Orlando is known as the home of Disney World, Universal Studios, golfing and oranges, but there is so much more to do than ride roller coasters and water slides. Head to a lesser known theme park, enjoy Florida’s lush climate and even learn a thing or two about art or history. You won’t miss that day of rides after you see what else Orlando has to offer.
5 Things You Must Do in Orlando
Catch Some Thrills
If you’re going to Orlando, it’s very likely that you’re going specifically to check out a new ride or revisit a beloved favorite at one of the many amusement parks. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of our favorites. Don’t forget to check out some of the lesser known areas at major parks like Disney’s Blizzard Beach and Universal’s Volcano Bay, two of the best waterparks in the country. There are the classics like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld, themed experiences including Legoland and Crayola Experience, quintessential Florida spots like Gatorland and Icon Park and new, social media focused waterpark Island H20 Live!
The Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral are only a short drive from central Orlando, and there’s so much to see and learn in the area. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will guide you through the history of NASA’s space missions and show you the plans for future operations. Tour the nearby military base on one of the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse and Spaceflight Exploration Tours where you can climb the lighthouse and learn more about the dawn of space inquiry. Exploration Tower is the perfect spot to watch a rocket launch and explore interactive exhibitions about the nearby port and its history. Lastly, the Orlando Science Center is a hands-on museum with high tech fun for the whole family.
Make Some Furry Friends
Florida’s climate makes it a great place for many species to thrive, and there are so many venues to interact with animals from not just the state, but all over the world. Start with the staples like Sea Life Aquarium, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens or the Brevard Zoo, where you can soar on a ropes course high above the animals for a unique point of view. See some of Florida’s own residents in their natural habitat at one of the 510 stops on the 3,000 mile long Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Visit the Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge and Education Center to learn how injured and orphaned native wildlife is rehabilitated or Rooterville Sanctuary, where rescued farm animals are cared for. Last but not least, hop on a camel or into an ATV for a safari focused on wetland exotic species at Safari Wilderness.
Experience the Everglades
Florida has a one-of-a-kind ecosystem in the Everglades, and the best way to experience the marshland and see all of the animals (alligators!) hiding in the reeds is via an airboat tour. There are many purveyors offering tours of various lengths, from thirty minutes to four hours, all of which will take you on an adventure where you’ll see local birds, amphibians and reptiles along with native flora and fauna. Be sure to pack your bug spray before you head out.
Enjoy the Weather
Sure, you came to Orlando with a packed itinerary full of roller coasters to ride and animals to befriend, but you should probably stop and enjoy the sunshine with a day of relaxation. Head to Wekiwa Springs State Park for hiking, biking, horseback riding and swimming in the almost tropical landscape of the azure springs. Just up the way is Wekiva Island, a private park that is another one of the best places to enjoy Florida’s natural springs. Rent a private cabana, pull up a chair on the boardwalk or spend the day swimming and kayaking – there’s enough to keep jitterbugs busy while you unwind in the shade. Blue Spring State Park is a haven for manatees and other aquatic creatures that thrive in the protected waters. Last up is the De Leon Springs State Park. The indigenous Mayaca people called the waters here Acuera or “healing waters,” and the water, which was used over the years to power both a sugar cane and a grist mill, is still clear and protected today.
5 Things You Might Not Have Considered in Orlando
Bask in Serenity
The Leu Gardens are a tropical oasis just minutes from Downtown Orlando. The 50 acre botanical paradise is full of plants the Leus brought back from their travels during the 20th century and aims to inspire visitors to appreciate and better understand plants. On the other side of town, you’ll find The Bok Tower Gardens, one of the greatest works of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., son of the famed Central Park designer of the same name. This can’t-miss Florida attraction includes over 50 acres of gardens, a 20 room mansion, more than 100 species of birds and gorgeous foliage. Meander along the paved or mulched pathways and enjoy the breathtaking views of the Singing Tower, Reflection Pool, endangered animals and blooming flowers.
If you didn’t get your fill of thrills at the many amusement parks in Orlando, head to Wallaby Ranch for a totally different view of the area and an even bigger rush. Strap in with an instructor for a tandem hang glider flight you’ll never forget. If you’d rather be seated while you get some air, take a turn on the StarFlyer, the world’s largest swing ride that propels riders up to 45 miles per hour up, down and around the 450 foot tall tower.
Visit a Museum
Who would have thought there were so many museums in a town known for character brunches and water rides? The Orlando Museum of Art is almost one hundred years old and features both contemporary and ancient art from around the world. The Modernism Museum focuses on functional objects designed by progressive figures – think Memphis style furniture, a staple of their collection. Both the Orange County Regional History Center in Downtown Orlando and the Art & History Museums in Maitland chronicle the region’s history through objects, art, exhibitions and oral recollections. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, including jewelry, paintings, art glass and windows, along with other American pottery, graphic art, paintings and decorative art from the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries. Lastly, stop by the Florida’s Natural visitor’s center – The Grove House – just steps away from the orange trees to learn about citrus growing and sample some fresh OJ.
Have a Snack
East End Market is not just a trendy food hall full of entrepreneurs, makers, artisans and chefs. It’s also an event space, has a demonstration kitchen and serves as an incubator for new food businesses. The space is a community hub for food, culture, creativity and collaboration. With everything from cookies and biscuits to ramen and juice bowls, everyone will find something to enjoy at East End Market.
And a Drink!
Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards in Clermont, not far from downtown Orlando, is the largest winery in Florida at 127 acres. Native and cultivated grapes are grown in the area that used to be the center of the state’s grape industry. Visit the premium winery for a guided tour and tasting of their products – they make everything from sparkling varietals to award winning Chablis.