20 Fun, Free Things to Do in Orlando (Because Disney Gets Expensive)
When you think of Orlando, you might think Disney.
That’s fair. Heck, I’m a native Floridian, and I thought that most of my life — until I actually moved to Orlando.
Sure, Disney is great and all, but the truth is The City Beautiful has a lot to offer outside the parks. And what’s better? There are plenty of free things to do here — things that don’t cost you hundreds of dollars just to gain entry…
20 Fun Things to Do in Orlando for Free
Whether you live here in Orlando or are planning your next trip, here are 20 free things to do.
1. Winter Park Farmers’ Market
Explore the local vendors at the Winter Park Farmers’ Market, hosted at the old train depot each Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Note: The market is closed on every third Saturday in March due to the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival, one of the oldest and largest outdoor art festivals in the country. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re in town — and it’s free.
Afterwards, explore Park Avenue, which is laced with shops, restaurants, museums and theaters.
2. Lake Eola
Butting up to the heart of downtown Orlando, Lake Eola offers Insta-worthy views, a .9-mile walking sidewalk and some very large swans. (Really, they’re huge.) If you’re there on a Sunday, stop by the market.
Throughout the year, there are tons of free activities (like movie showings), so bookmark this calendar.
3. Lakeridge Winery
Want a real taste of Florida? And maybe a buzz? Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards rests on a 127-acre estate in Clermont, Florida, and serves award-winning wines. A tour and a tasting are free.
Keep an eye on upcoming events, too, like the free summer music series or the grape-stomping competition, which the kids will get into for free and will love.
4. Old Town in Kissimmee
Free to enter and peruse, Old Town is a retro landmark that offers amusement rides, souvenir shops and lots of food options.
On Friday and Saturday nights, secure a spot on the sidewalk, and watch muscle and classic cars make their way down Main Street.
5. Orlando Brewing
Embark on a free tour of Orlando Brewing, Monday through Saturday at 6 p.m. Once you appreciate where the beer comes from, start sippin’.
If you want to do a beer tasting, check Groupon. You can usually find 50%-off deals for parties of two.
6. Big Tree Park
This park was once famous for The Senator, a 3,500-year-old bald cypress tree that burned down in 2012 due to a drug-fueled incident. (Long story.)
Although The Senator no longer remains (RIP), you’ll still find its memorial, as well as its 2,000-year-old sister tree, Lady Liberty.
Plus, there’s a nice trail and playground, and the shade will protect you from the Florida sun.
If you're planning an outdoor activity in the summer, pack plenty of sunscreen and bug spray.
7. Disney Springs
Formerly known as Downtown Disney, Disney Springs is a lakeside corridor of shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment.
You don’t have to spend money to enjoy the lively outdoor atmosphere. There’s also a water taxi you can take from one end to the other. Plus, parking is free, which is hard to come by in Orlando.
Bonus: You’ll find the Lego Store here, a wonderland of blocks that kids — and adults — will get lost in for hours. You don’t have to pay to play!
8. Cornell Fine Arts Museum
On the beautiful campus of Rollins College, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum holds more than 500 paintings and a whole lot of artifacts and archaeological fragments. Plan to stop by for a free 30-minute guided tour.
(Note: It’s closed on Mondays.)
9. Disney’s Boardwalk
Tucked between Epcot and Hollywood Studios, Disney Boardwalk transports you to Coney Island in the 1920s.
Relax a bit as you walk along Crescent Lake, watch the street magicians perform and take in the fragrant funnel cakes. Parking is free.
Pro tip: You can catch the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks display from here, too.
9. CityArts Factory
Tucked between Lake Eola and I-4 in a 130-year-old building, the CityArts Factory houses works from local artists, as well as international pieces — all rotated in and out each month.
Admission is free Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
10. Winter Park
Stop by the Winter Park Historical Museum (in the Winter Park Farmers Market building) to pick up a free walking tour brochure. On it, you’ll find 21 stops, including the Winter Park Railroad Station, Knowles Cottage and the Colony Theatre.
(You can find more walking maps on the City of Winter Park’s website.)
11. Celebration Town Center
This “perfect town” was designed by Disney and is lined with pastel-colored houses and white picket fences. Many people visit to take in the pleasant sights and walk around the lake.
The town’s center is host to a number of dining, entertainment and shopping options. Keep tabs on upcoming events, like exotic car shows and arts strolls.
12. Black Hammock Adventures
Black Hammock Adventures is situated on Lake Jesup, which is home to something like 9,000 gators (the largest concentration of ’em in the States). You also might spot bald eagles, wild boars, bobcats — you name it.
According to its website, you can view free gator feedings — depending on the weather. If you want to splurge, there are airboat rides, too.
13. Cocoa Beach
The closest beach to Orlando is Cocoa Beach, which is about an hour away (depending on where you’re staying).
Parking for the popular Alan Shepard Park is $15, but Lori Wilson Park, right down the road, is free.
There’s even a dog park if your furry friend wants to tag along.
14. Fort Christmas
If you decide to head to the beach, stop by Fort Christmas Historical Park on your way.
Built during the Second Seminole War, the site features a full-size replica of Fort Christmas and seven historical “Cracker-style” homes. Listen to video presentations before enjoying a picnic under one of the pavilions.
Check for free events, too, like the annual bluegrass festival in March and Cracker Christmas in December.
15. Kraft Azalea Garden
Pack a picnic and soak up the serenity this lakeside park offers. Then break out your bird-watching binoculars, and see what you can spot.
The azaleas in Florida tend to bloom from late February to early April if you want a colorful show. If you miss that window, opt for one of Florida’s classic colorful sunsets instead.
16. Grand Bohemian Gallery
If you *heart* art, stop by the beautiful Grand Bohemian Gallery — even if you’re not staying at the hotel.
Parking downtown might be tricky, but use ParkMe to find your cheapest option (like the $2 City Commons Garage).
17. Tasty Tuesdays
The Milk District (named for its proximity to T.G. Lee Dairy) is known for Tasty Tuesdays, a gathering of local food trucks each Tuesday, 6:30-10 p.m. Bring the kids — or your dog — and check out the live music and neighborly festivities.
18. Universal CityWalk
After 6 p.m., park for free, and take in the big lights of Universal CityWalk, which is comparable to Vegas — without the slots.
There’s also a fountain the kids can splash in. In the summer, keep an eye out for free concerts.
19. Chip ’n Dale’s Campfire Sing-a-Long
Saddle in fireside, and join these adorable chipmunks as you roast s’mores and warm up your vocals. You can even snap a photo and snag an autograph.
To save even more money, bring your own marshmallows and sticks. The shenanigans start at 8 p.m.
20. Spook Hill
If you really want to embark on an adventure, head south a ways to Lake Wales. Around 600 N. Wales Dr., you’ll find a sign marking “The Legend of Spook Hill.”
Pull over, and read the story, then follow the directions. Apparently, if you do it right, your car will roll uphill.
The TripAdvisor reviews are mixed, so don’t go too far out of your way for this local haunt.
Bonus: Wekiva Island
Enter this environmentally friendly oasis on the Wekiva River for $2 per person. Hang out dockside, or float around while listening to live bands.
If you want to get adventurous, you can rent a kayak, canoe or paddleboard; a half-day rental costs less than $40. When you get tired, stop by the Tooting Otter for a snack and a craft beer.
Get $1 off beer and wine during happy hour, which runs 5-7 p.m.
Note: We know many of you like to resort pool hop. Unfortunately many hotels don’t appreciate it, so that’s why we didn’t include the suggestion. Get kicked out of your own free will.
Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. This post would have been as messy as I-4 traffic without diligent research from Haley Gonzalez, our writing intern.