There’s more to Orlando than mouse ears and mammoth theme parks. From freshwater springs to gator tours, plenty of fun and excitement await at lesser-known spots in and around this Central Florida hot spot.
Alligators Galore: Gatorland
Want to see someone wrestle a live alligator? If so, there’s only one place to go: Gatorland. This zoo and wildlife preserve bills itself as the “Alligator Capital of the World,” where you can watch gators “wrestle” with trained handlers. You’ll also witness the jaw-dropping spectacle of alligators feasting during feeding time. Up for some high-flying action? Hop on the zip line and soar over the large breeding marsh, where over 130 alligators watch on from far below.
Calling All Nature Lovers: Winter Park
For a quiet change of pace, head to Winter Park. This charming, arts- and culture-filled neighborhood north of downtown boasts over 70 parks. Check out Winter Park’s Scenic Boat Tour, which navigates narrow canals connecting three lakes and provides up-close, backyard views of opulent homes and estates. Spot large fish, gliding cranes and even the occasional alligator from the open-air pontoon boat. These guided cruises last an hour and run every day except Christmas.
Take a Dip: Wekiwa Springs
You won’t be able to resist dipping your toes into Wekiwa Springs, one of the crown jewels of Florida’s many freshwater springs. Just 16 miles from downtown Orlando and inside Wekiwa Springs State Park, this popular swimming hole flows with clear, emerald-hued water—perfect for snorkeling. Pack a lunch and blanket to picnic around the springs. Rent a canoe or a stand-up paddle board to explore the bucolic Wekiva River waterway fed by the springs, or go hiking and biking on 13 miles of trails.
Round and Round: The Orlando Eye
Take in the best view of the Orlando area when you board The Orlando Eye, one of the city’s newest attractions. Opened in the spring of 2015, the Eye is a giant Ferris wheel with glass-enclosed passenger capsules that slowly reach a height of 400 feet. Bring a camera and snap photos of the city’s skyline, its many area lakes and the abundant landscape as you reach the top. Cape Canaveral is visible in the distance on clear days. You can even get a bird’s eye view of those giant, crowded theme parks that you may be trying to avoid.
Pedestrian’s Paradise: Downtown
Locals flock to downtown’s neighborhoods for the plentiful arts, entertainment and dining options. The Central Business District, or CBD, boasts more than commerce—Loch Haven Park is home to cultural institutions such as the Orlando Museum of Art and the Orlando Shakespeare Theater. The adjacent South Eola District brims with walkable, locally owned shops and restaurants. For a sweet fix, stop by The Pop Parlour for some homemade popsicles in fruity, creamy or even boozy flavors. Check out the Relax Grill at Lake Eola and dine on American Mediterranean cuisine while enjoying tableside views of the lake.