While the main attraction to Orlando is, of course, the theme parks, there is so much more to this vibrant city – and you won’t even have to break the bank while exploring all that Orlando has to offer.
Here are 20 ideas for free or inexpensive entertainment in and around the city (and we have a score of back-up ideas here, too!).
Parks and recreation
This downtown Orlando centerpiece offers 43 acres for exploration and recreation, including fountains, a walking path, playgrounds, and the option to rent swan-shaped paddle boats and gondolas. Check its website for any free events that might be happening during your visit!
Bordered by a shady park that hosts concerts and art festivals, Park Avenue is home to one-of-a-kind boutiques and well-known shops. sidewalk cafes. and restaurants, as well as world-renowned art collections in the area’s museums.
At this five-acre botanical garden, guests can enjoy three miles of walkways among gardens designed to highlight the wide variety of flora that thrives in the Central Florida climate. Adult admission is $10.
An hour’s drive north of Orlando, Ocala National Forest is a great place to experience natural Florida. One of the closest recreational areas is Lake Dorr, where the cost of entry is $2 per vehicle, per day and fishing is allowed (but you must have a Florida Freshwater Fishing License). Another good spot is Clearwater Lake, which also has a 1.3-mile nature trail through the woods, but the entry fee is $4.50 per person, per day.
A bit closer to home is Kelly Park, a local favorite for tubing and rock climbing. This popular attraction can close due to capacity, so be sure to check the website before heading out. Tubes may be rented from local businesses along Rock Springs Road or bring your own pool noodles. The entry fee is $5 per car, for up to eight people.
Another great spot for day hikes, the Tibet Butler Preserve trails take you through a variety of Florida habitats. Weekends bring the popular EcoSaturdays program, so, again, check the park’s website to see what is on offer during your stay. Be aware that some parts of the trail may close due to flooding, and if that’s the case, the other trails are sure to be muddy!
With five nature trails, picnic areas, and no admission charge (donations are appreciated), the UCF Garden and Natural Lands are open from sunrise to sunset every day for self-guided tours. For something different, try a geocaching treasure hunt! Guided tours can be booked in advance for $5 per person.
Located on the Rollins College campus, the Cornell showcases over 6,000 art pieces, ranging from the Renaissance to the Baroque periods. Art lovers of all ages will not want to miss one of the oldest collections in Florida. Admission is free.
Home to the most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany (the stained-glass guy), the Morse also showcases an American pottery collection, as well as 19th- and 20th-century paintings, and provides a complementary audio tour that you can access from your smartphone. Normally $6 per adult, admission is free on Friday evenings from 4:00 pm until 8:00 pm, November through April.
This venue holds an art collection focusing primarily on American representational sculpture, with over 200 works by Czech-born American sculptor Albin Polasek. The museum offers guided tours of the historic Polasek residence and chapel, an outdoor sculpture garden, and a gift shop. The entrance fees are $10 per adult and $3 per child.
The memorial houses both permanent and traveling exhibits that seek to inform and educate visitors about the history and lessons of the Holocaust. Somber and moving, the site offers self-guided tours and free entry.
Visit the full-size replica of Fort Christmas, including eight restored pioneer homes and a sugar-cane mill, that demonstrates pioneer life from the 1870s through the 1930s. A fascinating look at living Florida history, and it’s free!
Shopping and Attractions
Held every Saturday (except in March), the Winter Park Farmers’ Market takes place at an historic train depot. On Sundays, you can check out the Orlando Farmers’ Market at Lake Eola (read about it here) or the one at Lakeside Park in Celebration.
While it costs quite a bit to go into the parks, you can visit Universal CityWalk Orlando after 6:00 pm and park for free (except on special event nights). This multi-level entertainment complex is a mix of shopping, restaurants, and nightlife.
You are also free to explore Universal Orlando’s hotels by walking the scenic paths or taking the complimentary shuttle buses or water taxis. Portofino Bay Hotel showcases Italian opera singers each night at sunset in the Harbor Piazza, overlooking the bay.
Like CityWalk, albeit with free parking, Disney Springs has food, fun, and entertainment for the whole family. Highlights include the World of Disney store, which is an experience in and of itself, and the Lego Store, where your kids can enjoy the free building stations. The charming ambiance includes many local musical acts who perform throughout the area, and don’t forget to stop by the Ghirardelli shop for a free chocolate sample!
Stroll along Disney’s BoardWalk for a charming step back in time, complete with water views and street entertainers. If arriving by car, the best option is to park at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, but space is limited and you may be required to valet park for $33. Another way to get here would be to park at Disney Springs and take the resort buses over.
This 1,500-room resort includes three enormous, enclosed atriums with themes featuring the Everglades, St. Augustine, and Key West. Filled with multiple restaurants, gift shops, and all the ambiance of a world-class destination, Gaylord Palms is an excellent way to escape the Central Florida heat and humidity for a few hours. Entrance is technically free, but the cost to park is $24.
Originally developed by The Walt Disney Company, Celebration is now officially part of Kissimmee. Explore the town center, which was designed to evoke small-town America, and admire the gorgeous houses with well-groomed lawns. Take a stroll through the quaint Founders’ Park, complete with bandstand, and, depending on when you visit, you might even see machine-generated snow or falling leaves.
Old Town is another shopping and dining district that features events almost every night of the week, including car shows, concerts, outdoor movies, and more. With 70 unique shops and attractions, there’s sure to be something for everyone.
It will cost you around $30 per person to ride the giant Wheel, but Icon Park boasts several attractions to keep your family occupied when you’re not in the parks. Here you will find Madame Tussauds, a 7D Dark Ride Adventure, Arcade City, the Orlando Starflyer, Sea Life Orlando Aquarium, and Skeletons: Museum of Osteology (separate admissions apply for each, though combo tickets are available).
If you just want to shop ’til you drop, your next stop must be the Florida Mall – Central Florida’s largest shopping center. At 1.7 million square feet, the mall offers shopping experiences such as the American Girl Store, the Crayola Experience (tickets required), and M&M’s World, and features both indoor and outdoor playgrounds for the kiddos.
Need even more free ideas for your next Orlando vacation? You can find our further suggestions here.
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