Best Things to Do in Orlando

Alligators to ziplines: see, soar & more at Orlando's top attractions

Welcome to the City Beautiful, crown jewel of Central Florida and the undisputed capital of theme park splendor. After all, Cinderella built her castle here. That's got to count for something. Orlando has a host of attractions and activities, from Cindy's manicured palace on the grounds of the Magic Kingdom to the fascinating history and futurecasting of the Kennedy Space Center, just an hour's ride away. And of course, a bunch that falls somewhere in between.

For animal lovers (and those looking to connect with our state's unique fauna in particular), a visit to Gatorland will fit the bill nicely. For theme park excitement with a side of movie magic and rides to delight both small children and adrenaline junkies (not to mention Harry Potter aficionados, who will delight in the new Hagrid-based roller coaster come summer 2019), there's Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure. For folks simply looking for shopping, movies, bowling, drinking and all kinds of dining from 5-star to food trucks, Disney Springs is a must-do, particularly if you haven't seen all the stunning additions that just keep coming! Ready to join the party and plan a visit to O-Town? Pack up your suit, your sunscreen and your most comfortable shoes and make your life easy. Just print out our list of must-sees and customize a getaway that suits your style.


Wakeboarding? Yes. And on top of all that exciting lake-borne action, those looking for something a little more whimsical (or folks with tots in tow) can partake in OWC's Aquapark, a LEGO-inspired flotilla of climbing obstacles, slides and more that will wear you - and more importantly, your kids - out! No special skills are required, life jackets keep things super safe, and hours of fun are virtually guaranteed. Climbing towers, monkey bars, and multiple slides await, along with other challenging floats you'll want to conquer again and again. Most activities here require some form of waiver and are booked according to time increments. The minimum age for the Aquapark is 6 and reservations are definitely recommended.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Watersports are a way of life in Florida. Although Orlando is located in the middle of the state, you can still enjoy water activities.

Michelle's expert tip: Save time on visit day and fill out your waiver-related paperwork online when you book.

Read more about Orlando Watersports Complex →

No, Harry P. Leu Gardens isn't free all the time, but plan your visit just so and you'll enjoy gratis admission, available on the first Monday of every month from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm with last admittance at 4:00 pm. Fans of phenomenal flora delight in Leu Gardens, where cycads and azaleas, philodendrons and bromeliads and other exotic offerings, some with harder-to-pronounce names than others, grow and flourish and pose colorfully for photographers' cameras. The Leu House Museum, a beautifully restored 19th Century home, is open for guided tours on the hour and half-hour. Fine art fans will find a multitude of sculptures dotted among the horticultural offerings, as well.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This is a peaceful escape from city life that has various activities throughout the year.

Michelle's expert tip: Leu Gardens also offers free admission for moms on Mother's Day and dads on Father's Day. Check for plant-sale days, too, on which admission may also be free.

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The numerous eateries, nightclubs, theaters, live entertainment and shopping venues located in this 30-acre complex will reel you in and keep you for the entire afternoon and night. Casual and fine dining establishments such as Antojitos or Emeril's (named after renowned chef Emeril Lagasse) are found throughout CityWalk, offering a wide variety of choices to suit all different preferences. Eat, drink, shop, sing karaoke, enjoy live music or catch a world-class show. Come nighttime, you might choose to dance the night away, catch a movie or hit up the mini-golf course. It's amazing at night! Additionally, free water taxis can transport you to a number of beautiful on-site hotels for exploration, cocktails or elegant meals.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: With myriad food and drink option, the Hard Rock Live for phenomenal shows and some of the best mini-golf in town, CityWalk covers all bases.

A.D.'s expert tip: Parking is free after 6 p.m.

Read more about Universal CityWalk ® →

South Orlando
Photo courtesy of Visit Kissimmee, Florida

It bills itself as "Orlando's best half-day attraction" and we tend to agree - though increasingly it's upping its game. In a city that often puts people at odds with their budget (time and/or money) with so many amazing parks to visit, Gatorland does the day's schedule for you: half spent exploring a park devoted to Florida's most famous native inhabitants, half spent by the resort pool with a cold beverage. Of course, if you want more gator - have at it. Catch Gatorland's animals and handler shows in the afternoon, hit the splash pad with the kids, then try the Screamin' Gator Zipline, where adventurers soar at speeds approaching 30 m.p.h. over live alligators and crocodiles. There's a nighttime run, as well. Other fun add-ons include the Gator Night Shine and various into-the-swamp jaunts for up-close alligator action. Even with supplemental activities, Gatorland still ranks as a comparative theme-park bargain.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Gatorland is an affordable, fun option where there's lots to do and learn about the most famous native Floridians of the animal kingdom.

A.D.'s expert tip: Don't bring outside food; the park rules are strict to prevent the animals from eating things they shouldn't.

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Madame Tussauds Wax Museum
Photo courtesy of Michelle Spitzer

Your friends and family will do a double take when you send them selfies of yourself and Oprah, Lady Gaga or Shaquille O'Neal. Although the snapshot with Albert Einstein may give up your gig. Madame Tussauds Orlando is much more than a wax museum of famous faces. The exhibit is divided up into numerous rooms - political figures together, sports figures somewhere else and even super heroes get their own area. All the rooms are wonderfully themed. Some have music, others have interactive props and all have great lighting to get those perfect photos! Plan to spend at least an hour, if not more. When you're done, enjoy exploring ICON Park where the wax museum is located.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This is way more than a museum. It's interactive, educational and plain-old fun.

Michelle's expert tip: Book your tickets online to save some money.

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3D movies and planetarium shows, towering dinosaur skeletons and the wonders of space, four floors of interactive science exhibits in the realms of weather and engineering, live animals and hands-on science programming, not to mention limited engagement exhibits of all kinds depending on when you visit, make the Orlando Science Center an ideal place to spend a day â€" with or without children. Experience the gale force winds of a Category 1 hurricane firsthand, watch a live gator feeding, discover the real-life sea monsters that ruled the prehistoric seas and take in a giant-screen movie or laser show in the Dr. Phillips CineDome. You can even plan an evening SkyWatch at the Crosby Observatory (check the OSC website for this and other special events â€" even those that are 21+!).

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: OSC is an all-ages fun fest, with the added bonus of LEARNING. Live gators, fossilized dinosaurs, laser shows, incredible traveling exhibits...need we say more?

A.D.'s expert tip: If you're a science center in your own hometown, you may be able to get in free here. Call ahead/bring your card and find out.

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Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex
Photo courtesy of Visit Orlando

It's pretty awe inspiring seeing Shuttle Atlantis on display at Kennedy Space Center visitor Complex. Just about an hour drive from Orlando, this is a destination you want to make time for. After getting an up close and personal look at Atlantis, you can take a ride on the Shuttle Launch Experience. This simulated attraction gives you a front row seat aboard a shuttle mission. New in 2021 is Planet Play, a fully immersive multiple-story indoor play area where children ages 2-12 can interact, get active and learn all about space. KSCVC is a multitude of history, science and wonder. You can visit the Rocket Garden, reminisce about the space program, meet the newest concept vehicle, Mars Rover Vehicle Navigator and plenty more.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The fascination with space is widespread and inspiring. A day at KSCVC is enjoyable, educational and everlasting.

Michelle's expert tip: Do you have the right stuff? Hop on the Space Shuttle Launch Experience and test your mettle.

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Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens

From goats at the petting zoo to the super cool insect zoo (your enthusiasm will depend on your comfort level with creepy-crawlies), this Sanford Zoo isn't as small as it may seem. More than 350 animals representing roughly 200 species call this place home, including elephants, llamas, cheetah, apes and a whole house full of reptiles to ooh and ahh over. Active visitors may want to take a turn on the on-site aerial adventure course and everyone enjoys the weekend Keeper Chats. Who wouldn't want to learn more about the zoo's colorful, beautiful residents?

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Home to more than 350 animals, this family-favorite attraction educates and offers fun.

Michelle's expert tip: Take advantage of Family Sunset at the Zoo starting at 5 p.m. on the fourth Friday of the month from May through Saturday.

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Wild Florida

Stay in the comfort and safety of your car while enjoying a drive-thru safari where dozens of animals are on display and zero human interaction is required. The safari covers more than 85 acres and includes animals like zebras, giraffes, bison, alligators and more. It's about an hour to complete the safari, but driver beware, you're at the mercy of the animals. If an emu takes a rest in the roadway, you have to wait for the fella to move before hitting the gas pedal. The speed limit on the safari is just 5 mph. Have your camera ready because more than likely a goat, white-tailed deer, longhorn cattle or one of their buddies will stroll right by your vehicle. If you want to stretch your legs, Wild Florida also has air boat rides and animal encounters with some exotic friends like albino alligators.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Get a taste of true Florida life with an airboat ride, drive-thru safari and some exotic animals.

Michelle's expert tip: Guests are encouraged to book tickets in advance online. They've been known to sell out.

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Disney Springs ®
Disney Springs

Do not sleep on Disney Springs. You can easily spend a day, or more here. Start the morning at Everglazed Donuts & Cold Brew with a peanut butter explosion donut and a specialty cold brew. Head to Splitsville Luxury Lanes for some bowling in a fun environment and enjoy more great eats and cocktails. Grab some of the best seafood in town at the Boathouse and then take a spin on the amphicar, an antique car that turns into a boat. Looking for more unique activities? Make personalized M&Ms at the M&M store, create your own minifigure at the LEGO store and design and make a candle, from scent to color, for $25 at Bowe's Signature Candles. Look up and you can't miss the Aerophile, the balloon that takes guests 400-feet up for an 8-minute ride. When you're craving a snack, stop by Amorette Patisserie, one of the Disney food trucks or Erin McKenna's Bakery NYC for a gluten free, vegan treat.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Disney Springs' expansions are worth checking out if you haven't been (or haven't been in a while). Phenomenal dining, shopping & entertainment.

Michelle's expert tip: You may have realized there's plenty to eat at Disney Springs, but the good news is you can work off all those calories by walking this four-miles plus complex.

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Meet Michelle Spitzer

Michelle Spitzer grew up in South Florida taking many family vacations to the Orlando area. For the past 14 years, she's called central Florida home.

A journalist for more than two...  More About Michelle