When you think ‘Orlando, Florida’ you think Disney World, Seaworld and Universal Studios. While visiting theme parks in Orlando might seem to be the obvious option, there is actually so much more excitement and thrill that Orlando has to offer, and they are all out of this theme park bubble. Prepare to be amazed when you explore and discover what else Orlando has to offer.
1. Ride the Orlando Eye
One of Orlando’s newest attractions, the Orlando Eye is one of Florida’s foremost authorities when it comes to the panoramic majesty of downtown cityscapes. A four hundred foot Ferris Wheel set in the heart of Orlando, the Orlando Eye is both owned and operated by the same reputable organization behind the London Eye, the famed European attraction.
The construction itself is the world’s first to employ a cutting-edge suspension design, allowing for as smooth a Ferris wheel ride as has ever existed. The site itself also plays host to a number of domestic and high-profile events, from local social functions to weddings to school visits. During your ride on the Orlando Eye, you will enjoy time suspended above the ground in an enclosed, temperature controlled capsule, perfect for visual perusal of the city from above. On days when visibility is at a maximum, you can catch views of Cape Canaveral to the east, and the downtown Orlando skyline in your immediate line of sight!
2. Beat the clock at The Escape Game Orlando
Join thousands of satisfied individuals who rave about the unparalleled thrills available exclusively at escape rooms, when you try Orlando’s most renowned escape room site on for size! This site will provide for you the perfect excuse to get your inner sleuth on - with a constantly rotating portfolio of exciting escape room situations, The Escape Room Orlando effectively capitalizes on your drive for unparalleled adventure!
Now, it’s your turn to apply your problem-solving skills for the betterment of mankind! The first step when it comes to The Escape Game Orlando is to choose your escape of choice - The Heist, Mission: Mars, Gold Rush, Classified, or Prison Break - each of which sports a unique feel, but revolves around the sound foundational concept: escape before the time is up! The Escape Game Orlando is the perfect outlet for thrill, if you’re looking for a unique way to bond with your family and friends, or if you’re in search of the ideal, unorthodox date idea! Your actions and your decisions while in-game contribute in real time to the overall success of your group, as together you work toward group success, in one of the only environments of its kind!
3. Feel the rhythm at the House of Blues Orlando
For a unique taste of the local culture, together with an intimate immersion into the Orlando music scene, come check out the House of Blues in Orlando, Florida! Home to countless award-winning performances over the years, this top-tier venue regularly plays host to some of the top blues musicians to grace the face of the planet today. Their constantly updated online schedule is always decorated by a unique assortment of new and renowned musicians, events which always provide locals and visitors alike with the perfect excuse to hear world-class music.
The House of Blues in Orlando also plays host to a wonderful onsite restaurant and bar, so you can satisfy all of your culinary and beverage needs without ever leaving the premises! From their daily happy hour specials to their restaurant and bar-specific entertainment, the House of Blues Restaurant and Bar is, in itself, a site worth the experience, if only for the fabulous sensory experience that is the synthesis of wonderful food and music alike.
The Orlando House of Blues is also the perfect location at which to host your next event! Whether it’s a social gathering, a birthday, or a work function, the music’s unique effect on the atmosphere will leave all event attendants relaxed and rejuvenated. The location itself is also renowned for its Sunday Gospel Brunch, where every Sunday from 10:30 a.m. until 1 in the afternoon, the finest in local and international Gospel talent takes the stage. That, combined with an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, provides the perfect backdrop for early afternoon enjoyment!
4. Explore the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Nothing against the Walt Disney World Resort, but the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is more than four times its size! At a stunning 140,000 acres (roughly 218 square miles), this preservation of some of Florida’s finest indigenous species truly allows visitors and locals alike to taste authentic southern life, at its absolute finest.
Officially characterized as a U.S. National Wildlife Refuge, one of 562 nationally protected spaces within the United States dedicated to the continued preservation of America’s wildlife, vegetation, and fish, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge hosts more organized life than perhaps you’ve ever experienced. Home to over 1,000 plant species, which together with 117 species of fish, 330 birds species, 31 individualized mammal species and 68 reptile and amphibian species make for a truly unforgettable visit, the site itself is captivating from the moment you set foot upon its lands.
And there are so many ways to experience the refuge itself! Take a tour of its bioluminescent lagoon, with A Day Away Kayak Tours. Learn more about the life that typifies the region at the Visitor Information Center. Glimpse crystal clear waters at the Indian River. From bald eagles to osprey, American alligators to Loggerhead sea turtles, there’s so much to see and to experience in the great outdoors, at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge!
5. Catch an Orlando City Soccer Club game
Who needs Disney when you get the chance to witness one of Orlando’s finest recreational outlets? Welcome to Orlando City Stadium, home to the Orlando City Soccer Club, one of the newest members of the Eastern Conference of the MLS. Headlined at one time by former World Cup winner Kaká, Orlando City SC, the team exists as one of the more recent installments of the wildly popular Major League Soccer organization in North America.
Given the wonderfully mild climatic conditions which typify the immediate Orlando region for the majority of the soccer season, there’s never a reason why you can’t come out and support Orlando City. As the twenty-first team allowed admittance into the MLS, Orlando City SC remains identifiable by their distinct logo, the lion contained with a purple shield.
Led by forward Cyle Larin, whose twelve goals in 2017 ranked seventh among all active MLS players, the Orlando City Soccer Club looks poised for a breakout year in their upcoming season. The team recently acquired the Sacha Kljestan, who ranked first in the MLS in 2017 with 17 assists, and paired with goalkeeper Joe Bendik, whose 118 saves ranked first among all goalkeepers, the team has seen vast improvements.
Come out and support Orlando City SC the next time you’re anywhere near Orlando, and pick up a commemorative purple jersey during your stay!
6. Party till after-hours at The Beacham
The Beacham is a live music venue and nightclub in the heart of downtown Orlando. The history of the building dates back to the early 1920s when it touted famed vaudevillian acts. What’s old is new again, with true-to-the-original renovations creating a historic, yet state-of-the-art spot to catch the hottest national touring acts. However, be sure to check the required dress code, in order for you to have a night you’ll never forget.
7. Dine at the world’s largest McDonald's
This McDonald’s is not like the rest. First of all, it’s shaped like a giant bag of fries, and secondly: it’s world class. To accommodate the throngs of people lining up to get Happy Meals, it has a touch screen ordering system that possibly makes fast food even faster. For the food, it’s not just McChickens and McWings, they also sell pastas and pizzas! As if that’s not enough, they also offer a full dessert bar. Naturally, the restaurant has plenty of cheap arcade games to keep the kids entertained. This world-class McDonald’s is located at International Drive, a place that has a lot more to offer, it might take you a whole day to explore!
8. Bask in the glory of nature at the Harry P. Leu Gardens
Harried tourists often overlook botanical gardens but in Orlando it’s a shame to pass up on the 50-acre (20 hectares) Harry P. Leu Gardens. They house more than 1,000 rose bushes (in season from April to January) and the largest collection of camellias in North America (in bloom November through March). Located on Lake Ivanhoe near downtown, the gardens also features a citrus grove and a butterfly garden.
9. Have the coolest experience at the largest permanent Ice Bar
The Ice Bar in Florida is the largest in the world, and it is there all year around. It is divided into two areas: the Ice Bar and the Fire Lounge. Upon entering, you will be greeted by an Ice Princess who will provide you with Thermal Coats and Gloves. As you step inside the Winter Wonderland, the fabulous frozen sculptures make the perfect setting for your photo moments. When you feel you want to heat things up, slip into the Fire Lounge for a night of dancing.
10. Drive out to the birthplace of speed
Fun for race fans, friends and families, Daytona Beach is world renowned for its resorts, the Daytona International Speedway, swimming, surfing and all other fun, beach activities. But the Daytona Beach Pier is often an underrated, beautiful part of the beach. It’s a historic attraction that recently reopened after a 5 million USD restoration. Definitely worth a visit!
11. Appreciate the world’s most comprehensive collection of Tiffany stained glass at the Museum of American Art
One might assume the largest collection of Tiffany glass in the world would be located in New York or Paris, but it actually is right here in Orlando’s Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in historic Winter Park. The Morse has amassed some of the most memorable lamps, leaded-glass windows, jewelry, art glass, and pottery by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Revel in the beauty of each stained glass piece and learn a bit more about how this art is made.
See our full list of recommended hotels near Mennello Museum of American Art and also compare the prices with vacation rentals near Mennello Museum of American Art
12. Swing for a hole-in-one at the Hawk’s Landing Golf Club
Florida is known for its pristine golf courses too. In particular, the Hawk’s Landing Golf Club at the Orlando World Center Marriott is a scenic blend of native Florida wildlife and tropical vegetation. The course features the latest in modern architectural technique and is fun and challenging, but accommodating to all levels of play, from beginner to expert.
13. Pamper yourself at a world-class spa
Whether you’re enjoying a romantic weekend or a girlfriends’ getaway, take time to get pampered at one of Orlando’s world-class spas. There is a plethora of choices when it comes to spas in Florida, but here are three notable ones: the luxurious Waldorf Astoria Spa by Guerlain at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, the Ritz-Carlton Spa at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes (try the Florida-fresh citrus-based treatment!), and the Poseidon Spa at the Grand Bohemian Hotel, that offers a very unique hot stone massage. You are sure to feel revitalized and energized after a relaxing spa day.
The Kennedy Space Center is just an hour’s drive away from Central Orlando. This NASA visitors’ complex offers IMAX movies, interactive space-flight simulators, the Shuttle Launch Experience, Astronaut Hall of Fame, just to name a few. You will get to see where the rockets are built, how they are moved and the launch area. The bus driver provides good information and there are several short videos about the space program while they drive you to the area. Upon returning to the Center, there are numerous rockets on display along with a replica of the Hubble telescope. The complex is scattered with monitors that screen short movies about different NASA ventures. There is a lot you’d want to see, so be sure to free an entire day for this extraordinary place.
Kennedy Space Center Day Trip with Transport from Orlando
Duration: Approximately 11 hours
Price: From 54.99 USD
15. Shop till you drop at The Florida Mall
Shopping at Florida doesn’t only have to be Disneyland merchandise and Mickey mouse ears. Orlando is home to two major shopping malls, the Mall at Millenia, which boasts an array of luxury brands, as well as the Florida Mall, which is perfect for both bargain hunters and shopaholics. Located minutes from the Orlando International Airport, Walt Disney World Resort and popular area attractions, The Florida Mall is Central Florida’s largest shopping center. It spans over 1.7 million square feet and welcomes more than 20 million visitors annually. The mall features more than 250 retail, dining and entertainment options, all enjoyed by local residents and international guests alike.
16. Dine and play at Dave and Buster’s
Dave & Buster’s is a large entertainment facility filled with everything you’d need to have a fun time, arcade games, a full sports bar, and a great restaurant. Dave and Buster’s is a great alternative to the theme parks; here you can have tons of fun without having to spend hours queuing up for rides. It’s the place where the fun lasts through the night, and you can eat, drink, play and watch sports, all under one roof.
17. Stroll and marvel at the untainted beauty of the Tibet-Butler Nature Preserve
The Tibet-Butler Nature Preserve is Orlando’s small 440 acre (178 hectares) nature preserve that allows visitors to take a glimpse of the natural scenery of Florida. This quiet preserve gives you the opportunity to escape the crowds and intense heat of the afternoon sun for a relaxing and shady walk. The lake offers peaceful views along the beautiful wetlands, providing the perfect setting for some unwinding, and a place away from loud theme parks.
18. Wekiwa Springs
The Wekiwa Springs offers visitors the opportunity to relax in its beautiful setting, enjoy a picnic, or take a swim in the cool spring. For those adrenaline junkies out there, you can get your fix by partaking in a myriad of water activities like canoeing, kayaking, snorkeling, as well as other activities like hiking and cycling.
19. Head downtown to Sanford
If you feel you’re lacking the Florida culture and arts scene, downtown Sanford is the place to be. It is scattered with great art centers and museums, like the Hollerbach’s Art Haus and the Gallery On First. This place also comes alive at night, with nightclubs on every other street. There are several city tours available that will give you historical insights of Orlando. It’s also a great place to buy some souvenirs to keep as a memento of the trip.
20. Watch a movie at the Plaza Cinema Cafe
If your legs are aching after the hours of queuing and walking around Disneyland, buy a movie ticket, grab some popcorn and sit back for a special movie experience. The Plaza Cinema is a great movie theater, with a high quality sound system and oversized leather seats for extra comfort. The theatre also serves alcoholic beverages, and the food around is inexpensive and good. It’s the perfect place to unwind after a long day.
21. Watch a football match at "The Bouncehouse"
The Spectrum Stadium (formerly known as the Bright House Networks Stadium) is an American football stadium and home venue for the UCF Knights football team. Buy tickets and feel the phenomenal atmosphere of a live American football game. Why is it called The Bouncehouse, you ask? Because the entire stadium flexes when fans jump in excitement. But don’t worry, the stadium is structurally sound, so just join in the fun!
Lake Eola is located in downtown Orlando, and is a serene oasis away from city life. There are several activities to do here, from feeding the swans, to watching a show at the park’s Walt Disney Amphitheatre. But no trip to Lake Eola would be complete without a ride on the park’s iconic swan paddle boats. Rent one for 15 USD per half hour and revel in the surrounding scenery. After you’ve worked up an appetite, grab a bite at Relax Grill, a casual lakeside eatery that serves lunch and dinner. On top of that, every Sunday, the park boasts the city’s best market, featuring fruits and vegetables, home-made breads, an assortment of local cuisines, beer, wine and a variety of artwork and stellar entertainment.
Fancy some additional time on the water? Why not join a city tour that includes a boat ride through the exclusive Chain of Lakes.
City Tour of Orlando
Duration: 6.5 hours
Price: From 69 USD
23. Check out what’s brewing at the Orlando Brewing Company
There are almost 20 ales, lagers, and seasonal microbrews on tap at the Orlando Brewing Company and here is the best part: it’s all organic! This brewery is USDA-certified, and it offers free tours to visitors from Monday to Saturday at 6 pm. Get an inside look of how beer is made, and of course enjoy a nice pint to your liking in between. The brewery also has live music at 9 pm on Friday and Saturday nights for some musical accompaniment with your artisanal beer.
24. Channel your inner Einstein at the Orlando Science Center
The Orlando Science Center is a private science museum located in Orlando, Florida. View millions of stars in the domed planetarium and peer into their largest public refracting telescope to catch a breathtaking glimpse of the Florida night sky. The Cinedome screens educational films in its state-of-the-art spherical theatre. Apart from its permanent exhibits, the science center hosts several temporary exhibits based on current trends, like a Star Wars exhibit or a dinosaur exhibit.
Admission prices are 14 USD for kids and 20 USD for adults.
25. Immerse in music at Venue578
Set in an old tire store, this venue is now hailed as one of the “freshest nightclubs in the world” by Billboard Magazine and The Rolling Stone. Formerly known as Firestone Live, Venue578 is by far the most entertaining and energetic club in Downtown Florida, with an awesome sound system and generally, a fantastic atmosphere that is guaranteed to fuel the party animal in you.
It boasts over 100 concerts annually, featuring big names like Lil Wayne, Busta Rhymes, and Wiz Khalifa. It also hosts outdoor music festivals and over 175 weekly entertainment driven events, so your options are endless. There’s always something happening at Venue 578!
There's more to Orlando than theme parks for everyone
Once you are done with the theme parks, there are numerous activities while you are in Orlando. Wind down with a picnic near Lake Eola, or party the night away at The Beacham, you will never be bored in Orlando with our list of the top things to do.
This article was updated by John Gallagher. Check out the rest of his works here.
Venture out of Orlando's theme parks
Explore Orlando beyond the theme parks and be rewarded with a good time. There is more to Orlando than meets they eye, and endless activities to enjoy outside of the theme parks.