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Things to do in Orlando besides Disney

What’s the first word that pops into your head when you hear the word “Orlando”?

Unless you’re an Orlando Bloom fan, chances are you thought of Disney World.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links for accommodations, car rental and tickets. If you click on one and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. This will not affect your price.

I enjoyed Disney World tremendously when we spent almost a week there with our 4-year-old daughter, now grown. I’ll never forget the moment when we turned the corner in the line and she first saw Ariel, the Little Mermaid. On her first glimpse, my daughter gasped, “She IS real!”

Woman dressed as Ariel: red long hair, bikini top, mermaid's tail, sitting on a stone-look bench. Next to her, a little girl wearing a light blue dress, hair in pigtails, red sandals.
My daughter at four, feeling shy with the REAL Ariel at Disneyworld, Orlando, Florida

(If you’re looking for information about visiting Disneyworld Orlando, this is not the place. Instead, try this site, Raising Whasians, which overflows with everything about Disney that you’d ever need to know!), as does ThemeParkPro.

This article (updated in April 2021) isn’t about Disney, or Universal Studios, or any of the standard things visitors go to Orlando for. This is about the lesser-known, off-the-beaten-track sights: things to do in Orlando besides Disney.

But first, book your accommodations in Orlando!

A Cluster of Things to See in Orlando that aren’t Disney

Wedged in by three lakes, three museums near downtown are worth a visit.

Orlando Museum of Art

The Orlando Museum of Art is the main art museum in Orlando, covering a range of periods, styles, and parts of the world in its permanent collection and its temporary exhibitions.

Orlando Museum of Art: 2416 N. Mills Ave. Orlando. Open Tuesday-Friday 10:00-16:00 and Saturday-Sunday 12:00-16:00. Closed Mondays. Admission: Adults $15, children 4-17 $5.

Mennello Museum of American Art

Less than a kilometer away, (about a half a mile by walking path), the Mennello Museum of American Art focuses on modern art, with a permanent collection of Earl Cunningham’s detailed, colorful harbor scene paintings, and special thematic or artist-focused temporary exhibitions.

Mennello Museum of American Art: Loch Haven Cultural Park, 900 E. Princeton Street, Orlando. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10:30-16:30 and Sunday 12:00-16:30. Closed on Mondays. Admission: Adults $5, children 6-17 $1.

Orlando Science Center

The third museum within a short walk is the Orlando Science Center, one of those interactive science museums that’s a big hit with kids (and their parents).

Orlando Science Center: 777 E. Princeton Street, Orlando. Open daily 10:00-17:00. Admission: Adults $21, children 2-11 $15.

Leu Botanical Garden

Also within walking distance is the Leu Botanical Garden, a 50-acre garden near the Orlando Museum of Art. It is also home to Leu House Museum, a turn-of-the-20th-century house listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

A view across some of the botanical garden. grass and shrubs in the foreground surrounding a low, simple fountain with many low spouts coming out of a semi-circular pond. In the background a large old tree with spanish moss hanging from it, a kiosk of some sort under it.
Leu Botanical Gardens. Photo courtesy of Apryl Chapman Thomas of Southern Hospitality Magazine

Leu Botanical Garden: 1920 N. Forest Avenue, Orlando. Open daily 9:00-17:00. Admission: Adults $10, children 4-17 $5.

Leu House Museum: Open Tuesday-Sunday 10:00-13:00, closed on Mondays. Included in admission to the botanical garden.

The house is two stories tall and white. In front is a two story veranda held up on some simple square pillars. The upper verandah has an iron railing around it. Shrubs partially hide the lower verandah.
Leu House Museum. Photo courtesy of Apryl Chapman Thomas of Southern Hospitality Magazine

Farther north in Orlando

From downtown you’ll need to take a car or bus to get to these, but they’d provide an enjoyable non-Disney day.

Reserve your rental car through this link.

Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art focuses mostly on one artist: Louis Tiffany. Famous for his leaded glass lamps, you can see many of them, but also lots of other objects he created.

Charles Hosmer Morse Museum: 445 North Park Avenue, Winter Park. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10:00-15:00 by appointment only. This may change as the pandemic ends. Check their website for current information. Admission: Adults $6, children under 12 free.

Art and History Museums – Maitland

The Art and History Museums – Maitland includes five very different museums that could easily keep you entertained for a whole day, especially if you, like me, enjoy more obscure museums. The biggest is the Maitland Art Center, in a National Historic Landmark “Mayan revival” building, which houses a permanent collection and a range of temporary exhibitions.

A semi-circular fountain in the foreground, with water spraying straight up. Behind, the adobe museum building: single-story, whitewashed, with a red tile roof.
The courtyard of the Maitland Art Center. Image via Flickr by David Lewis

Three smaller museums that are part of this group, the Maitland Historical Museum (local history), the Telephone Museum, and the Carpentry Shop Museum, sound like the kind of quirky local museums I always enjoy.

I’d particularly like the fifth of the group: the Waterhouse Residence Museum, which offers detailed guided tours through a house restored to the late Victorian period.

The Art and History Museums – Maitland: 231 West Packwood Avenue, Maitland. Open Thursday-Sunday 11:00-16:00. Closed Monday-Wednesday. Admission (One ticket covers all of the museums.): Adults $6, children 5-17 $5.

East of Orlando, but worth the drive

While Orlando itself is dotted with lakes, many of which have parkland around them, you really have to get out of the city to get a real wildlife experience, and to see what Florida looked like before Disney, strip malls, and condos.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Cross the bridge from Titusville to reach Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, hemmed in by Cape Canaveral on one side and Canaveral National Seashore on the other. It would combine well with a trip to the John F. Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. Containing a range of habitats, from dunes to marshes to scrubland, it is home to an enormous array of wildlife, especially birds. You can see manatees here too! Again, bring your binoculars. Also bring bug spray! Watch out for poison ivy and alligators. Bring drinking water.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge: No address. Take Exit 220 from I-95. East on SR406 (Garden Street) for 4 miles, then over the Max Brewer Causeway Bridge and the refuge is on the east side of the causeway. Open daily sunrise-sunset. Free admission, but $10 per vehicle to take the Black Point wildlife drive.

A spoonbill stands in the center of the photo, in shallow water, with a bit of gravelly shore showing on the right. The spoonbill has a pink body, white neck and a beak shaped like a long spoon. The shallow water around it is dotted with much smaller birds and some small plants sticking out of the water as well.
A spoonbill at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Image courtesy of Megan Johnson at Red Around the World. Read far more details in her article about Merritt Island.

If you’re thinking of adding Kennedy Space Center to your plans, use the form below to buy your tickets in advance.

Orlando Wetlands Park

Orlando Wetlands Park, despite its name, is actually about a 35-minute drive from downtown Orlando, near Titusville. Walk a trail through marshes, lakes, and woods. Bring your binoculars for some great birdwatching.

Orlando Wetlands Park: 25155 Wheeler Road, Christmas, FL. Open daily sunrise-sunset. Free admission.

If you want to go further afield and spend a day at the beach, you have plenty of beaches to choose from, both on the Atlantic and the Gulf coast.

It’ll probably be years until I’m next in Orlando, but when I am, these are the sights I’d like to see. Unless I have grandkids by then, of course, in which case, it’ll be Disney for me all over again!

Have you been to Orlando? If you have, what, besides Disney, did you see?

Pinnable image
Text: Things to do in Orlando besides Disney
Image: a spoonbill - pink body, long, spoonshaped beak, stands in shallow water, balancing on one leg.

My travel recommendations

Planning travel

  • Skyscanner is where I always start my flight searches.
  • Booking.com is the company I use most for finding accommodations. If you prefer, Expedia offers more or less the same.
  • Discover Cars offers an easy way to compare prices from all of the major car-rental companies in one place.
  • Use Viator or GetYourGuide to find walking tours, day tours, airport pickups, city cards, tickets and whatever else you need at your destination.
  • Bookmundi is great when you’re looking for a longer tour of a few days to a few weeks, private or with a group, pretty much anywhere in the world. Lots of different tour companies list their tours here, so you can comparison shop.
  • GetTransfer is the place to book your airport-to-hotel transfers (and vice-versa). It’s so reassuring to have this all set up and paid for ahead of time, rather than having to make decisions after a long, tiring flight!
  • Buy a GoCity Pass when you’re planning to do a lot of sightseeing on a city trip. It can save you a lot on admissions to museums and other attractions in big cities like New York and Amsterdam.
  • I’m a fan of SCOTTeVEST’s jackets and vests because when I wear one, I don’t have to carry a handbag. I feel like all my stuff is safer when I travel because it’s in inside pockets close to my body.
  • Airalo is an e-sim card. You buy it through an app and activate it when you need it. I tried it on my trip to Thailand and it worked just like any other sim card, but without my having to fuss with physical cards.
  • I use ExpressVPN on my phone and laptop when I travel. It keeps me safe from hackers when I use public or hotel wifi.


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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments!  Read more…
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Love the sound of some of those museums for a rainy day. And the wildlife options make me want to pay another visit to Orlando before our kids give us those grandbabies we’re hoping for. 🙂

Interesting! Who knew?
Particularly like the flamingoes!

Well who knew that Orlando offered so much? I for one, certainly did not so thanks for the interesting info. The wildlife, the birds in and of themselves would be enough to get ME there.We just saw some gorgeous flamingoes in Northern Sri Lanka.

Thanks for an interesting post.

I’ve never been to Orlando. It would be great to visit Disney, but it’s nice to know that there are other things to see and do.

I was born in Orlando in the 1960’s. It “used to” be known for it’s citrus & cattle. Disney + too many years of freezes killed the citrus industry…However, there are are still two, great places to visit that most never hear about: Rock Springs & Wekiva Springs. Both are just north of central Orlando. Near Rock Springs is a canoe facility at Kelly Park. You rent the canoes and then drift with the current all the way to Wekiva Springs.

We used to go in two cars & drop one at the end & then drive to Kelly Park & take off early in the morning (always tried to be the first ones in the water to see the most wildlife in peace & quiet). We always saw lots of wildlife– keeping a sharp eye out for gators. We brought our lunch in a cooler & swam in the ultra-clear water at the half-way point. We’d even occasionally spot stingrays, which had made their way in all the way from the Atlantic! It takes about 2-3 hours depending on how much you paddle/stop along the way. At the time, you could also arrange a ride back when the guys came to collect the canoes. That canoe trip is magical.

These two places are the REAL Florida.