Orlando has a reputation for being the most fun place on Earth—and with the Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and more roller coasters and water parks than you could ever fit into your itinerary, it’s no surprise that it’s a hit with kids and parents alike (plus, here are some pointers on How to Do Disney With Kids Who Don’t Like Rides).
But there’s a lot more to do in Florida than the theme parks. And while we do love Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter, Orlando locals wish that tourists knew more about our thriving music and art scene, amazing outdoor activities, and accommodations in some of the most sought after hotels in all of Florida. Let us introduce you to a few of our favorite places to spend a night, have a bite, and enjoy the sights on your next trip to Orlando.
With our guide, you’ll be Orlando-ing like a local in no time!
WHERE TO STAY
If you’re going to be hitting the theme parks while you’re in town then there’s no better place to stay than the Hampton Inn Orlando near Universal Boulevard/International Drive. With close proximity to all of the attractions and a scheduled shuttle service to Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World, it’s both convenient and cost-efficient. The rooms are beautifully renovated and guests can enjoy special discounts on merchandise at Universal Orlando theme parks and the Blue Man Group show, as well as discounted food and beverages at Universal parks and City Walk.
The Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek is located centrally amongst the attractions on International Drive. This hotel has all of the amenities that you could want on a Florida vacation—24-hour room service, huge pool area, 24-hour fitness center, coffee barista, multiple restaurants and bars, spa, and daily shuttle to Disney theme parks. At just $160 dollars a night, it’s an affordable option for families and couples who are looking to visit Orlando without breaking the bank.
Heading north of the theme parks? Enjoy the “real Orlando” in style by staying at the Grand Bohemian Hotel on Orange Ave. The hotel is close to downtown’s cultural hub, in walking distance to Lake Eola, the Amway Center and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The Grand Bohemian has a jazz bar that features renowned musicians and serves an award-winning brunch on Sundays, an option to book a jacuzzi suite, and an art gallery with over 150 works of art by local, regional, and acclaimed artists. Pro tip: Book early because this hotel fills up fast.
WHERE TO EAT
Taverna Opa Orlando is one of the area’s premier party destinations, whether you’re celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or just a regular night out. At Taverna Opa Orlando, you’ll be dazzled by nightly belly dancers, DJ entertainment, napkin showers and traditional Greek Zorba line dancing. The restaurant serves authentic Greek cuisine that includes fresh seafood, premium cuts of meat and a variety of appetizers, unique beer, wine, and cocktails brought from the Mediterranean. If that’s not enough to draw you in, then the entertainment surely will!
Just steps from the Orlando Eye, Tapa Toro is a dining experience unlike any other this side of España. This Spanish tapas bar and paella pit boasts nightly flamenco dancing, beautiful décor and outdoor seating. With an extensive menu that features hot and cold tapas, and a 12-seat paella pit where you and your guests can watch as your paella is cooked right in front of you, you will feel transported to Spain during your meal.
Slate Restaurant is an elegant dining experience nestled in Orlando’s prestigious Restaurant Row. With a scratch kitchen and a cozy atmosphere, it’s a great place to enjoy happy hour or a romantic dinner for two. For families, there’s something for everyone on the menu, including pasta and pizza, fresh seafood, salads, burgers and more. Consider trying the weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
At Zaza New Cuban Diner, you can expect friendly, fast service and authentic Cuban food. As you’re exploring Orlando north of the theme parks, you may want to consider stopping at one of Zaza New Cuban Diners’ three locations to enjoy a savory breakfast, freshly baked dulces or one of Zaza’s signature platters. Try their quesitos and Cuban coffee if you’re an adult; guava pastries and fresh squeezed OJ are always popular for kiddos.
WHAT TO DO
Wekiva Island is a favorite watering hole for locals. Less than an hour north of the attractions, this island oasis is a great place to escape the crowds and experience authentic Florida. Explore the beautiful Wekiva River on paddle boards, kayaks or canoe rentals and see wildlife year-round. And at just $1 entry, it’s one of the most affordable ways to have fun in the sun in Orlando.
The Orlando Eye is a new addition to the International Drive skyline and provides a breathtaking view of nearly all of Central Florida. Buy a ticket to ride and be whisked away to the highest of heights (over 400 feet!) in a capsule that doubles as an observation deck. Before your voyage, you can purchase champagne to take with you or stop by Tapa Toro for food and drinks to keep you satiated for the duration of your ride. Kid-friendly and in the middle of the action, the Orlando Eye does not disappoint!
Whether you love to shop or just window shop, the Mall at Millenia is a shopping destination you simply must experience. It’s the area’s upscale indoor shopping mall with luxury brands, like Chanel and Gucci, as well as more accessible retailers like Forever 21 and Abercrombie. The Mall at Millenia is a viable option for rainy days. Be prepared for plenty of shoppers and high-rollers abound—you might even see a celebrity!