Orlando, Florida, the city of theme parks, theme hotels, and theme attractions, has more to offer than just places with a ‘theme’ label. Yes, the theme labels are fantastical, beautiful, and famous, but there are still many things to see and do in the city. A number of those are completely free, even those with a ‘theme’ label. So, anyone looking to save some money on their trip to Orlando should definitely incorporate some of these plans in their itinerary.

Walk around the Harry P. Leu Gardens

Leu Gardens, Orlando, FL

Leu Gardens is one of the most beautiful places in Orlando

The Harry P. Leu Gardens is a meticulously maintained 50-acre landscaped area with lakes, walkways, giant oak trees, and plots designated to grow over 7,000 other plants such as roses, camellias, citrus and so forth. It is considered by many as an oasis close to the city’s center. The best way to enjoy the Leu Gardens is a walk around the botanical grounds while taking in the sights and smells of the garden and enjoying the tranquility of it all. You can also pack a picnic basket and settle down on the patio of the Garden House Welcome Center. If you have some extra time, take a peek into the 19th century Leu House, which is now turned into a museum.

Free Admission: Only on the first Monday of the month.

Open Hours: 9 AM to 5 PM daily; closed on Christmas Day and reduced open hours on February 14 and April 11.

Extras: Personal photography allowed (and without charge), but pets and bicycles are not allowed.

Take a Hike in the Ocala National Forest

Ocala National Forest

Choose your own Adventure at the Ocala National Forest

Backpackers can hike along any one of the many trails in the Ocala National Forest. This sand pine scrub forest located in the north of Orlando is famous for its scenic lakes, springs, meandering streams, swamps, towering trees, prairies, and the sandhill cranes that are found near the lakes. Although hiking, biking, and camping at a primitive site cost nothing, recreational areas and other activities are chargeable. Some of the hiking trails in Ocala National Forest include the Lake Eaton, Salt Springs, Florida, and St. Francis Trails.

Free Admission: Daily

Open Hours: 24 hours

Extras: Be wary of the Florida black bears that inhabit the forest.

Watch Movies for Free

Move over multiplex movie theatres with your premium-priced snacks and artificial atmosphere. Outdoor movies let one enjoy the fresh evening air and homemade or even cheap-store-bought snacks are the best thing to do in Orlando; and that too for free. On certain days of the week, several parks around the city organize movie showcases from the classics to the popular ones. These parks include Avalon Park (on a few Fridays of the month), Centennial Park (on the third Friday each month), Winter Park (on the second Thursday each month), and Donnelly Park (on the second Friday of the month).

Free Admission: Always, just buy your snacks and get your own seats (blankets or foldable chairs).

Open Hours: Varies for each location (all are after dusk).

Extras: Winter Park and Centennial Park offer free popcorn.

Visit the Town of Celebration

Downtown Celebration

Enjoy a leisurely walk along the lakeside

Celebration is an idyllic town, close to Walt Disney World and just 30 minutes from Orlando. It was created by the Walt Disney Company and has buildings constructed in the 40’s style. You can roam around the town and watch the residents get on with their lives. You can also check out their electric vehicles, which are pretty cool and environmentally friendly. In addition, there are a lot of interesting and cute buildings to look at, especially the school, post office, bank, various shops, restaurants, taverns, medical centers, salons, townhouses, apartment buildings, estates, and the town hall. The market by the lake has a fascinating collection of shops, eating joints and a boutique hotel as well. The gardens and yards are also worth checking out for their beauty and tranquility.

Free Admission: Daily

Open Hours: 24 hours

Extras: During winters, the town (in Florida) gets snow, which is machine generated for obvious reasons. Other events also happen throughout the year. So anytime is a good time to visit.

Watch the Vintage Car Parade in the Old Town

Another cute looking town with an old world charm near Disney, Old Town in Kissimmee is definitely worth a visit, especially during the weekends. Apart from the unique shops and buildings, the town is famous for its ‘Saturday Nite Cruise’, where a parade of more than 300 vintage cars cruises down the streets. In addition, you can enjoy live music every night.

Free Admission: Daily (visit on Saturday for the car cruise)

Open Hours: The town is open 24 hours, but to attend the car event, visit during the evening (it begins at 8:30 PM).

Extras: For a few bucks you can enjoy attractions like bumper cars, laser blast, arcade games, shooting alley, and even a visit to a haunted house.

Roam around the Farmers Markets in Orlando

Farmers' Market

Farmers’ Market offers more than just fresh produce

Fresh groceries, floral scents, handmade arts and crafts, and wafting smells of freshly cooked food, farmers markets are always fun to visit. Orlando has farmers markets in many locations held six days a week, and many of them offer more than just fresh produce. The one at Downtown Orlando in the Lake Eola Park (held on Sundays) has live entertainment, yoga classes, and wine. The Windermere Farmers Market (held on Fridays) has exotic plants, like orchids on offer. The Winter Park Farmers Market (held each Saturday) lets you sample foods from the local restaurants. There is one at Celebration Town (on Sunday), as well, where there are activities that the whole family can enjoy.

Free Admission: Farmers markets are always free to enter. But you will need to buy what you want to take home and eat.

Open Hours: Varies for each market

Extras: You will find more locals than tourists doing their weekly shopping in the farmers markets; so, people-watching is one of the activities you can enjoy.

Check out the Cornell Fine Arts Museum

Cornell Fine Arts Museum

Cornell Fine Arts Museum offers one of oldest art collection in Florida

Thanks to the Dale Montgomery ’60, this fascinating museum is absolutely free to enter and see. It has more than 5,000 pieces of paintings, drawings, photographs, archaeological remains, sculptures, and many other artifacts. The collections’ dates range from the historic era to the modern times. Apart from a permanent collection, the museum showcases temporary selections brought from around the world. While visiting the museum you can also roam around the Rollins College campus and the nearby Winter Park, which is another beautiful place to visit for free!

Free Admission: Completely free thanks to the generosity of Dale Montgomery ‘60.

Open Hours: 10 AM to 4 PM on weekdays, 12 PM to 5 PM on weekends; closed on Mondays, major holidays and for the installation of new exhibits.

Extras: Free parking is also available off Park Avenue in the SunTrust Parking Garage. You will need to validate the parking at the museum though.

Feed the Swans at the Lake Eola Park

Lake Eola Park

Lake Eola Park is one of the most popular parks in Orlando

Lake Eola Park, at Downtown Orlando, is one of the most famous parks in the city, and the most popular free place to visit as well. As the name suggests, the park is beside Lake Eola, which has swan-shaped paddle boats and live swans whom you can feed if one wish to do so. You can also pay for a boat ride around the lake. In general, the park is famous for its serene ambience in the middle of the city. Residents living nearby use the park for their morning jogs, leisurely walks, weekend shopping in the farmers market, holiday picnics, celebrating birthdays, 4th of July, and other festivals, concerts, as well as for watching outdoor movies. You can live like a local and experience the tranquility and family fun offered by, what everyone refers to as, Orlando’s Central Park.

Free Admission: Daily

Open Hours: 6 AM to 12 AM

Extras: The fountain in the Lake Eola Park is Orlando’s official icon. If you are visiting the park at night, do not forget to see the musically choreographed fountain show at around 8 PM and 9:30 PM.

Ride the Disney Monorail

The Walt Disney World in Orlando has a number of resorts and amusement parks which are connected by boats, buses, and trains. The best part is that even though you need to pay for staying in the resorts or entering the amusement parks, you can still take the monorail trains and enjoy the delightful views for free. The monorail has two routes and runs at regular intervals, one around the Magic Kingdom Park and the Disney Resorts, and the other makes a round trip to the Epcot Theme Park. To enjoy the ride, all you need to do is stand in the designated pickup points located along the route. When the rail comes, simply get on it and ride away.

Free Admission: Daily

Open Hours: Starts an hour before the earliest park opening and ends an hour after the latest park closing time.

Extras: The Epcot Monorail is considered the most scenic among the two, especially for the view of the iconic Spaceship Earth along the way.

Get the Disney experience minus rides in Downtown Disney

Downtown Disney

Shop, dine and entertain yourself at Downtown Disney

Downtown Disney is a popular place for people looking to indulge in shopping, eating, and enjoying some live entertainment. The entire Disney experience requires no admission fee and allows you to marvel at the stunning buildings that house stores, restaurants, and hotels on Pleasure Island. There are great Disney souvenirs that you can buy, and even a food truck selling Disney themed food. However, the charges can be on the higher side. The best free thing here is the LEGO Imagination Center, where kids are allowed to play with LEGO bricks and make their own constructions for no charge whatsoever.

Free Admission: Daily

Open Hours: 10 AM to midnight; but some of the cafes and stores start earlier.

Extras: Parking is free too. Arrive early to get a spot


Image credits : Karen KleisBobak Ha’EriThesupermat , Joe MabelEbyabeLoadmaster

Published On: Tuesday, March 31st, 2015