Orlando is definitely a city of magic. With its numerous world-famous attractions, it will leave you speechless no matter if you’re looking for culture or just some good clean fun. Literally tens of millions of tourists flock to this place every year, so you can be sure that there is a lot to see. However, if you have just one day in Orlando, you will have to make some choices and come up with a detailed plan to spend your time efficiently and enjoy yourself at the same time. Here’s everything you need to know to formulate one such plan.
What’s the best time to visit Orlando?
The weather seems to be much more favourable in the period from October to April, since there is much less heat and rain in the city at that time. Due to the city’s location, you don’t ever have worry about being cold. A good thing to keep in mind is that there are many festivals in the city in the spring, so if you want some extra attractions that would be the best time to visit Orlando. On the other hand, if the heat and rainy season don’t bother you, summer is just as good a time for a visit as any other.
A few facts about Orlando
Orlando is not that old – it became a city in 1885. However, the area around it was previously known as Fort Gatlin, while the city itself was called Jernigan, after the first white settlers in the area. Orlando’s nickname is “the City Beautiful” which certainly seems to fit it since it is among top 5 cities in the US where people would like to live. It is also a city of students, so you will see loads of young people around. Not a big surprise because the University of Central Florida, which is located in the city, has the biggest campus in all of the United States.
One Day in Orlando Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Orlando.
Obviously, the most famous Orlando attractions are the best theme parks in the world. However, there is more to this city than just an overload of fun. There is culture, there is architecture, there is some excellent food. Simply put, all types of travellers can enjoy themselves quite easily.
Start your day with original Orlando coffee
So, what to do in Orlando besides theme parks? Well, you should definitely start your day with a cup of coffee. The city is full of quaint and cosy coffee shops and coffeehouses where you can get a real sense of how people here live. Places like Holy Grain Coffee or Lineage Coffee Roasting are great examples of this, plus you can often grab something to eat at places like this, too.
Visit the Mennello Museum of American Art
Once you’re done with your coffee and all ready to start exploring, head to the Mennello Museum of American Art. There you will find the largest collection of Louis C. Tiffany’s glass pieces, and it really pays to spend an hour or two marvelling at the beautiful works of art. Of course, there are other fascinating exhibits, so you will definitely not be bored.
Stroll through Harry P. Leu Gardens
Just outside of the museum, you will find Harry P. Leu Gardens, a great piece of landscaping art which also contains a botanical garden and a museum. Henry P. Leu and his wife were passionate travellers and brought back many plants (a huge number of them are camelias) from their trips. Mr. Leu then left his house and the gardens to the city in 1961.
Enjoy some Asian food for lunch
After visiting the gardens, head west just a little bit and you will get to the North Mills Avenue. If you follow it down south, you will find that it has a variety of different (and excellent) Asian restaurants, from Korean to Thai and Vietnamese. Eventually, you will reach the intersection with East Colonial Drive, which you can follow east for more great eateries.
Visit Thornton Park
So now you’ve had enough of delicious Asian cuisine, so we can continue with the best things to do in Orlando beside theme parks. If you continue south, you will eventually get to Thornton Park.
Now this is something adults will enjoy because there are many interesting boutiques to check out here, more museums to see and enjoy the nearby Lake Eola. If you happen to come here on a Sunday, you will encounter a bustling farmer’s market.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Orlando
The final stop on your one day in Orlando is Ripley’s Believe It or Not! You can check it out until midnight, so you have plenty of time to come and check everything out. And prepare to be amazed! There are all kinds of fascinating things here from all over the world, just like the TV show and other media formats of the same name. It’s also a great way to keep the kids entertained if you’re not taking them to a theme park, but adults will absolutely love this place, too.
However, if you come here with your family, the chances are you will be looking for something to do with kids. Don’t worry; there are plenty such Orlando activities to choose from, just read the list below. After that, you can check the cool things you can do in Orlando at night.
Things to do in Orlando with kids
The youngest members of your family will surely want to visit one of the theme parks. Yes, if you want to keep the little ones happy, visits to these places are probably the best things to do in Orlando with kids. Here are some of the best theme parks around here.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Be it from the movies or from the books, kids just can’t get enough of this guy and his magical world, so why not take them right to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? There, they can see places from the movies which are spread through a few different locations, all owned by Universal Studios. Fortunately, everything is very close to each other, so you can easily spend the whole day in this fantastical world.
Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World is probably the most famous among Orlando attractions and sits at the top when it comes to places you need to visit in this city. This huge area is full of different theme parks with all of the children’s favorite characters, from Mickey, Goofy and the rest of the gang to the guys from Toy Story or even heroes from the Star Wars franchise. You can even visit a couple of water parks while here, too. No doubt your kid will adore you for the rest of your life if you take them here.
A visit to SeaWorld is definitely one of the cool things to do in Orlando with kids. Rollercoasters, shows involving dolphins, killer whales and many other fascinating animals make for an unforgettable experience. The park is smaller than the previous two, but beautifully designed and full of interesting features. If your kids love animals, this is where you need to take them.
Universal Studios’ Theme Parks
Apart from the whole Harry Potter thing, Universal Studios has two more places you should visit – Universal Orlando Resort and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. There is no doubt that these are among the best theme parks in Orlando. Join heroes on their quests to save the world, fight dragons and hide from dinosaurs, all with the help of your favorite movie characters. Hours and hours of exciting fun await!
Free (and cheap) things to do in Orlando
Budget travellers will love the fact that there are many cheap or free things to do in Orlando, as well. It’s not all about mass tourism, fantasy worlds and rides. The city itself has a lot to offer if you look close enough. Here’s what you can do even if you don’t have much to spare for the more glamorous Orlando activities.
There are things to do at Disney Springs
Even if your budget is limited, you don’t have to deprive yourself of the Disney World experience. There are many cheap and free things to do at Disney Springs, the area of Disney World loaded with places where you can shop or eat. Nobody can stop you from taking a walk there, listening to live music or even having some fun in the local Lego store.
Head to Lake Eola
Lake Eola is a great place to enjoy yourself completely free in Orlando. Why? Well, it’s not just that it is a very peaceful green area in the middle of the city from which you get a great view of the skyline, but you can also catch a completely free concert there if you’re lucky. As mentioned, every Sunday a farmer’s market opens there too, so you can also go bargain hunting.
World of Beer
Since we’re on the subject of Lake Eola, World of Beer is right next to it. If you’re not completely broke, grabbing something to eat (and drink, obviously) here sounds great. They have a happy hour every day, so check when you should come for the best prices, but even without that, things are pretty cheap. You can also expect some live music while here.
Visit Spook Hill
If you have a car with you, you should head to Spook Hill. Located near Lake Wales, this is the spookiest of all Orlando attractions. Some say the spirits of the dead reside there. In any case, you will experience a unique phenomenon on the hill, something which makes it feel like you’re going up the hill while standing still. Is the hill really haunted? Well, in any case, it’s one of the best free things to do in Orlando.
Things to do in Orlando at night
So you’ve had your one day in Orlando and you have seen the best theme parks, you rode the rollercoasters and experienced the finest this form of entertainment has to offer. But at night it’s different – you want a different type of fun. Fortunately, the city can accommodate you. It’s time to feel like an adult again.
Have dinner at the House of Blues
While on some days you can get live music here starting even before lunch, the House of Blues is best experienced in the evening. Definitely one of the cool things to do for adults in the city. Great food with some staples of the Southern cuisine is accompanied by excellent music, so if you have company along with you this will be a great night out.
See a show
Why not go see a show after dinner? Cirque du Soleil and Blue Man Group seem like excellent choices to wrap up your action-packed day in Orlando. Watch in awe as incredible acrobats perform various physical feats or see a unique combination of comedy, rock music and theatre. The choice is yours.
Where to stay in Orlando?
Universal’s Aventura Hotel
6725 Adventure Way, Orlando
Due to the theme parks, you will find many Orlando hotels scattered close to them and not in the city centre. Universal’s Aventura Hotel is one such hotel, but its big advantage is that you can enter Universal’s Volcano Bay and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter parks an hour earlier than everybody else if you book a room here. So, if you’re aiming for these two parks in particular, this is definitely the place where you want to stay.
Crowne Plaza Hotel Orlando Downtown
304 West Colonial Drive, Orlando
On the other hand, if you want to stay somewhere closer to the city’s downtown area, Crowne Plaza Hotel Orlando Downtown is an excellent choice. It has an outdoor pool and serves some really excellent American food all day long. Well furnished and comfortable rooms all have big flat-screen TVs and microwaves, so you’ll feel right at home.
Courtyard by Marriott Orlando Lake Buena Vista Hotel
8623 Vineland Avenue, Lake Buena Vista, Orlando
Naturally, many people will want to visit Walt Disney World, and Courtyard by Marriott Orlando Lake Buena Vista Hotel is the perfect place for your stay. From here, it’s only one mile to the theme park, plus you can purchase tickets there and get a free ride to Disney World if that’s more convenient for you. The hotel was recently renovated, and the guests love it. You will, too.
Hilton Grand Vacations at SeaWorld
6924 Grand Vacations Way, Orlando
For those who want to visit SeaWorld, Hilton Grand Vacations is a great choice. Three swimming pools even have their own waterfall, but if you’re not up for a swim, just grab a drink from the bar next to them. The rooms are excellent, with everything you need and then some. And if you ever want some peace and quiet, the 33 acres of land this hotel is surrounded with will surely provide.
Day trips from Orlando
If you’re staying more than one day in Orlando or if you simply want to get to know the beautiful nature surrounding it, there are plenty of day trips to choose from. Exquisite little towns, great beaches and even a space centre are all very close. Here are some of the most popular suggestions.
Kennedy Space Center
Space enthusiasts really can’t afford to miss this. A visit to Kennedy Space Center is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if you’re not from around here. There are tons of things to do, from watching movies and checking out rockets to touching a real moon rock! You can even take a bus to Cape Canaveral to see the place real rockets are launched from. And since the whole thing is just outside Orlando, this will definitely be a very pleasant day trip.
If you prefer enjoying nature, a day trip from Orlando to the Crystal River and Homosassa River is a great choice. This is because there you can go manatee snorkelling and see these beautiful creatures up close. They are completely harmless and often appear along with dolphins, so with a bit of luck you will definitely have an incredible experience. But if you don’t want to get wet, that’s perfectly fine – just stay on the boat and soak everything in.
Another Orlando day trip which doesn’t require a long drive, Everglades is probably Florida’s most famous destination for nature-lovers. Alligators, eagles and numerous other birds all inhabit the characteristic grassy swamps of this area. Furthermore, you can rent an airboat for a quick half-hour tour to learn even more about the place. Definitely a trip well worth the time.
Kissimmee is a small city just outside Orlando and an ideal place to spend your day relaxing. Sure, you can do a lot of things here, including shopping, biking, barbequing and so on, but this beautiful little destination is primarily a golfers’ paradise. There are loads of excellent golf and mini-golf courses in the area, so if you’re an enthusiast or you’d simply like to try this game, Kissimmee is definitely the place for you.
Extra tips for visiting Orlando
– Orlando Weekly is an excellent source for all the event happening in the town while you’re there. Information on music, restaurants and all kinds of arts can be found there, so pick it up if you want to have all the choices in the city in one place in front of you.
– If you come across manatees in some of the springs around the city, do not touch them or feed them. It is against the law to do so.
– Disney does not offer any special deals on their tickets. If you come across one, that will probably be a timeshare company trying to sell you something. Avoid that if you don’t want to waste valuable time.
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).