48 Hours in Orlando: The Ultimate Itinerary

Lake Eola view in Orlando Florida
Gina Pricope / Getty Images

Oversized Mickey Mouse ears may be synonymous with Orlando, but there’s more than one reason why this Florida city has been dubbed the happiest place on Earth. Home to a reinvigorated dining scene that balances creativity with the classics, historic neighborhoods brimming with luxurious shops, world-class arts and entertainment, and year-round natural beauty, the city is an exciting vacation destination for all ages. We’ve rounded up the most thrilling attractions and hidden gems to experience in the city if you’ve only got 48 hours. 

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

Exterior of Loews Sapphire Falls Resort

Courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort

10 a.m.: When hunting for a home base in Orlando, you’ve got two main options: You can shack up in one of the many playful park-side hotels like the family-friendly Loews Sapphire Falls Resort for direct access to the attractions; or you can opt for accommodations around the more authentic parts of the city like the design-minded Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando, Autograph Collection in Orlando's artsy downtown district. Whichever hotel you choose, try to snag an early check-in. Upon arrival, wrap yourself in a plush terry cloth robe and take a quick catnap before the high octane day ahead. Once you're ready to set out, wear comfy shoes: You’ll thank us later.

11:30 a.m.: Once you’ve recharged your proverbial batteries, make your way to Hash House A Go Go, a local brunch favorite with a Midwestern twist. Fuel up on griddled French toast sprinkled with candied pecans, or Margie’s Famous Crab Cake Benedict topped with succulent blue crab, fresh asparagus, and a chili cream sauce. Don’t worry about counting calories—their over-the-top sweet and savory dishes will keep you energized for all the walking you're bound to do.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Cinderella Castle Receives Royal Makeover

Matt Stroshane / Walt Disney World 

2 p.m.: Even the most jaded locals will admit that a trip to Orlando is incomplete without a visit to one of the city’s thrilling theme parks. If you’re traveling with younger children, head to Disney’s Magic Kingdom to relive your favorite films, meet the larger-than-life characters, and tour the quintessential Cinderella Castle. Teens and adults should buy a two park pass and make a beeline for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure for heart-racing roller coasters and escapades through their favorite movie sets, including Hagrid's Magical Motorbike in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Foodies can indulge in the exotic flavors of Morocco, France, Norway, and realms even further away at Disney’s Epcot, which has recreated an easily walkable globe to explore. Make your way from "country to country" and learn about the unique offerings of each, and what makes the countries special in the process. If you like beer and/or wine, you'll want to enjoy Drinking Around the World while you're there. Be sure to check Epcot's calendar of events for marathons and concerts.

If you’re visiting in the sweltering summer, escape the Florida heat with a visit to the city’s endless waterparks, like Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Bay, or make a splash at Universal’s Volcano Bay.

6 p.m.: If you’ve ridden all the rides and your feet are aching, don’t rush out of the park just yet. Stay for a drink or two at a thematic bar that boasts Orlando’s largest selection of Mexican tequilas and mezcals. Located inside the Mexico pavilion at Disney’s Epcot, La Cava del Tequila is the perfect place to unwind after all the thrill-seeking. Let one of the bar’s professional tequila ambassadors talk you through the list of libations, and sip on a refreshing cucumber margarita with caramelized pineapple juice, basil, and a spicy-sweet Tajín powdered rim. 

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Mixing cocktails at Hanson's Shoe Repair

 Courtesy of Hanson's Shoe Repair

7 p.m.: Head back to the hotel, wash away the day’s sweat and roller coaster jitters with a hot shower, and spruce yourself up to experience one of Orlando’s longest standing fine-dining establishments. Christner’s Prime Steak and Lobster has cemented itself as an obligatory gastronomic experience since opening more than 20 years ago thanks to its impeccable white tablecloth atmosphere, meticulous attention to detail by the staff, and the holy grail of meats on the menu: Carole’s Filet. The carefully cut, tender filet is cooked medium rare and served with a creamy side of château potatoes that balances out the rich umami flavors. The restaurant has also amassed a portfolio of over 4,500 bottles of wines from around the world to elevate the evening.  

9 p.m.: Venture over to Hanson’s Shoe Repair, nestled inside Downtown Orlando’s oldest standing building. To get into this history-steeped, speakeasy-style bar and enjoy its premium craft cocktails, you’ll have to provide a password. Not to worry: You can call their number between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. to get a hint at the secret code, which changes daily. Be sure you dress to impress, as the cozy interior bar and outdoor terrace give off a classy vibe, while cocktails like the Bow and Arrow (their take on the smoked Old Fashioned) maintain the Prohibition-era theme. 

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Outdoor seating at East End Market

Courtesy of East End Market

8 a.m.: Early risers can start the day at East End Market in Audubon Park. The neighborhood market and food hall brings together the city’s best chefs, local farmers, coffee roasters, and miscellaneous merchants that have a community-first approach. Grab a strong cup of joe at Lineage Coffee Roasting, a few hybrid Japanese-American mochi donuts at Dochi, and a revitalizing açai bowl at Skyebird Juice Bar. Nibble on this home-grown breakfast under the shade of a bistro table in the communal veggie garden.

10 a.m.: Those craving a day out on the water can rent a kayak or test their skills at wakeboarding at the Orlando Watersports Complex, one of the country’s largest wakeboard parks. With lessons for first-timers, a floating inflatable Aquapark for kids, and boat or cable courses to choose from, it's the best way to explore the picturesque lakes that surround Orlando on a sunny morning. 

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

Courtesy of The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

12 p.m.: Once you’ve worked up an appetite, choosing a spot for lunch at one of the many courtyard cafés and restaurants is no easy feat given the endless options. Those craving classic Italian fare can venture to Prato, a Winter Park staple serving Neapolitan pizzas and an extensive wine list. Order the Widowmaker pizza with hazelnut romesco, cavolo nero, fennel sausage, and to top it all off, a cracked egg that gives the pie an extra rich texture.

1 p.m.: Take a stroll through the wealthy Winter Park neighborhood, which boasts wide boulevards lined with bistros and moss-draped oak trees. The neighborhood is known as “Old Money Orlando” thanks to the stately homes; the world’s largest collection of Tiffany lamps, glassware, and jewelry at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum; and the sprawling campus of the elite Rollins College anchoring the suburb. Travelers hunting for a trinket to take home can browse the smattering of local shops along North Park Avenue, including the women’s boho-chic Forema Boutique, Rifle Paper Co. for personalized stationary, and the sophisticated Cigarz On The Avenue for a curated selection of Padron, Ashton, and Davidoff hand-rolled varieties.

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

Opening Night: Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts; Broadway & Beyond
Gerardo Mora / Getty Images

6 p.m.: Grab dinner at one of the best restaurants in Orlando, Hillstone, for American comfort foods like pan-roasted salmon, crispy chicken sandwiches, and a slice of key lime pie. If you still have energy after dinner, catch a live production at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The theater is home to touring Broadway shows, award-winning classical compositions, mesmerizing ballets, educational kids shows, and even stand-up comedy acts that sell out within days. Each season brings new productions from around the globe like "My Fair Lady," Bill Maher’s comedy special, and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 5th; season event schedules and ticket sales are available online. 

11 p.m.: If you’re looking to dance the night away, head to One80 Skytop Lounge, perched on the sixth floor of the illuminated Amway Center. Partygoers are most attracted to the pulsating club music, sleek lounge atmosphere, and stunning rooftop views of the city. There’s no better place to end a trip than with a champagne toast to the sprawling Orlando skyline below.