Your ultimate guide to a magical getaway in Orlando

A view of Lake Eola view in Orlando
Make your next trip to Orlando as seamless and memorable as possible. Gina Pricope/Getty Images

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky


Orlando might be best known for its ties to the mouse who shall not be named, but there’s more to this theme-park-centered town than meets the eye. Our advice? Skip the theme parks entirely and spend a long weekend enjoying everything else that Orlando and its surrounding neighborhoods have to offer. Dubbed The City Beautiful, Orlando is home to modern-art museums, fresh-air farmers markets, tasty eats from across the globe, and so much more.

You might not be able to hit everything in Orlando in one trip, but if you plan accordingly, you can squeeze in plenty of awesome activities, sights, and meals. Grab your suitcase and get ready to zip-line over swampy marshes full of gators, shop the streets of the brick-lined Park Avenue, and fill your belly with slices of pizza as big as your head (yes, really).

Check out Insider’s guide to having a delightful Orlando experience:

What you need to know when traveling to Orlando
Travelers wait in line for TSA security screening at Orlando International Airport
Flying into Orlando International Airport is your best bet for arriving to The City Beautiful. Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Image
Pack your bags and book your plane ticket because air travel is the easiest way to get to Orlando. The City Beautiful is in Orange County, which is in the central part of the state and has one major airport.

Orlando International Airport (OIA)

Orlando’s only major airport, OIA is about 13 miles (21km) from downtown Orlando. More than 30 airlines fly in and out of the hub (view the full list), serving over 90 destinations in the US and 25 international cities. Once you arrive, you can rent a car, take a taxi, ride a city bus, use a ride-hailing app, or schedule a private pickup. Because OIA is the eighth-busiest airport in the country (and 26th in the world), give yourself plenty of time when traveling through it. 

Perhaps the best way to see Orlando’s sights is by renting a car. You can rent a car on-site at OIA from one of 10 rental-car companies. Save time at the counter by booking your rental in advance. Here are other ways to get around town:

SunRail

The SunRail is a limited mass-transit system in central Florida that runs Monday through Friday. It does not operate on weekends or holidays. One-way and roundtrip tickets can be purchased in advance or at the station. Plan to arrive at least 20 minutes before your train’s scheduled departure time. There is a paid parking lot on-site.

Lynx bus

The Lynx bus system operates throughout the entire greater Orlando area with various routes and schedules to accommodate your travel. Single rides are $US2 ($AU3), and a day pass is $US4.50 ($AU6). Lynx also runs a free public bus system, Lymmo, which operates in downtown Orlando only. Plan your ride here.

Interstate 4

Dubbed the “I4 Corridor,” this is the main interstate that runs through Orlando, connecting Disney World to downtown and beyond. You’ll likely drive on this major road multiple times during your stay. This interstate is prone to heavy traffic on weekday mornings (7 to 9 a.m.) and late afternoons and early evenings (4 to 7 p.m.), so avoid traveling during these times if you want to steer clear of congestion. 

Find the best accommodations for your visit to Orlando
A suitcase by two beds in a hotel room
Orlando offers several accommodation options suitable for specific budgets and preferences. Klaus Vedfelt/Getty
Hospitality isn’t hard to come by in Orlando. The area is home to more than 450 hotels, so you’re sure to find something within your budget. There are many pockets of Orlando to stay in, but there are three trendy neighborhoods to heavily consider: downtown Orlando, International Drive, and Winter Park.

Downtown Orlando is centrally located to many major attractions and beaches, and it’s walking distance to must-try bars and restaurants. For a more touristy experience, there are several hotels on International Drive, the gateway to Orlando’s top-rated tourist attractions. Winter Park, about 10 minutes north of downtown Orlando, is a charming and quaint area known for upscale shopping and trendy dining; it’s also perfect for an afternoon stroll.

Rental services through sites like Airbnb and Vrbo are good options if you’re traveling with a large group or looking for a long-term stay somewhere in central Florida. Alternatively, you can book your accommodations via any major travel website or directly on a hotel’s website.

Here are some places we recommend you stay in:

Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando

The Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando is a chic, upscale hotel perched on the edge of downtown Orlando, next to the sprawling state-of-the-art Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Be sure to check out the rooftop pool and piano bar.

Alfond Inn

The 112-room trendy Alfond Inn is in Orlando’s charming Winter Park neighborhood. Catch the Happy Hour Art Tour on the first Wednesday of every month at 4:30 p.m., which showcases contemporary artwork from students at the nearby Rollins Museum of Art.

Eõ Inn

The Eõ Inn is a stone’s throw from the shores of Lake Eola, the heart of downtown Orlando, offering you plenty of bang for your buck locationwise. You can even grab a delicious ale on-site at Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co., a Florida brewery with seasonal and local pours.

The best restaurants and must-try dining experiences in Orlando
A glass cup full of an ombre purple drink with a sprig of herb sits on an outdoor table.
The Wellborn’s ‘Best Friends are Forever’ cocktail is among the prettiest drinks you can order. Rachel Murphy for Insider
Orlando’s food scene has exploded over the past decade, so you’ll find mouthwatering meals in almost every corner. Take a drive through the Mills 50 area, one of Orlando’s oldest and funkiest neighborhoods, and you’ll come across an amazing spread of tasty eats — such as Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa, Hawkers Orlando’s Asian street fare, and Strand — influenced by cultures all around the world.

Here are a few more suggestions for a delightful dining experience in Orlando:

Foxtail Coffee

Order up a freshly brewed coffee or tea from Foxtail Coffee, a dog-friendly spot with plenty of caffeine to keep you going throughout your entire trip. Croissants, doughnuts, and other pastry breakfast items are available at this artsy café. And there are multiple locations throughout Orlando.

Kadence

Snag a required reservation at the high-end “omakase-style” Kadence sushi bar in Orlando’s Audubon Park neighborhood for an intimate fine-dining experience you won’t forget. 

The Wellborn 

Enjoy tasty bites and Instagram-worthy cocktails from The Wellborn, while taking in the restaurant’s kitschy decor. You can also channel your inner child by playing in the colorful ball pit on the second floor.

AC Sky Bar

Rooftop bars are few and far between in Orlando, so you don’t want to pass up the chance to relish the stunning view atop the AC Sky Bar. On a clear day, you can see The Wheel at Icon Park and Universal’s Volcano Bay mountain from miles away.

East End Market

There are a ton of offerings at the East End Market, but you’ll definitely want to try the ramen and crispy Korean-fried chicken wings from Domu. And for a sweet bite, nosh on a giant chocolate-chip cookie from Gideon’s Bakehouse

Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream

Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream, which has multiple locations, serves award-winning locally made ice cream with new seasonal flavors available every month.

 

Your go-to list of activities for a trip to Orlando
A large lake surrounded by trees in the middle of downtown Orlando
Lake Eola is home to a weekly farmer’s market and hosts seasonal events throughout the year in the heart of downtown Orlando. Rachel Murphy for Insider
While millions are drawn to Orlando for its vast theme-park offerings, there are plenty of can’t-miss activities that are less frequented in the city. From paying your respects at the Pulse memorial to spending your Sunday morning at the Lake Eola farmers market, here are some of the top activities to check out in The City Beautiful:

Pulse memorial

Pay your respects at the Pulse memorial to the 49 people who lost their lives during the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016.

Lake Eola farmers market

Lake Eola is the heartbeat of downtown Orlando, and there’s no better way to check out all the area has to offer than by visiting the Lake Eola farmers market on Sundays. Shop produce, handcrafted goods, foods, local eats, and more. When you’re done, hop over to The Stubborn Mule for brunch and mimosas on the patio.

New Smyrna Beach

About an hour drive from downtown Orlando is New Smyrna Beach, situated on Florida’s idyllic east coast. You can drive on the beach ($US20 ($AU27) fee), park in a nearby lot and walk, or pay for a pass to the Canaveral National Seashore. Hungry? Check out The Garlic for an Italian feast, JB’s Fish Camp for a spread of fresh seafood, and Third Wave Cafe & Wine Bar for the best organic lunch you’ll find beachside.

Winter Garden Farmers Market

Fifteen miles from Orlando is the quaint town of Winter Garden, where you can enjoy delicious food, locally handmade goods, and groovy live music offered on Saturday mornings year-round. This sprawling farmer’s market is also steps from the charming downtown area of Winter Garden and Plant Street Market, home to Crooked Can Brewing.

Screamin’ Gator Zip Line 

Head to Gatorland for a true Florida experience: zip-lining over swampy marshes full of crocodiles and alligators. Reservations are required.

Bioluminescence Kayaking

Light up your night at Bioluminescence Kayaking, roughly 50 minutes from Orlando, where you can take a bright two-hour bioluminescence kayak trip in the Atlantic Ocean. Be sure to pack your waterproof camera to capture the magic. Advanced reservations are recommended.

Enzian Theater

Enzian Theater is a single-screen movie theater that plays a rotating list of independent movies and local screenings. It features cozy seating and an enticing selection of food to munch on while you watch a film. You can also hang out at Eden Bar, the venue’s outdoor bar, before or after your flick. If you visit in April, you’ll be able to celebrate the annual Florida Film Festival.

Boxi Park Lake Nona

Boxi Park Lake Nona is a 30,000-square-foot dog- and family-friendly outdoor space with food trucks, live music, a playground, and a beach-volleyball court.

Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures

Nothing says Florida like an airboat ride through the swamp. Reservations at Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures are recommended but not required.

The Plaza Live

Catch an entertaining show at The Plaza Live — one of Orlando’s oldest venues.

Advisories to keep in mind while visiting Orlando
A sign that reads 'Welcome to Downtown Orlando' on the city skyline
Don’t forget to read up on the latest health and weather advisories before visiting Orlando. aphotostory/Getty
Florida has no travel restrictions in effect, but there are a handful of notices to take into consideration before you visit Orlando. At the time of publication, all notices are accurate. Please note that the advisories below can change without notice. Be sure to review the most recent updates before you travel to Orlando.

COVID-19 advisory

The Florida Department of Health advises wearing masks indoors and outdoors when social distancing is not possible. The department also recommends avoiding closed spaces and crowds, but there is no mask mandate in place for Orange County. Many businesses have signage encouraging you to wear a mask indoors and socially distance when possible. Some businesses may require a temperature check as well. Protocols are left to individual businesses to enforce. 

COVID-19 testing sites are available throughout Orange County. This information changes rapidly, so make sure to brush up on the latest local-government protocols.

Weather Advisory

Hurricane season begins on June 1 and ends on November 30. During the summer, extreme heat and high humidity are normal. Drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen, and dress in light, loose-fitting clothing. 

Afternoon thunderstorms are also common in the summertime and can pop up at a moment’s notice. Pack a rain jacket or travel-size umbrella to toss in your bag or keep in the car. Lightning is typical with summer pop-up showers, so take shelter immediately if you’re outdoors during a storm.

December through March is Orlando’s cooler (and dryer) months, when temperatures average in the 70s during the day and 50s at night. View the latest weather forecast in Orlando, as well as any weather advisories, here.

To stay on top of all the latest advisories for Orlando during your stay, download the OCFL Alert app, available for iOS and Android devices. The app sends real-time notifications and life-saving information during emergency events in Orange County.