Discover Orlando Beyond the Parks

Every time I think of Orlando, the thoughts come attached with mouse ears. As if the city is just one big collection of amusement park rides, costumed characters and souvenir shops.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, beneath Orlando’s flashy façade lies an active city entrenched in tremendous Florida scenery and countless ways to enjoy your stay. Here’s where to find the best spots:

Winter Park

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Image The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. Photo credit: Visit Orlando.

Located just 20 minutes from Orlando, this gorgeous arts-and culture-filled city offers a fantastic boat tour through the Winter Park Chain of Lakes, along with dozens of parks to bask in the lovely views of Central Florida. History buffs will want to visit the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, which features the best collection of glass art by Louis Comfort Tiffany you’ll find anywhere. The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens is just icing on the cake for a day trip to Winter Park.

Also featured in our Orlando Destination Guide.

Sporting Events

Amway Center

Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic. Photo credit: Visit Orlando.

If you’re travelling during their respective seasons, check out the major professional teams in the area, the Orlando Magic (NBA) and Orlando City SC (MLS). Both franchises are relatively young, but have shown flashes of success. Plus, OCSC has Kaka. Every sports fan owes it to him or herself to attend an arena football game and the Orlando Predators provide that opportunity.

Harry P. Leu Gardens

The best attractions hinge on the passion of their craft and the colorful Leu Gardens ranks quite high in that respect. This 50-acre botanical garden dedicates itself to the understanding and preservation of plants and it’s happy to share that knowledge with its guests through classes, clinics and tours. The butterfly garden just adds to the splendor. You’ll leave with a much greater respect for our photosynthetic friends.

Underrated Beauty

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Lake Eola Park.

Animatronics and motorized carts divert our attention from the natural beauty around us. Get back to authenticity by paddling your own oar, seeing real life wilderness and breathing wildlife. Orlando sits near more than 100 lakes and just as many boat tours and rental options, so it would almost be silly if you didn’t find yourself in a lake at some point. For walking and hiking, you can journey through 400 acres of unbridled beauty at the Tibet-Butler Nature Preserve.

Shopping Malls

Mall at Millenia - Dusk

Mall at Millenia. Photo credit: Visit Orlando.

You could go to Orlando for the shopping alone. The Mall at Millenia is one of the fancier malls you’ll find in America, so set a budget. The mall is an impressive sight even if you’re just window shopping. The Florida Mall has a nice collection as well. For deal hunters like myself, you can get a lot of bang for your buck at Orlando Premium Outlets on International Drive and Vineland Avenue.

Golfing

Falcon's Fire Golf Club. Photo credit: Visit Orlando.

Falcon’s Fire Golf Club. Photo credit: Visit Orlando.

The Golf Channel is headquartered in Orlando, as is Tiger Woods and several other top tier players. You could say it’s a nice golf town. Grassy greens, water hazard blues and sand trap whites are speckled all over the Orlando area, more than 170, so there is really no shortage of courses to consider.

When you’re not traveling to amusement parks, Orlando can still be a formidable destination, especially if you love the outdoors. There’s plenty of ways to spend your time, so consider some of these options on your next Global Discovery Vacations Orlando vacation.

What do you like to do in Orlando when you’re not at the parks?

Corey is a writer from Overland Park, KS, and has been with Global Discovery Vacations since September 2013. Once a sportswriter, he traveled the country and became proficient in airport security line etiquette and leaving items in hotel rooms.