Things to do in Orlando, FL

Get Your Bearings in Orlando

By A.D. Thompson
Orlando Expert

See & Do
Stay
Eat
Party
Shop

Things to See

Some visitors consider the Orlando metro one giant attraction as there are so many options for fun. For some, of course, it’s all about the kids and what’s available ranges far beyond obvious choices like Universal Orlando or SeaWorld. Patrons of the arts, however, might be surprised to learn the city has a host of museums and performance-based venues, as well, along with lush, green parks and wilderness areas in which to discover the unique flora and fauna of natural Florida by foot, bike, kayak, canoe or horseback. Wanna go deeper? Try an airboat tour of the wetlands.

Caution:

Summer and school vacations are prime time for the theme parks and when you'll find lines longest and most exhausting. Upgrading to your chosen park's "express" ticket option (where available) is well worth it.

Hot Tips:

Loch Haven Park is home to the Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando Fire Museum, Orlando Philharmonic and hosts all kinds of festivals year-round, making it a phenomenal choice for those with limited time and an art fetish to feed.

Where to Stay

Orlando could be described as “sprawling” to some degree, so depending on your visit's prime directive (are you here to hit the theme parks or dedicated to downtown diversions?), choices abound. In areas like Kissimmee and Lake Buena Vista, you’ll find a plethora of properties catering to families and other park-centric travelers. Most offer free shuttle service to and from, though a vehicle will give you added flexibility if you’re interested in park-hopping or heading somewhere special for a post-coaster dinner. 

Hot Tips:

Monorail-access properties (Disney's Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian) make hitting the Magic Kingdom a breeze. Change lines at the Transport and Ticket Center and you can add EPCOT to your drive-free repertoire, as well.

What to Eat

Not surprisingly, O-Town is rife with recognizable franchises, whether upscale steakhouse or child-friendly theme restaurant. Downtown Disney offers much in the way of the latter with places like the T-Rex Café, where life-sized animatronic dinosaurs and regular meteor showers make dining an immersive experience. Those looking for smaller, more unique dining venues might check out neighborhoods like Winter Park, Colonialtown (also known as “Mills 50”) and College Park, for eateries that are ethnic, eclectic and decidedly more “local.”

Hot Tips:

Don't let the oft-tight parking on Winter Park's Park Avenue turn you off. Just half a block off Park Avenue North you'll find a couple of free lots and one multilevel garage where (shh!) there's free all-day parking on the fourth and fifth levels.

Places to Party

From concerts to piano bars, local theater to touring Broadway shows, pulsating nightclubs to trendy hookah bars, the City Beautiful covers all the bases. And downtown’s shining Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic, offers the one-two punch of a game or concert followed by drinking, dining, dancing or a scintillating combination thereof just steps away. Closer to the parks on I-Drive, Pointe Orlando’s options include several venues that turn from restaurant to dinner theater or nightclub as the moon begins to rise. 

Caution:

Dress codes are no joke in some of the more expensive downtown-area nightclubs, especially for men. Save the sneakers and t-shirts for the gym or try a more casual bar instead.

Hot Tips:

Dig drag? Pointe Orlando's Funky Monkey Wine Company is home to Danielle Hunter & Company's dazzling show every Friday at 9 p.m. Reservations strongly recommended.

Where to Shop

What can we say? From the Neiman-Marcus-and-Bloomingdales’s-anchored Mall at Millenia to the charming, antiques-driven economies of Mount Dora and Sanford to the north, Orlando does not lack for shopping opportunities. In its many bustling outlet shopping centers, it’s not at all uncommon to see international visitors stocking up on brands that are harder to come by back home.

Best Local Souvenir:

C'mon. Do you even have to ask? Hit up one of Downtown Disney's varied shops for your choice of iconic Mouse treasure, whether you prefer it emblazoned on a ball cap or t-shirt, or pressed into a collectible. Fresh citrus also ranks high, but tastes best if you pick it yourself.

Things to do in Orlando


Orlando is known for...

Five of Orlando's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Theme Parks:

You could plan a whole week's vacation around the big three theme parks - Walt Disney World Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and Universal Orlando Resort - and barely scratch the surface. At Animal Kingdom you can lunch with zebras and giraffesright outside the window. Discovery Cove, a sister park of SeaWorld, has guests touring the lagoon via An Atlantic bottlenose dolphin’s dorsal fin. Universal lets you fully immerse yourself in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Don't miss this if you're a Harry Potter fan!

2. The Orlando Magic:

Playing pro basketball in a brand new arena in downtown Orlando, the Orlando Magic have a loyal local fan base which swells with ticket-holding visitors. If your city doesn't have an NBA team, then check the team's calendar before you travel. You may get to enjoy the excitement of pro basketball while you're in central Florida.

3. Conventions:

The Orange County Convention Center is the second largest convention center in the nation. It plays host to trade shows and conventions that attract people from around the globe. The Surf Expo, Southern Women’s Show and the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions/IAAPA to name a few. This place is so large, in fact, if Chicago’s Sears Tower, 1,454 feet in height, was placed on its side, it would fit lengthwise inside the Orange County Convention Center’s exhibition space, including the antenna atop the Sears tower. And, get this: the Valencia Ballroom is larger than a football field, including the end zones. It can hold up to 6,000 people at one time. Pretty impressive.

4. Entertainment:

No matter what floats your boat, you can do it in Orlando.  Downtown Disney and Universal CityWalk provide adults with a one-stop destination for all sorts of entertainment.   CityWalk is home to Blue Man Group, Hard Rock Cafe, Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, and a host of bars and dance clubs.  Downtown Disney is the permanent home to Cirque du Soleil (a must if you've never been, and great for families) as well a House of Blues stage, and Pleasure Island . . . another cluster of bars and dance clubs.   Sand Lake Road holds countless restaurants with live music.  Downtown is legendary for weekend festivals.   And International Drive has everything from helicopter rides and simulated skydiving to a Ripley's Museum and cinema multiplex.  B.B. King's Restaurant & Blues Club has one of the best house bands in America; dancing is irresistable here.   Get your party on in Orlando.   

5. Natural Beauty:

Orlando not only has plenty of green space, it also has lots of lakes. . . there are nearly 100 of them! From boating to jet skiing to fishing, there are a number of ways to enjoy being out on the water. Parks are easy to come by, too. Stroll alongside Lake Eola Park, admire the award-winning Camelias at Harry P. Leu Gardens, or pack a picnic lunch and head for Cypress Grove. Theme Parks give the impression that everything in Orlando is man- made, but what Mother Nature put here first is magnificent.