There’s magic to be found across Orlando—and not just inside the city’s many theme parks. From lush gardens and parks to crystalline springs, a diverse array of attractions await Central Florida visitors and locals alike beyond Space Mountain and Hogwarts. While there’s no denying riding roller coasters and meeting Mickey Mouse are fun (but expensive) things to do, it’s worth noting that venturing outside that bubble will lead to an even deeper appreciation for everything that The City Beautiful has to offer, including priceless glass art and a groundbreaking soccer team.
Peruse our list of the best attractions in Orlando and expect a magical time around the corner, no matter where you choose to spend it.
Best attractions in Orlando
The 40-square-mile resort has dominated Orlando for almost 50 years—and for good reason. Disney continues to make dreams come true across four theme parks, two water parks and dozens of themed hotels, restaurants and shops. The most quintessential experiences to be had are still at the original Magic Kingdom park, but adults will likely enjoy themselves more in Epcot’s quirky World Showcase, which brings 11 country-themed pavilions together around a man-made lagoon (and serves region-specific booze). For an out-of-this-world adventure, don’t miss the high-tech Flight of Passage ride at Animal Kingdom’s World of Avatar.
Over the past decade, Universal has become a worthy rival to Disney, mostly thanks to fantastically bringing The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to life at both its theme parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Besides the boy wizard, there are also rides based on such entertainment properties as King Kong, The Simpsons and Fast & Furious. The best time of the year to visit Universal is in the fall for the annual Halloween Horror Nights event, which transforms every nook and cranny of Universal Studios into a series of demented mazes.
Spread across more than 50 acres near downtown, this botanical haven is populated with a bamboo forest, butterfly garden, 200-year-old oak trees and Florida’s largest formal rose garden. It’s also home to the historic Leu House Museum, a gorgeously restored 19th century home that showcases the lifestyle of the families who once lived on the property. There are over 12,000 plants to see, so expect to spend at least a couple of hours exploring in order to find the perfect Instagram shot.
This museum in the tony neighborhood of Winter Park is stocked with the largest collection of glass art by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The showstopper is the stunning chapel interior that Tiffany designed for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Besides his windows, lamps and jewelry, the museum also showcases American pottery and paintings from other artists. After ooh-ing and ahh-ing at all the masterpieces, hit up the well-stocked gift shop for a fancy schmancy souvenir.
When it comes to sports, Orlando has always best been known as the home of the Orlando Magic basketball team. Although that still holds true, there is yet another group of sportsmen that has captured the city’s heart in recent years: the MLS soccer team Orlando SC. If you’re visiting during the season (from March to about October), take in a game at this well-appointed stadium. The 25,500-capacity venue is near downtown’s liveliest bars and restaurants, making it ultra-convenient to check out Orlando’s nightlife scene after a game.
With three different venues and an outdoor plaza, Dr. Phillips Center is the city’s go-to performance hub. The Bob Carr and the newer and more comfy Walt Disney and Alexis & Jim Pugh Theaters play host to scores of local and touring musicians, comedians, Broadway, ballet and opera productions. In 2020, the center is expected to add another venue: the 1,700-seat Steinmetz Hall, which will be the home of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, Opera Orlando and the Orlando Ballet.
Unfortunately, the nearest beach is about an hour-long drive outside of Orlando. For a closer (and cooler) option, take a plunge in this emerald spring. The crystalline freshwater stays a comfortable 72 degrees all year round. Besides swimming, snorkeling and kayaking, the state park also boasts 13 miles of trails for hiking and biking. Be sure to arrive early. Wekiva Springs usually reaches capacity during the hottest times of the year. If you want to secure yourself a nice spot, opt to camp on site.
Expect over four levels of interactive exhibits for children and adults, highlighting topics like the human body, dinosaurs, the solar system and Florida’s ecosystem. The museum is home to the Crosby Observatory, Florida's largest publicly accessible refractor telescope, as well as the Dr. Phillips CineDome, whose 8,000-square-foot screen shows off jaw-dropping IMAX films. The museum is completely indoors, making it the perfect destination when it’s raining cats and dogs outside.
Many folks don’t realize that Central Florida is rich with African-American history. The nearby hamlet of Eatonville was one of the country’s first all-black incorporated townships, and iconic African-American author Zora Neale Hurston called it home. The humble Hurston Museum displays original art and an exhibit on the legacy of the Mules and Men and Their Eyes Were Watching God author. For a bigger celebration of the town’s heritage, come for the annual Zora! Festival each spring.
There’s not a single roller coaster within Orlando’s most relaxing theme park. Instead, the focus at this SeaWorld-adjacent oasis is on nature. Guests (limited to 1,300 a day) can swim with bottlenose dolphins, snorkel with exotic fish and hand-feed rays. The best part? It’s an all-inclusive experience, so you won’t be nickel-and-dimed for food, beverages and gear.