Orlando is best for adventurous families and party-loving adults. While Tampa is for families with smaller children, and a generally curious disposition for history and culture.
One of Florida’s iconic cities, it has everything to offer a city-loving traveler. From nightlife to the best dining experience, you name it. But what sets Orlando easily apart is its staggering number of theme parks all around. It is not called the Theme Park Capital for nothing.
Orlando is best for families, and adults who love to have fun day in and day out. And if you’ve had enough of the concrete jungle, it has natural parks all around for your share of green spaces.
What Makes Orlando Unique?
Theme Park Capital
The Sunshine State of Florida isn’t only famous for its year-round sunny weather, it is also one vast hub of fun and excitement. Orlando, best of all, knows its theme parks, offering thrills for the young and the young-at-heart. You can find a staggering roster of theme parks all across the city. It makes Orlando one of the most high-caliber cities in the southern US.
There are 12 main theme parks in the city, most of which have smaller theme parks inside them. This makes Orlando the theme park capital of the US, offering thrill, entertainment, and just good fun.
You can check out the theme parks at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld. Every theme park destination has more than one park, so if you want to visit several, you’ll usually need more than one day. Here are some of the most famous entries you should visit at least once:
The first Disney theme park to open in Orlando is Magic Kingdom. It is what the majority of people picture when they think of Disney World. Cinderella’s Castle, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Peter Pan can be found at Magic Kingdom.
The park has four interesting sections inside it. They are the World Nature, World Discovery, World Celebration, and the World Showcase. You can enjoy the new Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout Coaster in addition to Soarin’, Finding Nemo, and Test Track if you’re up for the thrill.
The World Showcase in Epcot can check out 11 different nations and explore their cultures. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Frozen Ever After are the two most visited attractions in this area. Epcot’s recent renovations are set to be completed soon. Future World is receiving a makeover and more attractions are being added.
SeaWorld operates three parks in Orlando and another notable one in Busch Gardens in Tampa. The famed park features rides and attractions, where it has one of the largest roller coasters in Orlando. The park is known for its water-themed amusement parks inside which include Aquatica and Discovery Cove.
It is best to visit here during Christmas, with all its special events lined up perfect for the family.
Orlando offers a wide range of possibilities, whether your idea of a night out is in a posh cocktail bar, dancing the night away, or a warm pub. If you still have some energy left over from a day spent at the parks or outdoors, Orlando has a fantastic nightlife scene to offer.
If you want to remain close to the resorts, CityWalk at Universal Orlando Resort is a great location with lots of bars all over. Another wonderful neighborhood with a variety of nightlife options is Disney Springs. Additionally, there are numerous active bars in the vicinity if you are staying on International Drive.
But if you prefer a bit of a more sophisticated scene, Orlando’s beer and cocktail culture is constantly expanding in a variety of ways. A night out can be informal or elegant, with Christmas-themed or country-focused bars both being options. The rise of speakeasies in the area also enables visitors to travel back in time to the 1920s, even if only for a short while.
The Mills 50 District in Orlando has a cluster of bars. This includes Wally’s Mills Avenue Liquors, The Guest House, and The Thirsty Topher, in a walkable two miles. This is where the locals hang out if you’re looking for the “genuine” Orlando experience.
A Foodie’s Paradise
The restaurant scene in Orlando has significantly expanded during the past few years. Formerly only recognized for its chain restaurants, this city’s eating scene stepped up. Award-winning chefs, some of whom have original restaurant ideas, now call it home.
Nearly every cuisine you can imagine is represented in Orlando, from Asian to Puerto Rican, Italian to Hispanic. Everyone can find something they not only can eat but will enjoy at food trucks and restaurants. Those who prefer eating meat and those who follow a plant-based diet can enjoy it here as well.
International Drive is lined with restaurants offering everything from steakhouses and Italian food. It also offers American food and Asian cuisine, which is why many people opt to stay there when they visit Orlando. Disney Springs at Walt Disney World and CityWalk at Universal Orlando Resort are both excellent locations to eat as well.
Nature and All
Apart from its roster of entertainment spots and many attractions, Orlando isn’t just a cosmopolitan center. You can also experience the unspoiled beauty that the city has to offer. You have all the pristine beaches that are not over an hour away and much closer to natural parks to explore and marvel upon.
Spending a day outdoors in the infamous Florida sunlight is simple thanks to the parks and trails in the area. Orlando sits near many of the Sunshine State’s top parks, most of which are just an hour’s drive away or less. If you want to take a soak in some refreshing water, Wekiwa Springs, Rock Springs, and Blue Springs are all within an hour’s drive of Orlando.
Adventure seekers can interact closely with live alligators in a touristy way at Gatorland. You can also get a close-up view of these infamous reptiles in their natural habitat at Black Hammock Adventures. Another spot is the Winter Park Boat Tour. It is an excellent way to visit some of the most stunning and expensive real estate in the area if you prefer to explore by water.
The beaches in Florida are one of the attractions for visitors. Although Orlando is somewhat landlocked, some of the most stunning beaches are only a one- to two-hour drive away. New Smyrna Beach, Daytona Beach, Cocoa Beach, and Clearwater, are the closest.
One of southwestern Florida’s beacon of development and culture, Tampa certainly is one of the most popular sports in the entire state. The bay city is known for its upscaled streets alongside a perfect balance of culture and entertainment. If you want to veer away from Florida’s tourism giants like Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Tampa is an interesting option.
What Makes Tampa Unique?
Teeming with history, controversy, and culture, Tampa’s Ybor City has to be its most famous draw to date. It is the area that surrounds the city’s iconic cigar factory founded by Vicente Martinez in the late 19th century. The factory was the largest producer of cigars in the world and its factory workers all lived in Ybor City, eventually having a life and a name of its own.
The area was heavily populated by migrants working for the factory, mostly coming from Cuba, Spain, and Italy. As the area grew and developed alongside the cigar factory’s success, families soon built businesses. This further contributed to the development of the city.
Today, Ybor City features an eclectic mix of history, culture, and entertainment for all. It is easily the most happening place in Tampa.
Despite being a neighborhood within Tampa, Ybor City can feel like a minicity inside because of how it has everything you could ever look for.
The neighborhood has the best nightlife and entertainment spots, and the best dining and shopping scene as well. If you’re a big city and culture person, art galleries and museums can be found here too.
One of the most recommended areas to hit is La Septima or Seventh Avenue. You can find the city’s most historic charms here. If you’re curious about most of the country’s past and Tampa’s history, this strip is the best place to get information from.
Ybor City is also Tampa’s culinary center, thanks to its roster of top-rated restaurants and casual eateries of great flavors. With Ybor City’s cultural and ethnic diversity, you can sample dishes from Italy, Spain, Latin America, Japan, and Vietnam among many others. It is recommended to visit the long-standing famed Columbia Restaurant for a Tampa rite of passage.
The area is also the best place to hit for that legendary Tampa nightlife experience. You can have bars, pubs, and dance clubs in its interesting streets. If you want dancing, head to Club Prana and The Castle, both Tampa icons. But if you want more of a drinking-the-night-away type of vibe, head to Crowbar and the Ritz Ybor.
Tampa’s riverside scene has to be one of the best in the entire country, if not the best. The Tampa Riverwalk is a draw that entices and entertains both locals and visitors alike. Thanks to a myriad of features and charm, the famous banks of the Hillsborough River are Tampa’s best cosmopolitan charm.
As you walk through the extensive trail of the iconic Tampa Riverwalk, you can easily see how it’s easily the city’s beating heart. You can find not just plenty but a diverse set of charms speckled around the meandering walkway.
Along the Riverwalk you’ll see interesting hotspots such as the Florida Aquarium and the Tampa Museum of Art. You can easily find places to marvel upon across the great expanse. The walkway also has a multipurpose path ideal for walkers, bikers, and runners. You can also explore the river itself via kayaks, water bikes, and water taxis.
The Tampa Riverwalk also has a great dining scene, perfect for the adventurous foodie. The area at the south of the river has restaurants and plenty of dining spots with quirky concepts for your satisfaction. You can explore a wide variety of culinary palates, as well as plenty of alfresco dining for your chill dining experience.
A Festival Capital
You can think of Florida as one big party capital. The majority of the Sunshine State’s cities always have their roster of celebrations and festivities. But none perhaps have the most than Tampa. Thanks to the city’s rich history and culture, the people always have time to celebrate something no matter what season or month of the year.
With a long list of festivals and celebrations in the city, here are two of the most famous ones:
Gasparilla Pirate Festival
One thing about Southern Florida is that its history will always have something to do with pirates. These infamous figures of history have left a lasting impact on many of the cities’ histories, and none better than Tampa. Here, an iconic celebration takes place every February. The famous Gasparilla Pirate Festival is the biggest in the city, which has been a tradition since 1904.
Often likened to a Mardi-Gras on water, the Gasparilla Festival starts with a reenactment of the pirate Jose Gaspar and his crew’s invasion. It features a parade from the bay across the Hillsborough River. It leads to the downtown area, where the pirates will take the key to the city from the mayor.
After the interesting dramatization, a procession across the Riverwalk will commence. And then, the official party begins. Events usually happen after the taking of the key to the city and will continue until the dawn of the next day.
Sant’Yago Illuminated Knight Parade
The Sant’Yago Illuminated Parade follows the famous Gasparilla Festival. It offers a different take as the festival celebrates the cultural diversity and heritage of the city. If Gasparilla happens on the water with ships and boats, the Sant’Yago Festival takes place on the streets of Ybor City.
You can see illuminated floats gleaming across the main avenue of Ybor City, perfect for wide-eyed kids, and families. The floats themselves are adorned and decorated with all sorts of quirky displays. This paraphernalia entertains everyone waiting by the roadsides.
The festival first started in 1974, hosted by the Krewe of the Knight of Sant’Yago. They are an organization committed to upholding the city’s Latin heritage and culture. The parade’s extravagance proves just exactly how Tampa honors its rich culture and history.
The Sant’Yago Illuminated Knight Parade happens a weekend after Gasparilla Festival. It usually starts on La Septima or Seventh Avenue in Ybor City, which then traverses through the main road. With a Latin flair, you can expect to be the parade to be lively, vibrant, and colorful. Parties all over Ybor City also happen right after the event.
Parks and Recreation Center
Florida is known as the US’ parks capital with its sheer number of parks of all kinds scattered across its area. But Southern Florida tends to have the highest concentration, and Tampa is one of the most packed cities. The historical city has parks of different kinds perfect for every kind of traveler.
With so many on the list, here are two of the most famous entries:
The epitome of thrill and entertainment, the 335-acre (135 ha) family park is the most popular theme park in Tampa. It offers live music, variety shows, rides, animals, and many more. Busch Gardens can seem like a genius blend of the famous parks in the region.
Entertainment aside, Busch Gardens also have animal enclosures that mimic their natural habitat. You can see how these animals interact as if they’re in the wild. The park also has an Animal Care Center where you can see how animals are being tended to and treated.
On top of its amazing features, the most famous premise of the park is its thrilling roller coaster ride. Busch Gardens’ most prominent rides are the Cheetah Hunt and the Falcon Fury. These legendary rides have consistently made it to the US’ most daring rides ever.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park
ZooTampa at Lowry Park is home to around 2,000 animal species that were imported from different parts of the world. With a wide variety and a large roster, these animals are kept in different sections across the park.
You can check out animals from the wild savannahs of Africa and even legendary mammals from Asia. Other notable animals in the zoo are panthers from Florida, and Bornean Orangutans, among many others. You can also enjoy the park via a safari ride that takes you through the many enclosures and sections.
Which Is Better – Orlando or Tampa?
If you want thrills and highs during your visit, Tampa is the best option for a jam-packed adventure through the city. The city offers everything fun, quirky, and interesting. You can have both Ybor City and the Riverwalk for a varied experience. Not to mention, Tampa is the cheaper option as well.
Orlando, just like Tampa, can also be flavorful. However, the city doesn’t quite have the same caliber as Tampa. The city, though, is big on theme parks, dining, and nightlife – three things Tampa doesn’t have.
Which Is Safer – Tampa or Orlando?
In national and independent surveys for the past years, Tampa has generally been considered the safer option.
Orlando’s crimes have put a dent in its safety and security for years, however, it isn’t totally dangerous to visit. The city, just like many across the world, is also plagued by both violent and property crimes.
Tampa vs. Orlando Crime Rate
In a national survey, the violent crime rate in Tampa is about half as high as Orlando’s. A staggering 4,800 crimes per 100,000 persons were reported in Orlando. Only 1,600 violent offenses per 100,000 were reported in Tampa. As a result, Orlando has three times the amount of reported crime as Tampa Bay.
Orlando vs. Tampa Economy
Tampa in general has a better performing economy than Orlando. The average household income in Tampa is 6% higher than in Orlando, and the same goes for the city’s income per capita. Orlando’s unemployment rate is also higher than Tampa’s.
Is Tampa Cheaper or More Expensive Than Orlando?
Orlando is more expensive than Tampa Bay. Tampa has greater average incomes as well as reduced housing costs. To maintain the same level of life as you would in Orlando with 4,300 USD, Numbeo (data aggregator) estimates that you would need 4,287 USD in Tampa. Although the gap between Tampa Bay and Orlando is not great, it still factors in how Tampa is cheaper.
Are Hotels Cheaper in Tampa or Orlando?
Accommodations like hotels tend to be much cheaper in Tampa than in Orlando. The average affordable accommodation for single occupancy is around 60 to 100 USD in Orlando. In Tampa, the average rate slaps around 112 USD and above.
Tampa vs. Orlando Weather
The weather in Tampa is more moderate than the weather in Orlando. But there is a greater chance of hurricanes, flooding, and other extreme weather in Tampa. Tampa enjoys mild winters and moderate summers because of its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay.
Is Tampa Warmer Than Orlando?
Both Tampa and Orlando sport warm and sunny weather throughout the year, thanks to their Florida location. However, the average highs in Orlando top that of Tampa. Orlando has an average of 92 F (33 C), while Tampa has 90.3 F (32 C).
Is Tampa Less Humid Than Orlando?
While both cities almost have identical weather, Tampa is generally more comfortable. Orlando’s more inland location makes it warmer and its swamplands make it more humid. Tampa’s bay location allows it to be cooler and more comfortable, even during the summer highs.
Does It Rain More in Orlando or Tampa?
It rains more in Orlando than in Tampa. Orlando receives around an average of 52.1 inches a year, while Tampa receives 50.6 inches.
Tampa vs. Orlando Hurricanes
While both cities experience direct hurricane hits, Orlando is the safer location. Tampa, on the other hand, isn’t as safe. There is an 11% possibility that a hurricane may cause damage in Tampa, one of the top five hurricane-prone cities in the United States, at any given time.
Tampa vs. Orlando for Families
When it comes to raising families and vacationing families, Tampa is generally the better option. The costs are cheaper, the streets are safer, and Tampa has a plethora of family-oriented draws.
Tampa Zoo vs. Orlando Zoo
When it comes to zoos, nothing compares to ZooTampa at Lowery Park. It can easily overshadow Orlando Zoo with its 1,300 animals and a 60-acre park (24 ha). The Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens are considered Orlando’s zoo, only housing 400 animals and 200 species.
Tampa Aquarium vs. Orlando Aquarium
Tampa Aquarium is arguably a better option. The marine center is known to house a large collection of marine animals, not to mention it is the largest in Florida. It takes you through a maze of different settings. Orlando’s Sea Life is also an exciting spot, but it can feel like just another large fish tank.
Sea Life Orlando vs. Tampa Aquarium
The Tampa Aquarium might be a better choice. The marine center, which is the biggest in Florida, is renowned for housing a sizable collection of aquatic species. You pass through a confusing array of various environments leading you from the aquifer to the sea. You’ll even go through a mangrove tunnel.
Sea Life in Orlando is certainly a thrilling location, although sometimes it can seem like just another big fish tank.
SeaWorld Orlando vs. Busch Gardens Tampa
If you’re looking for sheer excitement and a variety of activities, Busch Gardens in Tampa is a no-brainer. While SeaWorld takes you through rides and water tanks, Busch Gardens has all of that and more, including a zoo.
Downtown Tampa vs. Downtown Orlando
Downtown Tampa is more exciting because of its inland draws and charms, but on top of that, it has the iconic Riverwalk Tampa. Plus, the downtown area also sits right next to the even more exciting Ybor City.
Orlando, on the other hand, is more of a cosmopolitan gem. The area is filled with business, upscale charms, and the best nightlife spots. But it cannot stand against the caliber of Tampa’s downtown area.
Orlando vs. Tampa for Nightlife
When it comes to nightlife, Orlando takes the bag. The city’s vibrant and energetic nightlife is one of its best draws. With a more condensed setting than Tampa, Orlando is home to a large number of rooftop pubs, outdoor dance clubs, and live music venues.
Orlando has the benefit of always having something to do late into the night. Unlike Tampa, which largely shuts down at night save for a few exciting spots and late-night eateries.
Is Tampa or Orlando More Fun?
If you’re looking for fun and excitement, Tampa would be the better choice. While it doesn’t have a nightlife that’s exciting as Orlando’s, it makes up for all its quirkiness. It has a very interesting Ybor City, a cool Riverwalk, and it’s near beaches.
Where Is Tampa Compared to Orlando?
Tampa is located 77 miles (124 km) southwest of Orlando.
Is Tampa Bigger Than Orlando?
Tampa is the bigger one among the two in terms of both population and land area. The city is approximately 455.4 sq. km (175.8 sq. mi) big, while Orlando is 308.4 sq. km (119 sq. mi).
Is Orlando or Tampa More Populated?
Tampa covers a bigger land area and has a larger population with 393,000 residents. Orlando, on the other hand, has about 285,000.
How Far Is Tampa From Orlando?
Tampa is approximately 77 miles or 124 km from Orlando, directly.
Is the Traffic Worse in Orlando or Tampa?
If you’re traveling during rush hour times, Tampa has a better traffic situation than Orlando. But both cities are known to have heavy traffic.
Is Orlando or Tampa Closer to Ocala?
Orlando is closer to Ocala than Tampa with a distance of 73 miles (117 km), compared to the latter’s 87.5 miles (140 km).
Is Tampa or Orlando Closer to Jacksonville?
Orlando is closer to Jacksonville with a 125-mile direct distance (201 km).
Is Tampa or Orlando Closer to Miami?
Tampa is closer to Miami than Orlando with a distance of 205 miles (331 km) directly in between.
Tampa Airport vs. Orlando Airport
The Tampa airport is much smaller, more laid-back, and simpler to use than the Orlando airport. Due to the size of Orlando International Airport, everything can be more challenging. You might have trouble getting across the terminals, getting your bags, renting a car, and passing customs.
Is Tampa or Orlando Airport Bigger?
The Orlando International Airport is much bigger compared to Tampa International Airport.
Is Tampa Airport Better Than Orlando?
If you’re flying internationally, or from any point in the US, Tampa is a much better option. The systems are better and much quicker. The immigration and TSA lines are also shorter.
Is It Cheaper to Fly to Orlando or Tampa?
Flying into Tampa can be cheaper, and many people claim it is significantly less expensive than flying into Orlando. However it can depend on where you depart from, the day of the week, and the airline you pick.
Is It Cheaper to Fly Out of Orlando or Tampa?
Reportedly, it is cheaper to fly out of Orlando than Tampa. It is, in fact, one of the best airports to fly out of in the US.