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Exterior of a soccer stadium in Orlando
Photograph: Orlando City Soccer ClubOrlando City Soccer Club stadium entrance

The 14 best things to do in Orlando beyond theme parks

There's a whole list of thrilling things to do in Orlando beyond theme park—with way less lines, too

Megan duBois
Written by
Megan duBois
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Roller coasters are fun (trust us, we get it), but the best things to do in Orlando beyond theme parks offer more than just long lines and sugary churros. In fact, ask any local to name their top thrills in the City Beautiful and they’ll likely tell you a long list of things to do that are far away from the amusement parks and tourist districts.

What’s happening beyond the gated parks, you wonder? Breeze through Orlando’s historic neighborhoods, hop on a boat tour or head to a basketball game (or a soccer match, if that’s how you roll) to cheer on the city’s pro teams. Looking for something interactive? You can feed giraffes and learn about local conservations efforts, or you can even zip line over live gators (this is Florida, after all). In other words, there are more thrills in this city than roller coasters—here are the 14 best things to do in Orlando beyond the theme parks.

RECOMMENDED: our full guide of the best things to do in Orlando

Best things to do in Orlando besides theme parks

Winter Park is a historic neighborhood with plenty of shopping and dining along the main downtown street. In fact, some of Orlando’s best restaurants are located in Winter Park, like The Ravenous Pig and Prato. The cute neighborhood hosts a large Farmers Market every weekend, as long as the unpredictable Florida weather cooperates. After walking around downtown, consider hopping on the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour, which takes passengers on an hour-long tour of the area’s many lakes with an expert driver who shares lively stories about Winter Park.

About an hour away from Orlando, Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral is the Florida home of NASA. It’s also a place where families can enjoy a day together learning about the history and future of America’s space program. While at Kennedy Space Center, be sure to take the bus tour — you’ll drive by the launch pad and you’ll even see a real rocket. Before leaving check out the Astronaut Hall of Fame and the exhibit on the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

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ICON Park can be seen from I-4, the interstate that runs through the middle of Orlando, because of the large observation wheel that towers over the trees. The Wheel at ICON Park towers over the city at 400 feet tall and lets riders see the downtown skyline, theme park fireworks, and more. Florida residents get discounted tickets to experience The Wheel, and there is complimentary parking just a short distance away.

If you’ve ever wanted to walk through a tunnel of water—or feed an entire school of fish all at once—make your way to the Sea Life Orlando Aquarium. The family-friendly spot is home to thousands of creatures and 250 species. There are nine exhibits that allow visitors to get up close with some of the creatures that call the aquarium home, including turtles, sharks, rays, seahorses, and more. Tickets can be reserved online in advance, along with your entry time for the day.

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If you’re traveling to Orlando with kids who love science (or if you’re just looking for an indoor activity during lousy weather) consider the Orlando Science Center. The interactive museum has four floors of exhibits and hands-on demonstrations. One must-see attraction is the NatureWorks exhibit, where visitors can interact with live animals that are native to Florida’s unique ecosystem.

Gatorland is a sprawling 110-acre park and wildlife preserve that’s been operating for decades. Here, you can see everything from alligators and crocodiles to birds and wild cats. For a real thrill, zipline across a few of the exhibits and see them from the air before gliding over the alligator breeding marsh (there are 130 gators below, but you’ll be safely high above). You can also take a tour of the breeding marsh and get up close to the gators and create a feeding frenzy with the help of your expert guide.

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Did you know that Orlando is home to the headwaters of the Florida Everglades? Because of Orlando’s unique position in the state, not only can you visit theme parks that were built up from swampland, but you can also travel through the swamp on a 30 or 60-minute airboat ride. Each ride is guided by a knowledgeable captain who will help you spot anything from alligators to birds.

The Amway Center is an arena-style facility that plays host to the National Basketball Association’s Orlando Magic, concerts, and plenty of other acts throughout the year. While in Orlando, consider making a night of it and heading to the Amway Center to catch a basketball game or the next big act in music. Afterward, you’re just a few minutes from some of the best clubs and nightlife spots in downtown Orlando.

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Just past the Amway Center, you’ll find a large outdoor stadium that hosts the Orlando City Soccer Club. The team is the 21st franchise of Major League Soccer and has continued to build a large fan base in Orlando. Games are played from April through November, so there’s a wide window of opportunity to don the team’s signature colors (gold and purple) and cheer on a match. For the best experience, aim for games in April, May, October, and November for better weather (expect cooler temperatures with less chance of rain).

Madame Tussauds is known around the world for its lifelike wax figures that look almost identical to celebrities. In Orlando, you’ll find figures of people like Walt Disney, characters from The Justice League, and plenty of famous athletes and movie stars. The museum also has plenty of photo-ready backdrops that allow you to get up close to select wax figures to snap the perfect selfie.

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Take a leisurely stroll through the Harry P. Leu Gardens, a lovely botanical garden in the middle of the city. The garden is home to a plethora of flowers and butterflies that are all vying for your attention as they bloom. Throughout the year the garden hosts events like kid-friendly scavenger hunts, holiday light displays, and rotating exhibits. There are typically on-site experts to answer any questions you may have about the plant life at the garden. Be sure to keep an eye out for lifelike outdoor sculptures, too.

There really is nothing better than a warm cookie to make your day brighter (or shall we say… sweeter). At Gideon’s Bakehouse, their half-pound cookies (yes, we said half-pound) are guaranteed to give you a boost. While there's a newer and busier location at Disney Springs (the wait to get inside can take hours) the original Gideon’s Bakehouse is located in Orlando's East End Market and allows customers to pre-order cookies for pick-up or just walk in and try their luck at what’s left. 

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Outlet Malls
Photograph: Visit Orlando

13. Outlet Malls

There is no shortage of outlet malls around Orlando, but the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets and the Orlando Outlet Marketplace are hard to beat. At the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets, you’ll also find the Disney Character Warehouse, where discounted Disney Parks merchandise is all up for grabs. The merchandise is typically from previous seasons, or simply items that were moved to the outlet to make more room for new merchandise—lucky you!

Giraffe Ranch has been a staple in the city for over 20 years, and people still flock to the ranch to get up close with towering giraffes. While at the ranch, take a guided safari and learn about the conservation efforts at the ranch, not to mention the animals that call the ranch home. At the end of the safari, you’ll be allowed to feed a giraffe and you can even take photos of a camel, rhino, and pigmy hippo.

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