10 Reasons to Drive to Orlando, Florida
From global eats to amazing art and scenic lakes, there’s way more to Orlando’s magic than Disney.
It’s no secret that Orlando is one of planet earth’s most popular tourist attractions. After all, 75 million visitors can’t be wrong. But beyond the realm of anthropomorphic mice and the city’s other family-friendly theme parks, there’s a treasure trove of fascinating experiences throughout Orange County—the Florida one, just to be clear.
From top-notch drinking and dining in the heart of the Central Business District to immersive museums scattered across the outskirts of the city, it’s nearly impossible to run out of things to do during a trip to this sprawling metropolis. Grab your sunscreen, pack your swim trunks, and get ready to tackle everything The City Beautiful has to offer.
Eat your way through Orlando’s thriving food scene
With roughly 2.5 million inhabitants scattered across the Greater Orlando area, this massive region has become a true microcosm of global cuisine. On the hunt for some Lao favorites like Pork Larb and Sai Oua? Sticky Rice is at your service. Pining for a hearty helping of perfectly seasoned Tegabino Shiro? Selam Ethiopian & Eritrean Cuisine has your back. In the mood for a new spin on Bandeja Paisa in the heart of downtown? Look no further than Super Rico Colombian Restaurant. No matter how specific your craving is, Orlando’s certain to have something in store to satisfy.
And if you still can’t decide, consider sampling a cornucopia of flavors at one-stop-shop East End Market. This modern food hall is home to more than 10 distinct dining venues and marketplaces, offering a diverse array of products ranging from artisanal cheeses to handmade leather goods. While each individual storefront has something special, Winter Park Biscuit Company is an absolute must-visit for plant-based diners, offering a Southern-style menu that’s certain to win over even the most ardent of carnivores.
Treat yourself to a luxurious hotel stay
A world-class tourist city calls for world-class accommodations, and fortunately, Orlando is jam-packed with them. For visitors that want to stay close to Disney, Caribe Royale Orlando is the way to go—but fair warning, it may be a little tough to tear yourself away from the property once Mickey comes calling. At the moment, this grandiose resort comes equipped with five distinct dining concepts, a massive outdoor pool and waterslide, and a 1.5-mile jogging and biking trail—and given it's emerging from a $125 million renovation, these palatial accommodations are about to get a lot more lavish.
On the other hand, folks interested in the downtown scene have a whole host of options, too—namely the AC Hotel by Marriott Orlando Downtown. During daylight hours, guests are welcome to hit the fitness center or take a stroll to nearby Lake Eola Park, but once twilight hits, don’t miss out on AC Sky Bar. Located in the upper reaches of the property, this sleek venue provides refreshing cocktails, classic American fare, and stellar views of the surrounding Orlando area.
Cruise through charming neighborhoods
You might be content to spend the bulk of your trip hanging around EPCOT, but a wealth of enticing neighborhoods await if you need a break from the France Pavilion. In the northernmost stretch of downtown Orlando, the ultra-idyllic Ivanhoe Village is the perfect recipe for a relaxing lakeside afternoon. To kick off the festivities, head to open-air hangout The Hammered Lamb for a decadent queso-smothered burrito or Nashville Hot Chicken and Waffles, then walk a few steps east to Ivanhoe Park Brewing Company, a rustic venue armed with a diverse array of brews ranging from the classic Park Hopp’r Golden Pilsner to the Suck It Trebek Sour Farmhouse IPA.
Orlando is no stranger to international culture, so if you’re in the mood for a little Southeast Asian excursion, it’s tough to beat Mills 50. This downtown-adjacent district is sometimes referred to as “Little Saigon” thanks to the spectacular Vietnamese restaurants scattered across the area. Fresh snacks, soups, and excellent noodle dishes can be found at the aptly-named Little Saigon, while nearby Paris Bánh Mì is a top spot for crushing one of Vietnam’s most iconic sandwiches.
Spend a quiet day on the lake
It’s tough to say just how many lakes Orlando has, so let’s quantify it with “a lot.” And while most watersports enthusiasts tend to gravitate toward the coast, that doesn’t mean Orlando lacks a scene of its own. Case in point: Epic Paddle Adventures, a local company that offers ample opportunities for lakefront fun. Wildlife-themed tours abound, including manatee and bioluminescence expeditions, but if you’re looking to take a trek through the heart of Orlando, be sure to book a Night Glow Paddle in Paradise.
If you don’t quite have the sealegs for paddleboarding, no worries. Scenic Boat Tours hooks up visitors with a leisurely day out on the water requiring minimal physical prowess. In business for more than 80 years, this long-running company has perfected the art of lake cruising, carting visitors across Winter Park’s famous Chain of Lakes to marvel at native Floridian wildlife, bask in the beauty of the region’s historic canals, or gawk open-mouthed at ridiculously lavish lakefront mansions.
Get cultured at sophisticated museums
Though most visitors associate Orlando with off-the-walls entertainment, there’s always room for quiet introspection at a prestigious cultural institution. For some truly stellar installations, head up north to Winter Park and check out the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. In addition to the vibrant Chinese porcelain collection, you can also peruse the most comprehensive collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany creations, with spectacular leaded-glass windows and dazzling pottery all on display.
If you have any budding STEM enthusiasts in the crew, be sure to squeeze in a trip to the Orlando Science Center. Exhibits cover all walks of life, with endless information about Florida’s native ecosystems, innovations in agriculture, and the inner workings of the solar system. And for any hardcore Jurassic Park fans, the OSC offers ample opportunity to hang out with some of the earth’s most ferocious prehistoric predators from both land and sea.
Or get weird at eccentric attractions
In the southwestern edge of the city, the Museum of Illusions serves as one of the city’s most mind-boggling—not to mention Instagram-worthy—attractions. Upon arrival, visitors feast their eyes on a wealth of wallside displays ranging from optical illusions to ornate kaleidoscopes, but the real brain-melters are hidden away in their own dedicated rooms. Channel your inner model with a trip to the mirror-laden Infinity Room, or brave the Vortex Tunnel, a swirling tornado of colors that will make you feel like you’re manning a tiny sailboat in the eye of a hurricane.
Just east of Universal Studios, colossal Dezerland Park clocks in at 800,000-square-feet, equipped with a go-kart track, axe-throwing venue, and—perhaps most interestly—the Auto Experience, a massive exhibit spanning roughly 2,000 different cars. In addition to classic cars sourced from Europe, the museum is also a top-tier venue for film buffs, featuring vintage Batmobiles alongside a selection of vehicles used in James Bond films.
Mingle with native floridian flowers
If you need to clear your head after a couple of days of urban exploration, pop over to one of the city’s serene natural respites. With 50 acres of land, the Harry P. Leu Gardens are a veritable treasure trove within the world of botany, spanning a verdant pollinator-friendly Butterfly Garden, the historic Leu House Museum, and one of the nation’s largest collections of camellias. And if you haven’t quite met your flower quota for the day, head just north to Mead Botanical Garden to get up-close-and-personal with some of the Sunshine State’s most vital indigenous plants.
Embark on a citywide cocktail crawl
A booming food scene and a stellar cocktail lineup tend to go hand in hand, and Orlando is no exception. The city’s Mills 50 district is flooded with exemplary mixology, with TORI TORI leading the charge in classic Japanese highballs, while downtown’s Mathers Social Gathering has been a local favorite for years, serving up complex rum, gin, and rye concoctions in a sublimely gorgeous Victorian-era setting.
While celebrated cocktail bars pervade the city, one very special hidden gem can be found in the Milk District. Known as Orlando Milkhouse, this polished property sports a fantastic menu packed full of crowd-pleasers like Plantation Rum-spiked Milk Punch and the mezcal-forward Última Palabra—but that’s not all. For a savory-sweet punch, start off with a serving of Fritto Misto then follow it up with a scoop of Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie from onsite vendor Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream.
Catch a star-studded live performance
While the sprawling Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts has been an Orlando fixture since 2014, this amazing venue only gets better with age. Fresh off the heels of its grand opening, the center’s Steinmetz Hall is a masterpiece when it comes to acoustics, ensuring a well-rounded auditory experience that can be enjoyed even without the use of amplification. Performances here range from country-western showcases to Italian opera, but if you prefer a side of fresh air with your tunes, Seneff Arts Plaza hosts a variety of lively outdoor concerts year-round.
Hang out with Orlando’s aquatic creatures
It’s a little tough to find sharks, sea turtles, and axolotls vibing in the lakes around town, but fortunately, SeaLife Orlando Aquarium is swimming with a huge cast of undersea characters. Interactive exhibits range from the Cnidaria-loaded Jelly Wall to the Coastal Rockpool touch tank, while the Everglades section shines a light on indigenous Sunshine State wildlife.
While you’re traversing the aquarium, keep your eyes peeled for a few of SeaLife’s resident celebrities. The Sunshine State’s only 360-degree underwater tunnel is home to Chely the green sea turtle, while the aquarium’s Indian Ocean display reveals Joy, a Georgia Aquarium-born endangered zebra shark that’s just one of many aquatic animals involved in the AZA’s Species Survival Plan.