Almost every Florida trip itinerary starts with at least one day in Orlando. Located in central Florida, Orlando is the most popular tourist destination in United States. Over 75 million visitors from the US and around the world roam around Orlando every year.
Among travellers, Orlando is most renowned for its world-famous theme parks. Attractions like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, and SeaWorld steal the show. Of course, you could spend your first 24 hours in Orlando at any one of them. But park hopping is a little too obvious. Instead, let’s go for a little adventure.
Beyond its family-friendly attractions, Orlando is a great city to explore. The city teems with museums and art galleries set between leafy parks & gardens and shimmering lakes. Roaming the streets, you can slip into trendy cafés, restaurants, bistros, and brewpubs.
Don’t know where to go in Orlando in one day without stepping foot in a theme park? Follow along with this complete 1-day Orlando itinerary.
Where to go in Orlando in one day: A complete 24-hour itinerary
Fuel up with coffee in Winter Park
To start your one day in Orlando, wake up and head to the suburb of Winter Park. Located north of downtown Orlando, Winter Park is pleasant city known for its outdoor spaces, museums & art galleries.
Downtown Winter Park centres around North Park Avenue. Stroll around its charming central shopping district. Settle down at one of its cool cafés to fuel up with a coffee & breakfast. For a more local feel, skip Starbucks and try Barnie’s Coffee & Tea Co. on S Park Avenue.
Walk around the Mead Botanical Garden
From Downtown Winter Park is about 30 minute walk or less than a 10 minute drive to Mead Botanical Garden. The 47.6-acre garden spans several different ecosystems. You’ll wander past beautiful flower gardens, ponds, and even a butterfly garden.
Mead Botanical Garden is also listed on the Great Florida Birding Trail. Bring your binoculars. Walking along its pathways, you can spot species like great blue herons, cardinals, and woodpeckers.
The garden is a wonderful place to visit earlier in the morning on your first 24 hours in Orlando. It’s at its quietest during the first couple hours after its 8am opening. Admission is free.
Browse the Orlando Museum of Art
From Mead Botanical Garden, it’s a 30- to 35-minute walk to the next stop on your Orlando itinerary, Orlando Museum of Art. Skip the most direct walking route. Instead, opt for the more scenic walk via Lake Shore Drive. The road skims along the shores of Lake Sue and Lake Rowena. Alternatively, it’s a 5-minute drive to the museum via North Mills Avenue.
The Orlando Museum of Art is located in Loch Haven Park between Lake Estelle and Lake Formosa. Opened in 1924, the museum has amassed a collection of 2,400 artefacts. The exhibits focus mostly on modern American art and African art. The museum also hosts one of the largest collections of ancient American art in the Southeastern USA.
The museum neighbours several other excellent museums & art galleries. If art isn’t your thing or you’re travelling with kids, head next door to the Orlando Science Center instead. For more American art, The Mennello Museum of American Art is just south of the park, too.
Chill out at Harry P Leu Gardens
From the Orlando Museum of Art, walk along the northern shore of Lake Rowena. Within about 25 minutes you’ll land yourself at Harry P Leu Gardens. If you’re driving, it should take less than 10 minutes.
Harry P Leu Gardens spans almost 50 acres of tropical & sub-tropical gardens. Wander among its trails, shaded under oaks dating back hundreds of years. On the way, you’ll stroll alongside hundreds of exotic flora species from around the world. Most prominent is the collection of over 200 vareities of camellias.
For history buffs, the gardens are also home to Leu House Museum. Although currently at limited capacity, you can tour the National Historical Register home daily between 10am and 1pm. (Leu House Museum is closed on Mondays.)
Enjoy lunch in Colonialtown
Harry P Leu Gardens sits on the northern edge of Colonialtown. Continue your tour of Orlando in one day in Orlando with a short walk into this charming neighbourhood.
Colonialtown is renowned for its eclectic dining scene. Along North Mills Avenue and East Colonial Drive lie hip restaurants, cafés, tapas bars, and brewpubs. Its the perfect place to stop for a lunch break.
The area is most popular for its Asian cuilinary scene. Grab classic Southeast Asia-inspired fare at Hawkers Asian Street Food or Malaysian at Mamak Asian Street Food.
Relax at Lake Eola Park
After you’ve fuelled up in Colonialtown, it’s a 30-minute or 5-minute drive to Lake Eola Park. The park is an oasis in Orlando’s Central Business District. From the lake’s eastern shores, you’ll enjoy fantastic views across the water to downtown.
Stroll around Lake Eola Park, spotting ducks and swans along the lakeshore. If you’ve got extra time, you can even rent a paddleboat for a leisurely paddle around Lake Eola.
Beer lovers can pop into the World of Beer on the southern edge of the park. This popular gastropub features a menu of over 500 beers from around the world.
Visiting Lake Eola Park on a Sunday? Be sure to also carve out time to visit the Orlando Farmers Market. The weekly vendors market takes place in the southeastern corner of the park.
Stroll around Thornton Park
Just east of Lake Eola Park lies Thornton Park. This charming residential neighbourhood is often listed as one of the best places to live in Orlando. It’s full of great restaurants, cafés, wine bars, and craft beer joints.
Dubbed as “Downtown for Grownups,” Thornton Park centres around Washington Street. Along the drag, you can enjoy drinks & snacks from morning till night. A few of the most popular stops include burgers at Graffiti Junktion and craft beer & street food at Falcon Bar & Gallery.
Enjoy dinner & drinks in Downtown Orlando
From Thornton Park, it’s less than a mile west to the heart of Downtown Orlando. The downtown centres around Central Boulevard and Orange Avenue. The area presents some of the city’s best eating, drinking, and entertainment options. It’s a great place to end a day of sightseeing.
Among the restaurant selection are taquerias, burger joints, and international bistros. For pub grub and drinks in a laid-back trendy setting, check out Downtown PourHouse. Or to tackle your steak & seafood cravings, cocktail in hand, pop into the Kres Chophouse.
Where to stay with 24 hours in Orlando
As with any popular tourist destination, choosing where to stay in Orlando isn’t always simple. For this time-crunched travel plan, the best area to stay is in the city centre. It’ll allow you to stick close to the all the action. If you’re more interested in the theme parks, consider staying outside of the city centre.
Like all the hotels in its portfolio, this Aloft hotel sits in the heart of the city centre. Its characteristic funky room designs are sure to charm. You’ll also love cooling down in the outdoor pool.
For a little extra space, grab a room at this mid-range hotel. All the suites centre around a spacious sitting area for your comfort. Amenities include an outdoor pool and fitness centre.
One of the city’s top luxury hotels, the Grand Bohemian Hotel is bound to get your attention. The hotel sits in the city’s Arts District. Rooms showcase regal elegance mixed with modern amenities. The views from the rooftop pool are outstanding.
More Orlando itinerary ideas
Walt Disney World Resort
Travelling to Orlando with kids? There’s a chance you’ll spend much of your Orlando trip itinerary at Walt Disney World Resort. The world-famous Disney World consists of four separate theme parks. Each section of the park could take a full day to explore on its own.
The most popular section of the park is the Magic Kingdom. Visiting Magic Kingdom, you’ll stroll along Main Street USA as Disney’s most famous characters pop into your selfies. The section of the park is also home to its most recognizable landmark, Cinderella’s Castle.
Your little future travellers will love spending time at Epcot. For thrills, drop into Future World, home to the theme park’s two main rides. At World Showcase, you’ll stroll through 11 different exhibits based on countries around the globe.
Movie buffs will relish the chance to relive their favourite Disney movies at Hollywood Studios. Animal lovers will likewise love spotting exotic species at Animal Kingdom.
Don’t want to pay to enter the park? Head over to Disney Springs. Formerly known as Downtown Disney, Disney Springs is an outdoor shopping plaza covering 120 acres. At Disney Springs, spend time shopping along the main street. There’s also a handful of theme restaurants for the whole family to enjoy a fun meal.
Universal Orlando Resort
Love the silver screen? Carve out in your Orlando trip plan for Universal Orlando Resort. Like Disney World, Universal Orlando is worthy of several days on its own.
One of the most popular Orlando attractions, the resort splits into three separate parks. Most famous is Universal Studios Florida. At this entertainment complex, you’ll be immersed into the world of some of your favourite movies and TV shows. Universal Studios Florida is home to half of popular The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
For more thrills, zip over to Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Celebrating over 20 years of history, Universal’s Islands of Adventure is home to eight theme islands. It’s also home to several roller coasters including The Incredible Hulk Coaster.
Elsewhere, you can cool down at the new waterpark, Volcano Bay. Or take a stroll and to grab a bite to eat along the Vegas-like Universal City Walk.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
One of the best day trips from Orlando, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex lies about an hour east of the city. The popular tourist attraction is the visitors’ area of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.
For space enthuasiasts, no Orlando attraction is more fascinating than the Kennedy Space Center. At the visitor centre, you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about NASA’s American space programs.
Be sure to sneak a peak at the Saturn V rocket, Apollo Lunar Module, and Apollo 14 Command Module. They’re on display in the Apollo/Saturn V Center.
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art sits among a cluster of art museums in Winter Park. The museum is famed for its large collection of art nouveau. It’s also home to the largest collection of artwork from American artist Louis Comfort Tiffany.
If you’re an art lover, add a visit to the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum into your morning. The collections of stained glass, mosiacs, furniture, and jewellery are unique among the area’s art museums.
Cornell Fine Arts Museum
Located on the Rollins College campus, Cornell Fine Arts Museum houses over 5,000 items. Its collection spans antiquity to the modern era.
At Cornell Fine Arts Museum, you’ll uncover priceless paintings from old masters. The collection also includes over 1,500 prints, photos, and drawings. On display, you’ll see works from famous artists like Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Francis Bacon.
When to visit Orlando
The best time to visit Orlando is between February and May. During these spring months, you’ll enjoy pleasant weather and sunny skies. Outside of school holidays, you’ll also get cheaper accommodation prices and better availability.
Hurricane season affects Florida between June and November. Although it affects the coast more than central Florida, summer is still not one of the better times to visit the city.
The heat & humidity can get oppressive in summer. Temperatures can soar as high as 33ºC (91ºF). June to September are also the wettest months of the year.
How to get to Orlando
Orlando is served by Orlando International Airport (MCO). The airport is located 6 miles (10 km) southeast of Downtown Orlando. Several major airlines fly into MCO, including:
- Silver Airways
- Frontier Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
You can reach Orlando from several major cities in Florida. Some of the most popular routes and fastest driving times include:
- Tampa (1h25m)
- Daytona Beach (58m)
- Miami (3h32m)
- Jacksonville (2h5m)
- Naples (3h28m)