It’s no secret that many of Orlando’s popular attractions, specifically the theme parks, come with hefty price tags. But locals know that thanks to a wealth of hidden gems, priceless fun can be had without breaking the bank.
Here are a few epic ways to experience the riches of Orlando without so many dollars. Free reigns!
1. Hitch a ride.
The Disney World Skyliner is a new transportation system intended for park-hopping guests. But you don’t need a park ticket to transport yourself through a whimsical world thanks to character-clad air gondolas. Want another ride? After soaring through the sky, make waves aboard a free boat to coast along the magical waterways surrounding Walt Disney World.
2. Embrace movie mania.
Blockbuster entertainment can be enjoyed beyond the costly confines of an indoor cinema. Orlando offers picture-perfect outdoor events simultaneously spotlighting movie stars on the big screen and twinkling night stars overhead. Find reel good times at Crescent Cinema in Lake Nona (quarterly), Movie Monday at À La Cart Orlando (weekly), Old Town Kissimmee Family Movie Night in Kissimmee (weekly), Movieola at Lake Eola Park (seasonally) and Popcorn Flicks in the Park (monthly).
3. Get festive.
Orlando hosts themed festivals to delight every interest, from food to music and art to wellness and so on. Mark your calendar for the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival (March 20–22) in Central Park, Spring Fiesta in the Park (April 4–5) at Lake Eola Park, Come Out With Pride (October 10) at Lake Eola Park, Hollerbach’s Oktoberfest (date TBD) at Willow Tree Café in Sanford and Central Florida Veg Fest (October 26) at Orlando Festival Park.
4. Have a tail-wagging time!
Whether you’re on vacation and missing your pooch back home or just want to test your furever pet ownership skills, plan to pal around with man’s best friend for a day. The Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando’s Hound Around Town program and Pet Rescue by Judy’s Dog 4 a Day program each treat dog lovers to exploration alongside a cute companion.
5. Follow the beaten path.
Nature parks are true shining stars in the Sunshine State. Orlandoans love a leisure hike (or bike) along a beaten path. Just beyond downtown Winter Garden, Oakland Nature Preserve has woodsy paths plus a boardwalk leading to Lake Apopka. At Lake Lotus Park in Altamonte Springs, weave around the 1.7-mile trail system ending at Window on the Lake, a charming octagonal structure on the water’s edge. If you’d prefer to appreciate Mother Nature while basking in your car’s air conditioning, try the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.
6. Fawn over flora.
More nature based fun blooms throughout Orlando! Stop to smell the roses at gardens with free admittance like Harry P. Leu Gardens (first Monday of month), a 50-acre utopia full of bamboo, tropical foliage and flower/vegetable gardens; Kraft Azalea Garden, 5.22-acre space with a Romanesque monument and dock on the shore of Lake Maitland; Mead Botanical Garden, 40-plus acre park comprised of a butterfly garden, trails and pond; and the UCF Arboretum, where experience-based learning really flourishes.
7. Head “to market, to market.”
To reap the benefits of local goods, head to a farmer’s market. Offering everything from produce to purses and soups to soaps, strolling in the sun is especially fun when you get to see and sample specialty offerings. Well-stocked markets have emerged all over town, such as Audubon Park Community Market (Mondays), Orlando Farmer’s Market (Sundays), Winter Garden Farmer’s Market (Saturdays) and Winter Park Farmer’s Market (Saturdays). Local shopaholics are also addicted to artisan selections available at indoor venues like East End Market and Plant Street Market.
8. Tune into the city.
You can purchase costly tickets for grand music venues, like Amway Center or Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, or you can strike a different chord without a cover charge. Diverse genres take the stage at assorted locales throughout Orlando. In the theme park district, music is magically free at Disney Springs at House of Blues’ Front Porch, Ragland Road Irish Pub and several marketplace stages. For eclectic neighborhood jams, discover Lake Nona Nights, Orlando Drum Circle at Orlando Brewing, Music at the Casa and others.
9. Get sporty.
Locals love cheering on the home teams of Orlando City Soccer, Orlando Magic, Orlando Pride and Orlando Solar Bears. But sometimes you just want to get in the game, right? Amateur athletes can master sporty activities by taking to the streets of the City Beautiful. Paving the way to increase awareness of alternative transportation in downtown, Orlando Critical Mass is the “world’s largest monthly bike ride.” And outpacing other sports and social concepts, Orlando has quickly grown to love running clubs − many of which partner with local breweries for bold post-workout replenishment.
10. Toast to tastings.
If you appreciate a hoppy pint, hop over to a local brewery to get a taste of the beer-making process. Orlando Brewing, the first to bring organic handcrafted beers to the City Beautiful, offers free tours Monday through Saturday at 6pm. Crooked Can Brewing Company also lets beer enthusiasts drink up behind-the-scenes insight every Sunday from noon to 4pm. If you prefer red or white in a stemmed glass, visit Lakeridge Winery where complimentary tours and pours are held daily.
Tip: After treating yourself to adult beverages, safely ride share to treat yourself to a stay at a Hilton property. For example, following a wine flight at Lakeridge Winery, take comfort to new heights at Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Clermont. Accommodations feature cozy rooms and suites, an outdoor pool and a fitness center.
11. Appreciate the arts.
Paint the town red by visiting Orlando’s art and history museums, many of which offer free admittance on select days, such as Mennello Museum of American Art, Orange County Regional History Center and Orlando Science Center. Many other institutions are always free of charge, such as Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College, Grand Bohemian Art Gallery, Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida, Orlando City Hall Art Galleries, Winter Garden Heritage Museum and Railroad Museum and Zora Neale Hurston Museum.
12. Hit the main drag.
Far outside of the tourism corridor, local living comes alive in the “main street” districts of Orlando. Each with its own distinctive charm, these pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods have opportunities to dine, play and more. Check out up and coming districts like Ivanhoe Village, Thornton Park and Curry Ford West. And don’t forget the tried and true quarters of Celebration, Mount Dora and Winter Park.
13. Head to entertainment headquarters.
Tourists and locals alike appreciate the convenient wow factor of entertainment mega-complexes. We’re talking about the impressive one-stop-shops of Disney Springs, ICON Park, Pointe Orlando and Universal CityWalk. There is no charge to wander around these headquarters, although parking fees and purchases at restaurants, attractions and retailers may apply.
14. Act like a tourist.
Stretch your legs without stretching your wallet by playing tourist for a day. Orlando hosts an array of walking tours to educate and inspire, such as the Downtown Orlando Historic Walking Tour which highlights 28 notable structures deemed historic by the Orlando City Council and City of Orlando’s Historic Preservation Board. Also try the Historic Walking Tour of Winter Park, Moonlight Walking Tour at Greenwood Cemetery and a DIY street art tour.
So save your pennies… you won’t need ‘em to value the finest in Orlando.