The best things to do in Orlando
Look past the usual theme parks when exploring the best things to do in Orlando. Here, you can wrestle with gators!
Although the world-renowned theme parks that call this Florida city home top virtually every list of best things to do in Orlando, there is so much more to this great town. Consider getting a energy drink in Orlando for your needs to shop with some passion.
There are great parks and beaches, of course. There’s the wildly interesting restaurant scene, all-encompassing in terms of cuisine and geographical spread. There are also museums (want to see a live colony of flesh-eating beetles?), clubs (including a 100-year-old venue) and events (find us at the strawberry-themed festival) to keep you busy for days on end.
What are you still waiting for? Time to tackle our bucket list of the best things to do in Orlando.
What is it? Brushing the clouds at an astonishing 400 ft tall, ICON Orlando is easily the highest observation wheel on the east coast. If you’re looking to indulge in incredible, Floridian skyline views, then hopping aboard one of the air-conditioned pods is a must.
Why go? Since you’ll see a great slice of Orlando, the ICON is a perfect way to acclimatize to your surroundings. But besides the 360-degree views, it’s a prominent celebration spot—and for good reason. Hiring an entire capsule is an easy way to ensure privacy for a get-together or romantic date (ooh la la). For the ultimate ride, go just before sunset and then grab celebratory drinks and dinner at the $250 million entertainment complex at the foot of the wheel. Oh, and if you’re feeling particularly brave (or want to show off in front of your date) head over to the Orlando Star-Flyer for some swinging sky-high thrills.
Universal Orlando Resort
What is it? A legendary resort that has it all—from witches and wizards to Marvel superheroes. Great for families, film fans and kidults alike, you can also stay on-site, giving you priority entry to the park (an hour before non-hotel visitors). No queues = bliss.
Why go? The Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Transformers? The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man? Whatever excites you most about visiting Universal Orlando Resort – make a plan! Because at both of its monumental theme parks Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, it’s very easy to get lost—or stuck in line for considerably longer than the average Hogwarts lesson.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
What is it? The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers guests the chance to vicariously live the star-spangled life of an astronaut.
Why go? You can get a very real sense of what life in space is like through the complex’s high-tech interactive exhibits featuring augmented reality and Star Wars-style holograms. Highlights include the Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit (the famous craft itself hangs from the ceiling in all its mid-flight glory) and the Shuttle Launch Experience, which does pretty much everything you’d expect, save leaving the Earth.
What is it? Morimoto Asia is the signature establishment from TV’s Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto, and the spectacular two-level space is one of the hottest reservations in town.
Why go? Treat yourself to a slap-up meal at one of the finest Pan-Asian restaurants in the country. Grab a martini in the cocktail lounge before requesting a table next to the exhibition kitchen, a high-energy space where you’ll be able to watch the chefs prepare dim sum and carve Peking duck.
Walt Disney World Resort
What is it? C’mon, you know what Walt Disney World is: the four theme parks and two water parks that are collectively the happiest place on earth.
Why go? Visiting Orlando without going to Walt Disney World Resort would be like heading to Paris and missing the Eiffel Tower. See its four famous theme parks—Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom—from a new perspective by trying a backstage tour, whether a Segway ride through EPCOT or a wildlife encounter on Animal Kingdom’s Wild Africa Trek.
What is it? A short drive north of Orlando, Winter Park has evolved from a place for the wealthy to holiday into a hotbed of independent retailers and world-class restaurants.
Why go? Spread across 10 blocks of the oak-lined avenue, 140 shops and boutiques sell everything from high-end footwear to pooch-friendly pastries. Once you’re all shopped out, spend time exploring the Winter Park History Museum, before sampling one of the many excellent dining options nearby, including Prato and the Ravenous Pig.
What is it? Don’t try this one at home, folks. Gatorland is a wildlife preserve and theme park offering visitors the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and wrestle an alligator.
Why go? Even if you aren’t up for gator wrestling, there’s still plenty to do, like the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line, a 30mph ride high over the park’s Nile crocodiles, or the Trainer-for-a-Day program, which includes time spent feeding baby alligators.
Orlando Museum of Art
What is it? The home of various permanent collections of art, including African art, contemporary and the outstanding “Art of the Ancient Americas.” Founded in 1924 with the aim to let the public experience and learn about art, this museum is one of Orlando’s cultural institutions.
Why go? It may be known for big, splashy theme parks, but Orlando has one of America’s more vibrant local arts scenes. After you check out OMA’s impressive array of ancient and contemporary art, head to the quirky Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. This museum contains the world’s most comprehensive collection of Tiffany glass, jewelry and ceramics.
Lake Eola Park
What is it? Orlando’s serene Eola Park and its Centennial Fountain have been a focal point for city life since the earliest settlers used to water their cattle here.
Why go? A popular spot for runners, the sidewalk circling the lake is almost exactly a mile long. You could easily spend a peaceful afternoon on foot, but the traditional way to enjoy yourself here is by hiring one of the swan-shaped paddle boats and gliding peacefully among their real-life counterparts.
What is it? Adjacent to the colossal SeaWorld Orlando, Discovery Cove is an island oasis away from all the fanfare and spectacle next door.
Why go? Book yourself an all-inclusive day here and you’ll get a free 14-consecutive-day pass to its neighboring sister resorts, SeaWorld and Aquatica. The latter boasts the colossal Ihu’s Breakaway, Orlando’s highest and steepest freefall waterslide. Want to really go for it? Book to swim with bottlenose dolphins, snorkel with rays and hand-feed exotic birds.