks, you’ll find an array of carefully chosen shops and venues ranging from well-known brands to Indie brands, something for everyone for sure. If you need a nice and quiet workspace you’ll find this at Hyde House Studios, in here there are conference rooms, an auditorium and a member bar.

They offer a fresh market and outdoor fitness classes for anyone keen to join and a lovely bunch of restaurants such as the well-known Meat Market perfect for a lunch or evening drink.

Hyde Park has great Outdoor seating by the Village Circle fountain for people watching and even a cupcake ATM, one never knows when a hankering kicks in.

Busch Gardens

At the time we visited Busch Gardens, we were lucky enough to be there for its annual Christmas market, and boy was it merry! Massive nutcrackers and Christmas lights lit up in the darkness.


If you are a fan of roller coasters and rides then this is the place for you, here you’ll find nine different rollercoasters one being the Serengeti Flyer, the tallest, fastest and steepest rollercoaster of its kind. For me however, I was happiest safely on the ground looking at all the animals at the Zoo, here you’ll find a sanctuary for animals needing of that help to remain amongst us. My favourite part and definitely a bucket list item was when I got to feed the lovely giraffe Sita. This can be done during group tours where you drive around on an open truck amongst the animals with a guide.

Oxford Exchange

In a lovely historic building originally constructed in 1821, near the University of Tampa, you’ll find Oxford Exchange.  Inside there’s space for private events, quiet areas for working, a champagne bar and a restaurant as well as a bookstore and gift shop. It was built to allow people to have a space of engagement and community.

When you enter you walk past the bookstore so it’s impossible not to indulge in the well-curated collection some holding exclusive signed copies.

Pirate Water Taxi and skyline

On the other side, you’ll find the Candle Pour where you can make your own candle. And this was definitely a treat. Choosing from size and colour of class vessel. Fill out a form where you tick off up to x8 scents that tickle your fancy. From there you narrow it down to 4/5 and start mixing, and don’t worry if you feel a bit worried, the staff were amazing and super helpful. My candle you wonder? Well, it was a mixture of Vintage Library, Black oud, Musk, Suede and a touch of Tobacco and Mahogany. I named it Tampa Treasure.

I love that there’s so much to offer under one roof, an entire day can easily be spent here.

Tampa Riverwalk

This is a beautiful way to spend a day, it’s not just walking by the beautiful Hillsborough River and Garrison Channel. There are vendors along the way where you can get a beverage of choice, and trees light up at night but best of all if you are new to Tampa this riverwalk links you up to great venues such as the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, the Henry B. Plant Museum and the Florida Aquarium where I by the way touched a stingray; they’re slimy, in case you wanted to know.

Tampa Riverwalk Sunset credit Pedro Castellano

If you don’t want to walk in between venues you can also catch the Pirate Water Taxi all the while using the Riverwalk attraction pass offering great discounts to whomever uses it. With a handy map, you’ll have an entire day here stopping for lunch and dinner between attractions.

Ybor City Tour 

Now this was I think for me a favourite stop! So much history and houses of dreams occupied by supposed ghosts. Founded back in 1885 it was the epicentre for Cigar Manufacturers and immigrants from Cuba, Spain, Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe.

Our amazing tour guide Max was perfect for this, he was more a storyteller with a passion than your ordinary guide. We would have listened to him for hours. The Italian club and the “ Haunted “ Cuban club were my favourite destinations, houses with immense beauty and history. I truly was born in the wrong era I think. It was all so grand then, high ceilings, stunning areas used then and now for events and gatherings.

During the day Ybor is calm with vintage shops and chicken walking free on the streets, yes and even with baby chicks. By night a different tune is played, it becomes a hot spot for partygoers and the best part is if you need to get around but don’t fancy walking there’s a free tram, just hop on and be on your way.

J.C Newman Cigar Company

J.C Newman Cigar Company is America’s oldest family-owned cigar maker, still using some of the same machinery and techniques as at the beginning of time and impressive history. They now offer behind-the-scenes tours and cigar-rolling classes. I’m not a smoker but that didn’t make this any less interesting. To see them still hand rolling them and also see stock of cigars rolled decades back. The work behind it is so vast, it’s not just rolling them and they’re done, it’s all about the one tobacco leaf, they consist of different ones in layers of wrapper, binder and filler. A masterpiece I’d say.


Our guide told us many stories but I think the one I liked the most was how learned the cigar-rolling staff were. The hard-working people would come to work during a time podcasts way away in the future. So to I suppose pass the day and keep morale up there would be a high chair on the side in this massive room and there sat a man reading either the newspaper or a book classic book. So these workers would not only be clued up on the happening of their day but also literature.

Our tour ended with a cigar rolling class, nerve-wracking but so exciting. The tobacco leaf is more stretchy than I had thought which allows you to tightly roll a cigar without breaking it, unless you’re me, but that’s when our amazing teacher stepped in and saved it. My box of cigars will be treasured for my entire life, and who knows, maybe one day I will have something that requires a celebration like no other and light one up.

I think Tampa is a perfect place to visit if you are new to the US, it’s a place that is so welcoming and easy to get around. So many amazing things to see and do as you have now learned. Stay tuned for part two of my Tampa trip where I will let you know about great restaurants you simply must visit and what I ate.

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