When most people think of Orlando, they think of the city where all the theme parks are. Orlando may offer more of them in one place than the rest of the world; however, once you’ve visited the city yourself, you will realise that it’s so much more than just theme parks.
What I like about Orlando the most is the variety. You have International Drive, and the surrounding streets, which is a tourist’s heaven. Here you will find motels, diners and souvenir shops aplenty, and all the chains from American TV shows and movies that you know and love. International Drive is a popular place for visitors to stay as its short driving distance from all of the theme parks. But then you have Downtown Orlando, which couldn’t be more diverse.
Kids may love the theme parks for their charm and magic, but adults love Downtown Orlando for the very same reason. Situated in the very heart of the Downtown area is Lake Eola Park. Like the name suggests, this is a park surrounding a lake. The lake is very pretty, especially in Orlando’s endless sunshine, and is famous for the fountain in the centre of it. The fountain is a particular treat for the eyes – especially at night when it changes colour as part of its fountain show.
During the fourth of July Independence Day celebrations, locals and tourists alike bring their deck chairs, food, beverages and picnic blankets and sit around the lake in the sunshine. There are even fast food and drink vans down the main streets if you run out of your own supplies! The city puts on entertainment at the Walt Disney Amphitheater nearby, people are smiling and the atmosphere is electric. Then the day is topped off with a rather extravagant firework display just after the sun goes down.
Speaking of food and drink, the Church Street District offers an array of restaurants and watering holes to enjoy on a daily basis Downtown. This district is one of the most famous in Downtown Orlando, as it has history dating back to the 1800's, and is home to arts and entertainment (as well as good food!) A little further down the way, is Orange Street, where you will find some of the city’s top nightlife spots.
Another key part of the Downtown area is Thornton Park, which is just east of Lake Eola. Thornton Park has over 50 locally-owned shops, services and places to dine. It’s cute, it’s colourful, and somewhere that Europeans will feel at home as it there is a European feel to the restaurants and boutiques.
Downtown Orlando is about a 20-minute drive from International Drive. If you like shopping, you can also venture to The Mall at Millenia near the northern end of International Drive. This large shopping centre has a mix of your favourite American high street stores, as well as upscale luxury designer boutiques.
Whether you fancy a typical touristic experience and stick to International Drive, or want to experience the city’s natural charisma by living like a local and staying Downtown, either way, you’re sure to be obsessed with Orlando.