When you think of Orlando, Florida, Disney World is probably the first thing that comes to mind. But outside of Florida’s most famous attraction, the city offers plenty to do. From tranquil gardens to haunted buildings, here are seven unique places in Orlando where you won’t find Mickey Mouse.
Harry P. Leu Gardens
Adjacent to Lake Rowena, Harry P. Leu Gardens is a 50-acre botanical garden nestled in downtown Orlando. Away from the hustle and bustle of Orlando’s ubiquitous theme parks, the garden features tropical plants, such as palms and philodendrons, as well as blooming perennials like azaleas and camellias.
In addition to paying a visit to the on-site museum, visitors can stroll through various themed gardens, including a butterfly garden, color garden, and rose garden, to learn more about the flora of Florida. Monthly events, such as movie night, are also a huge draw, with visitors permitted to bring outside food and alcohol to picnic on the garden’s vast lawn.
Established long before Disney World opened its doors, Gatorland is one of Orlando’s oldest attractions. Named for Florida’s most fascinating reptile, this theme park is a haven for alligators, crocodiles, and “grunts” — the park’s scaly (but adorable) reptilian babies.
In addition to reptiles, including rare white leucistic alligators, Gatorland is home to numerous species, such as exotic birds, wild cats, and a resident peacock that roams the grounds. If you’re in search of thrills, make sure to stop by during Adventure Hour, the time of day when visitors can get up close and personal with the gators at feeding time.
Situated in the heart of the city, Lake Eola has been a popular Orlando destination since the 1800s. The picturesque lake is home to turtles, waterfowl, and five different species of swans — including black-neck swans, trumpeter swans, and black swans, which can often be spotted gliding across the water.
In honor of Lake Eola’s elegant residents, visitors can rent swan boats — paddle boats in the shape of swans — for a relaxed afternoon on the water. On land, a one-mile pathway circumnavigates the lake, while the lawn hosts the Orlando Farmer’s Market every Sunday.
Orlando Watersports Complex
Watersports enthusiasts of all skill levels should pay a visit to the Orlando Watersports Complex, a facility geared toward adventure sports on the water. Novice wakeboarders can practice staying upright on the park’s standard cable, while seasoned boarders can migrate to the advanced cable to practice tricks and flips on the water.
The complex also includes a lake, where boarders can get pulled behind a boat, learn how to wakesurf, or go tubing. For an afternoon of family fun, the facility’s aqua park has inflatable slides, a trampoline, and climbing walls situated on the water. Rentals are available at the pro shop, with lessons available for wakeboarders of all ages.
Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park
For landlubbers in search of thrills, there’s no better spot than Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park, an exciting adventure course high in the trees. South of downtown, the adventure park features a giant zip line, dozens of aerial challenges, and two separate kids' courses.
Featuring the likes of swinging logs, sky-high nets, and trapeze swings, the courses are designed to get more challenging as you go. If you want to complete all of the courses, this adventurous attraction requires two to three hours of your time and is guaranteed to get your adrenaline pumping in the best way.
Orlando Science Center
Whether or not it’s a rainy day, the Orlando Science Center is worth a visit. With various exhibits designed for all ages, the center gives visitors a chance to encounter ancient creatures in DinoDigs, learn about weather systems and meteorology at Our Planet, or experience the hands-on fun of physics at the Kinetic Zone.
Daily programming includes Science Live!, an event that showcases scientific phenomena, and Tinkertime, a class that provides participants with hands-on engineering challenges. For some downtime, the museum’s theater features an 8,000-square-foot screen and shows documentaries about Earth, space, and other topics.
Although Orlando is not a coastal city, visitors have the opportunity to kayak through the city's unique waterways. North of the city in Winter Park, Get Up and Go Kayaking offers two-hour adventures on clear-bottom kayaks. The kayaking tour takes travelers through Venetian-style canals, under bridges, and across three connected lakes.
During the day, the clear-bottom boats allow kayakers to see the depths below, while sunset tours provide clear vantage points of the sky. For a unique experience on the water, visitors can also book evening tours with glow-in-the-dark boats, turning kayaking in Orlando into an exciting nighttime adventure.