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Riverfest returns to Tampa Riverwalk with music, balloon glow, lantern parade

Here’s a schedule for two days of mostly free fun at the Riverwalk.
 
A balloon glow will cap the night at 8:30 Friday and Saturday, like it did here in 2017, at Tampa's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park for Riverfest. The event returns May 5-6.
A balloon glow will cap the night at 8:30 Friday and Saturday, like it did here in 2017, at Tampa's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park for Riverfest. The event returns May 5-6. [ Times (2017) ]
Published May 2, 2023|Updated May 5, 2023

For its eighth year, Riverfest in Tampa will celebrate the ribbon of park land called the Riverwalk, an idea that took decades to create but now feels like a long-cherished friend.

The two-day May 5-6 celebration this year will include a market of independent vendors, a taste of local restaurants and the return of the lighted lantern parade and hot air balloons lit up after dark.

The popular linear park was completed in 2014, connecting a series of parks along the Hillsborough River as well as restaurants and attractions such as the convention center, Tampa Bay History Center and Tampa Museum of Art in one pleasant stroll. It is so popular, there are now plans to extend the Riverwalk west to connect to more neighborhoods.

The Wiener Dog Derby is one of the most popular events at the annual Riverfest in Tampa.
The Wiener Dog Derby is one of the most popular events at the annual Riverfest in Tampa. [ ALLIE GOULDING | Times (2019)  ]

Tampa first showed off its jewel with a big new event in 2015, the first Riverfest. The annual event returns this weekend with an array of activities, a new market and a balloon glow for Instagram-worthy diversions.

Here’s the Riverfest schedule.

Friday (May 5)

  • Live music: Beer tents and food trucks at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park from 5:30-9 p.m.
  • Taste of the Riverwalk: A $15 wristband gets you three samples, $20 gets you five from participating restaurants. Online sales at thetampariverwalk.com will end 24 hours before the event. If not sold out, wristbands will be available at the event.
  • Hot Air Balloon Glow: The lighted hot air balloons will cap the night at 8:30.

Saturday (May 6)

  • Paddleboard Invasion at 8:30 a.m. at Water Works Park.
  • Yoga on the Lawn at 9 a.m., with live music, food trucks and beer tents opening up at 10 a.m.
  • River Fiesta: From 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., sample a variety of tacos, bowls and nachos. Wristbands are $15 for three samples, $20 for five at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
  • Wiener Dog Derby: 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park pits dachshunds in races all day long. The festivities will include games, raffles, foster dogs and a silent art auction. To register your dog to race, go to floridawienerdogderby.com.
  • Riverfest Market by Tampa Markets: New to the event this year is a range of independent vendors and food trucks at Water Works Park.
  • Water ski show: It starts at 5 p.m. at Water Works Park.
  • Lantern Parade: There will be lantern-making workshops from 6-8 p.m. at Water Works Park followed by a parade, and a Hot Air Balloon Glow beginning at 8:30 p.m.
Tampa Riverfest on Friday and Saturday will run the entire length of the downtown Riverwalk
Tampa Riverfest on Friday and Saturday will run the entire length of the downtown Riverwalk [ Times (2015) ]

Parking in downtown Tampa

There may be street parking available, but a short walk away, parking is available at the William F. Poe and Fort Brooke garages.

The TECO Streetcar (which is free) runs from Ybor City to downtown Tampa. Once you’re at the Riverwalk, Pirate Water Taxi runs along the Riverwalk with stops along the way. Check out the Riverwalk’s full transportation details at thetampariverwalk.com/visit/parking-transportation.html.

If you go to Tampa’s Riverfest

Riverfest: A free two-day festival along the Tampa Riverwalk, 5-10 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, all centered near Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, 600 N Ashley Drive, Tampa. Free. thetampariverwalk.com.