When you visit Orlando, FL, spending money on theme parks and food can be expensive. But, did you know there are plenty of things you can do that are completely free? Absolutely true. In partnership with Hotels.com From gator feedings to birding and artsy tours, here are 14 free things to do in Orlando and vicinity!
I’m like most travelers to the Orlando area: give me all the theme parks! But when you want a day off from them and want to save some cash, where do you go? Here are my suggestions for saving money and having a great time with free things in Orlando and surrounding areas.
First, Where to Stay in Orlando
There are so many hotels and resorts in Orlando that it can be a big decision where to stay. My suggestion is this: stay in the area where you’re planning on visiting the most. For example, if you’re planning on visiting the attractions in I-Drive the most, look for a hotel there.
If you want to spend the majority of your visit near Walt Disney World, find a hotel around that area. Many resorts, particularly those close to the major theme parks, offer free shuttle service so make sure to check for it if you’re flying in.
If you’re driving in, the most convenient place to stay in Orlando is along I-4. You’ll want easy access to the freeway so you can hop on and off and avoid the long red lights along the local roads.
And now onto the freebies in Orlando…
Cornell Fine Arts Museum
Happily dubbed a teaching museum, Cornell Fine Arts Museum in Winter Park is always free. If you’re a Contemporary art fan, you’ll be pleasantly happy wandering the original exhibitions and spaces. You’ll also find everything from ancient art to European Old Master paintings.
Located at Rollins College, it not only features prominent contemporary artists, it highlights student art excellence. You’ll need to register for tickets ahead of time online.
Winter Park Walking Tour
Head to Google Play or the App Store, download the app, and get ready to learn a ton about Winter Park. With nearly two dozen stops, the app acts like a tour guide that never gets lost. Using GPS to make the tour efficient, you can skip stops and take as much time as you need to complete the tour.
Okay, here me out. Yes, CityWalk is at Universal Orlando Resort. But, it doesn’t cost a dime to visit apart from parking. And if you visit after 4pm, parking is free.
You can browse the official stores, people watch, and hang out by the water, especially nice on beautiful, Central Florida days.
Let’s just rip off that theme park bandage now. Disney Springs is at Walt Disney World, yes, but it’s not in one of its theme parks. Parking is always free (yay!) and you can browse the shops, walk around, and even catch a live performance.
Additionally, during normal times, there are splash pads for the kiddos to cool off.
If you’re planning on visiting Kennedy Space Center, just 20 miles east of Orlando sits Fort Christmas. With picnic pavilions and lots of outdoor space, you can check out the exact replica of the mid-19th century fort and learn why it was given the holiday name.
The Black Hammock at Lake Jesup offers free alligator feedings. Just north of Orlando, the airboat company shows guests gator feedings for free while offering advice on why you shouldn’t do it yourself.
And if watching a feeding session isn’t enough, feel free to walk around Lake Jesup to spy a few gators. More like a lot- it’s the most heavily-populated area of gators in the country. Remember, please keep your distance and stay safe.
Popcorn Flicks in Winter Park
In Winter Park, only about 20 minutes from Downtown Orlando, head to Central Park for its once a month (on the second Tuesday) free movie called Popcorn Flicks in the Park. Hosted by Enzian Theater, it features a different movie each month in the beautiful outdoors. Bring your favorite blanket or fold-up chair, pack some snacks, and enjoy!
Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe
Every time we drive to the Orlando Premium Outlets we see the Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine. It’s a beautiful spot to learn about the basilica and mosey around, taking in the beautiful space.
Old Town Kissimmee
Old school in the coolest possible way, Old Town is a fun place to park your car and walk around. With 18 acres of leisurely pit stops, restaurants, and amusement rides, it’s free to look around and people watch.
While you’re there, check the schedule for free shows. On Saturdays, a classic car show draws plenty of antique car lovers to check out the car days of old.
Dr. P. Phillips Community Park
Smaller children and dogs will really enjoy Dr. P. Phillips Community Park. It has a playground and some light walking trails, situated by some pretty water areas. It also has a cute splash pad, but you’ll have to dole out $1 per child if you want to partake.
Biking & Birding Trails
From visiting Orlando dozens of times, the best time to get outdoors is after dinner. It’s then the air begins to cool and the animals are done sleeping off the heat of the day. If you’re a hiking or birding lover, check out these gorgeous places:
West Orange Trail: A multisurface trail (concrete, asphalt, dirt, wood chips), West Orange covers 22 miles in Orange County, FL. It’s ideal for biking, walking, inline skating, and horseback riders find it enjoyable.
Considered one of Florida’s most popular rail trails, the path goes in and out of lightly wooded areas and past beautiful orange groves, so remember to take your camera.
Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail: Quick lesson on birds in Florida. The state is directly along the Atlantic Flyway, so during spring and fall migration, it’s a haven for birds heading from the Arctic Tundra to the Caribbean. Pretty cool, right?
The Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail is ideal for spying both local birds and those just traveling. Pack your binoculars, a snack, and your birding book for a gorgeous day of feather spying.
Oakland Nature Preserve: Between Winter Garden and Clermont is the quaint city of Oakland. And in this city sits a 128-acre nature preserve. Called a “hidden gem” by the locals, it offers trail hiking for a bit of exercise and an educational center to get the skinny on how it changed the local environment for the better.
Additionally, if you’d like to just sit and relax, head for the Serenity Porch and breathe a sigh of fresh air relief.
Tibet-Butler Nature Preserve: Light hikers rejoice! The Tibet-Butler Nature Preserve is just over 3 ½ miles of trail for an easy mosey. You’ll meander through a pine forest and part of a swamp, and also check out some Cypress tree knees.
If you’re near Walt Disney World, this one’s definitely a top pick as it’s THISCLOSE to Magic Kingdom.
As travel today remains uncertain, please keep your safety and the safety of others in mind at all times when traveling. If you are comfortable with traveling, please travel responsibly and within regulation as any travel is at your own risk.
If you do decide to travel at this time, here are my recommendations for safety:
- Wear a face mask and, if it’s cloth, wash and dry daily.
- Bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands on a regular basis.
- Check official websites before your trip for the latest updates on policies, closures and status of local businesses. Additionally, check with your state’s policies to determine if you’ll need to quarantine when you return home.
- Book a hotel with free cancellation in case you need to change your plans at the last minute.