So, whether you are visiting or just happen to live in the "Theme Park Capital of the World," here are nine cheap and free things that have nothing to do with amusement parks or expensive day passes.
Museums, Tours and More
- Grand Bohemian Hotel Art Gallery: While staying at this luxury hotel may be out of your budget, exploring their incredible art gallery, located within the Grand Bohemian Hotel, is free. Known to be "one of the most eclectic and visually stimulating art galleries in the nation," visitors can view contemporary art glass exhibits, jewelry and stunning European paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries. The gallery is open seven days a week (check above link for hours of operation), and offers valet parking (for a fee) or free parking on the street for non-hotel guests.
- FleaWorld: If "Bargain Hunter" is your nickname, then FleaWorld may be your new favorite Orlando attraction. Open on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., FleaWorld offers over 1,700 dealers who sell everything from flowers and cell phones to watches, collectibles, pets and produce!
- CityArts Factory: Downtown Orlando's largest art collection, CityArts Factory features several separate art galleries, each containing distinctive exhibits. Displays highlight a mixture of local and international art and are rotated regularly. The best part? Free admission! CityArts is open Tuesday–Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Spook the Kids at Spook Hill: Take the kids for a short drive over to Lake Wales and see if the Old Indian legend of Spook Hill is true. Officially recognized by the town (with a prominently marked indication line and sign), Spook Hill is a spot where gravity is defied and cars roll…uphill! Because this area is on a public road, hazard flashers are recommended. Spook Hill is a quick trip for the kids and offers an interesting science lesson!
- Stay Cool with Splash Pads: Splash pads are fun playgrounds and splash zones for children that are free or incredibly cheap, and offer young ones an exciting place to play with others and be cooled off in the Florida heat. Located in parks throughout Orlando, activities include splash pads, in-ground fountains, picnic pavilions, water slides, playgrounds, volleyball and more. Some of the most popular splash pads include: Downey Park Splash Playground (cost is $1 per person); Capehart Park (free); Dr. P. Phillips Community Park ($1 per person); and Barnett Park (free). Because splash pads are located in parks, check individual park hours online before packing up the car with the kids.
- March of the Peabody Ducks: The Peabody Ducks, located at the Peabody Hotel, are quite famous and a sight not to be missed if you are in Orlando. Take your children to the Peabody for the official duck march that happens daily at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. The morning routine begins with the ducks leaving their $100,000 penthouse and walking in formation throughout the hotel (led by an official "Duck Master"), along a red carpet, and into the Royal Duck Fountain. They are fed a gourmet duck meal of worms, carrots and lettuce. At the 5 p.m. show, the ducks (5 mallards, 4 hens, and 1 drake) are led back to their exclusive penthouse to the tunes of John Phillip Sousa. The cost is free. The event may sound a little odd, but it is a well-known show that attracts visitors from around the globe.
- Black Hammock Adventures Free Wildlife Exhibit: Parents and children alike will enjoy Black Hammock's free wildlife exhibit. The display includes a 12-foot alligator named "Hammy," his alligator friends, several Macaws, a Python and more. If you get hungry during your visit, take the kids over to the Black Hammock Restaurant. You can also find a gift ship, marina and airboat rides on the property.
- Wekiwa Springs State Park: No matter how hot it is outside, the natural springs at Wekiwa are always a gorgeous 72 degrees. Bring along a kayak or canoe and set sail on Wekiwa River, or just relax in the grass overlooking the springs. You may even spot a manatee or two here! There are also 13 miles of trails to hike, bike or explore by horseback. A popular spot on the weekends, the entrance to the park is $5 per vehicle and only a short drive away from the center of Orlando.
- Kelly Park, Rock Springs: For only $3–5 per vehicle to enter this park, you have plenty of things to do and room for exploration. Get ready for adventure in this 248-acre Orange County park that is built around clear springs and is well known for inner tubing downstream with the kids. The entire downstream journey, on a float or inner tube, takes approximately 25 minutes. If tubing is not your thing, join the sunbathers, light up the BBQ or go for a leisurely walk. Note: the park does not supply tubes or floats, so be sure to bring your own!
Also known as "The City Beautiful," you will be amazed at the breathtaking parks, nature and scenery that Orlando offers. It also happens to be a city filled with shopping malls, fine dining and a variety of indoor and outdoor activities that are fun (and cheap) for adults and children. If you plan on spending some time here, don't just limit your activities around Disney and the popular theme parks—investigate and explore the other parts of this magical city!