Orlando doesn’t need to be all about theme parks and human entertainment, and there are plenty of places to enjoy the great outdoors away from the flashing lights and fast food. So why not take some time out of your schedule to enjoy the real show?
Gardens and Sanctuaries
Harry P Leu Gardens is one of the most relaxing ways you can spend an afternoon. With beautiful flowers, a rainforest section, a butterfly garden and a museum, you'll be lost amidst the orchids, roses and other tropical flowers.
Around 25 miles south of Disney lies Bok Sanctuary, offering an opportunity to see Florida as it used to be. With several trails leading to either a bell tower, a pond, or one of several picnic spots, you will see a range of fauna and flora, including orange groves, and find a museum detailing the history of Bok Tower. Overall, a wonderful place to visit, and one of the finest botanical gardens in the state.
Ocala National Forest is about an hour's drive north of Orlando and is the second largest national forest in Florida, covering over 380,000 acres of land. If you enjoy hiking and cycling, this is the place for you! Dozens of trails for people of all levels of experience, and a river to explore by canoe as well mean that this is a natural playground for families. It’s a really spectacular way to enjoy a twist on your holidays.
About an hour's drive east of Orlando is Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, which covers around 140,000 acres and is home to coastal dunes, estuaries, marshes, and flatwoods. It is a natural habitat for wildlife, and is popular with bird and wildlife enthusiasts, as well as offering boating and paddling opportunities.
Lake Eola Park is an oasis in the middle of downtown Orlando, with swan boats available for hire, carriage rides, and a one mile perimeter track popular with cyclists and runners. The illuminated fountain is very scenic at night, and look out for regular farmers' markets for the best in local produce.
Orlando Wetlands Park is a large park open from February to November, and covers over 1,500 acres of parkland and lakes. There are plenty of birds in the park, and it is popular with both joggers and cyclists, with over 20 miles of trails to explore.
Wekiwa Springs State Park is about 25 miles north of the theme park area. The park is fed by Wekiwa Spring to create a temperate, natural pool that you can swim in. There are many trails to explore with all types of terrain, from swamps to beaches, and you can camp, have a picnic, or rent canoes to explore further!
There's a huge amount of natural beauty in south Florida to be enjoyed, and if you're staying in one of the many Florida villas, it's likely you'll have some of them on your doorstep. And Orlando could be just one stop in your multi centre holiday, and you could factor in Miami or the Florida Keys as well, to continue the search for natural beauty!
For QuirkyAccom in Florida - for a totally different experience try an underwater divers cabin for overnight stays at Jules' Undersea Lodge.
Top photo: Paul Clark. Wekiwa Springs State Park.
Bottom photo: Tilly Clark. Rare and unusual plants at Harry P Leu Gardens.