While most travelers associate Orlando, Florida, with some of the world’s most famous theme parks, this tourist-friendly destination offers so much more. Whether you’re looking to break up the trip or take advantage of the sunny weather while avoiding the parks entirely, there’s plenty to do and see.
Here are six fun things you can do in and around Orlando without going to the parks.
Ride a Hot Air Balloon
One of the best ways to experience Orlando is from the sky. Book an MCO car service to bring you into the city from the airport, and start your tour with a hot air balloon ride. This is a great way to see the parks and avoid crowds while celebrating the first day of your vacation.
Book a sunrise trip and enjoy a champagne toast on this three-hour tour of Orlando from above. You’ll also see the wild parts of the area, including the groves and swamps. If the balloon ride isn’t your style, you can also hop in a helicopter for a quick tour through the sky. Consider booking a nighttime helicopter tour so you can watch the incredible fireworks displays from the parks.
Explore the Natural Springs
Wekiwa Springs is technically a park, but it’s a State Park. This beautiful area is a great way to spend a relaxing day in nature. If you’re looking to chill and cool off, you can float around in the water. Alternatively, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can hike, kayak, canoe, or ride a horse to explore your natural surroundings. If you’re looking for an alternative to hotel living, you can even book a few nights of camping at Wekiwa Springs.
While Wekiwa Springs is conveniently located close to Orlando proper, Silver Springs State Park is about 1.5 hours away. This destination has basic cabin rentals and offers a glass-bottom boat tour of the springs.
Volunteer at the Nature Reserve
Eco-tourism has become increasingly popular in Orlando over recent years. Travelers and locals see the importance of protecting the incredible ecosystem surrounding the cities. You can experience these efforts firsthand with some “voluntourism” activities.
Travel slightly West of Orlando to the Oakland Nature Preserve for an action-packed day of volunteering with restoration and maintenance efforts. The Coalition for Lake Apopka Ecotourism also accepts short-term volunteers, so you can experience this beautiful region while contributing to its preservation.
For something truly unique and exciting, try a Do Good Date Night to partner with a local non-profit, then enjoy the rest of the evening with your partner and like-minded couples.
Visit the Animals
Florida has incredible wildlife that you can interact with in several ways. Gatorland is a hybrid theme park and nature reserve in which you can see alligators and crocodiles in their natural environment. You can view the breeding grounds and a stunning aviary, as well as several other reptile exhibits. This wildlife reserve also has theme park activities like ziplining.
If mammals are more your style, head to the Giraffe Ranch and take a safari through the farm to interact with giraffes, rhinos, camels, and more. You can even schedule private feeding experiences to interact with the animals on a more personal level.
Finally, you can’t forget about the manatees. Book a kayaking or paddleboarding trip to see the manatees frolic in the waterways. You can also book bioluminescent tours and feel like you’re paddleboarding on a river of stars.
Head to the Beach
While Orlando is a landlocked city, it has stunning ocean beaches about an hour East. The world-famous Daytona Beach is along the coast with the less crowded Cocoa Beach near the Kennedy Space Center. While Daytona tends to attract more of a tourist crowd, Cocoa Beach is preferred by locals and still offers many tour and activity options.
If you plan on heading to the beach, make it a day trip and pack a picnic. It’s hard to leave the beautiful shoreline once you get there.
Head to a Museum
The Sunshine State is known for some unpredictable weather. One of the best ways to spend a rainy day in Orlando is heading to one of the many museums. Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum is a world-renowned tourist attraction, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
WonderWorks is located on the I-Drive and is recognizable by the upsidedown facade. Within this museum, you can engage in hands-on scientific experiments, go on a virtual roller coaster, play laser tag, and more.
Alternatively, head to the World of Chocolate Museum and Cafe to see famous landmarks sculpted from chocolate. Yes, you can enjoy the chocolate as well, with gourmet coffee or wine pairings. The tour is as interesting as the samples are delicious.
There are endless activities and options for things to do in Orlando without ever stepping foot in one of the big parks. Enjoy nature and the museums to make the most of your trip.