As an Orlando native, I highly encourage Disney World guests to escape what I lovingly call the “Disney World bubble.” I get it. You visit Disney World every so often on your family vacation, and you just want to soak up all the Disney feelings. At the same time, there’s a whole world of free things to do near Disney World that are so much fun.
In this guide, I’m sharing some of my favorite free things to do near Orlando that might surprise you. From Orlando attractions to locals-only spots that’ll surprise you, it’s well worth escaping the “Disney bubble” for some of these spectacular finds. Orlando is a wide place! Explore why it’s such a fun destination outside of the theme parks.
From the free to the nearly-free, get an Uber, rent a car, or hitch a ride (ha!) to one of these sights and attractions.
1. Disney Springs
Of course the first thing on this list is Disney Springs. While still technically on-property, I consider this straddling the Disney bubble line. It’s Disney, but it’s also so much more than that.
For those of you who don’t know, Disney Springs is an outdoor shopping destination located on Disney property that has Disney-themed shops, dining, and third-party retailers. If you visit, make sure you try one of the yummy restaurants and enjoy the window shopping.
2. I-Drive 350
Though a little (okay, a lot) touristy, the nearly redone I-Drive 360 has a lot of cool things to do. This is where you’ll find the Orlando Icon (previously known as the Orlando Eye), Sealife Aquarium, Madame Tussauds, and way more. While you do have to pay for the exhibits and museums, there are tons of shops, dining, and more that you can soak up for free.
3. Old Town Amusement Park
Amusement park might be a bit of a stretch for Old Town, but this strip of old-timey themed cars and shops is certainly entertaining. Located right next to Disney World on Route 192, this is a retro walking district that’s supposedly a recreation of a classic Florida town. On Saturday nights there’s a classic car cruise where you’ll find hundreds of classic cars and free entertainment.
Oh, and if you’re in the mood for some good Latin food, I highly recommend you cross the street from Old Town to discover the mecca of international food trucks behind Machine Gun America. You’re welcome.
4. Celebration, Florida
Celebration is a town founded by Disney World in the 90s, though it now exists on its own. If you’ve ever seen Gilmore Girls, I compare Celebration to Florida’s version of Stars Hallow. Picture criss crossing canals, big front porches, and the cutest main street you’ve ever seen. It’s just a few minutes from Disney World, and it’s well-worth visiting even if just to walk around the lake.
5. Bok Tower Gardens
Bok Tower Gardens is about half an hour from Disney World, but it’s truly an oasis in Central Florida. Named a National Historic Site, this garden was built in the 1920s by a wealthy builder who dreamed of a zen oasis in the heart of Florida. While you’ll need to pay a small fee to enter, this is a slice of paradise located on the “tallest” peak in the state.
6. Lake Eola
Lake Eola is in the heart of downtown, and it’s a sight to behold. It’s free to wander around, and you can see Orlando’s iconic skyline amidst some of the lake’s resident swans. The entire lake is in a 43-acre park, so don’t be afraid to walk around the whole thing. Visit on Sundays to enjoy the local farmers market.
7. Henry P. Leu Gardens
Located in the heart of Orlando, Henry P. Leu Gardens will make you question if you’re really in a huge city. It’s perfect for the entire family, and the entrance fee is really cheap. This was a turn-of-the-century home a hundred years ago, and the grounds were a way to showcase the many plants and flowers the family collected from around the globe. Today, the gardens are a host to a handful of local events.
8. Blue Springs Park
Take things way back by heading to back in time to what Florida looked like hundred of years ago. Blue Springs park is home to some of the best swimming, kayaking, and fishing in the state. You won’t believe just how crystal clear this spring water is!
Better yet, this is one of the best spots to find manatees. As a dedicated manatee refuge, during the winter months you’re sure to see one of our local sea cows swimming around. To get in you, you’ll just need to pay a few dollars per car.
9. Park Ave, Winter Park
Winter Park is one of my favorite hidden gems near Orlando! It’s technically outside of Orlando, but it’s well worth the visit. Winter Park was originally a winter destination for the wealthy elite from up north, and it’s home to Florida’s oldest college.
Today, you can visit and enjoy a taste of old Florida charm along Park Ave. Park Ave is the central street in Winter Park, lined with boutiques, some of the best dining, and even a park with a rose garden. It’s an oasis outside of Orlando, and you’ll never want to leave.
10. Lakeridge Winery
If you’re of legal drinking age, I highly recommend making a trip out to Lakeridge Winery in Lakeland, Florida. The winery is gorgeous, and you’ll even see actual hills which is a surprise. You can join a free wine tour and wine tasting, and the winery is open all week long. Definitely be sure to pick up your favorite bottle on your way out! They’re very affordably priced.
Bonus: Local Brewery
I was going to stop this list at 10, but I just had to include some of my favorite breweries in Orlando. Central Florida is a budding paradise for beer lovers. Once again, if you’re of legal drinking age and you’d like to taste some “real” Orlando flavors, here are some of my favorite breweries to check out!
Best Free Things to Do in Orlando
Whether you’re here for the theme parks or just to explore this cool part of Florida, I hope you enjoyed this list. While you should definitely explore the local theme parks (they’re amazing), escaping the “tourist” bubble is inexpensive and well-worth it.
What are your favorite free things to do in Orlando or free things to do near Disney World?