Head out on one of these top day trips from Orlando
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Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Walt Disney World are just a small part of the world class attractions Orlando has to offer. There so many fun exhilarating things to see and do in and around Orlando it’s easy to forget that Florida is a massive state offering an amazing array of superb day trip experiences. We collated the following guide highlighting the best day trips from Orlando, each of which provides a great contrast to the high-speed thrills of the parks and rides. These are sure to add to your once in a lifetime Florida holiday.
Kennedy Space Center
Just under an hour’s drive east of Orlando, set on Florida’s Atlantic coast sits the Kennedy Space Center – a must see day trip on your Florida adventure.
Set in 42 acres of Merritt Island the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers space enthusiasts and regular visitors a remarkable insight into NASA’s premier space facility featuring fascinating exhibits, displays historic spacecraft and memorabilia. Along with two five-story IMAX theatres and state of the art simulators, this is a close to a real-life space experience as you can get. Just inside the entrance, you’ll encounter the Rocket Garden featuring the craft that first flew Americans into Space. The Heroes and Legends exhibit focuses on America’s first astronauts and includes the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame all surrounded by Gemini and Mercury spacecraft memorabilia. Take a bus out to the Apollo/Saturn V Center where the 100,000 sq ft facility houses a restored Saturn V launch vehicle and other Apollo-related exhibits including the Apollo 14 command module. The Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit traces the development and history of America’s space workhorse and here you can experience a thrilling simulator shuttle launch ride. Other key areas to explore include; Journey to Mars, NASA Now & Next and the story of America’s Race to the Moon. A full day will barely do this amazing centre justice.
Sitting amongst the thrills and spills of Orlando’s attractions it’s hard to imagine that under two hour’s drive away is the Nation’s Oldest City – the charming old world city of St. Augustine. Set on the northern section of Florida’s east coast St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles of Spain. Strolling its narrow whitewashed lanes you can still feel the strong Spanish influence all around which together with its cobblestone street, quaint cafes, bars and an array of B&B’s St. Augustine combines to make a memorable experience. Key attractions on offer include; Castillo de San Marcos – the old fort, Fort Matanzas, Flagler College and the strangely fascinating Lightner museum. St. Augustine is a must for those wishing to experience a piece of historic Florida like no other.
Devil’s Den Spring
For an amazing and fascinating adult only experience make a visit to the aquamarine beauty of Devil’s Den Spring set under two hour’s drive to the north of Orlando. This underground spring sits inside a dry cave and is daylight lit from above through an open cavern creating the wonderful hues through the crystal clear waters. The spring has been home to many, now extinct, animal fossils dating from the Pleistocene or ice age era. Access to the spring is reserved for divers to scuba or snorkel the 54ft pool in temperate 22-degree waters.
Bok Tower Gardens
Looking for some peace and tranquility away from the breakneck pace of Orlando’s attractions? If so, then Bok Gardens makes the ideal day drip out. Set around an hour’s drive south of the attractions amongst, unusually for Florida, rolling hills of Citrus trees, Bok Gardens is a 250-acre haven for bird watchers and is on the U.S. Register of Historic Places and Landmarks. The centrepiece for this contemplative garden is the 205ft tall Singing Tower, built upon Iron Mountain one of the highest points in Florida. Set against the backdrop of a stunningly beautiful reflection pool the Singing Tower is of gothic revival and art deco design and houses a 60 bell carillon set. Whilst the tower itself is not open to the public daily bell recitals are given and add to the contemplative mood when heard from the gardens beautiful grounds.
Three Sister Springs at Crystal River Wildlife Refuge
For an amazing wildlife experience, be sure to visit the warm waters of the Three Sister Springs at the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge Park. Located an hour and half’s drive the north-west of Orlando’s attractions, the wildlife refuge comprises 177 acres including 40 acres set aside for the migrating 680 kgs West Indian Manatees. Professionally led tours provide the chance for a thrilling face-to-face swimming and snorkeling encounter with these gentle giants, otherwise know as sea cows. You can spot the Manatees at any time of the year but they are most prolific in the winter months as they escape the sea’s cooling waters. There is also a quarter mile boardwalk, for this wishing to keep dry, that allow you to observe the turquoise springs and abundance of native wildlife. To get the most from your visit be sure to take one of the many fascinating guides tours on the water of along the extensive network of refuge trails.
For a taste of home town Florida, head north from Orlando to the hip and vibrant college town of Gainesville. Home to the University of Florida with is sprawling college camps, Gainesville has the natural buzz and excitement of a bustling student community. With one of the largest university cohorts in the U.S., Gainesville has an amazing array of museums, the highlight of which is the Florida Museum of Natural History. Key exhibits at the Natural History include the amazing Butterfly Rainforest and fascinating Florida Fossils display. Downtown is a quaint combination of old time Florida, with Spanish Moss draped live oaks and trendy bars and bistros frequented by locals and students alike. Around the city are over 30 miles of hiking and biking trails and a short drive away you can take a relaxing tube ride down the spring fed waters of the Ichetucknee River.
For a truly Americana experience, head an hour’s drive north from Orlando to the iconic seaside resort of Daytona Beach. Famous the Daytona 500 and being the birthplace of NASCAR racing Daytona Beach boasts 23 miles of beautiful hard packed sand beaches – one of the few beaches in the U.S. that are allowed to be driven on. If you can’t make the Daytona 500 in February then why not join an exhilarating up close and personal tour of the Daytona International Speedway. The town is also known as a haven for bikers year-round but especially during Bike Week in March and Biketoberfest in October which bring a thrilling feel to proceedings. The famous Daytona Beach Boardwalk provides masses of family friendly diversions, with shop, restaurants and carnival rides.
St. Pete Clearwater
If you’re looking for soft sugary sand, beaches lapped by turquoise waters and endless days of clear blue skies then head west to the coastal communities of St Petersburg and Clearwater. Sitting just two hours drive from Orlando’s attractions you’ll find award winning beaches and warm gulf coast waters along with an abundance of things to do, eat and drink. There is an array of beaches to choose from each with their own special feel and character including; Clearwater Beach, St Pete Beach, Indian Rocks & Indian Shores, Caladesi Island and sand Key. There are amazing on the water activities to experience too with dolphin spotting wave-runner tours, paragliding as well as paddle boarding and surfing. Beachfront restaurants and bars abound and the delicious seafood offerings are outstanding. There’s much more to this area though, with some amazing world class museums including the fascinating Dali Museum and Chihuly Collection in St Pete. Be sure to make a full day of your trip by taking in a stunning gulf coast sunset at one of the many great rooftop bars to be found all along the fabulous Sun Coast.
No trip to Orlando is complete without an exhilarating high-speed airboat ride on the Florida swamplands. Head 40 minutes south of the city to St. Cloud where the headwaters of the Florida Everglades provide the perfect spot to enjoy thrilling rides around the swamps and marshes. The six-seater boats are small enough to venture into the narrow backwaters and through high-tech headsets the captain is able to provide fascinating narration and insight to the natural wildlife that includes exotic bird and alligators. Don’t forget your camera to capture the thrills and excitement of an unforgettable swampland journey.
Although it’s a longer day, a trip to Florida’s iconic southern city of Miami is well worth the early start. Having made the 3.5 hours trip you’ll immediately sense the strong Spanish speaking Cuban influence which makes the city such a vibrant and cosmopolitan destination. Head to the legendary Miami Beach, a separate island reached by bridges, which is also home to the buzzing vibes of the ever-hip South Beach with its trendy al fresco bars and restaurants. It here that you also find the famed Art Deco Historic District with its over 800 dazzling pastel coloured stucco buildings – well worth spending some time to explore. For more of a cultural experience make your way to Little Havana, Miami’s Cuban district. Murals adorn the buildings and locals socialise in the open spaces, whilst distinctive Latin music drifts though the air. Callo Ocho is the main thoroughfare running through Little Havana and is lined with restaurants and specialty food shops offering distinctive Cuban cuisine. South, away from Miami beach and over the Rickenbacker causeway, you’ll find Key Biscayne and Crandon Park – a tiny community with superb beaches and beautiful parks. Want a little retail therapy? Then head for Bayside Marketplace – an on-the-water outside mall with over 150 stores, cafes and restaurants that also offer daily live entertainment.
You may wish to extend your stay in Miami with making it into a mini hub for longer and further exploration. Options might include an iconic drive down the Florida Keys to Key West or over to the fascinating Everglades National Park.
Start planning your Florida self-drive with these recommended tours