Things to Do in Orlando Besides Theme Parks
When most people think of Orlando, they think of Disney World and Universal Studios. However, there are so many more things to do in Orlando besides theme parks! Orlando is a sprawling city home to people of all different cultures and backgrounds. Because of this, you can find something to do for any interest or budget.
I have spanned everywhere from Winter Garden to Lake Nona to determine the best local attractions. Many of them I have experienced myself and I have only included ones that are worth your time and money. This list currently contains over 50 ideas for things to do in Orlando besides theme parks. Read on to figure out what to do on your Central Florida vacation or day trip!
Things to Do in Winter Park
One of my favorite places to visit in Orlando is Winter Park. I am usually satisfied taking a stroll through Central Park and checking out one of the amazing restaurants on Park Ave. That in itself is a great experience. If you have more time, here are some other things to do in Winter Park.
- Visit the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum – This American art museum is home to the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany and other turn of the century artists. The main highlight is the stunning Tiffany Chapel Interior made of stained glass and inspired by the Byzantine Empire.
- Take a Scenic Boat Tour – If you want to feel some waterfront breezes, check out the scenic boat tour on the Winter Park lakes. This is a great way to see the sights and learn about the history of the area.
- Check out the Weekly Farmers Market – Every Saturday morning, the streets of Winter Park are bustling at Central Florida’s number one produce and plant market. You can find everything here from baked goods and groceries to local art and flowers!
- Try a Foodie Tour – As I mentioned before, this part of Orlando is all about the food! There are multiple different food tours where you can taste bites from a variety of the local restaurants.
Audubon and Baldwin Park Experiences
A couple other scenic parts of Orlando to check out are Audubon Park and Baldwin park. With multiple lakes, including Lake Baldwin, this is another gorgeous area to walk around and explore. Here are a few things I have enjoyed doing here.
- Stroll through the Harry P. Leu Gardens – Plant lovers have to check out this beautiful botanical garden where you can find so many wonderful flowers, palms and trees. The 12 different areas to explore. Each feature a unique environment with ever changing plant species to delight people of all ages!
- Explore the East End Market – For a truly local experience, visiting the East End Market is an excellent way to soak up the culture and check out artisan fare. Some of the best local restaurants like Domu and Gideon’s Bakehouse have stands here! There are also frequent community events and even classes where you can learn something new.
- Visit the Orlando Science Center – Probably the best of the best educational things to do in Orlando is visit the Orlando Science Center. All ages have fun with the interactive exhibits, including ones with dinosaurs. You also can interact with animals and check out the observatory with Florida’s largest telescope!
- Play Fetch at the Lake Baldwin Dog Park – The favorite dog park of the area is by far Lake Baldwin. Dogs are allowed to run off leash and they can even swim in the lake! Best of all, there are showers for the pups! This way they will be nice and clean after their day of playing.
Mills 50 and Milk District Things to Do
If you want to experience the up and coming Orlando, check out the Milk District and Mills 50. These areas are both home to some of the most modern and unique businesses and restaurants. There is an artsy alternative vibe that makes for a fun experience. I highly recommend going to my favorite brewery Sideward Brewing while in the area, as well as checking out these things to do.
- Take a Mural Tour through Mills 50 – Though there are impressive murals all over Orlando, the Mills 50 District has so many you have to see. Whether on foot or by car, see how many colorful murals you can spit and make sure to get some pictures!
- Ride a Bike on the Orlando Urban Trail – For a picturesque bike ride through Orlando, check out the Urban Trail from Lake Highland to Mead Garden. It breaks off with multiple connections to different lakes, perfect for stopping and having a picnic.
- Visit the Orlando Museum of Art – Another way to get the creative vibes flowing is to visit the Orlando Museum of Art. This expansive gallery features an array of exquisite art from many cultures.
- Hang Ten at the Orlando Skate Park – If you enjoy skateboarding, rollerblading or even BMX, the Orlando Skate Park is the best place in the city to catch some air. This vast park has a number of bowls and courses to test your skating skills.
Lake Eola and Thorton Park Things to Do
The Lake Eola and Thorton park area is technically known as Orlando’s Downtown. Because of this, the area has tons of Orlando things to do besides theme parks. You can almost forget you aren’t in a huge tourist destination while in Lake Eola. Here are some fun things to do in addition to walking around the beautiful lake downtown.
- Paddle a Swan Boat – For a chance to see the city from the water, you can rent a Swan paddle boat on Lake Eola. This is a fun way to spend half an hour seeing the sights and giving your legs a workout.
- Catch a Show at the Dr. Phillips Performing Center – The best place to take in the theater in Central Florida is undoubtedly the Dr. Phillips Center. This theater hosts all sorts of plays, concerts and events for whatever theater experience you desire and tickets are pretty affordable!
- Find your Om with Yoga at Lake Highland Park – Every Sunday, you can take an outdoor yoga class with Miriam at Lake Highland Park! For only $10, this is a fun way to relax in the outdoors.
- See a soccer, basketball or hockey game – Orlando is home to the Magic, the Solar Bears, the Orlando City SC and the Orlando Pride and most of the year you can find at least one of these teams playing. I have gone to games at both the Amway Center and the Exploria Stadium and both are always an amusing time.
- Browse the Orlando Farmers Market – Another Farmers Market that locals love is the Orlando Farmers Market at Lake Eola. This takes place every Sunday and features produce, crafts, prepared foods and even beer and wine!
- Learn Something New at the Orange County History Center – For an educational experience, this museum contains exhibit all about the history of Orlando and the surrounding area. This includes a look into life in Florida in the 19th century, as well as pieces about the environment, industry and expansion of the theme parks.
- Go on a Brewery Crawl – There are many outstanding breweries in Orlando and a bunch are located downtown! You can walk between Broken Strings Brewing, Motorworks and Brew Theory for a craft beer crawl.
I-Drive Things to Do in Orlando Besides Theme Parks
I-Drive may be one of the most touristy places on earth, but there are actually a lot of things to do here besides theme parks. While of course Universal, Sea World and the water parks are fun to experience, I have found some options that are a little more lowkey and less expensive. Here are a few things I like to do in the I-Drive area.
- Take Your Shot at TopGolf – My favorite experience on I-Drive is hands down TopGolf. This is an interactive driving range where you can play games by hitting golf balls! You do not need much golf experience to have fun here and can come for as short as long of a time as you want. I especially love getting a couple drinks and appetizers while playing too!
- Go for a Ride at Icon Park – A big attraction on I-Drive is the Icon park, which I would say is different from a theme park. It is free to visit and walk around and get some food. However, if you are not afraid of heights, you can ride the giant Ferris Wheel for some awesome views! If you are feeling extra daring, you can even go on the StarFlyer. This ride swings you around 450 feet in the air!
- Play around at Ripley’s Odditorium – Like many cities, Orlando has a Ripley’s Believe It or Not attraction. This one is a museum of oddities basically with everything from candy sculptures to optical illusions. It’s a great place to go on a rainy day because these interactive exhibits are fun for the whole family!
- Race Your Friends at Andretti – The best place to race go karts in Orlando is at the new Andretti indoor race track. It’s the world’s longest indoor course with elevation changes and banked turns. Speed Demons will love trying this and even the ropes course or the laser tag!
- Enjoy a tropical day Discovery Cove – For an all-inclusive aquatic experience, check out Discovery Cove. Here you can spend the day swimming with dolphins, snorkeling with fish and rays and relaxing on the lazy river.
Things to Do in Doctor Phillips
Just a short drive from Disney World, you can find the quiet suburb of Doctor Phillips. If you need a break from the theme parks, you can find some less crowded, but still fun things to do here. Below I have included some ideas for activities just far enough outside the Disney bubble.
- Taste your way through the Chocolate Museum – For those with a sweet tooth, I highly recommend visiting The Chocolate Museum & Café for an educational and decadent experience. You start by learning about the origins and history of chocolate, followed by seeing how chocolate is made and some remarkable sculptures made out of chocolate. Of course, the tour ends with samples of all different kinds and a chance to purchase more in the café!
- Hike through the Tibet-Butler Nature Preserve – Believe it or not, you can get a taste of the great outdoors only 15 minutes from Disney! This preserve has over of three miles of trails through a natural Florida ecosystem. You will be able to see a variety of plants an animals on a hike here.
- Play the Escape Game with friends – The highest rated Escape Room in Orlando is the Escape Game here in Doctor Phillips. Each time you visit, you will be tested by new challenges. See if you can escape the room in less than an hour! These are always a blast with friends and a great way to make some funny memories.
- Visit the Dellagio Town Center – For those who enjoy shopping and dining, the Dellagio Town Center is an excellent place to visit in the Doctor Phillips area. Here there is a bunch of stores, restaurants and even a speak easy! Not only that, but the architecture is so intricate and the plentiful fountains make it a great place to relax.
- Cast a line at Big Sand Lake – Fishing fanatics looking for things to do in Orlando, should definitely spend the day at Big Sand Lake. You can put your boat in at the Bay Vista Boat Ramp and catch species such as largemouth bass and bluegill!
Celebration and Lake Buena Vista Attractions
Considering Lake Buena Vista is where Disney World is, you may be surprised that this part has things to do in Orlando besides theme parks! There are actually many things you can do here without spending any money on admission or parking. Here are my favorites!
- Steal the Magic at Disney – It is not stealing at all, this is just what my family calls it when we go to Disney property and do not visit the theme parks! Most people do not realize that you can visit Disney Springs, the Boardwalk and Disney Resorts for free. I especially like spending some time at Disney Springs for a meal, some shopping and even taking a boat ride. You can also enjoy a walk on the board walk or even a surrey ride rental. For the resorts, I recommend making a dinner reservation and then taking a monorail or a skyline ride! If you time it right, you can even see the fireworks after.
- Play a Game of Golf – The Lake Buena vista area and the Celebration area both have lots of golf courses. You can check out the Celebration Golf Club or the Falcon’s Fire Golf Course for a game or the driving range. The Disney World property also has courses at Shades of Green. For the whole family, there are also two mini golf courses on Disney property!
- Shop the Vineland Outlets – Instead of paying full price for items at Disney World or the Mall of Millenia, you can save some money at the outlets. They have a Disney store here with plenty of options for souvenirs and dozens of other brands for stylish looks at an affordable price.
- Visit the Celebration Town Center – One of the cutest towns in Orlando is the Disney designed Celebration and you can see it for yourself while visiting this town center. Here you can usually find seasonal celebrations like Holiday Snow Days or weekly farmers markets. Even on days without an event, it is still so relaxing to grab an alfresco meal here and stroll the main street.
- Explore Lake Rianhard – At the end of the Celebration Town Center is Lake Rianhard and a couple of gorgeous outdoor parks. If the weather is nice, taking a walk around the lake with a friend or your dog is always a scenic experience and you can finish it off with a coffee or ice cream!
Things to Experience in Lake Nona
Right near the airport is another adorable community, Lake Nona where there are plenty of things to do outside. I love the friendly feeling of this area and the plentiful bike trails. Though you should definitely check out some of the best restaurants here like Canvas and Bosphorous, here are some other things to do besides eating.
- Wipeout at Nona Adventure Park – For those needing an adrenaline rush, you have to check out the Nona Adventure Park. This is a one of a kind outdoor activities center with a ropes course, an aqua course and wakeboarding! All ages will have fun climbing, jumping and swimming to their hearts content with these obstacle courses.
- Experience Art After Dark – Every Friday night, the Lake Nona Town Center comes alive with art music and vendors for a fun start to the weekend. Here you will get the chance to eat, see some dazzling artwork and enjoy the vibrant community.
- Take a ride on the Bike Trails – For Lake Nona, one of the best things to do in Orlando besides theme park is to go on a bike ride. There are almost 50 miles of trails here, including parts od the Southeast Trail. Heroes Community Park is a great place to start and you can even rent a bike if you need too.
- Taste Local Delicacies at Boxi Park – Another unique feature of Lake Nona is Boxi Park. If you have ever been to a food truck meetup, think of that, but with shipping containers instead! Here, you can try a variety of food and drinks from different vendors. Along with this, there is often live music and games to make for an entertaining time.
Winter Garden Things to Do
The sleepy town of Winter Garden may not seem like much, but it’s actually the perfect place to go for things to do in Orlando besides theme parks! Just west of Downtown Orlando, you can find their loveable downtown and plenty of nature experiences. Here are some ideas for things to do at this Lake Apopka area.
- Hike the Oakland Nature Preserve – There are many excellent trails in Lake Nona for hiking enthusiasts. The Tucker Ranch Complex and the West Orange Trail are nice, but the Oakland Nature Preserve is the best spot. Here you will find a preserve full of shady trails, views of nature and even a butterfly garden.
- See a show at the Garden Theatre – This Winter Garden spot allows you to see talented performances of plays and music in this historic theater. There is almost always a different show available from Hello, Dolly to A Raisin in the Sun. Be sure to see when your favorite show is playing for an exciting date night!
- Explore Downtown and Plant Street Market – The whole Winter Garden downtown is so picturesque, but the Plant Street Market is a definite must-visit. This community gathering spot, has an indoor marketplace with tons of cafes and grocers to choose from. Best of all, attached to it is the brewery Crooked Can, so you can have a beer while checking out the vendors!
- Fish, Birdwatch or Play at Newton Park – To fully experience Lake Apopka, head to this lakefront for some outdoors time. Whether you like fishing, nature watching or having a picnic, this is a peaceful spot to wind down at.
Know Before You Go: Things to Do in Orlando Besides Theme Parks
I hope this post proved to you that Orlando is more than Disney World and Universal! There really are so many things to do in Orlando besides theme parks from nature experiences to cultural ones. I recommending checking out at least two neighborhoods while you are visiting. Or if you are a local, see if you can check off this whole list! Here are some things to keep in mind while exploring Orlando.
- The best time to visit Orlando is November through May. This is when the weather is less hot and humid, so outdoor activities are more enjoyable. You can get some great hotel rates during the summer off-season. Make sure to watch out for hurricanes if you are visiting then!
- For flying into Orlando, I recommend the Orlando International Airport which is half an hour away from most areas. The Sanford Airport sometimes has good deals to fly into, but it is about an hour away from most things to do in Orlando.
- If you are visiting the area, I highly recommend renting a car. It’s a large area, and though you can use Lyft/Uber, a rental car is probably cheaper
- For nightlife, I recommend checking out Downtown Orlando and I-Drive. This is where there is more of a club scene. However, you can find pubs and breweries throughout for a more laid back night.
- If you are taking an Orlando vacation and not visiting the theme parks, it is best to stay in the Lake Eola area. There are hotels and Airbnb’s all over though, so find a place to stay near whatever area sounds most appealing to you!
Did I miss one of your favorite things to do in Orlando besides theme parks? Let me know in the comments if you have any other ideas! For more ideas for your Orlando vacation, check out my Orlando Restaurants Guide and my Central Florida Attractions post.
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