What to Do in Orlando

With nearly perfect weather, Orlando earns its nickname as “The City Beautiful.” Soak up the sun at the beaches, state parks, waterways, or springs. Then, visit an amusement park or go shopping at one of the city’s many luxurious resorts.

1920 N Forest Ave, Orlando, FL 32803, USA
While Orlando typically inspires images of amusement parks, the city is also home to sites that are completely separate from the manufactured worlds of Disney and Universal—such as the Harry P. Leu Gardens. The urban oasis teems with tropical plants like azaleas and palms, and includes an historic home once inhabited by the Leu family. With more than 2,000 camellia plants and 230-plus cultivars, its impressive collection ranks among the largest in the United States.
6000 Discovery Cove Way, Orlando, FL 32821
An all-inclusive experience, Discovery Cove, which is owned by SeaWorld, treats guests to an in-water interaction with the park’s resident dolphins, generous breakfast and lunch buffets, and free drinks (including beer and wine). The lushly landscaped property also features man-made lagoons, waterfalls, and beaches where visitors can relax in lounge chairs, hammocks, or private cabanas. In the snorkeling lagoon, you can even swim alongside large schools of fish, de-barbed stingrays, and sharks. Whatever you do, don’t miss a stroll through the amazing aviary, which is home to birds from around the world—many are so tame they’ll approach you to be hand-fed.
Thornton Park, Orlando, FL 32801, USA
A stroll through this pedestrian-friendly neighborhood near Lake Eola in downtown Orlando yields plenty to see and do. Design a T-shirt on the spot at Mother Falcon’s clothing factory, or stock up on women’s clothing at Zou Zou. The Falcon ticks off a couple of boxes because it’s not only a bar but also an exhibition space for the works of local artists and there’s frequently live music.
512 E Washington St, Orlando, FL 32801, USA
Orlando’s centerpiece lake sits right in the middle of downtown, close to the pretty neighborhood and dining district of Thornton Park. A pedestrian-only path fringing the water stretches for nearly a mile, offering visitors a great place to stroll or jog. Along the lake you’ll also find an amphitheater for concerts and festivals, a picturesque pagoda overlook, and a kiosk where you can rent pedal boats shaped like swans. Bring the kids to feed the ducks and swans, or visit the farmers’ market, which takes place on the lake’s southeast corner every Saturday morning.
6000 Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819, USA
One of the most popular attractions in Orlando, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a two-part experience. Visit Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and then take the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley at Universal Studios for the full adventure. You’ll recognize a lot of things from the books and movies, but the highlight is the Quidditch ride that sends you flying through the air with Harry and his friends. Don’t forget to grab a Butterbeer before you leave.
4200 Conroy Road
Home to big brands and even bigger discounts, Orlando draws shoppers from all over the world. Many head to the Mall at Millenia, which features Cartier, Tiffany & Co., Jimmy Choo, and Versace alongside mainstays like Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters. For something a little less expensive, try Orlando Premium Outlets or the boutiques along Park Avenue in Winter Park.
2901 Osceola Pkwy, Orlando, FL 32830, USA
Opened in 1998, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park is home to animals, animated attractions, and thrilling rides for the entire family. The animal lovers in your entourage will swoon over the fun, informative Kilimanjaro Safari Rides, during which you’ll take an open-air vehicle across the “savanna” to spot herds of giraffes and elephants, while thrill seekers will love the roller coasters, rafting rides, and character meet-and-greets. There are also exhibits on everything from gorillas and okapis to hippos, flamingos, and living coral reef, as well as the new Pandora—The World of Avatar area, which features 3-D rides and other, milder attractions for little ones. Standard admission tickets include enough to keep you busy for two days, plus you can add on experiences like evening safari rides, dining packages, and behind-the-scenes tours with naturalists to learn about the day-to-day care of the African elephant herd.
6000 Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819, USA
If thrilling roller coasters, mind-blowing 3-D animation experiences, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter sound like your trifecta of fun, then Universal’s Islands of Adventure is really the only park you need to visit during your Orlando vacation. The most adult-oriented of Orlando’s theme parks, IOA, as it’s known, is home to one of America’s most exciting roller coasters, the Incredible Hulk, as well as incredible 3-D rides like the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, and much, much more. The Hogsmeade portion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is IOA’s major new attraction and includes the extraordinary 3-D ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. If you want to see Diagon Alley and the rest of the Harry Potter attractions, be sure you buy the ticket that also grants access to the Hogwarts Express and Universal Orlando Resort.
6000 Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819, USA
Similar to Disney Springs, Universal CityWalk offers adult-oriented—but totally family-appropriate—fun for when you’ve wrapped up another theme park day. An entertainment zone with free admission, it connects the Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure theme parks. Still, it’s most happening after the parks close, when it turns into a veritable dining and nightlife district that often attracts more revelers than downtown Orlando itself. All the restaurants and bars surround a man-made lagoon, which becomes busy with boats ferrying guests to and from the Universal hotels. To eat, there’s everything from casual cafés and a food court to extravagant theme restaurants like the new Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen. Bar options are similarly wide-ranging—you can drink a hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s (which looks just like the original in New Orleans), sip a Red Stripe beer to the tune of reggae music at Bob Marley—A Tribute to Freedom, or catch the big game at the NBC Sports Grill & Brew. Parking is free after 6 p.m. so expect crowds starting at sundown. You’ll also want to keep an eye on the calendar, as CityWalk hosts major concerts and festivals throughout the year.
Winter Park, Florida, 32789, USA
This affluent, lake-filled suburb offers the anti–theme park experience just a few minutes east of downtown Orlando. There’s something decidedly European about strolling along its main shopping and dining street, Park Avenue, which is lined with cute little cafés and independent boutiques. Bringing further sophistication to the town is Rollins College, a private university with a stunning campus, and cultural attractions like the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum, which houses the most comprehensive collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany glassworks anywhere. Plan your visit around the farmers’ market, held every Saturday at the historic train depot in the center of town, or the nationally lauded Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival, which occurs every March.
1800 Wekiwa Cir, Apopka, FL 32712, USA
With all of Orlando’s man-made attractions, it’s refreshing to get deep into nature at this wonderful state park, located north of downtown and the theme-park corridor. Spread across 7,000 acres of pristine central Florida forest, the park centers around the headwaters of the Wekiwa River, a beautiful, blue-and-green-hued spring with a roped-off area that’s safe for swimming (alligators do dwell in the main river). Rent a kayak or canoe at the park and paddle from the spring into the river, where you can spot turtles and alligators sitting on the banks. If you’re seeking a more primitive experience, you can also book one of the park’s spacious campsites, some of which come with hookups for electricity and water.
4951 International Dr, Orlando, FL 32819, USA
As much as Orlando is known for its theme parks, the city is also popular for its many outlets and shopping malls, which draw tourists with great deals on luxury cosmetics, electronics, and clothing. Home to more than 180 retailers, the Orlando International Premium Outlets are a one-stop shop for big-name brands at discounted prices. Here, you’ll find everything from Adidas, Armani, and Banana Republic to Baccarat, Gap, Guess, Kate Spade, Coach, and more. Also available are food options like Panera Bread and Five Guys, so you don’t even have to leave the area to eat.
1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven, FL 33884, USA
Opened in 2011 in Winter Haven, Legoland Florida has more than 50 rides, shows, and attractions, making it the second-largest location of its kind in the world (only the U.K.’s Legoland Windsor is bigger). You’ll even find a Lego-themed hotel here, along with beautiful gardens and tropical flowers, which used to be part of the famed Florida park formerly located on the property. The Fun Town attraction teaches kids how Legos are made, while the Land of Adventure features roller coasters for older children. Also not to be missed is Miniland USA, which re-creates famous American cities with thousands upon thousands of Legos.
29 South Orange Avenue
Believe it or not, Orlando has an impressive—and ever-growing—arts and culture community. To get a feel for the scene, visit CityArts Factory, a collective of contemporary art galleries in the heart of downtown Orlando. Admission is free and exhibits by both local and international artists rotate monthly, meaning there’s always something new to see.
900 East Princeton Street
Located on a pretty lakefront expanse in Loch Haven Cultural Park, this museum draws visitors with an impressive collection of folk art. Browse constantly changing exhibits on all aspects of American art, then pop by the gift store and shop curios dedicated to the genre. The museum also features a lovely outdoor sculpture garden and hosts the popular Indie-Folkfest on its grounds every February.
445 N Park Ave, Winter Park, FL 32789, USA
If you’ve ever admired Louis Comfort Tiffany’s intricate lamps, you’ll appreciate the chance to visit this museum wholly dedicated to the artist himself. Called the Morse Museum for short, this Winter Park institution houses the world’s largest collection of authentic Tiffany works, including wondrous pieces of jewelry, pottery, leaded-glass lamps, art glass, and windows. Plan to stay for at least 90 minutes to fully enjoy the riot of color on display, and be sure to watch the short film that explains the story behind the famous glassworks.
200 Epcot Center Drive
Leave it to Disney to give visitors the chance to travel the world without leaving a theme park. At Epcot’s World Showcase, you’ll find several countries re-created to surprisingly realistic effect, all surrounding a centerpiece lagoon. Experience the landscapes, food, and cultural performances of such diverse lands as China, Italy, Canada, and Morocco, or embark on a “drink around the world” journey by grabbing a Hefeweizen in Germany, a vin rouge in France, a margarita in Mexico, and so on. The staff working in each area are natives of the country, so you can expect an authentic experience wherever you stop. Also worth visiting in Epcot are the 3-D rides, the Frozen-themed attractions, and the underwater coral reef. In addition, the park hosts annual events like the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival in the late fall, and the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival each spring, making it more than worth a visit.
College Park, Orlando, FL 32804, USA
In recent years, this pretty neighborhood, located just five minutes north of downtown Orlando, has become a dining, shopping, and entertainment destination in its own right. Edgewater Drive is lined with restaurants, shops, and offices, while the surrounding residential areas feature historic bungalows, Craftsman-style homes, brick streets, and lakefront views. Favorite eateries in the neighborhood include Jade Sushi & New Asian and K Restaurant, which is nestled in a cute old house. While there isn’t a college nearby, the area gets its moniker from streets named after famed universities like Princeton, Dartmouth, and Harvard.
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