These two cities are famous family-vacation favorites thanks to their history, culture, and cosmopolitan charms.
Tampa is filled with history and culture, yet its grand celebration makes it more happening the Fort Lauderdale.
And Fort Lauderdale, on the other hand, is the epitome of “uniqueness” with its canals and waterways. To choose between both is a challenge, to choose both is an epic experience.
Perhaps one of Florida’s most iconic cities, Tampa has dished out pirate festivals and jam-packed riverwalks. The bay city is always a perfect choice for vacationing family, or the nonmainstream, slightly hipster traveler.
It is teeming with culture, history, and cosmopolitan appeals. Should you decide to opt out of places like Miami or Orlando in Florida, Tampa should be at your top spot.
A far cry from Miami’s hyper highs, or even Fort Lauderdale’s laid-back flavor, Tampa is just the right blend of the two. But on a smaller scale, and minus the beach.
Blessed with several draws and features that are perfect for the culture buff and history nerds, Tampa can be a special place to explore.
What Makes Tampa Unique?
Ybor City has been designated as a National Historic Landmark District. It was founded by cigar baron Vicente Martinez Ybor. He built a cigar factory after he left Key West and moved to Tampa in the mid-1880s. The Ybor cigar factory was formerly the world’s largest, with over 4,000 people hand-rolling more than 900,000 cigars every month.
Thousands of immigrants from Cuba, Italy, and other nations settled in Ybor City in the late 1800s. They came to work in Ybor’s cigar factory and other related industries. The historic district is now one of Tampa’s most vital pillars. It is still home to a diverse range of ethnicities and is primarily Latino.
The area has seen a resurgence in recent years, with numerous businesses, galleries, restaurants, and cafes. Ybor has remade itself numerous times over the last century or so. It has achieved a balance between evening party destinations and daytime shopping and tourism refuge.
Ybor City, alluding to its name, is like a city within a city. It has everything a cultural city slicker would love to see and experience. If you want to see more of the history and culture of Ybor City head to Seventh Avenue. Also known as “La Septima” in Spanish, Seventh Avenue is home to some of the district’s most historic structures; it also features several that are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The cultural neighborhood is also one of the city’s best gastronomic centers. Home to many cultures from all over the world, you can have dishes from Cuba to Italy to Vietnam. When in Ybor City, the famous Columbia Restaurants are a rite of passage. You can sample the best Spanish dishes here, alongside its architectural charm and live music.
The nightclub culture in Ybor is well-known. Clubs like Prana and Empire, which attract worldwide DJs regularly, set the bar very high. If live music is more your style, the New World Brewery hosts anything from hardcore ska and reggae to up-and-coming fusion jazz bands.
One of the most interesting riverwalks in all of the US, Tampa’s Riverwalk is a hub of culture in itself. This 2.4-mile (3.8 km) path winds along the waterfront and offers spectacular views of the Hillsborough River. The Armature Works is near the end of the Riverwalk, which begins at Sparkman Wharf.
Along its length, the Riverwalk boasts a fantastic variety of public art, ranging from murals to sculptures. The path also passes through the Florida Aquarium and the Tampa Museum of Art, among other notable Tampa sites.
As you traverse the riverwalk along the Hillsborough River, you’ll see plenty of bikers and boaters apart from pedestrians. You can find plenty of bike and boat rental shops offering you a must-try Tampa river experience. Give the famous water bikes a try as well. They’re like stationary bikes mounted on a pair of small canoes.
If you get hungry or thirsty along the way, there are several eateries with sunny patios that serve delicious food. You’ll discover an interesting mix of “container” eateries or the Armature Works around Sparkman Wharf. The majority of the eating options are located inside a nicely restored industrial building.
A Festival Capital
Thick with culture and flooded with history, you can expect that the bay city has a lot to celebrate. Tampa is riddled with several festivals, held at different times of the year in different areas of the city. You can be sure that no matter what time of the year you’re visiting you’ll find that the city will be celebrating something.
Here are some of the most festivals in Tampa:
Gasparilla Pirate Festival
Pirates have long been associated with Tampa Bay and Florida in general. Every year, for two months in Tampa, people commemorate this heritage. The city comes alive in February and March with parades, music festivals, and other events. The Gasparillo Festival is the most well-known and eagerly anticipated to date.
Since 1904, this Mardi Gras–style parade commemorates the invasion of the notorious pirate Jose Gaspar. The parade takes place nearly every year. On this day, members of the Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla (along with hundreds of private boats) sail into downtown Tampa.
Upon reaching downtown, they’ll demand that the mayor hands them the key to the city. The triumph procession takes over the Riverside Walk after the invasion, and the party continues until the early hours of the morning.
Sant’Yago Illuminated Knight Parade
Following Gasparilla Festival, the Sant’Yago Knight Parade takes the Ybor City into a brighter turn. It is especially known for its illuminated floats and costumed participants. The Knight Parade is an annual show of civic pride in Tampa.
The Knight Parade has been held in Ybor City every year since 1974, hosted by the Krewe of the Knights of Sant’ Yago. The parade’s rich history draws families, children, and individuals of all ages to join in the fun.
The festival usually takes place in mid-February, on a weekend. The parade begins marching down 7th Street in Ybor City at night. The bright and colorful ensemble consists of various krewes. Local businesses, school marching bands, and many more also join the parade.
Parks and Recreation Center
Tampa’s underrated reputation doesn’t only promise culture and cosmopolitan highs. The city is also speckled with places for both education and leisure. Perfect for families, friend groups, or even solo travelers, its parks and recreation centers make the city a 360 experience.
Check out some of the most famous spots:
Busch Gardens is a 335-acre (136 ha) family entertainment and adventure park with thrill rides, live music, and shows. It also features a variety of exotic animals in natural-habitat settings. You can go on a safari to watch the plains animals grazing.
There are also several unique animal interactions available. You can try out hand-feeding kangaroos and giraffes. At the Animal Care Center, you can also witness park employees tend to their patients.
Busch Gardens, on the other hand, is most renowned for its thrilling roller coasters. Check out the Cheetah Hunt ride for a high-speed kick full of adrenaline. You can also take in the panoramic view from the top of Falcon Fury before free-falling down the 335-foot (102 m) peak.
Now officially called ZooTampa at Lowry Park, the zoo houses more than 2,000 creatures from Africa, Asia, and Australia. You can also find Florida natives. It also has a primate enclosure, and an aviary can be found in natural habitats here.
You can check out the African elephants and penguins, Florida panthers, and Bornean orangutans. They are among the zoo’s most popular residents. To complete your wildlife experience, take a safari ride through the African wilderness. You can also take a mini-train ride and a family-friendly roller coaster.
Fitness classes, comedy shows, talks, and toddler Tuesdays are among the activities available. They also host a monthly event called “breakfast with the animals”. This hit even includes an art lesson, mimosas, pancakes, and up-close interactions with some of the world’s most famous animals.
Teeming with uniqueness and a homey feel, Fort Lauderdale is an underrated tourism hotspot along Florida’s Atlantic Coast. It has canals, waterways, a river system, and a long beach stretch; it has all the right quirks for a coastal star.
Rich in history, culture, and beauty, Fort Lauderdale offers a contrast to its neighboring Miami’s constant highs. It is better known for its more laid-back approach and cheaper scenes. With the right combination of its rather unique features and a mellow vibe, Fort Lauderdale is best for the easygoing traveler.
What Makes Fort Lauderdale Unique?
Sitting just several miles north of Miami, Fort Lauderdale’s Atlantic front is framed by an extensive white sandy stretch. This has given the city a roster of beautiful beaches each with its own character. You can expect to see some of the most beautiful beaches in the US along Fort Lauderdale’s coast.
One thing that sets Fort Lauderdale’s beaches apart from Miami is that its brand is more on the quieter side. Beautiful and picturesque yet sparse and mellow. Many of the city’s beaches are best for the more relaxed traveler and families. In fact, the beaches can be so inviting you can easily feel like you’re at home here.
To narrow down your choices, here are some of the best beaches to hit in Fort Lauderdale:
Loggerhead and Vista Park
Sitting side by side, Loggerhead and Vista Park beaches are the best in all of Fort Lauderdale. This pair is often recommended as your very first stop while in the city. Loggerhead and Vista Park best represents the laid-back and mellow overtone of Fort Lauderdale. Not to mention they’re also uber-gorgeous as well.
Fort Lauderdale Beach Park
Fort Lauderdale Beach Park is also another representative of the city’s relaxed vibe. However, it isn’t as quiet and mellow as Loggerhead and Vista Park. The beach has many amenities for a more active scene. You can find basketball courts and a playground here.
If you’re looking for other activities, you can also find a few rental shops for certain recreational equipment. There are also BBQ grills across the beach offering a communal dining activity. These amenities and facilities along with friendly locals make you feel like you’re part of the community.
Las Olas Beach
Las Olas Beach is Fort Lauderdale’s entry to many of Florida’s party beaches. Not as grand as Miami Beach’s South Beach, Las Olas has great views and a roster of clubs, bars, and restaurants along its promenade. Party-loving crowds tend to flock here rather than several of the spots downtown.
The Venice of America
Quirky and unique, Fort Lauderdale’s interiors are filled with canals and waterways. They’re almost reminiscent of Italy’s Venice, or even the Netherland’s Amsterdam. Situated between a river and the Atlantic Ocean, a system of waterways meander through the city alongside its streets. This has allowed the city to thrive in commerce and trade, and today, tourism.
The city sports over 165 miles (266 km) of canals, rivers, bays, inlets, and many other waterways. It is so unique in Fort Lauderdale that it has become a tourist wonder of its own. Thanks to this man-made marvel, you can have romantic scenes straight out of Europe. Imagine scenes alongside canalside quirks and charming boats.
With a tourist wonder like the city’s many canals and waterways, you can find a plethora of tours and unique modes of transport around. Some charters can take you around the major watery arteries of the city down to the Atlantic coast. Water taxis are also a unique twist to the city’s transportation. You can use them to take you to different spots and canals in Fort Lauderdale.
Fort Lauderdale has been nicknamed the “Venice of America” due to its waterways and canals reminiscent of Venice. This has further boosted the city’s fame and reputation. It’s best to head to the city’s main artery of Fort Lauderdale Intracoastal Waterway.
You can find interesting things to do in the city’s main watery avenue, thanks to the many features it has. Water taxis here can take you to the many shops and bars that line the banks, not to mention the best restaurants in the city. Imagine dining along the canal relishing the view while sampling the best dishes.
From the Intracoastal Waterway, you can also easily reach Las Olas. It is perhaps one of the city’s most happening areas in Fort Lauderdale. You can easily have great shopping and lively entertainment here. Las Olas Boulevard has your every cosmopolitan need covered.
Yachting Capital of the World
Abundant with marinas and docks, Fort Lauderdale’s water easily welcomes boats of different kinds. The city is perhaps the most boat-ridden place out of the entire continental US. This has made the city become a haven for the yachts of the world. From megayachts to small tour yachts, Fort Lauderdale is dubbed the “Yachting Capital of the World”.
Its boat-friendly marinas and waterways aren’t the only thing that makes it appealing to yacht and boat owners. You can also find heaps of Yacht services all across the city as well. From yacht building and refinishing, to management services, you can guarantee a sanctuary for your yacht here.
Fort Lauderdale’s weather condition is also one of its biggest selling points. Yachts or even boats of any kind can surely be safe here thanks to good weather all year round. This also allows for fun and smooth tours and charters all across the canals and coasts.
Apart from its waterfront features and quirky aquatic delights, the city also hosts an abundance of museums. These interesting spots are both entertaining and eye-opening. These museums offer a variety of information for the curious, such as history, science, and art.
Perfect for families and adventurous travelers, you can easily find a place of your liking. Here are some of the most recommended ones:
NSU Art Museum
With a modernist exterior design, the NSU Art Museum is a must-visit center for its curious works. Whether you’re an art lover or not, the museum is speckled with artworks worth reveling in. It hosts a variety of exhibitions brimming in each of its multi-floor facilities. Wonder upon the 6,000-piece collection that best represents South Florida and the Caribbean.
NSU also houses works by American painter William Glackens. His famous pieces vary from simple crayon sketches to hand-carved wood. Many famous works were given to the NSU as well, including many avant-garde works from European COBRA artists.
Historic Stranahan House Museum
If you’re interested in the history of Fort Lauderdale, the Historic Stranahan House is the best place to visit. The oldest residential house in the city, the museum was built in 1901 by Frank Stranahan, Fort Lauderdale’s founding father. It was originally a community and trade center, then turned into an official residence, and now a museum.
It has undergone many conversions and has witnessed several points in the city’s history. Stranahan House can best tell you the spirit of Fort Lauderdale. With it being a former residence of Frank Stranahan and his wife Ivy, you can still see the memorabilia of their lives.
Museum of Discovery and Science
This is another interesting entry into the city’s rich roster of museums. The Museum of Discovery and Science doesn’t offer just visuals and scientific facts. The museum sports several interactive features and educational displays for the curious, whether you’re an adult or a wide-eyed kid.
It houses over 200 interactive exhibits perfect to keep you both entertained and educated. One of its best features is the simulated airboat ride through the famous Everglades National Park. This feature perfectly exhibits how gifted the Sunshine State can be.
Which Is Better to Visit – Tampa or Fort Lauderdale?
Both destinations are key cities in Florida, just like Miami. However, when it comes to accommodations, nightlife, and beaches, Fort Lauderdale is the best bet. It practically has everything Miami has but on a more mellow approach. Plus, Fort Lauderdale feels homier.
Tampa on the other hand speaks all about culture and history. It isn’t really a “vacation” city like its bigger counterparts. It has cool festivals and is surrounded by parks, not to mention a rich history. Accommodations in Tampa aren’t as many and varied as in Fort Lauderdale. However, if you decide to live in Tampa, you’ll find more affordable housing there compared to Fort Lauderdale.
Is Tampa or Fort Lauderdale Safer?
In recent reports Tampa has seen a steady rise in crime rate in recent years, however, it is still one of the safest cities in the state. Fort Lauderdale on the other hand has a slightly higher crime rate than Tampa.
In comparison, violent crimes in Tampa has a rate of 36, while Fort Lauderdale has 36.7. But with property crime, Fort Lauderdale has a dramatic lead by 75.8, compared to Tampa’s 33.4, according to a recent US survey.
Is Fort Lauderdale Cheaper or More Expensive Than Tampa?
Fort Lauderdale has always been known to be more expensive than Tampa. In fact, Fort Lauderdale is 18% more expensive than Tampa. This is more evident in transport, accommodations, and other small purchases. However, you could always find a way to go around the accommodation prices in Fort Lauderdale thanks to its more diverse range.
Tampa vs. Fort Lauderdale Weather
Both Tampa and Fort Lauderdale have the same average number of sunny days and average accumulated inches of rain per year. Summers are almost the same, with both cities’ average highs of around 90 F or 32 C. The winter is what sets them apart, as Tampa tends to be colder, with an average low of 51.6 F or 10.8 C, compared to Fort Lauderdale’s of 58.8 F or 14.8 C.
Does Tampa or Fort Lauderdale Have Better Beaches?
When it comes to beaches, Fort Lauderdale will always take the bag. Thanks to its continuous stretch fronting the Atlantic Ocean, you can enjoy an incredible beach scene fit for everyone. Tampa however, doesn’t have beaches that could compete against Fort Lauderdale. The best ones are outside the city. You have to drive to Clearwater or St. Petersburg for a decent beach scene.
Is Tampa or Fort Lauderdale Closer to Miami?
Sitting 22.9 miles (37 km) directly north of Miami, Fort Lauderdale is the closest point. Tampa is 205 miles (330 km) directly northwest of Miami. It is located on the other side of Florida fronting the Gulf of Mexico, while Miami is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean.