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Holidays in Orlando - budget-friendly fun beyond the theme parks

Located in central Florida, Orlando is ideal for a city break or as a stopover on a USA or Florida tour. And while Orlando is an amusement park paradise, that's not all it has to offer.

In fact, Orlando has plenty of budget-friendly activities for families, couples and solo travellers to keep you busy. From beautiful natural landscapes to cultural experiences and unique activities, Orlando offers a wide variety of things to do outside the theme parks.

We've got all the reasons why an Orlando holiday should be at the top of your bucket list. Plus, in order to get you there, we've also got Orlando holiday packages and flights deals with great savings.

When is the best time to visit Orlando, Florida?

Orlando has nice weather all year round, thanks to long, hot summers and mild winters. Average temperatures range from the mid 20s to the low 30s throughout the year, although the summer months are humid, which can make it feel even hotter.

Due to the hot weather and school holidays, summer is a popular time for families to visit Orlando, and it is no wonder that it is also when the city is at its busiest.

If you're looking for an adults-only holiday, we recommend visiting Orlando between mid-November and mid-May. During these months, you will find more comfortable temperatures and fewer crowds, which is a plus when visiting Orlando's attractions.

Of course, there's really no wrong time to visit Orlando for a holiday, as the weather is great and there's plenty to do, no matter when you plan to go.

Entry requirements

While you won’t need a visa to enter the USA, you will need to apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) before your holiday. You can register through the ESTA website. Vaccination proof is no longer required since May 2023.

Getting around Orlando

You'll most likely arrive at one of Orlando's three airports: Orlando International Airport (MCO) around 20 minutes to downtown, Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) about 40 minutes from the main tourism districts, or Melbourne Airport (MLB) around 1 hour south of Orlando. All three of the airports offer easy access to the main tourist districts in Orlando either by taxi, ride-shares or public transport.

While most cities in the US are difficult to get around without a rental car, you don't need one in Orlando! Most hotels and parks offer free shuttle services that are available to everyone. There's also the I-Ride Trolley, which runs between hotels and attractions in the International Drive area.

🏴‍☠️ Pirate Tip: A single ride on the I-Ride Trolley costs $2, but you can save quite a bit of money by buying a day or multi-day pass if you plan to use it to get around Orlando. A one-day pass is $6, while a three-day pass is $8 and a seven-day pass is $16. Find out where it goes here.

Where should I stay?

There are so many options when it comes to places to stay in Orlando that it can be overwhelming when you first start looking. The type of holiday you're looking for will help you narrow down where to stay in Orlando.

If you're interested in a theme park-centric holiday, staying in Orlando's main tourist districts might make the most sense. Those planning to visit Universal Orlando and/or SeaWorld should choose a hotel on or near International Drive, while those planning to visit the Disney parks should stay somewhere near Lake Buena Vista.

If you're looking for a place to stay outside the theme park area, we recommend focusing your search on downtown Orlando, Lake Nona or Winter Park. It's also worth remembering that the further away from the tourist areas you stay, the cheaper your accommodation will be. You can also choose to stay near Orlando International Airport (MCO), where you'll often find cheaper hotel rates.

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Top 5 reasons why an Orlando holiday is a good idea

1. Orlando has more to offer than just its many theme parks

Most of you probably associate Orlando with theme parks, and rightly so! But while Orlando is known for its theme parks, that's not all the city has to offer. There are lots of things to see and do outside of the theme parks, including both indoor and outdoor activities, from eco-friendly activities like kayaking, swimming and hiking, to fun indoor activities like go-karting or arcade games. There are also plenty of places to shop and eat!

2. Orlando is easy to reach

There are several airlines flying direct to Orlando from the UK throughout the year. From Manchester, you can fly with Virgin and Aer Lingus; from London, you can fly with Virgin, Norse and British Airways; and from Edinburgh, you can fly with Virgin. TUI also services eight regional airports around the UK and flies into Melbourne, which is located on Florida’s Space Coast, just 60 minutes south of Orlando.

3. Orlando is affordable

Believe it or not, Orlando is a budget-friendly destination. You can often find direct flights from £390 return during the low season, which runs from January to mid-February. You'll also be able to find cheaper accommodation during this time. And once you're in Orlando, there are plenty of activities that cost $29 or less.

4. Orlando is a great family-friendly destination

Orlando has plenty to do for both kids and adults, alike. Lake Eola Park is a beautiful spot in the city centre for a stroll or a picnic lunch, families love the Orlando Science Centre and the Crayola Experience is a must for those with younger children.

Visit Orlando offers free holiday planning services using local experts.

5. Orlando is a foodie's paradise

If you're anything like us, you'll be making a list of restaurants and bars to visit before you go on holiday. Orlando is one of those places that has a little bit of everything for every budget and taste, from fine dining in Michelin-starred restaurants to food trucks, the options are almost endless. If you're a foodie on a budget, then we recommend heading to the Plant Street Market in historic downtown Winter Garden, where you can choose from 20 different food vendors. Be sure to stop for a cold pint at the award-winning Crooked Can Brewing Company.

🏴‍☠️ Pirate tip: Another budget-friendly dining option: do as the locals do and go to Publix, a local supermarket-chain that has fresh takeaway food.

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Top things to do for an Orlando holiday

  1. Spend the day at one of the resorts of Walt Disney World or Universal Studios

  2. Go kayaking at Shingle Creek or Rock Springs

  3. View Orlando from above as you take a ride on The Wheel at ICON Park®

  4. Take an Orlando Airboat Tour through the wetlands

  5. Shop and dine at Universal CityWalk

  6. Paddle around Lake Eola in a swan-shaped boat

  7. Spot thousands of alligators and crocodiles at Gatorland

  8. Zip line through the trees at Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park

  9. Go to an Orlando Magic basketball game

  10. Get up close to dolphins, stingrays and more at Discovery Cove

Top free things to do in Orlando

Orlando has been ranked by Travel + Leisure as one of the cheapest places to travel in 2023, so you can be sure there'll be plenty of free things to do. While a day at one of the many theme parks is expensive, there are plenty of activities and outdoor spaces outside the parks that are free to enter.

Take a stroll through the Harry P. Leu Gardens

Nature lovers can explore the 50-acre botanical garden, which features a variety of exotic plants and flowers, as well as a butterfly garden. While Leu Gardens charges $15 for adults and $10 for children, admission is free on the first Monday of selected months throughout the year.

Free wine tasting at Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards

We love the phrase "free wine tasting", especially on holiday. Head to Lakeridge Winery for a free 45-minute tour and tasting. The winery also hosts free concerts throughout the summer and winter seasons.

Watch a film under the stars

A night at the cinema can be quite expensive in the States. Orlando, however, has two venues that offer free, family-friendly movie nights under the stars. The first is Movieola, which takes place on the last Friday of every month from April to August at Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando. The second is Popcorn Flicks in the Park, held on the second Thursday of each month in Winter Park.

Listen to opera at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando

Every night at Universal Orlando, the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel hosts Musica della Notte, or "Music of the Night." The evening features traditional opera music as well as popera - a mix of opera and pop. Take the free water taxi from Universal CityWalk to the hotel. The show starts every evening at sunset.

Follow your muse and see some art

Head to Winter Park, where you can visit both the Rollins Museum of Art and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art for free. The Rollins Museum of Art is known for having one of the oldest and most prestigious collections in Florida, with a variety of art ranging from ancient to modern. Admission is always free. Those interested in learning more about American art should visit the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, which houses works by stained glass designer and artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, a major proponent of the Art Nouveau movement. Admission is normally $6, but is free on Fridays from 4pm to 8pm from November to April.