I head to Orlando a couple of times each year and I’m always in search of the best things to do in Orlando besides theme parks. Even though the parks are what lure me there, because I’ve regularly had friends living in Orlando, I’ve been able to explore beyond the parks.
Orlando is a really fun city whether you’ve got Disney on the brain or not (but I will preach to no end about how the theme parks are largely more fun for adults than they are for kids).
Orlando’s central location makes it a great day trip from Clearwater and other major Florida cities, but spending more time there is a great plan.
But, perhaps you’re all-parked-out or looking to see what else Orlando has to offer in between park days? Maybe you visited all 4 Disney World parks in 1 day and have more time in your schedule? For everything else, I’ve teamed up with Hotels.com to bring you some of the best things to do in Orlando besides theme parks (for adults, that is).
Where to stay in Orlando
Regardless of your plans, Orlando has so many great places to stay. There are tons of great places to stay near Orlando’s theme parks as well as an entirely different scene downtown. For planning your Orlando trip, start here with these three options:
Universal’s Aventura Hotel
If you’re looking to stay in the area of the theme parks but don’t want to stay at a cheesy, kid-filled theme resort, check out Universal’s Aventura Hotel.
The Aventura is super modern and sleek with some of the coolest hotel rooms I’ve seen in Florida! This hotel features an ultra modern design, an outdoor pool (a must in Central Florida), two restaurants, and a stunning rooftop bar where you can look down on Orlando’s Big 3 theme parks. (Plus two other great bars and a Starbucks)
It includes a free theme park shuttle if you are hitting up the parks and is just a 20-minute walk to Universal CityWalk (which I’ll talk about in a minute).
Homewood Suites by Hilton
Also located in the general theme park part of town is Homewood Suites by Hilton. This hotel has a “Superb” rating by reviewers and features an outdoor pool, a basketball court, laundry facilities, a fitness room, and a garden area.
It also has free WiFi, free on-the-go breakfast, free parking (a rarity in this area), and even a free grocery shopping service for when you don’t want to rent a car for your Orlando trip!
It’s in a great location near many of the things to do in Orlando besides theme parks and reviewers consistently call it a quality stay.
Marriott’s Grand Vista
Marriott’s Grand Vista is more of a resort than a hotel and boasts an incredible pool area, a poolside bar, a full-service spa, a golf course, two tennis courts, and three restaurants.
However, it does offer free parking, free WiFi, and on-site childcare. Reviewers love the amount of space here–in the rooms and on the property–and the room views. When you want to check out all the things to do in Orlando besides theme parks, the Grand Vista is another hotel in a great, central location.
Things to do in Orlando besides theme parks (for adults)
I’m a huge fan of Orlando’s theme parks, but eventually you’ll visit them all and need something else to fill your time in the Sunshine State. When you’re ready to keep your feet planted firmly on the ground for a bit, check out these 24 best things to do in Orlando besides theme parks:
1. Eat, drink, be merry at Disney Springs
Disney Springs is not a theme park so, no, I am not misleading you. Disney Springs is a massive shopping, dining, and entertainment district that is totally free to visit. It’s home to some great restaurants for all budgets and preferences, like:
- the Boathouse – best lobster roll ever, says the girl who lives in Boston
- Morimoto Asia
- Wine Bar George – I highly recommend brunch here!
- The Chicken Guy! – Guy Fieri’s place, but don’t hold that against them. The food here is great!
- The Daily Poutine – quick, simple food but great poutine
- The Edison
- And there’s even an Indiana Jones-themed restaurant (Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar)
There are tons more than what I’ve just listed and many great bars, coffee shops, and hangouts too. And if you are staying at a Disney resort, you can get free transportation to Disney Springs. Hanging out at Disney Springs is one of my favorite things to do in Orlando besides theme parks.
2. Check out Universal CityWalk
It, too, is home to such big name restaurants as:
- Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
- Hard Rock Café
- Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville
- Voodoo Doughnut
- And more
There’s also a movie theater, a tattoo shop (hey, that’s an “adult” thing to do in Orlando), and a lot of shopping options.
3. Hit up International drive
International Drive, known locally as I-Drive, is another entertainment district ripe with shopping, dining, shows, nightlife, and recreational possibilities you won’t find at either Disney Springs or CityWalk.
Which “entertainment district” is for you will depend on your personal preferences for dining and activities – check each of them out and choose what you like best! They’re all sure to be a good time.
4. Take an everglades airboat tour
Here in Orlando you can take guided airboat tours of the headwaters of the Florida Everglades. You’ll see alligators in their natural habitat along with colorful wading birds and all kinds of other indigenous Florida wildlife, all while riding along in a thrilling airboat driven by knowledgeable guides.
This 90-minute Everglades Airboat tour has nothing but 5-star ratings, is limited to 6 people, and includes life jackets and rain gear (should it be needed).
Important note: I always recommend tours and activities that allow you to view wildlife from a distance in their natural habitats over “animal encounter” operations that have anything but the animals’ best interests in mind.
If you’re considering a visit to Orlando’s popular Gatorland, please reconsider. For more on the problems with these kinds of places, check out my post on the brutal truths of wildlife tourism.
5. Check out Bok Tower Gardens
While Bok Tower Gardens is a drive outside Orlando, it’s still one of the best things to do in the area besides theme parks.
Bok Tower Gardens is a beautiful “contemplative garden” and bird sanctuary, marked by a 205-foot art deco tower. The area features hiking trails, 50 acres of gardens, and is listed as a national historic landmark.
If the Orlando theme parks got you frazzled, a trip to Bok Tower Gardens may be just what you need to relax and recharge.
6. Check out the many World War II sites
If you’re looking for things to do in Orlando besides theme parks that are just about as opposite of theme parks as you can get, take a day and check out some of Orlando’s great World War II sites.
With great museums like the Museum of Military History and the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center, or memorials like the Battle of the Bulge memorial at Lake Eola in downtown Orlando, this city and the surrounding areas have a lot to offer history buffs. Check out all of Orlando’s World War II sites here.
7. Pick your own citrus
Just a half hour from the theme parks is one of my favorite things to do in Florida – enjoy the citrus – a very Florida activity! And here at Showcase of Citrus you can pick your own.
Showcase of Citrus is open every day of the year and grows lemons, limes, tangerines, and many, many varieties of oranges. They have 50+ varieties of citrus in all!
You can stroll the many acres of groves, visit their on-site shop, take a monster truck tour of the property (and through the marshes where you might see alligators), and between November and May you can pick your own fruit.
8. Take a hot air balloon ride
If the hot air balloon attraction at Disney Springs got you thinking, why not try out the real thing? Hot air balloon rides are so much fun and definitely one of the most unique things to do in Orlando besides theme parks!
Hot air balloon rides are so serene, so interesting, and such a rush! Orlando’s landscape and weather make it a great place to take a balloon ride and this is definitely the coolest way to see Orlando. Check out my hot air balloon video here to see what the experience is like:
9. Take the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour
The Winter Park scenic boat tour is one of the most popular things to do in Orlando besides theme parks. It’s a one-hour cruise through the narrow canals and lakes of Winter Park, one of Orlando’s beautiful suburbs.
On these tours you’ll get to see cool cranes and beautiful landscapes (along with stunning private estates) from a small-group private boat.
10. Go Axe throwing
Okay I get it, too much serenity. How about some axe throwing? If you haven’t tried your hand at axe throwing yet, it’s time you join the party.
Axe throwing is so much fun and one of the more unique things to do in Orlando besides theme parks. Put on your flannel, grow out your beard, it’s time to throw some axes. Pretend the target is the theme park that just took all your money.
This is a great activity for couples or groups and you can walk-in (but because of its popularity I’d probably make a reservation just in case).
11. Go indoor skydiving
Okay so throwing axes isn’t enough of a rush for you? How about indoor skydiving? One of the most heart-pumping things to do in Orlando besides theme parks and roller coasters would have to be indoor skydiving.
It’s like jumping out of a plane, but not as terrifying. Booking a time will get you two sessions of free-fall flight time and a group-training session with an accredited instructor. You’ll get one-on-one guidance, all the required gear, and even a certificate of achievement at the end to prove how ballsy you are!
If you want to experience skydiving but, like, without having to jump out of a plane (no judgement), check out Orlando’s indoor skydiving facility.
12. Check out Orlando’s great museums
Orlando has many more great museums besides the WWII ones listed above. When you’re looking for things to do in Orlando besides theme parks in the art and history realm, check out:
Orange County Regional History Center
This museum traces 12,000 years of local history across three floors of exhibits. I loved the variety of exhibits here! From prehistory to Florida’s citrus roots, to (yes, WWII history) to its retro past to the theme park boom, and more.
Wells’Built Museum of African American History and Culture
This museum is housed in the former Wells’Built hotel that once offered lodging to African Americans who weren’t allowed in Florida’s segregated hotels.
It’s now listed on the US National Register of Historic Places and has exhibits on the Civil Rights Movement, African art, and more.
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
The Morse Museum is known for having the world’s largest collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, legendary artist and designer of diamond ring (and breakfast) fame.
The collection includes jewelry (of course), paintings, furnishings, and his impressive stained glass. (You can also see many of Tiffany’s famous stained glass windows at Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL.)
13. Check out a professional sporting event
While in Orlando, you may have the opportunity to check out one of the professional sporting events the city has to offer. Orlando is home to NBA basketball, Major League Soccer, and the minor league hockey affiliate of the champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Orlando Magic of the NBA plays (typically) between October and May; the Orlando City Soccer Club plays between March and November; and the Orlando Solar Bears hockey team plays between October and February.
14. Spend a day on the golf course
Or maybe you’re looking for something more “sporty” to do yourself. Among the many things to do in Orlando besides theme parks, golf has to top that list (as it does the rest of Florida).
There are around 150 golf courses in Orlando for you to choose from and the weather here is great year-round. (Okay maybe it’s a little hot in the summer, but that’s what early tee times are for.)
There are golf courses for all preferences all over the Orlando area. I can’t pick one for you, but here’s a list of Orlando golf courses to help you choose!
15. Or just hit up the driving range
Orlando is one of the homes of TopGolf, the famous “golf and party” venue. You can walk-in or reserve your climate-controlled bay in advance to take advantage of their high-tech driving range.
You can enjoy great food, drinks, and music while practicing your swing or at least pretending you know what you’re doing. Regardless of how “into golf” you are, this is still one of the most fun things to do in Orlando besides theme parks and a huge hit for groups!
16. Try clay shooting for probably the first time ever
Clay shooting is something I’ve only seen on the B-side of Super Mario Bros. Duck Hunt (and maybe in a movie or two). But just outside Orlando you can actually try this out for yourself.
Places like Revolution Off Road offer 1-hour skeet shooting sessions for first-timers that includes firearm rental and guidance from the range master.
17. Go kayaking
Kayaking is one of my favorite activities—especially when I’m in Florida! There is so much wildlife and so many interesting areas that are accessible only by kayak, and Orlando is no different.
Just because it’s in the center of the state doesn’t mean this area lacks an excessive amount of waterways. There are more than enough Orlando-area kayaking excursions to choose from. Here are some of my favorites:
2-hour Glass Bottom Guided Kayak Eco Tour in Rock Springs
I took my first glass-bottom kayak tour in Florida a few months ago (with this same company) and I loved it! Clear kayaks are definitely the way to go. You get to see so much cool stuff you wouldn’t get to see normally because it’s under you.
On my tour I had some cormorants swimming back and forth under my kayak playing with me—it was so adorable! You can also see fish, alligators, turtles, and some cool birds in this area.
This 2-hour glass bottom guided eco tour takes place at beautiful Rock Springs just a short drive from Orlando and includes a knowledgeable guide and the chance to see these animals in their natural habitats.
All kayaks and safety gear are provided and there are even opportunities to swim in the warm spring water. This tour includes stops for great photo ops or for viewing wildlife, and is kept to a small number of kayakers for a more personalized experience. Also, this company is so great!
Clear Kayak Sunset Tour Through Winter Park
If you didn’t want to leave Orlando city limits but still wanted to get out on the water, maybe this kayak tour is a great option for you!
By the same company with the same awesome clear kayaks, you can take this sunset tour through Winter Park’s chain of lakes. This is much like the Winter Park scenic boat tour, but this time you’re the boat.
The guides will lead you through the Venetian-style canals of Winter Park where you’ll get to see some cool flora and fauna (while not heading too far from your hotel).
2-hour Cypress Forest Guided Kayak tour
For something else nearby, check out this 2-hour cypress forest guided kayak tour. With nothing but 5-star reviews, this tour leads you through the headwaters of the Florida Everglades (much like the airboat tours).
You’ll kayak through the cypress forests where you’ll see tons of native Florida wildlife, including alligators! All kayaking and safety gear is provided and you’ll be led by an experienced guide. You can choose between single or tandem kayaks.
18. Go fishing at Disney World
Something I always see during my trips to Epcot is people on fishing boats heading through Disney World’s waterways. If you’re looking for things to do in Orlando besides theme parks that still take the theme parks into account, book yourself a Disney World fishing trip.
It’s true, you can book guided bass fishing excursions at Disney World. This would be such a great way to introduce your kids (or anyone really) to bass fishing while on an Orlando vacation.
You can book either 2- or 4-hour trips (and solo anglers get a reduced rate) aboard their 21-foot pontoon boat (up to 5 guests) or their tournament-style bass fishing boat (for one or two people). All bookings include a guide, rod and reel, bait and tackle, and non-alcoholic beverages (but you’re welcome to BYOB).
19. Go paddleboarding… with a dog!
If kayaking isn’t your thing, maybe paddleboarding is? Regardless, on this tour you get to paddleboard with a dog and how could that not be incredible?
On the Paddle with Pups in Paradise tour you’ll get to paddleboard around one of the area’s beautiful lakes with a paddle pup of your very own. The guides stay with you the whole time and happily take photos of you and your rental pup.
This hour and a half tour includes paddleboard, guide, and life vests if you’re not great at… wait for it… doggy paddling.
20. Explore Tibet-Butler Nature Preserve
Tiber-Butler Nature Preserve offers 3.6 miles of hiking trails through Florida’s signature habitats. These trails are well-groomed and gentle in difficulty.
Within the park is a picnic area, butterfly garden, and an educational nature center where you can learn about the plants and animals you’ll see along the trails.
Tibet-Butler Nature Preserve is “within earshot of Disney World” so you won’t have to go far to get away into some nature during your trip to Orlando.
21. Do some shopping
Among the most popular things to do in Orlando besides theme parks is shopping. Orlando boasts many great shopping areas in all parts of the city.
As already mentioned, Disney Springs is also home to an extensive outdoor shopping mall with just about every shop you could think of (and also the biggest Disney store you could dream of).
There’s also the ever-popular Orlando International Premium Outlets. (People come from both coasts to shop here.)
Other popular shopping spots in Orlando include:
- The Mall at Millenia
- The Florida Mall
- Ivanhoe Village
- Orlando Farmer’s Market every Sunday
22. Check out Orlando’s many craft breweries
If you’ve come to Orlando and are looking for things to do besides theme parks because you left the kiddos at home, make sure you check out Orlando’s craft beer scene while you’re here.
Orlando is home to countless craft breweries now and they offer some of the coolest hang outs and best beers. Some of my personal favorites include:
- Crooked Can Brewery
- Ivanhoe Park Brewing Company
- The Bear and Peacock Brewery
- Sideward Brewing
- But WOW there are so many more
23. Visit the world’s largest McDonald’s
Because of course the world’s largest McDonald’s is in Orlando, Florida. Where else would it be? Taking up 19,000 square feet over three floors, this McDonald’s restaurant offers menu items you won’t find at any other location.
Fancy paninis, fresh baked pizzas, Belgian waffles? You can get that (and more) here from their Bistro Gourmet menu. (But be warned, they also have an enormous PlayPlace and arcade so maybe just grab-and-go.)
24. Have a spa day
And in the exact opposite spirit as the world’s largest McDonald’s, next up is have yourself a spa day. In a town where theme park stress runs rampant, it’s no wonder this is also a huge spa town.
Take a day between parks and relax those muscles (or have someone relax them for you). Orlando’s most favorite spas include:
- The full-service day spa at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando
- The spa at the Four Seasons Resort at Walt Disney World
- and the spa at Waldorf Astoria Orlando
I hope I’ve given you some great options for things to do in Orlando besides theme parks. Have fun in Orlando!
More info for your Orlando trip
Which of these things to do in Orlando (besides theme parks) do you have planned?
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