The Top 10 Things to Do and See in Orlando, Florida

Alex MacKay

Look beyond the Mickey Mouse-themed paraphernalia and Orlando’s true cultural scene comes to the fore. Orlando caters to the active, the inquisitive, the offbeat and the urban explorer, as the city expands and regenerates constantly. Here are Culture Trip’s must-do activities for any new visitor to the city.

1. Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

Museum, Park

1. Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

In the fashionable and historic district of Winter Park, the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art houses the largest collection of Tiffany glass in the world, encompassing lamps, leaded-glass windows, jewellery, art glass and pottery. Check out the museum’s recent Tiffany Wing extension from 2011, which contains the restored Daffodil Terrace from Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Long Island Estate.

Opening hours: Tue-Sat 9.30am-4pm (open until 8pm Friday, November-April); 1pm-4pm Sunday

Address: 445 North Park Ave, Winter Park, Florida, USA

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum © Kurtis Garbutt/FlickrThe Charles Hosmer Morse Museum © Kurtis Garbutt/Flickr

Go see the gators (in the wild)

An airboat tour is great way to escape the crowds of Orlando and see the real natural heart of Florida. Spirit of the Swamp operates airboat rides and nature tours of the marshes and swamps of Lake Tohopekaliga, and is about a 30-minute drive outside the city. In these tours you can get up close and personal to Florida’s alligators in the wild, and also see bald eagles, ospreys and wildfowl while speeding through the wetland waterways and tall grass.

Address: 830 Neptune Rd, Kissimmee, FL 34744, US, +1 321-689-6893

An airboat on Lake Tohopekaliga

2. Orlando Brewing Company


Orlando Brewing Company

It’s no secret that Orlando is fast becoming a destination of note for craft beer aficionados (check out Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour for its selection of 23 rotating drafts and 250 bottled beers). But for true microbrew street-cred, you should hit up the now decade-old Orlando Brewing Company, the only USDA-certified organic brewery east of the Mississippi. The brewery not only possesses 35 ales, lagers and seasonal microbrews on tap at any one time, it now also offers free brewery tours Monday to Saturday at 6pm, original live music on Friday and Saturday nights and ‘dog days’ on Sunday with reducing pricing during ‘yappy hour’ if you bring your dog along to the brewery.

Address: 1301 Atlanta Ave, Orlando, Florida, USA

3. Watch Orlando Magic

Church, Park

Watch Orlando Magic

If you’re wanting to hear the roar of a crowd outside of a theme park in Orlando, your best bet is to watch Orlando’s resident NBA team, the Orlando Magic, in action. The team celebrated 25 years on the court last year, and you can catch them on their home-court at the downtown 20,000-seat Amway Center during the regular NBA season, running from October to June.

Address: 400 W Church St #200, Orlando, Florida, USA

The Amway Center © Ttodaizzm/WikiCommonsThe Amway Center © Ttodaizzm/WikiCommons

4. Harry P. Leu Botanic Gardens


Harry P. Leu Botanic Gardens

Faced with an onslaught of theme parks and shopping centres, it is easy to overlook pockets of natural beauty amidst the urban sprawl of Orlando. It would be a real lost opportunity, however, not to pay a visit to the 50-acre Harry P. Leu Gardens and revel in its abundant flora. Possessing a citrus grove and a butterfly garden, horticulturalists and urban explorers will find much to admire amongst the gardens’ 1,000 rose bushes and the largest collection of camellias in North America, season permitting.

Opening hours: Mon- Fri 9am-5pm

Address: 1920 N Forest Ave, Orlando, Florida, USA

Harry P. Leu Botanic Gardens © Jim Moore/FlickrHarry P. Leu Botanic Gardens © Jim Moore/Flickr

5. SAK Comedy Lab

SAK Comedy Lab

SAK Comedy Lab is one of Orlando’s most popular comedy clubs, featuring an array of regional, national and international comedians each night. Central to the operation here is improvised comedy, with various nights adopting a particular theme, such as the hilarious ‘Duel of Fools’, held Thursday to Saturday, and Saturday’s ‘Request Live’. For those patrons who think they can gain a bigger laugh, workshops on the comedy business and how to craft a gag are offered on Mondays.

Address: 29 S Orange Ave, Orlando, Florida, USA, +1 407-648-0001

Orlando © Jeff Krause/FlickrOrlando © Jeff Krause/Flickr

6. Kennedy Space Center


Kennedy Space Center

Just 45 minutes from Orlando is the Kennedy Space Center, the site of the launching of numerous NASA spacecraft. Launches are rare, but are certainly worth seeing if possible. There is also a visitor complex, which has numerous interactive exhibits on space exploration, simulations and an IMAX cinema. You can tour the facilities, and the Apollo/Saturn V Center is a particular highlight as it chronicles the history of manned missions to the moon and contains the largest rocket in history. The Rocket Garden is a surreal experience, as you walk among several towering rockets and climb into replica capsules.

Opening hours: Mon-Sun 9am-6pm

Address: Kennedy Space Center, SR 405, FL 32899, US, +1 321-449-4400

Kennedy Space Center © Reinhard Link/FlickrKennedy Space Center © Reinhard Link/Flickr

7. Orlando Circus School


Budding clowns might be tempted to try out the Orlando Circus School and its full roster of classes for adults and children. Some of the more exhilarating classes include the German wheel, trampolining and aerial arts. Proudly railing against any kind of homogeneity in the Orlando cultural scene, the school has been tirelessly promoting and encouraging the unique culture of the circus.

Opening hours: Mon-Fri 9am9pm; Sat 10am-2pm

8. Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World


Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

It wouldn’t be an Orlando vacation without the main attraction. There hasn’t been a more apt time to visit the Mouse House either: the Seven Dwarves Mine Train ride and New Fantasyland expansion are now open and ready to bolster your childhood memories, or create some new ones. Evergreen favourites, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s A Small World and Space Mountain, are still guaranteed to thrill and entertain, and the final night-time fireworks display hanging above Cinderella’s Castle is the definition of a perfect vacation moment.

Address: 1180 Seven Seas Drive, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA

Walt Disney World © Josh Hallett/FlickrWalt Disney World © Josh Hallett/Flickr

9. Santiago's Bodega in Ivanhoe Village

Santiago’s Bodega in Ivanhoe Village

Several of Orlando’s lakeside neighbourhoods boast the most hyped restaurants in the whole state. One of the more eye-catching prospects, in the cosmopolitan Ivanhoe Village, is Santiago’s Bodega, an enclave of surreal modern art in the backyard of Orlando. Robert Henry Thompson’s bold paintings and interior design complement a small-plate tapas-style menu intended to invoke the spirit of Ernest Hemingway, his characters in The Old Man and The Sea, and the original outpost in Key West.

Price: mid-range

Opening hours: Mon-Fri 11am-2am; Sat-Sun 10am-2am

Watch out for: the tapas menu

Address: 802 Virginia Dr, Orlando, Florida, USA, +1 407-412-6979

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