Orlando, called the “Theme Park Capital of the World,” is a city of endless possibilities and adventures. For many people, it's a dream come true. After all, what better than a magical concoction of famous theme parks and exhilarating activities?
But Orlando isn't just about roller coasters and fairy tale characters; it's also a sprawling metropolis boasting a rich tapestry of experiences.
From the thrills of its vibrant nightlife to the calming embrace of its natural parks, this guide dives deep into the city's many attractions. Whether you're a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler looking for a fresh perspective, this post will help you discover the many things to do in Orlando, Florida.
The 21 Most Exciting Things to Do in Orlando
From iconic theme parks to hidden gems, this post will cover a range of activities and attractions that capture the essence of Orlando.
Walt Disney World Resort Magic: Discovering Disney's Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, and Beyond
When most people think about Orlando, the first thing that pops into their mind is Walt Disney World Resort, and for a good reason! From the enchanting parades of the Magic Kingdom to the wild realms of Disney's Animal Kingdom, Disney World is more than just a collection of theme parks – it's an experience.
From the iconic Cinderella Castle to the enchanting attractions of Fantasyland, there's wonder at every turn. Just a short hop away, Animal Kingdom welcomes visitors with diverse terrains, from the expansive African plains to the soaring peaks of Pandora.
And for those bunking at the Disney World Resort? The enchantment continues long after the gates shut. With themed rooms, top-tier eateries, and endless entertainment, the Disney spell stays strong, day and night.
Universal Orlando Resort Adventures: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Islands of Adventure
Just a stone's throw from Walt Disney World lies another realm of fantasy and thrill: Universal Orlando Resort. Divided between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, this theme park haven promises adrenaline, nostalgia, and unforgettable memories.
Enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where you can stroll through the streets of Hogsmeade, sip a Butterbeer, and witness the marvel of Hogwarts Castle. Potterheads can live their dream here by exploring Diagon Alley or catching the Hogwarts Express.
Beyond the Wizarding World, Islands of Adventure is a roller coaster enthusiast's dream. With pulse-pounding rides like the Incredible Hulk Coaster and the immersive realms of Jurassic Park, there's never a dull moment.
SeaWorld and Aquatica: Where Sea Life Meets Orlando Fun
SeaWorld Orlando offers a unique blend of entertainment and marine life education. Whether it's the gravity-defying jumps of killer whales or the mesmerizing dance of dolphins, the marine shows blend awe and artistry. Beyond the shows, rides like the Manta and Kraken add excitement to the aquatic experience.
Adjacent to SeaWorld, Aquatica promises water-based fun for all ages. With twisting slides, relaxing lazy rivers, and wave pools, it's the perfect place to cool down from the Florida sun. Unique rides like the Dolphin Plunge, where you slide through a transparent tube amidst a pool of playful dolphins, set Aquatica apart as a must-visit water park in the Orlando area.
Orlando Beyond the Theme Parks: Exploring the City's Hidden Gems
There's a lot to see in Orlando besides theme parks. Dive into the city's rich cultural scene at the Orlando Science Center or take in the artistic grandeur at the Orlando Museum of Art.
For shoppers, areas like International Drive and the East End Market blend international brands and local crafts, making Orlando a shopping haven.
If you're planning a day of exploration followed by a serene night out in the wild, consider attending a music festival where you can camp under the stars. To prepare in advance, here are some camping food ideas to keep you energized and sated.
The Buzz of International Drive: Orlando Attractions, Dining, and Nightlife
International Drive, often called I-Drive, is Orlando's dining, shopping, and entertainment hub. Starting with the iconic Orlando Eye, this bustling strip offers attractions like Madame Tussauds Orlando and SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium.
By day, tourists can hop from one attraction to another, pausing for a shopping break at Pointe Orlando or grabbing a bite at one of the many world-class restaurants that line the street. I-Drive transforms into a vibrant nightlife scene in the evening with bars, clubs, and live entertainment venues.
For those wanting to experience something unique, dinner shows like the Pirate's Dinner Adventure blend gastronomy and theater, making for a memorable Orlando evening.
Kennedy Space Center: Central Florida's Gateway to the Stars
In the heart of Central Florida, the Kennedy Space Center stands as a testament to human ingenuity. More than just an attraction, it's a journey through space history. Here, you can see the Space Shuttle Atlantis up close, experience a rocket launch, or interact with astronauts who've ventured into the great beyond.
The Orlando International Airport provides easy access to this iconic space center for those flying into the region. With interactive exhibits, IMAX films, and astronaut encounters, the Kennedy Space Center offers an otherworldly experience in Orlando.
Natural Wonders: Wekiwa Springs State Park, Blue Spring State Park, and Lake Eola Park
Its theme parks often overshadow Orlando's natural beauty, but places like Wekiwa Springs State Park and Blue Spring State Park are a stark reminder that Orlando has much more to offer than just its rollercoasters. At these parks, you can dive into the refreshing springs, canoe through gentle waterways, or soak in the beauty of Central Florida's diverse ecosystems.
Not to be overlooked, Lake Eola Park in Downtown Orlando is the city's natural crown jewel. Whether it's a paddleboat ride across the pristine lake, a stroll by the iconic fountain, or feeding the resident swans, this park is a haven of tranquility amidst Orlando's urban landscape.
Orlando's Water Worlds: Discovery Cove, Typhoon Lagoon, and Blizzard Beach
Water parks offer the perfect retreat from Orlando's tropical climate. Discovery Cove stands out with its unique experiences: swim with dolphins, snorkel through colorful reefs, or relax on sandy beaches, all in one place.
On the other hand, if you’re a Disney enthusiast, you will love Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. The former offers wave pools, water slides, and a tropical ambiance, while the latter transports you to a “melting” ski resort with snowy landscapes and water-filled adventures.
Whether you’re looking for thrills on water slides or a serene float along a lazy river, Orlando's water parks promise fun for all travelers.
Unique Adventures: Orlando Tree Trek and Screamin' Gator Zip Line
For thrill-seekers looking for something different than the usual theme park rides, Orlando doesn't disappoint. You can brave the treetop obstacle courses, swinging logs, and wobbly bridges at Orlando Tree Trek, challenging your courage and agility.
Then, you can experience the adrenaline of the Screamin' Gator Zip Line at Gatorland, soaring over alligator-infested waters. It's a heart-pounding adventure that offers a unique view of Florida's most famous reptilian residents. With safety as a priority, both these adventures guarantee a rush beyond any other.
Resorts and Relaxation: Orlando Resort Experience
The magic of Orlando extends beyond its attractions. The city also boasts world-class resorts that promise luxury, relaxation, and entertainment. The Walt Disney World Resort and the Universal Orlando Resort offer proximity to major theme parks and feature various dining options, entertainment venues, and relaxation spots.
Other notable mentions include the Loews Royal Pacific Resort and Hilton Orlando, where world-class spa treatments, golf courses, and poolside relaxation await. Whether you're looking to be in the heart of the action or seeking a quiet retreat, Orlando's resorts cater to every kind of traveler.
Cultural Gems: Morse Museum and Orlando Museum of Art
Dive into Orlando's rich cultural scene by visiting its museums. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum in Winter Park houses the world's most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, including jewelry, pottery, and stained glass.
On the other hand, the Orlando Museum of Art in Loch Haven Park showcases regional, national, and international art spanning various periods and genres. Monthly events, educational programs, and rotating exhibitions ensure there's always something new to discover.
Camping Adventures: Embracing the Wild Side of Orlando
While Orlando is renowned for its iconic attractions and urban delights, many visitors overlook its proximity to some of Florida's most scenic camping spots. Setting up a camp amidst the natural beauty of Central Florida offers a contrasting experience to bustling city life.
For those camping with kids or a group, introducing some engaging survival scenario games can make the adventure more educational and memorable. These games spark fun and teach vital life skills and survival instincts.
However, if you're considering a more extended stay outdoors, perhaps by living in an RV, it's essential to be aware of some challenges. Living in an RV has its set of unique experiences, but it's crucial to understand the potential dangers of living in an RV to make your journey safe and enjoyable.
Beyond the Parks: Exploring the Classic Florida Towns Nearby
Orlando's charm isn't limited to its city limits. Several classic Florida towns dot the periphery, offering unique experiences. Winter Park, for instance, features the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour, which takes you through a series of beautiful lakes and canals.
Kissimmee, just a short drive away, is known for its serene lakefront parks and old-world charm. And for those keen on exploring more of Central Florida's history, a visit to the heritage towns around Lake County is highly recommended.
Golfing in Orlando: From Bay Hill to Lake Nona
Orlando is a golfer's paradise. The Bay Hill Golf Club is an iconic destination, especially if you want to play where the pros do. But that's just the start. Lake Nona Golf & Country Club offers a pristine golfing experience amidst lakes and pine forests.
Many major resorts, including Walt Disney World Resort, have their own courses, offering varying levels of challenge for novices and experts. So whether you're looking to tee off with friends or hoping to improve your handicap, Orlando's greens won't disappoint.
Orlando's Green Spaces: Leu Gardens and Loch Haven Park
Amidst the bustling attractions, Orlando offers peaceful retreats in its beautiful gardens and parks. Leu Gardens spans nearly 50 acres and showcases tropical plants, roses, and camellias, making it a haven for nature lovers.
Meanwhile, Loch Haven Park is Orlando's premier cultural park, surrounded by three lakes. Home to the Orlando Science Center, Orlando Museum of Art, and the historic Mennello Museum of American Art, it's a place where nature meets culture, providing a respite for both mind and body.
A Dive into History: Central Florida Zoo and The Botanical Gardens
The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, located in Seminole County, lets you come face-to-face with over 500 animals, making it a must-visit for wildlife enthusiasts. From exotic creatures that roam the savannas of Africa to native species that inhabit Florida's unique ecosystems, the zoo offers a captivating journey into the animal kingdom.
The botanical gardens add an educational twist, allowing visitors to learn about the diverse flora of Central Florida. As you stroll through the gardens, you'll encounter many plants, each with its own story, contributing to the region's ecological richness. Whether traveling with family or seeking a tranquil escape, this destination promises a blend of wonder and knowledge.
Orlando's Little Secrets: West Orange Trail
For cycling enthusiasts, the West Orange Trail is a picturesque pathway that you can't miss. Stretching over 20 miles long, the trail offers riders diverse sceneries, from beautiful natural landscapes to bustling urban settings. As you pedal along the route, you'll traverse through panoramic meadows, charming neighborhoods, and even the vibrant heart of downtown Winter Garden.
Whether you're an experienced cyclist or looking for a leisurely ride, the West Orange Trail presents a unique perspective of Central Florida, making every mile an experience.
Family-Friendly Attractions: LEGOLAND and Peppa Pig Theme Park
Orlando is the ultimate family vacation destination, with attractions for little ones. LEGOLAND Florida is a colorful and interactive theme park where everything is brick-themed.
The recently opened Peppa Pig Theme Park is another must-visit for families with young children. Dive into the world of the popular TV show and meet your favorite characters, ensuring a fun-filled day for the entire family.
Unconventional Orlando: Ripley's Believe It or Not! and WonderWorks
Orlando has got you covered for those who enjoy the offbeat and unusual. Ripley's Believe It or Not! on I-Drive houses some of the world's most curious artifacts. It's a journey into the bizarre, from shrunken heads to optical illusions.
Adjacent to it, WonderWorks stands out with its upside-down facade. Inside, it's an amusement park for the mind with over 100 interactive exhibits, from hurricane simulators to laser tag arenas. A visit here is sure to challenge your perceptions and offer unconventional fun.
Orlando Nightlife: CityWalk, Downtown Orlando, and More
Orlando is the place to be for travelers who love to party and have fun at night. When the sun goes down, Orlando's nightlife awakens.
Universal CityWalk is a hub of nighttime entertainment, from A Tribute to Freedom's vibrant rhythms to the eclectic dining at The Cowfish. Here, you can enjoy live music, dancing, and movies.
For those who want to dive deeper into the local scene, Orange Avenue in Downtown Orlando offers an array of clubs, bars, and live music venues. After the sun sets, you can experience the city's pulse and dance the night away.
Food Adventures: East End Market and Lake Nona Wave Hotel
For many culinary explorers, Orlando is rapidly becoming a hotspot. The East End Market in the Audubon Park Garden District showcases the city's vibrant food scene, offering anything from artisanal bakeries to organic vegetable stands.
In contrast, for a luxurious dining experience, the Lake Nona Wave Hotel offers a curated menu that captures the essence of Central Florida's produce, served with impeccable hospitality. Each bite here is genuinely a celebration of flavors.
The Best Things to Do in Orlando
When most people think about Orlando, the first thing that comes to mind is Disney World, but the city is more than just theme parks. It's a place that promises a unique story to every visitor, whether it's the laughter echoing from a thrilling ride, the calmness of a lakeside sunset, or the cultural immersion of a local art museum. Despite listing over twenty things to do in Orlando, this guide only scratches the surface of what Orlando has to offer.
So, as you plan your trip, remember to be prepared for adventure, and most importantly, keep an open mind to what you might find during your travels. Orlando awaits, and its stories are yours for the taking.
Jeff is a current Harvard student and author of the blog Financial Pupil who is passionate about learning, living, and sharing all things personal finance-related. He has experience working in the financial industry and enjoys the pursuit of financial freedom. Outside of blogging, he loves to cook, read, and golf in his spare time.