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23 Unique Things to Do in Orlando

When you think about Orlando, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the world famous theme park that calls this city home (hey, Disney). Don’t get us wrong: the parks are definitely fun and worth a visit. But there are also a host of local, hidden experiences just steps away from rollercoasters and fried foods. Orlando is a city filled with sunshine, celebrity chef-led restaurants, spas, golf courses, and surfing lessons. Yes, surfing lessons right in the middle of the state. Whether you want to explore the city’s castles and breweries or spot gators in the swampy Everglades, this list of the best things to do in Orlando—inside and outside of the theme parks— has you covered.

See the city from the clouds on a giant observation wheel

The Wheel, Orlando, Florida. Credit: Icon Park Orlando

The Wheel, a giant, enclosed observation wheel, is located in the heart of the city and offers 360-degree views out over Orlando. The 400-foot-tall wheel allows you to have sweeping views of the theme parks, lakes, and even downtown Orlando for up to ten guests per pod. 

Indulge in delectable half-pound cookies at Gideon’s Bakehouse

Gideon’s Bakehouse, Orlando, Florida. Credit: @gideonsbakehouse

Freshly baked cookies are always a treat, and in Orlando that means making a trek to Gideon’s Bakehouse inside the East End Market. The half-pound (!!) cookies are the indulgent treat you’ll dream about long after your trip to Florida. Definitely try the classic varieties like chocolate chip and peanut butter, but don’t be scared to take the risk when they roll out creative flavors like candied walnut chocolate chip and white chocolate caramel macadamia nut.

Spend a day in a hidden garden in the middle of the city

Harry P Leu Gardens, Orlando, Florida.

Lush tropical garden in the center of the city? Yes, please. At the Harry P. Leu Gardens, you’ll be surrounded by 50 acres of beautiful flowers, fluttering butterflies, and native birds. On designated nights throughout the year, guests are permitted to bring a picnic with them to the gardens to enjoy dinner outside as the sun sets.

Take a gander at the largest collection of Tiffany art

The Morse Museum, Winter Park, Florida.

The Morse Museum is home of the largest collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany. This includes jewelry, pottery, paintings, art glass, lamps, and windows. One of the most extravagant pieces is the chapel interior from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago where you can sit inside and marvel at the many colors and images portrayed in glass. 

Float down a crystal clean river at Kelly Park

Kelly Park, Apopka, Florida.

In the hot summer months, most locals run straight to the water at Rock Springs and Kelly Park. These unbelievable natural Florida springs feature crystal clear water, perfect for kayaking, swimming, and floating. The park does get busy during the summer, so be prepared to arrive early to get one of the coveted parking spots. 

Dine with José Andrés while munching on tapas and paella

Jaleo by José Andrés, Orlando, Florida. Credit: @jaleobyjose

Orlando has a vibrant food scene, but one place that sticks out is Jaleo by José Andrés. The Spanish paella and tapas bar is a lively spot, popular with locals and tourists. The restaurant overlooks a beautiful lake and has an open kitchen that brings the art of cooking right into the dining room. 

Sip on craft beer and eat local delicacies at Plant Street Market

Plant Street Market, Winter Garden, Florida. SR Productions /

Plant Street Market is a unique food hall smack dab in the middle of Winter Garden. The largest tenet at Plant Street is Crooked Can Brewery, a craft brewery with bomb local beer that is made right onsite. After a drink, enjoy one of the many food vendors serving up bbq, loaded macaroni and cheese, and sushi. 

Explore historic Winter Park by boat

Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour, Winter Park, Florida.

Historic Winter Park used to be the home of Mr. Rogers and countless other famous figures. To get the best tour of Winter Park, take the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour. Rides take you through the canals and lakes around the area to see some of the large homes people live in and the stories behind them. The boat captains are also well-versed in flora and fauna and can answer just about any question you might have about Florida plant and wildlife. 

Get up close to prehistoric creatures

Gatorland, Orlando, Florida. Nick Fox /

Since 1994, Gatorland has been the leader in alligator safety and education. Part theme park and part conservation area, Gatorland lets you get up close and personal with the prehistoric creatures that roam the park. Some of the alligators that call the breeding marsh home are a whooping 14 feet long! Besides gators, you might also spot some unique birds in the free-flight aviary.

Pro Tip: If you prefer to spot alligators in their natural habitat, head 15 minutes outside of the city to the boardwalks at Lake Jessup.

Learn about space exploration and America’s daring space program

Kennedy Space Center, Orlando, Florida.

Kennedy Space Center has been a base hub for NASA for decades. This is where space shuttles and astronauts were first launched into space in 1981 on the Space Shuttle Columbia. Now, parts of Kennedy Space Center are open for guests to get a feel of what it’s like to explore wild space, walk on the moon, and the future of space travel. 

Munch on famous pizza created by Wolfgang Puck

Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill, Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

When people hear smoked salmon pizza, they usually only think of one person and place: Wolfgang Puck, and his restaurant Spago in California. For those on the east coast, getting a taste of the legendary chef’s food just got easier. Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill in Orlando features an open pizza prep area and a full-service bar for a relaxing evening out. 

Play a round of golf with Mickey Mouse 

Walt Disney World Resort Golf, Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Golfing with Cinderella Castle as your backdrop is something that you just can’t get anywhere else other than Orlando. There are three 18-hole golf courses at Walt Disney World and each of them are beautifully designed to challenge even the most avid golfer. Look close and you might even spot a few nods to a famous mouse along the course. 

Have a spa day just steps away from Magic Kingdom

The Spa at Four Seasons Orlando Resort, Orlando, Florida.

The Four Seasons Orlando Resort has a wonderful spa to enjoy after a few days of airboat rides, roller coasters, and indulgent meals. The spa is focused on creating custom experiences for each guest. This includes their hyper-customized facials, which include a skin consultation, massage, and a curated mix of serums and masks. 

Take surf lessons in a massive wave pool

Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Orlando, Florida.

Learning to surf in a landlocked city seems impossible, but friends, anything is possible in Orlando. At Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, guests can take a private surf class before the water park opens and learn how to catch a wave inside the massive wave pool. During the class, you’ll get one-on-one instruction and you’re pretty much guaranteed to be standing up on the board by the end of the class. 

Explore the mouth of the Everglades

Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures, Orlando, Florida.

Fun fact that most people don’t know: central Florida is home to the mouth of the Everglades. At Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures, you can step aboard an airboat to explore the vast open water area of the Everglades marsh. During your tour, you’ll likely see alligators, birds, small critters, and other native Florida wildlife. 

Ride a ski lift to the top of a water slide

Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park, Orlando, Florida.

A ski-lift is something you rarely see in Florida, but it’s the main attraction at Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park. The story here goes that a freak snowstorm came through Orlando and caused snow drifts. When the snow started melting, a savvy businessman created Blizzard Beach and its water slides out of the melting snow. As part of your day in a real life snow-globe, you can take a ski lift to the top of the mountain to ride down on the melted water.

Enjoy a custom wine tasting with a master sommelier 

Wine Bar George, Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Wine Bar George is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in Orlando, not just for its food, but also the extensive list of over 140 wines. The real treat here are the impeccable wine tastings led by Master Sommelier, George Miliotes, one of 269 Master Sommeliers in the world. There are four experiences: the Champagne Experience, A Tale of Three Vintages, The Guado Experience, and The King’s Experience. Each brings together a variety of wines to taste and discuss as you enjoy a relaxed atmosphere and scrumptious bites from the menu. 

Spend a day in a tropical paradise with rainbow ice cream

Universal’s Volcano Bay, Orlando, Florida. Credit: @katie_eatz

Just steps away from Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure is Universal’s Volcano Bay. The water park features a towering volcano with water slides and lazy river caverns running through it. After spending some time in the water, grab the Waturi Fusion ice cream, which has a rainbow of colors and flavors all mixed into one perfect snack. 

Enjoy some time by the lake with swans and a picnic

Lake Eola, Orlando, Florida.

Right in the middle of downtown Orlando you’ll find Lake Eola. This lake is the perfect spot to take a picnic and enjoy the sunny Florida weather. Many white swans call the lake home, making for a picture perfect spot. Be sure to check the schedule for the nearby Walt Disney Amphitheater to see if there are performances taking place. 

Take a stroll through “Little Vietnam”

Little Vietnam, Orlando, Florida.

In the ’70s, Orlando saw an influx of war refugees from Vietnam who now call this small district in downtown Orlando home. Walking through Little Vietnam, you’ll find a ton of delicious, authentic, restaurants, grocery stores, and jewelers.

Become a LEGO Master

LEGOLAND Hotel, Winter Haven, Florida.

At the LEGOLAND Hotel, kids and grownups (no judgement!) can take a free hands-on workshop led by an onsite LEGO master model builder. After the class, you’ll walk away with pro lego skills and a ton of appreciation the masterminds behind the hotel.

Get hit with a bit of nostalgia on Main Street USA

Main Street USA, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida.

For most folks visiting Orlando, Walt Disney World is at the top of their list. The park is an international icon, and walking down Main Street USA will likely bring back a ton of childhood memories. For a classic Magic Kingdom experience, consider getting a reservation at The Plaza right at the end of Main Street USA for breakfast or lunch. The windows of the restaurant look out over a central hub and over to the park’s icon, Cinderella Castle. 

Channel your inner witch or wizard at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida.

Tucked inside Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure is the famous Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Spend a day here and you’ll be able to take a gander at the Knight Bus, choose your wand at Ollivander’s Wand Shop, and even ride through Gringotts bank. After all of the fun, you can sit down and enjoy a classic British meal of fish and chips at the Three Broomsticks, just like Harry Potter did in the books.