Families visit Orlando for its theme parks, water parks, and endless magical attractions. While these make for a fantastic trip, there are plenty of other fun things to do in Orlando besides visiting Disney.
Go wandering through the lush gardens of Harry P. Leu Gardens or picnic by the waters of Lake Eola—this article is your one-stop guide to experiencing the best of Orlando.
Explore Walt Disney World’s Theme Parks
When people hear Orlando, they think of immersive theme parks—notably Walt Disney World, and for good reason. Disney World offers all you need for a magical vacation; theme parks, dozens of hotels, dining establishments, golf courses, water parks, shopping centers, and more. There are four theme parks here, the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and EPCOT. You’ll find iconic sights and experiences, like Cinderella Castle and Pandora—The World of Avatar.
There’s a lot to do at Walt Disney World, so consider visiting this expansive property over several days. If you’re traveling with kids in the summer, avoid spending all day in the park, or you’ll end up dealing with hot and cranky children. Instead, do some morning rides and return in the evenings to catch Magic Kingdom’s fireworks and more Disney fun.
Nearby Recommended Hotel: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is a nature-inspired resort in Walt Disney World. There are kid-friendly activities for your little ones and a free shuttle service to Disney’s theme parks.
Visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The main draw of Universal Orlando’s theme parks is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This attraction offers an immersive and fun experience where you can escape from Gringotts or get chosen by a wand at Ollivanders wand shop. To see the complete recreation of Harry Potter’s world, board the Hogwarts Express to travel between Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios, Florida.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has five roller coaster rides, so you can pick and choose or try them all. Thrillseekers will love Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. Meanwhile, Flight of the Hippogriff is perfect for kids. Crowds are inescapable here, but to reduce your wait times, visit on weekdays or pay an extra fee for an express pass that lets you skip lines.
Nearby Recommended Hotel: Universal’s Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is part of the Universal Orlando Resort. A stay here offers exclusive theme park privileges like unlimited ride access, which lets you skip regular lines, and free water taxi shuttles between Universal’s parks.
Learn About Space Travel at the Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center is integral to Central Florida’s culture and a must-visit for space enthusiasts and families. This iconic attraction also serves as NASA’s primary launch facility for spaceflight. KSC’s Visitor Complex showcases interactive exhibits, simulators, and authentic pieces of spacecraft.
Although this attraction is about an hour away from Orlando, it’s worth the drive down as you can explore rocket gardens, watch space-themed IMAX movies, and even meet a real astronaut. It’s also a great way to escape crowded theme parks while offering fun for kids and adults.
Real Florida Adventures’ Kennedy Space Center tour offers round-trip transportation from Orlando if you won’t be driving.
Nearby Recommended Hotel: Courtyard by Marriott Titusville Kennedy Space Center’s rooftop bar is perfect for watching NASA’s rocket launches. The hotel features large modern rooms with river views and celestial decor.
Snorkel with Stingrays at Discovery Cove
Seaworld’s Discovery Cove offers a unique experience unlike any other Orlando amusement park. It’s a family-friendly all-inclusive day resort where you can float in the water, snorkel with fish and rays, and feed exotic birds. Discovery Cove limits guest admissions per day, so it’s easier to get up close and personal with animals.
When you’re not swimming, lounge alongside one of the park’s pristine beaches or check out the birds in the Explorer’s Aviary. Add-on packages offer extra-special experiences like swimming with dolphins. The lush landscaping and freshwater pools make Discovery Cove a great place to relax and unwind.
Nearby Recommended Hotel: Hilton Grand Vacations Club SeaWorld Orlando is an 8-minute walk from Discovery Cove and offers free shuttle service to all Seaworld attractions. This resort has multiple pools, a kids’ splash pad, and jogging trails to make the most of the beautiful scenery.
Entertain Your Kids at Orlando Science Center
Spending a rainy day in Orlando? A trip to the Orlando Science Center is a great way to keep your kids dry and entertained. One of the city’s most popular family attractions, this center houses four floors of hands-on exhibits designed to educate and inspire young minds.
You’ll find giant skeletons of dinosaurs and several interactive zones for kids. There’s also a nature area where your little ones can meet reptiles, critters, and Lucky the Turtle. Science is fun, but it can work up an appetite. The onsite 4Roots cafe serves healthy, affordable meals made with locally-grown produce.
Nearby Recommended Hotel: Comfort Suites Downtown is in the hip North Orange area of Orlando, close to Orlando Science Center, antique stores, and many dining options. Suites have a laid-back design, and guests will enjoy complimentary breakfast and free parking.
Stroll the Beautiful Lake Eola Park
A picturesque slice of nature, Lake Eola Park is a peaceful escape from an otherwise buzzing city. Stroll the park’s paths or enjoy a relaxing picnic by the water’s edge. This green space offers what you need to recharge after a busy day. Located downtown, Lake Eola provides stunning views of Orlando’s skyline.
You can rent swan boats to float on the gentle waters and meet locals here. Every night a massive water fountain on the lake is lit up for a colorful show.
Nearby Recommended Hotel: Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando Downtown is a stylish hotel perfect for couples. Some suites offer gorgeous lake views and whirlpool tubs.
Explore the Florida Everglades With an Airboat Tour
The Florida Everglades is a massive network of subtropical wetlands and forests spanning 1.5 million acres across central and south Florida. This wild, untouched side of the Sunshine State is a unique Orlando attraction. You can watch alligators, river otters, and other wild animals in their natural habitat.
The best way to experience the Everglades is via airboat tours that access the most remote areas. Zip through swamps on an airboat, taking in the scenic views and spotting wildlife along the way. Asides the stunning landscape, you’ll love the thrill of high-speed rides that can reach 45 miles per hour.
Nearby Recommended Hotel: Monte Carlo Inn is an affordable, no-frills hotel about 30 minutes from Lake Toho, where you can join Airboat tours. It is perfect for a 1-2 day stay during your Everglades tour in Kissimmee.
Tubing at Kelly Park in Rock Springs
Kelly Park is a local’s favorite, where you’ll find one of Florida’s most beautiful springs. Rock Springs’ remarkably clear waters and 68-degree spring temperature creates a refreshing environment year-round. Often described as Orlando’s natural lazy river, people flock to Kelly Park for the relaxing 20-minute tube ride.
Kelly Park also has one of the best campsites in the area if you love spending time outdoors. There are strict admission limits to avoid overcrowding, and the park fills up very fast, especially on weekends. Try to get there early to claim one of the 280 entry tickets.
Kayaking is available at Kelly Park’s Camp Joy. For the best experience, rent a glass-bottomed vessel for stunning sights as friendly fish swim beneath and around you.
Nearby Recommended Hotel: Homewood Suites by Hilton Orlando-Maitland is a 28-minute drive to Kelly Park. Cozy rooms come with free WiFi and breakfast. There’s also an Applebee’s restaurant onsite.
Spend an Afternoon at ICON Park
ICON Park is an entertainment complex at the heart of Orlando’s International Drive. The main attraction here is The Wheel, a 400 feet observation wheel that gives you a bird’s eye view of Orlando. Each passenger capsule is air-conditioned, so the 18-minute rotation is all the more enjoyable.
Other fun attractions at ICON Park include;
- Madame Tussauds — a museum with over 100 lifelike wax figures of some of the world’s most notable faces.
- SEA LIFE Orlando — An aquarium with family-friendly exhibits. SEA LIFE Orlando is home to over 5,000 sea creatures, including seahorses, sharks, sea turtles, jellyfish, and more. You’ll love walking through the 360-degree ocean tunnel, where you can see sharks swimming all around you.
- Museum of Illusions — A mind-bending attraction with over 50 illusions within its walls. Mirror mazes and upside-down rooms are sure to leave you in disbelief.
ICON Park is also home to trendy restaurants, bars, and boutique shops, so you’ll have lots to do on an afternoon trip here.
Nearby Recommended Hotel: Sonesta ES Suites Orlando – International Drive is a welcoming, pet-friendly hotel on I-Drive. There’s an onsite gym, and you’ll be within walking distance of all the shops and entertainment on I-Drive.
Discover Orlando’s Water Parks
A summer trip to Orlando is hardly complete without a visit to one of the many water parks in the city. Water parks are great for families as they have play areas to entertain kids all day. Your kids will love the splash zones, water slides, and lazy rivers. There are refreshing water activities for adults too.
You’ll be spoiled for choice as the major theme parks in Orlando all have water parks. Then there are several independent or hotel-owned aqua parks.
The best water parks in Orlando are:
- Aquatica Orlando
- Disney’s Blizzard Beach (temporarily closed)
- Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon
- Universal’s Volcano Bay
- Nona Adventure Park
- CoCo Key Water Resort
Nearby Recommended Hotel: Aloft Orlando International Drive is a chic hotel 5 minutes from Aquatica Orlando. This hip hotel offers trendy rooms with colorful accents, a well-equipped gym, and a vibrant lobby bar to unwind.
Enjoy Nature at Harry P. Leu Gardens
Nature enthusiasts will love wandering through 50 acres of lush greenery at Harry P. Leu Gardens. If you want a break from Orlando’s amusement parks, this property offers a change of pace, letting you slow down and marvel at nature’s splendor.
You’ll find everything here: rose gardens, bamboo forests, butterfly gardens, and a tropical rainforest. Walk on pathways shaded by 200-year-old oaks and camellias or by the lakes as you take in the scents of hundreds of native and exotic plants.
Nearby Recommended Hotel: Courtyard by Marriott Orlando Downtown is a serene hotel in downtown Orlando. Contemporary-styled rooms feature desks with ergonomic chairs, and the Bistro serves delicious food and drinks.
Go Shopping at Disney Springs
Disney Springs is Walt Disney World Resort’s shopping, dining, and entertainment complex. The atmosphere here is Disney-like, so if you want to experience the magic of Disney on a budget, this is a must-visit. There’s lots of free entertainment, young kids can build at The LEGO store, and the whole family will enjoy bowling at Splitsville. Indulge in an all-you-can-eat buffet at House of Blues, or sit to an interactive dinner at one of the several themed restaurants.
Disney Springs is perfect for a date if you visit Orlando as a couple. Go on a thrilling Amphicar tour, then find each other gifts at one of the several stores. There are over 150 bars and celebrity chef-owned restaurants to choose from for dinner. In the evenings, when everywhere lights up and live entertainment starts, lock hands and stroll the boardwalk for the perfect end to a romantic evening.
Nearby Recommended Hotel:Sheraton Vistana Resort Villas, Lake Buena Vista/Orlando, is close to Disney Springs and other Orlando attractions. It has several onsite amenities, including 7 outdoor swimming pools to beat the heat.
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