Orlando, also called the City Beautiful, is the beating heart of the state of Florida and home to some of the most iconic institutions in the world. Before you go, you’ll want to know these 15 things the entertainment capital of the world is famous for.
Orlando is famous for its unparalleled theme parks and abundance of waterways like lakes and natural springs. Orlando is also known for its music scene, leisure activities like golf and shopping, and its proximity to excellent state parks.
Let’s dive into the full list.
1. International Drive
Orlando is famous for International Drive, the pulsing strip that serves as the city’s tourism core.
Over 11 miles long, International Drive is home to many of the attractions that make Orlando one of the entertainment capitals of the world. Museums, hotels, amusement parks, restaurants and more flank the road.
A car is a useful thing to have in Orlando, but that’s not your only option. Along International Drive runs the I-Ride Trolley, an affordable and convenient alternative that transports you up and down the road in comfort and style.
Orlando may not be the city that never sleeps, but there’s no shortage of nightlife opportunities. The city’s many parks take on a different life after dark. Like ICON Park, for example, whose ferris wheel offers incredible views of the nightscape.
There’s something in Orlando for any nocturnal person—comedy clubs that have spawned legends, dance clubs, and a plethora of evening and nighttime sporting events. The city also has many dueling piano bars and karaoke spots where live musicians back you as you belt out your favorite tracks.
3. Crazy weather
Sunshine is no stranger in Florida and Orlando is no exception. However, the city is also famous for its thunderstorms, which, between the months of May and October occur almost daily.
If you’re visiting the city during those months, don’t even think about leaving your umbrella or poncho behind. I once entered an attraction at Universal Studios with the sun shining hot on my back and walked out five minutes later to thunderous skies and rain falling in sheets.
But don’t worry, the storms roll right on by. Just be prepared to cower under an umbrella or an awning for a little while before resuming whatever you were enjoying before—unless it’s hurricane season. In that case, stay safe by following the emergency protocol.
4. Walt Disney World
It is impossible to talk about Orlando without talking about Walt Disney World, the complex of resorts and theme parks also known as “the Most Magical Place on Earth.”
The flagship Disney park welcomes almost 60 million visitors each year. It covers so much area—more than the entire city of San Francisco—that it has its own postal code.
To go is a rite of passage. You would be hard-pressed to find a child who, at some point, has not begged their parents to take them. Even for those who have never been, like me, Disney World is so present in the popular imagination of the United States. They can rattle off names and locations—EPCOT, Space Mountain, Magic Kingdom—and hum along to the tune of “It’s a small world…”
With four theme parks, two water parks, four golf courses, and a host of other attractions within the property, Disney World is an entertainment empire. The park itself is vast and unique, a cultural force with its own history and secrets, quirks and hidden corners.
5. Universal Orlando
Similarly, Orlando is also famous for Universal Orlando. If Disney World is the sun, Universal Studios is the moon—much smaller but just as iconic.
The entertainment complex covers 541 acres and includes three distinct but connected parks: the original Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and the wet and wild Volcano Bay.
Universal whisks its visitors into a world where movies come to life, with rides that simulate some of the studio’s biggest productions. To top it all off, the park offers themed dining, events, and shopping.
Universal is famous for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where park attendees dive headfirst into attractions that emulate the magic of the beloved series.
6. …and more amusement parks
We aren’t done with amusement parks yet. Orlando truly lives up to its reputation as the entertainment capital of the world. The city and its metropolitan area are dotted with other amusement parks and attractions.
Some other big-name parks include Legoland, which is built on the site of the historic Cypress Gardens. The park was Florida’s first tourist theme park and today is remembered by a botanical garden within the Lego-themed park.
Orlando is also famous for SeaWorld, an entertainment complex with water parks, amusement rides, as well as live shows featuring performers and marine mammals.
If you’re headed down International Drive and spot an upside-down, Neoclassical-style building, don’t panic. It wasn’t uprooted by a hurricane—it was designed to look like that. It’s Wonderworks, a science-based entertainment center that offers a range of interactive exhibits.
Here, visitors can dip their hands in tanks as cold as the water the Titanic sunk into or withstand simulated hurricane-force winds all while learning about scientific phenomena. The center, which you can now find in several cities in the eastern U.S., started in the Florida metropolis.
8. Boy bands
As a hub for media and entertainment, Orlando has a plethora of recording studios and music producers. Many musicians and bands have found their start there, but none have had the same impact as the boy bands founded in Orlando around the turn of the millennia.
U.S. American boy bands may not be all the rage anymore, but their impact on the culture of the 1990s and early aughts is unmatched. Iconic groups like the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, and O-Town all have their origin in the City Beautiful.
9. University of Central Florida
Orlando is also known as the home of the University of Central Florida. The university has, for most of the past 10 years, the largest on-campus student body population in the country. Over 70,000 students lived and studied in and around its campus, which is located east of downtown Orlando.
The university’s football stadium is too small for all of its students to enter, but they make their presence known. When the UCF Knights face off against opponents, the stadium transforms into an arena of fans who cheer and jump with so much energy the structure shakes—earning it the nickname of the “Bounce House.”
For safety’s sake, the stadium was modified to reduce the effect, but the passion of the fans still remains. The university is an academic powerhouse, too, offering more than 230 degrees to its tens of thousands of under- and post-graduate students.
10. Space Coast
Orlando is a short trip away from the state’s iconic Space Coast, a region named for its high density of space-related facilities.
The most well-known of these spots is Cape Canaveral, in and around which you can find the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Kennedy Space Center. The latter is NASA’s primary field center and has been the starting point for rocket launches and space missions since 1968.
But the Space Coast isn’t just for rocket scientists. There are dozens of spots around the region for anyone interested in rockets and astronauts to post up and watch rockets launch into outer space. The region is also full of space-themed businesses and museums for space lovers to get their geek on.
11. Shopping malls
As the biggest city in Central Florida, Orlando offers an extensive assortment of shopping to meet all your shopping needs and wants, from outdoor outlet malls to luxury shopping centers.
You can catch the I-Ride Trolley to Orlando Premium International Outlets and The Mall at Millenia at the northern end of International Drive, or strike out on your own to other spots. Orlando is also known for The Florida Mall, a 1.8 million square foot shopping center that attracts over 20 million people each year.
Everyone knows about Florida and its famous oranges. No place better represents the state’s fruity history than Orlando, which is the seat of Orange County and the historic hub for Florida’s orange industry in the 19th century. Some say the air in the county would smell of citrus when the orange blossoms were in bloom
Orlando may now be better known for its entertainment attractions, but the legacy of citrus lives on. College football teams face off each year in the Citrus Bowl, held in Orlando, and for four decades the sporting event was kicked off by the Florida Citrus Parade. Accompanying high school and university marching bands were massive flotas decorated with oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines.
Even to this day, Orlando is known for its orange groves, which you can visit for a day of citrus-picking fun among the sweet-smelling, tranquil rows of orange trees.
Tee up at one of the dozens of premier golf courses across Orlando, some of the best the golf-crazy state of Florida has to offer. There’s a plethora of golf courses in the city and in the surrounding municipalities, offering any golfer an opportunity to get their stroke on.
Orlando is famous for hosting various golf tournaments, such as the Orlando International Amateur series, which offers opportunities for up-and-coming golfers. The city is also known for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, named for the golf legend himself.
Whether you’re looking to hit the links or simply watch some talented golfers, Orlando is the place for you. Just make sure to bring your umbrella if you head out in the afternoon.
14. Natural springs
Unlike most of Florida, which is known for its endless coastline, the City Beautiful is located in the interior of the state. But aquatic spots of interest are not lacking—in fact, Orlando is known for its natural springs.
Due to the massive limestone aquifer underneath the state, pristine water bubbles up to the surface in hundreds of spots from the Panhandle to the Keys. In and around Orlando is a high concentration of crystalline swimming holes that never get too cold to enjoy.
State parks like Blue Springs, Wekiwa Springs, and Rock Springs at Kelly Park offer all the swimming, kayaking and snorkeling that the coastline does, shark-free—but watch out for gators.
15. Lakes and forests
In addition to natural springs, the Orlando area is famous for its abundant lakes and forests.
Just take a look at the map—the city is speckled with pockets of blue water bordered by trees dripping in Spanish moss. The modern skyline rises from the coast of Lake Eola. The park that surrounds the lake is the site of many community events and holiday celebrations.
A trip to Winter Park to do a boat tour along the chain of lakes in the town offers a great opportunity to explore the waterways of the Orlando area. The city is also known for the nearby Lake Apopka, a destination for campers, fishers, and people wanting to marvel at its clear waters.
A half-hour from downtown Orlando, Little Big Econ State Forest sprawls along the banks of the Econlockhatchee River. Hikers, birders, fishers, and lovers of the outdoors flock to the forest to enjoy its wealth of hiking trails and natural beauty.
16. Winter Park
Don’t forget about this Orlando hidden gem. A planned resort community located outside the city, Winter Park is a charming town known for its tree-lined brick streets and fine dining. It’s a pleasant and tranquil alternative to the hustle and bustle of International Drive and Orlando’s theme park scene.
The town is also known for its green spaces. You can find Orlando and Winter Park locals lounging about in Harry P. Leu Gardens on a sunny afternoon. Mead Botanical Garden, alternatively, includes an amphitheater, a butterfly garden, and ample birdwatching.
Let us know what you think about the City Beautiful. If we’ve missed something Orlando is famous for, drop us a comment.