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Orlando is best known for its theme parks and tourist areas. But there is much more to Orlando, the areas locals call "beyond the theme parks," that are rich with history, culture and a wealth of things to see and do.
Orlando is the fourth largest metropolis in the Southeastern U.S., with a population of more than 2 million. Here are some of the areas where residents live and play:
Thanks to recent condo developments, the downtown area is becoming more than just a place to do business. Young professionals populate downtown. At night, residents and tourists alike flock downtown for its many bars, clubs and restaurants. Orange Avenue between Washington and Church streets and a block or two on either side at each intersection between is where the bulk of downtown nightlife is concentrated. It's safe to be in these areas after dark, just be vigilant about your surroundings. After dark, it is not advised to venture any further west of downtown than the Amway Arena, unless taking in an event at the well-lit Florida Citrus Bowl.
The Near Downtown Neighborhoods
To the north of downtown, several neighborhoods are worth a daytime visit. Ivanhoe Village and Loch Haven Park are known for antique shopping, museums, and vegetarian/vegan eateries, but these aren't residential areas, so there's no real need to be here after dark.
East of downtown is the Mills 50 district, at the intersection of Mills and East Colonial avenues. In addition to a thriving Asian district (mostly Vietnamese and Thai), there are some cool bistros and bars that showcase live that are worth checking out after dark; just stick to the immediate area around this intersection. Thornton Park, on the other side of Lake Eola Park is an extension of the young professional neighborhood found downtown. It's safe to be here after dark.
Many of the city's rich and famous live in the northeast suburb of Winter Park, and it's one of the safer neighborhoods to visit, even after dark, though most businesses close by 9pm. Worth visiting for the shopping and museums. Rollins College is also here, but most students live off campus and commute, so there's no real party atmosphere found here after dark.
The east side of Orlando is where the University of Central Florida (UCF) main campus is located. This school regularly makes annual "top party school" lists, which unfortunately brings a bit of a crime issue with it (mostly robberies and assaults). Just be very aware of your surroundings and stay in well-lit areas after dark, and you should be fine.
West of downtown are the areas of Parramore and Pine Hills. These areas are low-income, high crime areas and should be avoided.
On the south side of Orlando, Kissimmee, home of Walt Disney World, is a hub for tourists. East side, near the Florida Turnpike, is heavily Hispanic and safe during the day, as is downtown Kissimmee, which has a lower-to-middle class demographic. The western side of downtown has the most appeal to visitors, due to its tourist attractions and low cost lodgings. It's safe day or night, but after dark, take normal precautions and make sure to safeguard belongings. The Disney-designed town of Celebration is worth visiting, and very safe, but most everything closes up around 9pm. It's mostly an upscale residential area.
Theme Parks and Tourist Areas
The three main theme parks - Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Orlando - are safe to be in and around day or night, as they all have their own security systems set up. Take normal traveler precautions and be aware of your surroundings, and you'll be fine. There are small middle-class residential areas surrounding each of these parks, which are safe as well.
International Drive, with its low cost lodgings, is a major tourist hub due to its proximity to Universal Orlando and outlet malls (on the north end) and SeaWorld and the Orange County Convention Center (on the south end). There is a slightly above average level of robberies after dark, but if you stick to well-lit areas, stay aware of your surroundings and keep belongings secure in either your car trunk (if shopping) or hotel room safe (if in your room), it's safe to be in this neighborhood.