It costs close to $100 a person to enter the gates of the Magic Kingdom or Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. But there are plenty of things to do in the Orlando area that are free, and none of them has anything to do with theme parks.
Unlike coastal Florida, where tourists and locals often mix it up, Orlando’s tourist district is distinctly segregated from where locals tend to go. Free activities require tourists to venture beyond the hotel-tourist attraction-industrial complex that stretches from Universal Studios to Walt Disney World.
Metro Orlando debuted a light rail system in May, but a car will be required to cover distances between these activities.Lake Eola Park:
Eight mammoth sculptures were recently added to the park, including a 20,000-pound limestone sculpture of a Greek muse half-covered in grass and a 25-foot aluminum flock of seagulls lifting off from the lake.
Surrounded by recently built residential high-rises, Lake Eola offers the best people-watching experience in downtown Orlando. On any given day, you can witness a wedding, march in a parade, shop at an art fair, run a 5K race, buy produce at a farmer’s market, walk your dog, feed swans, ride in a swan-shaped paddle boat, grab a beer at the park’s outdoor cafe, read a book in the shade of the many moss-covered oak trees or leisurely stroll around the nearly 1-mile sidewalk along the lake.Winter Park’s Park Avenue and farmers market:
The avenue has some of the area’s best restaurants and, on most days, patrons dine at sidewalk tables, watching a parade of well-heeled customers. The avenue is dog-friendly and most blocks have water bowls for canine-strollers.
On Saturdays, a farmers market is held at a restored brick train depot a block from Park Avenue featuring produce, pastries, bagels, cheese and something you don’t find at most farmers markets, orchids.Free movies:
For the Wednesday Night Pitcher Show, the Enzian screens kitschy classics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Videodrome on its front lawn, without charge, every other week. Free Jell-O shots are given out for answering movie trivia questions correctly before the screening. The Enzian also shows free movies once a month in a park along Winter Park’s Park Avenue.Watch a rocket launch: Sit in on a trial:
At the Orange County Courthouse, you can sit in on a trial presided over by Judge Belvin Perry, who was the jurist at Anthony’s 2011 trial. Or you might bump into Mark O’Mara, one of Zimmerman’s defense attorneys, in the elevator of the Seminole County Courthouse.