Swans at Lake Eola (Photo: Katherine Welles/Shutterstock.com)
It’s really easy to come to Orlando with kids and spend lots of money. Like, lots of money. In fact, some visitors to Orlando may feel there are parts of the city specifically designed to get kids to extract the maximum amount of funds from the adults who brought them here.
That feeling is not without merit. However, if you have a little sense of adventure and a willingness to stray from the dollar-paved tourist track, Orlando offers plenty to do that’s not just cheap, but free! Here are a few examples of memorable family outings that can be enjoyed for little more than the gas it takes to get you there.
- Lake Eola Park is the scenic centerpiece of downtown Orlando. Walk the mile-long sidewalk that goes around the lake for great water views and bustling urban vibes. The playground is extremely popular among young visitors — especially on weekends — as is feeding the lake’s swans. If you want to get out on the water, splurge for a ride in the swan-shaped paddle boats ($15/half-hour rental). If you end up spending your entire day here, there are several great restaurants right on the lake or within just a few steps of the park.
- Castle Park. Another great park located near the heart of things is the “Castle Park,” formally known as the Community Playground at Martin Luther King Jr. Park. As its nickname suggests, this park features an extensive wooden play structure that resemble a castle as well as slides, swings, and a small, beautiful lake teeming with ducks, herons and other wildlife. If you happen to be in town on the second Thursday of the month, make sure you make your way to downtown Winter Park (just a few blocks away) and catch a free movie screening at Popcorn Flicks in the Park, hosted by Enzian Theater.
- Orlando Wetlands Park. For a rustic and restful interaction with nature, head here to enjoy the spacious hiking trails surrounded by native flora and fauna (and maybe even an alligator or three). Keep in mind: pets, hunting, fishing and alcohol are not allowed here, and bikes are not allowed on the hiking trails.
- Leu Gardens, one of Florida’s most beautiful botanical gardens. They cultivate different varieties of plants according to each season ensuring a lush, tropical paradise all year long. Admission is free for kids under 4!
- Skip the pricey waterparks and dive into the cool headwaters of one of Central Florida’s many natural springs at Kelly Park/Rock Springs Run. Admission is so cheap it’s practically free (only $5 per vehicle of 3-8 people)!