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Orlando’s best attractions, without the theme parks

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View from below of snorkelers on the surface of a spring in Wekiwa Springs State Park.Florida State Parks

With the opening of Walt Disney World Resort (or Disney World, as it is more commonly known) in 1971, Orlando has developed into an international travel destination. From the luxury hotels that line International Drive, to the dozens of theme parks, water parks, and attractions dotted throughout the city, Orlando can be a tourist’s paradise. 

While kids will be easily amused by the abundant theme parks, there’s still plenty for adults to explore. Stylish restaurants and bars, a vibrant nightlife scene and unique attractions are sure to satisfy even the most discerning tastes. Here are three of Orlando’s best attractions outside the theme park gates.

Orlando Science Center

The Orlando Science Center is a four-story complex that offers an engaging and innovative approach to learning about science. Throughout the museum’s ten exhibit halls, visitors can explore everything from the complexities of the human bodies to the varied Floridian ecosystems. 

The mysteries of space are examined in a number of fascinating exhibits, including the Our Planet, Our Universe gallery and the state’s largest publicly accessible telescope at the Crosby Observatory. One of the museum’s most unique attractions is the Dr. Phillips CineDome — a 310-seat theater surrounded by a giant 8,000-foot screen that ranks as the largest film format in the world. A variety of films transport the audience from the peaks of Mount Everest to the depths of the ocean during this strikingly vivid theater experience.

Harry P. Leu Gardens

If you are in need a little respite from the hustle and bustle of the theme park circuit, pay a visit to this 50-acre sanctuary located minutes from downtown Orlando. Ever since these botanical gardens were donated to the city in 1961by Harry P. Leu and his wife, Mary Jane, tourists and locals alike have flocked to their scenic beauty. 

Quiet paths lead past perfectly manicured gardens, filled with dozens of species of trees and plant life. Colorful orchids, azaleas, and over 75 varieties of roses are just some of the gorgeous flowers peppered through the gardens.  Visitors can also take a tour of the spectacular mansion at the gardens’ center, featuring magnificent Victorian and Empire furnishings and artwork.

Outdoor Adventures

Orlando’s location in the heart of Florida lends itself to all manner of outdoor adventures. The city is in easy reach of some of the state’s most beautiful landscapes, which includes lush orange groves and scenic lakes. 

For a truly memorable outdoor experience, take a short journey north to Wekiwa State Park where airboat tours traverse the rivers and springs to look for some of the local alligators. Nature enthusiasts can also explore the interconnected lakes dotted throughout the region on a pontoon boat cruise. 

Apart from the abundant wildlife, you’ll see some of the city’s most beautiful real estate along the canal banks, including stately colonial-style mansions and beautiful gardens. Those seeking more active pursuits can try out the city’s favorite pastime, wakeboarding, at the Orlando Watersport Complex.