In this article, we will be sharing insider tips on the best things to do in Orlando, as recommended by locals who know the city best. Orlando, Florida is a city that is known worldwide for its theme parks, but there is so much more to explore in this vibrant city. From incredible dining options to outdoor activities and hidden gems, Orlando truly has something for everyone. So whether you’re planning a family vacation to Walt Disney World or a weekend getaway to explore the city, this guide will provide you with all the information you need to make the most of your time in Orlando.
Introduction to Orlando: A City Full of Surprises
Orlando, Florida is one of the most visited cities in the world, and for good reason. Home to some of the most famous theme parks in the world including Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, and SeaWorld Orlando, Orlando is a city full of excitement, thrills, and family-friendly entertainment. But Orlando is not just about theme parks; it is also a city full of surprises with its unique culinary scene, beautiful parks, and outdoor activities.
Why Visit Orlando
Orlando is the perfect destination for families, couples, and solo travelers. Whether you are a thrill-seeker or looking for a relaxing vacation, Orlando has something for everyone. The world-famous theme parks are a must-visit, but there is also an array of outdoor activities, museums, and attractions to explore. Plus, Orlando’s year-round warm weather and sunny days make it a perfect destination anytime.
Orlando has a subtropical climate, which means it is warm and humid throughout the year. The city experiences two seasons: a hot and rainy season from May to September, and a cooler, drier season from October to April. The best time to visit Orlando is during the cooler months when the weather is perfect for outdoor activities and theme park hopping. However, if you don’t mind the heat and crowds, the summer months can be a great time to visit too.
Best Attractions in Orlando: Theme Parks, Museums and More
Walt Disney World Resort
Walt Disney World Resort, commonly known as Disney World, is an entertainment complex located in Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, Florida, near Orlando. It was opened on October 1, 1971, and has since grown to become the most visited vacation resort in the world, attracting millions of guests annually.
The resort, owned and operated by the Walt Disney Company through its Parks, Experiences and Products division, covers approximately 40 square miles and features four theme parks, two water parks, 30+ resort hotels, a camping resort, shopping and entertainment complexes, golf courses, and various recreational facilities.
The four theme parks within the resort are:
- Magic Kingdom: The first and most iconic park, Magic Kingdom is divided into six themed lands and is home to famous attractions such as Cinderella Castle, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion.
- EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow): Originally conceived as a futuristic city, EPCOT evolved into a theme park focusing on innovation, technology, and world cultures. Its two main sections are Future World and World Showcase.
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios: This park is dedicated to the world of movies, television, and entertainment, with attractions inspired by popular films and shows. The park features themed areas such as Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom: The largest of the four parks, Animal Kingdom combines a traditional theme park experience with elements of a zoo. It is divided into several themed areas, including Africa, Asia, Pandora – The World of Avatar, and more.
In addition to the theme parks, the resort also has two water parks, Disney’s Blizzard Beach and Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon, as well as Disney Springs, a shopping, dining, and entertainment complex.
Disney World offers a wide range of experiences for guests, including character meet-and-greets, parades, live shows, and seasonal events. It continues to expand and evolve, regularly adding new attractions and experiences to maintain its status as a premier vacation destination.
Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Orlando Resort is a major entertainment destination located in Orlando, Florida. It is owned and operated by NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. The resort attracts millions of visitors each year and offers a diverse range of attractions, dining, shopping, and entertainment options.
Universal Orlando Resort consists of three theme parks, a water park, and multiple hotels and resorts, as well as a shopping, dining, and entertainment complex called Universal CityWalk.
The three theme parks at Universal Orlando Resort are:
- Universal Studios Florida: This movie and TV-themed park focuses on the entertainment industry and offers attractions based on popular films and television shows. Some of its most notable attractions include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, Transformers: The Ride-3D, and Revenge of the Mummy.
- Universal’s Islands of Adventure: This park features various themed “islands,” each based on different intellectual properties or original concepts. Some of the most popular attractions in Islands of Adventure include The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and Jurassic Park River Adventure.
- Universal’s Volcano Bay: This water theme park opened in 2017, offering a variety of water attractions, including slides, lazy rivers, wave pools, and more. The centerpiece of the park is the Krakatau volcano, which houses the Krakatau Aqua Coaster.
Universal CityWalk, located adjacent to the theme parks, offers shopping, dining, and entertainment options for visitors, including themed restaurants, nightclubs, and a movie theater. The resort also has several on-site hotels, ranging from budget-friendly options to luxury accommodations.
One of the most notable aspects of Universal Orlando Resort is its immersive Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which spans both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Guests can experience attractions, shops, and dining options based on the popular Harry Potter series, as well as take the Hogwarts Express train between the two parks.
Universal Orlando Resort continues to expand and update its offerings, ensuring that guests have a wide range of experiences to enjoy during their visit.
SeaWorld Orlando is a marine life-based theme park located in Orlando, Florida. It is owned and operated by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, a subsidiary of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. SeaWorld Orlando, which opened in 1973, is known for its focus on marine animals, their habitats, and conservation efforts, as well as offering a mix of thrilling rides, live shows, and educational experiences.
The park is divided into several themed areas, each focusing on a specific aspect of marine life or oceanic environments. Some of the most notable attractions and experiences at SeaWorld Orlando include:
- Mako: A hypercoaster named after the mako shark, this roller coaster is the tallest, longest, and fastest in Orlando, providing riders with a thrilling experience.
- Manta: A unique flying roller coaster that simulates the experience of a manta ray gliding through the ocean.
- Kraken Unleashed: A floorless roller coaster with multiple inversions, themed around a mythological sea monster.
- Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin: This attraction combines a dark ride and a walk-through exhibit, where guests can encounter various species of penguins in a temperature-controlled environment.
- Dolphin Days: A live show featuring bottlenose dolphins showcasing their natural behaviors and abilities, along with educational information about these marine mammals.
- Orca Encounter: This presentation focuses on the natural behaviors of killer whales and highlights the importance of conservation and ocean preservation.
- Sesame Street Land: A family-friendly area featuring attractions, character meet-and-greets, and shows based on the popular children’s television series, Sesame Street.
In addition to its theme park, SeaWorld Orlando also includes Aquatica, a water park with slides, wave pools, and attractions suitable for all ages. The park’s sister park, Discovery Cove, offers unique animal encounters and experiences, such as swimming with dolphins, snorkeling with tropical fish, and relaxing on sandy beaches.
SeaWorld Orlando has faced criticism from animal rights activists and some members of the public due to concerns about the treatment of animals in captivity. In recent years, the company has shifted its focus toward education, conservation, and the rescue and rehabilitation of injured or ill marine animals, while also working to improve the living conditions for the animals in their care.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is a major tourist attraction located on Merritt Island in Florida, near Cape Canaveral. It is operated by Delaware North on behalf of NASA and offers guests an opportunity to learn about the history, present, and future of space exploration through interactive exhibits, attractions, and live presentations.
Visitors to the complex can explore a range of experiences and exhibits, including:
- Space Shuttle Atlantis: This exhibit showcases the retired Space Shuttle Atlantis and allows guests to get an up-close view of the spacecraft. The exhibit also features interactive displays, simulations, and multimedia presentations about the 30-year Space Shuttle program.
- Apollo/Saturn V Center: This center highlights the Apollo program, which sent the first humans to the Moon. The centerpiece of the exhibit is the massive Saturn V rocket, the largest rocket ever built. Guests can also see the Apollo 14 command module, lunar samples, and experience a simulated Moon landing.
- Heroes and Legends featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame: This exhibit celebrates the achievements of astronauts throughout the history of the U.S. space program, with a focus on their personal stories and experiences.
- Rocket Garden: An outdoor exhibit displaying various rockets used in the history of space exploration, including the Mercury-Redstone, Mercury-Atlas, and Titan II.
- Astronaut Training Experience (ATX): This interactive program allows guests to participate in astronaut training simulations, such as operating a Mars rover or performing a spacewalk.
- IMAX Theater: The complex features two IMAX theaters that screen films related to space exploration, often including breathtaking footage captured by NASA missions.
- Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour: This guided bus tour takes visitors through restricted areas of the Kennedy Space Center, providing views of launch pads, the Vehicle Assembly Building, and the historic Launch Complex 39.
- Launch viewing opportunities: Depending on the timing of your visit and availability, guests may have the opportunity to view a rocket launch from designated viewing areas at the visitor complex.
In addition to these attractions, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex also offers special events, astronaut encounters, and educational programs for visitors of all ages. A visit to the complex provides a unique opportunity to learn about the history of human spaceflight, current missions, and NASA’s plans for future exploration.
Local Cuisine: Where to Find the Best Food in Orlando
Orlando’s Culinary Scene
Orlando, Florida, is a thriving city with a diverse and growing culinary scene. Known primarily for its theme parks and attractions, Orlando has also become a destination for food enthusiasts looking for a variety of cuisines and dining experiences. From casual eateries and food trucks to fine dining establishments and everything in between, the city offers a wide range of options to satisfy any palate.
- International Cuisine: Orlando’s diverse population and the millions of visitors from around the world have contributed to a vibrant international culinary scene. You can find authentic restaurants representing numerous countries, such as Mexican, Italian, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Brazilian, and more.
- Southern and Soul Food: Orlando’s location in the American South makes it an excellent place to find traditional Southern and soul food dishes. Comfort food favorites like fried chicken, barbecue, shrimp and grits, and collard greens can be found in many restaurants throughout the city.
- Farm-to-Table: The farm-to-table movement has gained popularity in Orlando, with several restaurants focusing on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. These establishments often collaborate with local farmers and suppliers to provide fresh, high-quality dishes that showcase the best of what the region has to offer.
- Seafood: Given its proximity to the coast, Orlando is home to numerous seafood restaurants offering fresh fish, shellfish, and other aquatic delicacies. Diners can enjoy Floridian specialties like stone crab, grouper, and mahi-mahi, as well as a wide range of other seafood options.
- Food Trucks: Orlando has a thriving food truck scene, with these mobile eateries offering creative and delicious dishes from various cuisines. Many food trucks can be found in designated food truck parks or at special events throughout the city.
- Fine Dining: The city has several fine dining establishments that cater to those looking for an upscale, sophisticated dining experience. Many of these restaurants are located within the theme parks, resorts, or downtown Orlando, and they often feature award-winning chefs, exquisite menus, and top-notch service.
- Theme Park Dining: Orlando’s theme parks offer a wide range of dining options, from quick-service eateries to sit-down restaurants. Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld all provide unique dining experiences with themed environments and even character dining opportunities.
- Craft Breweries and Cocktail Bars: Orlando’s craft beer scene has grown significantly in recent years, with numerous local breweries offering unique, handcrafted beers. Additionally, the city has a variety of cocktail bars and lounges, where skilled mixologists create innovative and classic cocktails.
Overall, Orlando’s culinary scene is diverse, dynamic, and constantly evolving, with options for every taste and budget. Visitors and locals alike can enjoy an array of dining experiences that reflect the city’s multicultural heritage and commitment to quality.
Best Restaurants in Orlando
Orlando boasts a variety of excellent restaurants catering to different tastes and budgets. While it’s impossible to list all the best options, here’s a selection of popular and highly-rated restaurants in Orlando that are worth trying:
- Victoria & Albert’s: Located at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, this fine dining establishment offers a luxurious, multi-course dining experience with impeccable service. The menu focuses on seasonal ingredients and features contemporary American cuisine.
- Prato: This popular Italian restaurant in Winter Park is known for its modern takes on Italian classics, handmade pasta, and wood-fired pizzas. The rustic, inviting atmosphere complements the delicious food.
- The Ravenous Pig: A beloved gastropub in Winter Park, The Ravenous Pig focuses on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients and offers an ever-changing menu of American cuisine, craft beers, and artisan cocktails.
- Kadence: Located in Orlando’s Audubon Park, Kadence is an intimate, high-end sushi and sake bar offering an omakase experience, where the chefs prepare a multi-course tasting menu based on the freshest ingredients available.
- The Pharmacy: Hidden behind an unassuming facade in Dr. Phillips, The Pharmacy is a speakeasy-style restaurant and bar that serves up craft cocktails and a menu focused on farm-to-table cuisine, including creative small plates and wood-fired pizzas.
- Seito Sushi: With multiple locations, Seito Sushi is a contemporary Japanese restaurant offering a variety of sushi rolls, sashimi, and Japanese dishes, along with an extensive sake selection.
- Black Rooster Taqueria: This casual Mexican eatery in Orlando’s Mills 50 district is known for its handcrafted tacos, fresh ingredients, and house-made salsas. The menu also includes a variety of Mexican street food-inspired items and creative cocktails.
- Chatham’s Place: A fine dining staple in Orlando for over 30 years, Chatham’s Place offers a cozy, romantic atmosphere and a menu featuring American cuisine with Mediterranean and Italian influences.
- Cask & Larder: Located at the Orlando International Airport, Cask & Larder is a Southern-inspired restaurant offering farm-to-table dishes, house-made charcuterie, and an extensive craft beer selection.
- Mamak Asian Street Food: This vibrant eatery in the Mills 50 district brings Asian street food flavors to Orlando, with a menu featuring dishes from Malaysia, China, and other parts of Asia.
These are just a few examples of the many outstanding restaurants in Orlando. The city’s dining scene is diverse and constantly evolving, so it’s worth exploring beyond the theme parks and tourist areas to discover hidden gems and unique culinary experiences.
Food Trucks and Street Food
Orlando’s food truck scene is thriving, and visitors can find everything from gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches to authentic tacos. The Food Truck Bazaar is a monthly event that brings together some of the city’s best food trucks for a fun, outdoor dining experience.
Outdoor Activities: Parks, Lakes and Trails
Best Parks and Gardens in Orlando
Orlando is known for its theme parks, but it also has numerous parks and gardens that provide peaceful retreats and opportunities for outdoor recreation. Here are some of the best parks and gardens in the Orlando area:
- Harry P. Leu Gardens: This 50-acre botanical oasis is located just minutes from downtown Orlando. The gardens feature a wide variety of plants, including tropical and subtropical species, roses, camellias, and azaleas. There’s also a historic Leu House Museum on the grounds, which offers guided tours.
- Lake Eola Park: Located in the heart of downtown Orlando, Lake Eola Park is a popular spot for picnics, walking, and feeding the resident swans. The park features a walking path around the lake, swan-shaped paddleboat rentals, a playground, and an amphitheater that hosts various events and concerts.
- Mead Botanical Garden: Situated in Winter Park, Mead Botanical Garden is a 47-acre park with various ecosystems, including wetlands, woodlands, and native plants. The garden offers walking trails, butterfly gardens, a greenhouse, and a variety of educational programs and events.
- Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake: This 183-acre park is located on the shores of Turkey Lake, offering a range of recreational activities, including fishing, boating, hiking, and birdwatching. The park also has a swimming pool, playgrounds, picnic areas, and camping facilities.
- Kraft Azalea Garden: This small, picturesque park in Winter Park is situated along the shores of Lake Maitland. The garden is a popular spot for photography, picnics, and enjoying the beautiful azaleas and cypress trees.
- Blue Jacket Park: Located in the Baldwin Park neighborhood, Blue Jacket Park is a 75-acre park offering various sports facilities, walking trails, playgrounds, and picnic areas. The park is a favorite among locals for outdoor activities and gatherings.
- Dickson Azalea Park: This hidden gem is nestled in a residential area of downtown Orlando. The park features a beautiful ravine, azaleas, and a walking path along a creek, providing a serene setting for relaxation and nature walks.
- Dr. P. Phillips Community Park: This 43-acre park is located near the Orlando Convention Center and offers various amenities, including sports fields, a splash pad, playgrounds, picnic areas, and a walking trail around a lake.
- Lake Baldwin Park: Situated on the shores of Lake Baldwin, this park features a beautiful beach area, walking trails, picnic areas, and a dog park where pets can swim and play off-leash.
- Winter Park’s Central Park: Located in the heart of Winter Park, this 11-acre park offers a beautiful setting with a rose garden, fountains, and large oak trees. The park hosts various events, including art festivals, concerts, and a weekly farmer’s market.
These parks and gardens provide a range of recreational activities and opportunities to enjoy Orlando’s natural beauty, offering a break from the hustle and bustle of the city’s theme parks and attractions.
Lakes and Rivers in Orlando
Orlando is home to several lakes and rivers that offer visitors a chance to relax and enjoy the outdoors. The Wekiva River is perfect for canoeing and kayaking, while Lake Tohopekaliga is great for fishing and boating.
Best Hiking and Biking Trails in Orlando
For those looking to get active, Orlando has several biking and hiking trails. The West Orange Trail is a popular 22-mile trail that takes visitors through several parks and historic neighborhoods, while the Little Econ Greenway is perfect for a leisurely bike ride or a walk along the river.
Nightlife and Entertainment: Bars, Clubs and Shows
Orlando is not only home to magical theme parks but also to a vibrant nightlife scene. Whether you are looking for a wild night out at a club or a calm evening with a drink in hand, Orlando has something for everyone.
Best Bars and Nightclubs in Orlando
If you are looking for a night out with friends, head over to Wall Street Plaza in Downtown Orlando. This pedestrian-only street is home to eight bars and restaurants, including Saddle Up, a country-themed bar, and Hooch, which offers delicious craft cocktails. If you prefer a rooftop bar, check out Aero in the heart of downtown. With its stunning views and chic atmosphere, it’s the perfect spot to unwind after a long day.
For those looking to dance the night away, Tier Nightclub and The Attic are two of the hottest clubs in Orlando. Both venues offer a top-notch sound system and an impressive lineup of local and international DJs.
Live Entertainment in Orlando
Orlando is known for its live entertainment scene, and there are several venues throughout the city that offer exceptional shows. The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is one of the largest venues in the city and hosts everything from Broadway shows to ballet performances.
If you are looking for a more intimate experience, head to The Social in Downtown Orlando. This music venue has been around for over 15 years and has hosted some of the biggest names in the music industry, including Adele, The Killers, and Coldplay.
Orlando’s Comedy Scene
Orlando’s comedy scene is also not to be missed. SAK Comedy Lab in Downtown Orlando offers nightly improv shows that are always hilarious. The club also offers classes and workshops for those looking to try their hand at improvisation.
If you prefer stand-up comedy, check out the Orlando Improv in Pointe Orlando. This venue has hosted some of the biggest names in comedy, including Kevin Hart, Amy Schumer, and Dave Chappelle.
Hidden Gems: The Best Kept Secrets of Orlando
Orlando is full of hidden gems just waiting to be explored. From secret bars to off-the-beaten-path attractions, there’s always something new to discover in this city.
Off the Beaten Path: Orlando’s Hidden Gems
For those looking to escape the crowds and experience the natural beauty of Florida, head over to Wekiwa Springs State Park. This park is just a short drive from Orlando and offers scenic hiking trails, crystal-clear springs, and opportunities for kayaking and camping.
If you prefer something a little more quirky, check out The Orange County Regional History Center. This museum is located in a historic courthouse and has exhibits that showcase the history of Orlando and Central Florida.
Hidden Bars and Speakeasies in Orlando
Orlando has several hidden bars and speakeasies that are worth checking out. The Courtesy Bar in Downtown Orlando is a speakeasy-style bar that serves up handcrafted cocktails and has a cozy, vintage atmosphere. For a truly unique experience, head to Hanson’s Shoe Repair. This bar is located in an old shoe repair shop and has a hidden entrance that adds to the speakeasy vibe.
Shopping in Orlando: Malls, Outlets and Markets
Orlando is a shopper’s paradise with several malls, outlets, and markets that offer a wide range of shopping options.
Best Malls and Shopping Centers in Orlando
The Mall at Millenia is one of the premier shopping destinations in Orlando. This upscale mall features over 150 stores, including high-end brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Chanel.
If you are looking for a more affordable shopping experience, head to The Florida Mall. This mall is one of the largest in the city and features over 250 stores, including anchor stores like Macy’s, JCPenney, and Dillard’s.
Outlet Shopping in Orlando
For those looking for a bargain, Orlando’s outlet malls are a must-visit. Orlando International Premium Outlets and Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets are two of the largest outlet malls in the city and feature over 300 stores combined.
Orlando’s Farmers Markets
Orlando is also home to several farmers markets that offer fresh produce, handmade crafts, and delicious food. The Winter Park Farmer’s Market is one of the most popular and is held every Saturday morning. The market also features live music and a wide range of vendors selling everything from organic vegetables to artisanal bread.
Tips for Planning Your Trip to Orlando: Transportation, Accommodation and More
Planning a trip to Orlando can be overwhelming, but with the right tips and tricks, it’s easy to navigate.
Getting Around Orlando: Transportation Options
Orlando has several transportation options, including taxis, ride-sharing services, buses, and the SunRail commuter train system. If you plan on visiting the theme parks, many hotels offer shuttle services to and from the parks.
Where to Stay in Orlando
Orlando has several accommodations to choose from, including hotels, resorts, vacation homes, and Airbnb rentals. If you are looking for a more affordable option, consider staying in a vacation home or Airbnb rental.
Orlando Travel Tips and Tricks
When visiting Orlando, it’s essential to plan ahead and book tickets for attractions and shows in advance. This can save you time and money, especially during peak season. It’s also important to stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, and take breaks throughout the day to avoid heat exhaustion.In conclusion, Orlando is a city filled with endless possibilities for exploration and adventure. From famous theme parks to hidden gems, delicious food, and outdoor activities, there is something for everyone in this city. By using this locals guide, you will be able to experience Orlando like a true insider and make the most out of your time in this incredible city.
What are the best theme parks to visit in Orlando?
Orlando is famous for its world-renowned theme parks. Some of the best ones include Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, and SeaWorld Orlando.
Where can I find the best local cuisine in Orlando?
Orlando is home to an incredible culinary scene. Some of the best places to find local cuisine include East End Market, The Ravenous Pig, and The Coop.
What are some hidden gems to explore in Orlando?
Orlando has many hidden gems worth exploring, including the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour, The Enzian Theater, and the Harry P. Leu Gardens.
How can I plan my trip to Orlando?
When planning your trip to Orlando, consider transportation options such as renting a car or using the local bus system. Be sure to book your accommodation in advance and research the best times to visit the theme parks to avoid crowds. Lastly, take advantage of local guides and insider tips, like the ones provided in this article, to make the most out of your trip.