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    Not just parks in Orlando: what to see in the center? Guide to the best attractions

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    Joel Fulleda

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    It is undeniable! The dizzying rise of Orlando in terms of fame it is mainly (if not exclusively) due to Disney World, Universal Studios and other amusement parks that have made it the most visited city in all of Florida in the space of a few decades, with over 50 million visitors per year: more than Miami, more than Key West and any other tourist city in the state.

    This has made the hotel industry fortune: the International Drive and all the outlying areas of Orlando are teeming with hotels, resorts and accommodations, the impressive variety of which you can get an idea of ​​in my article on Orlando hotels.

    Such growth certainly could not preserve the original spirit of Orlando pre-Disney, which looked like a simple country town in central Florida, between swamps and farms lost in nowhere. It is said that when the construction of the Disney parks south of the tiny city center was announced, someone bitterly commented on the fact, calling Disney World a "little town in the swamp called Orlando."

    In this article I want to give you some advice on what to see in Orlando outside the parks (if you are interested in the latter, read our guide on Orlando's best parks): in the compact and modern downtown there are museums, skyscrapers and buildings with a contemporary architectural taste, but also retro neighborhoods and beautiful green spaces, parks and lakes that are worth a stroll.


    • Orlando's cultural and historical themed attractions
      • Orlando Science Center
      • Orlando Museum of Art
      • Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
      • Orange County Regional History Center
    • Parks, neighborhoods and gardens
      • Harry P. Leu Gardens
      • Lake Eola Park
      • Thornton park
      • Lock Haven Park
      • Winter Park
    • Where to sleep in Orlando?
    • Excursions in the surroundings and organized tours
      • Kennedy Space Center
      • Miami ed Everglades
      • St. Augustine
      • Clearwater Beach

    Orlando's cultural and historical themed attractions

    Orlando boasts a good number of interesting ones theaters and museums of various kinds. Here are the best:

    Orlando Science Center

    Among Orlando's various places of cultural interest, this is the museum best suited to families with children intrigued by the world of nature: in addition to the scientific themed exhibitions on prehistory, the human body, astronomy, biology and physics in general, it is possible to get a culture on the fauna and flora ofCentral Florida ecosystem.

    Children will find dedicated areas with interactive attractions, they will be able to see baby alligators and pick oranges from the Orange Grove (Orlando is famous for these fruits!); the older ones will be attracted to the CineDome, an impressive mega-screen where scientific documentaries of considerable interest are shown. Strange but true, weddings are often organized here (see photo).

    Orlando Museum of Art

    Photo by Tricia

    THEOrlando Museum of Art it hosts 5 collections of works that draw on the artistic tradition of different cultures over the centuries: you will find artifacts and artistic works from all over the American and African continents; Native American jewelry, stones and jewelry; paintings, photographs, prints by contemporary American artists and more. Also noteworthy are the temporary installations and exhibitions that are set up on the premises of the museum.

    Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

    In the heart of downtown is the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, a very modern theater with a sophisticated and flashy glass architecture that gives its best at night, when it hosts classical music, rock and pop concerts, ballets, dance shows and - for those who have not yet seen them in New York - one of the most successful Broadway shows: The Lion King. The advantage is certainly to see a great show at a lower price than that of the official New York venue!

    Tickets to The Lion King in Orlando

    Orange County Regional History Center

    Would you like to deepen the history of the Orlando that was? Would you like to take a trip back in time to see how humans related to the wilderness of Florida, from prehistoric times to the era of theme parks? Make your way to E Central Blvd and enter the historic building that houses theOrange County Regional History Center, an interesting and informative museum with numerous themed exhibits and curated reconstructions of historic buildings, including a 19th century “Pioneer Cabin”.

    Best time to visit and weather in the city To find out more, read our article when to go to Orlando.

    Parks, neighborhoods and gardens

    You don't know what to do in Orlando? Well, the downtown has some beautiful green spaces where you can spend a relaxing afternoon, before venturing out to discover the most interesting neighborhoods in downtown Orlando, one above all. Thornton park.

    Harry P. Leu Gardens

    Nestled on the shores of Lake Rowena, north of downtown, is the charming Botanical Garden di Harry P.Leu, a local entrepreneur who in the XNUMXs transformed the land around his farm into a lush tropical forest with plants and flowers from all corners of the world. It is worth wandering aimlessly along the shady paths of the garden, looking at the most unusual plant species here and there and, finally, visiting the Leu House, which has retained the style of an old Florida farmhouse from the late XNUMXth century.

    Lake Eola Park

    Between one amusement park and another, there is also space for a romantic stroll around Lake Eola, recognizable thanks to the elegant fountain that gushes in the center, in harmonious contrast with the skyscrapers of the Downtown: it is one of Orlando's favorite places of interest for tourists, who love to sail the lake water on swan-shaped boats , taking pictures of the landscape and the swans (the real ones).

    If you are in town on Saturdays, on the lakefront you will find the stalls ofOrlando Farmers Market, which since the XNUMXs has been located in the southeastern corner of the lake, between E Central Blvd and N Eola Dr, at the gates of the Thornton Park neighborhood.

    Thornton park

    A short stop (preferably gastronomic) in the Thornton Park neighborhood it is a must to complete the restful and pleasant experience of a walk around the adjacent Lake Eola Park. Along Summerlin Avenue and Washington Street there is a nice choice of quality restaurants and typical bars where to taste the cuisine and specialties of Central Florida.

    On either side of the neighborhood's quaint cobbled streets you'll also see some Craftsman-style log cabins with porches - a good way to give you an idea of ​​what a residential neighborhood in last-century Florida looked like.

    Lock Haven Park

    The largest urban park in Orlando is lapped by three lakes and hosts various museums and theaters, including the aforementioned Orlando Science Center and the Orlando Museum of Art. In front of the small but curious Mennello Museum of American Art leans its gigantic tired branches The Mayor, a 200-year-old titanic oak tree among the largest in the area. In Lock Haven Park there is also theOrlando Shakespeare Theater, for those who prefer Hamlet to Mickey Mouse.

    Winter Park

    North of Orlando is located Winter Park, known for being an affluent and upscale district. You can understand the calling of Winter Park by strolling along Park Avenue: graced by the Central Park garden, this street is ideal for those looking for classy restaurants, boutiques, designer shops and art galleries.

    The neighbour Lake Osceola can be explored thanks to the Scenic Boat Tour, which explores the flora and fauna of the place but above all gives an idea of ​​the rich standard of living of the families who have their villas by the lake.

    Where to sleep in Orlando?

    To understand which are the best areas where to sleep in Orlando - depending on the visit to the parks and beyond - I refer you to our in-depth article, where you will also find targeted recommendations for Downtown hotels in the traditional districts of Orlando.

    Advice on where to sleep in Orlando

    Excursions in the surroundings and organized tours

    La central Orlando location she is lucky enough: from here you can reach the two coasts of Florida, or organize a multi-day tour to Miami, Key West and Everglades National Park. Let's see which are the most popular excursions departing from Orlando.

    Kennedy Space Center

    Just 1 hour away is the Kennedy Space Center, the flagship of the Space Coast, a must for those who have a passion for astronomy and want to see NASA missiles with their own eyes and why not, meet an astronaut and have a chat.

    • Organized tour recommended - Kennedy Space Center day trip with transportation from Orlando

    Miami ed Everglades


    Miami and the Everglades Park are practically on the other side of Florida: the first is 4 hours from Orlando, the second takes an additional hour to travel south. For this reason a tour in autonomy of a single day is not recommended, given the amount of things to see.

    Who hasn't rented a car for his Florida tour or doesn't have enough time to spare visit Miami and Everglades from Orlando, I suggest you think about an organized tour like the one indicated below. In addition to organizing an otherwise mission impossible itinerary, this package offers an airboat experience in the Everglades swamps!

    • Organized tour recommended - Miami day trip and Florida Everglades airboat ride

    St. Augustine

    North of Orlando, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, is St. Augustine, the only city of its kind in Florida, yet unfairly overlooked by classic tours. The distance between Orlando and St. Augustine (1.45 h) is much less prohibitive than the previous excursion, which can also encourage a trip with a visit and return to the base within the day.

    At the link above you can read what are the attractions to visit in this ancient city so rich in history, but below I also want to indicate an organized tour with transport from Orlando which also includes some additional optional services, such as panoramic cruise and Trolley Tour with guide.

    • Organized tour recommended - Day tour of St. Augustine from Orlando with additional options

    Clearwater Beach

    Orlando has it all… or almost to leave you an indelible memory of Florida. However, she misses the sea, which is the great protagonist of this corner of paradise in the United States. Luckily, Clearwater Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida, is less than two hours away.

    If you decide to get away from the parks and have a nice day at the beach on the fabulous beaches of Tampa Bay, you should leave very early as there are many things to do besides beach life! These include the SeaScreamer speedboat tour of the Gulf of Mexico and the educational experience with marine animals in the Clearwater Aquarium.

    All day and multi-day excursions from Orlando 

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