With nearly perfect weather, it’s little wonder Orlando is nicknamed “The City Beautiful.” It’s also perfect for whatever type of vacation you want: active, relaxing, or in between. Get outside and enjoy the city’s natural playground—surfing off sandy beaches, birding in state parks, kayaking through winding waterways, or tubing the springs—or go thrill-seeking at an amusement park. Venture to Winter Park and Thornton Park, where locals eat and drink, or treat yourself to shopping and down-time at one of the city’s luxurious, family-friendly resorts.

Orlando, Florida. March 02, 2019. People walking in Marvel Super Hero Island area at Universals Islands of Adventure 1

Photo By Viaval Tours/Shutterstock


Theme Parks

Yes, Orlando really does have a theme park for every day of the week. It also has one for nearly every interest. What’s your (or your little one’s) fancy? If it’s all about the magic, seek out the iconic mouse and his fairytale friends. For hold-your-hands-high, roaring-fast roller coasters, it’s hard to trump Universal Studios Orlando or Islands of Adventure. Want to relive the joys of being a kid? The new LEGOLAND Florida surrounds you with larger-than-life toys. Prefer an adventure that’s closer to nature? Gasp at gator feedings at Gatorland, where you can zip-line over hundreds of gators.

Outdoor Adventure

Orlando’s year-round sunshine and its many natural attractions make it an ideal place to get outdoors and get active. Swim in cool freshwater springs. Take a leisurely boat ride on lakes and canals fringed by moss-covered oak trees. Paddle through picturesque, hidden backcountry waterways. Experience miles of natural beaches, lagoons, rivers, and mangrove forests teeming with wildlife. Nature lovers and birders can visit several parks and refuges on the Great Florida Birding Trail. Don’t forget, the subtropical climate calls for a few necessities: sunscreen, a hat, bug repellent, sunglasses, and water.

Food and drink to try in Orlando

Orlando’s culturally diverse population brings flavors from around the globe to satisfy every craving. You can find dozens of types of cuisine here, from Brazilian to Mexican to Southern. Several restaurant districts stand out, including swanky Restaurant Row near International Drive, the foodie neighborhood of Winter Park, and the hopping entertainment district of Universal CityWalk. Thirsty? Check out the many boutique wine bars and neighborhood pubs downtown, where a craft beer scene features locally brewed and flavored ales, lagers, and porters. The growing number of chef-driven restaurants, breweries, and bars, as well as farmers’ markets and food trucks, are putting Orlando on the map as a place to eat and drink.

Culture in Orlando

Maybe it’s the weather that makes little in Orlando feel formal. Despite the fact that the city is home to professional ballet companies, film festivals, and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, locals tend to be casual. A big part of the city’s culture involves outdoor recreation and simple pleasures, such as al fresco dining, picnics in the park, and biking on urban trails. There’s a neighborhood feel, with oak-lined streets and lots of lakes and springs, and while the state’s Southern roots show here, they’re happily tangled with diverse cultural influences.

Practical Information

Orlando is a popular destination year-round, though peak times are June to August when the kids are off school, as well as March and April. The weather June through September is steamy, with afternoon showers common. October through May is warm and dry, with some cool spells. Note that many of the famous theme parks are outside the city itself. Most people arrive via Orlando International Airport. Rental cars or cabs are best for getting around. Major roads tourists should know are Interstate 4, International Drive, and toll road State Road 528.

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With a culturally diverse population, Orlando offers flavors from around the globe. You’ll also find a growing number of chef-driven restaurants, bars, and breweries as well as farmers’ markets and food trucks, that have put Orlando on the culinary map.
Sure, you’ve heard of the Magic Kingdom and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but Central Florida is known for its world-class amusement parks for more than a just Disney and Universal: this region’s got a wealth of roller coasters, water parks, attractions where you can swim with dolphins, wrestle alligators, and visit landscapes made of LEGOs. For the uninitiated, Walt Disney World is comprised of several parks: the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom Theme Park, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Blizzard Beach. Visitors can buy endless variations of plans from one-day/one-park tickets to multiday Park Hopper tickets which allow them to move between the parks. At Universal Orlando Resort, you can visit Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios (the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is split between these two, with Diagon Alley at Universal Studios and Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure), as well as the waterpark, Volcano Bay. Again, there are several ticket packages that can buy you as much or as little access to the Universal world of Marvel superheroes and Hogwarts characters.
Theme parks like the Magic Kingdom, SeaWorld, and Universal Studios are still the main draw in Orlando, but the ultimate family vacation destination is growing a reputation for upscale hotels and resorts with luxe spas, lush golf courses, and fine dining. Here is a range of stellar properties from International Drive to the Walt Disney World grounds.
Say the word “Orlando” and most people picture a mouse in shorts or a young wizard in glasses. While Orlando is proud of its Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World, there’s more to the City Beautiful than waterparks and roller coasters. The lush Florida setting means lakes and wetlands (with paddle boats and spectacular wading birds), tropical gardens, and lots of wildlife.
Orlando is well-known not only for theme parks, but for some of the best shopping in Central Florida, at outlet stores and factory shops, and if you head to shopping enclaves like Winter Park Village, Thornton Park, and College Park, or to the Mall at Millenia, you can also find luxury goods, locally designed clothes and even cigars. Venture further into Orlando North and Lake Mary. Even the theme parks, too, have upped their game with quality souvenirs, sometimes crafted right before their eyes in the shops at Disney Springs and Universal City Walk.
With its culturally diverse population, Orlando offers flavors from around the globe. The city—thanks to chef-driven restaurants, farmers’ markets, and food trucks—has landed on the culinary map. There are even fine dining experiences to be had at the theme parks, where once barbecued turkey legs and caramel corn passed for haute cuisine.
Orlando, though beloved by children, is also kind to adults: Find the best wine bars, live music, cocktail lounges, brewpubs, and all manner of watering holes here, all ready to take your order. From the B.B. King’s Blues Club to a speakeasy hidden in a downtown Orlando shopping mall, this can be your happiest place on earth.
Even with all the development in Orlando, you don’t have to venture far from the theme parks and shopping malls to find wild Florida. This part of the state is rich with lakes and wetlands, natural springs and tropical wildlife. Start with a light introduction to the flora and fauna of the region with a visit to Orlando’s Harry P. Leu Gardens or a walk around Lake Eola, but then go a bit deeper with a paddle through the forests and riverways of Wekiwa Springs State Park or a bike ride on the Cross Seminole Trail, or a snorkel with the manatees at Blue Spring State Park.
If you only have a day in the City Beautiful, make it magic. You can spend it at one of the Walt Disney World parks or at Universal Orlando Resort or, better yet, save those for another trip and get to know this charming city on its own terms. Full of lush wetlands and state parks and small charming enclaves like Lake Eola and Winter Park, Orlando has enough to keep you happy and well-fed without any theme park dazzle.
It’s easy to fill a long weekend with Orlando fun. Spend one day at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot (with some Morimoto and tequila, to insert some adult-pleasing activities to the classic theme park day), of course. Engage in some other local magic, too, like the wildlife of Central Florida with a kayak exploration of the headwaters of the Everglades, or an afternoon viewing the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Hosmer Museum in Winter Park. Try some of Orlando’s food truck fare and sip international vintages at a wine bar. And, if you have some time, get out and explore the charming neighborhoods, up-and-coming restaurants, and boutique shopping in this sprawling and modern metropolis.
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