Do you remember the opening scene of Lethal Weapon 3? Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are playing real life mine sweeper. They cut the wrong cable and have to run for their life (‘Grab the cat!) from an imploding building. That building was Orlando’s old Town Hall. The city was so happy to demolish it and build a new one they decided to immortalise the demolition scene in a blockbuster movie. That’s how cool Orlando is!
The city has much more to offer than theme parks (which undoubtedly are what made it a world famous tourist destination). It’s been estimated that experiencing all of Orlando’s attractions would take no fewer than 67 days. However, there’s no need to worry if you don’t have that much time. We’ve got a rundown of the city’s top sights and activities and tips on how to get there without breaking the bank.
Orlando is the biggest inland city in Florida and is served by an international airport located six miles from the city centre. After Miami International, Orlando International is the second busiest airport in the Orange State with nearly 38 million passengers handled every year.
There are fewer direct international flights to Orlando than to Miami, so for many travellers it might be cheaper to fly there. Frequent cheap flights operate between Miami and Orlando with tickets for the one hour journey starting at around 60 USD. Travelling by bus or a rented car is also a good option as the distance is only 230 miles.
The busiest airport in the USA, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, is located just over 400 miles (six hours by car) away from Orlando. Regular cheap flights to Orlando depart from Atlanta every day with best airfare starting at under 100 USD.
In 1838, during the Seminole Wars (between a coalition of Native American tribes and the US), the US Army built a fort to help push away Indians attacking the new settlers. Under the army protection their settlement grew rapidly and it was incorporated as a town in 1875 with 85 inhabitants.
Orlando quickly became the citrus capital of the country, producing most of its orange juice which in turn was a pillar of Orlando’s economy.
In 1962 the first civilian airport was built raising Orlando’s importance. A year later the University of Central Florida was founded and it’s since grown to be the country’s second biggest academic institution.
In 1965 Walt Disney announced plans to build his theme park in Orlando sealing the city’s fate as a world class tourist destination.
Present day Orlando is inhabited by 250 thousand people and is visited by a whopping 51 million tourists a year. Forty seven million are domestic travellers giving testimony to the rapid expansion of budget airlines network offering cheap flights to Orlando from all over the States.
Orlando Magic is not only an NBA team, it’s a national institution. Head to see a basketball game and you won’t be disappointed.
Located on Lake Ivanhoe, the Orlando's Botanical Garden is one of the most beautiful of its kind and it offers a moment of peace and quiet among the Mickey Mouse style thrills of the city. It might just be the perfect place for parents craving some relaxation while their kids participate in one of the theme parks’ organised activities.
American Art Museum is also an unmissable sight as somewhat surprisingly it holds the country's biggest collection of Tiffany glass.
Orlando’s also famous for it’s incredible wine bars, micro breweries of organic beers and excellent spas. However, most of the tourists coming to the city want just one thing: theme parks.
Orlando might just be the world’s capital of theme parks. For many families with children visiting the parks is enough of a reason to book a trip. Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure park is divided into sections that allow visitors to transport themselves straight into the worlds of Jurassic Park, Marvel Super Heroes, Harry Potter and others. It tops the list of Orlando’s parks but it’s hardly the only one worth seeing.
Next up is the famous Disney World so big that it could fit the entirity of Manhattan twice over! Disney Hollywood Studios offer classic, exciting rollercoaster rides and movie themed adventures fit for guests of any age. There’s something for pirates and something for princesses and even something for the Aerosmith fans!
Aquatica SeaWorld’s Water Park is probably our favourite. With its monster rollercoasters, unexpected water sprays and wildlife encounters it’s a truly exciting and educational day out for the whole family.
Other excellent parks include Wet’n Wild, Typhoon Lagoon, Orlando’s Science Centre and the Discovery Cove.
You can’t visit Florida and miss out on its amazing beaches. The nearest from Orlando is New Smyrna with golden sand stretching for over 10 kilometres of the Atlantic Ocean coast. The drive takes about 1.5 hours.
All nature lovers must visit the Everglades National Park near Miami to take a boat ride through the swampy mangrove wilderness. Interestingly, the Everglades is the only place in the US where crocodiles and alligators live side by side.
Florida is often referred to as the Sunshine State. It’s not entirely appropriate as on average there are only 89 clear days a year. The average temperature is the lowest in January (15 degrees) and the highest in August (28 degrees). However, in December and January there are on average two days where it drops below freezing, while on the hottest day of the year the temperature might soar to 38 degrees.
The prime time to visit Orlando and the rest of Florida is… all year round. However, as most of the visitors are families with children, the times to avoid are US spring break in March and UK half-term weeks. Summer holidays are also usually very busy, especially around Independence Day. Luckily, July and August are also the wettest months, so by avoiding them you won’t miss out on Florida’s sunshine.
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