Despite its reputation as ‘theme park capital of the world’, there is so much more to Orlando than mouse ears and rollercoasters. If rides and crowds just aren’t your thing, head downtown and experience the real City Beautiful.
Downtown Orlando is a collection of creative and unique districts, each with its own dedicated community and history. With a thriving art scene, peaceful parks and delicious locally-made cuisine, this Orlando is a whole new world. To help you navigate it, we have created a handy guide to the most exciting neighborhoods in the city.
Situated just steps from Lake Eola, Thornton Park is one of the most popular neighborhoods in Orlando. The self-proclaimed “downtown for grown-ups”, it is considered to be the most stylish area in the city. Full of trendy bars, independent boutiques and hip restaurants, this colorful commercial district has become a haven for liberal professionals and young families.
Although there are a number of new high-rise condo complexes being built to accommodate the increasing population, the original homes here are full of character and interesting architecture. A great place to explore, the attractive cobblestone streets play host to a number of original 1920s bungalows and houses – all within a short walking distance of the amenities of downtown Orlando.
Perfect for meeting like-minded people, this relaxed district plays host to a range of community-driven events, live music and diverse entertainment on a daily basis. Whether you want to enjoy a leisurely meal, visit an art gallery or just people-watch in the park, there is always something happening in this thriving neighborhood.
Things to do in Thornton Park
Lake Eola Park
Just one block from Thornton Park, Lake Eola Park is a central part of the local community. Established in 1888, the park features an amazing view of Orlando’s skyline and is a popular spot for picnics, exercising, or just escaping the busy city.
In the heart of the park, you will find Lake Eola. Originally formed from a sinkhole, this lake is now home to a range of wildlife and birds – which you can feed with the specially approved seed sold in the park. For a different perspective of the city, and the best view of the park, hire a swan-shaped pedal boat and sail out across the water – a great idea for date night!
As a subtle nod to Orlando’s biggest attraction, the park is also home to the Walt Disney Amphitheater. Here you will find a range of monthly events on offer, including fundraisers, holiday celebrations, live concerts and open-air movie screenings. The whole park is a hub for community events – to make sure you don’t miss out, check the Top Villas events calendar before you visit.
Orlando Farmers Market
Located at Lake Eola, the Orlando Farmers Market takes place from 10am-4pm every Sunday, all year round.
A hugely popular event with both locals and tourists, the market features a wide variety of independent sellers, offering fresh seasonal produce and plants, locally handcrafted items and an array of pet supplies.
Refreshments are provided by some of Florida’s best eateries, from gourmet breakfasts to freshly baked brownies – be sure to try some samples as you stroll through!
CityArts is a contemporary arts building located in downtown Orlando. Home to a large collective of different galleries, this unconventional space welcomes over 50,000 visitors a year. Free to visit, the galleries display both local and international artists, featuring everything from visual art to live performance pieces. The exhibitions in the community galleries rotate on a monthly basis, so there is always something new to see, but it is also worth checking their extensive calendar for upcoming events.
The CityArts Factory is also a great place to start if you want to take part in a walking tour of the public art installed in the surrounding area. See Art Orlando is a project that was launched in 2011, with the aim to reinvigorate the downtown neighborhoods, inspire the residents and celebrate the city’s diversity with art.
There are 8 contemporary sculptures installed around the downtown district, with plans to commission more over the next few years. You can download a handy walking tour guide on the See Art Orlando website, which features the location of each sculpture, as well as information about the project and the artists involved.
Wine and Art Walk
A charity event, this street party takes place on the second Thursday of every month. An evening designed to celebrate the community, this fun walk features art, shopping, DJs and live music.
Tickets cost $10 in advance, with all proceeds going to the Thornton Park District. The tour starts in the Felipe Rodriguez Tequila House, where you can pick up a glass and a map before you head off on your journey. Over 25 local businesses participate, offer tastings of delicious drinks, cocktails and food along the way. You can find a full list of participants on the Thornton Park website.
This event is a great way to explore the area after dark, meet the residents and potentially discover your new favorite restaurant!
The Milk District
Once just farmland for grazing cows, this neighborhood is now a stomping ground for hipsters. Named after the huge TG.Lee dairy plant which borders the area, the up-and-coming Milk District is fast-becoming a cultural hub.
With its thriving art and music scene, the neighborhood has attracted a number of independent businesses to the area over the last few years – tattoo parlors, record stores, coffee shops and vintage boutiques have helped develop the area into a unique destination for shopping and dining.
Despite the influx of development, the area has maintained its authentic look and vibe, which is now also complemented by an abundance of street art – adding colour, character and individuality to the buildings and shops.
The Milk District is home to a vast selection of award-winning bars and a diverse range of restaurants and cafes, which all exude a hip but welcoming vibe. Whether you fancy tacos or Thai food, vegetarian or Vietnamese, there is something to suit everyone’s taste buds. A number of the bars here also feature live music, poetry slams and even karaoke – perfect for some after-dinner entertainment!
Things to do in The Milk District
Street Art Walking tour
Over the last few years, Orlando has become a blank canvas for street artists, providing them with the opportunity to spread color and positivity throughout the community.
Thanks to social media, the popularity of street art has flourished and, in turn, tourism to these decorated areas has increased dramatically. Spirited street art is especially prevalent in The Milk District, making it one of the most Instagrammable neighborhoods in Orlando.
Accessible to everyone (and free to do!), the best way to see the ever-changing artwork is to head off on a self-guided walking tour. We recommend grabbing a coffee and taking a stroll through the neighborhood, or hiring a bike if you want to go further afield – neighboring areas Thornton Park and Mills 50 are also synonymous for epic street art. Orlando Weekly have a prepared a handy guide to get you started: A Guide To Orlando’s Street Art.
Every Tuesday, the Milk District welcomes a variety of local food trucks for the ultimate block party. Located on Robinson Street, a hotspot for cool bars and street art, you can expect around 12 different food vendors each week, offering anything from doughnuts to lobster rolls!
There is a rotation of 30 food trucks each month, so there is always something new to try, with options to suit every budget. If you want to check which food trucks will be in attendance ahead of your visit, there is a monthly schedule posted on the Tasty Takeover website.
During the event, the local bars in the area also open their doors to guests, so you can grab a drink and enjoy your food inside. A fun and diverse dining experience, the Tasty Takeover is a great opportunity to support local businesses, as well as meet like-minded members of the community!
Sip and Stroll
The Milk District is known for its diverse selection of trendy hang-outs, but if you’re not sure where to go or what to drink, you can take part in the Milky Way pub crawl. Designed by the Milk District community, this bi-monthly ‘sip and stroll’ event will take you through the best spots in the neighborhood, from old-school favorites to new hidden gems.
For just $10, you will be entitled to free drink samples at nearly 20 different spots, including popular dive-bar Sportstown Billiards and traditional English pub, The Bull and Bush. The event starts at the Orlando Elks Lodge, where ticket holders will receive a special reusable cup, a wristband and a map of participating businesses. Once you start, you are free to plan your own journey and explore the neighborhood at your own pace!
The Plaza Live
Although many of the bars in The Milk District host intimate gigs and open-mic nights, the Plaza Live is the ultimate venue for live shows and events. Built in 1962, it is Florida’s oldest movie theater and the first to open in Orlando.
The Plaza closed its doors as a theater in 1992, before being redeveloped into two music halls. Now recognized as one of Florida’s premier concert venues, hosting a diverse range of musicians, bands and comics each night – you can find out about upcoming gigs on the official website. Look out for the original 1960’s rooftop signage when you visit – a nod to the theater’s glamorous past.
Mills 50 is one of Orlando’s oldest neighborhoods. Once known as Little Vietnam due to its predominantly Asian community, this area is now a hip haven for young professionals and artists.
Due to the influx of creatives, the whole region has been rejuvenated by unique street art and colorful murals. Walls, buildings and even dumpsters (thanks to the Dumpster Art Project) have become moving canvasses, paying homage to Orlando life.
Considered to be a healthy living hotspot, Mills 50 is filled with a number of independent businesses offering holistic services, massage therapy, yoga and acupuncture. The area is also home to a number of urban farmers, meaning organic food is readily available for health-conscious residents.
Due to its culturally diverse community, the main focus here is food! The neighborhood is renowned for its huge variety of unique restaurants and has gained a particular reputation for amazing Vietnamese and Asian Fusion cuisine. As well as specialities from every corner of the world, the community focus on local growers means many restaurants offer unbelievably fresh, farm-to-table, homegrown food.
Things to do in Mills 50
Food and Art Walking Tour
Held every Thursday and Sunday, this 3-hour tour will take you on a fun-filled journey through the Mills 50 district, visiting local eateries, shops and exhibitions.
Led by an expert guide, you will learn about the history of the Vietnamese community in Orlando, as well as the art and the culture of the developing area. If you haven’t visited before, this is a great way to find out a bit more about the neighborhood and the people that live there!
Be sure to arrive hungry, as this walk will take you on a tour of the area’s top Vietnamese eateries, allowing you the chance to try a number of delicious dishes and beverages en-route.
Tickets cost $75 and are available directly from the walking tour website.
The Orlando Urban Trail
This 3-mile trail starts in Mead Garden in Winter Park and ends downtown, near Lake Ivanhoe. The most scenic and urban route in the Orlando Trail Network, this journey features plenty of art, architecture and history along the way.
Perfect for exploring the more rural areas of the city, this popular route includes connections to 6 different lakes, trailing through multiple parks and significant neighborhoods before running parallel to Mills 50. Due to its reputation as the most health-conscious district in Orlando, this is the ideal place to stop off for a smoothie and an energy-boosting snack!
Don’t worry if you don’t have your own bike, Orlando is now home to two public bike-sharing programs, Hopr and Lime. By downloading an app, users can locate a bike, unlock it and pay for their trip.
There are now 750 public bikes available around the city, which are all equipped with GPS technology. It costs $1 to unlock each rental, after which users can pay per minute, or choose to buy a monthly or annual pass. As the bikes are dockless, there is no need to return them to a specific location, although riders are encouraged to return them to designated hubs.
Recognised as Orlando’s “most talked about neighborhood”, Audubon Park is an award-winning eco-district, well-known for its commitment to becoming an environmentally-sustainable area.
This inspirational district is the epicenter of Orlando’s farm-to-table movement and the first to create an organic community garden, urban food plots and a local-only farmers market. Already home to a bicycle-powered compost service, the community is constantly working on new conservation projects to improve the environment. Future plans include a public orchard, native tree walks and a certified wildlife habitat, helping to make this district one of the most desirable places to live in Orlando.
Unsurprisingly, Audubon Park is a hub for independent bars, coffee shops and restaurants, with some of the best dining options in Orlando. From sushi and pasta, to cupcakes and craft beer, you will find an array of artisanal vendors here, all using organic, locally-sourced produce.
Like the restaurants, the shops here are one-of-a-kind, featuring an abundance of vintage clothing, rare vinyl, eclectic homeware and unique gifts. With new stores popping up all the time, it’s worth spending a day exploring this neighborhood – you never know what treasure you’ll discover!
Things to do in Audubon Park
Harry P. Leu Gardens
Located just a short walk from Audubon Park, you will find 50 acres of beautiful grounds, lakes and forestry. The Harry P. Leu Gardens are a collection of gardens, featuring an extensive collection of tropical plants and flowers from around the world.
One of Florida’s most treasured attractions, the gardens were gifted to the city of Orlando by the Leu family, who collected the exotic plants on their travels. To learn more about the family history, you can visit the Leu House Museum, located in the heart of the grounds.
This botanical oasis has been designed to promote the awareness and understanding of plants. As well as guided tours throughout the day, there is a wide range of classes and workshops available, designed for both children and adults to broaden their knowledge of horticulture. The gardens are also home to a variety of art installations and sculptures – keep an eye out for whimsical characters hidden within the flowers!
Before you visit, check out the upcoming events on the official website – the gardens play host to a range of fun events throughout the year, including live music, exhibitions and outdoor film screenings.
Held every Monday evening, this market is a weekly gathering of local farmers, fishermen and chefs. With a focus on freshness and sustainability, you will only find produce that has been grown, caught and created in Florida.
Open since 2009, the Community Market is now Central Florida’s main source for locally-made food, drinks and crafts. This family-friendly event is a great way to integrate with the community, meet the local artisans and sample their delicious creations!
You will find a range of organic produce on offer, including fresh dairy, meats, organic honey and homemade dressings, pickles and sauces. Audubon Park is home to a number of local bakeries, so the dessert selection here is particularly good!
Audubon Park Food tour
This 3-hour walking tour invites you on a tour of the best eateries in the Audubon Park District, with 6 tasting stops along the way.
Created by the Orlando Food Tour company, each excursion is led by a third-generation resident of the neighborhood, who will teach you about the history and the culture of the area, before taking you to the best local hotspots. You will be able to meet the local producers and retailers en-route, as well as sampling some of their delicious homemade food and drinks.
Tours only take place on Sundays, for groups of up to 8 people, so it is a good idea to get your tickets in advance. When you plan your vacation with Top Villas, our Guest Experience team will be on hand to book any tickets or travel extras you need during your stay.
East End Market Evening Exchange
The East End Market is an indoor market, which showcases a collection of independent businesses and upscale food stalls. Home to over 12 local food vendors, this market is a community space, designed to raise awareness of local food, farming and culture.
A former church, this building features a variety of delicious eateries in a food hall setting, as well as a restaurant, an events space, a demonstration kitchen and a working market garden.
The market plays host to a number of events each month, from cooking classes to photography, however the most popular is the Evening Exchange. Held on the 3rd Friday of every month, this community hub is transformed into a unique shopping destination, as 30 additional makers and creators join the market – for one night only!
This fun-filled evening also includes live interactive workshops, culinary demonstrations and talks, as well as specialty cocktails and food trucks. The good thing is that the vendors, activities and themes change each month, so there is always something new to see and try – you can see a full list of participating retailers for each month here.
Planning a trip to Orlando?
Top Villas offers a fantastic range of luxury villas and condos in Orlando, situated in the most popular resorts. All of our homes are located within a short driving distance of downtown Orlando, providing the perfect base for your travels around the city.
What’s more, booking with Top Villas couldn’t be easier. All of our properties can be booked directly through the website, however if you would prefer to talk to someone, just submit an enquiry form and we will contact you straight away.
When you book with us, you will also benefit from round-the-clock care from our Guest Experience team, who will be on hand to assist you with any travel extras you require, from car hire to event tickets.
You can check out our full range of homes here – also check out our latest deals here.