With an ever-expanding lineup of attractions at Disney World and Universal, Orlando always has something exciting to offer. But there’s much more to Florida’s tourism hotspot than big-ticket entertainment. There are heaps of cheap and free things to do in Orlando, and they are just as fun as the theme parks.
Whether you want to wet your whistle at Orlando’s only organic brewery, bop along with street musicians at Disney’s Boardwalk or take in the iconic Orlando skyline at Lake Eola, here’s a list of activities that barely cost a thing…
Fun and entertainment
1) Check out Universal’s Citywalk
It may cost to get into the theme parks but you can visit Universal’s Citywalk entertainment complex and you only have to pay for parking. Citywalk is a mix of shopping, restaurants and nightlife, with plenty of free music and entertainment. Depending on the month of the year there may be additional free festivities throughout the complex.
2) See street musicians along Disney’s Boardwalk
Take an evening stroll and bop to the beat of the street musicians who provide nightly entertainment at Disney’s Boardwalk. Styled as a 1930s Atlantic coastal village, this quarter-mile promenade is known for its dining, shopping and nightlife, but visitors can enjoy the live street musicians and entertainers for free.
3) Spend a day at Disney Springs
The brand-new Disney Springs complex at Walt Disney Resort offers plenty of low-cost and totally free ways to spend the day. This bustling waterside promenade is packed with unique boutiques, one-of-a-kind eateries and cutting-edge entertainment including live music and specialty acts. Little ones will love the Lego Imagination Center, where they can custom build their own Lego figures for free.
4) Hang out at I-Drive 360
Orlando’s new $250m entertainment destination is home to some awe-inspiring sights. There’s the 400-foot Orlando Eye observation wheel, a Madame Tussaud’s, a Sealife Aquarium, and an Animals Unveiled ‘museum’. The attractions require tickets but entry to the complex is free, and there are plenty of restaurants, shops, bars and free entertainment.
5) Watch America’s most famous car cruise
Take a stroll through the Old Town amusement park in Kissimmee and you’ll find great shopping, dining and family entertainment. Located on Route 192, just minutes from Disney, this retro walking district is a recreation of a classic Florida town and offers a welcome break from the larger theme parks in Orlando. On Saturday nights there’s a classic car cruise, one of America’s most famous, featuring hundreds of classic cars and free entertainment for all ages.
6) See ghostly goings-on at Spook Hill
Each year visitors from far and wide are drawn to this unique spooky attraction at Lake Wales, around an hour’s drive south of downtown Orlando. Visit Spook Hill, park your car in neutral, and be amazed as it appears to roll uphill without any form of momentum. Is the hill haunted, like some local people suggest? Or is it just an optical illusion?
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Parks and nature
7) Soak up the sights at Lake Eola
This 43-acre oasis in the heart of downtown Orlando offers spectacular views over the city’s iconic skyline. You can eat a picnic next to the lake, feed the resident swans, enjoy one of the many free concerts at the amphitheater, or pop by the farmer’s market on Sundays.
8) Kick back in the Harry P. Leu Gardens
Home to an array of beautiful landscaped gardens and the fascinating Leu House Museum, this gorgeous spot is a great way to spend the day learning about turn-of-the-century living for the families who once called this residence home. Entrance is around $3 for children, $10 for adults and free for children age 4 and under.
9) Take a hike
Escape the city at Mead Botanical Garden, an immaculately manicured estate that tops the list as one of the best free things to do in Orlando. Located just a few miles from the downtown business district, there’s a butterfly garden, citrus trees, a lake, and acres of shady picnic spots. There’s also a swamp boardwalk, a pretty hiking trail and an old amphitheater. Entrance is free of charge.
10) Visit a wildlife haven
A wildlife haven just a stone’s throw from Disney World, Tibet Butler Preserve boasts miles of well-maintained hiking trails for hours of family fun – all for free.
11) Go manatee spotting
Blue Spring Park is a dedicated manatee refuge where you can spot Florida’s famous manatee during the winter months. Located west of Orange City, around 40 minutes’ drive from Orlando, the park is a popular tourist destination where you can also go canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, wildlife watching and swimming.
12) See a mermaid show
Named Weeki Wachee by Seminole Indians, this stunning natural springs translates as ‘Pretty Spring’ and it certainly lives up to its name. Buy a ticket (around $13 for adults) and you can watch underwater performances by ‘mermaids’. There’s also a waterpark and boat rides.
13) Go tubing at Kelly Park
A top spot for tubing, Kelly Park features a free flowing natural spring and a crystal clear creek where you can float the days away. Along with hiking trails, you’ll find volleyball courts and a playground. You can bring your own tubes or rent one just outside the park. It’s completely free to get in.
14) See a sinkhole
One of the most unique and fascinating forests in Orlando, Ocala National Forest is known for its huge areas of pine scrub forest, its natural pools and its canoe runs. There are hundreds of trails to explore including one that runs past a sinkhole and the remains of 19th-century homesteads.
15) Go mountain biking
Every outdoor enthusiast will love the Snowhill Trail, also known as Little Big Econ State Forest. Hailed as Orlando’s largest trail system, mountain bikers can enjoy all day use of the trails for just $2 per person.
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16) Visit Orlando’s most popular shopping mall
With more than 20 million visitors a year The Florida Mall is one of Orlando’s most popular tourist destinations. There are more than 250 stores and restaurants, as well as a free kids’ play area. You can explore the impressive array of shops, or just window shop and admire the mall’s superbly styled interior.
17) Take a trip to The Mall at Millenia
You’ll be as amazed by the architecture as you are by the designer stores at the Mall at Millenia in Orlando. Located just off Interstate 4 at Conroy Road, this uber-modern mall boasts a dazzling selection of exclusive brands in an exquisite environment, adorned with gorgeous art, relaxing fountains and breathtaking glass ceilings.
18) Grab a bargain at the Premium Outlets
You can buy designer brands at extraordinary prices with savings of up to 65% at Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets, located in Vineland and along International Drive.
Window shopping and bargains
Day trips and tours
19) Celebrate in the town of Celebration
Visit the Disney-made town of Celebration and marvel at gorgeous gardens, huge houses and all the magic of Disney living. Children can play in the interactive fountain plus, depending on when you visit, you can see artificial snow or falling leaves.
20) Chill at a secret garden
Dubbed Florida’s ‘secret garden’, the 5-acre Kraft Azalea Garden is located on the shore of Lake Maitland and is open all year round from 8am until dusk. Unique, secluded and picturesque, a day trip here is one of the best things to do in Orlando if you’re looking to just chill.
21) See where 10,000 alligators live
Located in Oviedo, just a stone’s throw from Orlando’s busiest attractions, Lake Jesup is home to more than 10,000 alligators as well as turtles of all sizes and thousands of species of birds. Black Hammock Adventures runs a free live gator exhibit, plus airboat tours for around $28 per person.
22) Play games (and more) at the local library
The Orlando Public Library is open to all, and hosts a variety of events including special readings, arts and crafts, family movie nights, board games, and musical events.
23) Explore the Everglades National Park
Located in southern Florida, a few hours’ drive from Orlando, the Everglades National Park offers up-close views of alligators and crocodiles, as well as walking tours, airboat tours, bike trips and canoeing excursions. Entrance per car is around $20 and is valid for 7 consecutive days.
Crocodiles in Florida
Step back in time
24) Take a wander through Fort Christmas Historical Park
Fort Christmas was built in present day Christmas, by US army soldiers and Alabama volunteers during the Second Seminole War. Today you can see a full-scale replica of the fort, located just south of Christmas Creek, less than a mile from its original location. There’s also a small museum at the site, along with several restored ‘Florida Cracker’ houses depicting rural Florida life from the 1870s through the 1930s. Entrance is free.
25) Explore Church Street
Orlando’s historic downtown district is home to some of America’s oldest houses and prettiest neighbourhoods. You can see one of the frequent concerts on the bandstand at nearby Wall Street Plaza, and take advantage of the regular drinks offers and seasonal specials at the surrounding restaurants, bars and nightclubs.
26) Visit the Singing Tower at Bok Tower Gardens
Located in the rolling citrus hills in historic Lake Wales, Bok Tower Gardens is home to acres of must-see scenery and a gothic 205-foot Singing Tower housing one of the world’s finest carillons. There are immaculately manicured gardens and walking trails to explore, plus daily carillon concerts that can be heard throughout the gardens. Entrance is $12 for adults and $3 for children, and free of charge for under-5s.
27) Experience ‘Big Tree Park’
Step back in time at Big Tree Park and marvel at the ‘Senator’ site, once home to the oldest and largest cypress tree in the world. Unfortunately the tree was destroyed by fire, but a memorial has since been developed around its massive stump, and a huge clone tree has been planted nearby. Big Tree Park is located in Longwood and is a great option if you’re looking for free things to do in Orlando.
28) Wander through the Bradlee-McIntyre House
Built in 1885 for noted Boston architect Nathaniel Jeremiah Bradlee, the Bradlee-McIntyre House is the only surviving Queen Anne-style cottage in the Orange and Seminole counties. The three-story, 13-room winter vacation house features an octagonal tower and “ginger-bread” trim typical of the flamboyant houses of the period.
Hit the beach
29) Picnic at Cocoa Beach
One of the beaches that Orlandoans most love is Cocoa Beach, located just east of the city straight down the State Road 528. Facilities include a 300-acre parking lot, large picnic pavilions, picnic tables, walkways and a bathhouse with outdoor showers and restrooms. It’s around an hour’s drive from Orlando; all you need to pay for is the gas.
Cocoa Beach after sunset
30) Go swimming at Daytona Beach
An hour’s drive from Orlando, Daytona is one of the few Florida beaches where you can drive onto the sand. This traditional Atlantic Ocean beach also boasts a boardwalk and a pier, plus child-friendly attractions like a dazzling water park and a family entertainment center. Nearby you’ll find the Daytona International Speedway, historic St. Augustine and the lovely New Smyrna Beach.
31) Hit the Gulf Coast
It may be a longer drive than the east coast beaches but Clearwater is well worth making the effort to get to. Three miles of powdery sands and an abundance of family attractions await in this reawakening old Florida town along the Gulf Coast. Once you’re there you’ll find plenty of affordable eateries and beach shops.
Museums and galleries
32) Explore Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
Located in Winter Park, this fascinating art museum houses the world’s best collection of works by designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. There’s also a major collection of American pottery, and fine collections of 19th- and 20th-century American paintings, graphics and decorative arts. Admission is $6 for adults and free for children under 12.
33) Get inspired at the Grand Bohemian Gallery
Hailed as one of the most eclectic and visually stimulating art galleries in America, the Grand Bohemian is home to awe-inspiring local contemporary art and jewelry, along with European paintings from the 19th century.
34) Visit the Museum of Seminole County History
Situated in Sanford, this museum offers a glimpse of Seminole County history through a wide variety of exhibits, including maps, photographs, documents and mementos that tell the stories of Seminole County’s inhabitants, their lives, lineages and local legends.
35) Be wowed at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum
Also located in Orlando, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum has one of Florida’s finest collections of fine art, including works by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Thomas Moran, among others. Entrance is free and you can also enjoy a free 30-minute tour of the museum.
36) Check out Orlando’s Museum of Art
The Orlando Museum of Art showcases American, African and ancient American art, with a discovery centre, a shop and free parking. Entrance is $15 for adults, $5 for children and free for ages 3 and under.
37) Appreciate African American art at the Hurston Museum
Located in Eatonville, the Hurston Museum takes you on a journey through history starting with the acclaimed author Zora Neale Hurston’s humble beginnings. From 19th-century furniture crafted by slaves to contemporary paintings by urban children, the museum showcases the work of many African artists. Entrance is free.
38) Visit the Holocaust museum
This sobering Holocaust museum at Maitland, around 15 minutes’ drive from central Orlando, is home to a large collection of artifacts from the Holocaust. It’s open every day except Saturdays.
39) Go gallery hopping at City Arts Factory
This funky art gallery in Orlando is a must-see during your vacation, featuring the largest collection of galleries in downtown Orlando. There are local and international works of art rotated on a monthly basis, set against a giant factory background. Entrance is free Tuesday through Saturday from 11am until 6pm.
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Food and drink
40) Pig out at a fun farmers’ market
Get a great deal on fresh local produce at the weekly Winter Park Farmers’ Market. Held in a vintage train depot, just off Park Avenue, this bustling farmers’ market is a top spot for perusing and purchasing a variety of fresh produce, baked goods, artisanal foods and plants. It takes place every Saturday from 7am until 1pm, all year round.
41) Try local wine at Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards
A sprawling country estate some 25 miles west of Orlando, Lakeridge ranks as Florida’s largest premium winery. Complimentary tours and wine tasting are offered 7 days a week and there are many free festivals and events throughout the year.
42) Tour Orlando’s only organic beer brewery
Check out the giant fermenting vats and learn how organic beer is brewed on a tour of Orlando’s only organic beer brewery. Every weekend the Orlando Brewing Company offers free brewery tours and free live entertainment on the outdoor stage.
43) Visit World of Beer for happy hour
Overlooking Lake Eola in downtown Orlando, World of Beer is a top spot to watch the sun set over the city. There’s a daily happy hour, plus great value pub grub and free live music shows.
44) Get healthy at Chamberlin’s Market
Located across Orlando, these health markets offer free wellness workshops, guest speakers and free samples of organic food.
45) Grab a pitcher of beer at the Eden Bar
The Eden Bar outside the Enzian Theater in Maitland offers daily drinks specials including happy hour and Wednesday night beer pitchers for just $9.
46) Try running for beer
Mix running with pleasure with Running for Brews, Orlando’s most famous beer-based running club. Runners meet up at Graffiti Junktion every Wednesday night at 7pm and then proceed to run a 5km route around the neighborhood. At the end there are cold craft brews for free.
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Music and theater
47) Fred Stone Theater
The Fred Stone Theater at Rollins College in Winter Park is home to a student-produced Second Stage Series. All performances are free and open to the public.
48) Kick back at Natura Coffee and Tea
This laid-back coffee shop on Collegiate Way offers regular tea and coffee, specialty hot drink, open mic nights, live music and local art.
49) Get free audience tickets
An array of popular American television shows are often filmed in Orlando, and if you’re in town during filming it’s really easy to get free audience tickets. To get tickets visit On Camera Audiences and search the Orlando area to see what shows are on, and what times and dates you can sign up for. Recent shows have included ‘Family Feud’ and ‘American Ninja Warrior 2016’.
50) Howl at the Moon
Sing, dance and howl along as the state’s most talented musicians perform all your family songs at this part-bar, part-concert venue. Located at International Drive, all it costs is the price of a drink.
51) Popcorn Flicks in Winter Park
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Held on the second Thursday of each month in the Central Park area of Winter Park, the Popcorn Flicks series features classic films for the whole family, and they are free for anyone to attend. Shows typically start at around sunset and are dependent on the weather.
If you’re booking an Orlando vacation and you’re looking for top-notch accommodation check out our luxury vacation homes in Orlando. The Top Villas concierge service can arrange great value car hire and attraction tickets, plus any extra information you need about cheap and free things to do in Orlando.