Orlando has been a firm favorite among tourists for decades, with millions making their way to the Florida city every year.
In 2016, a record 68 million people visited Orlando – making it TripAdvisor’s sixth most popular destination in the United States.
However, last year's stats also noticed a decline in ticket sales for the town's famous theme parks.
So, where are creative travelers going now? Many choose to use Orlando as a base, and hire a car to explore nearby hotspots. Others seek out other forms of stimulation inside the city itself.
1. CATCH WAVES IN ST. PETERSBURG
Ready for the beach? Drive to the scenic seaside getaway of St. Petersburg. Less than two hours away from Downtown Orlando, “St. Pete’s” is home to a number of beautiful beaches, gardens and museums. It’s also an ideal location for amateur surfers to learn the basics of boarding.
Meanwhile, culture fans can get their kicks at the nearby Dali Museum or the Morean Arts Center.
2. SWIM WITH MANATEES AT CRYSTAL RIVER
Once mistaken for mermaids, endangered West Indian manatees now flock to Florida’s waters. Drive the 90-minute journey from Orlando to Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge for a chance to swim alongside these majestic creatures.
November to March is the best time to spot manatees in the wild, as water temperatures cool down. Just make sure to read the refuge’s guide to treating wild manatees with respect.
3. SOAK UP HISTORY IN ST. AUGUSTINE
Spanish settlers founded the city of St. Augustine in the 16th century, making it the oldest European settlement in the US. The remnants of this long history are clear in this little town, with its wonderful museums and stunning architecture.
Around one hour and 40 minutes from Orlando, it’s worlds apart from the theme parks and tourist attractions normally associated with Florida.
Avoid the touristy maps and guides, and simply enjoy the fine dining, intimate pubs and cobbled streets dotted around St. Augustine.
4. TRY 'GLOW-IN-THE-DARK' KAYAKING
Kayaking becomes a little more magical when you drive to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. As you paddle your way through the Indian River Lagoon, tiny microorganisms called dinoflagellates emit a green-blue light in a similar way to fireflies.
The result is a mind-blowing natural light show and plenty of amazing photo opportunities!
5. STROLL AROUND LAKE EOLA PARK
Nestled in the hustle and bustle of Downtown Orlando, this oasis of calm is an ideal escape from the stresses of being a tourist. Lake Eola is actually a sinkhole, and is best known for its fountain.
The park also plays host to events like Come Out With Pride in October, as well as farmer’s markets, Kung Fu classes and yoga sessions.
- Book your accommodation now. Hotels in Orlando are busy all year round, and can skyrocket in price if you don’t organize on time. Find great deals on hotels, tours and other essentials at Travel.com.
- If you want to cool down with an ice-cold beer, check out Crooked Can Brewing Co. or Ten 10 Brewing Company in Orlando for deliciously artisan options.
- Feeling adventurous? Flying to Havana, Cuba from Orlando takes just one hour and 40 minutes. Here are all the tips you need to make it a trip to remember.