If you’re looking for fun in the sun, plenty to see and do, and some of the most delicious food your tastebuds have ever experienced, Tampa should definitely be on your visit list. But, before you start planning your time and coming up with an exciting itinerary, you need to know where to stay in Tampa and the area best for you.
Table of Contents
- Best Areas to Stay in Tampa
- Channelside: Best Place To Stay in Tampa for Your First Time
- Downtown Tampa: Best Area in Tampa for Nightlife
- Seminole Heights: Coolest Place to Stay in Tampa
- North Tampa: Best for Families
- Ybor City: Best Place in Tampa on a Budget
- Best Areas to Stay in Tampa: FAQ’s
- In Conclusion
For me, Tampa is up there on my list of the best places to visit in Florida. However, Tampa is a big city. To help you decide on the best spot for you to lay your head, I’ve covered the best areas to base yourself (depending on your preferences), within this post.
The first time I visited Florida, I went to Orlando, like most people do. But after a while, I wanted to see something more authentic.
The first time I visited Tampa was in 2014 and I’ve returned many times since. For me, the city is the perfect blend of tourist-friendly fun in the sun, local life, and authentic experiences. From the gorgeous Tampa Bay beaches and theme parks to the history, nature, and fun bars, there’s so much to love about this city.
When choosing the best area to stay in Tampa, you need to do your homework. There are several Tampa neighborhoods, but overall, I’d say there are five main ones to consider.
Best Areas to Stay in Tampa
Quick Look: Best Areas to Stay in Tampa (click to jump down the page to learn more)
- First-Time Visitor: Channelside
- With Family: North Tampa
- On a Budget: Ybor City
- For Nightlife: Downtown Tampa
- Trendy/Coolest Area: Seminole Heights
- For Couples: Channelside
- For Shopping: Downtown Tampa
- For Foodies: Seminole Heights
- For History: Ybor City
Channelside: Best Place To Stay in Tampa for Your First Time
If you do a quick search online, you might assume that Downtown Tampa is the best area to stay in Tampa for a first-timer, but I have a different take. You see, Downtown Tampa is super busy and can be overwhelming if you don’t know where you’re going. However, Channelside, or Channel District, is the perfect middle ground.
If you’re an outdoorsy type, you’ll love Channelside, but the beauty is that you can just walk to Downtown along the scenic Hillsborough River. Breathe in some fresh air and check out the view while knowing that you’re literally a stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle.
Pros of Staying in Channelside
- Downtown can be reached on foot
- Beautiful views and Insta-worthy photo opportunities
- A chilled-out base
- Lower cost accommodation compared to Downtown
Cons of Staying in Channelside
- Riverwalk can get very busy
- When it rains, there isn’t a whole lot of shelter
- Very touristic; if you want authenticity, you might be better off staying elsewhere
Best Places to Stay in Channelside
If you feel Channelside is the best place to stay in Tampa, I recommend these hotels:
1. The Tampa EDITION: A sleek, modern, five-star choice with a stunning outdoor pool and terrace to soak up the sun. The onsite restaurant is particularly impressive, offering a whole host of Mediterranean choices. Click here for details.
2. J W Marriott Tampa Water Street: If you want to be in the heart of the action, this hotel is the ideal choice. It also has a huge outdoor pool for chilling and a fantastic restaurant with all manner of delicious dishes. Click here for details.
3. Hampton Inn Tampa Downtown Channel District: This hotel has an amazing rooftop pool with the perfect view. This is a great choice for families as there are plenty of things to do on-site for little ones. Click here for details.
Top Things To Do in Channelside
I enjoy Channelside’s chilled-out vibe, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lot to see and do in this waterside neighborhood. As one of the best places to stay in Tampa Center, you wouldn’t expect anything else.
1. Water Works Park: It doesn’t have to be the hottest day to spend some time splashing around and having fun, and Water Works Park is the best place to do just that. This is a huge water park with slides, activities, and plenty of space to chill out. Click here for directions.
3. Tampa Riverwalk: Without a doubt, the best thing to do in Channelside is to wander down the Riverwalk and check out its many shops, restaurants, museums, and events. It’s my favorite spot for a selfie. Click here for directions.
Where to Eat and Drink in Channelside
Channelside’s dining scene is pretty eclectic and you won’t struggle to find something for even the pickiest eater:
1. The Pearl: I loved the calm vibe in this restaurant and it’s a great spot for beer lovers too. The menu is really interesting and the presentation is especially Insta-worthy. Click here for directions.
2. Lilac: Special events should always be held at Lilac, in my opinion. This is a top-class Mediterranean restaurant that offers a four-course fixed menu featuring the best produce around. Click here for directions.
Downtown Tampa: Best Area in Tampa for Nightlife
If you’re looking for places to stay in Tampa for nightlife, don’t think twice about staying in Downtown Tampa. As the name suggests, this is the central part of the city, where all the bright lights shine and evenings never seem to end.
Downtown is in the south of Tampa and it has a picturesque spot overlooking the Hillsborough River. I really enjoy the vibrant feel in Downtown and if you’re after a spot of luxury, you’ll certainly find it here.
The only real downside of Downtown is just how frenetic it can be. This isn’t a spot for leisurely walks, but it is the ideal place to do a lot in a short amount of time, including taking some epic photos at Tampa Bay Harbor.
Pros of Staying in Downtown Tampa
- Everything is within easy reach
- Fantastic nightlife
- Plenty of shopping opportunities
- Many attractions are located in Downtown
Cons of Staying in Downtown Tampa
- An extremely busy area
- Expensive food and drink
- Accommodation is pricey
- A noisy area
Best Places to Stay in Downtown Tampa
The beauty of Downtown Tampa is that you won’t have to walk very far to anything. If you’re looking for the best Tampa hotels near nightlife, here are some suggestions:
1. Hyatt Place Tampa Downtown: You can’t get any more central than this hotel, which is what makes it stand out, particularly if you’re keen to explore Downtown. The other plus point is the awesome swimming pool, which offers a city view as you swim. Click here for details.
2. ROOST Tampa: Not only is this hotel extremely central and ideal for sightseeing, but it’s one of the best hotels with a rooftop pool. There’s also a hot tub you can chill out in, or simply kick back in the garden after a day of exploring. Click here for details.
3. Le Meridien Tampa, The Courthouse: The great thing about this hotel is the sheer number of amenities in your room, making it a real home-from-home experience. From iPod docking stations to coffee machines, you’ll be short of nothing. Click here for details.
Top Things To Do in Downtown Tampa
Downtown Tampa certainly kept me occupied; there’s plenty to see and do here. Let’s take a look at some things to add to your to-do list:
1. Tampa Tiki Bar Boat Cruise: Floating down the Hillsborough River with a drink in hand, what could be better? This chilled-out and super-scenic tour is a top-seller for a reason. The thing I liked most about this tour is that you bring your own drinks, meaning you don’t have to spend a small fortune at the bar. Click here to learn more and book.
2. Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park: A few hours chilling out at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is the ideal way to relax at the end of a long day, while also checking out the rather impressive interactive fountains. Click here for directions.
3. Tampa Theater: Since it opened its doors in 1926, Tampa Theater has showcased some of the best performances around. The interior is as special as the show you’ve chosen to see, and I really love the old-world vibes. Click here for directions.
Where to Eat and Drink in Downtown Tampa
Personally, I don’t feel that Downtown is the best neighborhood in Tampa for food, but there are still some pretty epic options:
1. Oxford Exchange: Some restaurants are just special, and for me, that’s Oxford Exchange. Not only is this a restaurant, but it’s also a bookstore and champagne spot all rolled into one. It has such a chilled-out vibe, yet some of the most delicious food available. Check out the paella – it’s my favorite. Click here for directions.
2. Mise en Place: If you fancy some French food while in Tampa, this spot has you covered. Taking traditional French dishes and giving them a modern twist, you’ll find dishes on this menu to make your mouth water. My go-to is the crusted rack of lamb. Click here for directions.
3. Oak And Ola: Let’s be honest, everyone loves a restaurant with a huge roof terrace and a view. That’s what Ola and Ola has to offer, alongside seriously impressive cocktails, delicious pizzas, and seasonal dishes that change with the weather. Click here for directions.
Seminole Heights: Coolest Place to Stay in Tampa
The second time I visited Tampa, I stayed in Seminole Heights, and from then on, it’s where I’ve always chosen to return to. It has the best of both worlds; plenty to see and do, but it also has a relaxed residential vibe going on.
Most locals will tell you that Seminole Heights is pretty up-and-coming, and it’s certainly got a pretty fashionable feel. You’ll find lots of street art around, and the coffee and craft beer focus helps it stand out as one of the best neighborhoods in Tampa.
Pros of Staying in Seminole Heights
- Lots of street art
- A chilled-out pavement cafe vibe
- Ideal for craft beer fans
- Lower cost dining
- A residential feel
Cons of Staying in Seminole Heights
- Not as many accommodation options available
- You will need to use a car or public transport to get around
- Nightlife here is quite low-key
Best Places to Stay in Seminole Heights
While it’s not as easy to find accommodation in Seminole Heights as other areas, there are still some great options; you’ll find that most are holiday homes. Either way, I still think it’s one of the best places to stay in Tampa. Here are my top picks:
1. Riverside Riviera at Seminole Heights: The beauty of staying in this particular spot is that it’s a home away from home; exactly how you would describe this accommodation. This particular holiday home offers a shared lounge and kitchen. Click here for details.
2. Beautiful Neighborhood Seminole Heights: I enjoyed the nights I spent in this holiday home and it really did feel like my own place. The garden is the ideal space to relax, and inside features everything you need for your trip, including a washing machine, which makes life so much easier – especially when you’re staying for longer periods. Click here for details.
Top Things To Do in Seminole Heights
Combining a chilled-out way of life with nearby attractions is the order of the day when you choose to base yourself in Seminole Heights. However, there are plenty of high-quality choices nearby:
2. Seminole Heights Street Art Trail: Walking around central Seminole Heights will show you countless types of street art, including some huge murals. Simply take a walk around and you’re sure to find even more.
3. Seminole Heights Farmer’s Market: Foodies will love wandering around this huge farmer’s market, packed with delicious fare to try. Vegans, and those who are particularly keen on organic produce, will definitely find this market to their taste. Click here for directions.
Where to Eat and Drink in Seminole Heights
Seminole Heights doesn’t focus its attention on sophisticated restaurants and high-class dining, but instead, encourages you to try more laid-back gastronomy. I personally enjoyed several restaurants in this neighborhood. Here are some of my favorites:
1. American Social: Check out the view over the waterfront and enjoy a chilled-out meal with family and friends at this restaurant. One of the best places for craft beers, this gastropub offers live sports and a friendly vibe. Click here for directions.
2. Rooster & The Till: Nominated for a Michelin award, you’ll find locally sourced ingredients transformed into the most delicious dishes. The only downside is that you’ll need to book well ahead to get a table, but it’s worth the forward planning. Click here for directions.
3. The Independent: I loved the vibe in this restaurant and I was lucky enough to visit when they had a movie night. Craft beer lovers will be in their element here, as the menu is huge, and dining is relaxed, with burgers, tacos, and pizzas. Click here for directions.
North Tampa: Best for Families
Without a doubt, families or friends who love adrenaline thrills will find North Tampa their neighborhood of choice. It’s one of the best places to stay in Tampa for groups. Here, you’re right next door to some recognizable attractions, including one of my personal favorites – Busch Gardens.
Being so close to theme parks should indicate that North Tampa is pretty touristy, but if that’s what you’re after, you won’t mind the crowds. It never felt ‘over the top,’ and I found accommodation was cheaper. Plus, it always felt like a safe neighborhood in Tampa to me.
Pros of Staying in North Tampa
- Ideal for families
- Cheaper accommodation
- Laid-back, affordable dining options
Cons of Staying in North Tampa
- You will need a car to get around (click here to search for the best price on rental cars)
- Very touristy
- Lower quality dining
Best Places to Stay in North Tampa
North Tampa is known for its low-cost accommodation which is ideal if you have a group of people wanting to stay together or if you’re a family. It’s also great if you’re looking for where to stay in Tampa with parking. Check out these listings below:
1. The Urban Nest: If you’re traveling as a group or with children, this series of holiday bungalows is the perfect choice. Everything you could possibly need for a relaxing time is inside, and you’re close to all local amenities. Click here for directions.
2. Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton: This is another hotel that’s really close to all of North Tampa’s major parks, which makes it ideal for thrill seekers. With comfortable surroundings, this hotel is basic yet provides everything you need, including an outdoor swimming pool. Click here for details.
3. Embassy Suites by Hilton: Chill out at the end of the day in the hot tub or the huge outdoor swimming pool, and make use of the shuttle to all major parks nearby. There is also an on-site games room to keep children occupied. Click here for details.
Top Things To Do in North Tampa
Adrenaline junkies rejoice! North Tampa’s rollercoasters will certainly test your nerves, but that’s not all there is to do here. Here are the best things to do in North Tampa:
1. Adventure Island: Another of North Tampa’s top attractions is Adventure Island. This is a huge waterpark that’s ideal for cooling down in the summer heat. I particularly enjoyed the wave pool and chilling in a private cabana. Click here for directions.
2. Museum of Science & Industry: If you want to take a break from screaming on rollercoasters, this museum is a great spot to learn. It’s an interactive place to visit, with plenty of interesting events held throughout the year. Click here for directions.
Where to Eat and Drink in North Tampa
What I really enjoyed about North Tampa is that I could go out for dinner after a long day exploring and I didn’t have to get particularly dressed up. The whole dining scene is pretty laid-back.
1. Gino’s Restaurant & Bar: For relaxed Italian dining, it doesn’t get better than Gino’s. I had Mama Mary’s Meatloaf and it was sublime. My friend ordered the seafood pasta and she said it was the best she ever had. Click here for directions.
2. Skipper’s Smokehouse: Serving a Caribbean and Floridian mixture of food, this spot is super-popular for a good reason. Not only is the food amazing but it’s also a live music venue. I had a great evening here and would definitely recommend you check it out. Click here for directions.
3. Zeko’s Mediterranean Grill: If delicious and fresh Mediterranean food is your preference, this restaurant will tick all boxes. The flavors transport you to Greece, with a huge range of different dishes on offer. Click here for directions.
Ybor City: Best Place in Tampa on a Budget
Tampa is often called the ‘Cigar Capital of The World’ and Ybor City can tell you a whole lot more about that claim. This is the historical part of the city but it’s also a top spot for people who prefer not to splash the cash when they don’t have to.
Ybor City takes you on a journey back in time, as you learn more about how Tampa grew and its roots with other countries, including Cuba and Colombia. In fact, you can find some of the best Colombian food here too.
7th Avenue is Ybor’s nightlife spot and is a great area to head to if you want to have a few drinks, try some delicious food, party a little, and then head home. If you’re more of a history buff than a bar crawler and you’re wondering where to stay in Tampa, then this could also be the neighborhood for you.
Pros of Staying in Ybor City
- Plenty of history and culture
- Fantastic nightlife without being too over the top
- An array of international cuisine
Cons of Staying in Ybor City
- Not a whole lot of nature to be found here
- Very busy
- Quite noisy
Best Places to Stay in Ybor City
Ybor City has some great choices of places to stay, and thankfully they’re pretty reasonably priced. Here are some recommendations of places to stay in Tampa, Ybor City:
1. Hotel Haya: This hotel offers a very comfortable place to stay right in the heart of Ybor City. For the number of amenities you get, it’s also very reasonably priced. The on-site restaurant and cocktail bar are particular favorites. Click here for details.
2. Cozy AF Jungle-House Hideaway: Not only is this place highly rated but it’s so cute you can’t help but fall in love. This is a two-bedroom holiday home with its own pool and jungle theme design. It’s super cool. Click here for details.
3. Hampton Inn & Suites, Ybor City: This hotel is a really comfortable base when sightseeing in the Ybor area, and it also offers a free shuttle to the local port. Rooms also feature a microwave and refrigerator, which is ideal for storing delicious snacks. Click here for details.
Top Things To Do in Ybor City
What is there to see and do in Ybor City? Plenty. If you’re a history fan, you’re going to love this place.
1. Historic Ybor City Food Walking Tour: The great thing about this walking tour is that you get to eat and explore your surroundings simultaneously. A knowledgeable guide is on hand to tell you more about the area and believe me, you’ll be full by the end. Click here to learn more and book. If you’re not really into food, this walking tour is a great option.
2. Ybor City Museum State Park: With so much history on offer in this part of Tampa, this is a must-do. The first cigar factory opened in Ybor City in 1886, and you’ll learn all about this and more within this museum. I particularly liked the huge gardens. Click here for directions.
3. TECOLine Street Car: I stumbled upon this hidden gem because a) it was hot, and b) my feet were hurting, and I’m so glad I did. This old-world street car takes you from Ybor City down to Downtown Tampa, and you can buy an unlimited day ticket. Click here for directions. Another super fun way to get around is by golf cart! Have a look at this highly-rated trip.
Where to Eat and Drink in Ybor City
The dining scene in Ybor City is really eclectic and offers something for everyone. From Colombian and Cuban restaurants to seafood, you’ll struggle to choose. Here are some spots to look out for:
1. Columbia Restaurant: This is one of the most famous restaurants in all of Tampa, and it’s been open since 1905. I had to wait a while for a table, but the iconic Cuban sandwich was more than worth it. Click here for directions.
2. Charley’s Steakhouse: If you have the urge for a steak, this is the best place to go. Open since 1974, many happy customers have left its doors, including me, with its delicious lobster Mac & cheese. Click here for directions.
3. Acropolis Greek Taverna: I must admit, when I first saw this restaurant, I didn’t think much of it from the outside, but when I went inside I was transported to Athens. The Acropolis mixed platter and fresh cocktails are major hits. Click here for directions.
Best Areas to Stay in Tampa: FAQ’s
Downtown Tampa, North Tampa, and Channelside are the three best spots for tourists in Tampa. This is mostly because they’re packed with the city’s biggest attractions.
Tampa has a relatively low crime rate compared to the rest of the country and is considered number four on the list of the best places to retire. As such, you don’t need to worry unnecessarily about safety. As when traveling anywhere, however, take care of your belongings and don’t leave expensive items unattended.
I personally felt very safe in Downtown Tampa and in Channelside. Crowds? Yes. Lots of security personnel? Of course.
If you have a car, it’s easy to get around, but if you don’t want the hassle of driving, it pays to do your research and stay centrally.
Channelside is a very attractive part of the city.
It’s loud and brash at times, but it’s also great for nightlife. If that’s what you’re after, or you want to be somewhere central, it’s a good place to stay.
To get around you need a car, however, it’s possible to walk between Downtown and Channelside.
There are major attractions in all of Tampa’s neighborhoods, but if you want to be closest to the biggest spots, Downtown Tampa is the best. However, note that Busch Gardens is still far away.
If you can hire a car and you’re comfortable driving, you’ll likely see much more during your stay. Click here to search for the best deals on rental cars in Tampa.
Tampa is one of the best destinations in Florida, if not the whole of the USA. For sure, that’s a pretty sweeping statement, but from personal experience, this city has everything you could possibly want, and more.
Families will find Tampa fantastic because of the theme parks, excellent food, and bright lights. Couples will enjoy the gastronomy, the great nightlife, and the beautiful scenery. And groups will find Tampa the ideal spot thanks to its varied range of things to do. Put simply, nobody will be bored.