20 Orlando area tourist attractions that are actually worth the struggle

Orlando might be home to the most magical place on Earth, but sometimes it's hard to believe that when you're backed up for hours and screaming out your window on Interstate 4 near the Disney Springs exit. However, when it comes to bad traffic, hordes of screaming kids and blazing heat, there are a few local attractions that are actually worth the struggle.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, 6000 Universal Blvd., universalorlando.com
OK, hear us out. Yes, you will be run over at some point by a rampaging cheerleading team from Texas. Yes, you will be waiting in ungodly-long lines that suck your soul out, Dementor-style. But it's downright heretical not to go and experience the magic of Hogwarts Castle, roam the streets of Diagon Alley and travel underground to the Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Pro tip: Guests staying at Universal resorts get early admittance to the parks.
Photo via Universal Studios

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, 6000 Universal Blvd., universalorlando.com
OK, hear us out. Yes, you will be run over at some point by a rampaging cheerleading team from Texas. Yes, you will be waiting in ungodly-long lines that suck your soul out, Dementor-style. But it's downright heretical not to go and experience the magic of Hogwarts Castle, roam the streets of Diagon Alley and travel underground to the Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Pro tip: Guests staying at Universal resorts get early admittance to the parks.

Photo via Universal Studios
Tibet-Butler Preserve
Tibet-Butler Preserve, 8777 Winter Garden Vineland Road, orangecountyfl.net
Located on the shore of Lake Butler, the natural area has nearly 4 miles of trails snaking around many of Florida’s major habitats. The trail serves as a mental health break for Disney-goers escaping noisey theme parks and a chance for West Orlando urbanites to get lost in their backyards.
Photo via brandenburg_w

Tibet-Butler Preserve

Tibet-Butler Preserve, 8777 Winter Garden Vineland Road, orangecountyfl.net
Located on the shore of Lake Butler, the natural area has nearly 4 miles of trails snaking around many of Florida’s major habitats. The trail serves as a mental health break for Disney-goers escaping noisey theme parks and a chance for West Orlando urbanites to get lost in their backyards.

Photo via brandenburg_w
Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens, 3755 NW Hwy 17-92, Sanford, centralfloridazoo.org
Hang out with over 400 animals that represent nearly 200 species, whether they be including venomous and non-venemous reptiles or cute domestic animals. You can feed the giraffes or brush up on your bear knowledge at the Florida black bear exhibit geared towards educating residents. The zoo’s zipline and obstacle course is a must. Adults 21 and over can listen to live music after 5:30pm.
Photo via Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens/Facebook

Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens, 3755 NW Hwy 17-92, Sanford, centralfloridazoo.org
Hang out with over 400 animals that represent nearly 200 species, whether they be including venomous and non-venemous reptiles or cute domestic animals. You can feed the giraffes or brush up on your bear knowledge at the Florida black bear exhibit geared towards educating residents. The zoo’s zipline and obstacle course is a must. Adults 21 and over can listen to live music after 5:30pm.

Photo via Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens/Facebook
Bok Tower Gardens
Bok Tower Gardens, 1151 Tower Blvd., Lake Wales, boktowergardens.org
Find all the natural wonders of Florida in one place, right on the outskirts of Orlando's suburbs. Tour the botanical gardens designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. as you listen to the carillon bells coming from the iconic neo-Gothic Singing Tower.
Photo via Bok Tower Gardens/Facebook

Bok Tower Gardens

Bok Tower Gardens, 1151 Tower Blvd., Lake Wales, boktowergardens.org
Find all the natural wonders of Florida in one place, right on the outskirts of Orlando's suburbs. Tour the botanical gardens designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. as you listen to the carillon bells coming from the iconic neo-Gothic Singing Tower.

Photo via Bok Tower Gardens/Facebook
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, State Road 405, east of Titusville, kennedyspacecenter.com
Get a glimpse of the future at Florida's gateway to space. Watch a live rocket launch, take a tour of the 363-foot Saturn V that took American astronauts to the moon and back, and even see the lunar dust still clinging to astronaut Alan Shepard's spacesuit. There's a lot to see at each of NASA's 10 field centers, so get there early.
Photo via Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex/Facebook

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, State Road 405, east of Titusville, kennedyspacecenter.com
Get a glimpse of the future at Florida's gateway to space. Watch a live rocket launch, take a tour of the 363-foot Saturn V that took American astronauts to the moon and back, and even see the lunar dust still clinging to astronaut Alan Shepard's spacesuit. There's a lot to see at each of NASA's 10 field centers, so get there early.

Photo via Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex/Facebook
Fun Spot America
Fun Spot America, 2850 Florida Plaza Blvd., Kissimmee, fun-spot.com
Steps away from the kitschy Old Town shops, Fun Spot America features a plethora of carnival-type attractions, including a four-story go-kart track, a vomit-inducing flight on the world's tallest SkyCoaster and the new Mine Blower wooden roller coaster, which features an 80-foot drop.
Photo via Fun Spot/Facebook

Fun Spot America

Fun Spot America, 2850 Florida Plaza Blvd., Kissimmee, fun-spot.com
Steps away from the kitschy Old Town shops, Fun Spot America features a plethora of carnival-type attractions, including a four-story go-kart track, a vomit-inducing flight on the world's tallest SkyCoaster and the new Mine Blower wooden roller coaster, which features an 80-foot drop.

Photo via Fun Spot/Facebook
Wild Willy’s Airboat Tours
Wild Willy’s Airboat Tours, 4715 Kissimmee Park Road, St. Cloud, wildwillysairboattours.com
If you thought Gatorland was tame, get a load of this airboat adventure on Lake Tohopekaliga in Osceola County. Explore a natural marsh and get close to the sharp-toothed critters that make it their home (not too close!). After ward, get gutsy and munch some quality gator meat.
Photo via Wild Willy’s Airboat Tours/Facebook

Wild Willy’s Airboat Tours

Wild Willy’s Airboat Tours, 4715 Kissimmee Park Road, St. Cloud, wildwillysairboattours.com
If you thought Gatorland was tame, get a load of this airboat adventure on Lake Tohopekaliga in Osceola County. Explore a natural marsh and get close to the sharp-toothed critters that make it their home (not too close!). After ward, get gutsy and munch some quality gator meat.

Photo via Wild Willy’s Airboat Tours/Facebook
Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, 445 S. Magnolia Ave., drphillipscenter.org
One of Orlando’s arts and culture staples, the space hosts comedians, concerts, ballets, broadway shows, and more. You don’t have to pay major bucks for a good view, drinks are permitted inside the theaters, you can pre-purchase drinks and snacks for intermission at one of the bars. Make plans to arrive at least 20 minutes before your production begins; although there’s plenty of space to pass between aisles and take your seat, you don’t want to be that person.
Photo via Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts/Facebook

Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, 445 S. Magnolia Ave., drphillipscenter.org
One of Orlando’s arts and culture staples, the space hosts comedians, concerts, ballets, broadway shows, and more. You don’t have to pay major bucks for a good view, drinks are permitted inside the theaters, you can pre-purchase drinks and snacks for intermission at one of the bars. Make plans to arrive at least 20 minutes before your production begins; although there’s plenty of space to pass between aisles and take your seat, you don’t want to be that person.

Photo via Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts/Facebook
Epcot
Epcot, 200 Epcot Center Drive, Lake Buena Vista, disneyworld.disney.go.com
Has Epcot has been named a "tourist trap" before? Yes. Does that make it less worthy of a visit? No, and here's why: This Disney staple hosts boozy food and drink festivals pretty much year-round. There's the International Food and Wine Festival, the Flower & Garden Festival and the International Festival of the Arts. Find your favorite adult and take some tipsy trips around the world.
Photo via Disney

Epcot

Epcot, 200 Epcot Center Drive, Lake Buena Vista, disneyworld.disney.go.com
Has Epcot has been named a "tourist trap" before? Yes. Does that make it less worthy of a visit? No, and here's why: This Disney staple hosts boozy food and drink festivals pretty much year-round. There's the International Food and Wine Festival, the Flower & Garden Festival and the International Festival of the Arts. Find your favorite adult and take some tipsy trips around the world.

Photo via Disney
Aquatica Orlando
Aquatica Orlando, 5800 Water Play Way, Orlando, aquaticabyseaworld.com
For anyone looking to cool off from the sweltering Florida sun year-round, Seaworld’s Aquatica waterpark is a godsend. If you want take a break between the park’s water slides, rides, wave pools (including an underwater aquarium river), the park offers a great variety of beaches and beer options to relax. If you plan on going for the day, save $20 by ordering advance tickets online a day before your visit or buy an annual $60 Fun Card. The hype may be around Volcano Bay, but they’re still working out the kinks.
Photo via Aquatica Orlando/facebook

Aquatica Orlando

Aquatica Orlando, 5800 Water Play Way, Orlando, aquaticabyseaworld.com
For anyone looking to cool off from the sweltering Florida sun year-round, Seaworld’s Aquatica waterpark is a godsend. If you want take a break between the park’s water slides, rides, wave pools (including an underwater aquarium river), the park offers a great variety of beaches and beer options to relax. If you plan on going for the day, save $20 by ordering advance tickets online a day before your visit or buy an annual $60 Fun Card. The hype may be around Volcano Bay, but they’re still working out the kinks.

Photo via Aquatica Orlando/facebook
Gatorland
Gatorland, 14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail, gatorland.com
How can anyone say no to a place that bills itself the "Alligator Capital of the World"? Mostly off the beaten tourist path, this eco-preserve is home to thousands of terrifying reptiles, and unlike your neighborhood gator, you can actually feed these. Watch alligators and crocodiles wrestle with trainers or zipline above their breeding marsh.
Photo via Gatorland/Facebook

Gatorland

Gatorland, 14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail, gatorland.com
How can anyone say no to a place that bills itself the "Alligator Capital of the World"? Mostly off the beaten tourist path, this eco-preserve is home to thousands of terrifying reptiles, and unlike your neighborhood gator, you can actually feed these. Watch alligators and crocodiles wrestle with trainers or zipline above their breeding marsh.

Photo via Gatorland/Facebook
ICON Park
Icon Park, 8375 International Drive, i-drive360.com
One of Orlando's newer attractions is smack-dab in the middle of International Drive, but it's worth the trouble. Swing from a capsule in the slow-moving observation wheel, try some of the unique restaurants, gawk at the octopus in the Sea Life Aquarium or spend a couple of hours locating your favorite celebrity at Madame Tussauds wax museum.
Photo via I-Drive 360/Facebook

ICON Park

Icon Park, 8375 International Drive, i-drive360.com
One of Orlando's newer attractions is smack-dab in the middle of International Drive, but it's worth the trouble. Swing from a capsule in the slow-moving observation wheel, try some of the unique restaurants, gawk at the octopus in the Sea Life Aquarium or spend a couple of hours locating your favorite celebrity at Madame Tussauds wax museum.

Photo via I-Drive 360/Facebook
Harry P. Leu Gardens
Harry P. Leu Gardens, 1920 N. Forest Ave., leugardens.org
This botanical paradise is minutes away from downtown Orlando and has the added bonus of being a mostly-locals hangout (no tourists!). Home to the largest formal rose garden in Florida, this treasure-filled green space is also host to a bamboo forest, a butterfly garden, one of the largest and oldest live oak trees in the city and the historic 19th-century Leu House Museum.
Photo via Harry P. Leu Gardens/Facebook

Harry P. Leu Gardens

Harry P. Leu Gardens, 1920 N. Forest Ave., leugardens.org
This botanical paradise is minutes away from downtown Orlando and has the added bonus of being a mostly-locals hangout (no tourists!). Home to the largest formal rose garden in Florida, this treasure-filled green space is also host to a bamboo forest, a butterfly garden, one of the largest and oldest live oak trees in the city and the historic 19th-century Leu House Museum.

Photo via Harry P. Leu Gardens/Facebook
Mango’s Tropical Cafe Orlando
Mango’s Tropical Cafe Orlando, 1486 Buena Vista Drive, mangos.com
While the original Mango’s Tropical Cafe is in South Beach, the Orlando location near International Drive is just as entertaining as its Miami counterpart. The venue includes a Latin and Caribbean restaurant with live music every night, eight bars, a dance floor, and four lounges. There are also several live dance performances; the Cuban Conga show is a crowd favorite as guests can join performers on the dance floor.
Photo via Mango’s Tropical Cafe Orlando/Facebook

Mango’s Tropical Cafe Orlando

Mango’s Tropical Cafe Orlando, 1486 Buena Vista Drive, mangos.com
While the original Mango’s Tropical Cafe is in South Beach, the Orlando location near International Drive is just as entertaining as its Miami counterpart. The venue includes a Latin and Caribbean restaurant with live music every night, eight bars, a dance floor, and four lounges. There are also several live dance performances; the Cuban Conga show is a crowd favorite as guests can join performers on the dance floor.

Photo via Mango’s Tropical Cafe Orlando/Facebook
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, 445 N. Park Ave., Winter Park, morsemuseum.org
With its singular collection of art glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the Morse Museum is the perfect place to take those fancy out-of-town relatives you want to impress. For all its elegance, this Winter Park museum is pretty affordable and open to the public six days a week. (Holiday hint: It has a huge and well-stocked gift shop.)
Photo via Morse Museum/Facebook

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, 445 N. Park Ave., Winter Park, morsemuseum.org
With its singular collection of art glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the Morse Museum is the perfect place to take those fancy out-of-town relatives you want to impress. For all its elegance, this Winter Park museum is pretty affordable and open to the public six days a week. (Holiday hint: It has a huge and well-stocked gift shop.)

Photo via Morse Museum/Facebook
Silver Springs State Park
Silver Springs State Park, 5656 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Silver Springs, silversprings.com
Located at the base of Ocala National Forest, Silver Springs State Park is one of the largest artesian springs in the world. Ride one of the glass bottom boats over the translucent waters or set up camp in one of the spacious campground areas. The park is a great spot to see manatees swimming in the clear water, but watch out for feral rhesus macaque monkeys.
Photo via Silver Springs State Park/Facebook

Silver Springs State Park

Silver Springs State Park, 5656 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Silver Springs, silversprings.com
Located at the base of Ocala National Forest, Silver Springs State Park is one of the largest artesian springs in the world. Ride one of the glass bottom boats over the translucent waters or set up camp in one of the spacious campground areas. The park is a great spot to see manatees swimming in the clear water, but watch out for feral rhesus macaque monkeys.

Photo via Silver Springs State Park/Facebook
Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour
Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour, 312 E. Morse Blvd., Winter Park, scenicboattours.com
Explore the back-channels of Winter Park’s lakes and hidden canals in a narrated, hour-long tour offering a different perspective of the historic city. Learn about the opulent private homes and estates of rich and famous residents, along with a comprehensive look into Winter Park’s history. Make sure you bring a hat as the boats aren’t covered (although the canals offer some nice shade). Get there early since the tours are popular with both locals and tourists (cash only; first come first serve).
Photo via Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour/Facebook

Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour

Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour, 312 E. Morse Blvd., Winter Park, scenicboattours.com
Explore the back-channels of Winter Park’s lakes and hidden canals in a narrated, hour-long tour offering a different perspective of the historic city. Learn about the opulent private homes and estates of rich and famous residents, along with a comprehensive look into Winter Park’s history. Make sure you bring a hat as the boats aren’t covered (although the canals offer some nice shade). Get there early since the tours are popular with both locals and tourists (cash only; first come first serve).

Photo via Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour/Facebook
Disney Springs
Disney Springs, 1486 Buena Vista Drive, disneysprings.com
Yes, it's connected to the theme park, but residents forget that Disney Springs, in all its incarnations, was made for locals to enjoy. There’s an abundance of restaurants and shops and a waterfront boardwalk that highlights the 1900s Floridian theme. It's also nice if you want a bit of Disney magic without the commitment of expensive tickets and long queues. 
Photo via Disney Springs/Facebook

Disney Springs

Disney Springs, 1486 Buena Vista Drive, disneysprings.com
Yes, it's connected to the theme park, but residents forget that Disney Springs, in all its incarnations, was made for locals to enjoy. There’s an abundance of restaurants and shops and a waterfront boardwalk that highlights the 1900s Floridian theme. It's also nice if you want a bit of Disney magic without the commitment of expensive tickets and long queues.

Photo via Disney Springs/Facebook
Orlando Science Center
Orlando Science Center, 777 E. Princeton St., osc.org
One of the most educational experiences in Orlando, the Science Center features interactive permanent and traveling exhibits, a cinedome with the largest format film in the world, and programming and events that’ll bring out your inner science nerd.
Photo via OSC/FAcebook

Orlando Science Center

Orlando Science Center, 777 E. Princeton St., osc.org
One of the most educational experiences in Orlando, the Science Center features interactive permanent and traveling exhibits, a cinedome with the largest format film in the world, and programming and events that’ll bring out your inner science nerd.

Photo via OSC/FAcebook
Wekiwa Springs State Park
Wekiwa Springs State Park, 1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka, floridastateparks.org
A popular hangout spot for locals and tourists alike, this cool, crystalline spring is the perfect weekend getaway as long as you get there early enough. During the summer, noon is too late – the park is usually already at capacity. Enjoy snorkeling, kayaking or just chilling at the area's favorite watering hole, Wekiva Island.
Photo via Wekiwa Springs State Park/Facebook

Wekiwa Springs State Park

Wekiwa Springs State Park, 1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka, floridastateparks.org
A popular hangout spot for locals and tourists alike, this cool, crystalline spring is the perfect weekend getaway as long as you get there early enough. During the summer, noon is too late – the park is usually already at capacity. Enjoy snorkeling, kayaking or just chilling at the area's favorite watering hole, Wekiva Island.

Photo via Wekiwa Springs State Park/Facebook