Clearly more than a “theme park capital of the world,” Orlando is home to a host of museums that render the city a cultural destination in its own right. From the Morse Museum’s collection (the largest in the world) of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s works to Cornell Museum’s recent exhibit dedicated to European art, you’re in for an artistic treat.
The best part of it all? Unlike big city museums, housed in large concrete buildings, many of Orlando’s are actually historic dwellings on their own, nestled on picturesque grounds—right by the city’s top attractions and even parks.
So, the next time you need an air-conditioned respite from the congested theme park scene or are simply itching for a dive into a cultural hemisphere, check out the very best museums in Orlando.
Best museums in Orlando
Open for over sixty years, the Orlando Science Center boasts four floors filled with educational exhibits (and tons of fun) that make for great family-friendly activities and ideal respites from the Florida heat. Teens and adults will love the flight lab, which uses VR technology to put visitors in the cockpit of a plane for a real-world-like training mission. The new 11,000-square-foot Kids Town, on the other hand, is designed to appeal to young children and fosters cognitive development through hands-on creative play.
Found on the picturesque Rollins College campus in Winter Park, this is the only museum in the area showcasing European art. Featuring both rotating exhibits and an extensive permanent collection, the experience calls for more than viewing: this is a teaching museum that will actually instruct you on how to observe and appreciate works from different time periods and cultures. All at no cost, of course.
Care to see a live colony of flesh eating beetles or explore a Florida swamp? How about an up-close look at over 500 real skeletons? Those are just a few things you’ll get to experience at the Museum of Osteology, located in the ICON360 complex of International Dive. You don’t have to be a paleontologist to enjoy the space: the entertaining exhibits and scavenger hunts appeal to folks of all ages.
The historic Wells’ Built Hotel served as a lodge for African Americans during segregation times. Today, the hotel pays tribute to the city’s African American culture with memorabilia, a room featuring authentic décor from the 1930s and many artifacts. Also explore the nearby South Street Casino, Wells’ take on an organized entertainment area which, back in the day, hosted the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Jackie Robinson.
This beautifully restored 1927 brownstone court house, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, boasts four floors of history that span from Central Florida’s early days as a Spanish cattle ranching town to the city’s current status as a theme park capital. Don’t miss the touching tribute to the victims of the 2016 shooting at Pulse nightclub and also make sure to walk through the research library, bursting with maps, personal papers and over 17,000 photos and postcards.
Most visitors flock to this gem in Winter Park to gaze at its unparalleled collection of Tiffany productions. Most notably, an entire wing dedicated to the designer’s Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall. But the museum offers so much more, including a major exhibition of American art pottery. Complimentary cell phone audio tours will accompany your visit.
Orlando’s crème de la crème of museums is home to 10 to 12 rotating exhibits annually, featuring both contemporary and historic works—including 900 art pieces from the ancient Americas. Located on Loch Haven Park’s scenic ground, the area around the cultural institution is also home to theaters, other museums and the Orlando Science Center. Mingle, sip wine and discover local artists on the first Thursday of each month during the Orlando Original Art Party.
This is the breathtaking, Mediterranean-style home of the late Czech-American sculptor Albin Polasek. Nestled on the shores of Lake Osceola, the gorgeous grounds are brimming with his figurative sculptures. The grounds, which include a chapel and his home, are open to the public and a offer a refreshing break from the resort crowds.
Initially established to preserve the works of twentieth century American folk artist Earl Cunningham, this Loch Haven Park cultural site focuses on both American contemporary and traditional artists. Stop by on the last Sunday and, before perusing the works, kick off your visit with a yoga flow class on the museum’s serene lakeside gardens.
Originally founded as an artist colony dedicated to experimental art, the destination is one of the only examples of “Mayan revival” architectural style in the Southeast. The museum encompasses five unique entities, including the Maitland Art Center, the Maitland Historical Museums, the Telephone Museum, the Carpentry Shop Museum and Waterhouse Residence Museum, and the 1884 Victorian home of William H. Waterhouse and his family.