With an ever-expanding lineup of attractions at Disney World and Universal, the City Beautiful 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 the city’s only organic brewery, discover Orlando’s great outdoors or take in the iconic skyline at Lake Eola, here’s a list of things to do on the cheap!
- Fun and entertainment
- Parks and nature
- Window shopping
- Day trips and tours
- Historical sights
- Hit the beach
- Museums and galleries
- Food and drink
- Music and theater
Fun things to do in Orlando
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 family activities throughout the complex
2) Stay in a cheap villa with themed rooms
If you’re looking for cheap accommodation, Orlando is home to a huge range of affordable vacation rentals with amazing themed rooms. Whether your little ones love princesses, pirates, wizards or video games, there’s a themed bedroom just for them. What’s more, they’re cheaper than you think! You can book a vacation rental with themed rooms like the ones below from as little as $80 per night – see the Top Villas website for more details.
3) Hang out at I-Drive 360
The swanky $250m entertainment destination is home to some awe-inspiring sights. There’s the 400-foot Orlando Eye observation wheel, a Madame Tussaud’s, 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.
4) See ghostly goings-on at Spook Hill
No list of things to do in Orlando would be complete without mentioning 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. 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?
Parks & nature in Orlando
5) Soak up the sights at Lake Eola
This 43-acre oasis in the heart of Downtown 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.
6) Take a hike
Things to do in Orlando Fl can be more relaxing than you might think. Escape the city at Mead Botanical Garden, an immaculately manicured estate run by the City of Winter Park. 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.
7) 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.
8) Go manatee spotting
Blue Spring State Park is a dedicated manatee refuge where you can spot Florida’s famous manatee during the winter months. Located west of the 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.
9) Learn to swim like a mermaid
If you’re staying at Encore Resort, you can use the huge aqua park for free, plus your little ones can join the resort’s incredible Mermaid Academy. They have mermaid tails for all ages, and classes are on a first come, first served basis. For other mermaid-inspired fun, head to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park where you can see live mermaid shows – there’s also a waterpark and boat rides.
10) See a sinkhole
One of the most unique and fascinating forests in the state, 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.
11) Go mountain biking
Every outdoor enthusiast will love the Snowhill Trail, also known as Little Big Econ State Forest. Hailed as the city’s largest trail system, mountain bikers can enjoy all day use of the trails for just $2 per person. Not only is it one of the cheapest things to do, it’ll also keep you entertained for hours.
Window shopping in Orlando
12) Visit Orlando’s most popular shopping mall
With more than 20 million visitors a year the Florida Mall is one of the 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.
13) Take a trip to The Mall at Millenia
No list of things to do in Orlando Fl would be complete without mentioning shopping. You’ll be as amazed by the architecture as you are by the designer stores at the Mall at Millenia. 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 breath taking glass ceilings.
Day trips and tours in Orlando
14) 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.
15) 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.
16) See where 10,000 alligators live
Located in Oviedo, just a stone’s throw from the 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 $30 per person.
17) 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. This is a great options if you’re looking for things to do in Orlando Florida – for free.
18) Explore the Everglades National Park
Located in southern Florida, a few hours’ drive away, 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.
Historical things to do in Orlando
19) 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.
20) Explore Church Street
The 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.
21) 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 $15 for adults and $5 for children, and free of charge for under-5s.
22) 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.
23) 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.
24) Explore an Orlando flea market
Head to one of Orlando’s fantastic flea markets, and find out what treasures you might discover there. There are several to choose from, including the East Colonial Outdoor Flea Market that takes place on Colonial Drive on Saturdays from 7am, or the OBT Flea Market on Orange Blossom TRL, which offers clothing, furniture, and food amongst other things and also opens at 7am on Saturdays.
Hit Orlando’s beaches
25) Picnic at Cocoa Beach
The beach will always be one of the best family activities in Orlando, and 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; all you need to pay for is the gas.
26) 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.
27) Hit the Gulf Coast
You might not expect beaches to make the list of things to do in Orlando, but they’re easy to get to from the city. It may be a longer drive than the east coast beaches but Clearwater is well worth the effort. 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.
Cultural things to do in Orlando
28) 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 just a few dollars for adults and free for under 12s.
29) Get inspired at the Grand Bohemian Gallery
For cultural things to do where better to head than this? 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 jewellery, along with European paintings from the 19th century.
30) 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.
31) Be wowed at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum
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.
32) 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.
33) 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.
34) Visit the Holocaust museum
This sobering Holocaust museum at Maitland, around 15 minutes’ drive from Downtown, is home to a large collection of artefacts from the Holocaust. It’s open every day except Saturdays.
35) Go gallery hopping at City Arts Factory
This funky art gallery 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
Food and drink activities in Orlando
36) Try local wine at Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards
A sprawling country estate some 25 miles west of the city, 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.
37) 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.
38) Visit World of Beer for happy hour
Overlooking Lake Eola in downtown, 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.
39) Get healthy at Chamberlin’s Market
Located across the city, these health markets offer free wellness workshops, guest speakers and free samples of organic food.
40) 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 around $9.
41) 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.
Music and theater in Orlando
42) 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.
43) The Grand Bohemian
The Grand Bohemian Hotel on South Orange Avenue has a posh jazz lounge where you can sip a cocktail and enjoy some of Orlando’s only live jazz music. It’s home to an Imperial Grand Bosendorfer piano, one of only a handful in the world. So if nothing else, grab a cocktail of choice, check out the piano and and relax for a while.
44) 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 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’.
45) 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.
46) Orlando Fringe
Hailed as one of the best cheap things to do in Orlando, the Orlando Fringe festival is a major event featuring amazing theater, music, dance and art productions. During the festival there are dozens of shows on for kids and adults alike. Tickets range in price from free – $12.
Each year Orlando’s Creative City Project hosts its annual Immerse event where local artists and performers bring the heart of the ‘City Beautiful’ to life. Whether it’s a ragtag group pushing a concert pianist through downtown on a wheeled contraption, or Cirque du Soleil performers dangling above City Hall, you’ll enjoy an array of experiences. Basic tickets are free. For updated details about Immerse check their website.
48) Orlando Film Festival
The Orlando Film Festival is also well worth visiting; it features a lot of quirky, independent movies. It’s not free but it’s great value for what you get. A one-day pass is $20 and you’ll get access to films, music events and interactive activities. Check the website for updates!
For music lovers, Tanqueray’s bar in Downtown which is a true gem. It has live music every night of the week from some of Orlando’s best bands like Christian Ryan, The Groove Orient, Ancient Sun and Daniel Heitz. There’s no entry fee so it will just cost you the price of a drink.
50) The Orlando Ballet
If dance is your scene you really can’t beat the Orlando Ballet. You can see beloved classics such as The Nutcracker and Carmina Burana, or new creations like Mad Tales of the Hatter and other performances. Regular tickets cost around $200 however subscribers and families can get cheap tickets that start from $15.
51) See an Irish dance show
All the family are invited to frolic inside the only authentic Irish pub, Raglan Road. It was built entirely in Ireland and then shipped lock, stock and barrel to Disney Springs. Entrance is free, and the menu offerings are all great value. While you’re dining you’ll enjoy fantastic live music and award-winning Irish dance shows. If you are in town for St Patrick’s Day be sure to stop by the Mighty St Patrick’s Day Festival. Entrance is free.
52) Get cheap tickets to a basketball game
You can see Orlando Magic at the Amway Center for as little as $15 if you book seats in Game Tier 7 at Promenade B. Alternatively, if you opt for Ultimate seats in Game Tier 7 you’ll pay around $167 but you’ll benefit from up-close views of the game as well as access the Ultimate Lounge with all-inclusive food and beverage. Check with their website for up-to-the-minute updates and opening times.
53) Have coffee with a cat
At the Orlando Cat Cafe you can relax with a steaming cup of coffee while watching the playful antics of cats and kittens. The venue is the first of its kind to open in Central Florida and is both a cozy coffee house and a cat play/adoption center. You can buy premium tea, coffee and pastries in the main cafe which has cats roaming freely, or for a small fee you can pet and cuddle feline residents in the designated Cat Play Zone – or even adopt one
How to book an Orlando vacation
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