7 things to do in Orlando beyond the theme parks

by W. Andrew Powell
Things to do in Orlando - Museums, pools, animals, and shopping

Orlando has some of the best theme parks, roller coasters, and rides. There’s a lot more to do in Orlando though, and there is so much to do for art and culture lovers, foodies, and the adventurous.

Read on for a few of the top things to do in Orlando, and if you’re also thinking about visiting the theme parks, check out our stories on Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World.

Enjoy Michelin star-level dining

Knife & Spoon at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando

For the foodies and travellers who love an amazing culinary experience, Orlando has over 40 Michelin Guide recognized restaurants, plus James Beard honourees.

There are dining experience for everyone, from Knife & Spoon at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, to Soseki Modern Omakase at Winter Park, and Otto’s High Dive near the Milk District.

Orlando has a lot of exciting dining opportunities, and that also includes Michelin Bib Gourmand, and Michelin Recommended restaurants.

The menus are inviting, and cover a wide range of cultures and styles, with notable restaurants around every corner. Visit Orlando has a full list of all the top restaurants in the city, as well as beer tours, dinner shows, and wineries.

Discover art and culture

Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

Orlando is home to a number of museums and art galleries that will inspire you, and the first is one of my favourites.

Winter Park is a beautiful neighbourhood with the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. You can easily spend an afternoon exploring the area, taking a boat ride on the nearby lakes, and enjoying the spectacular works of artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Nearby you’ll also find the Rollins Museum of Art, and in Eatonville you can visit the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum, featuring artists of African descent, that also hosts the annual ZORA! Festival Season.

Close to downtown Orlando there’s the Orlando Museum of Art, and The Mennello Museum of American Art, just to name a few ideas.

Art lovers can also purchase pieces for sale from a wide range of galleries around the city, including downtown, and in Winter Park.

Go on an adventure

Screamin' Gator Zip Line at Gatorland
Screamin’ Gator Zip Line at Gatorland

Step out and enjoy your wild side in Orlando with lots of options for adventure that you won’t find elsewhere.

For a real thrill visit Wallaby Ranch and take to the skies with their tandem hang gliding experience. You’ll strap into a hang glider with a trained instructor, and then fly over the area for 15 minutes with a birds-eye-view of the world. It’s one of the most exciting things that you can do in Orlando.

Or why not feed alligators, and then go zip lining overhead at Gatorland? The wildlife preserve and theme park includes shows, a train, and the chance to zip around the park, not to mention opportunities to feed both the little and even the huge alligators.

Gatorland also has other animals, a petting zoo, the chance to meet and feed their capybaras, and there’s even a splash area for the kids. You can easily make it a whole day experience, or drop in for a few hours and then try the gator bites, too.

Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista at Marriott Village
Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista at Marriott Village

Soak up the sun

Orlando hotels and resorts are more than just great places to rest your head at night; they’re also the perfect relaxation destinations.

Find your oasis at some of the city’s best hotels. Most properties have pools, and some have lazy rivers, splash pads, hot tubs, slides, and pool-side bars.

Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista at Marriott Village is an affordable hotel and resort with restaurants and a playground, located right next to Walt Disney World. The upscale JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes offers a huge pool oasis in the middle of trees and lush greenery. Or for something special for the kids, Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa has a huge pirate ship right in the middle of the pool.

Go shopping

 Universal CityWalk at Universal Orlando Resort

Orlando’s chic outdoor shopping is hard to pass by, especially when you have centres like the luxury Mall at Millenia with over 150 stores.

For discount shopping fans there are lots of options, from Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores, the Orlando International Premium Outlets, to the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets.

Winter Park’s beautiful Park Avenue offers 10 blocks of boutique shops, so you can grab a coffee, explore the Morse Museum, and then pick out fun gifts to bring home.

Or you can go shopping at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World, or Universal CityWalk at Universal Orlando Resort. Both shopping areas are free to visit, so you don’t need a theme park ticket, and they have lots of food, restaurants, and events.

Experience a festival

Orlando's Winter Park

There are festivals throughout the year in Orlando, with something for everyone, no matter if you love movies, art, theatre, food, or culture.

A few of the top festivals include the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival in March, with concerts, food, and art all along Park Avenue.

In April, the Florida Film Festival celebrates independent and international cinema over 10 days and it also includes special events, luncheons, parties, and more.

The Orlando International Fringe is the longest running fringe festival in the United States, and they host plays in 14 venues over 14 days for theatre-lovers of all ages every may in Loch Haven Park.

For food and spirits, and for those who do want to visit a theme park, there’s the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival at Walt Disney World, and Universal’s Mardi Gras usually from February to early April. But Orlando also hosts the International Vegan Food Festival in April, the International Food and Drink Festival in September, and in October you can enjoy the Winter Park Wine and Dine, plus the Orlando Beer Festival in November.

And visit Orlando to celebrate Pride in April, May and June with the Pride Prom, One Magical Weekend, and Girls in Wonderland.

For more festivals and event details, check out Visit Orlando’s event calendar.

Get soaked and cool off

Disney's Blizzard Beach
Disney’s Blizzard Beach

For anyone who loves a good water slide, giant pools, or just cooling off on a hot day, Orlando has a number of excellent water parks around the city.

Aquatica Orlando is one of the city’s best water parks, with two wave pools–Cutback Cove & Big Surf Shores–slides, Walkabout Waters for the kids, plus food and shopping.

Disney’s Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon offer family fun for the whole family, and each park has a lazy river, wave pool, wild slides, and they’re a great break when Orlando heats up. At Blizzard Beach, dare to be wild and try one of the fastest free-fall slides in the world: Summit Plummet. During the summer 2023 you can also enjoy late nights at Typhoon Lagoon with Disney H2O Glow After Hours.

And Universal’s Volcano Bay is a large water park with a roaring volcano at its heart, and you can enjoy family cabanas there, with virtual lines, a huge wave pool, and for the grown up, great cocktails at the bars.

Getting to Orlando

If you’re ready to plan your trip to Orlando, there are daily flights from most major cities, and if you’re near Toronto, Canada’s new ultra-low fare airline Lynx Air offers flights from Toronto to MCO Terminal C four times a week. Lynx offers great deals, especially for kids and family members who don’t need a checked bag or carry-on.

Swoop also offers service service from Hamilton, Ontario’s YHM to MCO starting on May 6, 2023.

And Flair Airlines flies from Toronto to Orlando Sanford (SFB) twice per week.

Watch my video below from a recent trip to Orlando with Flair Airlines.

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