23 Best Things to Do in Orlando Besides Theme Parks
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The city of Orlando is best known for the theme parks that attract millions of visitors every year. However, there are plenty of non-theme park things to do in Orlando! In fact, I’ve got 23 of the best things to do in Orlando besides theme parks for a unique twist to your Orlando vacation.
Want the best of both worlds? Check out this post on Disney World Tips for First Timers Planning Guide!
- Orange County Regional History Center
- Orlando Public Library
- U Can Cook
- Orlando Repertory Theatre
- International Drive [or I-Drive]
- Winter Park, Orlando
- Disney Springs
- Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral – NASA
- Central Florida Zoo
- Madame Tussauds
- Dinner Shows in Orlando
- SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium
- Airboat Rides
- Bok Tower Gardens
- Giraffe Ranch in Dade City
- Tree Trek Adventure Park
- Safari Wilderness Ranch
- Crayola Experience
- Orlando Watersports Complex
- The Orlando Science Center
- Gaylord Palms Resort
Orange County Regional History Center
The Orange County Regional History Center is one of the most underrated attractions in Orlando. I fell absolutely, 100%, head over heels in love with this museum and highly recommend it during a visit to Orlando [with or without kids].
This museum, located in downtown Orlando, has four floors of interactive exhibits that walk you through the history of central Florida.From the origin of Disney World to the history of African-Americans in that region, this museum covers it all. And makes it fun!
They also have special exhibits highlighting things pertinent to the area. During my visit, it was a special exhibit dedicated to The One Orlando Collection [side note: that exhibit was amazing].
If you’re looking for things to do in Orlando with kids besides Disney, the Orange County Regional History Center definitely tops the list.
Orlando Public Library
Is it weird to include a public library on a list of things to do in Orlando other than theme parks? Maybe. But the Orlando Public Library is one of the nicest libraries in the country.
There is a Technology and Education Center, a bookstore where you can find great quality items for a bargain price, a beautifully decorated children’s area, storytime for kids of all ages, a gift shop, and so much more.
You can even arrange a tour of the library if you are so inclined. Visiting the Orlando Public Library is a great [free] thing to do in Orlando.
U Can Cook
Entering U Can Cook is like stepping into a fairytale. It’s a feast for the eyes, as well as the stomach. It’s a place where you can forget the outside world and immerse yourself in a themed cooking adventure.
U Can Cook offers cooking classes for all ages, interests and skill levels. Their classes teach the basics of food preparation, food safety skills, and the art of layering flavors, as well as etiquette and party planning.
They offer seasonal, themed events such as Breakfast with Santa, or cooking with a certain Snow Queen. They also do birthday parties.
Orlando Repertory Theatre
If you’re seeking things to do in Orlando besides Disney but still want to pile on the entertainment, look no further than the Orlando Repertory Theatre.
It’s described as a “quality theatre for young audiences that enlightens, enriches, and entertains.” They offer a variety of different shows like Junie B. Jones, Elf the Musical, and Suessical the Musical.
All of the shows are designed and geared towards families.
International Drive [or I-Drive]
If you’re a foodie, International Drive/I-Drive is dappled with a variety of restaurants filled with international cuisine. For the adrenaline seeker, it’s also a fast and easy route to a Ferris Wheel that will give you incomparable views of Orlando and to the Orlando Starflyer – the tallest sky swing in the world at a whopping 450 feet.
No car? No problem? I-Drive offers an inexpensive trolley [aptly named the I-Ride Trolley] that will take you everywhere you need to go in the area.
International Drive is the perfect place to explore and see what you can find in terms of things to do in Orlando besides theme parks.
Winter Park, Orlando
Winter Park is a bustling community right in the heart of Orlando that offers all kinds of entertainment for those looking for things to do in Orlando besides theme parks.
Little known fact: Winter Park was actually one of the many successful African-American neighborhoods that developed in Central Florida after the Emancipation Proclamation. Winter Park pays tribute to that history at Hannibal Square Heritage Center featuring exhibits detailing the influence of African-Americans in the area.
Central Park, an 11-acre park in the middle of Winter Park, features plenty of green space for the kids to burn off some energy. They even offer seasonal movie screenings there!
There are also many museums in Winter Park including the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art and Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens.
Tour the area in style by indulging in one of their scenic boat tours or by taking a self-guided walking tour.
If you’re hungry, there are tons of quaint restaurants lining the sidewalks in the posh Park Avenue Shopping District. There’s also a one of a kind farmer’s market featuring fares from local vendors.
Want the Disney experience in Orlando without actually visiting Disney World? Then Disney Springs is the next best thing. Not only is it free [YAY!] but it provides just the right amount of the Disney experience without going overboard.
In addition to the many [MANY] shopping opportunities, there’s also a hot air balloon [don’t worry – it is tethered], cars that can be driven over the water, live musical performances, and even walkers on stilts.
Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral – NASA
While a trip to the moon on vacation is something that is not yet in the cards, you can tour the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral NASA facilities during your vacation in Orlando.
This one might be a tiny bit of a cheat because it isn’t actually in Orlando. But it’s Orlando adjacent and just a quick drive away.
From their real-life space shuttles to their special exhibits, Kennedy Space Center makes the short drive well worth it. Science lovers will love the opportunity to explore one of the foremost pioneers in space travel and astrologically based sciences.
WonderWorks isn’t your average museum! For starters, the building is upside down [yep, you read that correctly].
From the moment you enter the WonderWorks building, you will find yourself embarking on a unique journey of science and optical illusion. They have over 100 exhibits – all interactive – covering everything from earthquakes to fighter jets.
WonderWorks is a super fun, and educational, option for non-disney attractions in Orlando.
Central Florida Zoo
Nothing delights kids more than a visit to the zoo! Animal lovers will love the option of paying a visit to the Central Florida Zoo in Orlando rather than visiting a theme park.
In addition to the typical zoo exhibits [amphibians, invertebrates, birds, mammals, and reptiles], they also have special attractions like giraffe feeding, rhinoceros encounters, and even ziplining.
When it comes to fun stuff to do in Orlando besides theme parks, Madame Tussauds Orlando museum is your best bet. Swap out a visit with Mickey and Minnie to spend time with the likes of the Justice League, James Bond, and Steve Jobs. You can even “meet” Walt Disney himself!
As the premier name in wax figurines, Madame Tussauds will have you marveling at the lifelike figurines of popular celebrities, politicians, and historical figures. Madame Tussauds is incomparable to most other wax museums and has been a name in the wax figure industry for a very long time.
Dinner Shows in Orlando
If you are looking for non-theme park things to do in Orlando that add an element of whimsy to your vacation, then a dinner show is just the thing. Whether you book a seat at the widely known Medieval Times, or opt for some of the more local shows with magic or pirate themes, a dinner show is an excellent way to add an exciting element to your evening meal.
Here are some of the best family dinner shows in Orlando:
- Medieval Times [Check out our Medieval Times Dallas review in Dallas here!]
- Pirate’s Dinner Adventure
- Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows
- Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show
SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium
The SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium provides you with a chance to admire the beautiful and strange creatures that live underneath the ocean’s waves. With over 5000 species to see and experience, SEA LIFE is one of the top things to do in Orlando other than theme parks.
For an extra special treat during your visit, try to catch one of their feeding times or even sign up for their VIP behind the scenes experiences.
One of the best things to do in Orlando besides theme parks is an airboat ride!
Florida is dappled with swampland containing plants and creatures that you will find in no other ecosystem in the world. Step out of the maze of high rises during your Orlando vacation and explore the beauty of mother nature for a few hours by touring the local swamps and marshes by airboat.
Zip along the waterways surrounding Orlando and admire the natural flora and fauna that helps to turn Florida into an actual, real-life wonderland. Great for adrenaline seekers, this is a way to get up close and personal with members of Florida’s wildlife.
Airboat rides are as much a staple of a Florida vacation as the theme parks that Orlando has become known for.
Bok Tower Gardens
Bok Tower Gardens are a fantastic stop for contemplation and relaxation during your Orlando stay. With a 250 square foot idyllic garden, numerous trails, and a bird sanctuary, it’s a good place to burn off a few hours and enjoy the central Florida sun.
The centerpiece of Bok Tower Gardens is the 205-foot tall Singing Tower adorned with carillon bells. Visit the gardens at 1 PM and 3 PM to be treated with a mini carillon bell concert.
The Bok Tower Gardens are an excellent space to stop and inhale in the middle of a hectic and exciting trip to Orlando.
Giraffe Ranch in Dade City
Does anyone else have kids that love giraffes? My oldest absolutely loves them so including the Giraffe Ranch in nearby Dade City in this list of things to do in Orlando besides theme parks was a no brainer. You’ll get the opportunity to get up close and personal with giraffes and other exotic animals like ostriches, antelope, and even rhinoceroses.
Get the full safari experience by touring the 47-acre ranch in either a custom-designed safari vehicle, on the back of a camel, on a Segway, or as part of a llama trek.
Add-ons are available too if you’re interested in feeding some of the animals [including the giraffes] or seeing some up close. Tours are offered twice a day at 11 AM and 2 PM so be sure to sign up in advance.
Tree Trek Adventure Park
The adrenaline lovers in the family will love Tree Trek Adventure Park! You can climb into the local canopies and conquer a medley of zip lines, nets, suspended bridges, and Tarzan swings.
The Tree Trek Adventure park boasts over ninety-seven aerial challenges of varying difficulty, multiple tracks, and a 425-foot zip line. Please note, due to the nature of the park only kids over the ages of 7/8 are allowed to participate.
Safari Wilderness Ranch
Embrace another opportunity to get a taste of Africa during your stay in Orlando by going on a safari at the Safari Wilderness Ranch in Orlando.
You will be able to admire the herds of African and Asian species from the comfort of your car or from the unique perspective of camelback. The Wilderness Ranch is a fascinating opportunity to observe animals in an open range and get incredibly close to creatures like zebras and ostriches.
For younger kids [or those that are completely young at heart], the Crayola Experience in Orlando is an excellent option for things to do in Orlando besides theme parks.
It’s a fully interactive family attraction centered around – you guessed it – Crayola crayons. Unleash your family’s creativity while exploring color and technology in a one of a kind experience. [Bonus points: for our handi-capable friends, all of their attractions are ADA compliant]
Orlando Watersports Complex
Whether you want to explore the floating obstacle courses or take lessons in wakeboarding, water skiing, wakeskating, and kneeboarding, the Orlando Watersports Complex is the perfect stop for you to make a splash in. With a variety of fun activities to choose from, this complex helps you dive into the local waterways with a unique variety of athletic pastimes.
The Orlando Science Center
The Orlando Science Center is described as a popular and exciting hands-on science museum for all ages. With a description like that, how can you not visit during your time in Orlando?
This science museum aims to promote public understanding and provide experience-based opportunities for learning about science and technology. There’s plenty to do here for everyone in the family. There’s even a little learners area for those under the age of 5.
This one almost didn’t make the list because it skirts the line as a theme park. But Gatorland is so much more than your typical amusement park!
Florida, for better or for worse, is known for its alligator population [or ‘gators as us cool kids call them]. Gatorland offers a fantastic way to have a safe and educational interaction with these infamous creatures found throughout Florida. They also have wild cats, snakes, tortoises, birds, a zip line, and special events.
Gaylord Palms Resort
The Gaylord Palms Resort is more than just a hotel! They really go above and beyond to provide a multifaceted experience without ever having to leave the property.
There are multiple restaurants on-site, an adults-only pool, a family-friendly water park, and even a surfing simulator. For a special treat, catch their seasonal events like summer’s SummerFest and winter’s Christmas at Gaylord Palms.
Read all about our experience at Gaylord Texan’s ICE exhibit!
You don’t have to confine your visit to Orlando to just the theme parks the city is known for. Explore the city and be rewarded with a multitude of things to do in Orlando besides theme parks.